Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pheasantly Surprised

A rare sighting before the field grass grew up.

As much as I want a couple of goats and a donkey and a pig, all pets, of course, I have to accept that we are bird people. As much as I want farm fur, I'm resigned to being surrounded by feathers.
For several years, my husband has been slightly obsessed by pheasants, this mild obsession started perhaps by seeing them abundantly during our 2010 trip to Scotland but fuelled at home by the presence of a mostly heard but not seen male pheasant whose "gronks" we hear in the shrubs and tall grass around our property.
For a few winters, he showed up underneath the bird feeders in our front yard but we thought the heavy snow of 2015 may have been the end of him. Happily, he survived to gronk again.
A few weeks ago, I looked out the bathroom window and saw something on the gravel pile. I wondered if one of our chickens had flown the coop then I realized it was the pheasant.
"I've got to get him a female," Dwayne declared.

We love babies! Although these are more like toddlers.
After a couple of years of trying, Dwayne finally tracked down young pheasants to buy and we picked them up on Tuesday night. We now have ten settling in to their new abode in our backyard. They will be released in the fall, not for hunting but for our personal enjoyment.

Sitting on the back deck looking at our array of bird houses, my husband swept his arm out and said, "Ospreys, chickens and pheasants. We are a bird sanctuary."
Come the fall, we'll see how our pheasants fare in the wild; we might end up being the bird brains.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bearly There

I'm not sure what I like better about this photo: the beautiful wildflowers or the handsome little fella in the middle of them!
We think he's been enjoying the wild strawberries that are among the delicacies offered up by our sumptuous summer field.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Early Babies

My friend Jane became a grandmother a month earlier than expected (mother and baby girl are fine) and our osprey babies showed their heads two weeks earlier than usual. Not sure what this means, or if they're connected (the June full moon?), but as surprising as nature can be, it's still a delight since back in April, we weren't sure if the osprey pair was even going to return to this nest to raise young again.
Like anyone else, all we want -- whether its human or bird -- are healthy babies and happy parents so it's all celebration. For us, that celebration -- another three osprey babies -- is tinged with anxiety and not the new-parent kind.
So what's the plan, you ask, to prevent another eagle attack like last August? Once both parents are leaving the nest each morning to fish for their three growing fledglings, I'll be getting up at dawn to do guard duty. Not sure how I'll scare away the eagle -- my lawn chair and roar of rage may not be as scary when the eagle is ten feet above -- but I have a couple of weeks to figure that out.
My mother has a BB gun. Maybe the sound of that itty bitty gun -- along with my roar -- would be enough of a deterrent. I'd hoped to muster up an army of crows but they didn't settle around our yard this year.
I'll figure something out, not to worry. The eagle will not win this year, if I have to shimmy up that pole and sit in the nest myself.

Here are the links to the posts about last summer's devastating eagle attack (I still can't talk about it without getting angry):
I love the poem in this one:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Just Another Country Morning

It's my mother's birthday today so it's a no-work day as we celebrate her (for me, in particular, her unflagging support of my writing career). We spent some time this morning on the front deck, enjoying our coffee and the sunshine and watching this little darling take one peanut at a time and bury each one in a different spot in the yard.
Every third or fourth peanut, she would pause to eat. Given the exhausting back-and-forth she was involved in -- across the deck for a peanut then across the yard to hide it -- we decided her hard work and commitment, but also her sense to stop and replenish her energy, meant she is female. A completely arbitrary assignment.
We do know this isn't Oswald, the tamest squirrel; I'm pretty sure he was hit by a car the other night.  He was named for Santa's squirrel navigator in a Christmas movie we watched last year but my country boy has started calling the other squirrels Lee and  Harvey.
Insert a sigh here. 
I'm not sure I want my squirrels named after a presidential assassin. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

There Are Enough Stories

Mama, when are you going to stop writing...?
I received the loveliest email the other day. It wasn't what was in the message that pleased so much as what the subject said: Author Questionnaire.
Sara Jewell, author. Finally, as my mother keeps saying.
Soon. Less than four months. Pub day is September 30. I will be out standing in my field on that day.
Answering that questionnaire helped because speaking of questionnaires...lately I've been questioning the content of my Field Notes book. I keep thinking I missed a couple of essays that should have been included.
I know, I know: the curse of the Should Haves.

In order to answer a couple of questions on the questionnaire, however, I needed to refresh my memory on the content of my essays and as I scrolled through the Table of Contents, I realized, "This is okay. These are good essays." Most importantly, I said, "These are enough."
Sure, perhaps, the one about the green bins should be in this collection but that's about it; and I could have added it during the last editing go-round but I ran out of time and energy, to be honest.

The good news is I have already started the file for Field Notes 2: Further Afield. And in thinking about this again today, I know that the essays about the green bin and the pet chickens and those first few dates with a Nova Scotia country boy will fit in the second book just as nicely because there won't be any "back story" essays in book two. Those are the ones that describe what it was like to leave Vancouver and end up on a dead-end road with no streetlights or sidewalks in rural Nova Scotia; that subject is sufficiently covered in book one. Book two will be the continuing adventures... and my country boy now has a deadline for teaching me to shoot a gun.
So check another line off on the To Do list: Stop worrying about the book! You will never run out of stories to tell.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Endangered Chimney Swifts Counting On Us

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

Coreen Tizzard & her daughter Amy stand next to the big chimney in Oxford.

When Amy Tizzard pulls her car to the edge of the pavement at the corner of Duke and Waverly Streets in Oxford, I notice her specialty license plate: “Conservation – Species at Risk”. No surprise, then, that she’d volunteer to spend several evenings in Sigrid Wood’s backyard watching the top of a huge chimney for a couple of hours.
Amy is volunteering with Maritimes SwiftWatch, a program launched five years ago to monitor chimney swift populations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
The chimney in Sigrid’s backyard was once part of the Scotia Woodworkers mill; according to the date stamped into the brick, this chimney was built in 1919. Until a few years ago, when a previous resident burned garbage in the bottom of it, this chimney was a roost for hundreds of swifts.
On the first night, despite several hours of watching the insect-eating swifts flying in the air above the chimney, not a single one enters it at dusk to roost for the night.
Swifts use chimneys for two separate purposes: for roosting en masse in late May and early June after they migrate north, and for nesting as individual pairs.

According to Maritimes SwiftWatch coordinator, Allison Manthorne, the four-night count conducted by Amy (along with her mother and a few friends) is part of a national effort to
track their population and determine factors for their decline in some areas.
“It also helps us connect with landowners because pretty much all the sites are on private land,” Manthorne says. “Although the birds and chimneys are protected by law while the birds are in them, over the winter, there’s no legal protection for the chimney itself. The count is a way of collecting information and relaying it back to the landowners to show them how important this structure is and what they can do to protect it.”

Amy has three pages of data to complete for each night of the count, filling out information about the chimney structure and the habitat around it, as well as weather conditions such as temperature, cloud cover and wind speed.
Over her four-day watch at the mill chimney, only two swifts roosted there, but because of the number of swifts spied overhead in the hours before sunset, she is not discouraged.
“We had seen up to ten swifts flying around on one night and they are probably roosting elsewhere,” she says. “The birds are somewhere around Oxford so people can keep a look out.”
Chimney swifts are identified by their rapid twittering call and short, stubby tails.

One evening, Amy and her mother were driving through town looking at chimneys and they realized there are a lot of uncapped chimneys no longer being used. Unlined brick chimneys are ideal for swifts.
Allison Manthorne says the easiest way to determine if swifts are nesting in your chimney is to stand outside and look at it.
“If they’re nesting, they’ll go in and out of the chimney about every half hour to forty-five minutes. If they’re roosting, they only come back at night.”

For information on chimney swifts in the Maritimes, check out the Bird Studies Canada link,

BLOG BONUS: How do I know if there are swifts nesting in my chimney?

“You might hear them if you’re in the house," says Allison Manthorne of Maritimes Swiftwatch, based in Sackville, NB. "If there are young, they make a dry, rattling sound; they almost sound like rattlesnakes. You’ll hear the adults twittering to each other." 
As stated in the column, thought, the best way to know is to go outside and look at your chimney to see if any swifts are entering and leaving your chimney at least once an hour. That means they're feeding babies.
According to Manthorne, swift bodies and legs are designed to cling vertically to a surface so if you see a bird perched on the top of a chimney,  it’s not a swift.
“They have these cool tail spines that act like a brace to keep the bird propped up overnight.”

They also are known to nest in the highest, deepest, darkest corners of barns; there is one site like this in Great Village. 
So, Manthrone says, “We’re asking people to keep an eye on their chimneys but also take a look in their barns, especially the older wooden barns.” 
If we're losing chimneys and barns, how about building something especially for swifts? Manthorne says a lot of people are trying to create an artificial structure but so far, none have worked in Canada. 

Knowing if swifts are nesting in your chimney becomes extremely important when a cold, wet June day comes upon us and we decide we want a fire on to take the damp away.
“If we know a pair is nesting in the chimney and we’re able to talk to that landowner, we ask they not light a fire until they know the birds are gone," says Manthorne. "They are protected by law,” she adds. “If someone was to light a fire, that is illegal.”
She admits that law is not well known by people, and honestly, we all know someone who would bristle and say “It’s my house and I’m lighting a fire."
Manthorne  is just hopeful that doesn't happen. “By and large, the nesting season is late enough that we don’t see that conflict.”

The massive unused chimney in Oxford is an ideal roosting spot for swifts.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Under An Oak Tree

Fourteen months after Stella died, we finally planted her ashes with an oak tree. I didn't do this last summer when her ashes came back because I thought I was going to be writing the first draft of her book last summer and felt she should be with me. Writing more sample essays for the Field Notes book put an end to that plan, or at least, paused it (pawsed it?), although I did write about Stella's death while it was still fresh.
This spring, when the Pugwash Communities in Bloom had trees for sale, I decided to buy an oak tree and get it planted as soon as my mother returned from Georgia. My friend Jane wanted to be part of the moment when the tree, along with Stella's ashes and the fur I took out of the lint catcher after washing her blankets for the last time, entered the ground. This past Saturday was the day.
You'll see in the photo that Abby wanted to be part of the event as well.
We didn't plant Stella along the walking path as originally planned; Dwayne thought a better spot was next to the garden where he plants the cherry tomatoes because she spent a lot of time there, hiding behind the tomato plants, eating the fruit! It's on the way to the path so I'll see it every time I head to the plantation, and Stella's tree has a view of the osprey nest. 
And I have a view of her tree. Because of where we planted her ashes and tree, I see it every time I get in and out of bed. I did not expect that to mean as much as it does.
Despite the fact I believe in the presence of spirits, I did save some of her ashes and some of her fur in a little Irish pottery jar with a screw top so when I do get a chance, perhaps this fall, to write the first draft of her book, part of her will be in the room with me. One of those weird things that writers do.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Good Morning Graze

An unexpected, and delightful, sighting on Route 321 this morning, as we headed to the woodlot.
This photo really doesn't do justice to the peacefulness of the morning, the fresh green of the field, and the detail of the bear's face.
We knew the cub was in the tall grass so I whistled and it poked its head up. When Dwayne made a bear call, the cub ran off towards the woods.
I think I heard the mother bear mutter, "Damn paparazzi."

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Hello, New Friend

This explains what had the dog all worked up! Our new friend was more interested in eating dandelion stalks around the chicken coop than munching my tulips. He kindly posed for a few minutes so I could snap this photo through the bathroom window. My husband figures he -- or she -- likely has made a home in the nearby rock pile that was the foundation of the old house that was on this property many decades ago.
I do believe this is the first time I've seen a groundhog. We have raccoons and porcupines a plenty, and finally a chipmunk, but this guy is new. My dad once had a pet groundhog -- perhaps this is a gift from him!
Later, while outside stacking wood, my husband straightened up just in time to see a young male bear walk out of the clearcut onto the old road that runs alongside our house. This is the time of year when Mama Bear banishes the cub or cubs she gave birth to two years ago in order to mate again. Apparently, these young bears are most dangerous because they are "mad" at being being turfed out of the family; not sure if that's a human concept, being "mad". I rather think they are scared -- suddenly alone and having to fend entirely for themselves in a big world infested with humans who see them as threats. That would make me defensive and touchy, too.
So welcome! Rodents small and large will find a safe haven on our 72 acres here in Cumberland County (as long as they stay away from our chickens).

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb!

A story from one of my parents' trips with their Rotary Club: They were in Jersey, not New Jersey but the Isle of Jersey off the coast of England, and at a dinner with the entire group. Apparently, when you don't want to listen to what someone else is saying, all you do is chant, "Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb!" over and over. Mum and Dad came home and told us that story -- and we've never forgotten it. I guess it was my destiny to be the kind of writer that I am: Our best family stories are inspired by others.

I collected the first stalks of our homegrown rhubarb this week and stewed it up for my husband, who loves to eat it on toast. He says this is how he remembers eating rhubarb as a kid.
It still bugs me, even though we've moved beyond lamenting, past planting, and into harvesting, that I didn't start a rhubarb garden as soon as I moved here nine years ago.
In fact, looking back, I'm sorry I spent so much time and money on flower gardens. I wish now I'd invested more in a raspberry patch and rhubarb patch, and planted a couple of sour cherry trees.
Just think of the sour cherry pies I'd be making this July if I'd done that?

Well, it's the same with publishing a book: It's never too late. You can't harvest if you don't plant.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Keep It Clean

The official opening of the TransCanada Trail bridge over River Philip at Oxford took place on Saturday, National Trails Day.
The existence of this bridge fills a hole in the trail, and allows locals to do a lovely loop around town. What was a quiet, little-used path down to the river that my friend Jane and I walked frequently with the dogs, this bridge and the expansion of the trail means a lot more people will be using and sharing this space.
Now the hope begins that everyone respects the dedication of a small group of people, led by Oxford resident Gerry McLellan, to get this "black hole" of the trail eliminated with this grand piece of construction. The bridge was fabricated and painted in Cumberland County, and the bridge deck planked by students in the woodworking program at Oxford Regional Education Centre. This bridge represents many years of dreaming, strategizing, fundraising, planning and flat-out physical labouring. Hard work, all of it, whether wrangling money from companies and governments or dealing with environmental rules and restrictions.
This bridge deserves to remain unmolested -- not vandalized or misused -- no matter how tempting that fresh, clean paint looks or the newly planted tree plugs appear. This hope isn't directed only at the miscreants in our community, but to everyone who arrives in our community planning to use this trail and pause at our new and donated picnic tables to enjoy the river and the bridge that makes crossing it possible.

While waiting for the speeches to begin, I overheard a conversation about garbage bins. There needs to be bins along the trail but there is concern about attracting bears if the garbage isn't taken away every day or so. I hate to hear this because even with garbage cans available along the trail, people will still toss their cans and paper wraps off to the side of the trail. Without any bins at all? It doesn't bear thinking. You just have to look at our roadsides to appreciate our resistance to keeping our garbage with us until we reach home.
After the ceremony, I walked back to town with a group of women. At one point, I heard a soft thud to my left and I stopped to stare at this white orb that had landed on the ground just off the trail.
"What is that?" I said.
"Oh, that's mine," the woman walking next to me said.
She had tossed her leftover cake, wrapped up in serviettes, into the shrubbery. She hadn't tossed it to the right, into the tall grass where at least no one would see, or further into the woods where no one would see. Nope, she merely tossed it a foot off the trail in plain view.
Telling everyone else it's okay to put your garbage here.
I was speechless, as I am always rendered by flagrant ignorance, and I almost -- ALMOST -- picked it up and said, "We can't leave it here," but damn it, I'm so pathologically non-confrontational that I didn't want to cause a scene or make her mad so I left it there. Maybe if I'd known there was a garbage bin at the head of trail where we were enroute, I might have picked it up and carried it there, quietly making a point.
I don't know what the answer is -- garbage bins and bears or just garbage everywhere.
It seems a shame we couldn't have enjoyed one day of pristine trail before someone desecrated it with ignorance and disrespect.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Russians Are Coming

The early ones, that is. Then the Giants will arrive.
For those of you who enjoy seeing my husband's sunflowers planted in such abundance on the lot next to our big red house, take heart that he bought twice as many seeds this year! I've challenged him to come up with a plan for a sunflower maze in a couple of years. How lovely would that be to walk through?
Or perhaps as a labyrinth, to make the sunflowers part of a meditation walk. Even better.
A labyrinth made out of flowers for all three seasons. An ambitious new garden idea! 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Art By Chance, Art By Choice

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper, Wednesday, June 1, 2016, by Sara Jewell.

Louise Cloutier and the Maude Lewis inspired door at 126 King Street, Pugwash.

Most artists love what they do so much, whether it’s painting or sculpting or writing or rug hooking, and have amassed so much information over the years that they are compelled to share their experience and enthusiasm with others.
When an artist has just retired after 35 years of teaching art to high school students, that desire to teach doesn’t go away; it simply moves into a new creative space.

“This had always been my intention,” says Louise Cloutier as she pours hot water into a tea pot. We’re sitting in the kitchen space of an old house in Pugwash, a space she now calls her demonstration room. The house on King Street is owned by her partner, Richard.
“When I graduated from McGill in 1980 and launched into my teaching career,” Louise continues, “I knew that when I retired, I would like to do something like this.”
Of course, she had no idea she would end up with a studio in a house christened “ArtQuarters” when she moved to Nova Scotia twenty-five years ago.  
“When I bought my four-acre property on Kolbec Road, it had been my intention to turn the land towards the river into an artists’ retreat, with cabins or tents on platforms. I realized I didn’t want to spend all my time washing sheets. I thought about renting a venue but the cost... after all, I don’t know how successful this is going to be.”
As late afternoon sunshine slants across the blue-green painted floor at 126 King Street, Louise smiles.
“This was under my nose the entire five years I’ve been with Richard!”
This old house has fulfilled Louise’s long-time dream of having her own space for teaching art to those aged nine and older.
“This is not a gallery; it’s an educational facility,” she says. “People will come here for instruction. What will go on the walls are examples for the subjects I’ll be teaching, such as portraiture.”

With classes beginning next week, Louise hopes to attract not only retirees but anyone who wants to learn to draw and paint. Right now, she’s offering two morning classes, a Monday evening class (which is still has space available), and after school classes. More information is available on Louise’s Facebook page, ArtQuarters Pugwash

Donna O’Connell of Pugwash Point walks through the door, ready to sign up for the full twelve-week course.
“I have no talent,” she laughs as she hands over her money.
Louise assures her that doesn’t matter. With 35 years of teaching art to teenagers behind her, Louise is very confident she can teach art to anyone.
“I can guarantee anyone who walks in here will walk out with a greater sense of self-esteem and achievement because they won’t walk away discouraged; they will learn something here. They’re going to be surprised by what they come away with.”
There is a long pause.
“I said that was a guarantee, didn’t I?” she laughs.

Louise and Charlotte Fresia discuss upcoming classes in the demonstration room.