Monday, June 30, 2014

A Very Good Morning

Rosie our rabbit finally moved into her cottage last night.
I've been waiting for 1) the grass to grow thick and tall inside the outdoor cage and 2) the nieces and nephews to arrive so they could help. They are so eager to help Aunt Sa with the chickens and rabbit but they are quick and many, curious and long-limbed, and scare more than they mean to.
Despite being half-wild, not really a pet, Rosie lay frozen still in my arms while the kids gave her a good patting. Her fur is so soft. They marveled at her cat-like nails.
As I carried her outside and around the corner of the coop, she lifted her head towards the setting sun and relaxed in my arms.

When I checked on her this morning, she'd already made trails through the grass and was soaking up the summer sun.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Memory House

We had supper last night with some old, dear friends in this old, dear house.
A house my family called home for fifteen years. Really, it was my parents' summer home; my sister and I were far away living our own lives yet when my first marriage ended and I knew I would leave Vancouver, this was the place, the only place, I wanted to go to. Where I needed to be.
The Memory House. Title of a 2008 Saltscapes article but also how I felt last night.
It started when I saw how tall the roses were growing, a foot over the railing. I realized the front of the house now resembles how this old house looked, several transformations ago, in its original state in the 1890's when the Seamans lived there, when the house was further down the hill and the lilacs (torn out for the new septic system) pressed up against the front porch.
So much has changed and yet nothing has changed. 
I thought I'd write about how I felt last night, how looking out at the yard, at the lupins and the shed, at the aged apple tree under which my dog Maggie is buried made me wonder if we should have kept the house, how being in the pantry kitchen made me miss the house so much I choked up, how seeing the vast and vibrant sunset over the harbour made me long for those summer nights again. But what I am going to say is how grateful I am that the house we loved is still the house we loved.
It is not an empty shell no one visits.
It is not renovated beyond recognition.
It is not rundown or neglected or abused.
Our memories are still there.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why I Love My Work

And would love to take my work home with me!
This is Tutti Frutti, one of the goats who lives at Willow Lodge in Tatamagouche. She and Annabelle plus Barney the pony are part of the story I'm writing for the Chronicle-Herald newspaper. This piece is a labour of love; going to have to strive for neutrality because anything that shines a light on good people taking good -- make that exceptional -- care of elders in a long-term-care facility deserves enthusiasm.
When you interview half a dozen employees, from the administrator to the Master Gardener, and find out all of them have worked there for 23, 26, 31, 34 understand that you are in a very special place.
Of course, the joy of Gerald's face as he feeds carrots to these three animals as they poke their heads inside the window of his room is a big hint, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What the World Needs Now

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Take a moment to be thankful we do not live in Kenya or Iraq or Syria or Ukraine. Or any other country where you pause when leaving your house in the morning to briefly wonder if this is the day you may not return.
Those three RCMP officers who were gunned down in Moncton on June 4 may not have consciously paused when they were called out because what happened to them is rare in Canada. 
We don’t know how lucky we are. But is our luck running out?
Something unimaginable happens that pulls us together in communal shock and grief and tenderness, into a “new normal”, but after a while we drift back to the old normal. 
According to Albert Einstein, this is definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
It shouldn’t take a horrific and tragic event to make us behave better, to be nicer to each other, to pause in our bullying in school, at work and online. Communities become united by their pain for a few weeks, months if it’s the community where the event took place, but do we stay profoundly changed? Does that consideration for other human beings become the new normal?
If you’re watching or listening to the news these days, you’re thinking the answer is No.
The same tragic events keep happening so it’s time for a revolution: Change something. Just one thing. 
The easiest thing to change and the one thing each of us has absolute control over is our attitude so let’s start with our thoughts and the words coming out of our mouths.
If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. 
Complain less (even about the weather), say fewer negative things about one’s self (“I’m so stupid”), about others (“What a loser”), and about life (“Nothing ever turns out the way I want it to”). 
Too nice for you? That’s the problem. We’ve bought into the idea that it isn’t cool to be nice all the time. We like being sarcastic and ironic.
How’s that working for us? 
As communities, we need to stop focusing on our differences and begin celebrating what we share as human beings. As communities, we need to Gandhi-up and be the change we want to see in the world. We need to support each other all the time, not just in times of crisis. Then maybe those children, those parents, those adults who don’t have the right tools in their toolbox will find the support they need from the rest of us, their neighbours and friends, colleagues and employers. 
This means a revolutionary change from judgement to support. 
If we treated everyone all time the way we treat each other during a crisis, with concern and compassion and gentleness, every person, every child, every family would be stronger. Every community would be stronger. Everyone would be safer.
At the very least, certain problems might not escalate if we recognize them early, talk about them and provide help for the person who is in trouble.
Much more effective than declaring after the fact with great authority, “I always knew there was something wrong with that kid.”
If you do the same thing over and over again and nothing changes, do something different. Hate and fear and anger is getting us nowhere so why not try a little love (a.k.a. compassion, support, acceptance, non-judgement) for a truly new normal?
There’s a song that has been running through my head since I started thinking about this column so this ear worm is my gift to you and to the world:            
What the world needs now
Is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing
There’s just too little of
It’s hard to insult someone when you’re humming that song. 
Let the revolution begin.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Was She Thinking?

When the dog shows up at the door with a face looking like this, you know some investigation is in order.

She keeps busy burying and digging up and re-burying her bone so we figured this is what she was up to. Since it had been raining for four days, the ground would be soft.
And muddy.
"Where's your hole, Abby?" I asked. "Go find your hole."
I learned ten years ago, with Stella, that there is no point in getting annoyed with most projects dogs set themselves upon. What's the point? Stella would come racing up the lane with a dead seagull in her month. If I hollered at her, she'd run away (yes, I learned this by doing) so to get the dead seagull -- or whatever -- out of her mouth, I asked her to show me her treasure. I just had to act as excited as she was about whatever it was hanging out of her mouth and she'd bring it to me.
Learning to be a cheerleader was the hardest lesson of my life.
"Show me your hole, Abby."

"Is your bone in there?"

No bone.
I have no idea why she chose to dig this particular hole in this particular spot but my working theory is that she is giving "Papa" another hole to fill. She helped him plant linden trees a few weeks ago so I guess this is where she'd like to plant a tree.
Likely a dogwood.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

You and Me

There's a verse written on the side of a wide candle holder in our home that says the best part of the day is the end when we get to be together.
When we get to be you and me.
All day, we go our separate ways, work and errands, phone calls and interviews, blog updates and doctor's appointments. Rushing around, being busy, doing all the things that need to be done for us to feel like we have this life, this property, this relationship under control.
So last Tuesday when I arrived home from work, I said to my husband, "Let's go for a bike drive."
As soon as I get on that back seat and wrap my arms around his chest, as soon as I feel the vibration of the bike and hear the (unfortunate) roar of the engine, I feel like I am home.
Everything else is put aside -- worry, lists, plans -- and we head into the woods where we belong. Connected to each other, connected to the world. This world, natural, wild, free.
I am me again.
We are you and me again.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


How can we complain about the weather? It is so INTERESTING. How can we not get excited about a sky like this? So much is going on and we can't control a single bit of it. We must stand in awe of that kind of power over us egotistical humans.
The weather makes us wonder -- Is it going to rain? When will the sun shine again? What do those clouds mean?
My mother's friend Margaret died in December 2011. The summer of 2010, Margaret visited us here and apparently she loved clouds. Knew their names and what their shapes and colours meant. So now whenever my mother sees clouds, she says it's Margaret at work. Sometimes Margaret is very busy, sometimes she is relaxed and not working too hard.
Me, I'm partial to her active days.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Home Bittersweet Home

Every time I see a bird sitting on top of a wood pile, I assume he or she is looking for their home. Hoping to retrieve momentos of their life, chick photos, before and after photos of the nest, anniversaries, birthdays. You know: all those things we collect in our homes because we think we are going to be there forever and someone will want them when we are gone.
But the trees are gone and the birds are still here.
For now.
I think there is a permanent scar on my heart because of all the clearcutting that is happening around here. I feel it every time my heart beats, this little pull, a little pain, from the original wound of 2009 when the woods way back were flattened, opened up again in the summer of 2013 then the winter of 2013-14.
The latter being the worst. The wound reopened with a rusty, jagged knife, a wound that didn't heal well.
Back even further, beyond the woods we bike through, beyond the very end of this unimproved road that takes us through those woods, there are more woods being destroyed.
One was flattened through the winter and another one is going now.
We can actually hear the sounds of machines all the way to our home.
The sound that peels the scab off that puckered wound in my heart.
As I walked along the road this morning in the sunshine, I could hear the whining of the machines in the distance -- yet I was walking next to the clearcut of last winter. So many trees are being destroyed and no one is replanting. The cut of 2009? Not replanted. The cut of last summer? No sign of any intention to replant.
This is my new obsession. Trees. Before we cut them down and use them, they are already homes and fuel and food. They provide us with oxygen and shade and beauty. I truly am starting to ponder a world without trees.
No trees, no bees. It ain't gonna be pretty. 
My husband is going through a tree planting phase, inpsired by the loss of the woods next to us. More than a dozen trees planted by the end of this month. But it feels like we are bailing out an ocean liner with a sand bucket. Too little too late.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Rainy Days

Instead of hanging out laundry, I'm hanging out with a trio of mourning doves. Our gardens are loving this weather although yesterday's heavy downpour means the potato hills have to be hilled up again. But so wonderful to see all the sprouts coming out of the grounds. The promise of good things to come.
Had a brief flash of sunshine around nine o'clock. It's always there. Always sunshine behind the clouds. The promise of good days to come.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In Conversation With...Amy Tizzard

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Amy  Tizzard’s story proves two things: A little education (or a lot) can take you a long way, and no matter where a Nova Scotian goes, they always come home. 
When Amy graduated from Oxford Regional High School in 1998, her budding love of travel was evident in her choice of post-secondary education. She headed to Sir Sandford Fleming College’s School of Natural Resources in Lindsay, Ontario. 
“I knew going in that I wanted something hands-on and outdoors-oriented,” the 33-year-old says of her career plans. “I went there because in the first semester, you take Fish and Wildlife, Forestry, Geology, Drilling and Blasting. Then you specialize.”
After her first year, Amy specialized in geology. Out of all those possibilities, what grabbed her about geology is that it was the most interesting, a feeling clinched by her first summer job in geology.
“My first summer jobs were at Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, and that was fun. I was the one taking tour groups to the beach and talking about the rocks and the geological history including dinosaurs and the rock and mineral specimens you can collect.”
After graduating from Fleming with two diplomas, she was able to use those credits towards a geology degree at Acadia University in Wolfville. 
A sense of adventure is part of Amy’s love of learning and she calls a summer job on Baffin Island as the ‘hook, line and sinker of summer jobs’. 
“I had to map one side of the island to the next, mapping which direction the glaciers moved, what rocks they deposited where. We had a 500-hour helicopter budget so the job was heli-hiking across  Baffin Island.”
Her studies would take her even farther from home and on more adventures. She drove across Canada to the University of Victoria to begin a Master’s degree and ended up doing field work in the Yukon (more helicopter rides and one grizzly bear in her tent). While completing that degree, she moved to Australia where she spent three years working in the outback.
“It was amazing, awesome,” Amy grins. “It was a good experience.”
The need for home as well as a niggling urge to try something completely different brought her back to Cumberland County.
“I like going to new places and trying new things,” Amy says, “but I wanted to get bees and I couldn’t while living in the city in Australia so I came back home and started working independently.” 
After four months in Botswana, a country on the west coast of Africa, the global economic crisis hit and mineral exploration was slowing down so she settled into her parents’ home just outside of Oxford. She took up bee keeping, to which she applied the same dedication to learning that she applied to her degrees. She also returned to school for  a certificate in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) which is map-based science used in many industries. She also wanted to stay in Nova Scotia. 
“I wanted a local job,” Amy admits. “I didn’t want to keep going away for work anymore.”
By the time she completed her GIS training, she was working for a company in Halifax as a consultant, travelling anywhere in the world, including back to Australia a couple of times. But the combination of her geology degrees and the GIS made her extremely sought-after.
Accepting a job in Namibia, on Africa’s west coast, meant going independent again (and rehoming her bees) then hopping on a couple of planes for the 37-hour trip to a village called Kombat that is owned by the mining company for which she works. Amy’s work is to determine if the mine can be reopened. 
Working in a traditionally male-dominated field hasn’t been an issue for Amy.
“I have worked with other women in the industry and they’ve been very encouraging and inspiring,” she says. “Right now, I’m in a good position but there are those people who don’t respect younger females. I’ve only ever had a few problem people.”
Loving the unique work and being good at it is opening up the world to Amy. 
“In Geology, there’s a lot to learn, it’s a huge subject but I think the reason that I’m into that is getting paid to go travel and experience different places,” says Amy. “You go off the beaten track, where the tourists don’t go. That’s exciting.”
She says Namibia is very stable, politically.
“It’s very sparse. There’s tremendous potential there. It’s totally undeveloped in the mining sector but even in tourism. You don’t hear about it.”
She calls it a “different frontier”. On the 50-kilometre drive from the airport in Windoek to Kombat, she has seen wart hogs, zebras and a giraffe. Nearby is the Etosha National Park, a wildlife sanctuary. 
“It’s always good to see elephants,” Amy says. “They are bigger than you think they are.”
She shared her home with a tarantula for a few days. While she’s not scared of spiders, she holds a healthy fear for Namibia’s venomous snakes. 
“Snakes, yes, all the time. At the house, at the office. Very aggressive snakes. I had them install extra rubber along the bottom of the doors. I don’t get too worked up about it but I’m mostly in the office. If I was a field geologist like I was in Australia, then I’d be working in the bush.”
Amy is home now for a few months because of issues with her work visa but she expects to return to Namibia in July. For the time being, she’s fixing up the cottage she bought at Cameron Beach. 
“It’s always refreshing being in Africa and seeing what people live with there,” Amy says. “What you need versus what you want. They have almost nothing. So I try to simplify things here. I’m not looking to buy a big house. I just want a small cottage.”
Ideally, she’d love to spend the winters in Namibia and summers in Nova Scotia.
“It’s the best of both worlds. I get to travel and be in Namibia then come back here and be normal. I kind of stick out there. There are’t many white women in the area.”

Amy and her dog Maisy on the deck of her parents' home overlooking the River Philip.
For more about Amy's adventures with bees, check out this link: 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Watching and Waiting

The two ospreys are feeding babies. You can't see the second one; he or she is hunkered down in the nest. We won't know for another couple of weeks how many chicks hatched out but shortly after Canada Day, they'll pop their heads up to check out the world under the nest. Three is always the max and for the last five years, it's been three.

"If I keep a green bough in my heart,
a singing bird will come."
(Chinese proverb)

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Serendipity of Flowers

The first daisy of the season has popped up among the lupins. This is note-worthy because daisies are my favourite flower.
But lupins are a close second. Our ever-expanding lupin garden began seven years ago with one shovel-ful from our former summer home on Pugwash Point.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Saving the Birds

Our outdoor cat killing birds -- the good birds, finches and rose-breasted grosbeaks and blue jays instead of startlings and grackles -- wakes me up in the middle of the night. I no longer worry about money at 3 a.m. I worry about our songbirds.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about this collar on her Facebook page a year or so ago. It's by a company in Vermont called Birds Be Safe ( and I finally ordered one for Fern.
Archie was handy (Fern was outside stalking birds, of course) so he got to be the first model.

The whole point of the collar is to make a cat totally visible to birds because apparently, they see bright colours especially well. The company says it's like your cat is wearing a warning flag.
Not sure if Archie or Fern would agree with that.
The first time Fern wore the collar, in the house getting fed treats as part of the recommended acclimatization, Archie reared up and hissed at her. So then HE had to get used to the collar, and he's not even interested in treats.
Fern ate most of his.
And after a week, he isn't bothered by his sister looking like a clown cat.

The company doesn't claim that a cat wearing this collar won't catch any birds any more; just fewer.
I don't know if Fern is happy about wearing the collar but after a week, she hasn't managed to lose it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dirt On My Jeans Means Dirt In My Genes

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 4, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.
My sister, with Grandpa (Jewell) and his garden in the background.

     If you’d asked me when I was a kid if I was ever going to garden, I would have answered, “No way. Too much work.”
This answer came more from limited exposure and casual observation than it did from the trauma of forced labour. The only garden I remember my family having was the one my father attempted at a cottage we built when I was 14. I don’t remember if we ever had any produce from it and I know I somehow managed to avoid weeding and watering. 
My father was more of a tree man; our properties were always well-treed and he was particularly fond of planting cedar hedges. 
These thoughts came to me as I was lying on my yoga mat Sunday night, trying to calm a lower back spasm after an afternoon of full-throttle gardening.
Lying there, wondering how I ended up with so many back-breaking, wrist-wrecking flower gardens, it occurred to me that this is my destiny. Not the pain in the back but the dirt under the fingernails. By putting in a vegetable garden, my father was trying, however unsuccessfully, to carry on a family tradition. I’d assumed I wasn’t born into a family of gardeners but when I considered it, there are a lot of green thumbs in both family trees. 
It was the men in these families who gardened. My memories are of my grandfather’s vast vegetable garden with its neat rows and weed-free paths and a white-painted fence around it; my (great) Uncle Everett’s garden and the image of him, never a tall man, bent over the plants under a wide straw hat; and my Uncle John’s ever-expanding flower garden at his cottage nearby, a garden my aunt christened “The Old Fart’s Trail”. Even weird Uncle Malcolm, the false-teeth wiggler and chiming clock collector, grew roses so well the neighbours complained about the bees. 
These gardens were on the periphery of my childhood, part of the landscape we visited throughout the summer. When we showed up at Uncle Ev’s cottage for the annual Hen Party, the kids were more concerned with the lake than the garden. The closest I came to being involved was helping Aunt Mildred (Uncle Ev’s sister-in-law) shell peas on the back porch before supper. 
Those peas are coming back to taunt me now. 
Moving to the country, moving into a home surrounded by two acres of green space has a way of activating dormant gardening genes. Until that move, the bit of gardening I’d done was growing flowers on a dog’s grave at our home on Pugwash Point.
Yet it was enough. Like a bulb planted deep in the soil sensing the heat of spring sunshine, putting my hands into dirt to plant a few pansies and daisies released a desire to dig up more sod and plant more flowers. 
I’m carrying on traditions from both sides of the family tree: my gardens are full of flowers, including roses and I’m married to a man who tends the vegetable gardens. 
Do you think there are “gardenian” angels joining us in our plots of dirt large or small? Invisible master green thumbs wearing straw hats. Whose enthusiasm and knowledge carried on in our genes. 
And who try to lend a little support when that big red rock needs to be moved from here to there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Morning Mist

I took these photos earlier this week. It is moments like this that renew my dedication to being a morning person. But I suppose I have two dogs who get up when the sun comes up to thank for this experience.

I am amazed to discover beauty in such an ugly landscape as the clearcut next door:

"There's a sunrise and a sunset every single day 
and they are absolutely free.
Don't miss so many of them."
-- Jo Walton

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

In Conversation With...Amy the Bee Keeper

This is a bonus article that goes along with my conversation with Amy Tizzard (published on this blog on Wednesday, June 18).

Amy Tizzard, a 33-year-old geologist working in Namibia, Africa, but calls Cumberland County home,    has five diplomas, including a Master's degree in Geology. But rocks and minerals aren't her only interest and when a dedicated student decides she wants to keep bees and make honey, she sets about mastering the new skill with the same passion she applies to her education.

In 2004, Amy began her graduate studies in geology at the University of Victoria in B.C. It took her six years to achieve her Masters because she worked at the same time, heading off to Australia. But by 2008, she was thinking of coming home.
"I like going to new places and trying new things and I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to get bees," Amy told me. I couldn't do that while living in the city in Australia [she flew in and out of the ouback, living in the outback 90 percent of the time] so I came back home and started working independently as a geologist."
She took a contract in Botswana for four months and did a short trip to Australia but the global recession had kicked in and work opportunities were slowing down. So she had lots of free time at her parents' home outside of Oxford.
"I phoned Jerry Draheim and asked him about it. I got my first two hives from him. They both died because I didn't know what I was doing."
So Amy did was Amy does: She got an education in it, homeschooling herself in bees.
"I got fully immersed into," she said. "Extremely passionate. Bought every book, every video and just taught myself how to do it. The first ones died because I didn't secure the lids over winter. The lids blew off and the bees froze."
Amy said she was totally obsessed by bee keeping.
"With the help of a neighbour, I built all the hives myself. I used my grandfather's tools. I got up to more than 30 hives."
Now we're all familiar with the by-product of bee hives: Honey.
"You have to deal with it," Amy said. "I had a few hundred pounds the second year then the following year, I had two thousand pounds of honey."
She made it and sold it (this is how I knew of Amy: she was the honey girl. I had no idea she was a world-travelling geologist).
Bee keeping isn't for the weak and lazy. There is a lot of heavy lifting involved.
"It's hard work. On a hot sunny day with a bee suit on, lifting heavy things, it gets to be a bit much."
At the same time she was keeping bees, she was back at school getting a GIS certificate that would make her a sought-after geologist. So while the bees stayed home on the River Philip, Amy went back to work in Halifax and around the world. Eventually, when she took her current long-term job in Namibia, she had to rehome the bees. Her mother was tending to them while Amy was in the city, and Amy was coming home every weekend, but leaving the country for months at at time put an end to the bee keeping venture.
But not to Amy's love of bee keeping. She said she loved the challenge of it, of not getting stung, of not knowing anything about it.
"Learning my way through it, that was fun," she told me. "Then when you do start working with the bees and seeing how calm and gentle they are, if you're employing the right methods of handling them, and opening up the hive and seeing the whole dynamic in the hive."
As soon as she opened up the memory in her mind, she came alive like a busy hive.
"The dynamic between the different bees. The workers bees, the queen bee, the nurse bees. Each bee has its own job and they graduate to different roles throughout their lives. The final role are the field bees, the ones we see. Inside the hive, everything is very obvious. It's like a little soap opera happening in there."
She smiled. She really loved bee keeping.
"And the smell of it when you open the hive, the pollen and honey, mixed in with the smell of the wood. It's nice. Therapeutic."
While in Namibia, Amy has to worry about large spiders and venomous snakes but one day she returned to her office to be confronted with bees.
"Someone dropped a box of bees on my desk," she said. "I came into the office and there was a wooden box sitting there. I opened it and there were bees coming out. They found out I was a bee keeper and they wanted me to start bee keeping there. But they're different bees; they're still honey bees but they don't have the same personality as the bees here. They're more aggressive. As soon as I installed them into a hive, they swarmed away. It was funny to come into the office and have a box of bees sitting there."

by Sara Jewell Mattinson

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Photo courtesy of Adam Burns, reporter, News 95.7 (@caperadamburns)

This procession.
This partnership. 
This following.
This left behind. 

It speaks to our connection with animals, our need for them, that it is this photo that breaks so many of us. We think it's because we just don't know if he knows or not.
I heard that yesterday, outside the visitation, Danny was in a truck and he was howling.
And now I've heard that inside at the memorial service, he is whimpering.
Don't tell me he doesn't know.
Don't tell me he didn't witness the death of his partner.
And yet how would we explain it to him when we can barely comprehend it ourselves?

Monday, June 09, 2014

Proud to Fly the Flag of Local Talent

What a great surprise to find this flag with this design on it for sale at the pharmacy in Pugwash. I recognized the style right away: That's the unique artwork of Susan Black, who lives down the street from the pharmacy.
Some people may think it's "selling out" to give your art over to some kind of mass production but to me, it's a sign of success and a way for artists to earn a decent living doing what they are good at.
Why keep this kind of talent hidden away?
No further justification for this impulse buy necessary!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Hope, Always

On the way home from Lorneville United Church this morning, where I'm leading the service next week, I drove over to the church in Linden, also part of my duties, to get all my mileage clocked out. As is the way with rural pastoral charges now -- this one is a four-point charge -- there was no service in Linden today but at the church in Amherst Head. As I turned around the driveway, my car was facing this field.
I noticed the deer.
And I noticed something more.
You can't see it in this photo and I'm sorry I didn't have the zoom lens because she has a fawn near her hind legs. A small, newborn fawn following its mother through a green field of wildflowers.
It was an emotional service, led by Rev. Ruth Gamble, a service that touched on the events of the incredible tragedy of the senseless shooting deaths of the three RCMP officers in Moncton. It was a necessary service; we can't ignore the bad in the world and when Ruth asked who has a connection with the RCMP or any police force, most of us there admitted to one, some active, some retired, some family, some friends.
This moment afterwards, a reminder.
Life goes on.
Find the beauty.
Don't rush by without noticing.
Stop a moment and be filled with gratitude and grace.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Truly Stewed

Finally getting my rhubarb fix. The easiest way is stewed. Sent some down to my in-laws but forgot to warn them that it's a little tarter than the recipe called for. I like my face to suck in when I eat it -- in memory of Great Aunt Mildred and her (in)famous diabetic stewed rhubarb.
SOS'ed my friend Shelagh, she of the wonderful rhubarb cake that she allowed me to eat so much of one evening when my dad was dying. True friend, she. But she can't find the recipe, apparently hasn't made the cake since. There's something in that, isn't there? Some serendipity, some magic, some... je n'est sais pas. It stands as a special memory only, the ultimate comfort food. I know I ate it, I just can't prove it.
Tonight, on this cool, drizzly day, I am going to find a new rhubarb cake recipe. We'll see if this one lasts more than one evening. Not in so much need of comfort food these days.

Friday, June 06, 2014

The Gardener's Stance

Ever wonder why gardeners look like they are praying? This gardening is an act of faith. Like prayer: You can beg all you want for something to happen but if you aren't putting some work in it yourself, there is no chance of germination.
Pumpkin and kale seedlings planted. Onions slivers and seed potatoes planted. Sunflower seeds planted. Nasturtium seeds sprouted. Hanging baskets hung. Transplants moved. Annuals installed. Everything is ready for growing so we are happy happy happy to have the rain today.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Thinking of Moncton

Hanging out the laundry,
thinking of Moncton.
Stewing rhubarb,
thinking of Moncton.
Writing story proposals,
thinking of Moncton.
Emailing book queries,
thinking of Moncton.
So normal yet not normal at all.
Another new normal
for Moncton, 
for New Brunswick,
for us. 
No other words. 


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

In Conversation With...Mike Smith

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, May 28, 2014, by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Every so often, you meet a person whose life experience is a series of “Well, that’s another story.” 
I met Mike Smith at church on Mother’s Day (he was there with his mother, Grace Smith) and after  the service, we somehow ended up talking about the 1972 VW Beetle he drove home from the West Coast. This, of course, led to a longer conversation a few days later. 
There is the time he crashed his parents’ car shortly after graduating from Acadia University but that’s another story (although it wouldn’t hurt to tell you that wearing a seatbelt saved Mike’s life). There is an explanation for how he came to be living and working in Toronto while owning a house and barn on eight acres in Collingwood but that’s another story. And there is the premonition of his father’s death while working up in the Northwest Territories but that’s another story. 
Yet that brings us to the story of Mike and the red VW Bug.
After fulfilling his two-year commitment in the management program with the Northwest Company in Fort Franklin, Mike was ready to come home but first, he wanted to visit family living in British Columbia. 
“The day before I was to leave, I pulled into a mall parking lot and there was this red VW Bug sitting there with a For Sale sign on it,” Mike says. “My uncle has this habit of saying, ‘Did you see anything you like better than you like yourself?’ so I said to him, ‘Before you ask, Husky puppies and a Bug for sale.’ We finished dinner and he asked if I was going to go and look at it.”
We all know how that was going to end. Mike bought it but didn’t tell his mother that he was now going to be driving across Canada in a 1972 Beetle that he’d just bought and that, according to his uncle, needed some work before he’d even let his nephew leave the driveway.
Even though this happened in March 1998 when Mike was 28 years old, the details of the cold, the noise and the weather remain as vivid in his mind as if the trip happened last year. 
He left Vancouver Island in sunshine, hit rain on the Lower Mainland but as he made the ascent into the Rockie Mountains, the rain became snow 
“I’m putting along in this car and I see SUVs in the ditch and transports gearing it to get up and I’m passing them all thinking, How crazy am I? What have I gotten myself into?”
At the top of the Coquihalla Highway, the woman in the toll booth told Mike he had the perfect car for the drive. 
“Really?” he asked her.
In Regina, he bought a new car radio. By the time he reached Quebec, the muffler was gone but he felt he had to push through the province because his French wasn’t good. He got lost around Montreal and had to backtrack from the wrong side of the river. 
All of this without a heater because the previous owners had removed it. 
His only morning in northern New Brunswick, the car wouldn’t start and he needed a boost.
“I was barreling through New Brunswick but I knew something was wrong with the car when it took so long to go up a hill and going down was regular speed. But by that time, I knew I had to be home that night. At the Oxford exit, the wipers turned on then died. Between a blown head, bad muffler, cracked windshield, no heat and no cup holder, I could have put that car in the ditch right then and walked away from it.”
But Mike has loved VW Bugs since he was a kid   so he fixed the car and had it serviced and drove it around Nova Scotia for a couple of years. He discovered car shows which he attended with friends in the Valley who had a yellow VW Beetle. 
It was on the way home during another epic road trip, this time to a car show in Maine in 2000, as plagued by crises as the trip from the west coast (but you know that really is another story) that the worst happened.
The engine in Mike’s beloved Bug caught fire.
He hasn’t driven it since and he still hopes to fix up the car which is languishing in his barn.
“I’ve had at least five people ask me to sell it,” says Mike, “and one of the reasons I’ve kept the car is that the morning after I arrived back with it, my nephew Braden said, ‘Cool car, Uncle Mike’. I’ve loved this car ever since I bought it and it will get on the road again some day. Now Katie, my niece, has told me that she’d like a yellow Volkswagen convertible.”
Mike has lived in Toronto for 11 years but just as there was a moment in 2002 when he realized he didn’t want to be here anymore, he expects there will come a time when he doesn’t want to be there any longer. 
“I come home twice a year,” Mike says. “It’s my recharging. I go four or five months then I gotta get home. You go home and realize how quiet and relaxed it is. Some of the people I know in Toronto say ‘Why are you still here and not there?’ and it’s job-wise. This [Collingwood] is home and always will be but for some jobs, there just isn’t the market for them.”
But wait, I can’t forget the rest of the story.
A few years back while foraging in his mother’s attic, he found a photo of his grandmother [Grace Simons] standing in a front of a Beetle, which turned out to be an uncle’s car. To Mike, this was discovering the Holy Grail of his family; this explained why the kids were crazy for Beetles. 
“I parked my car in the same spot and got Mum to stand in the same spot as her mother and I took a picture, of the house then and now with the two cars.”
What a perfect ending. But the story’s not over yet.
“I’ve had too much fun with this car to give it up,” Mike says.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Get Batty

You know when the government decides it's time to track something, that something is already in dire straights. The little brown Myotis bat, the northern Myotis and the tri-coloured bat are now on the endangered species list.
That's not good.
So there is a call out for people to call if they see any bats because white-nose syndrome (a fatal infection caused by cold-climate fungus) has killed millions of bats throughout northeastern North America in just a few years.
Bats and bees. Two species who are so important to our ecosystem and they are being killed off faster than we can dial the one-eight-eight number.
I don't know about you but I don't mind bats. Bats eat bugs. Just as I don't mind dandelions because bees love dandelions.
We are called to search out bat roosting sites in order to monitor them. Apparently, the best time to check them out is the hour between sunset and darkness. I have no idea how to find a bat roosting site but it sounds like a pretty cool evening adventure. The website, linked here, has information about this. Live near a barn, a bridge, an abandoned house? You can help without disturbing the bats -- or them disturbing you. But what's more disturbing? A nest of bats or no nests at all?
I can't say I love bats but I'm not afraid of them. No, not now. Now I'm afraid FOR them. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Where I Get My Buzz

This is our potting shed. My husband built it a few years ago but this is really our second year of making use of it. We aren't yet organized enough to start seedlings in early April but we've moved beyond simply storing purchased plants until the soil is warm enough for planting. Right now, we have tomato plants, potatoes and nasturtiums popping up in their pots of soil. That's a great way to show us how amazing this plant sauna is. The nasturtiums in these pots are way up while the seeds planted outside in sunny planters have yet to show their faces.
The potting shed is my favourite place to hang out after a long day at work. Stepping inside the door, all sound fades away. Literally. It's a sound cocoon in there. It's the best white noise. Nothing but thick, warm air. No music, no voices, no machinery. One summer, we had wasps build a nest in a top corner and it was nice to have their steady buzzing for company but they've never returned. I kept the nest, though, just one of several interesting items that end up in this humid piece of gardening heaven.
Oh, and this potting shed is also a hospital. Two house plants that Archie the cat keeps eating are spending the summer in the potting shed. I hope they grow strong enough to resist his attacks.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Bearing the Loss

We're strange people in that we want to see as many wild animals in our space as possible. We've been waiting for the first sighting of "our" black bear which came on Friday afternoon. My mother was at the rock pile and when she looked up, the bear was standing in the lane, not in front of her but close.
By the time my peripheral vision caught the movement of large and black from the window next to my desk, he was already running across the field.
The bear came out of the clearcut. I wonder if he stood in the lane thinking, "WTF? Where did the woods go?"
Our neighbour cut down 65 acres of woods right next to us last winter and we remain oncerned about where all the birds and porcupines and raccoons and skunks, and insects, that lived there have gone.
So many WTF moments in the last few months. 
We do know the porcupines moved to the plantation that's just behind those trees in the photos because they chewed the bark off dozens of trees, which will eventually kill the trees.
It's such a struggle to walk up the unimproved lane that runs between our property and the clearcut but it's been my favoured walk for seven years, leading up to the beaver brook (beyond that, there are two more clearcuts; nearly 200 acres of woods levelled in the seven years since I moved here. Idyllic country life, my ass).
This morning, as I left the devastation, and the silence, of the clearcut, and walked back into woods on both sides of the lane, my ears were filled, filled to overflowing, with the songs of birds. I just stood there and listened. Appreciated. Lamented. Counted several different songs but knew there were dozens of birds singing.
I try not to ruin the moment by wondering when this landscape, these songs, too, shall disappear.
If the bear had walked out onto the lane at that moment, I would have said to him what I say every time I go for a walk: "I'm sorry."