Friday, March 29, 2019

Not My Monkeys, Not My Circus

Our area is buzzing with the news of a death, a not-unexpected death but a dreaded passing, nonetheless. These are the vibrations I write about in an essay in Field Notes, how some deaths are felt by many people, our collective disbelief and sorrow reverberating beyond the immediate contours of family and friends.
The first vibrations are the hurried footsteps to the phone: "Did you hear?"
The vibrations will continue to expand and amplify as people head to their kitchens to cook, head to the store for sympathy cards, head to the church to celebrate a life upended too early, ended too soon. 

This woman and her family are well-known in our area; the news touches a lot of people. Many of us are familiar with her treatment for cancer simply because we know her husband well enough to ask, "How is she doing?"
She was diagnosed six years ago and died the other day. She was 52. 

A few months ago, while skating, I set myself on a new path: To stop worrying about the future, and to enjoy each day. 
Are you surprised to learn I wasn't already doing that? We think we are taking each day as it comes, enjoying what we are doing and where we are living but really, worrying takes up a lot more real estate in our minds and hearts than we realize. 
Since Dwayne's stroke last August, my worries about the future increased -- a different set of vibrations, ones that left me feeling off-balance and shaky, like I was standing on a fault line and didn't know when the ground would shake and topple me. 

As I twirled around the frozen pond, surrounded by the field that inspires and sustains me, I realized I was not living with appreciation. I was not living like I am fortunate and blessed and deeply aware that we really don't know what's going to happen -- as Dwayne's stroke reminded us.
I remembered a lesson I learned in December 2017, when I let go of a situation that was sucking me dry, when I intentionally said, "No more." When I plugged those holes that were allowing my creative energy to drain out, a novel -- a  new and different and completely unexpected writing project -- dropped into my mind. 
That was an exciting experience, and it came with a powerful message; it was time for me to finally learn that lesson. 

Recently, I found myself falling into that trap again, found myself in danger of developing a leak.
"Did you learn the lesson?" I asked myself and I knew I wanted the answer to be Yes. So since then, every time I hear my mind go wandering towards the bad part of town, I yank it back. 
"Stay away," I admonish. "Don't think about it."

Instead, think about this: When I read this woman's obituary yesterday, I realized she was diagnosed at the age of 46; she died at an age only three years older than I am now. 
When I was 46 years old, I published my first book.
So her death, and her final years, are part of the lesson: Don't waste your life on situations and people you can't control and don't trust. Don't waste your creative energy on imagining scenarios and conversations that aren't part of a book. Don't spend another moment worrying about who might call or show up tomorrow while you are standing out on the front deck at 6:30 in the morning listening to the first bird of the day sing the sun up. 

Last Sunday at church, the subject of that day's "Language of Lent" series was obstacles, and I talked about the practice of non-attachment, one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. 
"Aparigraha" is one of the four niyamas, or ways of right living. It’s the idea that we create our own unhappiness, our own suffering through attachments. 
When you think of it, most of those things we consider “obstacles” are really our attachments. Take anger for example: What greater attachment to anger is there than holding a grudge? 
When you hold on to anger or bitterness or fear, you hold yourself back, you hold everything about your life -- your creative energy, your heart, your emotions -- hostage to one emotion, one situation, one way of living. 
And it's a choice. We can choose to hang on and dwell, or we can choose to let go and live our one and only life. 

Live, love, and let go.

Life is too short, too unpredictable, too precious to allow yourself to attach to anything but the joy of snowflakes and bird song, ice cakes on the open river and the maple tree outside your window starting its slow bloom into spring -- and the absolute brilliance of your good fortunate to be alive and well.  

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Life and Death In Our Front Yard

Hey! Look who it is!
Half Tail. My friend who inspired this story last month.
Thought you might like to know he/she really does exist, and has survived the winter, and as of yet, has not been schmucked on the road.

Speaking of getting schmucked...

She's a bit hard to see (so I put a filter on the photo, and clicking on it provides a larger image) but that's a female pigeon hawk standing on the carcass of the pigeon she nailed in our front yard, its downy belly feathers flung out across the leaves.
Turns out, the hawk's eyes are bigger than her wing span because she couldn't pick the pigeon off the ground to fly off with it!
That's what happens when humans feed the wild birds and the pigeons show up...

Since we have sliding glass doors right in front of our dining room table, overlooking the front yard, we all got to eat supper together last night -- although we didn't have to pluck our pizza before tearing into it.

I got to thinking later, if Sara Jewell was a bird, she'd be this pigeon hawk. She'd be the one who kills the bird for whom she's named -- but not be able to pick it off the ground and carry it off. Sara Jewell would be the one who manages to kill the fattest bird in the flock then has to pluck it and eat right there in the middle of the garden because she misjudged everything -- and now has to recalibrate her plans.
Always learning from her mistakes because, well, as always: More enthusiasm than skill.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Maple Syrup Moon

Full moon over the icy River Philip
The Full Maple Sugar Moon is tonight. It happens at the same time as the Spring Equinox, and this alignment happens only every 19 years.
Not only that, this full moon will be closest to Earth in its orbit. This means we can expect higher than normal tides Wednesday-Thursday-Friday.

Interestingly enough, I took the same photo in the same spot of the full moon on Christmas Eve. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

When An Eagle Shows Up

This big bird showed up late last week.
My husband thinks it's great -- I suppose he figures the ospreys aren't returning -- but I'm annoyed because
a) it's the ospreys' nest
b) I want the ospreys to return
c) eagles will eat chickens -- which we have -- while ospreys only eat fish
I haven't grabbed my lawn chair and scared the eagle out of the nest but I'm not happy about this development.

On the other hand, there is this to consider:
A few years ago, while interviewing a woman for a Field Notes column, I discovered she has a gift for deep communication. That's the easiest way to describe it, but by the end of our conversation, she had informed me that the eagle is my spirit bird.
I've been resisting ever since because
a) she told me this in the summer of 2015, shortly after an eagle killed all three of that summer's osprey fledglings and I was feeling hateful towards eagles
b) an eagle is a powerful bird and a potent symbol - way too much responsibility for me
c) I'd been told something similar when I was 24 but didn't understand this stuff back then so it didn't sink in -- but as soon as this woman told me, all of a sudden, appearances of an eagle in my life flooded into my memory -- too many at particularly significant times to ignore

Needless to say, I've been a little freaked out ever since. But I also got over my hatefulness towards eagles and that seems to have settled them down. This woman told me the eagle attacked the osprey babies to get my attention.
They could have just flown over and dropped a poop bomb on me.

This is a story I haven't shared before because it's very personal (this is just the bare bones of it, really). But suffice it to say, I pay attention to this stuff now, and this eagle started sitting in the osprey nest, which is about as close to our house, and me, as you can get when you're a large bird of prey, just at a time when I needed to keep my focus on my novel editing.
I think the eagle appeared at this particularly significant time as a reminder that I must not be distracted by other people's drama, and situations I can't control. I must keep my (eagle) eye on my purpose and my goal. I must not waste my creative energy on anything other than my writing.
What a powerful bird like this is telling me is, "Do not give away your power to others."
It makes my heart beat faster to write that, to put that truth out into the world. But this year is all about "becoming what I was always meant to be" so if an eagle is my guide along that scary-exciting journey, lead on, my large feathered friend.
And I must admit, it's not bad having a friend with those talons and that beak in my corner.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Reflecting On Terror and Grief

Cape Chignecto, July 2017

For the Christian season of Lent, my five Sunday messages are focusing on the language of Lent, and this Sunday’s word is lamentation.
Lament: a passionate expression of grief and sorrow. Fridays are my message and community prayer writing day, and I wrote yesterday under the heavy dark cloud of grief and despair. The community prayer opens with these words from the first chapter of the Book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Bible:
“For these things I weep, my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.”

I wrote: "As our hearts and minds struggle to understand the kind of hate that would compel a human being to desire the violent death of other human beings, our spirits pour out love and peace – going where only angels dare to go –to those who must overcome sorrow and pain, and a new fear in order to live in their own communities, where they must now worry about what another person is thinking, believing, planning.

We gather together in our quiet grief to share in the loud lamentations of the world, those who mourn their friends and family killed by white supremacists, killed by civil war and terrorism, killed by domestic violence, killed by poverty and starvation, killed by neglect and isolation."

Like this one."

We always ask, What can we do? So I tried to answer: "Let us offer friendship when others offer prejudice. Let us offer grace when others offer judgement. Let us offer wisdom when others offer ignorance. Let us offer our voice when others are silent.
And, let us not forget a prayer of gratitude – for we live in a safe community, as part of the Christian world that doesn’t know what it’s like to be persecuted, even hunted down, because of our faith. We gather together for worship and are at our most vulnerable, our hearts and minds open to the inpouring of the Holy Spirit, of divine energy. We gather together for worship and do not feel the dark presence of fear or death behind us. We give thanks for your loving presence, God, in our midst, but more importantly, in the midst of those facing fear and death…in their own home, in a classroom, during a time of prayer.

And as I wrote this, I remember something that happened last Sunday during our community prayer. Remember we put our clocks forward last weekend? One of our occasional attendees, a woman from the community named Mary, arrived at twenty after eleven, thinking she was on time for the 10:30 service. Right in the middle of our moment of silence, when we name in our hearts those for whom we are concerned, Mary opened the door to the sanctuary, saw me in the pulpit, and said in her loud voice, “I didn’t know you were going to be here today!”
In the middle of our silence, of our thinking about friends and family members for whom we are worried, we all smiled. Without looking around, we knew who had arrived in our midst, bringing her particular kind of joy.

It suddenly hit me last night: I stood in that pulpit, facing the congregation, and I heard the door open. I looked up and saw Mary, I heard her familiar voice, and I smiled. I was glad to see her, no matter how late. And last night, I realized how fortunate I am – and likely will continue to be so fortunate – that it is only ever Mary who comes through that door in the middle of our silence, in the middle of our prayer. The alternative is not to be imagined even as we see it play out again and again on the television news. Or – heaven help us – live streamed.

For those in two mosques in New Zealand, in a mosque in Quebec City, in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, in Christian churches in South Carolina and Texas, the person opening the door of the sanctuary – and by sanctuary, I mean a sacred and safe space where we are our most open, our most spirited, our most vulnerable – it was not a voice filled with happiness that heralded the moment that would change lives and wipe the smiles from all our faces.

As my friend Alia signed off her text to me last night, Peace to all.
S xo

(As originally published on my Facebook author page)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Heartbreak and Hope

The last photo we have of the partner on the long weekend of May, 2018.
In one month, the osprey return to the nest on our property. For ten years, since April of 2009, a pair of ospreys -- and we assume it's the same pair who claimed the post and wheel in July 2008 -- have arrived and started both rebuilding the nest and mating.

Last year, I learned that ospreys have two sets of offspring in a year: during the summer in Canada, and during the winter down south. We have no idea where "our" ospreys go each fall -- they could be as close as South Carolina or as far away as South America -- but their summer and winter lives are a mirror of each other. I don't know why that never occurred to me before; I only considered the life they share with us in Nova Scotia, but why wouldn't they hatch out another set of babies in their other home? What else would they be doing but what their instincts tell them to do? It's all about survival -- food and offspring.

We faced a harsh reminder of that constant fight for survival last year.
In late May, we lost one of the ospreys. We last saw him on the cold and rainy morning of the Sunday on the long weekend. He was sitting in the dead spruce tree at the end of our house. A couple of days later, my husband and I asked each other if we were missing an osprey.
We assume it was the male, although it could have been the female, I suppose; they look identical. Either way, the eggs in the nest couldn't be hatched, not without an osprey on them at all times.  The pair rely on each other to keep the adult sitting on eggs fed so with one mate gone (killed but we'll never know how: accident, attacked, deliberately shot?), there was no way for the adult AND the eggs to survive.
We lost an osprey, and the three unhatched babies. That was tough. That was heartbreaking.

So now we wait to see if any pair -- reconfigured or new -- claims the nest this year. The widowed osprey of ours will likely pair up with a new mate but would she/he return to this familiar spot with her/his new mate? Since we've never had "our" birds banded, there is no way to know for sure who is returning. We've only assumed we knew "our" osprey because they never seemed afraid of us; actually, it always seemed as if they interacted with us.

In January, my husband admitted something to me: "When that osprey disappeared, I thought it might mean something was going to happen to me."
He took my breath away with that statement. Had I thought it myself?
That's how entwined our lives have become in the last decade with these ospreys who showed up the year after we married; not only do they give our lives two seasons -- their arrival and their departure, dividing our lives into "ospreys here" and "ospreys not here" -- but we also connect to their living.
Losing an osprey and watching the other one search for it, wait for it, give up on it...broke our hearts.

And apparently, my husband carried a fear deeply in his broken heart, until he had a stroke in August.
We had a happy ending: my mate survived. He is still here, with a second chance on life, and a second chance to hope that he gets to welcome a pair of ospreys home next month.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Back Into My Imaginary World

Always room on my messy desk for a manuscript

Now that we are into March, I'm full steam ahead on editing the novel. I have to cut it down by 100 pages, or 30,000 words. As well, I am creating short chapters, rather than the original very long chapters.
Not as hard as it sounds, just steady work. It requires sitting and reading the manuscript, which I'm not great at; I prefer to be actively working in the computer file, BUT this magnitude of cutting out and rearranging requires reading over and making notes first.

And snowshoeing.
We finally got enough snow to cover the treacherous ice and make snowshoeing possible. Getting outside, away from the desk, and focusing on breaking trail allows my thoughts to free-flow. Or sometimes, when it's challenging and my heart is pounding, my brain just turns off and rests.
Snowshoeing and editing are a lovely combination for the month of March.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Rural Life in 1898

I've started the four-unit course to become a licensed lay worship leader (not a minister, just a more official version of what I've done for six years) so I spent the weekend at a retreat centre. Our Sunday morning worship took place in two churches, including an old rural church that less than ten people attend in the winter time.
It would have been packed a hundred years ago.
This framed poster, donated in 1995, hangs in the entryway. It's from 1898, and while the storm date is interesting -- "If Wednesday proves stormy, come first fine night" -- it's the time of the supper that really caught my eye: 8 to 10 pm.
On December 29th.
Not 8 to 10 pm in the summer time, when it was still light, and the men had been working outside, but 8 to 10 pm in the dead of winter. So I suppose that illustrates a long-lost fact of country life a hundred years ago: most people had cattle to be milked so the community/church supper took place after those chores were done and the men cleaned up.
Oh, and today? That oyster supper would be 12 dollars.