Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Art Needs To Respond

This past weekend, the Town of Oxford put on its second annual Poetry At Large festival, wrapping up Sunday afternoon with the Poetry Cafe.
My friend and writing mentor, Harry Thurston, of Tidnish Bridge, was the headliner. He's a brilliant poet, descriptive and accessible, lyrical and lovely. AND HE READ ONE OF MY FAVOURITES, a poem about river otters. For me personally, what appeals to me about his poems is that he writes about country life and life along the river and the tidal marsh. He writes about birds and animals, and relationships.
He read two new poems that are simply brilliant.
Poetry is meant to be read aloud, and it's meant to be listened to. It needs to be heard.

In the photo, he's reading from a small collection of poems, titled ICARUS: Falling of Birds, inspired by a tragic wildlife event in 2013: 7,500 migrating songbirds were killed when the Canaport LNG plant in Saint John, New Brunswick, illegally burned off sour gas; the birds flew into the gas flare. The company faced three charges under Canada's environment protection act.
Harry, and a photographer friend, were inspired to create the collection of poems and photos because, Harry said, "LNG lost the court case, fortunately, but sometimes, art needs to respond."

I also made note of how Harry answered when asked who his favourite poets are: On the diversity of his list, he said, "I'm a self-educated poet. I read widely but erratically." Incidentally, Harry was in pre-med, studying biology, when he began writing poems.

I didn't know Harry considered himself a self-educated poet, so as a self-educated writer myself, I feel some validation for the long, slow development of my writing career.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Riverview Wildlife Report #3

A flying squirrel.
Eating the bird seed on our back deck.
Honestly, I now have seen everything.

Actually, the first time I saw this creature was in mid-March. Because of the raccoons, I bring in our bird feeders at night, and one evening, I forgot about them until after dark. When I reached up to unhook the cylinder that holds black sunflower seeds, there was this rodent looking at me. Just hanging there, looking at me with these huge eyes.
Alien rodent eyes.
And it wasn't scared of me. It moved off the cylinder but it sat on the branch; it didn't take off.
I came inside and joked that I'd seen a flying squirrel. Why I guessed that, I don't know.

So last week, I thought this fella was our (now deceased) sick squirrel but as soon as I stepped up to the table, and it didn't run away, I could tell its marking, and its big eyes, were not a squirrel at all.
I googled "flying squirrel" and the photo matched this guy perfectly.

Actually, it's proper designation is a Northern Flying Squirrel.
This what the naturalists with the province of Nova Scotia have to say about this nocturnal creature:

Nova Scotia has two species of flying squirrels: the northern one, found throughout the province, and the smaller, southern one which is found in only two areas: the Gaspereau Valley and Kejimukujikk National Park.
They nest in the cavities of trees, and in outside nests, and they eat fungi (mushrooms and truffles), seeds and berries.

Of course, when I read this, I couldn't help but think of all the woods around us, and throughout Cumberland County, that are being cut down. Here is another creature whose habitat we are destroying:
"Flying squirrels' habitats are found in tall trees, snags, decomposing logs and relative understorey, which offer excellent gliding opportunities. Fungi are more abundant in forests with decomposing logs. Snags are used for nest sites. These habitat characteristics are generally found in older forests. Since older forests are becoming increasingly rare, flying squirrels are distributed in patches."

The above information came from an old article posted online by the Department of Lands and Forests, but here's a very engaging article about flying squirrels published in Saltscapes - with some great photos.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Riverview Wildlife Report #2

Another squirrel story. Or rather, an adventure.
We've been monitoring one of our squirrels (I think we have four) because it was eating funny. Sitting on the table on our back deck, where we've been putting bird seed and peanuts out all winter, the squirrel would sometimes do some weird head-tossing.
I always thought it looked like it had a sunflower seed stuff between its teeth, but I also figured with the fingers it has, it could pull it out itself.

Last week, this squirrel seemed to be more in distress. I could actually get right up to it as it sat on the table. So I noticed that its thumbs, forearms and belly were completely bare. And I noticed that it did indeed have something wrong with its lower jaw.
That's when I realized it wasn't eating properly (and it was getting thinner). The fur was gone because of all the drooling it was doing.
I emailed the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Hilden, NS, to see if they'd take a look at our squirrel. I said as soon as I could catch it, we'd bring it down. They strongly advised using a trap, not catching it by hand, but I was able to. Gloved hands, of course. It was none too happy to be shoved into our makeshift cage: a plastic basket with a large shoebox lid taped down. We covered it with a pink towel and put it in the backseat of the truck for the hour trip down the highway.

Here's one of the photos I sent to try and explain what was going on with the squirrel:

This is what was lodged in the squirrel's lower teeth:

A gob of fur. It doesn't look like much but when you consider how small a squirrel's mouth is, and how small their teeth are... How it got there, and from where, is a mystery. Perhaps it came off its belly, but we'll never know.

Our little friend couldn't return home with us, however, because its lower teeth had grown so long, they needed to be trimmed, and there was no wildlife vet available on Good Friday.
This next photo doesn't show the teeth very well but they look like they are almost poking into his nostrils.

He will return to his familiar territory here. CWRC will call us when he's trimmed up, nourished and ready to be back in the yard. Getting fat on peanuts like all the other squirrels.

For more information on the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (which once tried to save one of our osprey fledglings after it was attacked by an eagle), check out its website.

UPDATE: Wednesday, April 24

Sadly, our little friend will not be coming home. Apparently, his lower teeth had grown into his nasal cavity and were too long to fix, he had no upper teeth, and his body was covered in a fungus (perhaps resulting in the hair loss on his belly). So the CWRC staff made the decision to euthanize him. His body is going to the vet college on Prince Edward Island for a necropsy; it seems that what was wrong with him was rather unusual and they want to learn more. So instead of suffering a long, painful death in the wild, our little friend passed away comfortably and will help science.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Riverview Wildlife Report #1

The osprey returned and we are breathing again.
Come April first, every year, we hold our breath, anticipating the day -- around the 10th -- when we see the first osprey sitting in the nest. After the eagle killed the three fledglings in 2015, we wondered if they'd returned, but they did. After losing the mate last spring, before any eggs hatched, we wondered if the lone mate would return.

It was Sunday, April 14 -- honestly, we were starting to lose faith in our faithful birds -- before we left for our trip to Peggy's Cove. I was outside, emptying a bag of hay (used at church during Advent) for the birds to use as nesting material, when I looked up to see the familiar shape cruising overhead.
I admit -- I almost started to bawl.
I ran into the house, shouting, "The osprey is back! The osprey is back!"
It mattered more than ever this year.

Three days later, her new mate showed up. What a relief! And how wonderful to hear their high-pitched chirping calls again. It makes home feel more like home.
My mother says she -- "our" returning osprey -- flew low over her, as "our" osprey always did, and when I was taking this photo, one of the birds flew off the nest as I got closer. So perhaps, as we discuss every year, we are familiar and she is "our" bird. Her new mate will have to get used to us, and to the river, and to the perch.
I wish we could tell he from she. It would make this story more satisfying, and more cohesive.

Here they are in the golden light of their first morning together. We never get tired of seeing this. These birds are part of our family.

From "Findings", a book by Kathleen Jamie that I bought during our trip to Scotland in 2010, in which the author talks about how we -- in her context, Scotland -- almost lost the ospreys:

"What pleases about the ospreys is the quiet success of their return to their rightful place. A damage remedied, a change of direction in our attitudes, as the bird itself makes the turn into the prevailing wind. These are native birds, but they were hunted to extinction in the nineteenth century. Then, in the mid-twentieth, they began to creep back, and with human help the osprey have now re-established 150 nest sites in Scotland. Some sites are famous; they are public spectacles with viewing places and video linkups... I like being able to glance up from my own everyday business, to see the osprey going about hers."

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Nova Scotia Country Boy Heads To the Sea

The view from the rocks at Peggy's Cove
Last fall, Dwayne was unable to attend the Long Service Awards ceremony for the provincial government because it happened just six weeks after his stroke. One day in October, a package arrived with his plaque and a framed print marking his 40 years with the Department of Transportation.
The print was of the harbour at Peggy's Cove, and Dwayne said, "I've never been there."

What??? Born, raised and living in Nova Scotia all his life and he never once visited Peggy's Cove?

I made it my mission to get him there, and this past Sunday, since I wasn't leading worship at church and I needed a break after four days of play-ing, and since the day promised to be sunny and warm, I declared it our Big Sunday Adventure and told him to head towards Halifax.
"I'll tell you when to turn."
It wasn't until we'd driven through Tantallon and passed the turnoff to Highway 103 (which takes you to Lunenburg, etc.) that the next sign listed the turnoff to Peggy's Cove, and Dwayne knew where we were headed.

As soon as we rounded the bend in the road and saw the lighthouse -- tiny in the distance -- Dwayne said, "Wow, there is it."
I could tell he was genuinely pleased by the surprise destination of our Big Sunday Adventure.
He couldn't wait to get parked and head onto the rocks. We took the requisite selfies with the famous lighthouse behind us, but it was the vast and sprawling rocks that fascinated Dwayne. We spent an hour walking and climbing over the rocks, and sitting, our legs dangling.

When you sit at the edge of the rocks at Peggy's Cove, with your back to the parking lot and restaurant and lighthouse, when it's mid-April and not very busy, when you tune into the sound of the incoming tide washing over the rocks,
you can imagine that the earth is just that --
the rocks
and the sea
and the two of you
sitting on the edge of the world.

I can't speak for my husband, but it was rather emotional. Every day, I'm vitally aware of how lucky we are to have these days, for him to be able to drive to Peggy's Cove and walk over those rocks. Sitting there, with the sound of the waves in my ears and the warmth of the sun against my face, even as the wind blew cool on our backs, I was deeply and profoundly thankful that we were there, together, fulfilling a promise I made to last fall to get Dwayne to Peggy's Cove.

I suspect it won't be our last visit, either.  He seems drawn to the place, to the rocks and the sea.
Sure, it's touristy and it's famous, but if you move away from the lighthouse, the teenagers shouting and squealing, and the idiots wanting to stand on the black rocks (they're wet and slippery), the massive rocks and the wide-open sea speak to your spirit in a way the field can't.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A City Girl's Search For A Stage In Rural Nova Scotia

In my minister's costume, delivering my first line.
For the past six weeks, I've been involved with the local community theatre group, called The Church Mouse Players. They do two productions a year, and we just wrapped "Virgil's Wedding".
I played a minister showing up at the chapel to do a funeral service - "Excuse me, is this where they're holdin' the funeral?" - and get flustered when I find out it's a wedding and I only have my funeral notes.

This was my first foray into acting; whether it will be my last remains to be seen. This small role in the second half of Act Two was more than enough for me, but the rehearsals (three a week) and the performances (four nights of dinner theatre) got put on top of all my other work.
So while others were bemoaning the "crash" that would follow this week, after we wrapped up on Saturday, I'm just grateful to have my Monday and Thursday nights back at home!

After dress rehearsal with "Virgil" and "Margaret"
"By golly, by the powers vested in me by the state, I know pronounce you husband and wife! Virgil, you may kiss the bride!"

Over the past 15 years, the Church Mouse Players have become known for the great dinner and the laugh-out-loud comedy. Every show sells out immediately; there's no need for advertising.
Apparently, "Virgil's Wedding" has been sitting on the shelf waiting for the right cast to come together, and it was worth the wait. The general consensus from the audience is that this was the best production yet. How does CMP top this one?

Well, with long-time actors like Anthony Black and Tiffany Lawless, as well as the same husband-wife director-producer/actor combination in Kendall Mills and Tania Thompson, this community theatre group knows what it's doing and simply keeps doing what it does best.
I am in awe of how this all comes together, and how the cast really does work together like a family (a good family, not a dysfunctional one!). Having been in the audience, and now seeing it from backstage, I understand what keeps people returning for just one more production. Having never been in a community theatre production, I can understand why people become so devoted to it.
And in such a small community as well.

The groom's mother shows off a dress to the wedding planners from the city.

Personally, as a morning person, the four nights of performances were challenging; I haven't done a yoga practice since last Monday! On Friday, I could have cried, I was so exhausted. But once you get to the hall and the ticket holders arrive, once you get backstage and into your costume, once the play begins...you forget about how tired you are and the energy of the performance takes over.
I even managed to keep my southern accent all the way through each performance!

Oh, by the way, it was the perfect play for me to do as my first one: Not only was Abba's "Dancing Queen" played three times, but there was this line in Act One, when Virgil says to his best friend, Ellard: "Them city girls may be okay to look at but you won't catch me marryin' one." 

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Rural Appreciation Society

I was reading the latest Ian Rankin novel when I took this photo on a rainy Saturday.

I had the house to myself this morning - Mother is due home from Georgia tonight and Dwayne hightailed it into town shortly after he got up (which was right after I got all the chores done). And because I worked at school yesterday, and tomorrow night is the opening of the play I'm in, which runs until Saturday night...
...I needed a slow morning.
I slept in until six o'clock then promptly fed all the wild birds because it snowed last night so everyone was looking for a little bigger buffet this morning. I did the chickens, who are not happy about the snow, and fed our indoor menagerie.
Then I flopped on the yoga mat for some much-needed stretches ahead of a long day at the computer, then I realized the house was cold so I made a fire in the wood furnace.
That's when the country boy rolled out of bed and rolled right out the house.

So I sat with my coffee and my book in the living room, wrapped in a blanket, while the wild birds flitted outside in the trees, from feeder to feeder, and the cats watched out the windows, and the dog lay on the love seat in the dining room.
When I took my mug to the kitchen sink to rinse it out, I looked out the window at the chicken coop and beyond it, to the field. No deer out there this morning.
Then I wandered into our bedroom, and stood at the window and took another look from another angle at the chicken coop and the field. And the woods and the sky.
Breathing space.

This is why I'm working so damn hard at my writing. This is how substitute teaching is motivating me.
I want to be home in the mornings. I want to be home to have these long, slow mornings of doing chores and doing yoga, of drinking coffee and reading books. I want to be able to stand at my windows overlooking all that space, all that grass and tree and sky.
I want to be inside the peace.
I want to be part of the breathing space.
I want to enjoy living where I get to live.
This is my daily meeting of the Rural Appreciation Society.

This isn't about being lazy and not wanting to work. This is about having a chance every day to be slow and quiet and watchful. This is about wanting to be one of a dying breed of people who wake up every morning GLAD and THANKFUL to be living in rural Nova Scotia.

I want to be able to walk across the fields and through the woods while I can -- while we are both still here.
I want to be able to breathe in the fresh clean air -- while there are still trees cleaning it.
I want to be able to hear the squelch of the water in our river valley ground.
I want to be able to look up and see nothing but blue sky (or stars), I want to look down and see the tracks of deer and raccoons and coyotes in the mud.
I want to walk through the wildflowers in July and August.
I want to listen to the ospreys calling for fish from the river.
This is where I live. This is where I am inspired. This is what keeps my brain and my body healthy.
This is why the Rural Appreciation Society exists.

As poet and rural/environmental activist, Wendell Berry, wrote, "The primary motive for good care and good use of the land-community is always going to be affection, which is too often lacking."

Pussy willows on a morning walk. 

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Life With and Without Chicken

You may notice I've changed my author photo on my blog and on Facebook. New glasses meant an update of the photo. What a difference, eh?
I'm sad to lose my chicken friend, however. My new photos seem a little boring with her...

New photo credit: Shaun Whalen Photography
Old photo credit: Catherine Bussiere

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

The Abundant Life

Okay, so here's something a little unorthodox (my word of the week, apparently, because that's the second time I've used it and it's only Tuesday). I wrote my sermon (message) for this coming Sunday yesterday; not my usual habit to write the message on Monday but as I was putting together the service, what I wanted to say about "barrenness and abundance" (our Language of Lent words for this week) dropped into my head. Why wait and lose that spark?
The message just flowed out of me; it's a rough draft, for sure, but it felt good as I wrote it -- even as I recognized something from my subconscious mind was working its way to the surface.

That's not the unorthodox part!
I don't usually share my sermons online, let alone snippets even before I've shared them with the congregation, but here's part of that sermon, the personal part I'm speaking about:
"Since last year, I’ve been having a series of epiphanies about my life – it’s brought up some memories about paths not taken and allowed me to figure out why, and in some cases, provided a chance to get back on the path – even this 'late' in life.

But that’s a struggle – to look back on 25 years of mistakes and missteps, to look forward at ALMOST 50 years of age, and feel like a failure.

That’s part of the journey, though – that’s the HARD part – the CONFESSION part [this refers to last week's sermon] – admitting that I “missed the mark” over and over, not really deliberately – but from a lack of self-awareness – from being a seeker yet not being able to understand what it was I was seeking. 

In February, I was skating by myself at the pond, twirling and swirling, while snowflakes twirled and swirled, and it felt so good, I felt so free, so alive, so happy that I paused for a moment to say Thank You.

And that’s when it hit me: I was so focused on all the ways I believed I had failed my life, that I wasn’t appreciating the life I have.
I AM living an ABUNDANT LIFE – I have food and shelter, money to buy things, love and support.
What more do I want?
I have a book published – sure, I want more but I also need to be content with JUST THAT as well.
Striving is exhausting. Wanting more is exhausting.
The Eagles said it in their song, “Take It To the Limit”:
“You spend all your time making money, you spend all your love making time.”

When do you stop to appreciate the fact you have it all ALREADY?"             [end of message]

Obviously, this idea of barrenness (having nothing; uncertainty; worry) and abundance (having everything; not realizing it/appreciating it) has been on my mind for awhile, I just hadn't put it into those words yet. I wrote myself to a surprise memory, and it was one of those moments when you're like: Yes. This is the point.
I'm going to have to tweak the sermon to make it less personal but I'll save that first, raw draft because, well, epiphany, right?

Just now, I signed up for the second learning unit of the course I'm taking to become a properly licensed lay worship leader, and I was thinking of my new friend, Penny, asking me how the editing of my novel went the next time we meet.
And when I thought about that, about spending the month of March editing -- this shiver, a frisson, of excitement rippled through me. I can't wait to tell her how well it went. I LOVED editing the novel -- I LOVED the process, the sitting down with that spiral-bound bunch of papers and reading them over, crossing out words and lines, making notes, taking out ENTIRE chapters! It was good, solid work and so different from the work of writing the first draft of the novel.

I want to do it again. I WILL do it again. Because I'm learning to pay attention to those shiver moments - they are telling me what to do. They are MY HEART telling me what path to follow. Sure, there's uncertainty, there's worry, but I'm learning to dump a whole lot of appreciation on those distracting thoughts until they stop squirming.