Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Hospital

Sasha is the little black hen in the middle of the group.

On Saturday, August 4, my husband came into the house and said, "I found Sasha dead on the coop floor." So I wrote a nice eulogy for her on my Instagram account:
"The little black hen in this photo is Sasha. We name our chickens when they become distinctive to us - and Sasha is a survivor, our little hen with a big heart. A few years ago, Sasha was viciously attacked by the other hens because she had an injured leg. We found her in a corner of the coop just in time but it didn't look like she could survive her horrific head injury. We put her in a nest in a separate space to let her die peacefully.
But Sasha didn't die. Her head injury actually healed until she was well enough to be out and about. For a year, Sasha lived by herself in her special space, and was free to hobble around the yard on her wonky leg. It was amazing to watch her heal from two bad injuries, amazing to watch her determinedly cover the yard every day even as she struggled to walk. She eventually grew stronger and more able, and was able to rejoin the flock. Even though she retained just a hint of wonk in her leg, she lived out her life as a happy little chicken."

As he left the house on Saturday to go for coffee in town, Dwayne said, "I'm off to bury the dead." 

The next evening, Dwayne had a stroke. One minute he was fine, the next he couldn't speak and was losing the use of his right arm and leg. I called 9-1-1 and we ended up at the hospital getting excellent care. 
As soon as they knew he had a blood clot (not a bleed), they administered the blood thinner and by 11 o'clock that evening, he was regaining control of his arm and leg. 
Tuesday evening, he was transferred to the stroke unit at the Truro hospital; by Friday he was home. His speech isn't great, he's walking pretty slow, and he's on strict orders to take it easy and not exert himself for three weeks BUT he's expected to recover completely. 

The morning after he returned home, a week after Sasha's death, we were sitting on the back deck drinking coffee when Dwayne asked me a question. 
I was sure I knew what he'd said but his speech isn't  clear so I asked him to repeat it - because it was a question I didn't want to know the answer to.Basically, he asked, "Did I get rid of the hen?" 

For an entire week, I drove to and from Amherst, to and from Truro, and parked in hospital parking lots for hours, WITH A DEAD HEN IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK.
Lying on a black truck bed liner in the hot summer sun.

If you parked next to me at the Truro hospital on Thursday, I am very, very sorry.

Even funnier: On my way to pick Dwayne up from the hospital in Truro, I stopped for gas. When I climbed out of the truck, there was a strong smell of dead mouse. I wondered what on earth could make the air smell like that? I noticed the smell again when I got out of the truck at the hospital and realized it must be associated with the truck but my mind was on other things and I forgot about it.
 Of course it didn't occur to me that I HAD A DEAD HEN IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK.
And I still can't believe this is what Dwayne remembered a week after having a bad stroke and spending five days in the hospital.

(My friend Shelagh wondered after why the dead hen was in the back of the truck in the first place. We don't dig a hole and have a graveside service for our hens, and we don't just toss them in our own woods because we don't want the dog finding the corpses - dogs' noses being what they are -- so Dwayne disposes of them elsewhere. On his way for coffee. If he remembers.)

There was a part of me that wanted to bury Sasha in a hole and say a few words of thanks because it's hard not to wonder is she -- our little crippled hen with the head injury who survived to rejoin the flock -- was a kind of good luck charm for Dwayne.
Weird... but wondering. Just wondering...

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Notes From the Field

The wildflowers are gone from the field but in exchange, our friends are back.

We had a pair of geese hatch out four babies at our pond this spring. In June, the family disappeared - we supposed they headed for the river.
After the field was cut for the bales, the family returned, and this past week, another gaggle of geese joined them.

A groundhog ran across the entire width of the field earlier this week. Not sure what that was all about. I think it's the one that relocated from our backyard last month after the dog tried to "make friends" with it.

On my morning walk a couple of weeks ago, I watched a doe with THREE spotted fawns run through a field along my route, and two days ago, I saw a young buck, his velvety antlers just like tall twigs, wandering through the same field.
And I said what I always say to the wildlife I meet: "Stay off the road. Please stay off the road."

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Creating Beauty With Words

The deadline is coming up for articles for the fall issue of At Home On the North Shore magazine so I've been transcribing interviews for an article on fibre arts.
One of my interviewees is Deanne Fitzpatrick, Nova Scotia's Queen of Rug Hooking, based in Amherst.
Near the end of our interview, I asked her about her motto, "Create Beauty Every Day". Since I don't know if I'll be including her explanation in the article, I can't share her whole answer now but something she said did get me thinking about what it means to add beauty to the world.

"Create Beauty is just a way to make the world around you a better place, and the way I do it is through hooking rugs, but there are other ways I try to do it," Deanne said to me in her office at the back of her Church Street studio, "like by being good to other people and through the women’s clothing store – helping women be beautiful and believe they are beautiful. If you can keep seeing beauty and finding beauty and making beauty, those are important parts of having a good life.”

It was her idea that "there are other ways to create beauty" that made me realize writers create beauty every day. And while some books seem like works of art to me, I never considered writing as a way of "creating beauty".

Yet, when I think of the way some women have reacted to the essays in my book, the meaning they've found in certain stories and the reasons why they love my book, I know my style of writing creates a kind of beauty -- the kind that Deanne herself strives for.
My writing isn't edgy or in-your-face. It's not shocking or offensive, nor is it overly opinionated or bitchy (unless there's logging trucks around...) While I'm sure that has kept me from publishing widely in magazines and online, and been offered a book deal because of my "attitude", I'd rather write stories and essays that make people happy, that lifts spirits, that leave people feeling better. Like looking at a beautiful piece of art, if my writing can make someone smile and think, "Beautiful," that's the purpose of my work.

I hadn't thought about my work that way, that I find beauty around me and share it with others. I'm not a painter or a rug hooker or a sculpture so how do I "create beauty"? Deanne's idea made me appreciate that words are my materials, fingers are my tools, and the stories I tell are my creations.

So...whether you're scrapbooking, knitting, writing, cooking, gardening or hanging out the laundry all colour-coordinated, remember: You are creating beauty. Everything you do has the potential to create beauty. And as the 19th Russian novelist and philosopher, Fyodor Dostoevsky, said, "Beauty will save the world."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Blessing of the Ospreys

Our new view, June 2009
The anniversary of the chicken coop reminded me that something else of great significance happened in July 2008: a pair of ospreys claimed the empty pole on our riverview property.
Funny how there were no babies in 2008 because it was too late in the season when they started building the nest, and ten years later, in 2018, there are no babies because Papa Osprey disappeared at the end of May.
It's so weird to not have the constant chirping of the ospreys as the soundtrack to our summer this year. Yet every so often we hear that familiar sound...

Three babies and a parent, August 2010
His partner is still around; as I write this, she is scooping freshly-mowed grass (hay) from the field and taking it to the nest, building it up to survive the winter and be ready for her return next spring. It appears she's not giving up her nest, despite a new pair of ospreys trying to claim it. She's sticking around and perhaps she'll be back in April with a new partner. I'll call that essay "A New Era for the Ospreys".

Ten years. So much has changed, and so much has stayed the same.
In that essay in Field Notes, the book, I pondered what message the osprey had for me, during that summer of osprey in 2010. I decided it was a message from my father about how we were building for the future -- building a heart and a home right here in rural Nova Scotia.
Since then, a lot has changed; we have experienced our losses just as the ospreys have as well, and yes, there is always uncertainty in life (one never knows what will happen to one's life partner). But what matters -- the heart and the home -- remains the same. Are, in fact, stronger than ever. And still building for the future.

As I write this, July 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Give Us This Day Our Daily Egg

Holding a chicken for the first time - and not realizing where this moment would take me!

LATE BREAKING NEWS: It's been ten years since we built the chicken coop.
I know! Time flies when you're laying eggs!

One of my favourite essays in Field Notes, the book, is the one from which I stole the title of this post. I wrote about discovering, from some deeply rooted place inside me that knew long before I did that my heart and home belonged in rural Nova Scotia, and that search would begin -- and end -- with a chicken coop in my backyard.
A few weeks after realizing that, I met the man who would make that dream, and others, a reality.

I think it's my favourite essays (of all my favourites) because it reminds me of how I came to be here, how I came to find contentment, how I came to rediscover the path I'd wandered off many years earlier.

In that essay I wrote, "It was my fear of big feet and swishing tails that made me decide seven-pound chickens were the perfect introduction to animal husbandry. Surely I could handle something small and light and feathery."
I could handle it -- and have enjoyed being a keeper of chickens, and chicks, for ten years. In that time, I've also milked a goat and learned to ride a horse, and I came THISCLOSE to upgrading the coop to a barn and filling with with big feet and swishing tails, but ultimately, I am destined to be The Girl With the Chicken On Her Shoulder.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A True Test of Friendship

Life is worth living as long as there is a laugh in it.
~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

My husband admitted to me a few days ago that he was upset by the way I argued with my friend Shelagh when we were going through the manuscript of my novel.

Shelagh, an Ontario friend who is a librarian and teacher, was my first reader (and her friend Zoe, my second), and luckily for both of us, she happened to attend a conference in Halifax and could return my critiqued manuscript in person. This also meant she got to hang out where I do in rural Nova Scotia (she loves our rooster alarm clock) and and drive across the Confederation Bridge to PEI for the first time.

During her visit, we went through the manuscript page by page. This was my first time doing something like this; the edits for Field Notes were inserted into the document, which came back to me by email. I had no one to discuss them with and had to figure everything out on my own.
This was so much better! I loved doing it this way. I loved getting to challenge the suggestions, to defend why I'd written something that way, to insist we keep at an idea until I understood it enough to do the rewrite.

Apparently, to my husband listening from another room, I sounded like a total bitch who was treating my friend who had so generously read my work-in-progress like shit.

I will admit that even Shelagh said during our editing session, "I hope our friendship survives this!"
I was shocked. "Of course it will. This has nothing to do with our friendship."
And it didn't; it was strictly about the book and making it better.
I explained that to Dwayne, that the arguing and challenging and my relentlessness about everything was simply part of this process. I told him I was sure Shelagh understood that.

Perhaps my enthusiasm became a tad intense because there's an underlying fear in this work. I feel like the whole future of my publishing career is riding on this novel. Waiting for the book to come home was making me restless and anxious; I actually started to feel like I did in my twenties, when I had nothing to work towards, nothing to hang my hat on, no idea what I was doing with my life. That was a scary regression, for sure.

But I'm two-thirds of the way through working on Shelagh (and Zoe's) edits and suggestions, and I can tell you without a doubt that the in-person, page-by-page go-through of editing has made a huge difference. My ideas are much better -- more detailed, even deeper -- than if I'd been left on my own to read the comments and figure out what changes to make.

Shelagh called the other morning to say she likes the new ideas I'd emailed her about, and she admitted that while she was taken aback by my intensity with the manuscript go-through, she realized it had nothing to do with her.
Which is great to know because we have matching turquoise-and-leather bracelets but haven't yet figured out what our Wonder Twin powers are! Perhaps persistence -- yes, that's my superpower, and Shelagh's superpower is unflappable resilience in the face of great aggravation!

True friends are always together in spirit.
~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Hot Days, Hot Writing

The editing of the novel I wrote last winter is coming along well. This is a different way to use my brain; when writing the first draft, I had to be open and relaxed to let the ideas flow out of me without thinking but when editing, I have to be focused and intentional and question every sentence.
I find editing less gruelling than the free writing of a first draft, although there is a magic to that writing that is a joy to experience; but I like the crafting of the story that comes with editing with intention and knowledge of its beginning, middle and end. Both require the discipline of sitting in a chair all day and ignoring everything else.
Except lunch. I love lunch. I never forget to eat lunch.

Since I don't have to plan a church service this week, I set it aside for editing and it's nice to know what I'm doing every day; it's really nice to be working on a book. It's nice to be working with a new mug and another bracelet.

My biggest quirk as a writer is my penchant for talismans -- objects associated with my work. Since animals are characters in their own right in my novel, I thought about putting the goat, chicken and horse figurines from a shelf in my living room on my desk but let's be honest -- there is no room on my desk!
Every book gets its own mug, however, and my brand new mug is a nod to the small role the book "Anne of Green Gables" plays in the novel. Now that was a moment that came out of the writing flow; it was not a pre-planned or even a conscious decision to include AofGG in my story. With editing, I don't get those surprise moments of joy -- "Where did THAT come from?!" -- but I do like the contented joy I feel when I've re-worked the ending or re-written the opening and it's exactly what it needs to be.

Also, I'm wearing the bracelet I finally found that looks a bit like the one my character wears -- leather and turquoise -- which connects her to her mother. Figurines and mugs and bracelets don't get the work done, but for me, they keep me grounded in the work, connected to the story and its characters, and trusting of my skill and my process as a writer.