Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Planting Hope

It's happening. After seven years of thinking about it, looking at it, preparing for it, screwing it up last year, it's finally happening.
The mass planting of bulbs is underway.
Okay, by "mass" I mean 60. Perhaps 100 if my money, shoulders and right wrist hold out.
It must have been the long, snowy winter we had last year, the one that lingered into April, that cemented this plan in my mind. As you approach our property from the north, there is this space along the edge of our yard, these gaps between the sumac and pine trees, that receives a day's worth of spring sunshine before any of the leaves appear.
The perfect growing time for daffodils and tulips.
And whenever I saw this bare, sunlit swath of potential last spring, I kept thinking, 'That space needs colour. It's the perfect spot to plant thousands upon thousands of bulbs."
But sixty to 100 will have to do. (For now.)
This year, I vowed to buy the bulbs early and plant them early; in the past, I've waited until after Thanksgiving but got caught by rainy days, then cold days, by the time change, by rotted bulbs that couldn't overwinter in the laundry room. The planting never happened. And every spring, I was filled with regret and longing.
Spring is not supposed to be about regret and longing. Spring is all about hope and joy and anticipation.
So fingers crossed that in eight months, this vision for a profusion of flowers bursting out of that sun-warmed swath of our yard really, finally happens.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hanging On To The Past

This is the small country church down the road from where I live. That could be all it is, one of many white clapboard churches that dot our countryside but two things make this particular church notable: 1) It is still open for bi-weekly worship services, and 2) It is my husband's family church.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Riverview, what my in-laws still call "the settlement", celebrated its 75th anniversary today and dedicated three gifts to its congregation. The "new" stained glass window at above the pulpit came from St. John's Presbyterian Church in Pugwash when it closed a few years ago; likewise, the organ came to this church as well. When St. David's Presbyterian Church in Springhill closed last year, that church gave its hymn books to St. Andrew's.
In 1939, when St. Andrew's opened after seven years of building (from scratch, the timber coming from my husband's grandfather's woodlot across the river), 600 people attended the opening celebration; this afternoon, the church was full but there was only 55 to 60 people in attendance.
Most of our rural churches are closing, their congregations shrinking because of a longtime trend in general for rural areas: A resistance to change. Those who grew up in this church in the 1940's and raised their children in this church in the 1950's and 60's want the church to remain the way it was then, including full of people. The same music, the same liturgy, the same order of service. It's so familiar and so comforting that way but this failure to adapt to changes in our culture and in our society means a failure to minister to new and younger people. With no new, younger members taking on the work of the church, the church dies with each death of its current, longtime members.
It's sad and it's a shame but it's reality. It's all about reality but most rural folks simply like to keep their head buried in the sands of the good ol' days. Denial keeps what is familiar and comforting alive.
Six families attend services regularly at St. Andrew's; that translates to about 12 people. Of those twelve, two are in their nineties; two are in their eighties; and two, maybe more, are in their seventies. The strong wills that have kept this church open all these decades are the same strong wills that have kept any change, any adapting, any updating from occurring.
It's sad and it's a shame but that's the reality of hanging onto the past so tightly, it squeezes the life out of a church.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Bursting Through

The path was boggy this week, sucking at the boots, grabbing on, making it hard to keep walking. The air grew dim, murky, motes of dust and doubt floated in the air. Breathe came in gasps, hands swiped at imaginary obstacles. It was hard to see the way forward.
Sometimes creative types find themselves in a dark, grasping forest of disappointment and despair. They stumble, fall to their knees, and need a hand to help them up, a strong hand that doesn't care about the mud on our palms.
This past week, I had many hands pulling me up, dragging me forward, helping me move out of the dark and the murk and into the light again. In gratitude, they shall be named: Sheree, Elaine, Christina, Ali, Cathy and Jane. Thank you for your words of support, thank you for your gift of laughter, thank you for your friendship. Particularly those of you who weren't even aware of what you were providing.
And Susan, a fellow quote collector, for this: "What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from." (T.S.Eliot)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In Conversation With...Cathy Duynisveld

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

If there is one word to describe Cathy Duynisveld, it would be “beloved”. 
“Lucky” would work, too.
Originally from Wallace Bay, Cathy is now the senior science teacher at a school in a small village in eastern Quebec she’s called home since the fall of 1995.
“I had three interviews in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but none panned out,” she says of her attempts to find a job after graduating from Acadia with a teaching degree. “The superintendent at the golf course [where she’d worked for several years] said if teaching didn’t work out, I could become a golf superintendent. I was all gungho, we were making plans. I loved that job at the golf course.”
But life had different plans for Cathy. 
“A week before school started, this job came up in the newspaper for teaching in a remote community in Quebec,” she says. “So I flew to Montreal and had an interview. By the time I got back home, they’d called and said I had the job. I left within a week.”
Raised in the lushness of Cumberland County, Cathy was shocked by the remoteness of her new home.
“I had to fly to Montreal, fly to Sept-Isle, sign my contract then fly up the coast in this little plane with six other people. You’re looking out the window – there are no houses, there are no trees, there’s nothing down there.”
Despite the lack of trees, Cathy settled very quickly into life in St. Paul’s River, partly because other first-year teachers were her neighbours in the apartment building. 
“I was homesick,” she admits, “but once the other teachers had moved in, we did so much adventuring together. We went cross-country skiing on the river in the wintertime and we climbed the hills.”
Incentives for living in an isolated fishing village included cheap rent with utilities included and three paid trips a year. Cathy used those to return to Cumberland County.
Even if she hadn’t met the love of her life at the end of her first year in St. Paul’s River, she believes she would have stayed for a few years.
“It was good for a new teacher. You’re young, you’re starting out. I enjoyed it so much and I made some good friends,” says Cathy.
A lifelong dog person, Cathy added an Australian shepherd named Sam to her life shortly after arriving in St. Paul’s River, and that is how she met her future husband. 
Sort of.
“She got her dog that fall,” Maurice says, “and that’s when I realized she loved dogs. I loved dogs too so I walked my mother’s dog back and forth in front of her place to see if we could meet that way.”
Alas, his ploy did not work. The following spring, they were introduced at the local bar by a mutual friend. For their first date, Cathy invited Maurice to her apartment ostensibly to eat cheesecake but really to pass the dog test.
“Sam went right over and chewed his bone by Maurice so I thought he couldn’t be a bad fellow.”
Cathy married Maurice, who was born and raised in St. Paul’s River and works as a crab and cod fisherman as well as a salmon guide, at the Wallace River Baptist Church in 1999. 
In 2004, after daughter number two was born, the family moved to Pugwash.  

“Back home, there aren’t a lot of things for kids to do so we decided we would move over here,” Maurice says. “More stuff for our children to do. But when we came here, Cathy didn’t like it. 
“Coming from a really small community like St. Paul’s River to a class with 20-plus kids was a whole different thing,” explains Cathy who teaches in a school with a total student population of about 70. “They were great students but I missed my ten to 15 students. You know them so well. It’s a whole different environment for teaching.”
 They returned to St. Paul’s River at the end of that school year.
Of his hometown, Maurice says, “You either love it or you hate. It’s so isolated.”
And Cathy loves it. An avid photographer and cross-country skiier, she enjoys the best of both worlds: A job and a lifestyle she loves in St. Paul’s River and summers in Wallace Bay.
“Summer at the farm means I get to be a kid again. Roam around the fields, take photos, help John out. I love the farm. And the girls love their ponies,” she says. 
“Cathy loves taking pictures of flowers,” Maurice adds. “She takes pictures of flowers I’ve never seen before. She uses a macro lens to get really close to the flowers on the ground which I’d never looked at before.”
Cathy used to be a watercolour painter but a riding accident in August 2009 resulted in a head injury that affected the right side of her body.
“It was three days before we were supposed to go back home,” Cathy says. “I’m not a great rider. It’s not the horse’s fault; she stumbled, I fell off.”
Even though she was wearing a helmet, Cathy was badly injured.
“We were in Halifax until Christmas,” Maurice states. “We got a ton of support from the community. When Cathy was in hospital, we had to rent a place in Halifax and they had bingos back home to raise money for us. A lot of the fishermen I work with, they sent thousands of dollars. They were unbelievable. We had a lot of help to get through it.”
Cathy was off work for two years and had to battle a school board who heard ‘head injury’ and wrote her off. Between her determination to recover and her husband’s  gifts of technology (to aid her writing in the classroom), Cathy returned to the science lab full-time where she is happiest. 
“It feels good to prove them wrong,” she smiles. “I call it being stubborn.”
Her husband never doubted her fighting spirit.
“The nicest thing she ever said to me was when she came out of her coma,” says Maurice. “She didn’t really know anybody but she looked at me and told me, ‘I haven’t got a clue who you are but I know I love you’.”
Finally, for Cathy, it was love at first sight.

Where Cathy and her family live, courtesy of Google Maps.

Monday, September 22, 2014

This Apple Tree

You know what this apple represents?
A wish.
After seven years and a half years of living on this rural property, I wish we'd planted a couple of apples trees every year in the field behind the house. I wish by now we had a small apple orchard.
Instead, we planted two apple trees six years ago alongside the chicken coop when I assumed the pen would remain where it was and we'd expand it to encompass the apple trees once they were big enough to withstand the interest of chickens.
Since then, the outside pen was moved out back and the apple trees aren't growing much. One leans towards the north as a result of our prevailing south wind.
The good news is: This year we have apples! They survived the spring aphids and produced four apples. All on one tree, mind you, but so much better than nothing.

I don't even know if these apples are edible and I'm not going to chase that metaphor. What I am going to say is that they represent another wish: That I was a long-term planner.
In so many areas of my life, I wish I was more skill than enthusiasm; instead, I get enthusiastic about an idea and I just charge ahead with it. Instead of taking the time to think about what I would like -- in this case a whole lot of apples producing apples for us and for the deer -- I simply bought two apple trees on impulse and planted them in the back yard. No planning, just impulse and enthusiasm.
The apple is red,  its sister apples are red, I have no idea if and when to pluck them off the tree, or if I dare sink my teeth into one (okay, you know I will -- too tempting a metaphor awaits -- sweet or sour, what will it be?). For now, I'm enjoying their hopeful presence. I doubt I'm ever going to change, to learn to think and plan, but this suggests to me that one tree finally producing apples is just as satisfying as a whole orchard of apples waiting to be picked.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Column - A Year In 4H

The first column in my new bi-monthly series, A Year In 4H, was published in the Chronicle-Herald this morning. For the coming year, I'm going to be a member of the local 4H club and write about the experience. I called 4H Nova Scotia on Thursday, thinking I really should give them a heads-up. I explained to the Executive Director what was happening, assuring her it wasn't investigative journalism to find flaws and scandal but to examine what this program brings to the lives of young people. When she exclaimed, "How wonderful!" I realized I'd been holding my breath. We had a great chat and I look forward to meeting her at the 4H Provincial Show next weekend in Truro/Bible Hill.

Here is the link to the introductory column:


Friday, September 19, 2014

Shadow Walker

Mid-September morning, 7:30.
No fog today and the sun comes up over the trees in a burst of yellow.
The air is cool and the shadows are long,  
Stretching across the road and into the ditch.
An extension of ourselves,
We who are walking in the world this morning.
Our long legs carry us forward
And home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Don't Frack With Rural Nova Scotia

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

As a resident of rural Nova Scotia, I am relieved the government plans to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing for gas in our province. 
Granted, it means low-volume hydraulic fracturing is still possible if and when the moratorium is lifted but at least the government is showing some caution. 
I’m relieved because I am tired of companies and politicians waltzing around touting “the economy” as the reason to allow any development that promises jobs and profit regardless of the impact on those of us who live in rural areas.
Is it fair to say it appears those who live in the city, including most of our decision-makers, support “fracking”? It’s going to happen far away from their homes and gardens, and they want lower power bills.  
But those of us who live in the country, where our trees are being cut down but not replanted, where wind turbines are going up unnecessarily near residences, where many of us use well water for drinking and cooking and washing, we oppose “fracking” because what we cherish about our way of life could be ruined.
We are not bumpkins afraid of progress, we are not simple folk who don’t understand the way the world works. We are farmers and artists and labourers and teachers and small business owners and retirees who love living in the country and who have spoken out to defend what we love.
It’s rather shocking that the government listened. 
One reason I oppose “fracking” is that I have lost faith in our elected officials to protect us, our families and our communities from the profit-driven standard operating procedures of large corporations. A company “accidentally” dumps toxins into a nearby river and is fined a few hundred dollars; a company threatens to leave the province if it doesn’t get tax breaks and forgivable loans; a company ignores requests to clean up the smokestacks polluting the air for 500 square kilometres. 
But because it’s all about “the economy”, anything that creates jobs and pays taxes is a-okay. If it’s bad for the environment, if it’s bad for a neighbourhood, if it’s bad for small business or for farmers – well, it’s good for the economy and it creates jobs and pay taxes so the government turns a blind eye to broken rules. 
I don’t want rural Nova Scotia to be collateral damage. 
One of the most publicized impacts on an area around a fracking well is tap water that catches on fire but my other reason for opposing fracking is a lesser known impact but one that is equally as scary and just as important: Our roads and our infrastructure can’t handle the increased truck traffic. 
Allow me to quote from an Associated Press article about fracking in West Virginia published last May: “Fracking a single well can involve thousands of tons of sand, thousands of gallons of chemicals, and millions of gallons of water, all which arrive by truck. That doesn’t include the trucks needed for equipment, drilling and the oil/gas itself, not to mention the workers coming and going, the building of pipelines, compressor stations, mining for sand, and other related infrastructure. Multiply these by hundreds of wells across a region and you end up with some big problems, especially when this involves windy, country or mountainous roads.”
Exactly the kinds of roads we have in Nova Scotia, and right here in Cumberland County. That dramatic increase in traffic through our communities puts all of us at risk on the roads.
No matter what promises are made about improving roads and installing traffic lights, you know the work will begin and the trucks will arrive long before a tender even goes out.
There is always a cost, and a choice, when it comes to the economy and jobs. Until someone shows us a responsible method for extracting gas (now there’s a real pipe dream), I’d rather pay more for energy and live in a safe, healthy rural community. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Turn and Face the Sun

This is my motivational photo of the week. I dedicate this to all creative types who are trying to hit that one breakthrough -- the break through to achieving your heart's dream. Whether it's singing or painting, making movies or writing books, we are striving for that moment when someone says, "Yes, I want this," and you are on your way.
This is one stalk. There are ten blossoms on this stalk.
I did not plant this sunflower seed; I just noticed the shoot coming out the ground next to the chicken coop steps. It's likely a seed from the sunflowers that were planted in those big green flowers boxes last year; this year, I chose to plant kale and nasturtiums.
And yet here is this bright, beautiful profusion of sunflowers as well. The best kind of surprise.
You never know what seeds get planted and where they take root so you must keep your eyes open for those new green shoots in order to protect and nurture an opportunity that may blossom once, or a dozen times. You may end up totally surprised by what grows and those are the best moments. The unexpected Yes that takes you in a direction that is better than you imagined.
I suppose I could really stretch this metaphor by reminding you: When you think your goals and your dreams are stuck in the shit pile, remember that everything grows better with a little chicken poop under its roots.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Breakfast and Bears

When I returned from my walk with the dog yesterday morning, postponed until 8 am because of fog, my husband was on the back deck drinking coffee and watching this doe and her two fawns work their way across the field.
It was cut a month ago so tasty new shoots of clover and grass will be in abundance for them. My husband says with two fawns, the doe will be struggling to get her winter weight on.
"Are the fawns old enough to survive the winter?" I asked him.
"Not if we have another winter like we had last year," Dwayne replied.
Later, he returned from running errands in town and said he's seen the doe and fawns across the road by the river. Why has evolution not taught wild animals about asphalt and vehicles?
When I went for a walk after lunch, the dog and I couldn't go all the way to the beaver brook because there was a black bear wandering around the lane just above it. I'm not afraid, would have loved a closer look, but that last thing I want is for the dog to chase it. 
A call came in after lunch: a neighbour's wife out for her walk came across three men in a car who had struck a deer -- but the deer wasn't dead. After she called her husband, the men took off, leaving her with the badly injured deer.
"She was crying when I got there," my husband told me later.
I imagine.
It was the young buck we had seen a few weeks ago. It crossed the road in front of us, in the same area where it was struck, and we slowed down to watch it go into the woods. It stopped and turned back and looked at us.
Now he is dead. 
Dwayne provided the merciful death then called around to find out who is now responsible for removing dead deer from ditches since this one was nearby a house. The Department of Transportation has a guy -- and late in the afternoon, the guy showed up at our house to collect Dwayne.
As they drove up to the spot, Dwayne said, "It's just up there."
"Where that bear is sitting by any chance?" the guy's wife said.
And there was a yearling cub settled in next to the body of the young buck, about to enjoy a meal.
As the air changes, as the days shorten, the wild geese and the wild animals are on the move again. Doing what the wild things do.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

In Conversation With...Joseph Holownia

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Because he’s used to comments like this when people find out what he does for a living, Joseph Holownia just smiles and says that no, he does not floss horses’ teeth.
It’s a fair question because how often do you run into an equine dentist?
“There are not many of us,” the 30-year-old admits, “and there are even less of us who are officially trained and certified.”
Born and raised in Sackville, NS, Joseph went to Mount Allison University to swim competitively. Realizing his degree in Canadian Studies in Geography limited his career options, he turned to what he’d known all his life. 
“I had a mother and a sister who were really into horses,” he explains. “By default I was a rider growing up. Because of that, because I’d grown up around horses and knew how to work with them and had that interest, I ventured on into equine dentistry.”
He completed the two-year program at the Academy of Equine Dentistry in Idaho then returned to Canada to become a veterinary technician. 
“The laws in this country governing dental work are different than in the States so by becoming a technician, I cover all my bases on the legal aspect of it so I can do what I do and not have someone say ‘That’s veterinary medicine and you’re not a doctor’,” he explains. 
When the equine dentist who’d been in this area moved to Montreal, that left a vacancy in this area and Joseph now works at the Northumberland Veterinary Services in Pugwash.
“Vets all can do equine dental work,” Joseph says, “but it’s the difference between a couple of pages in the textbook versus entire books and courses. In vet school, we were strictly nose-to-ears and equine dentistry is a specialty. On top of that, the equipment is quite expensive so if you’re not using it on a regular basis, you generally don’t invest in the high-end specialty equip.”
Being a dentist who works on horses (and llamas and alpacas and even cows if he needs to) is a lot like being a dentist who works on humans but with two major differences: the way the teeth come in, and how the horses are handled. 
“Horses have teeth that don’t really grow,” Joseph explains. “They are fully formed but they are hidden in their jaw and they erupt out as the horse gets older. In the wild, they eat in their natural position with their head down and they pull grass and forage and get enough grit from the dirt that they wear their teeth at the same rate as the teeth are erupting at. But since we’ve put horses into captivity, we feed them in their stalls twice a day and that has changed the position of their teeth as they eat. They now are no longer wearing their teeth at the proper rate and at the proper angles. On top of that, we’ve started feeding them processed foods with molasses and corn which causes them to have periodontal disease, and tartar and plaque buildup. So roughly once a year, a horse needs to have its teeth realigned and scaled.” 
But it’s not as if you can lay a horse back in an extra-large chair to work on it. 
“There are horses who will let you float [grind] their teeth unsedated. Personally, I’m of the mind that you’re not going to get the quality of work regardless of how well-behaved your horse is if they’re not sedated. You’re working with millimeters you’re trying to take off so the slightest head toss really makes difficult to get the point off that tooth.”
Sedation does not knock them out -- “They’re standing kind of drunk,” says Joseph -- but it has to be a pretty fine line between sedated upright and sedated lying down. 
With a grin, he agrees.  
“You don’t want to be to close to the not-upright line because they’re pretty big to hold up.”
A horse-sized speculum fits over the horse’s incisors and ratchets the mouth open so Joseph can safely reach all the way to the back of the horse’s mouth. 
“People are astounded that I’m brave enough or foolish enough to stick my arm up into a horse’s mouth,” he says. “I know people who have lost digits in dentistry accidents so it is possible. I count my blessings every day,” he laughs while waggling his fingers, “when I come home with all of them.”
Home is in Westchester where he now lives with his girlfriend and three dogs. 
But no horses. 
“I don’t really feel a huge urge or need to have horses at my house,” he admits. “I do enjoy them but I’m not interested in continuing on in the competitive show world.”
It turns out that claiming that he ‘grew up around horses’ is an understatement. Joseph says that to keep him interested in horses, his mother signed him up for the Modern Pentathalon competition. One of the oldest sports in the modern Olympics, it involves five sports: fencing, swimming, riding and a combined event of running and pistol shooting.
“I was 11 or 12 when I started competing in that and went on to be youth national champion a couple of times and I was on the junior Canadian team for a few years.”
He competed in Modern Pentathalon for 10 years, travelling across North and South America as well as Europe but now Joseph now attends horse shows simply as the dentist. He enjoys his unique job, enjoys the challenge presented by each horse’s special issues and he’s content with working in Nova Scotia. 
“I enjoy travelling and I’ve been fortunate, mostly due to competitive sports, to have been able to travel all over North America and Europe,” he says, “but I do like coming home so I’m not sure that I will ever completely move away. I do continue to travel and I could probably do without the winters.”
That might make the seed of an idea sprout into a bigger plan.
“I have some desire to go and work, maybe even pro bono, in less-developed South American countries where they have horses both as pets and work animals,” Joseph says. “On several of my trips to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, I saw horses in dire, dire need of dental work. Although here we like to push for the ‘full meal deal’, a little bit does go a long way especially when they’re at the point where they can no longer eat.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Five Degrees

A cold morning. No frost but a heavy mist was sweeping over our fields and rising from the river this morning as I took the dogs outside to fetch the paper just before seven o'clock. A time of harvest indeed and a time of leaving. Perhaps the flounder on the lawn was a parting gift from the ospreys because once the nest is empty for more than 24 hours, it usually means they all have headed south.
Are they gone earlier this year than in other years? you ask.
I'm not sure but I believe this is about right. And I've never seen any indication that their leaving corresponds with a hurricane brewing down south.
It's so quiet with the ospreys gone. Their constant chirping is the steady soundtrack to our days for six months of the year. And our hopes they are doing well in Texas and Mexico are our silent prayers for the other six months.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Missing: One Meal

When ospreys are your nearest neighbours, you never know when you'll find a flounder on the lawn.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

How To Handle The Perfect Pepper

I bought my pepper plants from Coastal Gardens this year and put them in a pot on the back deck. I just let them be, watered them daily, fed them occasionally, and one day, these three gorgeous, shiny, perfect peppers were there.
Now what do I do? They are so perfect, they don't look real. Peppers that lovely deserve to be part of a perfect dish. I can't bring myself to harvest them until I know they won't sit unused and rotting in my crisper (yes, that does happen, much to my shame).
More shame: I can't remember the name of the woman from Coastal Gardens but I stopped by her booth at the Pugwash Farmers' Market this weekend and she asked after my plants. How did she know? So I told her how well they did and about my current dilemma.
"Stuffed peppers," she said. "They'll make perfect stuffed peppers."
Indeed they will. That is a suitably rare dish for these gorgeous peppers.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Tractor Appreciation Day

I'm becoming more and more convinced that we need to attend these shows not merely to support the club and the exhibitors but to appreciate the hard work and the heartache of farmers then and now. The evolution of machinery is remarkable and makes you realize how much truly back-breaking labour went into farming.
And I highly recommend getting into a conversation with an "old timer". Listen closely to the stories. They are important. Listen to the language, to the words used. They are unfamiliar, they are lovely.
This is part of the history of our civilization and the more urban we become, the more grocery-stored we are, the less we appreciate the well-constructed, still-chugging-along foundation on which our urban grocery stores are built on.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Evening Sky

My days begin with mornings and evenings.
No, that's not a "well, duh!" statement. I'm up early to walk the dog and I do the chicken chores after supper. This is the movement that brackets a day of sitting at a desk. On busy days, like yesterday or Mondays and Tuesdays at the newspaper, I'm only outside in the mornings and the evenings. The rest of the day is spent in front of a computer monitor.
You can't spend your life looking at the world through a screen. You gotta get out there and see it and feel it and touch it and smell it.
I think spending too much time at a screen - computer, television, phone, tablet - is as bad for our spirit as it is our brains and our bodies. We aren't born from a machine and we do not return to a machine so when we limit our connection to and interaction with dirt and grass and wind and rain, bugs and frogs and deer and birds, we become less human.
My days begin with mornings and evenings and I make the most of those few hours when I am truly human.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Blast From the Past

I found this photo at work earlier this week. This is our building on Rideau Street before it became the home of The Oxford Journal. I sit on the other side of that open garage door, which is now closed in, at the edge of an addition put on many years ago to be the main office. The window above my desk used to be an outside window. Explain the thickness of wall between our space and that office.
A solid brick building, this is, with many stories hiding in its cracks and timbers, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Why We Need To Support Exhibitions & Fairs

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

It’s time for the Exhibition. 
I have to admit my attendance at the Cumberland County Exhibition (CCE) has been spotty over the past seven years and for that, I apologize. 
So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. If I’m going to write about supporting events and businesses and organizations in rural Nova Scotia, then I have to show up and do my part.
Please take a wander through the Multi-Purpose Building this week and take a look at all the wonderful flowers and vegetables, baked goods and handcrafts on display. Grown, created and assembled by your neighbours.
Including my mother and me. I realized if we, both the individual and the greater community,  don’t support the non-livestock part of the CCE, sponsors will pull out, exhibitors will pull out and we’ll be losing an essential link to the traditions, skills and history that have built not only this county but this country. 

Summer exhibitions and fall fairs are one of the last places to get reconnected with the vanishing world that was devoted to farming, animals and the land, to celebrate the hard work of rural people and the products they create. Gathering together for a week or weekend every year is a legacy and a gift. 
When I was a kid, the highlight of summer, after our annual family vacation in Pugwash, of course, was the Canadian National Exhibition (the Ex) in Toronto. 
Back in the seventies and eighties, you could get a taste of anything for free in the Food building. My father was particularly fond of stuffed mushroom caps and this is my clearest memory of the Ex because one, I hated mushrooms when I was a kid and two, Dad made me stand in the long line by myself to get him a second helping. 
From my mother comes a completely different food memory and unlike the stuffed mushroom caps, this one can be recreated, even shared, now that I am an adult. 
When she was growing up, my mother’s extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins spent summers at their cottage in central Ontario where  Uncle Everett managed a huge garden. The Ex opened at the same time his tomatoes ripened so the family ate a meal they called “Exhibition Dish”. 
“We had one of those table-top electric toasters where you had to turn the slices of bread yourself in order to get them toasted on both sides,” my mother remembers. “We were supposed to be watching it but we always wandered off and the toast burnt.”
You didn’t throw out the toast, of course, that would be wasteful so Exhibition Dish generally was served over burnt toast. 
Since this is Exhibition week in Cumberland County, I invite you to make this dish a new tradition in your home.

3 or 4 ripe tomatoes
2 medium onions
Cook the onions first for a few minutes and then added peeled, cut up tomatoes. Add 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup grated cheese. Thicken with 1 teaspoon of corn starch mixed with a little cold water. Add a small piece of butter. Serve on toast.

On the recipe above that final “toast”, my mother has written “well-browned”.
While my mother insists Exhibition Dish must be eaten on burnt toast, I’ll leave it to you to create your own special memory. 

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This, Every Day

What else can be said? This. This is how to be. 
Contented as a cat
napping in a tree.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Sharing the Bounty

Took this photo from an upstairs window. Two young adult foxes were playing on our lot across the road until this one was distracted by the blackberries.