Friday, July 31, 2015

Time To Fly

It's a busy time here on our little piece of rural heaven.
The osprey babies are flapping their wings and crying for more food -- which means they are going to have to take that leap, soon, and learn to fly.
The writer (hey, that's me!) has fingers flying across the keyboard, writing columns, and articles for Saltscapes (two issues this fall), and, dare I mention it, essays for a book that a publisher is very interested in.
Chee-chee! as the hungry osprey say. Bring it on! Chee-chee!
Sometimes you gotta step onto the edge of the nest and flap your wings so hard, for so long, that you take off into the sky, into the wind currents even if you don't think you're ready. You've got the wings -- it's time to use them, baby.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The New Wet Coast

We're all feeling a little drippy these days. Fingers crossed that August comes in dry and sunny, just as I remember from our family vacations in the 80's.
I think we're on track to become the new rainforest of Canada -- except for the fact we're cutting down our forests.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


It's a very lush summer, for sure. We're enduring a week of rain and desperately need the sun to return -- after rain beat out the cucumber seeds, I finally found some cucumber plants but they haven't grown a centimeter since they were planted two weeks ago -- but all the moisture certainly is making this green acres.
It's kind of nice to the see purple vetch growing up the side of the hen pen, and the chickens seem to like their Maritime jungle habitat. As nature writer and author Harry Thurston said at his presentation in Pugwash the other night on the Nova Scotia land bridge, "We need more green, less red."
On his chart, red represented the human footprint. So little green (conserved land) and too much red (sorry, humans, our footprint on the earth is too large and destructive).
My husband jokes that if he weren't here, the grass and wildflowers and weeds would take over the property.

He's right, of course. I hate mowing and I love flowers. I have no idea how to do basic repairs. I figure wisteria and clematis could hold the house together, and I'd be totally justified in getting sheep and goats for yard maintenance.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning Life Lessons & Skills

Having spent the past nine months with this 4H club -- and barely scratching the surface of what 4H has to offer and what these young people are capable of -- I believe very strongly that whether it's 4H or Girl Guides or Scouts or Junior Achievement, or whatever organization it is, it's essential that a young person get involved in it.
Sports teaches us certain skills and gives us certain life experiences but in an athletic context; those lessons learned are transferable in an intangible way (leadership, winning versus losing, practice) but these other organizations teach our young people actual life skills that can become a future career or be applied to a future career (hello, 4H public speaking!). So it is important that there everyone spends a couple of years at least in a non-school organization.
I know I'd be a different person if I'd moved into Girl Guides from Brownies or joined a 4H club, which wasn't an option since we lived in town.
Which needs to be commented on: It's even more important for 4H to be offered in towns, to allow children the access to rabbits and chickens (oh, those damn anti-poulty bylaws) and cake decorating and welding. How about outdoor skills? What a great way to connect children to survival skills than the 4H Great Outdoors Project? You never know when a city kid going to camp or a cottage for a week may need to know how to light a fire in the woods.
Joining one of these organizations is especially significant now with such deep cuts to education. My mother and I recently were talking about my school Home Ec experience in 1982. We both agreed it was useless. I didn't learn the basics of cooking or sewing which were then built on over the years; my strongest memory was having to sew a bag then a skirt. But I hadn't mastered simple sewing yet!
Call me biased, for that's what I am, but in many ways, 4H provides young people with a more valuable education than many of them are getting in school these days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Year In 4H: Achievement Day for the Linden 4H Club

Good enough to eat!
I made it! I made it to Achievement Day, the club-level judging of members' projects that ensures they have completed all the requirements for their year and level. Next is judging at the Cumberland County Exhibition at the end of August, where the real competition begins.
What a great experience -- and the whole point in this year in 4H: to see from the inside what this organization is all about.
After nine months in 4H, I am in awe of this club and these young people and their leaders, as well as their parents and grandparents. 4H is quite the commitment but as I took photos at the barn, where the livestock projects (horse, beef, chicken and rabbit) were being judged, and in the hall where the project displays (like Foods, Cake Decorating, Welding and Outdoors were set up), I admired not only the quality of the work but also the skills being developed.
I managed to learn a skill, the basics in cake decorating, and I'm pretty proud of my appropriately themed cake, which Robbie (a Cloverbud who now "graduates" to being a Junior member next year) won in the annual cake auction that raises funds for the club.
But even more exciting? I love my official 4H "completion gift"! So generous of the club to include me, since really, I ran around taking pictures and interviewing people and generally getting in the way and asking a lot of questions! Now I can continue to do that in the proper gear.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wisdom in 140 Characters

My Twitter time just got justified, friends.
Stella died in mid-April and in her final days, she exploded my mind by revealing the whole secret to our tumultuous 12 years together. Before she died, I promised her that I would write her story -- knowing that I had to write the end first because 1) memory and 2) she gave me the best ending "another book about a dog" could have.
But I've been avoiding that heart-breaking, gut-wrenching task. With any writing project, starting is the hardest part; when you have to start with the end, which is a dog's end of life, well, damn, it's even harder.
Actually, my summer project was to write Stella's story. An 80,000-word draft in eight weeks. No problemo. But in mid-June, a publisher contacted me after reading my book proposal for a collection of essays based on my Field Notes columns (oh, yeah, baby!) and suddenly, I thought I was going to be writing 34 essays this summer. On the advice of a trusted writer friend, I've been waiting to hear back regarding the publisher's level of commitment to the project (34 essays 'on spec' is a lot to ask of any writer).
In the meantime, I've been trying to settle on a day to tackle the end of Stella's story. I haven't cried since the day she died, I haven't thought about her final days (not wanting to erode the details), I have enjoyed getting to know Abby as the one-and-only dog. I know I need the house to myself so I can let loose again -- snottin' and blattin' (as my husband says) all over my keyboard.
Seriously, who wouldn't avoid this task?
Yesterday morning, Dwayne told me he heard Stella walking in the hallway to our bedroom in the middle of the night.
"The dog and the cat were on the bed, you were asleep, I was in bed so I figured it had to be Stella."
Well, I woke up early this morning, when it was still dark, and lying there sinking slowly back into sleep, I heard Stella whine.
This morning, I tweeted, "I need to write about my dog's death three months ago but I keep avoiding it. Early this a.m., heard her whine. She's waiting..."
And Marion Agnew, a writer (essayist, I think, who has written about her mother's journey with Alzheimer's) who lives near Thunder Bay, ON, tweeted in response: "And you are ready."
When I thanked her for the nudge, she replied, "Not to get all woo-woo but if you hear the voice, you're ready! Sounds like a worthy project."
You know what? It really is. 
That's all I needed to remind me that Stella's story was the original project of the summer and so while I wait to hear from the publisher, I will start writing her story. This Wednesday, in fact. I am ready. And Stella is waiting... impatiently as ever. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Tasty Bytes of Local Strawberries

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on July 15, 2015 by Sara Jewell.

Mackenzie Mattinson sells strawberries at the Oxford Berry Farm's roadside stand in Oxford.

Ah, the idyllic days of strawberry season.
The early morning sun shines on your back as you kneel between the rows of plants, fingers seeking the firm, ripe berries. The berries are sweet and plump, and red juice runs down your chin when you bite into one, having snuck a taste of that marks summer’s true arrival.
Or maybe it’s my memories that are idyllic.
“The bugs are bad and it gets hot,” 15-year-old Taylor Mattinson says.
But picking berries for five hours every morning certainly hasn’t made her sick of them. When I arrive at my great-niece’s house for an interview, she’s eating sliced strawberries from a big bowl.
Can’t get enough of that taste of summer.
Taylor, and her twin sister Mackenzie, are pickers, two in a long line – literally – of teenagers working at Cindy Thompson’s ten acres of strawberry fields just outside Oxford. And just like those kids, strawberry picking is now high-tech.
Taylor describes the difference between her experience two years ago and now.
“You picked your strawberries then you set them behind you. When you were done, you collected them all into your flats and set them at the end of your row. Then you said how many you picked,” she says. “Now, when you finish two flats, you go to the supervisor and she has a scanner and stickers. You have a picker card with a bar code so she scans the card and a sticker and then they put the sticker on the flat.”
According to Cindy Thompson, it’s all about accountability and traceability.
“A berry doesn’t get to market without me knowing where it comes from,” she says of the computer software and equipment that allows her to track every level of the operation. “On my end, the sticker tells me what time the flat was picked, who picked it, what field it was picked in and what variety of strawberry was picked. It’s the way everything is going. You have to accountable for what you sell.”
What a difference from when the picking at their new strawberry fields started in 2011, and from when she was a teenager picking berries on the same farm.
“When we started out, we just had punch cards, same as what we did growing up,” Cindy says. “They brought the flat down and you punched card but once that went on the truck and left, you didn’t know whose was whose and what was what.”
The demand for traceability is the way of the world, she says, but it also allows her to monitor the quality of her product. If she receives a comment about too many green berries or praise for really good berries, she can take that information right back to the picker.
“That lets me offer quality with accountability to the pickers. It means they can’t get away with anything.”
That doesn’t bother Mackenzie Mattinson. “I think it’s a good idea,” she says. “That way the farm doesn’t get as much of the blame if something goes wrong. It means a lot of responsibility for me, the picker, but it’s fair.”
This is the first year for the scanner system at Cindy’s farm but the bigger farms have been using them for a while.
“Farming isn’t what it used to be for any farmer,” Cindy tells me. “I haven’t used the computer program for long but I’m at the point where I can say it’s making my job easier. It was a crash course to learn it and I’m learning it on the fly but I like it.”
And she’ll get a lot of use out of it. She, along with her husband Kent, also planted ever-bearing strawberries using a black plastic system that draws and traps heat to create a longer growing season.
“Once we’re done with our July strawberries, people don’t have to go back to a Florida or California strawberry,” explains Cindy. “We’ll have local berries right up to frost.”

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We Are Bird People

Tree swallows

 When I rise up
let me rise up joyful
like a bird...
~ Wendell Berry

Every morning, we start with worship. We sit and watch the birds and we give thanks for their presence. 
The ospreys in their huge nest, chirping for breakfast, winging in with a fish, feeding the young ones, watching them grow already big and stretching their wings. 
The cliff swallows in the sky, swooping and diving for bugs, scooping under eaves to their mud nests, feeding their young whose broad yellow mouths are open wide for insects.
Oh, joy and praise for the swallows -- tree and barn -- who eat mosquitos!
The finches at the feeder hanging off my mother's balcony, singing their little hearts out in the morning sun, their sturdy yellow bodies shining like sunlight embodied.
The blue jays. The crows. The mourning doves. The robins. They too are part of our flock.
Maybe not so much the grackles and the starlings and the pigeons. We are flawed humans; we have our favourite feathered friends.
I think it's rather clear that we are bird people. We love the deer, the bears, the dogs and cats, but our spirits find their mates in the winged ones.
Every morning, we join this avian community of faith on the back deck, in the field, in the sky. Faith in nature, faith in the cycles of life, faith in their constant presence in our lives. 
We are blessed by the birds. 
But so far, we have not felt their blessings upon us! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Planning For Babies

The baby swallow was out of -- and put back into - the nest several times yesterday morning but since then, it seems to have figured out it can't fly yet.
Or else the cat got it.
There are babies, too, in the nests above the garage light. I stand there and say, "Don't jump out until you can fly. It's a long way down here." I hope those wee ones are smarter than our flighty little feller out back.
Looking back through my photos, this one was taken two years ago today: our chicks. Is this me looking at baby photos and commenting how time passes so quickly that you hardly remember having babies around?
These lovely little chicks, so much bigger than the swallow baby, have grown into proper hens that lay green-shelled eggs for us. I think next summer we'd better hatch out some eggs. We should rebuild our flock, yes, but it's also quite nice to hear tiny "cheep-cheeps" whenever we go into the coop.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Are You My Mother?

Baby cliff, or mud, swallow

After Abby and I returned from our walk this morning, I let the chickens out of the coop and threw open the main door, as I always do. Then I looked at the nasturtiums and lavatera growing in the flower boxes in front of the coop, and decided to check on my spider friend who weaves this huge web next to the downspout, anchoring one long strand on the rain barrel, which really is not a good idea.
But whatever. I'm not a spider contractor.
Thank goodness, however, I moved slightly to the right to get a better view of the overnight construction of my arachnid pal because I glanced down and realized one of the gourd-shaped mud nests of the swallows had dropped to the ground.
And when I moved slightly to the right to get my shadow out of the way of my view of the smashed nest, I saw this little fella huddled in the grass.
There was never a happier girl than me when I saw him move so I scooped him up and looked up at the barn swallows swooping and soaring for breakfast above me and said, "Birdies? Birdies!" I held my half-folded hands up to the sky. "What do I do?"
I needed help. Human help.
Racing into the house, holding tighter to the little bird who was trying to flap his wings, I managed to turn the knob for our bedroom door and jolted my husband awake with, "Another nest fell. There was a baby inside. I need the ladder."
Without even offering him a cup of coffee first.
And that's how the rescue went: I put the baby into another nest. It was more like a push, though, since I was reaching my arms up and trying to get him through a hole.
Then we stood back and waited.
"The swallows have disappeared," my mother commented from the back deck. Indeed. The sky above our yard was quiet and still.
So we waited. The air around us remained unmoved and silent.
Finally, a swallow swooped in under the eaves and popped into the nest into which I'd shoved the baby.
Mission successful.
I feel as if I've returned the favour of protection: The swallows keep the insects, and "insects", away from our home and I pick up the babies when one of their homes falls to the ground.
A beautiful working relationship.
I had to hang some laundry so when I was done, I walked over to beneath the swallow nests to make sure this morning's rescue hadn't been tossed from his adopted  nest.
Well, now, if there wasn't a SECOND baby swallow sitting in the grass. This one was a little older; she didn't have the two little white feather tufts of her sibling and she actually flew out of my hands. So she's getting ready to fly, just can't do the actual flight yet.
Since no one else is home, I had to single-handedly -- literally, because my right hand clutched the baby bird -- haul the ladder back over to the coop and put her into a different nest. I think there are other babies in these remaining nests; it's getting crowded and I hope that doesn't bring the other nests crashing down.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Breakfast At The Osprey Cafe

Breakfast for the three babies happens between eight and nine o'clock. We are fortunate to be able to sit on our back deck and watch Dad come in with a fish and help feed the chicks -- at least until it's time to head out to the river for some more fish. It takes a lot of food to fill up three growing osprey chicks.

If you'd like to join us, come over any  day. The coffee will be hot and fresh! The bigger the chicks get, the more there is to watch.

Monday, July 06, 2015

My Handsome Fella

I'm spending too much time inside at the computer and not nearly enough time outside with the chickens.
When you have a rooster as handsome and easy-going this fella, there is no reason not to join the flock.
Brewster is seven years old now. My husband claims he walks with difficulty because of arthritis in his feet but I think it's because he has these enormous spurs.

Only once has he ever used them on me, years ago when we had a white hen named Lily that he took a dislike to. I was carrying her out of the coop, in order to set her up in the rabbit area so she could escape Brewie's bullying (we finally had to rehome her), and that's when he went at me. Other than that moment, he's been an angel. We have been very fortunate to have a nice rooster.
What I love best about him? I will hand feed him a piece of bread or piece of strawberry and he'll drop it on the ground for one of the hens to snap up. He does this until he's sure everyone has eaten something then he'll start to keep the food for himself.
We have no idea how long a rooster lives but I'm starting to think we should hatch out some chicks in order to create a replacement Brewster. Anybody have a Barred Rock hen who wants to hang with the big Brew-man for a week or so?

Sunday, July 05, 2015

And Then This Happened

 We were sitting on the back deck having a lunch break when we realized we could see heads in the nest. We'd seen two last week but today, we confirmed there are three chicks. The head of one is just visible against the mother's body. 

As we sat there, a third osprey showed up. This is the second time this week this has occurred. Earlier, when Jane and I were walking up the lane with the dogs, two osprey (with one in the nest) circled over us for such a long time, it seemed deliberate. 

And then this happened: a THIRD osprey showed up. And no one was driving any of them away. They were soaring together in harmony.

And then THIS happened. I looked at the nest -- and there the mother was still sitting in the nest with the three chicks. Four ospreys flying around above the field behind the. FIVE osprey in total.

As I wrote in my 2011 Saltscapes article about our year of the osprey (which is now our seventh years of the osprey), they are considered a "messenger bird" -- if an osprey has flown into your life, it means important information is coming. What do three extra ones mean??
We can interpret signs and messages only for our own selves. I can't speak to what this might mean to my husband, with his personal struggles and plans, but my book writing is suddenly in the fast lane with interest coming from several publishers.One quote from a website of animal meanings suggests, "If you desire to see your ambition realized, move on it now."
Truthfully, this is why writers prefer to work during the cold, dark winters when the natural world is hibernating or down south. There are far too many distractions in the summer time -- and far too many nice days to be inside moving on those ambitions... We'd rather be outside on the deck, watching the skies for messages from our feathered friends.

Friday, July 03, 2015

The Swallows of Summer

At the end of last summer, cliff (or mud) swallows suddenly showed up on our property and built these amazing mud nests under the peaks of our chicken coop and the garage. Eight nests in all and now our little bit of sky is filled constantly with the chirps and swoops of swallows.
I love it. Ospreys and swallows, finches and blue jays. Crow, crow, crows! Bring on the birds.
Naturally, I wondered if the arrival of these insect-eating birds meant something...
In my handy-dandy reference book, Animal Speak, by the late Ted Andrews, I learned that there are quite a few legends and tales attached to swallows. First of all, swallows always have been favoured as the bird that heralds the arrival of summer. But for my purposes, it was interesting to read that a swallow is the symbol for protection, and for proper perspective.
"Swallows that nest near your home will help control pesky insects, reflecting a subtle protection of the home. If a swallow shows up in your life, what does that say about the pesky insects in your life?"
Oh, nice question! What or who do we need to be protected from?
The graceful way a swallow flies is an indication that perhaps a person now living with swallows needs to rise above what is going on in his or her life and find a new perspective. "You are weakest in solving problems when you do not distance yourself from them. A distance will help you to see clearly how to strengthen and protect yourself from others."
After reading the passage about swallows, I went outside and stood under their nests. They flew out of their nests and I watched them flit through the air for awhile, listened to their chirping. Then I held my arms out wide and said, "Thank you for protecting our home."

Thursday, July 02, 2015

One Woman's Quest To Make Garbage Beneficial

As published in The Citizen-Record on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 by Sara Jewell.

Maureen Woodlock stands by one of her bottle trees.

How often do we pull into the recycling depot on Route 6 west of Pugwash, drop off a bag or two of cans or bottles, thank the woman who hands over some money, then drive off without ever noticing the yellow lilies blooming in the gardens, the massive piles of blue wine bottles to the left of the drop-off deck, or perhaps even the blue eyes under the woman’s cap with “Keep Garbage Beneficial” embroidered on it? 
Maureen Woodlock has been the owner-operator of the KGB enviro-depot for 17 years and when I land in there one afternoon for a chat, she’s in the process of taking all the signs off the outside walls of her green-and-orange-painted trailers in preparation for a big move just a short distance away. She bought the former tavern near Pugwash River Road.“It’s not really a building here. It’s just a bunch of trailers tacked together,” Maureen says of her current location. “It’s nice here but now we’ll have a nice building that won’t leak and will have real facilities. As well, I’ll have a real asset with the business; right now, it’s not really worth anything.” 
With a small laugh, she admits she’s excited about the move. 
“I’m starting this when I’m 63, when I should be retiring, but if you look at most of my peers running small businesses, most of us are still kicking at our age,” she says then admits that financially, she really can’t retire yet. “I see other people retired and I think that would be a good life but that’s not the way it is so I’m still working. Then again, I kinda like it.”
At the new location, she’ll continue to accept electronics and paint, cans and bottles for recycling, and now she’s accepting textiles. 
“A lot of garbage, about 12 per cent, is used clothing,” she tells me. 
A proper building also allows Maureen to truly indulge her passion for bottle craft. Having handled “millions and millions and millions” of bottles over the past 17 years, Maureen was inspired to repurpose them. She has made wind chimes, wine glasses, vases and hanging candle holders. She even sold her wind chimes at the Pugwash Farmers’ Market, but what’s been holding her back is finding the right glue and the right chain for her works of art. 
A blue bottle wind chime hangs below her office.  
“I’ve had a lot of people want to buy the wind chime right out there,” she says, “but it’s my one and only. I’m going to hang up in the new building for decoration.” 
Because her craft trailer doesn’t have a view of the driveway, she’s not been able to work in it as often as she’d like. 
“At the new building, it’ll be a better setup. I’m hoping to be able to work bottle craft in the heated part and still keep an eye on what’s going on in the depot,” she says. “And I do want to work on the bottle craft. I believe there’s potential in that. The hanging candles are really nice.” 
But what I’m most curious about are the blue bottles hanging off the trees lining Route 6. 
“Those are called ‘bottle trees’,” Maureen says. “A woman came to the market and told me I could use all the blue wine bottles for bottle trees and I’d never heard of them.” 
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website, African slaves created bottle trees from dead trees or large limbs next to their quarters and decorated them with glass bottles found in garage piles. Blue bottles were coveted because they repelled evil and trapped night spirits to be destroyed by the rising sun.  
Maureen simply likes bottle trees as decoration. 
Of her blue bottles on the pruned poplars out front, she says, “I like the idea they are on living trees.”

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Good Things Grow Here

At the Pugwash Farmers' Market


See what you're missing by sleeping in on Saturdays?
The market is worth getting up early for!