Thursday, April 28, 2016

Wake Up Surprise

Osprey on its new field perch.

We woke up to spring snow this morning. I suppose everyone is complaining -- "I thought it was supposed to be spring" or "If it snows in May, I think I'll lose it" -- but this is what makes life in Atlantic Canada so interesting. It used to make Maritimers tough and resilient but now everyone is wimpy and whiny.
It's still spring, people. It's just a Nova Scotia spring. 
This layer of soft, wet snow is very good for the gardens so let's rejoice in how happy the tiny green shoots are this morning. Since we didn't get any April showers, this white stuff is welcomed by them. Now, if only the cold north wind would die down, the daffodils might get a chance to grow and bloom.

The breakfast buffet on our front deck...

Saturday, April 23, 2016

How To Make A Cat Happy

Even though my birthday is not for another two and a half weeks, and I always wait to open cards and gifts on the actual day, I had to open this box from my niece Mimi in Georgia because the cats began tearing into it right away. They have this thing for ripping tape off boxes.
How do cats come up with their quirks, anyway? Some genetic wheel they spin -- Red 5! Black 4! -- and you are assigned whatever cat trait -- sleeping on heads, let's say -- that the wheel stops at.
Needless to say, once the gift was extricated, Leonard claimed the box for his own. Including the plastic bubble wrap. He likes anything that makes a crinkly noise.
If this is what it takes to keep my two indoor cats happy, I'm all about receiving large boxes full of plastic bubble wrap.
A gift inside would be a bonus.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Seasons of the Osprey

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, April 20, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

A year after my husband and I married, two ospreys began building a nest on the pole that twenty years earlier he’d set up on his property along the River Philip.
Since the first April the pair returned to their nest and hatched out one baby (and three every following year), we’ve been able to count on their arrival by no later than mid-April. One osprey arrives first, and within 48 hours, the second osprey is greeted with high-pitched chirping.

I’m listening to that familiar sound as I type this but for more than a week, I wondered if we’d hear it again.

Our seasons are defined now by the osprey; there is the season when they are here (spring and summer) and the season when they are not (fall and winter). Their familiar shapes in the nest on top of the pole are our lighthouse, our lodestone, our North Star. Our good mornings and our good nights rotate around their constant presence, which is marked distinctly by the sound of their near-incessant chirping.
So it was with great trepidation that we began counting the days until their arrival this spring. For the first time in eight years, we were in doubt about whether they would return because last August, when the three offspring were large enough to sit on the side of the nest but were not yet flying, a bald eagle swooped in and snatched away all three babies.
It was an abrupt, devastating end to the season. It was a heinous, heartbreaking way to acquire a collection of osprey feathers.

The osprey, Nova Scotia’s official bird, is also known as the fish hawk. According to the Audubon Society, raccoons can prey on their eggs while bald eagles and Great Horned Owls are the greatest threats to nestlings. The irony represented by this attack is that bald eagles have made such a comeback, they are now able to pose a threat.
As awful as it would be to have the nest remain empty, I began to think perhaps it would be better if our nesting pair did not return. How could we endure another annihilation?

On the evening of April 9, the cry went up: “There’s a bird in the nest!”
As the days passed, however, the second osprey failed to arrive. Three days. Five days. A week. The single osprey sat on the nest, watching and waiting. It would fly off to fish then return to the nest, move some sticks around to repair winter damage, then sit and watch.
It didn’t chirp once.
“It’s so sad,” my husband began saying, which made it worse, imagining an entire summer of watching the single osprey with no expectation of seeing tiny heads appear or first flights.
It would have been better for no osprey to return at all.

Nine evenings after the first osprey arrived, another shout, a roar, really, went up from the deck. “The second osprey! The second osprey!”
There, silhouetted against the late evening sky, were two ospreys sitting in the nest, my husband’s holler swallowed up by the noise of their raptor-ous greeting.

Monday, April 18, 2016


One minute, I had absolutely no idea what to write for my next Field Notes column and the next minute, I had three ideas. The one that topped the list for this Wednesday? The photos are a hint.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Meditation Style of Cats

I had a reading earlier this week with a spiritual medium. I've done this kind of thing before; I figure if there's someone out there who can help me figure out the swampy journey that is my life, I'm going to pay up front and sit my butt in the chair.
Since I am trying to figure out whether to pursue further education in ministry just as my first book is due to be published and at the same time I'm worried about my husband's health... my friend Barry recommended I start meditating in order to deal with my stress and confusion.
"Twenty minutes of meditation every day," he told me. "Five minutes isn't enough. Are you kidding? You're barely comfortable at five minutes."

Having maintained a half-assed yoga practice for nearly 15 years, I'm not afraid of a little -- or a lot of -- meditation. I know that twenty minutes isn't that long; I normally end my yoga practice with prayers and intentions and there are some days when I could sit there till noon trying to express everything I need and everything I'm thankful for.

Still -- that's not meditation. It's good to push the pause button on thinking, on needing and hoping and thanking. It's good to be utterly still in body and in mind.

So Tuesday morning, 6:10 a.m., with my mug of chai tea steaming on the coffee table and the beeswax candle glowing with the light of hope and healing, I placed my Zazu meditation pillow onto the floor and turned to set my timer for twenty minutes.
When I turned back, Leonard had taken possession of the meditation pillow in that typical Zen-like fashion cats have. He makes it look so easy. After thirty minutes of meditation (honestly, 20 minutes goes by so quickly), my hips are paining and my lower legs are asleep. The answer is not in the meditation; it's in that picture: the trick to a comfortable meditation pose is a larger meditation pillow. 

Go within every day and find the inner strength so that the world will not blow your candle out. 
~ Katherine Dunham

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Waiting and Watching

All is not well in Ospreyland.
The second osprey, the mate, has not returned. Yet. Like our friend sitting in the nest, watching and waiting, we are not giving up hope.
It's been almost a week since she -- for we decided to pick a gender for simplicity's sake -- arrived and there has been no sign of any other osprey. This hasn't happened before; in fact, last year, for the first time, they arrived together.
When the first osprey arrives, this is the routine: he, or she, sits on the next then flies away for the first night. Returns the next day, eventually, but is gone for much of it. By then, the second osprey has arrived and there is usually one bird in the nest until August.
Today will mark day two of our fish hawk's now-constant presence in the nest.  Waiting and watching.
She reminds me of a fisherman's wife. Not knowing what is happening, only imagining what could happen, what did happen. Perhaps never knowing. That's the hard part. Not knowing. Waiting and watching and not knowing.
Do birds hope? Do they wonder? Do they worry?
Will she wait all summer?

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Familiar Silhouette

When I walked towards the house after closing up the chicken coop on Saturday evening, I automatically glanced up at the osprey nest.
No one was in it. No one was expected until Monday or Tuesday.
If anyone returned this spring at all.
After last August's massacre of the three babies, there was no way to predict if any osprey would return to this nest. I dreaded either decision, to return or abandon, because life without our osprey neighbours is inconceivable, yet the eagles pose a real threat and I certainly can't go through that again this summer.
After I'd put the eggs in the fridge and flipped on the kettle, my mother headed out the door for a quick walk.
"There's a bird in the nest," she came back in to announce.
The decision made, and I can't say I'm sorry to see that wonderful, familiar silhouette perched on top of the nest. At sunset. The night before a snowstorm yet a much nicer welcome than last April, when the river was frozen over and the ground covered in four feet of snow.
A much better omen for this season, let's say.
Welcome back, friend. It's good to see you. We've got your back.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Our Old Fella

Every morning, we open the outside door and let the chickens out into the yard. Spring and fall, they are allowed to roam our property until they start to interfere with my flowers gardens or, if they behave, until my husband plants his vegetable gardens.
Every morning, our wonderful rooster is the last to leave. Now eight years old and a very big bird, it takes Brewster awhile to get his arthritic toes uncurled from the roost and jump down. The toes aren't fully unfurled as he begins his long walk from the coop, across the back yard, around the south side of the house to the front yard where everyone congregates because that's where it's sunny and that's where the bird seed is.
It's hard to watch him walk, knowing his feet hurt, knowing his toes are flat on the ground.

The other morning, when the wind was blowing so coldly, Brewster seemed to be struggling -- not dying-struggling, just cold-day-struggling. He lay down on the frosty grass in the back yard, in the shade, which wasn't the most comfortable place to rest up. Several hens came to him and I wondered if they'd get him moving but they passed on and he remained where is was. I went out to carry him out front but he wouldn't let me get near him; if I'd dashed and lunged, I could have grabbed him -- and once he was in my arms, he'd settle in for the ride -- but with his toes so mangled, I didn't want him to have to run. So we walked together to the front, slowly, and he joined his flock and lay down in the sunshine near the seed.

He's such a good rooster and outside of his twisted toes, he seems to be in great health. I'm grateful this has been such an easy winter because he's getting a longer season outside. It's worth that long walk from coop to front yard when the ground is free of snow and there's bird seed waiting.
These are the simple pleasures of a rooster in his golden years.
We have no idea what the natural life span of a rooster is -- we'll find out with Brewster -- and I hope I don't curse him by writing about him today.
Every morning, when the door opens, Brewster flaps and flops off his roosts and stands in the doorway and surveys his kingdom. Every day, it's a good day to be a rooster. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

An Enduring Dedication to Quilting Day

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, April 6, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

When I arrive at Collingwood United Church just before noon on Tuesday, I realize I am in time for dinner but late for the party. Quilting Day started hours earlier.
Once I learn this is a Day, and one of reaching back decades, I know the work being done here is special and significant and worth witnessing, in part because the number of quilters around the frame is slowly declining.

“We used to be able to get a quilt done in a day,” Grace Smith tells me, “but we don’t have as many quilters anymore.”
The women – today there are seven – arrive around 9:30 in the morning and take a break for dinner, which is provided by the Collingwood UCW (United Church Women group).
“At our UCW meeting, we plan our quilting dinner and we have extra people who cook for us,” explains Janet Tizzard, who doesn’t quilt but organizes the meal, which costs six dollars and is open to the community.
“When it comes to Quilting Day, I don’t have to think about what to make,” says Betty Weatherbee. “I make beans and Judy makes her chicken divan.”
That explains the husbands waiting to be called to the basement to enjoy the homemade meal complete with bread and biscuits and cake for dessert.

After lunch, back upstairs at the frame, the women jam thimbles onto fingers and pick up their needles while I sit on the piano bench and watch. The quilt is set up in the vestry, a large room alongside the church sanctuary, where it can remain until it is finished.
“We used to quilt in people’s living rooms before we had this vestry,” says Judy Bragg, who was taught to quilt more than fifty years ago by her new sister-in-law.
“Doreen said, ‘If you’re going to live in Collingwood, you have to know how to quilt so come on over.’ She didn’t care what my stitches looked like; the quilts were just for her.”
“You couldn’t live in Collingwood and not quilt,” says Betty. “We moved here in 1961 and I’ve been quilting since then. I had my ‘Just Friends’ books out the other night and I was making beans for the quilting dinner in 1983.”
Betty says that when they were all younger, and there were 16 women around the frame, “There were days when we’d quilt all day, go home and make supper then come back and quilt until ten o’clock.”
Now, after the big push on Quilting Day, the women come to the vestry to work on the quilt when they can.

The group quilts when they have a project; today they are taking the “Dresden Plate” pieces a friend’s late mother made and finally stitching them into a proper quilt.
Grace says they once kept track of the hours everyone worked on a quilt and they totalled 240 hours.
So if you ever balk at the cost of a quilt, consider this small group of skilled and dedicated women who spend more than 200 hours hand-stitching every piece and every inch of a quilt – and know you are paying for a work of art.

Monday, April 04, 2016

All Stitched Up

I woke up early Saturday morning knowing that my winning streak was over: My throat was scratchy. For me, that's how my sinus colds begin. After more than a year, I'd finally been infected -- and it hit me on my first weekend off church work since August.
Of course it did!
I made it through our meditation workshop on Saturday morning then spent the rest of the day in bed hoping I could beat the cold with rest. Alas, the germs were stronger than my immune system so I spent Sunday lying in bed reading and scarfing comfort foods -- chicken noodle soup and toast with honey and potato chips. I woke up early this morning without any body aches (moment of gratitude!) and ready to write this week's Field Notes column. As your dedicated columnist, clogged sinuses would not keep me from making my noon deadline.
The photo is a hint about this week's subject and let me tell you, like spending four hours at a sugar shack, 500 words cannot do justice to the wonderful tradition of Quilting Day. And like my afternoon at the sugar shack, Quilting Day is another essay being filed away for the next Field Notes book.
Of course I'm planning that!
There are still plenty of stories to be shared about life in rural Nova Scotia and it will take a lot more than a cold to keep me from getting them into print.
But if you don't mind, I think your dedicated columnist is now going to crawl back into bed and dedicate herself to getting well.