Thursday, August 31, 2017

Patience with the Writing Process

I'd much rather be floating down the river looking for eagles...

My To Do list for the last three days of this week included writing five different kinds of essays -- but a sick headache yesterday put me out of commission and now I'm trying to write three essays on three totally different topics today. The second essay is already bogged down but likely, a walk through the field will shake the disparate parts into sequence and it will make sense by the time you read it in the newspaper.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Hope of the Sunflower Patch

I was delighted to see this little glimpse of yellow peeking out of the sunflower patch yesterday morning as Abby and I returned from our morning walk. Dwayne planted his sunflowers late this year, around the first of July, because this land was cold and wet through June. So his sunflowers are coming up and opening up later than usual.
This either will be a good thing -- we'll have sunflowers into October -- or we won't have many sunflowers at all.

The sunflowers always remind me of the flooding in and around Calgary in June of 2013, and how afterwards, people planted sunflowers because they clean the soil. I didn't know that; now sunflowers are the other heroes, the aftermath heroes, of flooding.

I sat down to watch the news after supper tonight and I started to cry as I looked at houses with water above window ledges, and cars submerged, and people carrying their dogs in their arms, and old women in a nursing home sitting in recliners and wheelchairs with water at chest level.
Whenever these catastrophes happen, whether it's forest fire or flooding, Dwayne and I talk about if it could happen here and what we would do if it did. Even if the chance is remote, and it is, we're more likely to have a tree blow down on our house than lose it in a forest fire, I like to talk about possibilities and reactions.
I can't imagine going to bed one night believing you're on high enough ground that the rain won't fill your home only to wake up to find your entire neighbourhood is afloat, and your neighbours in danger. It reminds me of the fire in Fort McMurray last year, when most people didn't have time to pack, or plan, or even think about what they would do; they just had time to grab their kids, their pets, a purse, and get out.

I don't pray anymore; I don't believe God is an interventionist, I don't believe God saves only certain people. I do believe in the good people: the strangers rescuing strangers, the neighbours helping neighbours, the men and women who leave their homes in their filled boats then return with their empty boats to help others, the reporters who are standing knee deep in the water covering a roadway in order to let us know what's going on, how long this is going to last, what we can do, how we can help.
Where we can send money. 
When we can plant sunflower seeds.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sherpa Granny

My friend Jane has traded in her goat fondling credentials to become a sherpa for her 14-month-old granddaughter, J.
I took a morning off -- I'm easily persuaded to do that -- in order for us to walk Oxford's portion of the TransCanada Trail and check out the new tunnel put under the main road into town. Tomorrow is the official opening of the tunnel so I wanted to see if there was an easy way to reach the tunnel in order to snap a photo for my community correspondent report on CTV Morning Live on Monday.

We haven't walked this trail together in a very long time, Jane and I, and halfway across the bridge, I realized why my dog was so agitated: We've lost our access to the river's edge where our dogs could take a break mid-walk, get into the water, cool off, chase sticks, and get a drink. Until the bridge was installed, this was our turnaround point, and I knew the bridge would affect that.
This river pause was such a part of our walks for the last couple of years, and such an enjoyment for the dogs, that I may have to carve a secret trail down to our spot on the riverbank. Abby's disappointment at not being able to reach the water was heart-breaking. It's a shame, yet typical, that progress for many leaves a few short-changed of peace and pleasure.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Yoga Pays Off

This is how life is funny, and awesome, and surprising. If only we could get our 18-year-old and 26-year-old and 35-year-old selves to understand that where you are RIGHT NOW is likely not going to be where you will be in ten years.
And if you are lucky, where you end up will be where you are meant to be.

Who knew, back in the fall of 2001, when I lived in Vancouver and the dog and I walked by that yoga studio on the side street and I picked up a pamphlet and went to my first class a week or so later, that yoga would be the key to my learning to ride a horse?
Because it's all about strong core and back muscles, and good balance.
Amazing that something I do once a day, and with more of an emphasis on stretch than on strength, is making this learning experience easier for me, who is not the least bit athletic or even particularly physically adept.
Just ask that wall I keep walking into.

It's not easy to see in this photo but I'm practicing a move that's used in jumping. With my legs, I'm holding myself just out of the saddle, barely using my fists and my knees for stability, remaining tall  in the saddle without bending forward.

I'm not going to be jumping anytime soon but Dawn now is opening my lesson with this exercise because it warms me up and teaches me this micro-movement while Dakota gets his warm-up walk.  Right now, I can hold the posture only for a few seconds but with practice, that time will lengthen.

For a few weeks, I've been thinking about the yoga postures I can do that will strengthen the muscles I'm using in riding. The muscles used on horseback include the inner thigh, which are stretched, the hips and outer thigh, which are shortened, and both the abdominal and lower back muscles, which stabilize the upper body for good posture. 
I've been able to correlate a yoga posture to every move I make on the horse. For instance, the posture pictured in this photo reminds me of Chair Pose. Eagle Pose is even better because it is a balancing pose in that squatting position. When my inner thigh muscles were aching after my first lesson, Warrior 1 and 2 eased the discomfort. Bound Angle Pose keeps those muscles stretched out now. I do Plank Pose like crazy to keep my core muscles strong.
I wonder if doing all these poses has kept my muscles from hurting again. Even my weak ankles don't hurt during a lesson!
There is a Horse Pose but it has nothing do with riding muscles; it's called that simply because the pose resembles the face of a horse.

It wasn't until my latest lesson on Friday, however, that I realized the overall impact yoga has on my riding. The lesson happened at four in the afternoon, and I admit late in the day is not my best learning time. As soon as I got into the saddle, it felt weird, almost unfamiliar, as if I hadn't been in the saddle in weeks.
I kept complaining that my body felt like it was a bunch of disjointed parts I didn't know how to get to work together until Dawn finally told me to stop overthinking and just ride, that the only part I needed to worry about was my butt staying in the saddle. That's what I appreciate about Dawn: she gets me and isn't afraid to snap me out of my self-absorption.
We ended the lesson with three attempts at cantering. On my third attempt, I was able to let go of the saddle and hold only the reigns, and self-correct when I started to tip sideways (because Dakota was on the lunge line so we were going in a circle). This self-correction happened because I have a strong core and good balance -- big win for yoga!

We joked my poor performance was the result of Dwayne being there, taking photos, but later I realized it was because I hadn't done any yoga that day. I'd gone for a walk first thing in the morning then worked at my computer all day, stopping only when it was time to change and head to the barn. Sometimes I do yoga while watching "The Bold and Beautiful", a nice thirty-minute yoga break in the afternoon, but last Friday, I didn't take time to do that. 
And paid for it.
Because when my lessons are at nine in the morning, I don't go for a walk; I do yoga. Which means when I show up at the barn, my mind and body are prepped for riding; my muscles are warmed up, my brain is clear and focused, and my entire system inside and out is energized, the blood flowing, my mood elevated.

For someone who doesn't consider herself athletic, and loves yoga because it doesn't make her sweat or involve other people or risk injury to brain or bone (as long as I don't fall off!), I'm absolutely tickled that the exercises I do every morning in my living room (and in my pajamas!) have turned out to be an advantage when it comes to riding a horse. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

You Wear It Well

I may have hit the summer sale at a certain equestrian supply store. I may be wearing a traditional horse rider's outfit at my lesson this afternoon. I may be a little too excited about this.
It's not so much that I hope I wear it well, it's that I hope I wear it right! 
Update: When I showed my instructor that I was wearing breeches and half-chaps, she laughed. Then she said, "You got the half-chaps right. So many people put the zipper on the inside."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Midsummer Dreams

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, August 16, 2017, by Sara Jewell.

My favourite morning hour is six to seven before the world is awake and bright and loud. This is when I walk the dog, when it is cool and quiet. 
My favourite evening hour is eight to nine after the sun has sunk below the treeline but there is still light in the sky. This is when I tend my gardens, when it is cool and quiet. 
Even in the golden days of August, there are still reasons to putter.
"What are you doing?" calls a voice through the dusk.
"Collecting rocks," I reply. 
We have a pile of slate rock at the edge of our property and after the sun goes down, when I know I won't come across a snake snoozing on a warm stone, I gather flat stones to place in the gaps in my flower gardens. Gaps are good; gaps provide a space to kneel and breathe.  
The chickens are tucked up on their roosts so my husband shuts them up for the night.
"Want me to help?" he calls to me as I fill my wheelbarrow with rocks.
"No, thank you," I reply, preferring to work alone and in silence.

This is not truly work, however, this hauling and placing of rock, the digging in the dirt, the pulling of weeds. It may feel like work during the day when it’s hot and sunny, when the lawn mower drones and trucks rattle by on the road, but in the evening, this is a meditation. A time of peace and quiet, a time when the shadows slip in and twilight narrows the world to the patch of garden right in front where our hands are touching the ground.
This is vespers, when the toil of gardening becomes an act of prayer, when we are down on our knees in the dirt, breathing in the smell of earth and plants, hearing the rustle of leaves in the light breeze, brushing the soil with our fingers. We are filled with peace and hope and the promise of joy.
A prayer ends with “Amen”, which means “So be it”. It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “The amen of nature is always a flower,” and that’s where gardening meets our faith in something other than ourselves. Be it soil and plants or spirit and persons, we plant, we feed, we watch; we take care of each other, we nurture. We do it year after year after year no matter what challenges we face.
There comes a point when we must get up off our knees, wipe the dirt from our hands, and hope for the best from our labour and the weather, saying, “So be it...”

The sun has set. I join my husband on the back deck. It’s darker than it was a few days ago, the days shorter, the nights cooler, the mosquitoes waning along with August’s full moon. 
We sit there until ten o'clock then we say good night to the chickens in their coop, good night to the stars quivering on the tips of leaves, good night to the flowers folded into themselves like they are praying.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Morning Refraction

This is the kind of distraction I have to deal with while doing yoga in the morning!
The original shot, while I was in Tree Pose and without camera (who knew I had to have the camera with the telephoto lens handy to me while on the yoga mat in my living room at 6:30 in the morning?) was of the hummingbird only through the sugar water, on the other side.
By the time I got the camera, and had it handy, the hummingbird wasn't willing to recreate the original, breathtaking image.

The flare on the right side isn't from taking it through the living room window but what the camera does with a glint of sunlight shining through the corner of the glass feeder.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Summer of the Horse: No Can't, Now Canter

Wore my daisy socks today.
We joked afterwards that we should have had a photo of me holding on and hollering.
But Dawn, my riding instructor at Galloway Stables in Linden, had Dakota attached to a lead line and I had my hands firmly gripping the saddle so there was no way either of us were taking a photo -- or were even thinking of taking a photo as we dealt with the instructor who wanted Dakota to canter and the chickenshit in the saddle who didn't want Dakota to canter.

In my defense, it was the command to "Hold on tight to the saddle" -- an English saddle, mind you, that doesn't have a pommel -- that freaked me out. It made it sound so serious, so potentially dangerous. I almost refused to try it.
Imagine that.
But I put my legs where she told me to, I sat back in the saddle, and I held onto the saddle.
"Kick, kick," she hollered as she clicked at him to go faster. Faster than a fast trot, right into a canter.
So I cantered today. I didn't let go, I didn't fall off, I didn't die. All I had to do was keep my butt in the saddle and move my hips.
It was a little embarrassing how easy it was to go from can't to canter.

Monday, August 07, 2017

My Favourite Month

It's the time of year, the time of the summer, when I can hardly get any work done for the draw of the back deck.
The canopy that provides shade under the spruce trees. The anti-gravity chair that cradles my body comfortably. The ospreys chirping and flying.
Also, I'm here alone. No one has joined me. I don't have to make conversation, I don't have to put down my book.
But then I do because really, all I want to do is watch the world in front of me. In my back yard.

It was like this on the front porch of our old summer house on Pugwash Point. You could sit there for hours looking out over the field, the road, the harbour.
The view likely never ever changed. Maybe a car would drive down the road and eventually pass by again after turning around at the end of the road.

Here, I can sit on the back deck and look at the yard, the trees, our gardens. Seagulls circle over the freshly-mowed and baled field. Today -- and for the rest of the month -- the action is provided by the ospreys flying in and out of the nest. This is mostly what draws me, us, to sit on the back deck. We are watching this year's hatchlings learning to fly, getting the hang of it, so much so they chase the crows. We will watch as they learn to fish, too.

Unlike the old house on the hill, nothing is quiet here. I hear wind, the birds chirping, wind chimes. Every so often, Andre Poulet will crow.  But silence isn't the point; the point is stillness. The point is just sitting, relaxed in my chair, not even turning pages, not doing anything but enjoying the view.

"We can't do this in February." As if we need to justify our enjoyment of this space, these gifts.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Practice, Practice, Practice

This week, I began a new writing project in earnest. No more "fiddling and farting around", as my mother would say. No more appointments, no more parties. No more procrastination. Time to start the new project.

This is the hardest part of writing. The starting. The getting into it. The finding the flow. The first couple of days are a struggle to get comfortable in my chair, rummage through the jumble of words eager to be strung together to create engaging sentences, wade through the swamp grass and the suctioning mud in order to slip into the clear, swift current that will carry me into the story.
There is always that moment -- like in running or swimming or dancing or ANYTHING -- when you feel like you can't do it, you aren't good enough, you don't know what you're doing, you're tired, you're...blah, blah, blah...and you just keep going and it happens. You break through and you get it. From then on, you've got it. You can't wait to sit in that chair and write.

This week reminded me of the importance of practice, of Just Doing It. The advice most established writers give to emerging writers is this: Put your butt in the chair and leave it there. It sounds silly, it sounds simple but that's all there is. Your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard or holding the pen, and being there, doing it. Because the more you do it, every day, day after day, the better you get.
The more you do it, the more you remember that you WILL break through, you WILL get it. 
Every time I start a new writing project, I have to give myself that advice. I have to make myself sit in the chair and not bounce out of it every ten minutes when I don't know what the heck I'm doing, when I don't know what I'm trying to say, when it just seems too hard.
So I make myself do a Power Hour: I tell myself, "I will write until such-and-such a time," and I do it. It's a trick but it works. It's the breakthrough.

The same goes for learning to ride. You put your butt in the saddle and you stay there until you get what you're trying to learn. Week after week, you show up, you tack up, you get your butt in the saddle and you trot around that dusty, sun-beaten ring until you feel it, until you know you're getting it, until you get better at it.
I had that moment today during my lesson, when I was hot and sweaty, worn out. I kept at that damn trot going the way I'm weakest at (counter-clockwise, which I think is called left reign) until I was posting correctly and continuously.
(Which reminds me of another trick in writing: You don't stop when you are stuck. You stop when you know exactly what you're going to write next. That way, you are eager to get back to work because it's easy to get into it.)
You cannot accomplish anything without practicing it over and over again. It is annoying but it is the rule. 
There is absolutely no way to become the painter or writer or rider or carpenter or singer you long to be without staying in one place for an hour at a time.

But remember: there are carrots and strawberries for a reward when you're done. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A Father's Model Behaviour

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, August 2, 2017, by Sara Jewell

Karen Brown stands by her favourite model made by her father, Bud Johnston.

The last thing Karen Brown said to me as we wrapped up our conversation outside the Heritage Models Museum in River Hebert was, “If this place closes, the models go back to the family. What am I going to do with them?”
She certainly isn’t prepared to put them all on display in her front yard, as her father did when she was a teenager. It’s not that Karen doesn’t appreciate them or the history of the place where she grew up; it’s just that her late father built 40 models and they take up so much room, a special building was erected for displaying them.
That building is now 25 years old and Reginald “Bud” Johnston has been gone ten years this month and not as many tourists stop at the Heritage Models Museum to check out this unique depiction of the history of River Hebert.
“It’s hard to get people off the highway,” Karen said during a tour of the models. “Lots of people go to Joggins but that’s a different group of people going to the fossil cliffs.”

Bud Johnston began building 1/12 scale models of River Hebert landmarks like the original school, the co-op creamery, the Palace theatre, and the King Seaman Homestead after he retired. Fascinated by railroads, Bud’s first model was a train and after he set it up on in the front yard of his home, people stopped to look at it. As he added more models, more people stopped. These front yard models became so popular, there was an opening every spring on the Father’s Day weekend when Bud would unveil his latest creation, built over the winter, and invite the family connected with it.
“I guess once he saw people stopping and looking at stuff on the front lawn, he thought he could make things of the area so people could see what used to be here back in the day,” Karen said. “He was always interested in the history of the area.”
The nineties were the height of the models’ popularity. With the support of the community, the museum was built in 1992 after the weather took its toll on the models set up outside and Bud realized he was spending much of his time repairing them.

Unfortunately, that community support has waned as those who remember the original buildings, and those who remember the models when they were new, have moved or passed away. For locals, it’s hard to maintain interest in the same models over 25 years while strangers passing through may not care about the history of a small hamlet in Cumberland County.
Facing financial uncertainty due to the lack of visitors, the museum is hosting an antique car show and shine, on Sunday, August 13, as a fundraiser.
“It’s the same for all organizations, like the church groups and the curling club,” admitted Karen about the museum’s struggle to stay open. “We’re all going after the same fundraising dollars.”
But Karen holds out hope River Hebert and its history still matters enough to others that her father’s legacy will outlive her as well.

Museum manager Norma Shaw is flanked by summer students Sarah and Natalie

Every one of Bud's models is as detailed as the inside of the River Hebert garage.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Welcome, August

August has always been my favourite month - likely because when I was nine, we started spending part of the month in Nova Scotia. This month has deep associations with a place that makes me happy and fills me with a feeling of peace and a sense of belonging.
Here's a poem I wrote a couple of years ago about August:

Welcome, August.
This month brings 
sweet memories of 
Nova Scotia;
as a child,
as a teen,
as an adult.
Hearing the call
of the red sand and the blue-grey waves,
slicing through misery
like a seagull through azure sky.
on the other coast.
Lost then found,
west then east,
alone then together.
this is the first
and the last place
we come to
when we need to be 
A hay bale
marks the moment
we arrive
where we are meant to be,
in August.
~ Sara Jewell