Sunday, September 16, 2018
When we say, "The sky's the limit", what do we mean? Because to see the sky is to see a limitless space. Do we ever consider the sky a symbol for both constancy and change? It is always there yet everything cast upon it -- whether clouds or contrails -- is always moving, never the same. The sky is both our talisman and our goal, our fear and our optimism. The sky's the limit.
I took this photo last weekend when Dwayne and I had a cookout in our backyard. This is what inspires me in rural Nova Scotia: the sky, the light, and the shades of green; the garden, the birds and the animals, sun and wind, the river and the field.
All the elements gather inside me -- earth, water, air and fire -- and through some process, some magic, come out as words. Not chemistry; it's so inexplicable, so impossible, it's alchemy. It is creation.
And in six months, when this same view is white-washed and wind-swept, I'll admire it and absorb it and be inspired by it just as deeply.
Still hard to believe we didn't have an osprey family with us all summer. No one to say good bye to this year. By the end of August, the ospreys "fighting" for possession of this nest -- a new pair and the one believe to be the "abandoned" mate -- had been long gone. Did they disappear about the time Dwayne -- my mate -- had his stroke? I wasn't paying attention.
Do you know what is still my favourite sound while walking across the field under that big blue sky? The whup-whup of a pair of raven wings overhead. I am always amazed at how loud the sound is when the bird flies overhead. When I can hear the wind through those black feathers, I know the sky's the limit.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Be careful what you wish for!
When we were at our family doctor on Monday, we said we hadn't had any referrals for speech or occupational therapy or a swallow test...and now the medical appointments are rolling in.
As the calendar fills up and I don't get my morning walks and the work gets pushed aside, I'm trying to remember that we are lucky to be where we are: together, at home, in the midst of the sunflowers. Dwayne's stroke could have been much worse so a lot of driving around - together - to establish a baseline and a timeline for recovery is not as big an inconvenience as travelling to a hospital every day for several months for in-patient rehab.
Perspective is so important.
So is acceptance. That's our biggest struggle, I think, when it comes to, well, everything: Fighting against reality, being in denial, not accepting what has happened and the changes that have occurred -- all of this causes more problems. It causes frustration for the caregiver and for the person needing the care. It can slow recovery, it can make you sick.
Acceptance has the power to free you. It is what it is. That sounds cliche, almost flippant but it's true.
We cause our own misery when we refuse to accept what has happened and what is happening. We cause our own misery when we refuse to "go with the flow". We cause our own misery when we try to ignore the reality of a situation -- even if it's a situation we don't want to be in. Illness and death are the big circumstances that change everything, and as hard -- as painful and gut-clenching and mind-boggling -- as they are to experience, acceptance is the only way to keep breathing, keep moving, keep living in the "new normal".
I'm not naive -- or in denial -- when I say acceptance is the most important part of living. I learned the power of acceptance when my father has Alzheimer's disease. I learned to accept him as he was each and every day, and I learned to accept the situation, even though none of us, including my mother, wanted to be in that situation. But refusing to accept the disease, and the changes they wrought in my father and in our daily living, merely made everything worse. Acceptance allows us to live with grace and dignity, and more importantly without fear.
Ah, fear. If we really look at what our denial is built on, we'll find fear is the cornerstone. But acceptance is the great fear-buster. Acceptance looks fear in the eyes and says, "I know what I'm doing. You're not needed."
It is what it is -- the appointments will come and go, the work will get done, the beans will get picked, everything will be "good enough", and it will all happen if we remember to go with the flow, whatever that flow is.
Thursday, September 06, 2018
I don't have a credit for this graphic -- I've searched but found nothing definitive; it seems to have been shared around, which is how it came to me.
But I love what it says, and it's how I feel.
An essay I wrote called "The Trees Have Ears" was longlisted for a prestigious writing competition recently. This is the first time my work has made a longlist and I'm grateful for even that recognition of this special piece of work.
The essay was inspired by the clearcutting that has been going on around our rural Nova Scotia home for the past decade (similar to my Field Notes essay, "What Future Does A Tree Have"), and the "body parts" I found in the most recent cut next door to our house.
Here's an excerpt from the longlisted essay that describes my search for the spirit of a tree:
"The clearcut looked like a battlefield and it had been a one-sided war: tanks and machine guns against spears and rocks. The trees didn’t stand a chance.
The first time I saw the circular, bark-covered hole of wood lying on the mossy ground of the former forest floor, I knew what it was: an ear.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Thankfully, the logging company working next door didn’t have plans to supply the insatiable appetite of Nova Scotia’s biomass boiler, so I have a bag of tree ears, gathered from the clear cut after the machines departed and the trucks hauled the logs away.
Like a scavenger on the battlefield, I wandered through the remains of the woods, climbing over stumps and limbs, and discovered body parts: ears, elbows, femurs, a pelvis, a heart. I have collected enough to create my own Frankentree.
What I haven’t yet found is the spirit to animate it.
I believe trees have spirits. Perhaps I’ve always believed this in that subconscious way we believe certain things about the mysteries of life. It became concrete knowledge for me after a local woodcarver sold me a Stick Santa designed from the branches of an alder bush.
“The wood is carved green and as the wood dries and cracks, that’s a spirit coming into your house,” Faron Young told me. “It’s supposed to bring you good luck, health and fortune.”
This was the proof I needed that spirits abide in trees, but I didn’t care about luck, health and fortune. If you could carve a slit in a branch and release a spirit, what happened when you cut an entire tree down in the woods? Where does the spirit go?
When I interviewed Faron months later for a magazine article, he told me that trees have hearts. He explained that the heart is the hardest part of the tree.
“When the wood dries, it’s the heart that cracks,” he added.
In our basement, I looked at the wood piled inside to feed our wood furnace, to keep us warm all winter. The centre of every round log had a crack through it.
That’s how the spirit escapes. Through the broken hearts of trees.
But where does it go?"
Right now, as I share this, my husband is planting trees around the pond. My father was a tree planter and I married a man just like my father.
How lucky am I?
If we all planted a tree a year, we might save ourselves. For what is a tree but a saviour?
Friday, August 31, 2018
I wish I'd had this term, "solvitur ambulando",
when I was writing the Field Notes essay, "A Walk In the Woods".
Because this is EXACTLY what walking means to me:
solvitur ambulando - "it is solved by walking"
I wrote this phrase on a piece of paper months ago, intending to write about it, but the moment never seemed right so now I can't remember where I came across the phrase; in a book, likely, but I didn't make a note of that (strange) although I'm sure (monster that I am) the page is dog-eared if I ever come across it again.
The point is: This is my phrase. This is my process. This is my life.
Walking. Thinking. Even talking out loud. Working through a problem. Thirty minutes to think about it, turn at Carrington Road, thirty minutes to work it out before arriving at home for coffee.
Sometimes I arrive home in a good mood; sometimes my husband knows we're about to have A Talk.
But whatever is going on, whatever is worrying me, whoever is pissing me off, "it is solved by walking". Morning, afternoon, evening; an hour to Carrington Road and back, or half an hour to the beaver brook and back, five minutes to the pond -- the act of walking, the movement, the surging of blood through the veins, into the brain, it solves whatever the problem is.
I now swear by this process -- this walking and solving -- for my writing; I have learned over the years to step away from the desk and move, to let the motion and the stillness, the focus and the freedom fix the problem.
It is solved by walking. Not by thinking but by walking. That's where the motion and the stillness come in.
Then there is the walking without a problem, walking when the mind is unperturbed. Oh, the thoughts that are freed when that happens!
And now writing about walking brings up a memory.
There was one walk many years ago now when I lived in Vancouver, after the marriage ended and I was mired in the months of making plans to pack and leave. It was March so the evening was dark and for some reason, the dog (Maggie) and I took a street, perhaps it was just a lane, that we'd never walked before.
It amazed me then, and it amazes me now, that there was still uncharted territory in a neighbourhood we'd roamed for hours every day (solving nothing back then but keeping me sane).
We came out into a parking lot and before us was a church. An Orthodox-something church - Ukranian, maybe? - with a multitude of concrete steps leading up to the huge, wooden front doors.
Someone was inside playing the organ.
So we sat, on those steps, in the dark, in this space we'd never been before -- and I don't think we ever found again -- and we listened, the dog and me, to the music cascading out into the damp evening air.
I remember the walking, I remember the stairs but I don't remember how the music made me feel. I remember I was too miserable, too afraid, too caught up in thinking about my failure and my doubts to let the music seep inside.
What would the music have told me? Now I know: You are free. (Not fear - free. Such a difference when you move a letter around.) Now I know: Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. Now I know: Keep walking.
But I was wound too tightly to solve anything.
I wonder what the Latin phrase for "it is found by walking" is?
I just Googled "orthodox churches vancouver" and nothing seems familiar. This is memory. Faulty. The night, the church, the music, the steps is a clear memory but altered, obviously. Details changed over time, changed by not thinking about it for sixteen years.
It is not solved by Googling.
And I choose to remember it as it is now, in my memory, rather than worry about what it was. This is, perhaps, why I am now a fiction writer.
I have been waiting for months to write about this phrase, "solvitur ambulando". This is not what I expected to write. I just wanted to tell you about this phrase. I just wanted to say it is true. I just wanted to say this is how to hear the music.
Friday, August 24, 2018
|The decoys don't mind the company.|
Since the geese and their goslings had made our pond their home all spring and summer, it wasn't until yesterday that I was able to visit
I was not expecting the rocks my husband placed along "the shore" to be
perfect sitting rocks.
I was not expecting there to be a lovely bank of
along one side of the pond.
I was not expecting all the
to be dancing along the ripply surface of the clear water.
I was not expecting
With all the weeds grown up and the tall bullrushes, sitting on one of the big flat rocks made it feel like I was inside
a secret garden.
There was even enough movement on the water to create a quiet lapping sound.
Of course my mind began to spin: We need a bench. I need a flat platform for doing yoga. We need a pond cabana - finally a place to hang our hammock.
Fortunately, my brain put the brakes on those wild thoughts, returned to take-it-easy, one-day-at-a-time mode. I don't really need any of those things. All I need at the pond is already there: a sitting rock and bare feet and eyes to see and a heart to record the feelings.
A place of stillness.
A place of magic, of imagination.
A home for my heart in the middle of the field.
The pond! Who knew all this was waiting for us? Who knew, two years after digging a big, muddy hole, we'd have this magical place so close to home?
"We do need a trail cut," I said to Dwayne as we walked away from the pond through the tall weeds.
A secret trail.
To our secret garden.
Monday, August 20, 2018
I'm working on some story pitches and thought I'd made notes about one in my notebook. Couldn't for the life of me find the notes -- in the notebook or on my desk or on the side table.
My messy office.
My messy life.
The fact I watch too much TV and this office covered in notes and magazines and papers and notebooks are what saved Dwayne's life!
Less than an hour before his stroke, after I'd turned on the kettle for hot water, we'd joked about the fact I was going upstairs to clean my office.
Then I sat down next to him to wait for the kettle to boil...and watched the end of the TV sitcom he was watching, and kept watching the follow-up episode because we'd not seen it before...and when it was over, he made a funny sound and two minutes later, I was on the phone to 9-1-1.
Imagine if I'd been upstairs drinking my lemon water and tidying my office.
So what seem like bad habits actually saved his life.
As my friend Colleen Landry, blogger/author/Miss Nackawic 1981, would say: Boom.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
We needed this day of rain, a day to curl up under blankets and sleep (if you're recovering from a stroke) and a day to sit at the computer in your office (if you're a freelance writer who still has to work).
The rain is heavy and it's soothing to listen to as it falls through the leaves of the trees outside my windows.
Before the rain, we needed chocolate cake. Aunt Lila's Chocolate Cake with Grandma's Icing, to be specific, the long-time family favourite. The cake pictured above is the second one my mother made since Dwayne came home from the hospital a week ago yesterday. Sometimes the best coping mechanism is a pan of cake and a knife...
Post-stroke recovery strategy: One day at a time, one piece at a time.
Thank goodness for my mother. She has really stepped up, and stepped into the hole created by Dwayne's stroke. Since he's been "semi-retired", he's taken on so many of the household chores -- encouraging me to devote my time to writing and allowing Mum to pretend she lives in an all-inclusive retirement home for one -- but when the tables turned and the carer became the caree, my mother has taken over many of his jobs.
Like vacuuming the black mats that collect so much dirt and cat hair. Like making supper every night since he came home from the hospital. Like going back to the farmers market for a second time this morning to buy the corn and tomatoes she forgot the first trip. Like being a trustworthy sounding board for all the other little unanticipated issues that pop up in the middle of a health crisis.
I DON'T KNOW HOW I'D BE GETTING THROUGH THIS IF MY MOTHER WASN'T HERE TO HELP OUT.
Don't let the flowered gown fool you -- this woman is a ROCK. This is what a true sweet little white-haired lady looks like!
What I remember best about helping her take care of her husband (my father) when he had dementia was her statement about "thinking for two". From what I witnessed and experienced, it's so true and while it's most significant with a neurological disease like Alzheimer's, it applies in varying degrees to other caregiving endeavours. Thinking For Two happens when you are taking care of anyone who is comprised in some way, whether temporarily or permanently, physically as well as mentally: You have to think about them and their needs, anticipate those needs and the required actions as you go about your day. You also are dealing with their fear, their worry, their embarrassment, their pushback, their anger -- all the emotions and reactions that come with being in a state of unwanted incapacity.
All of a sudden, all those normal daily activities -- feeding pets, vacuuming, thinking about what to make for supper, getting your hair cut, get pushed behind the needs of the person who is in need.
And wow! You don't see the division of labour that develops over the course of a marriage until suddenly, you have to do everything. I'm lucky; I'm young-ish and healthy so taking on Dwayne's work has actually been good for me, good for my coping. The physical work, the distraction of the chickens and the gardens has been helpful. Pulling weeds is very therapeutic.
But damn -- we should have kept on with those tractor driving lessons...
I'm fortunate that Dwayne is not physically incapacitated; we just have his somewhat garbled speech to contend with, and we have been told that will come back with time and patience -- and with rainy days and good mothers.
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
|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."
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.
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
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
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
|Our new view, June 2009|
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|
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
|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
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
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.
Friday, July 13, 2018
There is a fan running in the guest room next to me, drying the drywall put around the new closet we had built in there for my mother's clothing overflow.
There are roofers pounding on the roof outside my office window.
My husband is mowing the lawn.
So we're making the house look good on the inside and the outside.
Yet these are just minor adjustments. The shingles were old and curling up; the closet gets rid of my mother's stacks of plastic bins and tidies up my guest room; the lawn looks nice mowed but I've always thought it would be nice to have sheep to keep the lawns short.
It wouldn't bother me in the least to have sheep poop all over my yard.
When I saw this graphic online this morning, my first response was - "This is how my life in rural Nova Scotia makes me feel." It makes me feel good on the inside. It makes me feel like I am truly home. And more importantly, it makes my heart content.
I don't worry about having a clean house or weed-free gardens. I don't care that I no longer have my own car, let alone a new one. We don't go out for dinner much or even get the movies like we used to. Our last trip out of the country was six years ago. I wear big rubber boots as often as fancy shiny shoes -- although both seem to end up with chicken poop on the soles.
I admit I have too much stuff; too many knick knacks, too many collections, too many clothes and shoes, perhaps even too many books (what?!). There's a lot of clutter in my house, and especially in my office, but my husband says it makes the place looked lived in and that makes him feel like he's home, and he's fine with it, so I'm not worrying about the clutter either. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps when I'm a really famous author, I can auction my collections and my knick knacks off for charity. Someone might want Sara Jewell's chicken collection.
And that's my one inside struggle: doing more for others. Doing for others rather than doing for myself. I've always felt this pull to share my good fortune, to use my skills to make life better for others, but I have yet to discover what I'm being pulled towards. Nothing sticks. I'll keep searching.
It's a shame how many people think that appearances matter above all else. That the right house and the right vehicle, the fancy vacations and the shiny jewelry are the paths to peace of mind and a satisfied heart. Stuff is not the solution; I have a lot of stuff and it doesn't make me happy. In fact, it drives me crazy with its uselessness, with its wastefulness.
What makes me happy, what satisfies my craving for home and contentment and belonging is looking out the window at the field, at the chicken coop, at a plate full of home-cooked food, at my husband's tanned and lined face, and feeling so lucky and grateful, my heart could burst.
Gratitude. Deep and abiding thankfulness for the life you're living. That only happens inside you.
I once knew a woman who was constantly redecorating her living room and bedroom, trying to find happiness, trying to find peace and joy in her life. She was rotten on the inside -- selfish and manipulative -- so no matter what her new furniture looked like or the colour of the new paint on the walls, she wasn't going to be content. Her search continues, I'm sure.
Wednesday, July 11, 2018
My husband spoke to a couple of the drivers hauling wood out of the massive Bragg/Irving clearcut deep (but not that deep) in the woods behind our home.
"Great looking load of poplar you've got," he said to one of them, admiring the large logs. "Those going to the veneer plant?"
The driver shook his head and said that most of the wood is going to the biomass plant in Port Hawkesbury.
From a CBC News Halifax report by Jean Laroche posted online in April 2016:
"Two top bureaucrats in the Department of Natural Resources told a legislature committee Wednesday that high quality hardwood is not being burned in Nova Scotia Power's Port Hawkesbury biomass plant."
Yet here's proof that instead of being used for firewood, pallets, crates, furniture frames, plywood, and veneer, perfectly good poplar (a hardwood) is being WASTED in a chipper to fuel the biomass plant that creates electricity. We've been assured time and again that only "waste" wood and unusable/unmarketable wood would find its way to the biomass plant but here is confirmation from men driving viable hardwood logs to the plant that those assurances are lies.
"In the end, the deputy minister concluded that the only hardwood likely to be burned for biomass is from the odd tree collected as part of a larger scale harvest.
'With the various reports we've seen, interacting with Nova Scotia Power, our Department of Energy, the contractors, what we see on Crown land, we're very comfortable that this is virtually no high quality wood other than the inevitable slippage that's involved in any large scale operation,' Dunn said."
(A note: the land being cleared behind us is not Crown land; it is owned by a private corporation and being harvested by a private corporation.)
Source article: 2016 - https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/hardwood-biomass-electricity-natural-resources-wood-hardwood-firewood-flooring-1.3523335Also a more recent newspaper story: 2018 - http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1553824-old-growth-burning-reignites-biomass-debate
Monday, July 09, 2018
I realized I hadn't posted anything further about Dwayne's maternity ward!
By June 28th, ten chicks had hatched themselves out; sadly, one of the first to hatch couldn't use its legs so it had to be put down a week later. An eleventh chick was unable to make it out of its shell so it died in the incubator.
These things happen. Dwayne did admit he lay awake one night trying to figure out how to splint the little chick's wonky legs to see if it could be fixed but he's not gone so soft as to actually have attempted it.
So we have nine healthy chicks cheeping away in their cozy red light district of the chicken coop.
I don't know why babies make Abby so tense and intense. I can't tell if she wants to eat them or protect them -- but the choice is not something I want to find out.
The chicks are two weeks old now and growing just fine. You can already see the bars marking their Barred Rock breed in their tiny wings. My friend Shelagh, from Ontario, spent this past weekend here in rural Nova Scotia after her conference wrapped up in Halifax, and after discovering what a great alarm clock Andre Poulet is, she declined my offer to take one of the big chicks home with her -- just in case it turned out to be a feathered alarm clock.
Friday, July 06, 2018
After our cold and wet June -- with just enough sun to make the weeds grow -- I'm playing catch up with the plants. It seems while it was too cold to plant, it wasn't too cold for weeds to grow and insects to infest.
Caterpillar worms have been eating the rose bushes planted under the living room window. I didn't notice until I saw one through the window the other night. When I ran outside to inspect, I discovered four fuzzy worms, including a giant one. When cut in half, they oozed bright green alien blood.
So I saved the world that night.
The two orange blossom bushes under my mother's second-floor deck are loaded with aphids which have destroyed a quarter of the bushes. But luckily, there are three blossoms right now and plenty of healthy branches. I spent Friday morning snipping and spraying and shouting, "Begone, ye devils".
So I saved the world that morning.
The exciting updates are...
...the bee balm planted "down front" two summers ago seems to be coming back. Perhaps it felt challenged by the planting of a clematis in its neighbourhood.
And I have
a little brown toad.
Thursday, July 05, 2018
Normally at this time, I would be posting a photo of the first sighting of the baby ospreys' heads appearing above the edge of the nest for the first time. Alas, there are no babies this year.
There are still ospreys, however, flying around, sometimes landing on the nest, sometimes sitting on the perch.
There is one on the perch now as I write this.
We believe the solo osprey is Her, the osprey who lost her mate at the end of May, the widowed osprey, the female in search of a new mate.
She flew over me this morning while I was walking down the road. She came from the river and crossed the misty field, passed over -- "Hello, osprey," I said, as we always say -- and kept going. An hour later, as I reached home, she flew over me again, coming from the river and heading towards the perch.
There is a pair wanting to claim the nest. They appear every so often so sit in the nest. They don't know us or trust us. As soon as I step into the yard with the camera, one flies away.
Yet the other day, as my husband was tending to his sunflowers, an osprey flew over him. He whistled at it, and it tilted its wings and flew back, passed over him twice, looking down at him.
"I know it's Her," he said to me later. Because "our" osprey know us.
She remains alone, keeping vigil on the nest she and her mate claimed ten years ago. Is she waiting for him to return? Or is she simply holding her space, for next year, when she returns with a new mate?
Those are questions we might get an answer to next April but for now, we can only speculate on the love lives of ospreys. Regardless, there are no babies this year, I can officially say that today. Another heartache but I think I'd rather have eggs abandoned mid-incubation than endure an eagle snatching of the fledglings from the nest, picking them off one baby at a time (which happened in August 2015).
Even without human interference, the natural world is always changing. Arrivals and departures, wondering and waiting, births and loss, destruction and rebuilding.
And still, the osprey sits and waits.
Tuesday, July 03, 2018
|Checking out the latest clearcut behind our home in late May.|
"It's like I've cursed this place," I said to my husband last night. "Ever since I moved here, it's been clearcut after clearcut."
He snorted, as if I was being foolish, but I feel cursed that every other year, we have to endure a logging operation in the woods behind our home. I love trees, I love the woods, yet they are being decimated around us. The area squared by Route 301, Carrington Road, Beckwith Road and Dickson Road is slowly, surely being stripped of its trees.
The current logging operation, which began last fall and continues to this day, is the largest one yet. And by largest, I mean most destructive and devastating.
These operations rip everything apart to make the road, then clearcut everything else. I've always been dismayed by the amount of waste generated by these logging operations. When we drove into this clearcut for the first time in May, my husband shook his head at all the trees and small logs left behind. He says that wood could be donated to low income families.
Nova Scotia's wood harvesting policies are bullshit. They aren't sustainable, they aren't mindful of wildlife and habitat, they aren't looking towards the future; it's all about getting as many logs out of the woods as possible, in order to make as much money as possible. Habitat and humanity be damned.
This province's government -- no matter what party is in power -- is ruining rural Nova Scotia, and in particular the county in which I live. But if I say anything? It comes down to jobs and the economy.
I was riled up last night because a couple of empty logging trucks had swung onto the old road running alongside our home, field and woodlot early in the evening. Coming down the main road quickly, they'd applied their jake brakes in order to make the turn, and had wheeled onto the old road so quickly, if we'd been sitting in our car waiting to get onto the main road, we'd have been smucked. You can't see the end of our road from a distance, and they approached far too quickly to stop if we were approaching.That's a pretty scary thought. It's a pretty reckless way to drive.
We've always complained about how fast the pickup trucks drive up and down the road. With every logging operation, my husband has had to tell them -- or get their boss to tell them -- to slow down.
"If you run over my dog, I will shoot you," he always says.
Yeah, I know it's not a subdivision, I know we're just one house but that doesn't mean we don't notice your jake brakes, it doesn't mean your truck lights don't shine into my mother's room when you stop at the end of the road to adjust your load, it doesn't mean we don't notice the dust billowing out behind your truck when you tear up the lane that used to covered in grass and wildflowers.
I have no respect for commercial loggers, for those contractors doing the work of the corporations like Braggs and Irving and the men hired to cut, stack and haul away. The guy running this current operation fixes whatever we complain about but the fact we have to complain in the first place? I have no respect for the men who don't respect my home, and the home of birds, animals, amphibians and insects. I have no respect for men who wouldn't allow their families to experience what they put us through.
"How about I get a piece of bristol board and make a sign that says, 'Slow the fuck down, you assholes'?" I said to my husband.
This time, he laughed. "Not yet."
|How much did this pileated lose to this clearcut? Home, food and family.|
Sunday, July 01, 2018
Awareness is important. And ignorance, my own not knowing, flattens me. I don't like getting things wrong, especially if it's from my own lack of awareness. I don't like hurting people by excluding them, making them feel like they don't matter, losing connections with those who came long before me.
I don't want to miss the opportunity to celebrate everyone in this great nation of ours. I don't want to be part of the history of erasing people from our land.
Since the publication of Field Notes almost two years ago, I've expanded my knowledge and my awareness of Nova Scotia, through following other voices on Twitter and reading books by other Nova Scotia authors. I've paid attention, and I've learned.
This is a pretty amazing province and its history -- both the nasty and the remarkable -- is worth knowing, worth celebrating. (It's hard to believe I knew nothing about the Halifax Explosion until a couple of years before the 100th anniversary.)
I've made friends with Acadians, met the author of a cookbook celebrating Acadian food, interviewed Mi'kmaq people, and visited a farm in an area settled by Germans in the 1700's.
But it wasn't until Mother and I visited the South Shore last weekend that I put all of that together, and realized what I'd been missing as a writer. So as I stood in the LaHave River Bookstore for my evening reading, I admitted this to the group gathered there:
In a paragraph in the opening essay of my book, I missed some important facts, and the publisher missed my omissions as well. We missed the fact that Nova Scotia is founded not by the British and the Scottish but by the Mi'kmaq. And the settlers of this province include not only the British and the Scottish but the French and the German as well.
So in honour of Canada Day, I'd like to offer this minor rewrite one sentence in the middle of the paragraph at the bottom of page 2:
"For a region that now honours its Mi'kmaq heritage, and celebrates its Scottish, British, French and German roots, and can claim a geological affiliation with Africa..."
Happy Canada Day to everyone who claims this red soil as their own, in shared community and history, with respect and gratitude.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
It hit me all of a sudden, instantly in the moment I stopped watching my feet, stopped thinking about the photos I wanted to take, worrying about Mother tripping and falling. When I stopped moving, stopped thinking, when I stood still and looked up, when I looked out, it happened.
The rocks. The water. The sky.
It all hit me.
Like a wave. Not knocking me over but washing over me and into me, filling me up.
Instinctively, I breathed in deeply. The air, the air, the air. There is nothing like sea air. There is nothing like the air at the edge of the sea, at the edge of a continent.
There is nothing like breathing in the vastness of that nothingness, a nothingness that is full of everything that makes us human, that makes this world what it is, that makes you forget you are ruining everything about the earth and the water and the air.
It makes you remember who is in charge. Because our bodies need earth and air and water to live.
Peggy's Cove was the first stop this past weekend on our annual road trip for Mother's birthday (which included a book reading on Saturday night at LaHave River Books). Since I haven't visited Peggy's Cove and the south shore of Nova Scotia since I was 14 years old, essentially this was like seeing the place for the first time.
It felt like feeling the sea for the first time.
One of my goals for this visit was to get a photo of my book with the lighthouse in the background so that took up the first half hour of our visit. Which is why, when I finally focused on where I was, the impact of this simple place hit me so powerfully.
My first thought was: My cells are rearranging. They are reorienting themselves to the water. What a strange and wonderful feeling.
My next feeling came as an understanding of why those who live at the ocean, those whose lives revolve around the ocean, feel. How their bodies and their spirits become one with the sea. As if they are more in tune with the tides and the waves, the wind, the sun, than they are with other humans.
As if they are themselves creatures of the sea.
All that from standing on those rocks at Peggy's Cove, with the lighthouse behind me and the water as calm as anyone could ever want. If I felt that on a calm day, what would have happened on a wet and windy day? Those who know the sea, who live the sea, who die in the sea, seek that out, I'm sure, seek out the power and the energy. I doubt they could help themselves. There is a magnetism. There is a siren call. I felt it, and I'm a lake girl from Ontario, married to a man who has a river running through his veins, as landlubbery as they come.
Which reminds me of something I wrote about in my book: standing in the field looking up at the night sky, seeing the universe expand as I stared, seeing more and more stars appear.
That's how it feels to look out at the endless sea. You think there is nothing to see, you think there is no life there, you think there is no message for you, yet the longer you stand and look, the more absorbed into the universe you become.
And you understand exactly what you are a part of.
Peggy's Cove has become a cliche about tourism, about tourists, about the careless who refuse to think the warnings about the danger of waves and wet rocks apply to them. Those who don't feel and respect the power give themselves over to the sea in a different way.
For me, it's now a conduit to a new world. Once your cells rearrange like that, you can't return to the way you were.
We were there on the finest day possible -- cloudless sky, sunshine, a light breeze -- but it wasn't busy, so I had the privilege of standing on those rocks and forgetting there was any one else around. I had the privilege of experiencing, for a brief moment, the energy of land and the sea commingling under the feet and rising up through the legs as the energy of the sun and the sky flows in from the head.
Breath and heartbeat -- wave upon wave upon wave.
I shaded my eyes to look out over the water. There was nothing there that didn't belong entirely unto itself.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
We're going to have babies!
Almost three weeks ago, a neighbour gave my husband an extra-large carton of eggs containing 18 fertilized eggs.
It takes 21 days to incubate an egg until it is ready to hatch, and this Sunday is the due date. I hope a few come late -- like me -- because I'm on the South Shore this weekend but I love watching a chick hatch out of an egg. I love watching the beak first appear, then the skinny, wet body. I love watching the chick fluff up and start walking around. I can't wait for the symphonic sound of constant cheeping!
This morning, Dwayne said to me, "I dreamed last night that all 18 eggs hatched at once. We had 14 chicks and 4 puppies."
Of course, I said, "Puppies! Oh, let's hope so!"
Monday, June 18, 2018
|I washed my riding clothes on the weekend...just so I could land in the dirt today.|
Dakota has an injured eye and isn't riding until next week so Sienna was tapped for my practice ride this morning. Sienna is a beautiful red mare, larger than Dakota, but just as quiet.
I couldn't get a feel for her. In fact, I felt completely disconnected from my own body. I couldn't remember anything. It was an off day, and for a beginner like me, with no confidence in riding and no inherent "I'm the boss" energy, it was the wrong day to be on a different horse.
It's not Sienna's fault I fell off; it's mine. I don't know why she started tossing her head up and back and around, I don't know why she was backing up and doing tiny bucks. I had been trying to get her to trot and it wasn't happening so likely, the way I was holding my hands and elbows and my knees were sending mixed signals. What I do know is I didn't know how to arrest her reaction; I only know how to stop a bolt - and those actions were the opposite ones for whatever she was doing. I was tightening when I should have been loosening.
Bobbie was shouting, "Let go of the reins," but I know you NEVER let go of them. If I'd listened to her, I would have dropped them completely and that might have made things worse. What she meant was, "Ease off the reins." I was supposed to move my arms forward to ease the pressure on the bit. But I was using the information I had, and trying not to panic, and wondering whether she was going to buck me off or smash me in the face with her head.
The next thing I knew, I was falling. But Sienna didn't throw me; she laid me down.
She laid me down. Seriously, I think she realized she had to arrest MY behaviour so she just leaned to the left and off I tumbled from about five feet off the ground. Both of us ended up lying on our sides in the sand of the indoor arena. Despite the soft landing, I'm going to have a sizable bruise on my left back hip, where the pelvic bone met the ground.
But I now know why you need to get right back up on a horse you've just fallen off because I wasn't afraid to ride a horse while I was standing with my feet on the ground, but once I was up there in the saddle again, it was a different feeling. Every leg movement, every head twitch, every resistance to my forward command made me tense up. I could feel my "freaking out" meter rising the longer I was on her back. At the same time, I recognized that if I didn't stick it out, the apprehension would get the better of me, would be all I remembered, and I'd never get on a horse again.
"I need you to put the lead line on her and walk with us," I said to Bobbie. "I don't want my nervousness to cause a problem."
What I'm struggling with now is continuing on with riding. I know it's only one fall, but I'm doing this for fun; I'm not looking for a broken arm or a broken neck. The dilemma is that I won't get better if I don't ride, but not being very good puts me (and possibly the horse) at risk. Today showed me how much I'm still not putting together all the information I need to know in order to ride.
It looks so damn easy!
Bobbie, and others who were there, say, "Oh, just relax, don't overthink," but it's not that easy. I want to do everything I'm supposed to do because I'm on the back of an enormous animal who can act and react in ways that could see me flying through the air and landing on my head. I want to enjoy myself and I want to do a good job.
Recognizing that I am a beginner.
"Did you know how to write a book when you first started writing?" one of the woman asked, which I think she meant as a beginner's pep talk but it's a lousy comparison. No one's life is endangered if I write a really shitty story!
Writing is so much easier. That's my message to those who say writing is hard: Try learning to ride a horse.
Her message, however, was: Don't give up. Keep getting on the horse and learning.
"You only fall off a horse once a year," Bobbie said. No one gets how UNencouraging that statement is!
I don't need to fall off a horse to toughen me up, to learn to say "Fuck it" and keep going. That was a lesson for when I was 14 years old; I've learned that lesson from other things, and honestly, at 48, I'm just too old for learning lessons this way.
All I can do is see how my next ride goes. I'll be back on Dakota. There's nothing I can do about my energy -- I'm calm and happy but I'm not The Boss -- but I can keep trying. A fall shouldn't be a setback, even if it hurts like hell.
Friday, June 15, 2018
After ten solid years, it was time to get a new computer. Actually, the computer decided it was worn out and simply refused to turn on! I've been without my trusty office companion for a week, and thanks to friends, managed to get the most pressing work done on their computer, but now it's time to get caught up on tasks -- while learning a new system!
The weirdest thing? This new computer is SILENT. I was used to the old one humming and rattling, but now I can't even tell this new one is on. Funny what we get used to, funny how we notice silence when it suddenly descends in our busy, electronic, trafficky world.
Tuesday, June 05, 2018
I love bee balm.
I love its colours, whether a deep fuschia or a light lavender.
I love its spiky flowers.
I love its name – bee balm. That’s B-A-L-M. Something soothing for the bees in a world that is trying to bomb the heck out of them with pesticides.
But I cannot get bee balm to survive on my property. I have probably spent a hundred dollars on bee balm plants over the last five years, and so far, not one has returned the following year.
I love its colours, whether a deep purple or a light lavender.I love the wide flowers. I love the feathery seed puffs leftover when the leaves fall off.
I love its name – clematis. It’s symbolic meaning is ingenuity and cleverness because of its climbing prowess.
I have several thriving clematic plants. They love growing on my property. So…I bought another clematis plant. I am planting what will grow.
I also bought another bee balm this spring, and planted it in a new spot, a tried-and-true spot of good soil and lots of sunshine.
Why? Why would I plant something that will not grow?
Because if the clematis represents love and joy, the bee balm is HOPE. Never giving up, persistence. The hope that if I try something different, if I don’t give up, if I just move it somewhere else, this time it will work, this attempt will be successful.
I planted another bee balm despite the irrefutable fact it doesn't want to live in my gardens. So this is the last time, the very last time I’m planting bee balm. One final attempt because I don’t like to give up until I’ve exhausted all attempts.
This, actually, is a metaphor for the way I live my life. More enthusiasm than skill. Persistence. An indefatigable amount of stubborn keep-at-it-ness.
I simply don’t give up. Sometimes that a good thing -- my persistence is my sign of faith in myself. On the other hand, I seriously don't give up soon enough, whether it's a perennial, a manuscript, or a relationship.
We all have that one trait we’d like to see less of -- I also have a bad habit of putting off doing something until it makes it more complicated, such as booking accommodations for a road trip -- but we learn to accept that quirk, live with it, work around it.
Mine is persistence. A good thing and a bad thing.
Much in my life is clematis. Some of it is bee balm.
Yet without my help, or even my attention, my creative life is becoming rudbeckia and phlox, two plants which are self-propagating all over the gardens!
Clematis for beauty and cleverness, rudbeckia for encouragement, and phlox which, AMAZINGLY, represents good partnership, harmony, and sweet dreams.
Plant what will grow.