Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Creating Beauty With Words

The deadline is coming up for articles for the fall issue of At Home On the North Shore magazine so I've been transcribing interviews for an article on fibre arts.
One of my interviewees is Deanne Fitzpatrick, Nova Scotia's Queen of Rug Hooking, based in Amherst.
Near the end of our interview, I asked her about her motto, "Create Beauty Every Day". Since I don't know if I'll be including her explanation in the article, I can't share her whole answer now but something she said did get me thinking about what it means to add beauty to the world.

"Create Beauty is just a way to make the world around you a better place, and the way I do it is through hooking rugs, but there are other ways I try to do it," Deanne said to me in her office at the back of her Church Street studio, "like by being good to other people and through the women’s clothing store – helping women be beautiful and believe they are beautiful. If you can keep seeing beauty and finding beauty and making beauty, those are important parts of having a good life.”

It was her idea that "there are other ways to create beauty" that made me realize writers create beauty every day. And while some books seem like works of art to me, I never considered writing as a way of "creating beauty".

Yet, when I think of the way some women have reacted to the essays in my book, the meaning they've found in certain stories and the reasons why they love my book, I know my style of writing creates a kind of beauty -- the kind that Deanne herself strives for.
My writing isn't edgy or in-your-face. It's not shocking or offensive, nor is it overly opinionated or bitchy (unless there's logging trucks around...) While I'm sure that has kept me from publishing widely in magazines and online, and been offered a book deal because of my "attitude", I'd rather write stories and essays that make people happy, that lifts spirits, that leave people feeling better. Like looking at a beautiful piece of art, if my writing can make someone smile and think, "Beautiful," that's the purpose of my work.

I hadn't thought about my work that way, that I find beauty around me and share it with others. I'm not a painter or a rug hooker or a sculpture so how do I "create beauty"? Deanne's idea made me appreciate that words are my materials, fingers are my tools, and the stories I tell are my creations.

So...whether you're scrapbooking, knitting, writing, cooking, gardening or hanging out the laundry all colour-coordinated, remember: You are creating beauty. Everything you do has the potential to create beauty. And as the 19th Russian novelist and philosopher, Fyodor Dostoevsky, said, "Beauty will save the world."

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Blessing of the Ospreys

Our new view, June 2009
The anniversary of the chicken coop reminded me that something else of great significance happened in July 2008: a pair of ospreys claimed the empty pole on our riverview property.
Funny how there were no babies in 2008 because it was too late in the season when they started building the nest, and ten years later, in 2018, there are no babies because Papa Osprey disappeared at the end of May.
It's so weird to not have the constant chirping of the ospreys as the soundtrack to our summer this year. Yet every so often we hear that familiar sound...

Three babies and a parent, August 2010
His partner is still around; as I write this, she is scooping freshly-mowed grass (hay) from the field and taking it to the nest, building it up to survive the winter and be ready for her return next spring. It appears she's not giving up her nest, despite a new pair of ospreys trying to claim it. She's sticking around and perhaps she'll be back in April with a new partner. I'll call that essay "A New Era for the Ospreys".

Ten years. So much has changed, and so much has stayed the same.
In that essay in Field Notes, the book, I pondered what message the osprey had for me, during that summer of osprey in 2010. I decided it was a message from my father about how we were building for the future -- building a heart and a home right here in rural Nova Scotia.
Since then, a lot has changed; we have experienced our losses just as the ospreys have as well, and yes, there is always uncertainty in life (one never knows what will happen to one's life partner). But what matters -- the heart and the home -- remains the same. Are, in fact, stronger than ever. And still building for the future.

As I write this, July 2018

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Give Us This Day Our Daily Egg

Holding a chicken for the first time - and not realizing where this moment would take me!

LATE BREAKING NEWS: It's been ten years since we built the chicken coop.
I know! Time flies when you're laying eggs!

One of my favourite essays in Field Notes, the book, is the one from which I stole the title of this post. I wrote about discovering, from some deeply rooted place inside me that knew long before I did that my heart and home belonged in rural Nova Scotia, and that search would begin -- and end -- with a chicken coop in my backyard.
A few weeks after realizing that, I met the man who would make that dream, and others, a reality.

I think it's my favourite essays (of all my favourites) because it reminds me of how I came to be here, how I came to find contentment, how I came to rediscover the path I'd wandered off many years earlier.

In that essay I wrote, "It was my fear of big feet and swishing tails that made me decide seven-pound chickens were the perfect introduction to animal husbandry. Surely I could handle something small and light and feathery."
I could handle it -- and have enjoyed being a keeper of chickens, and chicks, for ten years. In that time, I've also milked a goat and learned to ride a horse, and I came THISCLOSE to upgrading the coop to a barn and filling with with big feet and swishing tails, but ultimately, I am destined to be The Girl With the Chicken On Her Shoulder.

Friday, July 20, 2018

A True Test of Friendship

Life is worth living as long as there is a laugh in it.
~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

My husband admitted to me a few days ago that he was upset by the way I argued with my friend Shelagh when we were going through the manuscript of my novel.

Shelagh, an Ontario friend who is a librarian and teacher, was my first reader (and her friend Zoe, my second), and luckily for both of us, she happened to attend a conference in Halifax and could return my critiqued manuscript in person. This also meant she got to hang out where I do in rural Nova Scotia (she loves our rooster alarm clock) and and drive across the Confederation Bridge to PEI for the first time.

During her visit, we went through the manuscript page by page. This was my first time doing something like this; the edits for Field Notes were inserted into the document, which came back to me by email. I had no one to discuss them with and had to figure everything out on my own.
This was so much better! I loved doing it this way. I loved getting to challenge the suggestions, to defend why I'd written something that way, to insist we keep at an idea until I understood it enough to do the rewrite.

Apparently, to my husband listening from another room, I sounded like a total bitch who was treating my friend who had so generously read my work-in-progress like shit.

I will admit that even Shelagh said during our editing session, "I hope our friendship survives this!"
I was shocked. "Of course it will. This has nothing to do with our friendship."
And it didn't; it was strictly about the book and making it better.
I explained that to Dwayne, that the arguing and challenging and my relentlessness about everything was simply part of this process. I told him I was sure Shelagh understood that.

Perhaps my enthusiasm became a tad intense because there's an underlying fear in this work. I feel like the whole future of my publishing career is riding on this novel. Waiting for the book to come home was making me restless and anxious; I actually started to feel like I did in my twenties, when I had nothing to work towards, nothing to hang my hat on, no idea what I was doing with my life. That was a scary regression, for sure.

But I'm two-thirds of the way through working on Shelagh (and Zoe's) edits and suggestions, and I can tell you without a doubt that the in-person, page-by-page go-through of editing has made a huge difference. My ideas are much better -- more detailed, even deeper -- than if I'd been left on my own to read the comments and figure out what changes to make.

Shelagh called the other morning to say she likes the new ideas I'd emailed her about, and she admitted that while she was taken aback by my intensity with the manuscript go-through, she realized it had nothing to do with her.
Which is great to know because we have matching turquoise-and-leather bracelets but haven't yet figured out what our Wonder Twin powers are! Perhaps persistence -- yes, that's my superpower, and Shelagh's superpower is unflappable resilience in the face of great aggravation!

True friends are always together in spirit.
~ Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Hot Days, Hot Writing

The editing of the novel I wrote last winter is coming along well. This is a different way to use my brain; when writing the first draft, I had to be open and relaxed to let the ideas flow out of me without thinking but when editing, I have to be focused and intentional and question every sentence.
I find editing less gruelling than the free writing of a first draft, although there is a magic to that writing that is a joy to experience; but I like the crafting of the story that comes with editing with intention and knowledge of its beginning, middle and end. Both require the discipline of sitting in a chair all day and ignoring everything else.
Except lunch. I love lunch. I never forget to eat lunch.

Since I don't have to plan a church service this week, I set it aside for editing and it's nice to know what I'm doing every day; it's really nice to be working on a book. It's nice to be working with a new mug and another bracelet.

My biggest quirk as a writer is my penchant for talismans -- objects associated with my work. Since animals are characters in their own right in my novel, I thought about putting the goat, chicken and horse figurines from a shelf in my living room on my desk but let's be honest -- there is no room on my desk!
Every book gets its own mug, however, and my brand new mug is a nod to the small role the book "Anne of Green Gables" plays in the novel. Now that was a moment that came out of the writing flow; it was not a pre-planned or even a conscious decision to include AofGG in my story. With editing, I don't get those surprise moments of joy -- "Where did THAT come from?!" -- but I do like the contented joy I feel when I've re-worked the ending or re-written the opening and it's exactly what it needs to be.

Also, I'm wearing the bracelet I finally found that looks a bit like the one my character wears -- leather and turquoise -- which connects her to her mother. Figurines and mugs and bracelets don't get the work done, but for me, they keep me grounded in the work, connected to the story and its characters, and trusting of my skill and my process as a writer.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Search for Heart and Home Begins Inside

There is a fan running in the guest room next to me, drying the drywall put around the new closet we had built in there for my mother's clothing overflow.
There are roofers pounding on the roof outside my office window.
My husband is mowing the lawn.
So we're making the house look good on the inside and the outside.

Yet these are just minor adjustments. The shingles were old and curling up; the closet gets rid of my mother's stacks of plastic bins and tidies up my guest room; the lawn looks nice mowed but I've always thought it would be nice to have sheep to keep the lawns short.
It wouldn't bother me in the least to have sheep poop all over my yard.

When I saw this graphic online this morning, my first response was - "This is how my life in rural Nova Scotia makes me feel." It makes me feel good on the inside. It makes me feel like I am truly home. And more importantly, it makes my heart content.
I don't worry about having a clean house or weed-free gardens. I don't care that I no longer have my own car, let alone a new one. We don't go out for dinner much or even get the movies like we used to. Our last trip out of the country was six years ago. I wear big rubber boots as often as fancy shiny shoes -- although both seem to end up with chicken poop on the soles.
I admit I have too much stuff; too many knick knacks, too many collections, too many clothes and shoes, perhaps even too many books (what?!). There's a lot of clutter in my house, and especially in my office, but my husband says it makes the place looked lived in and that makes him feel like he's home, and he's fine with it, so I'm not worrying about the clutter either. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps when I'm a really famous author, I can auction my collections and my knick knacks off for charity. Someone might want Sara Jewell's chicken collection.

And that's my one inside struggle: doing more for others. Doing for others rather than doing for myself. I've always felt this pull to share my good fortune, to use my skills to make life better for others, but I have yet to discover what I'm being pulled towards. Nothing sticks. I'll keep searching.

It's a shame how many people think that appearances matter above all else. That the right house and the right vehicle, the fancy vacations and the shiny jewelry are the paths to peace of mind and a satisfied heart. Stuff is not the solution; I have a lot of stuff and it doesn't make me happy. In fact, it drives me crazy with its uselessness, with its wastefulness.
What makes me happy, what satisfies my craving for home and contentment and belonging is looking out the window at the field, at the chicken coop, at a plate full of home-cooked food, at my husband's tanned and lined face, and feeling so lucky and grateful, my heart could burst.
Gratitude. Deep and abiding thankfulness for the life you're living. That only happens inside you.

I once knew a woman who was constantly redecorating her living room and bedroom, trying to find happiness, trying to find peace and joy in her life. She was rotten on the inside -- selfish and manipulative -- so no matter what her new furniture looked like or the colour of the new paint on the walls, she wasn't going to be content. Her search continues, I'm sure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Wasting Good Wood

My husband spoke to a couple of the drivers hauling wood out of the massive Bragg/Irving clearcut deep (but not that deep) in the woods behind our home.
"Great looking load of poplar you've got," he said to one of them, admiring the large logs. "Those going to the veneer plant?"
The driver shook his head and said that most of the wood is going to the biomass plant in Port Hawkesbury.

From a CBC News Halifax report by Jean Laroche posted online in April 2016:
"Two top bureaucrats in the Department of Natural Resources told a legislature committee Wednesday that high quality hardwood is not being burned in Nova Scotia Power's Port Hawkesbury biomass plant."

Yet here's proof that instead of being used for firewood, pallets, crates, furniture frames, plywood, and veneer, perfectly good poplar (a hardwood) is being WASTED in a chipper to fuel the biomass plant that creates electricity. We've been assured time and again that only "waste" wood and unusable/unmarketable wood would find its way to the biomass plant but here is confirmation from men driving viable hardwood logs to the plant that those assurances are lies.

"In the end, the deputy minister concluded that the only hardwood likely to be burned for biomass is from the odd tree collected as part of a larger scale harvest. 
'With the various reports we've seen, interacting with Nova Scotia Power, our Department of Energy, the contractors, what we see on Crown land, we're very comfortable that this is virtually no high quality wood other than the inevitable slippage that's involved in any large scale operation,' Dunn said."
(A note: the land being cleared behind us is not Crown land; it is owned by a private corporation and being harvested by a private corporation.)
Also a more recent newspaper story: 2018 - http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1553824-old-growth-burning-reignites-biomass-debate

Monday, July 09, 2018

This Summer's Babies

I realized I hadn't posted anything further about Dwayne's maternity ward!
By June 28th, ten chicks had hatched themselves out; sadly, one of the first to hatch couldn't use its legs so it had to be put down a week later. An eleventh chick was unable to make it out of its shell so it died in the incubator.
These things happen. Dwayne did admit he lay awake one night trying to figure out how to splint the little chick's wonky legs to see if it could be fixed but he's not gone so soft as to actually have attempted it.
So we have nine healthy chicks cheeping away in their cozy red light district of the chicken coop.
I don't know why babies make Abby so tense and intense. I can't tell if she wants to eat them or protect them -- but the choice is not something I want to find out.

The chicks are two weeks old now and growing just fine. You can already see the bars marking their Barred Rock breed in their tiny wings. My friend Shelagh, from Ontario, spent this past weekend here in rural Nova Scotia after her conference wrapped up in Halifax, and after discovering what a great alarm clock Andre Poulet is, she declined my offer to take one of the big chicks home with her -- just in case it turned out to be a feathered alarm clock.

Friday, July 06, 2018

In the Garden

After our cold and wet June -- with just enough sun to make the weeds grow -- I'm playing catch up with the plants. It seems while it was too cold to plant, it wasn't too cold for weeds to grow and insects to infest.

Caterpillar worms have been eating the rose bushes planted under the living room window. I didn't notice until I saw one through the window the other night. When I ran outside to inspect, I discovered four fuzzy worms, including a giant one. When cut in half, they oozed bright green alien blood.
So I saved the world that night.

The two orange blossom bushes under my mother's second-floor deck are loaded with aphids which have destroyed a quarter of the bushes. But luckily, there are three blossoms right now and plenty of healthy branches. I spent Friday morning snipping and spraying and shouting, "Begone, ye devils".
So I saved the world that morning. 

The exciting updates are...
...the bee balm planted "down front" two summers ago seems to be coming back. Perhaps it felt challenged by the planting of a clematis in its neighbourhood.

And I have
a little brown toad.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Not Blessed By Babies This Year

Normally at this time, I would be posting a photo of the first sighting of the baby ospreys' heads appearing above the edge of the nest for the first time. Alas, there are no babies this year.
There are still ospreys, however, flying around, sometimes landing on the nest, sometimes sitting on the perch.
There is one on the perch now as I write this.
We believe the solo osprey is Her, the osprey who lost her mate at the end of May, the widowed osprey, the female in search of a new mate.
She flew over me this morning while I was walking down the road. She came from the river and crossed the misty field, passed over -- "Hello, osprey," I said, as we always say -- and kept going. An hour later, as I reached home, she flew over me again, coming from the river and heading towards the perch.
Oh, osprey.

There is a pair wanting to claim the nest. They appear every so often so sit in the nest. They don't know us or trust us. As soon as I step into the yard with the camera, one flies away.
Yet the other day, as my husband was tending to his sunflowers, an osprey flew over him. He whistled at it, and it tilted its wings and flew back, passed over him twice, looking down at him.
"I know it's Her," he said to me later. Because "our" osprey know us.
She remains alone, keeping vigil on the nest she and her mate claimed ten years ago. Is she waiting for him to return? Or is she simply holding her space, for next year, when she returns with a new mate?

Those are questions we might get an answer to next April but for now, we can only speculate on the love lives of ospreys. Regardless, there are no babies this year, I can officially say that today. Another heartache but I think I'd rather have eggs abandoned mid-incubation than endure an eagle snatching of the fledglings from the nest, picking them off one baby at a time (which happened in August 2015).
Even without human interference, the natural world is always changing. Arrivals and departures, wondering and waiting, births and loss, destruction and rebuilding.
And still, the osprey sits and waits.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

If A Tree Falls In the Forest, It's a Logging Operation

Checking out the latest clearcut behind our home in late May. 

"It's like I've cursed this place," I said to my husband last night. "Ever since I moved here, it's been clearcut after clearcut."
He snorted, as if I was being foolish, but I feel cursed that every other year, we have to endure a logging operation in the woods behind our home. I love trees, I love the woods, yet they are being decimated around us. The area squared by Route 301, Carrington Road, Beckwith Road and Dickson Road is slowly, surely being stripped of its trees.
The current logging operation, which began last fall and continues to this day, is the largest one yet. And by largest, I mean most destructive and devastating.
These operations rip everything apart to make the road, then clearcut everything else. I've always been dismayed by the amount of waste generated by these logging operations. When we drove into this clearcut for the first time in May, my husband shook his head at all the trees and small logs left behind. He says that wood could be donated to low income families.
Nova Scotia's wood harvesting policies are bullshit. They aren't sustainable, they aren't mindful of wildlife and habitat, they aren't looking towards the future; it's all about getting as many logs out of the woods as possible, in order to make as much money as possible. Habitat and humanity be damned.
This province's government -- no matter what party is in power -- is ruining rural Nova Scotia, and in particular the county in which I live. But if I say anything? It comes down to jobs and the economy.

I was riled up last night because a couple of empty logging trucks had swung onto the old road running alongside our home, field and woodlot early in the evening. Coming down the main road quickly, they'd applied their jake brakes in order to make the turn, and had wheeled onto the old road so quickly, if we'd been sitting in our car waiting to get onto the main road, we'd have been smucked. You can't see the end of our road from a distance, and they approached far too quickly to stop if we were approaching.
That's a pretty scary thought. It's a pretty reckless way to drive.
We've always complained about how fast the pickup trucks drive up and down the road. With every logging operation, my husband has had to tell them -- or get their boss to tell them -- to slow down.
"If you run over my dog, I will shoot you," he always says.
Yeah, I know it's not a subdivision, I know we're just one house but that doesn't mean we don't notice your jake brakes, it doesn't mean your truck lights don't shine into my mother's room when you stop at the end of the road to adjust your load, it doesn't mean we don't notice the dust billowing out behind your truck when you tear up the lane that used to covered in grass and wildflowers.
I have no respect for commercial loggers, for those contractors doing the work of the corporations like Braggs and Irving and the men hired to cut, stack and haul away. The guy running this current operation fixes whatever we complain about but the fact we have to complain in the first place? I have no respect for the men who don't respect my home, and the home of birds, animals, amphibians and insects. I have no respect for men who wouldn't allow their families to experience what they put us through.

"How about I get a piece of bristol board and make a sign that says, 'Slow the fuck down, you assholes'?" I said to my husband.
This time, he laughed. "Not yet."

How much did this pileated lose to this clearcut? Home, food and family. 

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Standing Corrected on Canada Day

Awareness is important. And ignorance, my own not knowing, flattens me. I don't like getting things wrong, especially if it's from my own lack of awareness. I don't like hurting people by excluding them, making them feel like they don't matter, losing connections with those who came long before me.
I don't want to miss the opportunity to celebrate everyone in this great nation of ours. I don't want to be part of the history of erasing people from our land.

Since the publication of Field Notes almost two years ago, I've expanded my knowledge and my awareness of Nova Scotia, through following other voices on Twitter and reading books by other Nova Scotia authors. I've paid attention, and I've learned.
This is a pretty amazing province and its history -- both the nasty and the remarkable -- is worth knowing, worth celebrating. (It's hard to believe I knew nothing about the Halifax Explosion until a couple of years before the 100th anniversary.)
I've made friends with Acadians, met the author of a cookbook celebrating Acadian food, interviewed Mi'kmaq people, and visited a farm in an area settled by Germans in the 1700's.
But it wasn't until Mother and I visited the South Shore last weekend that I put all of that together, and realized what I'd been missing as a writer. So as I stood in the LaHave River Bookstore for my evening reading, I admitted this to the group gathered there:

In a paragraph in  the opening essay of my book, I missed some important facts, and the publisher missed my omissions as well. We missed the fact that Nova Scotia is founded not by the British and the Scottish but by the Mi'kmaq. And the settlers of this province include not only the British and the Scottish but the French and the German as well.

So in honour of Canada Day, I'd like to offer this minor rewrite one sentence in the middle of the paragraph at the bottom of page 2:

"For a region that now honours its Mi'kmaq heritage, and celebrates its Scottish, British, French and German roots, and can claim a geological affiliation with Africa..."

Happy Canada Day to everyone who claims this red soil as their own, in shared community and history, with respect and gratitude.