Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Crime Scene

This is Rocky.
Hello, Rocky.
We named him Rocky because he is a pugnacious little bugger. We go through a lot of squirrels here, on account of the road and their lack of evolutionary development that would stop them from dashing across the road without first stopping to look and make sure it was safe, and every so often we get one that is distinctive enough to be named.
Rocky is so named because he's quite vicious with the blue jays and mourning doves at the feeder. While other squirrels are content with jumping into the feeder and scattering the birds then sitting there chattering at them, Rocky lunges at them and often manages to pull feathers out of their butts. If you look closely at the top photo of Rocky sitting on the feeder, you'll see feathers opposite him.
Interestingly, he does not try this when the chickens are standing in the bird feeder (yes, I know, that's not really where chickens are supposed to be). 
Our deck is now covered in both chicken poop and butt feathers.
Come visit. We're delightful.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Classic Writing Utensil

I took this photo at Tidewater Books in Sackville, NB, yesterday, after the reading and signing, during the Customer Appreciation event in store. The sticker caught my eye for two reasons: It says "Autographed Copy", which is happily quaint, but more significantly, there is the image of a fountain pen on the sticker.

For many, many years, during high school and university, I wrote with a fountain pen. Not a quill and ink pot but a Sheaffer fountain pen that used ink, blue and black, labelled "Classic Catridge Ink". Little plastic tubes I dropped into the body of the pen and when I screwed the nib back on, it pierced the plastic and ink flowed.
I just checked a box of odds-and-sods writing pieces sitting on my shelf: I still have the pen and was surprised to see I still have cartridges.

I loved writing with that fountain pen. And it reminds me of another loss, a loss I noticed the other day.
There is no longer a writing bump on my right ring finger (for some reason, I never learned to hold a pen on my middle finger). For as long as I have been writing, I have had that bump there. In the past five years, I've done most of my writing on a computer and I rarely have time, or take the time -- unfortunately and regrettably -- to write pages and pages a day in my Hilroy spiral notebook (also a staple writing equipment of years and years). So the bump has faded away.
Just as I stopped using a fountain pen.

But after recording an interview for a program on CFTA community radio, the host and I were talking and a favourite poem of mine came up. When he wrote down his email address so I could send him a copy, he used a fountain pen.
Then on Sunday, I see this sticker on the cover of my book.
And now I find my old fountain pen, along with some ink cartridges.
I owe my dear friend Colleen in Cobourg a letter. I think I'll write her a long letter, in thick blue ink, that will make the barest remains of the writing bump on my finger swell up with pride.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Go to the Field

The other day on Facebook or Twitter or maybe even Instagram, I saw a statement: "Take a break from social media, do some self care, spend time doing what you love."
That's how anxious and angry, uncertain and uneasy we are these days, fear contagious, hatred contagious, love working harder than ever and that is draining, you know? We have to be reminded to stop looking, stop reading, look up, look out, go talk to someone, find someone to wrap your arms around. Feel a heartbeat, touch warm skin, remember who you are and why you are here.
So this is my break from social media -- to the field, to the river, to the sky.
In my Field Notes book, I quote Mary Oliver poems in a couple of the essays, and here is another one, for today:

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is exactly what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
~ Mary Oliver

Back in the summer of 2006, when I came down to my family's summer house on Pugwash Point because my mother had cancer, my parents' dog had cancer, and my Pugwash Point friend Diana had cancer, I taped this poem by Wendell Berry into the opening pages of my scrapbook of what would turn out to be a life-changing six weeks.
I've been thinking of this poem a lot lately, and I'm sure many naturalists and outdoorsy types and country people have been searching it out as well these days. Or if not consciously doing so, perhaps simply seeking the fields and the water and the sky in their own version of this poem:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ Wendell Berry

These are the days for wind and rain, for fields and marsh, for clouds and the rays of the sun reaching down from the sky, searching, seeking, attempting reflection. The ground is muddy, heavy with water, impenetrable. I won't quote Leonard Cohen but you know the line about how the light gets in. We are all out there, walking through the fields, looking for the cracks.

As I type this, the clouds are greying up. I've lived here in the country long enough to know how the sky changes when snow is coming. A change in the weather is about to happen. It's going to get cold, finally. The pond will freeze and I will do something I've never done here, in the country, in the field, before. My hope is there, in the ice.

Friday, November 18, 2016

In Conversation With...

My first TV interview for Field Notes on Thursday, November 17

It's fortunate that I've been the CTV Morning Live correspondent for Oxford since 2013, and that I did two interviews on behalf of the Alzheimer Society for its annual conference and annual walk, because it meant I could walk onto this familiar set and know the people in the studio. Cyril and Alyse and Heidi are always happy to see their guests, I'm sure, but for my first TV interview, this made a big difference for me, I think.
This TV appearance mattered so much, I wanted to do well.
Heidi is friendly and welcoming and so easy to talk to, it was just like a conversation in a living room. I'm pleased with how the interview went, although everything now is a learning experience and this time I learned I need to complete my sentences! The more I talk about this book, however, the more easily and concisely my answers will come. The blind date will be a story I tell again, I'm sure, and the reference to the chicken hat...hmm, that was unexpected! 

Here's the link to the interview:

Not to mention, I was thrilled to be wearing my lucky T-shirt from My Home Apparel in downtown Truro. I love this T-shirt, which is made in Truro by Stanfield's, and I certainly appreciate that 5% from every sale goes to support initiatives in Canada to end homelessness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Rural Kindness Day, Every Day

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, November 16, 2016, by Sara Jewell.
Celebrating with Mary Purdy after she won the gift basket at Sunday's book launch.

I’m writing this in a fog of exhaustion, elation, humility and thankfulness.
In other words, I’m blown away by the support from friends and readers in Cumberland County.

This past Sunday, we celebrated the publication of my book, Field Notes: A City Girl’s Search for Heart and Home in Rural Nova Scotia, with the official book launch in Pugwash.
This is my first book so it was the book launch I’ve always longed for but it turns out, the celebration itself, with sixty people in attendance, was beyond my wildest expectations.
It came at the end of a difficult week for some of us who didn’t want Donald Trump elected president; who have mixed-race family in the United States and are now worried about them; who believe so deeply in the power of love and kindness and justice that we can’t bear the stories of intolerance we’ve been hearing.
It came after Remembrance Day, our most important commemoration, which reminds us of who gave their lives for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and just plain freedom of existence.

It was a difficult week because it reminded me that several years ago, someone referred to local Muslims from Lebanon as “Pakis” and I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say but I also knew nothing I said would change his behaviour or his attitude. It bothers me that I’m not good at speaking up to defend people, especially people who are now my friends.
I write from a position of white, middle-class privilege so I don’t know what it’s like to be truly persecuted, disenfranchised, and afraid. Yet as a woman, I know what it is like to choose silence over speaking out because it will be your word against his and you were raised to not cause a scene.
It was a difficult week. Then the book launch happened.
People came together to celebrate a book. Publishing is still alive and thriving!
People came together to celebrate a book about rural Nova Scotia. Rural communities are still alive and surviving!
Not only that, Sunday, November 13 was World Kindness Day.

So I’d like to share part of the Facebook post my dear friend Mary Purdy wrote on Sunday evening because this, my friends, this is what we are:
What are you doing to add more kindness in your life? I was at Sara Jewell's book launch in Pugwash, and to see so many people hugging each other, beautiful. To see so many people show up in support of Sara and to celebrate her success, an act of kindness by a community. And then there was the gift basket I was fortunate to win, the delicious cookies, Sara's tears. I felt kindness and care filling the room. I feel so blessed to live in this community and to see kindness modeled in so many ways by so many people.
I am humbled and grateful for the support of this community and this county, which, happily and hopefully, includes Muslims. This is the place I’m proud to call home. And I mean that from my heart.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Familiar Feeling

No one was up this morning when I finished my yoga practice in the living room: thirty minutes of chai tea and Sun Salutations and prayers of gratitude while the cats sleep in the carpeted "tree" in front of the window.
I fed the cats and the dog then turned on the coffee before heading out into into the frosty fog for a walk with, always with, my eager canine companion. Not the road for us this morning, not with the fog, even wearing a hot pink vest. We cut down in-laws' driveway to walk along the river, through the fields my father-in-law used to pasture cows in, heading towards a hidden point of land at the far end of the property.

The river was still and silent. I knew it was there but I couldn't see or hear it. Not a ripple, not a sound.
The dog's nose was busy, thrusting through the white-tipped grass, lifting into the air, smelling the passage of deer and skunk and raccoon. I breathed in the smell of the swamp at the shore, the pine, the wet morning air. Breathed deeply and said another prayer of gratitude.This time and this pace is so precious.

Not even a duck took flight as we passed along the edge of the river.

The fog, thick and damp, but not icy, not cold, hung over the river like a curtain, draping the trees and the grass, shrouding the church in the distance and the pickup trucks heading up the two-lane road.
When we arrived back home, no one was up so I poured a cup of coffee and took that first, hot mouthful all by myself. Eventually, the house stirred and other coffee mugs were filled. Conversation began. I checked Facebook and looked at my To Do of 12 items. The rest of the day began.

The walk this morning felt like coming home. It felt like those days in my first few years here before my father died, before my mother moved in, when my husband left for work at six o'clock. When the house was empty when I got up, stretched, fed the creatures. When I dressed in jeans and a turtleneck, gloves and a toque, with the dog at my side, and headed out into the cool morning air, alive and alone and alert. Filling my lungs and my cells with the quiet and the peace, the grass and the trees, the river and the sky.
Even when neither can be seen.

I needed this today, this break from a week that is packed to its brim. That's not usual for me, to be heavily scheduled, to be this busy, but it's what I've worked for -- this book, these events, this life as an author -- so what I needed was a morning to remember how it all began and why I am so grateful.
The frosty fog was lovely. Even when you can't see what's out there, you know it's exactly what you need.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Other Significant Other!

Harry Thurston, the award-winning author who lives in Tidnish Bridge and who has mentored me for the past few years, introduced me at the book launch of Field Notes yesterday.
I didn't even recognize the writer he was talking about.
A while ago, I wrote a Facebook post that stated, "The world sees you as much cooler than you see yourself," and this was brought home again to me at the book launch. Not only by Harry's extraordinary introduction but by the way I know we view writers and painters and rug hookers and sculptors -- anyone who creates, who puts words on a page or paint on a canvas or fabric on a cloth. When people do lovely things we can't do ourselves, we think they are special, and they are.
Yet when you are one -- apparently talented, apparently on your way, apparently one to watch -- you still don't feel like that. You only know that your neck aches from sitting at your desk too long staring at the computer monitor or bending over the rug hooking frame trying to get those oceans waves to flow the way you want them to or firing the clay just right for your new artistic departure from mugs and bowls. You read your book to a crowd and you think, "Did I write that?" and then you think, "I could never do this again."

But Harry seems to think I can.

Here's what makes Harry so significant, why I'm so grateful he agreed to introduce me at the book launch and why I am so humbled by his words: He's the one who put this Field Notes book into play. I credit Deanne Fitzpatrick with kicking my butt through a period of being stuck mid-way through writing the sample essays but Harry is the one who got me thinking about the book itself.
"You could turn the article about the ospreys into a book," he said to me in passing at an event promoting Nova Scotia arts and culture.
Now, Field Notes is not the book he imagined -- he meant a non-fiction narrative woven around the presence of the ospreys on our property -- but Field Notes is that book in essay form, I think.

Harry thinks we first met when I took his six-week writing workshop at the Tidnish Bridge Art Gallery in the summer of 2014 but he's wrong. We met when I used my "In Conversation With..." column in the Oxford Journal as an excuse to meet this fascinating and accomplished author who lives in the same county as I do! And look where we ended up -- celebrating the book that grew out of the seed he planted.
Which reminds me of an idea I discussed with someone just recently: We never know the power of what we say to another person, even in passing, so we need to make sure our words are supportive and encouraging. We plant seeds everywhere, and sometimes we are fortunate to be a part of their taking root and blooming into something lovely.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Official Field Notes Book Launch

This is the only book launch for Cumberland County -- and we're holding it where it all began way back in 1979, in Pugwash on Sunday, November 13 at 2 p.m. Don't worry if you don't know where the church is -- we'll have signs (and hopefully red balloons) marking the location.

If you can't make the book launch, I'll be at Deanne Fitzpatrick's Rug Hooking Studio in Amherst on Saturday, November 19, and signing books on Saturday, November 26 at Coles in Truro from noon till 1:30 and at Coles in Amherst from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Would love for you to come by and visit!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

What Not To Wear, Country Style

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, November 2, 2016, by Sara Jewell

In the time it took to get this photo, I broke out in a rash from too much camo!

Tracey and I met up in the produce department at one of the grocery stores in Amherst.
“If you were going to a turkey shoot, what would you wear?” she asked me.
First of all, I would never go to a turkey shoot, although I have since learned that no one actually shoots live turkeys; they’re aiming at targets in order to win a frozen turkey. Which doesn’t seem nearly as exciting, if you’ll pardon my paradox.
Secondly, I would have no clue what to wear to any kind of shoot, having never been to one, my Nova Scotia country boy still reluctant to have his clumsy wife around one gun, let alone a rafter of them.
“I was trying to put together an outfit when Greg walked into the bedroom and told me to just wear my old clothes. I don’t have OLD clothes,” Tracey said.
Her laughter bordered on hysterical as we looked at her lovely grocery-shopping outfit which included a pair of high-heeled boots. Definitely not an outfit for a turkey shoot.

When men go to their side of closet, there are two outfits: good and every day. We see the every day clothes every day. If we see the good clothes, it means someone has died.
For women, an ATV rally outfit is completely different from a grocery shopping outfit which is entirely different from a weekend-at-the-camp outfit. Which is why the closet gets turned out onto the bed when we are baffled by the appropriate outfit to wear to a turkey shoot.
“Greg said no jewellery, no makeup, don’t do your hair and wear camouflage,” Tracey said, shuddering at the thought of wearing camo. “That is so not me!”
A country girl after my own heart.

Men have it much easier: their outfit choices are limited to denim, plaid and camouflage (poor things). Even so, there are times when the significantly more fashion aware other has to put the brakes on a trend.
“How do you like my new shirt?” my husband said one morning.
I looked the black-and-tan large square plaid shirt and said, “You’re wearing Dad Plaid.”           
Not to disparage my father-in-law or his wife, who buys his clothes, but this was not a look I was prepared to see just yet on my then-56 year old husband. From Dad Plaid, it’s a slippery slope to suspenders.
I might cheer the return of the Dad Plaid these days, however, with the latest fashion crisis in our home. Now that he’s retired, my Nova Scotia country boy is wearing far too much camouflage these days. Every day. When he replaced the worn-out navy suede slippers I bought him for Christmas with a pair of camouflage ones that look like they’re indestructible, I objected.
“If you don’t like the slippers, honey, you’d better brace yourself for the camouflage seat covers I’m going to buy for my new truck,” he answered.
I think he’s serious. So I’ll be hosting a turkey shoot in the near future, and you can guess what turkey we’ll be taking shots at. He won’t be hard to spot: he’s not yet dressing in head-to-toe camo.