Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Morning Glory

The rain around midnight woke me, which meant my brain said, "I was just thinking..." and for a couple of hours, I tossed and turned as I worried about my writing career, and its current downward slide into --
well --
into nothingness.
In all the years I've been doing this, this nothingness is worse than rejection. Hearing back from no one, not even people who know me, is worse than being told, "Thanks but no thanks." It also makes it difficult to know when I can send the projects to other publishers.
I'm really worried about not getting another book published. The new book project isn't helping because it's going to be a mess for a long time as I get all the stories sorted out. 
It's not been a good summer for my hopes and plans. I'm starting to think ahead, about what I can do other than the books and the magazine articles, but that only increases my anxiety.

It was unusually dark when I woke up again at six a.m. The dog sat up but I said, "Let me check." I went outside and looked to the east, the direction of our walk, and the sky was clearing. The sun was coming up behind the clouds.
But when I turned around -- the sky was almost black to the south and I saw that the clouds were moving towards the east, and I went back inside and turned on the kettle. "Yoga this morning," I whispered to the dog.

As I stood on the yoga mat, warming up with stretches, the sky in the east was ablaze in orange. I went outside, into the rain, and looked to the east, but the colour was so deep and bright, the camera on my phone wouldn't register it properly.  And when I turned around -- this rainbow arched out of the field.
Like the first snowfall of the year, or a lovely sunset, we always take a photo of a rainbow even though everyone does. Because it's special. Even as familiar as it is, it doesn't happen every day, and a rainbow is always special. Always a welcome sight. Always a moment when our breath catches and we say, "Oh!"
One photo and I dashed back inside out of the rain.

As I stood on the yoga mat, the rain fell harder, then the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed. The dog curled up on the couch and I wrapped her in a blanket as she shivered and quivered.
I breathed in hope and breathed out peace.
This is the only time I feel in control of my dreams, when I feel hopeful: on the yoga mat. This is the only time I feel strong and grounded.
I didn't do Sun Salutations this morning; I did Rainbow Salutations! There is no such thing but I incorporated all my favourite poses into the traditional lineup. Long and strong, spacious and gracious, as one of my yoga instructors used to say. When in doubt, do all your favourites.
When in doubt, breath in hope. Enough to carry me through until the next middle-of-the-night conversation with my anxious self.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Searching For Gratitude

The joy of walking is the engagement of all the senses. The sound of the poplar leaves rustling in the wind. The breeze on sweat-sheened skin. The faint crow of a rooster carrying across the river and the fields. The flash of yellow as a goldfinch flies by, its dipsy doodle flight style as distinctive as its colouring.
Every morning this summer, I've made a conscious effort to listen to the birds' singing as the dog and I walk to Carrington Road and back. This morning, I watched a bird singing and flying over me -- it seemed to be flinging itself into the day, invigorated by the rising sun, by the rain overnight, by me thanking it for its song. It sounded so happy.
My mood is in a low ebb these days so I needed the small boost I received from its energy and its happiness.

As I type, a robin has started singing in the maple tree outside my office window. It's telling a story I wish I could understand. It, too, sounds happy.

When I lived in Vancouver in the late 1990's, the Blackberry cell phone had just become ubiquitous; I didn't have one. I'd walk the dog through the leafy, wide streets of Shaughnessy (the rich part of Vancouver) where it was quiet and few people or cars were around. But occasionally, I'd see someone talking on their cell phone as they walked their dog and I always thought what a shame that was. Walking the dog is the best way to experience the world -- the city and the nature hiding inside that concrete-and-asphalt mess.
We miss so much when we are focused on our cell phone. It's not a big deal inside our house but when we are outside -- there is so much to see and hear and smell. We aren't just missing connections with other humans; we are missing connections will all creatures. We are missing connections with our senses, and therefore our own selves.
I still don't walk with a cell phone. I miss out on beautiful photos of the sunrise but I enjoy them in the moment, knowing that the world doesn't need another sunrise photo posted to Instagram -- but my soul certainly needs that quiet moment of pausing in admiration.

Put the phone down on the kitchen table. Go outside and find yourself this weekend. Especially if everything seems to be going wrong, if your mood is at a low ebb -- that's when you most need the hear the birds singing and see a sunrise with your own eyes.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

In Other News

How about something completely different than sad news about nature and wildlife?
You may be wondering how my summer of creative writing is going.

It's not.

Can you imagine? We even built a gazebo in early July because we were no longer able to sit outside on any of our three decks because the bugs are so bad now. It's the perfect place for sitting and writing all day, in the shade of the maple tree and totally bug-free! Unfortunately, other writing, the kind that earns income but also the kind that suddenly reveals itself, demanded my time and attention.

It started at the end of June. Because my writing mentor and friend Marjorie had suggested that my memoir about taking care of my father "needed to be out in the world earning its keep", I had spent a couple of weeks reworking that as a Nova Scotia-based story. It was all right, but at the same time, because of something else Marjorie had said, I was trying to work more of my father's life as a funeral director into it.
This aspect -- my father as funeral director -- has been something I've avoided for years; Sheree Fitch first encouraged me to write about it in 2015. I never felt I had enough to say. 
Then one afternoon in late June, I was at the grocery store when the whole "funeral director's daughter" book dropped into my head: theme, format and ending.

Holy shit. That's a major epiphany for a writer. Thank goodness I was in a quiet aisle; otherwise, I might have started babbling to the nearest shopper!
Who would have backed away very slowly...

So I knew I had to add that book to my list of creative writing for the summer.
But as soon as July started, I received magazine work -- three stories that needed to be researched, interviewed and written. I got that out of the way in time to travel to Ontario to interview a couple of people who knew my father when he was a child, and when I was a child living above our first funeral home.
I was looking forward to getting started on the book as soon as I got back -- but the day before I was to fly home, another editor emailed me with two more writing assignments! I just finished writing those today.

So the much-anticipated summer of creative writing turned into a rather mundane summer of regular writing. HOWEVER: There are three weeks left in my summer holidays, before I have to start writing church services and sermons again, and I'm going to work on the revised book about my father AND a middle-grade chapter book about Hazel the funeral home dog.

Neither of which, sadly, I can do while sitting in the gazebo. But that makes it a nice getaway -- our handy little cottage -- whenever I need a reading break. Because as you can see, there are books to read...

Sunday, August 04, 2019

New Insights Into the Ospreys

The three fledglings from the "Summer of the Ospreys, 2010
One last update before we pack away this sad, tragic story for this year and hope for the best next spring and summer.

Kim is a friend of mine in Ontario and she communicates with animals; she's helped me with my dog and cat companions for over 15 years. I wondered if her abilities could extend to wild birds...
...and they do. By using my most recent photos of this year's ospreys, she communicated with the female.

We spoke last evening and now we know that someone is indeed shooting the ospreys fishing out of his trout pond. There is also a possibility of poisoned fish -- which impacts more than the ospreys. Anything that eats fish (eagles, seals, herons, even ducks and bear, perhaps raccoons) can be harmed.
So what we have here is the worst of humanity. Instead of figuring out a way to protect the trout and avoid killing the osprey, this person is opting for the "easiest", and not entirely legal, solution.

When Kim relayed that the male osprey (of this year) was shot, Kim said the female's heart "is banging in her chest". She also conveyed that the female didn't desert her chicks; she was impacted by a poisoned fish, she was "brought down" and couldn't get airborn. She "said" that an osprey parent does not abandon their babies; their instinct is to survive and get back to the nest.

Through Kim, the female osprey said that stocking our pond with trout just for the ospreys to fish "would be like bringing back the breed". Apparently, shooting osprey who are "stealing" fish is a greater problem than we realize. Trout taste good and that's why they insist on fishing the trout ponds. So we have to entice them to stay close to home. If that's all it takes, bring on the excavator! We'll build a bigger pond.

In a Google search, a website outlining wildlife laws in Canada (isthatlegal.ca) states this about Nova Scotia and "nuisance wildlife":
Owners and occupiers of private property may, where "wildlife is found doing or is in a position where it may cause actual damage to a growing cultivated crop, an orchard, livestock or private property", "use all reasonable methods to scare away the offending wildlife" [WA 28(1)]. Where this fails a permit may be issued by a conservation officer allowing extermination [WA 28(2)].

To SCARE AWAY the offending wildlife. And a permit is need to allow extermination.

The problem is the kind of person who would shoot an osprey is ignorant and won't care. I see this all the time: people (loggers or landowners) who cut down trees in the spring when birds are nesting and laying eggs; people who shoot foxes and owls without first trying to better secure their poultry (we used to shoot foxes but I now regret this, and we don't need to do it anymore because they don't bother us and our chickens are protected). There is no attempt to live in harmony with nature, there is no attempt to have as little impact on habitat as possible. If it's a tree, it's clear cut; if it's a nuisance, it is killed. We shoot first, and never consider what we, as humans invading the animals' territory, can do to avoid killing.

I don't know what we do about people who don't care and who are ignorant (y which I mean lacking knowledge and common sense, or lacking basic decency and morality). This kind of human behaviour actually freezes up my brain; I can't comprehend it, and I can't cope with the anxiety -- and rage -- it creates in me.
I hate feeling helpless.
And so, what I know is this: I can't imagine living here in Nova Scotia without that nest alongside our house, without the provincial bird raising and FLEDGING two or three babies from that nest every summer. We've failed to send SIX new ospreys into the world the past two summers. We cannot let that happen again. Ospreys ARE ENDANGERED in our area. So we will spend our winter making plans to mitigate the behaviour of others. We will protect our ospreys and see our chicks fly off in September 2020.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

We Can Blame the Weather

On this day, July 31, 2011: An osprey chick takes short flights from the nest. 

Yesterday afternoon, the one osprey parent showed up at the nest and the surviving baby sat up. So as of 4:30 Tuesday, it was alive. The only thing is the parent didn't bring in a fish. She sat on the side of the nest and called.
"She's calling her mate to bring in a fish," Dwayne said.
She eventually flew off, the baby sat up for a while, then it disappeared.
I thought, This is crap. We know it's alive. We know it didn't eat yesterday. Why don't we try to save it?

"If the baby is still in the nest and there is a parent present, by law we can't interfere with the nest," a staff member at Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Brookfield, NS, told me. "If the baby is on the ground, then we could get involved. I know it's hard but sometimes you have to let nature take its course.
"Getting hit by a car or shot by an arrow is not nature," she added as any true and committed wildlife rehabilitator would.

She said sometimes a parent will push a baby out of the nest so we can hope this happens with this one, although prior to this crisis, the oldest and biggest baby hadn't been displaying the usual ready-to-fledge behaviour in the nest: flapping its wings, jumping from side to side to side, jumping up and down.
It was not yet ready to fly.
"We've often had the babies flying by the end of July," I told her. "This year, they weren't doing any of their wing flapping and hopping yet."

Summer 2016 - wing stretching.

"They were late because of the cold, wet spring," she answered. "There have been a lot of osprey nest fails in Ontario this year for the same reason."
They know this from the nests monitored by camera. There are no reasons, apparently, for growing chicks to suddenly die.

I couldn't find any news of this when I Googled but I did find an Associated Press article out of the States from mid-June that stated, "Any bird was in peril of nesting this year." A cold, rainy spring means wet nests, making it harder for birds to incubate their eggs.

The article is about the Midwest and looks at a monitored nest of peregrine falcons but perhaps what researchers found with this year's hatchlings could explain what happened in our nest. Joe DeBold, quoted, leads Missouri's peregine falcon conservation program, and they gathered up a nest of chicks for tagging.
"It was clear that something was wrong with the remaining chicks. They sat quietly on the table, their beaks and eyes swollen... DeBold said they appeared to be suffering from an infection, perhaps from having eaten rancid meat. Without the fully developed immune system of an adult bird, there's little they could do to fight it. And it would be folly for a human to try to rehabilitate them because only the chicks' parents can teach them to hunt for prey from the air, a skill they would need in order to survive as adults."
[article posted online by Associated Press, June 14, 2019, written by Emily Younker]

So there you have it. A possible reason for this crisis, and also a reason to not save the remaining baby. How do we teach it to fish when we are not ospreys?
In the end, we still have no babies launching into the world this summer. The second season no babies from the "Riverview nest" have made it into the world. Having seen them as chicks and celebrated them, I'm devastated, and feel like I am in mourning but it helps to have some answers, even if it's just theories and possibilities.

Summer 2016 - the first fledging takes flight while a sibling and a parent watch.

Monday, July 29, 2019


This is our osprey nest.
See anything missing?

All five birds. Gone.

Sometime between Saturday, July 20 and Sunday, July 21, one parent - who we always believe is the male - disappeared.
Yes, again. The mate disappeared. On Sunday morning, while I sat outside reading and watching the nest, the remaining parent flew off the nest three times towards the river, and came back. No one brought fish to the nest at all on Sunday.
No one in that nest - one parent and three large babies - ate fish on Sunday that I noticed. Normally, I see an osprey fly into the nest with a fish as I start out on my early morning walk but no bird flew over me. I thought nothing of that then.

Early Monday, I left for a week in Ontario and when I returned home, the worst news awaited me. No osprey parents at all. The babies were alone in the nest.

Okay, when one osprey parent disappears one spring (2018), it's mysterious and spiritual and symbolic. When one osprey parent disappears the following summer (2019), it's HUMAN INTERFERENCE.
This is no sad coincidence. You don't lose a healthy, attentive male osprey two years in a row.

The problem is we have no way of knowing exactly what is taking our ospreys. Eagle? Fishing line? A boat?
My husband's theory is that someone nearby has a trout pond and the ospreys have been fishing it. Instead of creating a habitat where the trout can hide, the pond owner is simply shooting the osprey. He actually thinks he has a right to protect his trout stock by shooting the provincial bird of Nova Scotia.

And I think the remaining osprey parent is gone too. Gone, as in killed. Because why would she abandon her chicks when the oldest is less than a month from fledging? Perhaps the youngest and smallest chick would perish if the mother couldn't bring in enough fish in a day and the two older and stronger chicks shoved the baby out of the way in order to eat. But I simply can't see why she wouldn't have started to bring fish in, to keep her half-grown chicks alive.

Here she is on the Saturday before I left (July 20) with the two older chicks on either side of her. See how big they are? They are - WERE - so close to learning to fly. By the middle of August, they'd be flying. They'd be learning to fish for themselves. I honestly can't imagine a parent -- even an instinctive, survival-of-the-fittest wild bird -- abandoning its chicks.
But the alternative is no better: She was killed, too.

And thinking of a man pointing a gun at our ospreys and shooting them out of the sky because he's too lazy and too stupid to create a protective habit in his trout pond fills me with murderous rage.
Because it's not just two, probably three, adult ospreys we've lost in the last two years. It's also SIX BABIES. Three eggs were abandoned last spring, and three chicks were left alone this week.

That's what is hardest about this. To look at the nest now and know there are three osprey chicks lying dead in it. Those strong, growing, wing-stretching bodies are still, and baking in the hot sun.
This is so unbelievably cruel. This is devastating.

For ten years, our ospreys came to this nest and made it through the summer. The only threat was the eagle in the summer of 2015, but it took the babies, not the parents.
And now, nine ospreys have been taken out of the life cycle. The circle of life has stopped here.
So I hope they stop coming to this nest. Perhaps we should take down the pole. We can't keep inviting ospreys to live here knowing their lives are endangered. I don't think I can take another summer of no babies getting to grow up and fly away.

*** UPDATE - later in the day:

I was washing the dishes late in the afternoon when I heard an osprey chirping. I went and looked at the nest - there was an adult osprey standing on the side of the nest.
It stood there for the longest time, looking down into the nest.
Then it spread its wings and flew off the nest.

It had a fish in its talons.


So...she is not dead BUT:
She let her babies die. No one brought any fish to the nest since I returned home two and a half days ago. She let her babies die. How could she not have managed to bring one fish a day to them, to keep them alive until they could fly? How could she not have managed to feed herself and her babies when they live right along the river?

I can't answer any of these questions. But this is too much. She came back to the nest with a fish, and found her babies dead. Too little too late.
This is even worse than the eagle snatching the three fledgings four years ago; at least then, we knew what happened. At least then, we had the chance to try and save one.


I have no idea what's going on. All I know is I was back in my office, trying to work, when I heard chirping. Went outside and saw this:

I feel like I'm losing my mind! For ten years, these guys showed up in April, fixed the nest, laid eggs and hatched out two or three babies who learned to fly in August then everyone headed south in September. Now it's just a shit show.

Looks like one of the babies, likely the first born, oldest and strongest one, managed to survive the past two days without food. But will one fish every couple of days be enough?

I'll try to find something else to write about in a few days.

(I told Dwayne that we need to buy a cherry picker so that if/when this happens again, we can simply drive the cherry picker over and toss fresh-caught trout into the nest for them to eat! At least then, we'll feel like we're helping.)

(Another thought: Any chance we could get an osprey-sized camera to attach to one of them so we can see what is happening???)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Funny Looking Peanut

Interesting observation: If there are only strawberries available, the squirrels eat them. But if I put out peanuts with the strawberries, the squirrels eat only the peanuts, and leave the strawberries behind.
Another interesting observation: It is unclear if the squirrels actually eat the entire strawberry. I've not seen one sit and eat the entire berry on the railing like they do with peanuts; they often run off with them. And I found a strawberry stashed behind a pot but no one ever came back for it.

One might think I have nothing better to do than sit and watch the squirrels.
One might think feeding them peanuts is expensive enough!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Don't Count Your Chicks Before They're Hatched

There are three babies!
When I announced the official sighting of two babies two weeks ago, I did leave room for the possibility of a third. Osprey eggs are laid about a week apart and tend to hatch on that same schedule (which we know from the experts, not from our observations of what is actually going on in the nest).
Because of the disappearance of the mate last spring, we had no babies at all last summer. So not only are we delighted to have a new and very protective new pair take over the nest, we are triply delighted to have a full slate of babies born.
That's a full nest. The mama bird up on the side of the nest most of the time should have been a hint to me that there wasn't much room left in the nest for her. This also means they both will be busy bringing fish to their offspring.
Next month, the flying lessons begin, but that last to appear? Always the last to leave the nest, always the most reluctant, but in the end, by early September, everyone make the leap and follows the river away from home.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Summer Reading 2

If I hadn't been doing a long, lazy browse in the memoir section of the library in Amherst, I might never have known this book existed. I was flattened by a cold last week and this was the perfect book for reading during a sick spell in early July.

Anne Barclay Priest, actor, shepherd and writer, published this memoir (as far as I can tell it's her only book) in 2006. The book opens, as prologue, with her reaction to the sudden, tragic death of a friend in Nova Scotia -- someone I would later learn was a vet and sheep farmer in Truro!
Although the book is set on the south shore of Nova Scotia, the exact opposite shore from mine, it's wonderful to read about someone who decides to move to rural Nova Scotia on a whim:
"I went up to Nova Scotia during the summer of 1971 to look at a piece of land that my friends, Ruth and Bob Cram, had told my ex-husband about."
And just like that -- she fell in love. Although she never hooks up with a Nova Scotia country boy, she often writes about how helpful her neighbours and local friends were; she learned quite quickly that Maritimers love to help.

Regardless of whether she was writing about people or animals or the weather, Priest was a simple and elegant writer, lots of description without being flowery.
I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second half; that's my bias towards Nova Scotia, but it also had to do with the interest and excitement of her learning to keep sheep. Once she started to write about her new sheep farm in New York state, however, (she wintered there and continued to summer in Nova Scotia), the story became very "sheepy" and more about breeding; I also wasn't much interested in her acting career. I was there for the sheep, the dogs and island life in Nova Scotia.
Plus, there's an entire, long chapter near the end devoted to her trip to Israel with "Peace Fleece" - I admit I skipped that chapter.

The real strength of this book is her summers in Nova Scotia: buying the land and a 200 year old  house to move onto the land, buying the island and putting sheep and cattle out there, then it's all the people she meets and how they teach her and help her. This is one tough cookie! Throughout the book, someone is always dying for some reason, but it is never overdone or sad; it's just a part of life.

I loved reading about a vet and sheep farmer, and his family, who lived close to where I live now (in Truro) -- and was delighted to discover the family still has its sheep farm on Isle Madame, Cape Breton, where my writing mentor and friend Marjorie Simmins lives. Marjorie says when I get the chance to visit her, she'll introduce me to the daughter, Sarah, who is keeping the farm going.

Anne Barclay Priest died in November 2010 at the age of 83.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Summer Reading 1

I certainly started my summer with two amazing novels!

Let's start with the one on the right: "Found Drowned" is written by my friend Laurie Glenn Norris and the story takes place on the River Philip in Rockley, just downriver from where I live. Laurie's novel is inspired by a ghost story she read about in a book put together by a local historical society, and she spent 25 years researching the details of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in the late 1800's to create a life for Mary Harney after her untimely death at the age of 16.
And that's all Laurie had: a location, a name and an age. But she had a real person who needed a life.

The book on the left is also written by a Canadian author, and this story is similar to Laurie's in that there is a real story to be told, and in the case of "Bellewether", the story is told through a ghost. This book is completely fictional, though; her inspiration is not a real person.

For so many of us, fiction is all made up. The place may be familiar, the characters may be based upon people we know, the story may be inspired by something that happened in real life -- but the story is our own, from our own imaginations. When I wrote a novel sixteen years ago called "The Mushroom Picker's Dog", it was inspired by a small news item I read in the Vancouver newspaper, but everything about the story was absolutely made up.

For these two novels, the authors have used as much true historical detail, and in some case, people, as possible.
Susanna Kearsley's novel moves between the past and present (a format she does very well; I recommend all her books) and unravels a ghost story in the present that turns out to be based on false information. The main characters, past and present, are made up, but the historical circumstances are, of course, portrayed as accurately as possible. This is the pleasure of reading of reading an accomplished historical novelist.

Laurie's novel is almost the opposite. It is created around a real person as the main character who inspired a ghost story based on her death, but with few details about her, and her family, Laurie had to make up an entire life for Mary, and an explanation for her death as well. It was a fascinating read I couldn't put down. I wanted to know what really happened to Mary Harney, even though her story is utterly fictional. As with Kearsely, Laurie portrays the historical setting as accurately as possible. She researched all the actual people she knew were involved in the original "found drowned" event, and researched all the elements of that time, including how an autopsy would have been done in 1877.

One note about the Susanna Kearsely novel (and this is something she acknowledges in her end-of-book explanations about the source of her characters): her portrayal of Indigenous people is what it always should have been. Through two characters, one in the present and one in the past, they are portrayed as real people to be respected and honoured, not as savages to be wiped out or a race to be mocked and denigrated. There were several instances when I wanted to leap onto Twitter and quote her portrayal. In her final comments, she quotes the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada: "The arts  help to restore human dignity and identity in the face of injustice", then she goes on to say, "And that's what I've tried to do."

I, for one, noticed and appreciated it.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Wisdom of the Country Boy

Sun streamers over the Northumberland Strait, taken from the River Philip bridge
My Nova Scotia Country Boy is full of sayings about the weather -- sayings that predict or forecast what's going to happen. I wrote about this a bit in my book but I didn't refer to everything he says, and I wasn't diligent about collecting them in the early years of our marriage. When I realized the forecast based on his sayings were usually right, I started to pay closer attention.

So Saturday morning, as I zoomed down the road to the Pugwash Farmers Market, I noticed sun streamers flowing down from the clouds.
According to the Nova Scotia Country Boy, "this is the sun drawing water," which means it's going to rain.
Well, there were a lot of streamers coming through the clouds and let me tell you, about seven thirty Saturday night, it poured rain. It's been hot and humid the last few days and we knew there was a thunderstorm-preceded break in the heat coming but we didn't expect the monsoon sideways rain that blew down for twenty minutes.
"Good think you watered the planters," said the boy, straight-faced.
(I did because they needed food. So there.)

He has another phrase, "Rain by seven, fine by eleven," that is always right -- until it wasn't on Canada Day. The statement means that if the rain ends by seven, it will be fine by eleven. On July 1st, it was raining at seven, it was raining at nine, and it was still raining at eleven o'clock!

Just found my little pile of papers on which I jot down his sayings:
"When the clouds make the sun look white, it's going to snow." It's definitely a winter-only saying -- with the humidex reaching 42 degrees yesterday, that is definitely not a "snow sun" in the photo posted above!

I love it when Dwayne talks country. When we're driving along and looking at what I think are simply sunbeams and he says, "The sun is drawing water," my heart contracts than expands like a balloon, filling with love for the transformation of the image in the sky before me and with even more love for this farm-raised, sky-gazing, river-running country boy.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

The Sight and Sound of Summer

While watching the two ospreys feeding their babies early this morning, I realized I hadn't posted the news: There are two babies!
You can see their two round heads to the left of the parent.

Ospreys can hatch up to three - our old pair used to do three every year - but so far, we haven't seen three heads, only two.  In another week or so, if there are three babies in the nest, we'll have no trouble seeing them; they'll be getting big. Remember, they need to be flying and learning to fish by the end of August. That clump of nest that's in the photo, between the two baby heads, is now gone -- pushed down perhaps by the parents sitting on the edge of the nest more as they feed the kids.
The other morning, as I left for my walk, an osprey flew over with a fish dangling from its talons. That sight never gets old.

We are delighted and relieved that we still have a nesting pair of ospreys on our property. As I write, the sound of a parent chirping is floating in through my office window. I can't imagine summer in Nova Scotia without that sound.

As we have from the moment the osprey pair claimed the nest in 2008, we continue to believe we are blessed by the ospreys. Even when it is a new pair, like this year's, who doesn't interact with us like our original pair did, we know they are here for a reason, and are an integral part of our rural, and spiritual, life -- as individuals but also as a couple.
This new pair sticks very close to each other and to the nest. Dwayne felt like the loss of the longtime mate last spring was a bad omen, so after his stroke in August, we're very much like these two: sticking close to each other and to our own nest.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Field Comes to the Deck

There may be a special place in my heart for groundhogs, since my father had one as a pet when he was a boy,
and I may believe a groundhog took up residence in our backyard just as I was starting to rewrite the story of my father's life,

when I was nine years old, my favourite book was "Frosty: A Raccoon to Remember" by Harriet Weaver (1973) so there is a very special place in my heart for raccoons.
I know they are large rodents who make noise and mess and carry potentially dog-harming bacteria. I know they are scroungers who knock over compost containers --

Did I ever tell you that's what I was doing behind the old shed at our summer house on Pugwash Point when Dwayne phoned to ask me out on a date? I was reinforcing the compost bin, trying to keep the raccoons out of it.


look at that face
look at that nose and those whiskers
look at those fingers

Raccoons are such clever little buggers.
I loved that book about the family who adopted an orphaned raccoon baby and raised it as a pet. Was that another early non-fiction influence?

Poor Mama, she came looking for whatever peanuts and sunflower seeds the squirrels had left behind. I know she has babies, at least four, because the dog and I saw them across the road the other day.
She came early last night, before dark but after it had started to rain -- again -- but she hit the jackpot: When I pointed her out to my husband, he stood at the sliding glass door and watched her for awhile. The cats crouched around his ankles, watching too, and I kept the dog quiet.
Poor dog, she is no longer allowed to chase squirrels off the railing or bark at the raccoon on the deck.
Then he cracked the door open and I was about to object to him scaring her away -- there wasn't much for her to scrounge so she'd leave soon anyway -- when he tossed a handful of peanuts out the door.

My Nova Scotia country boy fed the raccoon.
He's gone soft, this boy has.
An old porcupine gets safe passage through the front yard at supper time.
A groundhog is allowed to live under the garage and sit at its leisure on the laundry deck.
Squirrels get fed peanuts and sunflower seeds while Dwayne tries to get them to take from his fingers.
And a raccoon gets an extra snack on the front deck.

"We're not supposed to feed the wild animals, you know," I told him.
"She'll bring the babies here soon," he replied.
Baby raccoons! I think it's time I track down a long-lost copy of that 1973 book. It might be a reality check -- but somehow I think we've moved past reality now...

Thursday, June 27, 2019

More Field Notes

The field is a very busy place these days. One can hardly sit still with a cup of coffee without having to jump up to witness who is wandering through.
This morning, Dwayne called from the bathroom where he was brushing his teeth. "Come look out the bedroom window."

And this is what unfolded as we watched:

I can't resist adding:
Humans, please note - this is how you do it. Everyone minds their own business, keeps to themselves, nods Hello and How are you? Lovely morning, aren't the bugs bad this year? and continues on their way.
If the black bear and the white-tailed deer can hang out in the same field together, there is no reason why we can't all get along as well.

(My Disney-eque lecture falls apart when the wild things start eating each other... !)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Field Notes

Out in my field.
Last day of school. An entire summer of creative writing. Only that - no sermons, no prayers, except those that come from my heart as I write stories for children, stories for adults, stories for myself.

Out in my field in the hat I stole from my husband, who head is one size smaller than mine.
Wearing my boots and wool socks.
Carrying a yellow bucket that first had soil in it for the willow seedlings I planted by the pond.
Then filled up with wild irises, a bumper crop in our field thanks to the rains of May and June. One upside to a wet spring.
Although my father like red carnations and red geraniums, irises are the flower that make me think of him. When we arrived at the florist two days after he died, I walked over to the glass-doored fridge full of flowers and saw a bucket filled with purple irises. Just the like the ones growing along the lane of our summer house on Pugwash Point.
Purple irises, the symbol of royalty and wisdom.

Out in my field with a bucket of wildflowers and one goose feather plucked from the edge of the pond as a gaggle of goslings -- large, at their ugly duckling stage -- and their two parents hover amongst the bullrushes.

Later, while in the bath, I will find a tick on the back of my thigh, an unwelcome gift from the field. A reminder to not be lazy, and always change into pants that will tuck into my wool socks.
Later, while swabbing the back of my leg with rubbing alcohol, my husband will call from the bedroom, "Come and tell me what you see in the field."
And I will see something parting the growing grass and through the binoculars, I will realize it is not a bear cub separated from its mother.
"It's a really big cat," I tell my husband. "It's a really big bobcat."
Suddenly, finding a tick on my leg is not very exciting.

Later still, Dwayne will call again from the bedroom and we'll stand at our big window watching the young buck deer in our back yard, nibbling at the leaves on the elm tree. It will wander across the ditch to The Mound, where my father's ashes are buried, and red geraniums and purple irises grow in the memorial garden.

Last day of school and all this unfolds out in my field. As if the universe is saying, You know where you belong.

Monday, June 24, 2019

My New Muse

Shortly after I decided to rewrite the story of my father, this groundhog took up residence on our property.
The reason this is significant is that I grew up knowing that my father had a groundhog as a pet when he was a teenager. It's one of those family stories that has its own, inexplicable significant - making groundhogs rather mystical to me, I'm afraid!
So this fella showed up and burrowed under the garage. He wanders around the yard eating stuff growing in the lawn and for some reason, he likes to sit on the laundry deck. Surveying his kingdom, perhaps.
Basically, this groundhog has become my muse for the rewriting of this memoir, which I began last Friday and I have to tell you:

Honestly, I'm not even sure I can do it. For all six previous versions, I knew the story and I wrote it. I knew how it started and how it ended, and that was that. But now, this new version is completely different. It's focus is different, and there's a THEME to be followed. This different focus, and this theme are essential, they are what I've been told the story needs, but right now, I feel like everything is pinging around in my brain and I'm having a hard time grabbing what I need and anchoring it to the page.
Egads. It's bloody hard work already. I feel like I can't do it but some part of me is wondering if that's the secret this time: not knowing the story and letting it unfold as I go.

I wish I could ask my muse, but he seems to have scarped off to the field. I didn't think muses would be allowed field trips.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Putting Down More Roots

Remi checking out the willow branches on the window sill.
Apparently, some of the locals here believe all you have to do to propagate a willow tree is take a branch and stick it in the ground.
I don't want to waste time trying that so I do it another way: Put small branches in water until they grow roots. The first time I did it, I had success -- I was able to grow a lovely new tree out of a cutting from one of my father-in-law's willow trees.
But my last couple of attempts were failures. It might have something to do with the cats chewing on the branches.

I love willow trees. They have a special place in my heart because I associate them with a special memory of my father.
Our cottage at Rice Lake in Ontario had several old, massive willows trees lining the shore. One night, during a nasty thunderstorm, with lots of wind and lightning, I stood next to my father at the picture window and watched the wind whip the willow branches around. It was dark and loud really scary, and I worried one of the trees would break and crash down on the cottage, but everything was fine, we were fine. I've always felt safe with my father, no matter the storm. Even with him gone, I still feel safe with him.
So willow trees are a connection to my childhood, and to my father, their gentle yet strong tendrils holding me safe and sound in this memory.

This spring, I tried again to root some branches and it worked. Two of three branches grew roots and as soon as this 24 hours of torrential rain ends, I'm going to stick the rooted sticks into the wet, wet ground next to the pond -- where willows belong. How pretty is that going to be in a few years?
Also, despite the photo, the cats seem to have left these branches alone.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Bird Watching

Exciting times here along the river! New wild birds showing up, and Canada geese with their babies, and the ospreys working together to feed a couple of hatchlings; we'll start seeing their heads at the beginning of July.

Baltimore Oriole at the hummingbird feeder this morning. 

Rose-breasted grosbeak in our birch tree. 
We also have an American Redstart but I've not managed a photo of it. It has similar colouring to the oriole but it's smaller, like a purple finch.

Five goslings and two very attentive, protective parents in the field. 

Osprey leaving the nest with a fish. One parent remains with the hatchlings.
We know for sure these aren't "our" ospreys, the ones who first claimed the pole in July 2008, then returned the following April to build the nest and hatch out one baby that first year.
For starters, this pair spends more time in the nest together, and right now it seems as if both parents are involved in the feeding the hatchlings. Even when the one -- the male? -- is not on the nest, if he's not fishing, he's sitting on the perch in the field, staying close by.
They also are more skittish, chirping and flying off the nest when we walk over to the mound to plant flowers in the garden near the tree where my father's ashes are buried, and the first time Dwayne mowed over there, I thought one of the parents was going to dive bomb him! Although we are respecting their space, they will have to get used to us. We aren't going anywhere, and hopefully, neither are they.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Putting Down Roots

As I watched the young principal of the small rural school where I sub a couple of mornings a week set up tables in the gym for an upcoming community yard sale, I marvelled at his place in the community.
He's deeply ROOTED. He grew up in this place and returned after university to live there and work at the school he attended.
Everyone knows him.
For me, that is an experience I will never have, not only because I'm an introvert who doesn't put herself out there, but also because I've never stayed in one place very long.

My family doctor is thirty years older than that principal and nearing retirement. But he came from the same small rural community as the principal. At a recent appointment, my family doctor said several of the teachers who taught him in school are patients of his.


Except there's this: I grew up knowing that my father moved his young family out of Toronto in order to return to the area where he was born and raised. Yet that knowledge didn't keep me from moving around a lot, even across the country.
I still feel connected to that place where I spent part of my childhood -- the part that really imprints on you and makes you who you are. That's the place I returned to when I left the west coast, because that's where my parents lived. That's where my father died. Yet it never occurred to me to stay there, t put down roots alongside my father's.

What was I searching for?

I have lived on this rural property in northern Nova Scotia for twelve years. It's the longest I've lived anywhere. Even Trenton, Ontario, where my family lived for nearly twenty years, I can only count at most ten years of living there; I went away to university, I lived in Oakville with my best friend for two years, I worked my first job in radio in Bracebridge. I kept returning home but only to catch my breath and relaunch.

What was I searching for?

Thinking about this on a morning walk, I intentionally asked myself if it was time to leave, if twelve years was long enough. And I knew immediately, before the inquiry had even finished, that I am home. I have no urge to leave. There is no reason for me to leave. There is no cycle to my life; I'm not "supposed to" move on after five or ten years.
I feel rooted here on this 72 acre property in rural Nova Scotia. This is my home. This is where my heart is. This is where my spirit roams free, where my inspiration soars like the eagles over the river. I am grounded in this place in a way I only felt at our family cottages -- where there were trees and water and space to breathe.

I caught my breath here, and turned off the launching sequence. (Pardon my mixed metaphors)
This is my home in the world.

But being rooted into this red soil, into this life, into another soul, doesn't mean I don't want to branch out. When I think of "getting away from this place", I don't mean I want to pack up and move. I just mean I want to venture further afield. Through books, I want to meet more people, explore more places, get exposed to new perspectives, be inspired with more ideas.
I miss the chance to network with other writers; just this week, I had turn down another offer to meet someone for coffee because I live two hours from Halifax. I can't find the time to drive 45 minutes to Amherst to buy new underwear!

One of my favourite quotes that I've carried with me since I left Vancouver and landed back in Nova Scotia/Ontario is this one from Simone Weil, an early 20th century philsopher, mystice and political activist:
"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul."

Perhaps the question I should be asking isn't, What was I searching for? but What did I need? 

And that quiet voice inside me whispers, "Yourself."

(In Googling Weil's quote, I learned she went on to say, "It is one of the hardest [needs] to define. A human being has roots by virtue of his [her] real, active and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future."

That certainly ties in with how the principal and the doctor experience their life. If I ever get the chance to write a followup collection of Field Notes essays, there is definitely one anchored by this idea.)

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Be Careful What You Wish For

I've almost reached the tipping point for "Be careful what you wish for" but the upside for being busy writing is that I'm developing some amazing organizational skills. I've always said the busier I am, the more efficient I am so this morning, after walking the dog for an hour, feeding the wild birds, doing the chickens, feeding the cats and dogs, drinking coffee and eating my breakfast...
...I planted the herb garden.
The photo above is only half of it - the rosemary, thyme, tarragon and parsley - because I'm trying to give plants more space when they are little. I have two bad habits when it comes to gardening: planting stuff too close to each other, and planting stuff at the edge instead of in the middle.
Anyway, the basil and oregano is to the left.

And everyone admire the one red tulip that came out out of the five bulbs I planted along there. Why do I bother with gardens?
Twelve years ago, they seemed like such a good idea. I made gardens everywhere on this property. This is perhaps a lesson in quality over quantity, and also another example of my lifelong tendency for "more enthusiasm than skill". But thinking like that makes me feel grumpy, and sound grumpy, and I really do enjoy gardening even if my back can no longer take more than than 20 minutes at a time.
Also, there is a chance the lackluster performance of my tulips has more to do with our cold, rainy spring than my planting the bulbs too deep!

Let's end this post with some big enthusiasm for these two gorgeous tulips - two of the four bulbs I planted in a little end piece to the right of the herb garden. I say good morning to them every day when I hang out the feeders for the wild birds.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Locating The Keystone

My father in Canterbury, England, May 2002
Ten years ago, my father died.
Ten years ago, I started writing the story of how I ended up leaving a life and a marriage in Vancouver at the same time my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
That's always how the story started: with my misery and the early hints of Dad's problems while I lived in Vancouver.
But I couldn't sell that story -- not one of the six versions I ended up writing, including one version through a university writing program. In September 2015, a publisher said, "The writing's fine but the story doesn't grab me," and that was the last straw for me. I couldn't go any further with the story. I couldn't do it anymore; the time had come to put that memoir aside, and write something else.

For two days, I cried my heart out every time I walked the dog. I bent over and cried. I let it out because it was so hard to let it go.

Two months later, I signed a contract for Field Notes.

BUT first, I had coffee and cake with one of my writing mentors, the one who has been part of my writing life in Nova Scotia most consistently: Harry Thurston. I told him about the collection of essays on submission with Nimbus but he didn't want to talk about that; he wanted to talk about the memoir. He had some suggestions and I wrote them down on a napkin. Despite those suggestions -- or really, instructions -- from a cherished mentor, my brain couldn't wrap itself around them, couldn't find the way out of my original thinking about the story and into a new one.

Start with arriving in Pugwash, Harry told me. But I couldn't let go of believing the story started in Vancouver.

This is why some books take decades to get published: Because there's a kind of writer's block that keeps a writer from seeing her project in a new way, especially when she sees a particular pattern unfolding in a particular way. But since Dad's birthday in early March, knowing the tenth anniversary of his death was approaching, I've been thinking about him, about taking care of him, and about how I learned so much about him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and then after he died.

And sometime in the middle of April, it hit me: the story starts in Pugwash. The story starts with my arrival at that old house on the hill that I'd never been inside, and the story isn't about me and my failed marriage; it's about my father. It's about his life and his living and his dying. And it's about the man I barely knew but came to know through the memories of other people.
I'm a better writer now and I know how to weave in the back story, those little sentences that link Vancouver with Pugwash so that it enhances the story rather than distracts from it.

You see, even though I stop thinking about the memoir, I didn't stop thinking about what Harry advised. I didn't stop turning it over in my brain - start in Pugwash, start in Pugwash - until I finally dug up what was buried underneath my failed marriage story.

I emailed Harry earlier this week to tell him that he was right, and that I would tell the story as it starts in Nova Scotia. I told him that not only have I found the overall point of the narrative, but I found the story that starts the book and that I can write my way towards in the book (the second instruction he gave me that I wrote on the napkin).
He responded most kindly: "Each story requires its own method of telling. There is a keystone which, once found and dropped in, seems to hold the structure together-- first, however, one must find it. I'm so pleased to hear that you have done so. I think the book about your father and the father/daughter relationship will be wonderful in the end. You are a wonderful writer and this is a story worth telling."

So on this, the final day of May, I am looking forward to this project for the month of June.
Sometimes, you have to give up in order to not give up. Or, as early 20th century French writer Marcel Proust once said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes."

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Early In the Morning

When I wrote the title of this post, a tune entered my head and attached itself to the words. It's from  an old, familiar church hymn, so I let it weave its way around  my brain until I caught the common phrasing that let me know which hymn it is:
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee..."

I'm not a Bible literalist; I'm a Gospel, be-kind-and-merciful Jesus follower so I don't believe in the Biblical creation story. I don't think I'm walking in world created by God. I don't think I'm walking with God but with the energy of those who have left us, like my father and my dogs Stella and Maggie. The truth is much more fascinating and I don't have a problem with the truth.
Jesus was all about a new truth, a new way and a new life -- that's all to do with ethics and how we live our human lives in relationship with each other (and failing miserably at). There's enough scholarship and research about a new truth and a new way of viewing our world -- that's all to do with science and energy. (We're also failing miserably at taking care of this creation we believe God entrusted to us.)

I don't see God in a sunrise, but I see hope and peace and joy. Dawn reminds us that every day, we get a chance to start over, try again, keep going. Every day, we get a chance to change our behaviour, change our minds, change the path on which we're walking. Every day, we can face the truth -- whatever truth we need to hear and accept -- and become free because of it.

It's been a difficult spring for getting out and walking. A lot of rainy days. So I appreciate mornings like this one all the more, with the rising sun shining through what will be likely one of only a few gaps in the clouds today. It helps to calm my doubts and focus my mind, and heart, on what I want to accomplish during the next 12 hours. It permits me to let go of all that -- the worries and the wishes and the To Do list -- for the one hour I'm on the road. It reminds me that what keeps me awake and worried at 3 a.m. isn't the truth. Or at least, isn't the whole truth.

It's up to me to achieve my potential, to fulfill whatever purpose I have in this life, my "one wild and precious life" as poet Mary Oliver put it. Walking, doing yoga, sitting in stillness are my ways of opening up space inside me to hear what my spirit, my energy wants me to know. Sometimes there's a new truth, a new way and a new path that opens up when we give ourselves a chance, and the courage, to listen to our inner voice.

I love my morning walks. It's a legacy from my father, walking the dog early in the day, and it's another way I stay connected to him -- through our shared energy -- and find the courage to keep walking through each day with hope and peace and joy in my heart.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Making New Friends

It's that time of the year - writing my Field Notes column for the summer issue of At Home On the North Shore. Along with an article about labyrinths. It's a challenging spring to be creating pieces for a summer issue; with more rain than sun, nothing has greened up or bloomed out enough for decent photos.
Everyone's covered in mud and wearing rubber boots.
But what a great photo! There's something so sweet about this child in her rain gear looking at her baby goats (whose names, I can tell you, are Beans and Boots).
This is the daughter of a young woman named Shannon who, along with her husband and daughter, moved onto a property along the River Philip and are working hard to create a property that will support them. The goats are for milk, cheese and butter.

Inside the house, I was green with envy over Shannon's sour dough starter. Right next to a rising loaf of sour dough bread! At some point, there is going to be a sharing - I just have to come up with something with which to barter.
After our conversation and a flurry of messages from Shannon of all the answers she thought of after I'd left, I gave her some unsolicited advice: Document everything! Journal her gardening, journal her chickens and goats and working pony, journey the baking and the cheese making. Write it all down, even if it's just brief notes in the busy months -- she can spend the winter filling out the details.
I think she could publish a book about homesteading.
Of course, I start to think, "Workshops!" but for once I kept my enthusiasm in check. She's a busy woman, building gardens and greenhouses, milking goats and collecting eggs. To be self-sufficient means working every day to build up the resources.

This is Schmidt, her cat. Not only is he big and handsome, as well as polydactyl, he's SNUGGLY. My favourite kind of cat! On my recording of my interview with Shannon, there are periods of me chatting to Schmidt.
Really, I'm a terrible interviewer. Not at all efficient. But come on, look at that face. I'm a shameless snuggler of other people's cats.
I couldn't work Schmidt into the column so let me tell you that he was found under a bushwhacker as a one-week-old kitten. His eyes weren't even open! Lucky for him, Shannon and her family found him -- and that little girl is his best friend.
I love happy endings. So does Schmidt.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Time To Sit and Watch the Osprey

Thank you, Odette Barr, for this gift of your beautiful artwork.

Or rather, that title should read, "No time to sit and watch the osprey." If I'm that busy, I need to pause and relax, right?
The weather, however, is utterly NOT conducive to sitting outside watching anyone, so I'm fine with keeping on keeping on in my sunny yellow office. Yep, even me, who doesn't care about the weather and LOVES rainy days for writing, is finally noticing how much it is raining -- mostly because it's keeping me from walking.
Ice all winter, and rain all spring. Definitely growing a Writer's Butt this year!

But that butt is in the chair where it needs to be to get things done. I'm going through a period of intense creative output which is extremely exciting. Although only my magazine writing is for "now", I really feel I'm laying the foundation for a lot of accomplishments in the future.

Speaking of ospreys, this is actually the point of this overdue post: Odette Barr is one of a trio of writers responsible for bringing to literary life a Canada Goose named Camelia Airheart who flies all over the Maritimes, not so much seeking adventure as falling into it purely by accident.
Great fun! I love these books.
Odette, in fact, is the illustrator of the Camelia Airheart books and when I saw her drawing of a pair of ospreys in the latest book, Follow the Goose Butt To Nova Scotia, I knew I needed a print of my own. She dropped it off on Sunday afternoon while out for a finally-a-nice-day jaunt with her partner and their pup.
I'm going to get it reframed behind that special archival glass so I can hang it in my sunny yellow office without ruining the print over time. These are not "our" ospreys, by the way.

And like an osprey with her eye on a fish below the surface of the river, I must dive back into work. The interview for my next Field Notes column needs to be transcribed.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ten Years Ago Today

Ten years ago today, my father died. It's hard to believe it's already been ten years. I wanted to write something profound and eloquent about these years, what I've learned, what I've been thinking about but to be honest: It's far too long for a simple blog post. It's mostly about guilt and regret, and that makes it mostly about me. 
Yet what is truly meaningful for me is that, looking back on the last decade, what stands out for me most is what I learned about him after he died. Here is just one story, and it goes with the above photo. The italicized opening is the story my mother has always told about how they got their two cats:

I don’t know why we went to PetSmart. We went on a Saturday and your sister later said, ‘Mother, you never go to PetSmart on a Saturday because that’s when they have all the adoptable animals on display.’ We walked along and looked at the animals. There were two cats in the same cage, a grey and white cat and an orange cat. The sign said they were brothers and had to be adopted together. Reg looked at them and he wondered if we should adopt them. I didn’t think we needed cats so he wandered off. I stood and looked at the cats; they were handsome. When I found him, he looked at me like he was a six-year-old boy who really wanted something. ‘Couldn’t we get them?’ he said to me. ‘We have to get them both. Otherwise, they’ll be put down.’ We went back and adopted them. We didn’t like their names so we agreed to change them. Reg named them Pickens and Percy. 
Pickens was his mother’s family name and the family lived in Percy Township. 

In the fall of 2014, my husband went through a partridge shooting phase. As we sat down to our first meal, and my first-ever taste, of partridge, along with potatoes, acorn squash, carrots and parsnips, I said, “Dad should be here for this.”
When Dwayne and Mum looked at me, I said, “There’s a photo of Dad as a young man and he’s holding a live partridge in his hands.”
Mum laughed at the memory. “He brought it into the house! I said, ‘What are you doing?’ What if it had gotten loose...” She was still smiling as she began eating.
A thought hit me: If my father hadn’t moved to the city to become a funeral director or at least, if he hadn’t lived above his funeral homes in town, if he had lived in the country with lots of land, a pond, a barn, I think he would have collected animals. He would have kept them as pets. He wouldn’t have turned any away.
“Call Reg,” I said. “He’ll take it.”
Mum laughed again, knowing exactly what my non sequitor meant.
This was a nice thought to have, this alternate life for my father, a different way of envisioning his love of animals. 

Dad on the front porch of the Pugwash house, 2002

Friday, May 10, 2019

Measured In Decades

Painting by Norene Smiley

Today is my birthday.
Ten years ago, I was celebrating with my friends, and my mother, in Ontario -- and my father was dying. May 13 is the anniversary of his death, three days after my birthday.
In a few days, it will be ten years since he died. Time for a story.

Shortly after my father passed away, around 5 o'clock on a Wednesday, I called my husband's cell phone to let him know. He was on the road, coming back from Pugwash, he said.
Turns out, this watercolour rendition of my favourite photo of my father and me was wrapped in brown craft paper and sitting on the passenger seat of his truck.

That photo was taken above the small harbour at Deep Cove, British Columbia. It was May 1999, the year my father came out to Vancouver by himself for a visit. It was during that visit he offered me money for a down payment on a condo, and said, "When I die..." and I interrupted him to say, "If you die, Dad..." 
Three years later, he would be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

In February 2009, my husband asked for a copy of that photograph, to put on his desk at work, he said. I remember going into his office a month later and not seeing the photo, thinking of asking him if he wanted me to get him a frame, but at the time, we were trying to get me in for surgery on my herniated disc and I forgot about it.
I had the surgery, went home to Ontario for my annual visit a month later, was at my father's side when he died, then flew home with Dwayne a week later after the funeral.

That's when he gave me my belated birthday gift: this painting by Pugwash artist Norene Smiley -- that's why he'd wanted the photo in February, to have the painting done for my birthday.
He kept asking me if I liked it but I couldn't speak yet. When he said, "If you don't like it -- " I finally spoke.
"It's perfect. How could I not like it?" I said, incredulous that he would have any doubt. How could this not be the perfect gift at the perfect time? What made him, way back in February, think of doing this? What voice whispered the idea to him? Thank goodness he paid attention. 

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Chicken Delight

Finally hung the chicken paintings by my friend, Archan Knotz. Aren't they delightful?
My friend, Bruce, built the frames for me out of barn boards.
Original art by a local artist hanging in my office -- that's gotta boost the creative writing vibes, right?

(I interviewed Archan six years ago for my "In Conversation With..." column. A lot has changed in her life since then, including a change of address, but here is that column.)

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Riverview Wildlife Report #4

I wanted to start this post with a drawn-out expletive but my mother would object and since she stands in the doorway of my office with that look on her face, and I can't escape because she's blocking the only exit, once you've read this post, you'll say the drawn-out expletive yourself.

A week or so ago, I snapped these photos of the fox family living on our riverside lot across the road. Foxes are such beautiful creatures, and they live in families -- fox fathers are very devoted to their kits -- but my first thought was: Too close to the road! I understand the appeal of the river but really, it's not the best real estate for any animal. Every time they go hunting, the foxes have to cross that fast and busy road; add two playful kits to the mix? Dread.

And this morning, that dread found a place to rest. Alongside the light little body of one of the fox kits lying on the edge of the road.

If you've read my book, you know how I feel about "road kill" -- how it guts me, how it haunts me. The body of that pretty little kit was the size of my forearm. I bawled as I moved it off onto the shoulder. I cried, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," the way I always do when I have to walk by an animal killed by a vehicle.
After I'd moved the body, and its intestines, I noticed an organ -- its liver? -- tiny and red, on the asphalt.
All of us gutted.

And I don't think we'll have any foxes around by the time spring turns to summer because the adults raid our neighbours' property -- where there are roosters and rabbits and geese -- so I expect they'll be shot. We're wondering if one of the parents has already been shot.

This is the part of country living that breaks my heart. The havoc wrought by humans -- by our vehicles on the roads, by our machinery in the woods, by the garbage filling our ditches and rivers and oceans. Garbage, asphalt and concrete instead of trees, wild flowers and water. Who are the truly wild and uncontrollable creatures on this earth?