Friday, August 31, 2018

Solvitur Ambulando

I wish I'd had this term, "solvitur ambulando",
when I was writing the Field Notes essay, "A Walk In the Woods".
Because this is EXACTLY what walking means to me:
solvitur ambulando - "it is solved by walking"

I wrote this phrase on a piece of paper months ago, intending to write about it, but the moment never seemed right so now I can't remember where I came across the phrase; in a book, likely, but I didn't make a note of that (strange) although I'm sure (monster that I am) the page is dog-eared if I ever come across it again.

The point is: This is my phrase. This is my process. This is my life.
Walking. Thinking. Even talking out loud. Working through a problem. Thirty minutes to think about it, turn at Carrington Road, thirty minutes to work it out before arriving at home for coffee.
Sometimes I arrive home in a good mood; sometimes my husband knows we're about to have A Talk.

But whatever is going on, whatever is worrying me, whoever is pissing me off, "it is solved by walking". Morning, afternoon, evening; an hour to Carrington Road and back, or half an hour to the beaver brook and back, five minutes to the pond -- the act of walking, the movement, the surging of blood through the veins, into the brain, it solves whatever the problem is.
I now swear by this process -- this walking and solving -- for my writing; I have learned over the years to step away from the desk and move, to let the motion and the stillness, the focus and the freedom fix the problem.
It is solved by walking. Not by thinking but by walking. That's where the motion and the stillness come in. 

Then there is the walking without a problem, walking when the mind is unperturbed. Oh, the thoughts that are freed when that happens!

And now writing about walking brings up a memory.
There was one walk many years ago now when I lived in Vancouver, after the marriage ended and I was mired in the months of making plans to pack and leave. It was March so the evening was dark and for some reason, the dog (Maggie) and I took a street, perhaps it was just a lane, that we'd never walked before.
It amazed me then, and it amazes me now, that there was still uncharted territory in a neighbourhood we'd roamed for hours every day (solving nothing back then but keeping me sane).
We came out into a parking lot and before us was a church. An Orthodox-something church - Ukranian, maybe? - with a multitude of concrete steps leading up to the huge, wooden front doors.
Someone was inside playing the organ.
So we sat, on those steps, in the dark, in this space we'd never been before -- and I don't think we ever found again -- and we listened, the dog and me, to the music cascading out into the damp evening air.
I remember the walking, I remember the stairs but I don't remember how the music made me feel. I remember I was too miserable, too afraid, too caught up in thinking about my failure and my doubts to let the music seep inside.
What would the music have told me? Now I know: You are free. (Not fear - free. Such a difference when you move a letter around.) Now I know: Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly. Now I know: Keep walking.
But I was wound too tightly to solve anything.

I wonder what the Latin phrase for "it is found by walking" is?

I just Googled "orthodox churches vancouver" and nothing seems familiar. This is memory. Faulty. The night, the church, the music, the steps is a clear memory but altered, obviously. Details changed over time, changed by not thinking about it for sixteen years.
It is not solved by Googling.
And I choose to remember it as it is now, in my memory, rather than worry about what it was. This is, perhaps, why I am now a fiction writer.

I have been waiting for months to write about this phrase, "solvitur ambulando". This is not what I expected to write. I just wanted to tell you about this phrase. I just wanted to say it is true.  I just wanted to say this is how to hear the music.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Secret Pond

The decoys don't mind the company. 
The geese have flown off to the river, like the osprey, like all migratory birds do at this time of year, this mid-August, end-of-summer muster they do to prepare for the long flight south.
Since the geese and their goslings had made our pond their home all spring and summer, it wasn't until yesterday that I was able to visit
and be
very surprised.
I was not expecting the rocks my husband placed along "the shore" to be
perfect sitting rocks.
I was not expecting there to be a lovely bank of
along one side of the pond.
I was not expecting all the
to be dancing along the ripply surface of the clear water.
I was not expecting
the sparkles.
With all the weeds grown up and the tall bullrushes, sitting on one of the big flat rocks made it feel like I was inside
a secret garden.
There was even enough movement on the water to create a quiet lapping sound.

Of course my mind began to spin: We need a bench. I need a flat platform for doing yoga. We need a pond cabana - finally a place to hang our hammock.
Fortunately, my brain put the brakes on those wild thoughts, returned to take-it-easy, one-day-at-a-time mode. I don't really need any of those things. All I need at the pond is already there: a sitting rock and bare feet and eyes to see and a heart to record the feelings.
Breathing space.
A place of stillness.
A place of magic, of imagination.
A home for my heart in the middle of the field.
The pond! Who knew all this was waiting for us? Who knew, two years after digging a big, muddy hole, we'd have this magical place so close to home?

"We do need a trail cut," I said to Dwayne as we walked away from the pond through the tall weeds.
A secret trail.
To our secret garden.

Monday, August 20, 2018

My Messy Office

I'm working on some story pitches and thought I'd made notes about one in my notebook. Couldn't for the life of me find the notes -- in the notebook or on my desk or on the side table.
My messy office.
My messy life.

And yet:
The fact I watch too much TV and this office covered in notes and magazines and papers and notebooks are what saved Dwayne's life!
Less than an hour before his stroke, after I'd turned on the kettle for hot water, we'd joked about the fact I was going upstairs to clean my office.
Then I sat down next to him to wait for the kettle to boil...and watched the end of the TV sitcom he was watching, and kept watching the follow-up episode because we'd not seen it before...and when it was over, he made a funny sound and two minutes later, I was on the phone to 9-1-1.

Imagine if I'd been upstairs drinking my lemon water and tidying my office.

So what seem like bad habits actually saved his life.
As my friend Colleen Landry, blogger/author/Miss Nackawic 1981, would say: Boom.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Rain Day for Resting and 'Riting

We needed this day of rain, a day to curl up under blankets and sleep (if you're recovering from a stroke) and a day to sit at the computer in your office (if you're a freelance writer who still has to work).
The rain is heavy and it's soothing to listen to as it falls through the leaves of the trees outside my windows.

Before the rain, we needed chocolate cake. Aunt Lila's Chocolate Cake with Grandma's Icing, to be specific, the long-time family favourite. The cake pictured above is the second one my mother made since Dwayne came home from the hospital a week ago yesterday. Sometimes the best coping mechanism is a pan of cake and a knife...
Post-stroke recovery strategy: One day at a time, one piece at a time.

Thank goodness for my mother. She has really stepped up, and stepped into the hole created by Dwayne's stroke. Since he's been "semi-retired", he's taken on so many of the household chores -- encouraging me to devote my time to writing and allowing Mum to pretend she lives in an all-inclusive retirement home for one -- but when the tables turned and the carer became the caree, my mother has taken over many of his jobs.
Like vacuuming the black mats that collect so much dirt and cat hair. Like making supper every night since he came home from the hospital. Like going back to the farmers market for a second time this morning to buy the corn and tomatoes she forgot the first trip. Like being a trustworthy sounding board for all the other little unanticipated issues that pop up in the middle of a health crisis.

Don't let the flowered gown fool you -- this woman is a ROCK. This is what a true sweet little white-haired lady looks like!

What I remember best about helping her take care of her husband (my father) when he had dementia was her statement about "thinking for two". From what I witnessed and experienced, it's so true and while it's most significant with a neurological disease like Alzheimer's, it applies in varying degrees to other caregiving endeavours. Thinking For Two happens when you are taking care of anyone who is comprised in some way, whether temporarily or permanently, physically as well as mentally: You have to think about them and their needs, anticipate those needs and the required actions as you go about your day. You also are dealing with their fear, their worry, their embarrassment, their pushback, their anger -- all the emotions and reactions that come with being in a state of unwanted incapacity.
All of a sudden, all those normal daily activities -- feeding pets, vacuuming, thinking about what to make for supper, getting your hair cut, get pushed behind the needs of the person who is in need.
And wow! You don't see the division of labour that develops over the course of a marriage until suddenly, you have to do everything. I'm lucky; I'm young-ish and healthy so taking on Dwayne's work has actually been good for me, good for my coping. The physical work, the distraction of the chickens and the gardens has been helpful. Pulling weeds is very therapeutic.
But damn -- we should have kept on with those tractor driving lessons...

I'm fortunate that Dwayne is not physically incapacitated; we just have his somewhat garbled speech to contend with, and we have been told that will come back with time and patience -- and with rainy days and good mothers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Hospital

Sasha is the little black hen in the middle of the group.

On Saturday, August 4, my husband came into the house and said, "I found Sasha dead on the coop floor." So I wrote a nice eulogy for her on my Instagram account:
"The little black hen in this photo is Sasha. We name our chickens when they become distinctive to us - and Sasha is a survivor, our little hen with a big heart. A few years ago, Sasha was viciously attacked by the other hens because she had an injured leg. We found her in a corner of the coop just in time but it didn't look like she could survive her horrific head injury. We put her in a nest in a separate space to let her die peacefully.
But Sasha didn't die. Her head injury actually healed until she was well enough to be out and about. For a year, Sasha lived by herself in her special space, and was free to hobble around the yard on her wonky leg. It was amazing to watch her heal from two bad injuries, amazing to watch her determinedly cover the yard every day even as she struggled to walk. She eventually grew stronger and more able, and was able to rejoin the flock. Even though she retained just a hint of wonk in her leg, she lived out her life as a happy little chicken."

As he left the house on Saturday to go for coffee in town, Dwayne said, "I'm off to bury the dead." 

The next evening, Dwayne had a stroke. One minute he was fine, the next he couldn't speak and was losing the use of his right arm and leg. I called 9-1-1 and we ended up at the hospital getting excellent care. 
As soon as they knew he had a blood clot (not a bleed), they administered the blood thinner and by 11 o'clock that evening, he was regaining control of his arm and leg. 
Tuesday evening, he was transferred to the stroke unit at the Truro hospital; by Friday he was home. His speech isn't great, he's walking pretty slow, and he's on strict orders to take it easy and not exert himself for three weeks BUT he's expected to recover completely. 

The morning after he returned home, a week after Sasha's death, we were sitting on the back deck drinking coffee when Dwayne asked me a question. 
I was sure I knew what he'd said but his speech isn't  clear so I asked him to repeat it - because it was a question I didn't want to know the answer to.Basically, he asked, "Did I get rid of the hen?" 

For an entire week, I drove to and from Amherst, to and from Truro, and parked in hospital parking lots for hours, WITH A DEAD HEN IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK.
Lying on a black truck bed liner in the hot summer sun.

If you parked next to me at the Truro hospital on Thursday, I am very, very sorry.

Even funnier: On my way to pick Dwayne up from the hospital in Truro, I stopped for gas. When I climbed out of the truck, there was a strong smell of dead mouse. I wondered what on earth could make the air smell like that? I noticed the smell again when I got out of the truck at the hospital and realized it must be associated with the truck but my mind was on other things and I forgot about it.
 Of course it didn't occur to me that I HAD A DEAD HEN IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK.
And I still can't believe this is what Dwayne remembered a week after having a bad stroke and spending five days in the hospital.

(My friend Shelagh wondered after why the dead hen was in the back of the truck in the first place. We don't dig a hole and have a graveside service for our hens, and we don't just toss them in our own woods because we don't want the dog finding the corpses - dogs' noses being what they are -- so Dwayne disposes of them elsewhere. On his way for coffee. If he remembers.)

There was a part of me that wanted to bury Sasha in a hole and say a few words of thanks because it's hard not to wonder is she -- our little crippled hen with the head injury who survived to rejoin the flock -- was a kind of good luck charm for Dwayne.
Weird... but wondering. Just wondering...

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Notes From the Field

The wildflowers are gone from the field but in exchange, our friends are back.

We had a pair of geese hatch out four babies at our pond this spring. In June, the family disappeared - we supposed they headed for the river.
After the field was cut for the bales, the family returned, and this past week, another gaggle of geese joined them.

A groundhog ran across the entire width of the field earlier this week. Not sure what that was all about. I think it's the one that relocated from our backyard last month after the dog tried to "make friends" with it.

On my morning walk a couple of weeks ago, I watched a doe with THREE spotted fawns run through a field along my route, and two days ago, I saw a young buck, his velvety antlers just like tall twigs, wandering through the same field.
And I said what I always say to the wildlife I meet: "Stay off the road. Please stay off the road."