Monday, July 31, 2017

First Flight


It's always a relief when the first osprey offspring of the season flies from the nest. It's always a joy to watch their awkwardness in the air, to hear their cries as they flap their wings and figure out what to do with their legs, to see them land for the first time somewhere other than the edge of the nest.
We spent much of Sunday with this lovely one sitting above the back deck in the spruce tree.

And I just happened to be in the right place at the right with the right focus when one of the parents buzzed by the youngster after he'd been sitting in the tree for a couple of hours.

We are indeed blessed to have as neighbours these ospreys, to be so closely aligned with their comings and goings. As I type this, in through my office window comes the sudden onset of chirping -- it's the ospreys food-arriving call. As each young osprey learns to fly, their fishing lessons commence as well. By the end of August, only one, the youngest, will be in the nest calling for food.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Rural Fashion Show

The day before the dinner party we'd planned for our tenth wedding anniversary, I realized we needed some kind of entertainment in between the meal and dessert. Something that would aid digestion -- laughter works, right? So I wrote a fashion show highlighting the last ten years of city girl/country girl style!
My friend Jane, who can always be called upon at a moment's notice to perform some outrageous task on my behalf, read the commentary. 
My mother seems to think it was brilliant and must go on the road; I think it would be perfect for the book launch if there is a Field Notes 2 so I don't want to give anything away. Instead of showing the final showstopper ensemble (yes, there was camouflage), here is a sample from mid-way through the show:

"Sara has swapped those glorious hot pink mules for a sturdy pair of Muck boots highlighted with hot pink. As clunky and rubbery as these boots are, they are perfectly suited for mucking around the yard and walking around the field with her dog.
Unfortunately, there are a few hazards associated with living in the country surrounded by woods.There isn’t much we can do about bears and coyotes, but we do have the solution for the problem of TICKS. Sara is enjoying her hemp hat with its soft-cottony feel, and wide, tick-deflecting brim." 

It was surprisingly easy to come up with a "city girl/country girl fashion show", and even work my Nova Scotia country boy into it (he looked alarmed when Jane told him to stand up!). Maybe I should turn it into a show -- although Dwayne tells me I can't take a REAL gun on stage with me...

Friday, July 28, 2017

Celebrating Ten Years Today

How joyful to be together, alone
as when we first were joined
in our little house by the river
long ago, except that now we know

each other, as we did not then;
and now instead of two stories fumbling
to meet, we belong to one story
that the two, joining, made. And now

we touch each other with the tenderness 
of mortals, who know themselves...

~ Wendell Berry,
from "The Blue Robe"

I suspect we are the “unlikely couple” – the city girl from Ontario and the Nova Scotia country boy – who got together on a blind date then married a year later.
The marriage is doomed! There’s no way those two can stay together.
We are lucky to have found happiness the second time around. Dwayne found fidelity and respect, and I found compatibility and reliability. We found true love, and we are grateful for that every day. That love, that gratitude is what gets us through the challenges.
Doomed, were we? Not built to last, you say?
Sure, there are the good morning and goodnight kisses, there is open communication – even when it’s hard to talk about it – and there is the sticking-it-out-because-what’s-the-alternative, but for us, the secret to a long and happy marriage would be the gratitude.
We know why we are together, and our ‘why’ goes beyond the chickens and the gardens, the day trips and the inside jokes, even beyond the rib-crushing hugs and the belly laughs at bedtime. Our 'why" has everything to do with heart and home. Our ‘why’ means nothing and no one can come between us.
Not even the dog sleeping in the middle of the bed. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summer of the Horse: The Saddle Is No Place For A Wimp

Today's high praise from my riding instructor, Dawn Helm, was "Good for you. You're not being a wimp."

I hadn't expected to write anything about my latest riding lesson because we're just working on the fundamentals and practicing them over and over, but as I wrote about in my last post, learning to ride is as much learning about yourself as it is about tacking up and posting and stopping.
Today Dawn called me out on a lifetime habit of not pushing myself hard enough.

"Don't stop. You've got to learn to listen as you ride. You've got to learn to adjust your feet in the stirrups as you ride. Every time you stop in the middle of your learning moment, you lose momentum."

As I write that, I notice that moment is the beginning of momentum. There is a moment, which becomes a bigger moment, which becomes that -- whether it's courage or confidence or ambition or stubbornness or maybe even ego -- which propels you forward into doing more and doing better.

So I had to "suck it up, buttercup", as my friend Jane would say, and not stop to regroup or rest or think things through. I had to keep riding and figure out how to get my shit together whilst in motion.

Dawn also realizes I am a perfectionist and my stopping was as much about my frustration with not getting the rhythm of the posting trot. She understands how I learn, that I need to take in information and work through it, picture it, even, before I can learn by doing it. After that, though, she wants to me think in my stirrups and not give up so easily.

Hence the high praise today when I just kept bouncing in the saddle, trying to find the post, and adjusting my feet in the stirrups when I was using my knees instead of my weight to stay in the saddle, and closing my eyes to feel the trot -- feel it -- feel it --

"Yes, you're doing it! Keep going!"

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Leap of Fate

Any day now, the first young osprey will take the leap.
The ospreys hatched out another three eggs this spring and we have reached that time of the summer, always around our wedding anniversary, when we wait for the babies to become fledglings -- to take that brave and amazing leap off the side of the nest, and become what they are born to be: flyers and fishers.
All three babies are flapping their wings but we have yet to see the hopping from side to side in the nest that implies one is ready to go, ready to hop right into that beautiful blue sky.


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Raccoon Came Back - Sort Of

Now it's really broken.
"Where did the raccoon go?"
"What raccoon?"
"The one in the garden shed."
"The broken one."
"The one the squirrels were nesting in. Where is it?"
"I threw it out."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because it was broken."
"But the squirrels were living in it."

I'm sure you can guess who the city girl raised on Disney movies is in this conversation and who is the Nova Scotia country boy. 

"It's in a big pile out back that I'm going to burn in the fall."
"So you can bring the raccoon back?"
"Yeah, I can bring the raccoon back."

The broken garden ornament in the shed was a perfect nest for squirrels.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Shit Happens

I look at this picture and I imagine what my teenaged self would be doing: goofing around, feeling self-conscious, and exclaiming, "Ew!" and "Do I have to?" That very young, privileged young woman would not have appreciated this moment and this opportunity.
On the other hand, my forty-ish self practically ran for the shovel, hollering, "I'll do it! I'll do it!". This photo is my version of a victory fist pump in the air, shouting, "Yes!"
Just like having a chicken coop full of hens was a symbol of sophistication for me when I first moved to Nova Scotia, so too is this shovel full of fresh horse poop. It also means I'm exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I've always wanted to do.

Yes, shovelling shit has been one of this city girl's aspirations. And, like riding, it's not as easy as it looks. There's a way to flick the shovel when you're scooping that allows you to pick up more and make fewer trips to the wheelbarrow, or directly to the manure pile outside the doors. Dawn, the lifelong horse woman who is my riding instructor, can do it in two scoops; I made six trips to the manure pile.
Grinning the entire time.

My sixth riding lesson was all about working on and building on the basics I've learned so far: turning the horse, halting him, posting in a trot, and stopping a horse that has bolted (this is the most important skill for me, in particular, to know since I panic first, think second, if I remember to think at all). The rest of my lessons will go like this, round and round the ring, walking and trotting and stopping over and over. That's the only way to learn.
There's this idea that after 10,000 hours of doing something, it becomes muscle memory and you never forget. I can see how this would work for horseback riding, especially when I consider how many muscles are involved in riding, even in the basic riding I'm doing.
Last week's posting lesson gave me an acute awareness of my inner front thigh muscles!

New revelation: You use the entire body when you ride a horse, yet you are using each part individually. For example, to make a horse go, squeeze your calves BUT to stop the horse, squeeze your thighs (while doing three other things as well). Your hands hold the reigns but your elbows do the work. Cripes, even the ears, which do nothing, are involved: Ears, shoulders, and hips are to be in alignment when you're sitting in the saddle. Maybe the heels, too, but I can't remember.
So many details.
Not only do I need to be aware of every part of my body, as I gain a skill, there's a way to build on it. I was using the outside leg and inside reign to turn when Dawn said, "It's actually more about the outside reign" so that was an add-on. Later she instructed, "You're leaning into your turns. Just turn your shoulders. Don't lean." That's an add-on to the "Turn your head in the direction you want to go."
There isn't a part of the body that doesn't do something in riding. And there are four or five things to think about when doing something even as simple as turning. I was paused at one point, gathering myself, and Dawn told me to get going.
"I'm going over everything I have to do before I start moving," I told her. "There's so much to remember."
She laughed. "I don't remember what it's like to know nothing about riding."
At 15, I wouldn't have had the confidence to say that to her, to do what I needed to do; at 47, I know how I need to approach things and I'll no longer let anyone tell me what is best for me.

Some habits are hard to break, though, and I'm not talking about my propensity for leaning.
"I'm not coordinated enough for this," I said later as we trotted in a circle around Dawn. I was feeling awkward and bouncy, like I'd never figure it out, and I wanted an excuse for not getting it.
My usual self-conscious horseshit.
"You must be coordinated if you're posting," Dawn answered. "Some people never master this."
Knowing how unathletic I am and how many times I've said "I can't" about trying something new, that comment hit my heart like a powerful kick from a pair of hind legs. I can do it. I AM doing it.

My friend, Gail, one of the women who inspired this Summer of the Horse, arrived at the stables in Linden during yesterday's lesson. This morning, she sent me a text: "Good to see you riding so well. You looked confident."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Place to Play and Learn

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, by Sara Jewell

The sun porch of the Wallace and Area Museum is gently lit by afternoon sunshine, yet with screens for walls and large trees providing shade, the porch remains cool on a July afternoon. Overlooking the vast lawn and the perennials gardens, the porch provides a lovely venue for the museum’s long-running Wednesday afternoon tea.
The new curator stands before the capacity crowd gathered around small tables and explains that the museum (which opened in 1992 in a house built in 1839) is trying to attract more visitors. This tea is the first of four author readings in July; in August, local painters will anchor the teas.

This is Gail’s first season as the new curator and she brings to the museum a lifetime of experience with art galleries across Canada, as well as a deeply personal connection to this particular place: the land on which the museum sits was settled by her ancestor, Peter Graham Tuttle, the youngest son of the United Empire Loyalist, Stephen Tuttle, whose family settled in Wentworth and Wallace.
So despite the fact she had just retired and returned to the area, Gail couldn’t resist the opportunity presented by the museum’s job posting last January, calling it “serendipity and synchronicity”. She’s easing into the role left vacant by the sudden death of long-time curator, David Dewar, in 2015 with only a few small changes. Besides tweaking the teas, her short-term goal is rebranding the museum as a place to learn and to play.
“The whole end goal of a museum is a place of learning,” Gail said, “but with this property, it’s also a place to play because we have walking trails, perennial gardens, barns and outbuildings, the house, the screened porch, and the meeting room. It’s a place for people to enjoy.”

Her long-term goal is discovering how to make the museum more relevant to the needs of the community.
“We have to open the museum up to a broader community so at our flea market and fun day on July 29, we’re launching a Friends of the Museum membership drive.”
In a time when libraries are struggling to remain open, and arts and music programs suffer from flagging support, why bring such ambition to her job at a rural museum?
“Museums matter because they are part of the community,” Gail replied. “The museum itself has the job of preserving artifacts and heritage but the community decides what its value is and what its meaning is. The museum must also serve the needs of the community. It’s a symbiotic relationship. If you don’t serve the needs of the community, you’re just an artifact yourself.”

The first author reading goes over well and Gail is pleased.
“Aren’t the flower arrangements beautiful?” she said as the summer students tidy up. “Ryan does those for us.”
This is Ryan MacInnis’ second summer working at the museum and he discovered a knack for arranging flowers last summer.
“People liked my ideas so I’ve been ‘volun-told’ to be the new flower picker,” he explained with a chuckle. “I like to change them up each week. People notice. People realize we pay attention to details, and that’s better for the museum and the community.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The River Flows, the Words Not So Much

I'm six hundred words into a new story.
Let me tell you, I'd much rather be out on the river today than writing about it. This is the hard part, the starting. The story is there but putting those first words, first paragraphs down is torture; it's rare to have the flow right from the first sentence. But I know how this works and I know what to do: All I have to do is write the first draft. It doesn't matter how crappy it is or how many facts and details need filling in; all that matters is getting the skeleton of the story put together. That gives me something to edit.

So remember that, all you with a story that wants to be written: you just have to write something down. No first draft is good, they're all crap, so just write and worry about the details, about the style and the structure, the spelling and grammar once you've written down whatever it is inside you that wants to be birthed into the world. Listen, I've published a book and I still dreaded sitting down at my computer this morning and opening up a new document. I would have much rather sat on the deck today reading than start typing in that blank white page. But if I don't start it, it doesn't get done.
And here I am, six hundred words later. Stalled only because I allowed myself to be distracted.

My plan is to expand the Moon Tide story, with its 11-year-old protagonist, into a book of four stories, set in winter, summer, fall and again in winter, for children aged eight to eleven. This is the story that won a writing for children competition in 2015 and will be published in an anthology of winter stories this fall. Already there are significant changes from that original story; the grandfather is still alive, for one thing, and I've added a sister. 

Today I've started to work on the summer story. As with Moon Tide and all the other stories, it's inspired by this fella, and his childhood growing up along the River Philip. I'm looking forward to some in-the-field research today or tomorrow: Dwayne will take me out in the boat to show me the swimming hole I'm writing about today.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Feeling the Diagonals

Learning the posting trot in the outside arena at Galloway Stables in Linden.
I feel such pressure to learn forty years' worth of riding lessons and horse information in one summer that it was a relief -- and a release of pressure -- to be praised by my instructor, Dawn, this morning, during my fifth lesson.
"You're doing a good job at posting," she said to me halfway through our learn-to-trot session (I'd told her about my less-than-enjoyable experience trotting on a trail horse Read About It Here). "You're getting it faster than a lot of my younger riders."

In my books, that's a gold star for me!

When I first prodded Dakota into more than just a brisk walk, Dawn said we were doing a jog rather than a trot but it seemed plenty fast enough for me. Yet as I adjusted to moving quickly around our circle at the end of the lunge line, I realized the faster you ride, the more smoothly you ride. I started to post immediately; it was almost instinctive but perhaps just some of that knowledge I've picked up over the years of watching horse competitions. The posting trot is such an obvious move; you see the jumpers doing it all the time.  The most important part of the trot, however, is understanding the diagonals.

Diagonals are tricky. According to the book that inspired me to take up riding, Year of the Horse by Marjorie Simmins, "diagonals" refer to the diagonal configuration of the trotting gait.
"When the horse's left front leg moves forward, so does the right hind leg," Simmins wrote and went on to explain that rising out of the saddle -- known as posting -- happens because of the hind leg.
"When you are going in a circle or around an arena fence, the inside leg bears more weight. This is because of how the horse's body is arced. So by lifting your weight out of the saddle as that hind leg bears weight, you're relieving the horse of extra pressure."

With proper boots for riding, I began posting almost as soon as we started trotting but Dawn could see I had no idea what I was doing. She told me to feel for the diagonal but I find I can't feel the horse's movement because I'm worrying about my hands and my posture, my legs and my feet.
"You're thinking too much," she said. So I did the only thing I knew how to do in order to counter my brain: I rode with my eyes closed to try and feel the horse.
"You'll sense right before you want to rise out of the saddle," I heard Dawn telling me. "That's when you start to post."
Now that I've read Marjorie's explanation of diagonals, now that I know the point is to relieve pressure on the inside hind leg, I'll focus on feeling the diagonals as they relate to the inside hind leg.

Now I just have to remember which leg that is depending on which direction I'm going!

There are a lot of confusing elements in riding; it's simply not as easy as it looks. It's like every body part is involved in some way, even if it's just keeping it loose and uninvolved! I have a hard time doing more than two activities at the same time, like lifting out of my seat at the same time I'm squeezing my calves (that keeps the horse trotting) YET with practice, I got it together.
It's often the smallest things that cause the problem.
"Stop thinking about your feet," Dawn said. "You're not really using them."
What??Actually, my foot was too far back in the stirrup; I was using only the balls of my feet and when I slid my foot forward, suddenly stability was there. That small change made a huge difference in "not using" my feet.   
There was a graduation of sorts near the end of our lesson this morning: I walked Dakota around the outside arena free of the lunge line. It was nice to be able to go to the corners and decide which jumps to walk around and when to turn on my own with no instruction. Through the wisdom gained from past failures, I know the only way to learn a skill is to do it yourself then keep doing it over and over.
I let Dakota break into a trot but Dawn hollered from across the arena, "You're only supposed to be walking him."
"I'm enough of a perfectionist that I want to practice," I told her when we came up to where she was standing. "I want to keep going until I get the posting trot down pat."
She laughed. "You're going to be really sore tomorrow."

When I first started riding, I searched for yoga poses for horse riders (sorry, that's yoga for equestrians) but the ones suggested are ones I already do in my regular practice. I told Dawn this and she said that yoga is best for balance "but you're using muscles that you never use in any other activity. This is why riding is such good exercise," she added with a knowing grin.

Look, Ma! No lunge line. Also, I'm rockin' my new helmet.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

It's All Goat to Me

I milked my first goat.
I wrapped my fingers around those hot little teats and I pulled. Nothing came out.
I tugged. Nothing came out.
"You wrap your thumb and forefinger around the top to seal it off then squeeze with the rest of your hand," Mark, my new goat guru, told me.
I wrapped, I sealed, I squeezed.
A teeny, tiny stream of milk streamed from one teat.
"Woot! I've got milk!" I hooted.
Mark's 13 year old daughter Sam laughed and rolled her eyes. She's a real farm girl, and she's showing a six-month-old goat for 4H this year.
"I'm going to show off a bit," Mark said, squatting down beside me, and proceeded to demonstrate how he can milk two teats simultaneously.
Turns out I'm not ambidextrous enough, at least when it comes to teats, to milk like that; not practiced enough, not skilled enough.
But I managed to get a decent stream of milk out of both teats.
I milked my first goat. 
Mark chose Autumn as my first milker because her teats are big.
"Violet's teats are very small and Bubblegum can be difficult to milk," he told me. "So Autumn is easy."
Autumn is patient, I can tell you that. (So is Sam and Mark and his wife Theresa. I have a family of goat gurus.)
I can't say that I filled the bucket with milk because Autumn twice knocked it over; not kicking it out of goatheadedness but because I was taking soooooo long and the mosquitoes were biting. But I was getting the hang of it, the feel for it, and figuring out the easy-squeezy of goat milking.
I came home covered in bug bites and the tendons in my lower back were aching but I was happy happy happy: I milked my first goat!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rehab and Retirement

Chickens can be nasty creatures.
Did I ever tell you about Sasha? She is a mini version of this big girl, an Australorp. A couple of years ago, I discovered Sasha one afternoon in the chicken coop near death, a gaping hole peck in the back of her head.
I told you chickens could be nasty.
I'd noticed Sasha limping but had forgotten what chickens do when they see or sense weakness. I felt badly that I'd forgotten; what terror she must have experienced as her coop mates -- her former feathery friends -- attacked her.
Because we don't kill our hens, we moved Sasha into the outer coop to give her peace and safety to either pass away or heal.Well, bless her little hen heart, she survived her grievous injury, slowly but surely. Actually, both her injuries eventually healed: her head wound and after a long time, her bad leg. She lived in the outer coop and once she had recovered, spent her days (which added up to months) by herself, limping and lurching around the yard, happily wandering through gardens. For a hen with a leg that wouldn't support her, she certainly could move when she needed to. Perhaps all that walking fixed the leg. We were able to put her back in with the other chickens again, where she is small and skittish but holding her own.
This big girl is Gwen. All our hens get a name if they turn broody although we never managed to hatch any eggs under Gwen. She never went broody again and she is the oldest of our hens; she outlived Big Mimi who was from the same hatch. We know Gwen is getting old because she's slowing down and often doesn't even leave the coop during the day.
Last week, I went into the coop to collect eggs and noticed spots of bright red blood on the black feathers around her head. In fact, behind Gwen's comb was awash in blood. Her injury wasn't as bad as Sasha's, I couldn't see any big wound, but I scooped her up and she became the latest hen to go solo. Rehab and retirement for Gwen. She can live out her remaining days in peace and quiet.

Friday, July 07, 2017

A Chicken For Every Child

This is my three-year-old niece Violet.
She's crazy about our chickens. She knew the name of our rooster - Andre Poulet - before she even arrived at our home in Nova Scotia (she and her six siblings, along with her parents, are visiting from Georgia). Every time he crows, she shouts, "Andre Poulet!"
She believes he is calling to her. 

In the photo, she was meeting the chickens for the first time. For the last few months, she informed us she intended to chase the chickens and to hold them. I had to break the news to her: we don't raise chickens who like to be cuddled. Instead, she had to be satisfied with some petting. I think she found the chasing more interesting.
We fed bread to the chickens and a few of them will take it from your fingers so Violet was shocked at how sharp their beaks are. She inspected the end of her finger very carefully, looking for blood, then tossed all her bread away and told them to "Go get it."
Yet when it came time to collect the eggs that evening, she trotted into the coop without hesitation. I tell you, this girl is fearless. Under Andre Poulet's reign, our chickens go to bed early (before the sun sets) so they were already sitting on their roosts when we arrived.
Violet thought that was amazing.
"Jump to me!" she shouted, standing under them with her arms upraised. "Jump to me and I will catch you!"
Sadly, no one took her up on her offer.
And when it came time to collect the eggs, she didn't hesitate to thrust her hand under the bird sitting in a nest box to see if there was an egg under her. Then she sat down on the floor of the coop, which is covered in shavings clumped up with dried poop, in order to look at the eggs in her basket.
I was enthusiastic about getting chickens back in 2008 but I don't think I was ever THIS enthusiastic.

I'm working on a theory that one of the issues with "youth of today" is that they don't live on farms. So that's a broad statement, very generalized at this point, but this is what we're missing now that we're vacating our rural areas, and leaving the farms behind. 
I think it's important for children to have chores, to have work to do, to have responsibilities. I think it's essential for children to be responsible for another life. I think children, even if they live in a city, should, at the very least, have a couple of chickens and a small garden. (Apartment dwellers will have to be creative or perhaps join or start a community garden.)

Children need to take care of something that depends on them for life. A chicken that needs fresh water and food, eggs that need to be placed carefully into the basket (not dropped) so that they don't break, plants that need fertilizer and watering and de-bugging.
They need to experience the satisfaction of a job well done; not a video game level completed or a Snapchat streak maintained but the before-and-after of a coop cleaned out or a garden weeded, an omelette made from fresh eggs and just-picked herbs.
Children need to experience life and death through the natural world, where it is normal and hands-on and oh so bloody real, not through Disney movie and the Family channel. There is no need to shield a child from a chicken that has been near-fatally pecked by the other chickens because there is the joy of watching her survive and heal and thrive as a "pet". Nor should we shield a child from the dead hen or rabbit or stillborn baby goat. As sad as it is to witness the death of any creature, children understand the cycle of life with far more equilibrium than adults give them credit for; and often, with their unique brand of wisdom.

These kind of experiences are different than feeding the cat and cleaning the cat litter, different than feeding and walking the dog. I haven't quite worked out how but it is. Yet any chore, any responsibility is good for a child. It builds confidence, it builds knowledge, it builds problem-solving skills.  Chores and responsibilities involving more than just setting the table or pushing the green bin to the curb, that involve animals and plants, make children smarter, healthier, and more resilient.
And, generally speaking, children with gardens and chickens, with goats and bunnies, with cows and horses, don't have time to get bored. They don't have time to get into trouble or make really bad decisions; they're too busy watching those freshly-hatched chicks.

My riding instructor told me how good it is for young girls to work with horses, and my three-year-old niece fearlessly -- far more fearlessly than I did nine years ago -- fetched eggs out from under a hen. The life skills learned in a barn are as important as the knowledge gained in a classroom, and the life lessons discovered by working with animals and growing vegetables will leave far deeper impressions than any Disney movie.

"Jump to me and I will catch you," Violet said. Fearless, confident and able to deal with the disappointment of a chicken not doing what you want it to do. Because that's life.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Find Your Inner Muddy Child

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, by Sara Jewell

It took about an hour for the rest of the family to figure out there was more to Hopewell Rocks than mud.
My husband and I met up with my sister and her family, arriving from Georgia, at the famous New Brunswick landmark last week because this is how they wanted to begin their first visit to Nova Scotia in three years. They are a family of nine: two parents and seven children ranging in age from 13 to three; I’m sure our extra hands and arms were appreciated getting the littlest kids up and down the stairs.
When we landed at the bottom, the four oldest made a beeline to the water, only to discover a low-tide expanse of thick, gooey mud. It didn’t stop them; just slowed them down. “These sandals are ten years old,” my brother-in-law, Jason, said to those of us not willing to sacrifice our footwear when he returned to the gravel shore with his crew of kids with mud up to their knees.
Perfect time for a family picture.

While the older kids tried to clean the mud off their feet and flip flops, three-year-old Violet wandered off. We heard a happy screech and when we turned, she waved two very muddy hands at us, her face lit up by a smile.
None of us screeched back. Jason didn’t rush in to scoop her out of the mud nor did my sister scold Violet for getting her hands dirty. We laughed and groaned and knew what was coming as Violet proceeded to play in the mud for 45 minutes.
She fell down on her butt. She wiped hair off her face with her hands. She picked rocks out of the mud and piled them up. She sunk deeper into the mud and fell forward. Her pigtails got dipped in the mud.
“Can I take her picture?” people asked.

I began watching the faces of people coming towards us: At first glance, their neutral sightseeing expressions changed to shock at the sight of a little girl playing in the mud; as they drew closer and saw how happy she was, many of them smiled. One woman drew her clean and tidy son closer to her. I’m not sure what the visitors from China said but they laughed and took her picture.
“She’s going viral,” I told my sister. “In six months, Violet will be a meme.”
She’ll be the face of ‘Find your inner muddy kid’ or ‘When in Canada…’
I believe that most people, seeing a happy little girl who wasn’t concerned about the mud in her hair and on her face and soaking through her T-shirt and shorts, recognized their own long-suppressed inner muddy child.  

Older couples stopped to watch. Some people joked about laundry; others mentioned that it looked like fun. Strangers talked to strangers. They shared a laugh. They discovered something even more unusual than those amazing flowerpot rocks.
“May I take her picture?” a woman asked and my sister nodded again. “I have a granddaughter this age and this is something she’d love to do.”
I hope her parents let her.