Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meditation With Chicken

For the first time since we opened up our chicken coop in the summer of 2008, we have an infestation. I noticed a chicken had thickened, lumpy toes and legs sometime in the summer and I remembered reading something somewhere about "scaly leg mites" but after Dwayne's stroke on August 5, I lost track of the chickens - and several other things, to be honest.
But that's what happens, right? A health crisis drops you into an ocean of uncertainty and uni-focus and everything else drops away, and you have to just hope you don't end up with a mess on your hands when you resurface for a breath.
In this case, I've ended up with a mess on my lap.

It's not easy taking a photo of a chicken sitting in knee-deep soapy water in a plastic bowl wedged between your legs. Dwayne is not particularly interested in this treatment for scaly leg mites (not that he enjoys shooting chickens but if the infection is bad enough, as it was for another hen, he's of the do-away-with-the-problem kind of guy) so he's not coming out to the coop to help, or even take some photos for me.
This is part two of the treatment; Dwayne did part one - cleaning out the coop and the nest boxes. Then I covered the bare floors and bare boxes and the pedway outside and even their dirt baths in the pen with diatomaceous earth, which is supposed to kill the mites.
But scaly leg mites are contagious so they need to be eradicated from the actual birds.

Every other evening after supper, I put on my coveralls and my gloves, pack my bucket with coconut oil, a water-vinegar solution, a toothbrush, a couple of old towels, and the bowl of soapy water. It's lavender-scented dish soap, the mildest in the house (although I suppose I could use my custom-made Field Notes soap - it's all-natural with chamomile).
The feet are soaked first, dried, then I use the toothbrush to gently rub the vinegar solution over her legs. After that, I wipe coconut oil all over her feet; that's not easy, let me tell you, because the warmth of my fingers melts it but I try to get everything covered.
Tonight, she was restless at that point and we both ended up with coconut oil in our tail feathers!
Because of the smell of the coconut oil, I've named her "Pina Colada".

The first time I did this, she squawked and fluttered and resisted the whole time; I ended up soaking wet. But after that evening, she let me pick her up and hold her and put her in the water without any resistance at all. Perhaps she finds the lavender smell and the warm water soothing; she knows I'm not going to hurt her. Maybe it's making her feet feel better.

This is what I want you to know about this whole endeavour: For twenty minutes every other night, I get this meditation out in the chicken coop.
For ten minutes, we just sit, Pina and I, with her feet soaking in the water and my hands under her wings, loose, just barely holding her. I can feel her heart beat, I can feel her breathing. Her head constantly moves, as she listens to the hens on the other side of the wall settle onto the roosts, as she looks around at me.
We look each other in the eyes for the longest time.
I run my hands over her soft feathers, marvelling at how tightly layered they are - for warmth and protection.
Even though this treatment may not be sustainable -- it could be months of this, and it looks like there are a couple of other hens with scaly leg mites -- I'm enjoying this unexpected and not altogether unpleasant act of animal husbandry. Heart to heart, eyeball to eyeball, her toes, my fingers.
For a few moments at the end of a day, I get some peace, some quiet, and some one-on-one time with a gentle chicken.

*** Update: I'm doing this for two chickens now, every evening -- so it's Pina AND Colada! Colada isn't as bad as Pina, but already I'm seeing a difference. Colada is molting now, however, so I end up covered in feathers by the end of the spa session. Let me tell you, those feathers sure do stick to fingers covered in coconut oil!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Extra Exclamatory

2011 - the new puppy taking over
It's that kind of week where exclamation marks are needed.
Everything is fine!
Everyone is fine!
There's lots to write -- there always is! -- but my focus is all work these days.
And no play!
I'm run off my feet with writing and speaking, church work, plus medical appointments! All of which I could handle but I added substitute teaching on top of all that. (Another story in the queue!)
Oh, and nursing a sick chicken with scaly leg mites!
In fact, just remembered Abby's birthday is this Thursday - totally forgot! She'll be seven - hard to believe! And Stella gone three and a half years. Wow!
So (yay!) there is birthday cake to look forward to later this week...and maybe a good night's sleep...and no need for extra exclamation points.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

End of Summer

When we say, "The sky's the limit", what do we mean? Because to see the sky is to see a limitless space. Do we ever consider the sky a symbol for both constancy and change? It is always there yet everything cast upon it -- whether clouds or contrails -- is always moving, never the same. The sky is both our talisman and our goal, our fear and our optimism. The sky's the limit.

I took this photo last weekend when Dwayne and I had a cookout in our backyard. This is what inspires me in rural Nova Scotia: the sky, the light, and the shades of green; the garden, the birds and the animals, sun and wind, the river and the field.
All the elements gather inside me -- earth, water, air and fire -- and through some process, some magic, come out as words. Not chemistry; it's so inexplicable, so impossible, it's alchemy. It is creation.
And in six months, when this same view is white-washed and wind-swept, I'll admire it and absorb it and be inspired by it just as deeply.

Still hard to believe we didn't have an osprey family with us all summer. No one to say good bye to this year. By the end of August, the ospreys "fighting" for possession of this nest -- a new pair and the one believe to be the "abandoned" mate -- had been long gone. Did they disappear about the time Dwayne -- my mate -- had his stroke? I wasn't paying attention.

Do you know what is still my favourite sound while walking across the field under that big blue sky? The whup-whup of a pair of raven wings overhead. I am always amazed at how loud the sound is when the bird flies overhead. When I can hear the wind through those black feathers, I know the sky's the limit.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sunflower Man

Be careful what you wish for!
When we were at our family doctor on Monday, we said we hadn't had any referrals for speech or occupational therapy or a swallow test...and now the medical appointments are rolling in.

As the calendar fills up and I don't get my morning walks and the work gets pushed aside, I'm trying to remember that we are lucky to be where we are: together, at home, in the midst of the sunflowers. Dwayne's stroke could have been much worse so a lot of driving around - together - to establish a baseline and a timeline for recovery is not as big an inconvenience as travelling to a hospital every day for several months for in-patient rehab.

Perspective is so important.
So is acceptance. That's our biggest struggle, I think, when it comes to, well, everything: Fighting against reality, being in denial, not accepting what has happened and the changes that have occurred -- all of this causes more problems. It causes frustration for the caregiver and for the person needing the care. It can slow recovery, it can make you sick.

Acceptance has the power to free you. It is what it is. That sounds cliche, almost flippant but it's true.
We cause our own misery when we refuse to accept what has happened and what is happening. We cause our own misery when we refuse to "go with the flow". We cause our own misery when we try to ignore the reality of a situation -- even if it's a situation we don't want to be in. Illness and death are the big circumstances that change everything, and as hard -- as painful and gut-clenching and mind-boggling -- as they are to experience, acceptance is the only way to keep breathing, keep moving, keep living in the "new normal".

I'm not naive -- or in denial -- when I say acceptance is the most important part of living. I learned the power of acceptance when my father has Alzheimer's disease. I learned to accept him as he was each and every day, and I learned to accept the situation, even though none of us, including my mother, wanted to be in that situation. But refusing to accept the disease, and the changes they wrought in my father and in our daily living, merely made everything worse.  Acceptance allows us to live with grace and dignity, and more importantly without fear.
Ah, fear. If we really look at what our denial is built on, we'll find fear is the cornerstone. But acceptance is the great fear-buster. Acceptance looks fear in the eyes and says, "I know what I'm doing. You're not needed."
It is what it is -- the appointments will come and go, the work will get done, the beans will get picked, everything will be "good enough", and it will all happen if we remember to go with the flow, whatever that flow is.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

A Tree Is A Friend In Need

I don't have a credit for this graphic -- I've searched but found nothing definitive; it seems to have been shared around, which is how it came to me.
But I love what it says, and it's how I feel.

An essay I wrote called "The Trees Have Ears" was longlisted for a prestigious writing competition recently. This is the first time my work has made a longlist and I'm grateful for even that recognition of this special piece of work.
The essay was inspired by the clearcutting that has been going on around our rural Nova Scotia home for the past decade (similar to my Field Notes essay, "What Future Does A Tree Have"), and the "body parts" I found in the most recent cut next door to our house.

Here's an excerpt from the longlisted essay that describes my search for the spirit of a tree:

"The clearcut looked like a battlefield and it had been a one-sided war: tanks and machine guns against spears and rocks. The trees didn’t stand a chance.
     The first time I saw the circular, bark-covered hole of wood lying on the mossy ground of the former forest floor, I knew what it was: an ear.
     “I’m sorry,” I said.
     Thankfully, the logging company working next door didn’t have plans to supply the insatiable appetite of Nova Scotia’s biomass boiler, so I have a bag of tree ears, gathered from the clear cut after the machines departed and the trucks hauled the logs away.
     Like a scavenger on the battlefield, I wandered through the remains of the woods, climbing over stumps and limbs, and discovered body parts: ears, elbows, femurs, a pelvis, a heart. I have collected enough to create my own Frankentree.
     What I haven’t yet found is the spirit to animate it.
     I believe trees have spirits. Perhaps I’ve always believed this in that subconscious way we believe certain things about the mysteries of life. It became concrete knowledge for me after a local woodcarver sold me a Stick Santa designed from the branches of an alder bush.
      “The wood is carved green and as the wood dries and cracks, that’s a spirit coming into your house,” Faron Young told me. “It’s supposed to bring you good luck, health and fortune.”
       This was the proof I needed that spirits abide in trees, but I didn’t care about luck, health and fortune. If you could carve a slit in a branch and release a spirit, what happened when you cut an entire tree down in the woods? Where does the spirit go?
     When I interviewed Faron months later for a magazine article, he told me that trees have hearts. He explained that the heart is the hardest part of the tree.
     “When the wood dries, it’s the heart that cracks,” he added.
     In our basement, I looked at the wood piled inside to feed our wood furnace, to keep us warm all winter. The centre of every round log had a crack through it.
     That’s how the spirit escapes. Through the broken hearts of trees.
     But where does it go?"

Right now, as I share this, my husband is planting trees around the pond. My father was a tree planter and I married a man just like my father. 
How lucky am I? 
If we all planted a tree a year, we might save ourselves. For what is a tree but a saviour?