Thursday, October 03, 2019

Family History


Like the journey of Granny's chest, I'm on a journey I never anticipated.

I wrote about the journey of Granny's chest in an essay by the same name in my book, Field Notes. In it, I talked about discovering that the old chest my sister and I had played in as kids actually came all the way from Liverpool, England, with our ancestors. Granny was my mother's great-grandmother -- not to be confused with her Gran, who lived in the house pictured above.

That house on Linden Avenue in Scarborough, Ontario, was built by MY great-grandfather (Gran's husband) in 1926. Granny's chest was in the attic of this house -- it was her son, Henry (my maternal great-grandfather), who built the house.
In the essay, I figured it out: John Everest and his wife, Sarah Ringer, immigrated to Toronto, Canada, from England. Their son, Henry, married Mary Latham, known as Gran. Henry and Mary were my mother's grandparents.
Gran lived in this house until she died.
After she died in 1947, my mother and her sister and their father (my mother's mother died in 1945), moved into this house on Linden Avenue in Scarborough. The chest -- which the family started calling Granny's chest -- was in the attic of the house. We have no idea if the chest belonged to John (Banny) and Sarah (Granny) Everest but it's a safe assumption since the chest had Liverpool painted on it, and they came from England.

The whole point in telling you this is: I lived in this house on Linden Avenue, too. I lived here from about four months of age until I was three. My parents sold the house and used their share of the proceeds to buy a funeral home in Cobourg. Until this week, I hadn't paid any more attention to this house on Linden Avenue than what I've seen in photos of the first three years of my life. The house disappeared from our family history, and from my life, in 1973, and I've never thought of it since or even asked to drive by it whenever we were in Scarborough.

But now that I'm working on a book about my dad, I'm returning to Scarborough and my early years -- thanks to Google maps -- and for someone who has moved around a lot in her life, I'm shocked by how much of my childhood landmarks STILL EXIST. The funeral home where my father worked, the fish and chips shop where we ate on Friday nights, the house my parents lived in when they were first married (and where they brought me home to from the hospital), and this: the house my great-grandfather built.

On the outside, nothing has changed. Those front windows represent what my mother remembers as the sunroom and the music room (two separate rooms I bet are now all one room with the living room because that's what I'd do). The living room windows were on the left side where the "front" door was, off the driveway. That room on the second floor overlooking the street? My room.

My room. It's still there. It won't look the same as my photos from the early 1970's. But in a world where so much has changed and is changing, in a city where people tear down the little houses to build lot-filling "monster" homes, the brick house my great-grandfather built 93 years ago still stands, looking exactly like it did when I wandered that street, with our dog alongside me, and stole the bread cooling on the window ledge at our neighbours' house next door.

My mother and I sitting in front of the living room windows.




Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Advice From A Sunflower


It's been a rough year for my husband's sunflowers. Because of the cold, wet spring, he was late planting his seeds. Because of a torrential rainfall on July 1st, he lost half of his seeds; they washed away or were too wet to germinate.

But a whole bunch of sunflowers did manage to grow, and were just beginning to bloom, several weeks behind schedule, when Hurricane Dorian flattened them all on September 7.

And yet.
The remaining sunflowers didn't lie down and die. They didn't give up. They kept growing. They kept blooming. They simply altered how they did it.
I didn't notice what the sunflowers had done until I went to cut a few for the guest bedroom and realized there isn't a straight stalk among them.
The photos show how the sunflowers kept growing upwards, towards the sun, even though the bulk of their stem was lying flat on the ground. The blooms are big and healthy and full of pollinators; even this close to the ground, the bees are finding them. They are as beautiful and bright as if they were standing perfectly straight.

Take this advice from the sunflowers, then: If your roots are strong and supported, no matter what storm flattens you, you will bloom. You can still achieve your purpose even if you are a little bent out of shape. Who needs you will find you. Your beauty will still shine brightly even if you are laying low.

Anyone driving by and feeling sorry for our flattened sunflowers is missing out on the real story of those surviving blooms.





Saturday, September 21, 2019

Smash and Crash


Once again, I smacked up against that old adage, You don't get what you want, you get what you need.
For the last two weeks, I've been busy. That usual mantra of "I'm so busy." I'm not overwhelmed, just working all the time. Lucky for me, even though I work - mostly write - seven days a week, there are plenty of breaks to keep me sane.
But still. I've been wondering if I'm doing too much on the writing side, trying to cover too many projects. Maybe I'm splitting my creative energy over too many areas.

This busyness has been exacerbated by a wonky internet connection. Our antennae was knocked out of alignment by the hurricane so using the internet, which is what I do for work, and for this blog, became extremely challenging. 

People often say to me, "I suppose you're working," or "You're always so busy." And yes, I am. But what these people don't understand is that I'm not at the point in my career where I'm settled and secure in my job and cruising to retirement. I have three part-time jobs: one pays well but I'm not good at it; one I'm good at but there's no future in it; and the third is the one I love doing but can't seem to make it more solid. I'm still chasing that dream of moving out of freelance writing and into book publishing.

I'm tired of it, to be honest.
An author friend recently suggested I take a break from writing, and by break, she meant step away from all writing for awhile. Actually do other work.
And I'm seriously considering that. The book projects can be on submission a long time so why not do on full-time job while I'm waiting?
So much to think about. I'm seeing signs my brain is getting worn out.

Now you're wondering what all this has to do with a photo of a bandaged thumb, and getting what you need.
Apparently, I need to rest. Or several days of rest. Because as I was getting ready for my bath last night, I went to close the sliding door in the bedroom and it was a beautiful night outside so I wasn't paying attention and for some reason, my thumb was over the locking mechanism.
Yep, what you just thought is exactly what I said out loud. For a long time. Smashed her up good.

So I took it easy today. My weekend To Do list included Fence garden out front, Sort bags in garage for recycling, and Clean spare room (Aunt Gail arrives on Monday). The chickens also need cleaning out and it wouldn't hurt to start cleaning the gardens.
There will likely be a few days of taking it easy, then supervising someone to be my hands because I can't do any of that work with a split thumb nail and some kind of hole in the pad of my thumb that I haven't taken a good look at yet.
I did nothing but read today. And type until it started to hurt my thumb.
I'm not getting what I want, but I guess I'm getting what I need.
And right now, I need another Tylenol.



Friday, September 13, 2019

Post-Hurricane Dorian Post 1

Leonard, supervising storm games. 
Finally getting a chance to post some photos of the category two hurricane that blew through Nova Scotia last weekend. Our power went out around 3 pm on Saturday and it was three days before it was restored. Our internet connection just came back yesterday afternoon. 
Fortunately, we have a generator so we were able to keep our freezer frozen, and the water pump pumping. I'm not one who wants the house to operate on a generator as if it's "business as usual". For me, the generator is part of the emergency system so I still used the water we had in pots and jugs, I didn't flush every time, and we played Scrabble by candlelight. With a little help from a friend. 
It was nice to be able to watch the news, though, and know what was going on in Halifax. 

Before Hurricane Dorian arrived - Saturday, Sept. 7

After Hurricane Dorian left - Sunday, Sept. 8
What was damaged simply added to our emotionally draining summer.
It wasn't bad enough Dwayne's sunflower crop was half of what it normally is because of a cold, wet spring -- and one final deluge at the end of June. Nope, we had to have a category 2 hurricane hit Nova Scotia just as the sunflowers that did come up were beginning to bloom.

The hurricane also cost us the two blue spruce trees that towered over the back of our house. They didn't snap at the truck; they simply pulled up out of the ground. My husband planted those 37 years ago; not a single bit of rot inside them. They were strong and healthy. I'm sorry to see them go, and I know the squirrels and birds will miss them too.
Dwayne was able to save about five feet of one trunk so that will get a bird feeder in winter and perhaps a bird house for summer.
The good news? The second one narrowly missed smashing onto the gazebo. Can you imagine if wed lost that a mere two months after building it?!


Hurricane winds are hard on the nerves, but this is yet another humbling reminder of what we can't control in our world. The weather will always remind us what really is in charge of our lives.
We also are humbled by the fact we lost sunflowers and trees but not our income -- like the farmers in the valley whose fruit and corn crops were blown to the ground -- or our lives -- like so many people in the Bahamas. 



Friday, September 06, 2019

The Secret of the Bones


Last evening, after shutting up the chicken coop for the night, I wandered over to my father's garden to check out the sunflowers I'd planted there. They finally are beginning to bloom. I pulled some weeds, read Dad's engraved stone, then started to looked up.
It's a poignant time around here because this is the time of year when the entire osprey family, parents and fledglings, leave the nest for good as they begin their migration south.
This is the time of normal leave-taking, as nature intended. This is the second year in a row we've been denied this ritual.

A little voice said to me, "Go walk in the field underneath the osprey nest."
I think I wanted to find a feather but instead I found an answer.

Only several steps in, a well-picked carcass lay abandoned in the grass. I believe it is what's left of the oldest, largest osprey baby, the one we last saw on July 29.



This discovery creates a slightly different narrative than the one we had in August.

I've assumed all three babies perished in the nest after, we believe, their father was killed by someone in the neighbourhood who has a trout pond. The mother -- perhaps injured in some way -- wasn't around much. This meant the three babies weren't getting enough food but it also meant they weren't being protected from the eagles.

I remember, on a few days after July 29, seeing the surviving osprey parent land on the edge of nest.  I can't recall if she had brought a fish with her. She seemed to be looking down in the nest, and at the time, this seemed both sad and gruesome -- she'd be gazing at the bodies of her three babies.
Now I wonder if she was looking for the offspring who'd been alive a few days earlier.

This carcass suggests that baby was picked off by the eagle. Unfortunately, as we learned in the summer of 2015, with an eagle nest right across the river (the result of 2014's Hurricane Arthur knocking down the longtime nest further upriver), our ospreys must be vigilant at keeping eagles away from their nest. One of the hallmarks of this new breeding pair was their attentiveness to the nest; there was always a parent in the nest. They were diligent about driving away the eagles when they flew nearby. But with one parent gone, our baby ospreys were alone for too long and the eagles took advantage.

It's one thing for ospreys to be deliberately and senselessly killed by humans, but another to be taken as part of the cycle of nature. As much as I don't want the osprey babies preyed on by the eagles, at least that makes sense. Nature is beautiful and brutal, and as much as it breaks my heart, at least it's based on primal survival instincts.

I collected everything I found in the area around the carcass and brought it all home (I'd hoped to find the skull but it's been taken away by the eagles or another animal). I wanted to photograph it and share this story. I wanted to show you the skin and claws still attached to one foot and leg. The one to the right I found in another spot.


This carcass has been out in the field underneath the osprey nest for over a month but I couldn't go over there until now. My grief and my anger made it impossible for me to even think of being near that space, let alone discover something like this. For weeks, I've been glancing at the nest -- involuntarily, I can't help myself, the habit it so ingrained -- and thinking of the bodies in there. Wondered if the "death nest" meant no other ospreys would ever want to take it over. And maybe that's better, if no one nests there again. If no one is tempted to fish trout of out the killer's pond.
Yet last night, that small voice told me to go into that space. I didn't find the assurance I need, but I did find a plausible answer to what happened.

What would not have happened if a human hadn't interfered with the normal cycle of nature.
Claws crossed, my friends, for a different outcome in the summer of 2020.



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Taking My Art Back

My field of flowers is on the left. Louise Cloutier's is on the right. Obviously.
I've had a breakthrough.
I remember how to paint. How to paint my way, the way I'm comfortable and confident painting. It's more random than precise, definitely not detailed. It's not the way of the paintbrush, but the way of the hands and the weird tools, with the runny paint and the splatters.
How I love to splatter!

I've been taking Louise Cloutier's art classes at ArtQuarters in Pugwash again this summer, a regular Monday night class and then periodic "One Hit Wonder" classes, which is how the field of wildflowers came to be. Of course I wanted to paint a field of wildflowers!
And after a summer of frustrating art projects which are a reflection of my negative head space and not Louise's teaching, that painting reminded me of how I used to paint when I first moved to rural Nova Scotia. I found it relaxing. But I got away from it; got busy, got discouraged, got distracted. Poured all my creative energy into writing.
But all write and no paint makes Sara an unhappy girl.
Because that's not the only remembering I've done this summer.
There are voices in my head that have nothing to do with writing. 

The Grade Nine Art teacher who told me not to bother taking any more art classes.
The teaching supervisor who told me, in my final practicum, not to bother becoming a teacher.
Twenty-five, thirty-five years later, those statements mean something: they mean a lifetime wasted. They mean not only a path not taken but a path denied. They mean countless of opportunities missed, potential not realized, decisions made based on wrong information.

I am an artist. I am a teacher.
I'm not skilled at either because I was denied the chance to learn by doing. My personality is the type that internalizes, boxes in, keeps quiet. I never told anyone. I wasn't the type to tell my parents and get outraged, to say, How dare he? and I'll show him.
I wasn't the type to say, "F**k you, I'm going to take more art classes, I'm going to become a teacher." But now that I'm 49 years old and living with the ramifications of not being an artist, not being a teacher, now that I'm saying, "I'm too old for this shit", I'm developing that necessary "F**k you" attitude.
The one that says I am and I will be, and I don't care what you say or what you think because
YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. That's the new voice inside my head. Sure, it swears but sometimes, you need something strong and powerful and shocking. To wake you up. To make you take yourself seriously.
To make others back away and think twice about telling you what to do.

It's unlikely I'll become a teacher, I just don't have the experience or professional development to start now, but I'm going to be an artist. Wait - I am an artist. I'm just going to become a better one.
I'm going to draw and paint again. But with a plan and a discipline.
Thirty minutes a day on drawing. Drawing the same thing every day for a week. I'm going to start with drawing the chicken coop.
I've cleared off my drafting table so I can paint again. I'm going to paint the wildflowers again and again until I've learned something, until I'm satisfied, until it doesn't want to be painted anymore. I'm going to do torn paper collages because they are fun. I'm going to recreate a painting I did the first summer I was back in Nova Scotia, when I first came back, from the west coast, in 2002. Back when I first remembered what my Grade Nine art teacher said to me.

Well, F**k you, Mr. Livingston. The first book I write AND illustrate, I'm dedicating to you.




Friday, August 23, 2019

August Sunshine


This sunflower is growing at the edge of our rock garden. Not the inside edge but on the driveway side. It was "planted" by the birds eating sunflower seeds in the winter. Thank you, blue jays!
There are six other sunflowers scattered around our house that I dug up as seedlings out of our lawn. Two of them are on my mother's balcony.
You can never have enough sunflowers -- just look at its big yellow glory!

It's a good reminder that good things happen when you least expect it, and big, beautiful things grow from small seeds you may not even know were planted.

The expression, There aren't enough hours in the day, takes on a whole new meaning this August. I'm trying to cram an entire summer of creativity into two weeks!
The days start later so instead of waking up with the dawn at 5:30, I'm not getting out for my walk until twenty after six. That means my morning routine of feeding the animals, drinking coffee and eating breakfast, and doing a little reading gets bumped back an hour.

That's an hour I need now!
I've finally shaken my despair over the unnecessary death of the three baby ospreys and over the utter silence from the publishing world about my submissions. I've finally hit my stride with two new book projects, both related to growing up with a funeral director for a father and living above a funeral home for the first twenty years of my life.
I hit my stride just as my summer break from church writing and substitute teaching is coming to an end but the energy of a new and exciting project provides energy for everything. I know how to juggle all three jobs now and part of that is taking it one day at a time. And writing a To Do List every night before I go to bed.

And I don't want to rush the last week of August. It's Dwayne's birthday on Monday so we're going on a little trip to celebrate, and I have TWO art classes next week, plus some novels I can't wait to get into. So I might just take it easy next week, and make the most of the very last week of summer. There's a gazebo with the perfect reading chair right in my back yard...

I shall be like this sunflower next week: big and happy and glowing.
And when September arrives and work gets really busy, I will look at my new book projects and remember how this sunflower came to be: a seed planted "by accident" that grew into a big, beautiful thing.



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

THE WORST HAS HAPPENED


This is our osprey nest.
See anything missing?

THE ENTIRE FAMILY IS GONE.
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.

IT BROUGHT A FISH TO THE NEST.

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.

**** ANOTHER UPDATE:

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,
BUT

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.



BUT




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:

IT'S BLOODY HARD.
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.

I CAN'T IMAGINE THAT.

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.