Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Hatching and Heartbreak


We had so much fun raising a chick with surrogate hen Phyllis that when she went broody in May again, I stuck three eggs underneath her. It takes 21 days to hatch a chick out of a viable egg; one egg broke early on but chicks hatched out of the two remaining eggs -- one on a Friday and one on the Saturday but neither thrived. The chick died almost immediately. The second one made it into the nursery but couldn't walk properly; it kept falling over. 
I think Phyllis killed. It had blood on it when I went to check on the pair of them, and Phyllis wanted back in the coop where she went right back to the nest box she'd been sitting in for three weeks. 

So I put four eggs underneath her this time; by the end of the three weeks, we were down to one. I don't know if the eggs break by accident, or because they weren't fertilized so no one is growing in them. 
I happened to be standing in the doorway of the coop when suddenly, Phyllis flew off out of the nest box and took off outside to have a dirt bath.
I checked and the egg had pipped -- there was a hole that the chick had broken open. 
I fetched Phyllis back inside and as I put her back into the nest box, she stepped on the egg/chick so there it was. 

Phyllis was such a good mom last year, I trust her instincts; I assume she knows what she's doing. It's nature and natural, after all. No one needs my help. 

Last summer, our one chick that hatched was good right from the start, and within an hour was starting to fluff up and cheep and sit underneath Mom. These three chicks never seemed to have their legs working. When I checked on Phyllis and the chick, after supper, she didn't have it under her -- it was sitting to one side, wet and cool.
So I scooped it up and figured I'd hold it until it died. 

Eventually, Dwayne came to see why I was sitting on the step of the coops.
"Just put it back under Phyllis," he said. 
"But she will ignore it. She might kill it." 
So I took it into the house, waiting for it to die. 

It didn't die. The warmth of my hand kept it going. So I thought, well, you never know, maybe it's just runty and needs more TLC than Phyllis is prepared to give. I looked up how to feed it and discovered that a chick doesn't need food for 24 hours, at the outside 48, since it eats the egg inside before it hatches out.
Something like that. 
So I held it in my hand all night, keeping it warm. I lined a berry box with tissue and feathers, and whenever I placed it inside -- in order to go to the basement to clean the kitty litter or have my bath -- it cheeped strongly. But I couldn't get it to stand up, and it's eyes were closed. 
We slept upstairs in the spare room so I could close the door and keep the cats out; eight hours with a chick lying in my hands. My poor shoulders! I barely slept but the chick survived the night. 
There was no miracle improvement, though; her baby feathers fluffed up but her legs wouldn't hold her up.

All day Saturday, I kept a glass bowl with a lid half-filled with hot water -- all the chick needed was warmth; when she was cold, she cheeped. This is what chicks do: they cheep for their mother, they cheep when they're cold and when they're hungry. When I worked upstairs in my office, my little chick sat on my hand, eyes closed, resting her head on my thumb since she could only hold it up a few seconds. 

Mostly, she lay around in the box on the warm bowl, or in my hand. She liked to sit up, on her bum. I think she wanted to be well, she wanted to be moving around but her legs wouldn't let her. She couldn't hold her head up. This was similar to the second chick from the first hatch, but it was able to stumble around a bit before it fell over. It didn't appear likely this one would ever walk; she just flopped over as soon as I stopped propping her up.
I tried to feed her a couple of times throughout Saturday but she didn't respond to the stimulus of dipping her beak in mushy food/water. 

She just wanted to be held. Comfort. Could she feel the pulse in my thumb? Could she feel my breathing as she lay against my stomach? Was it simply my living energy she sensed? 

When I wanted to have a bath, Dwayne held her and they watched TV together. She didn't cheep; she was content to be held in his hand. 

But I couldn't do another night like Friday night, and I couldn't wake up every half an hour to heat the water; I needed my sleep, and I had a church service to do on Sunday morning. She'd have to sleep in her box in our bathroom (protected from the cats). So at bedtime, I cozied up her box even more and put the box on a towel in the bathroom sink; if she crawled out, she'd be safe. She cheeped loudly for a long while, breaking my heart, but she survived the night again. 
And she did indeed crawl out, looking for heat. Looking for me, for the breathing, for the energy? She was wedged between the side of the sink and towel. I thought she was dead; her body was cool but she was alive. She would have been much cozier in the box. 
I couldn't believe she was still alive. Such a strong little chick. 

Her legs still wouldn't hold her, though, and the left one was starting to cross over the right; did Phyllis break its hip in the nest box when she stepped on the egg? Whatever happened, this chick was not going to walk and she wasn't eating. Her eyes weren't open either. She simply wasn't thriving and she wouldn't improve.
So I made the decision to begin comfort care. I would keep her warm but not hold her any longer; I'd let her pass away. She cheeped every so often, but by mid-afternoon, she'd stopped cheeping, then she stopped moving when I pulled back the cloth to check on her. 
She died at suppertime, 48 hours after she was born. 
After supper, I buried her in the new garden along the back deck; next year, she'll come up as lily of the valleys. 

I thought a lot about this: Did my interference cause this? If I had just left the coop, let Phyllis have her dirt bath, let the chick hatch out on her own time, would this chick be fine today? Did I mess up the natural hatching process? Does the mother always leave the chick to hatch by itself, or did Phyllis know she had a quick moment to get outside and poop and drink some water and roll in the dirt before heading back into the chick? 

Did my interference cause Phyllis to injure the chick? And how did Phyllis know it wasn't viable so soon? If I had left it in the nest box with Phyllis, would it have died quicker, would she have put it out of its misery sooner -- when it was too young to know anything more? 

I will never know if I screwed up or if this was just the way it was going to happen. I do know next time, I'll let nature -- and Phyllis - do it their way, without my useless human help. 
I felt bereft all day Monday. I missed my little friend. She was fuzzy and warm, and she cheeped. It was fun to have her around, and I'd been looking forward to the chick experience again. I was quite willing to have a blind chicken as a pet, but not one that couldn't walk or had to be forced to eat (if that was even possible). 

I buried her with the tissues and the feathers, and some sweet-smelling clover and daisies. I lay her down on leaves from my bleeding heart plant. 
I never let anything I bury - hen or bird or chipmunk - lay on the cold dirt or be covered directly by dirt. Everyone gets a respectful burial from me. A life, however short, is honoured. 
I usually bury my birds and animals in the field but I wanted this little chick near the house where she spent her first and last days on earth. 

"Thank you, little chick," I said. "It was nice spending the weekend with you." 

She looked the same in death as she did in life, curled up, legs tucked in, a little fluff ball, sleeping. 

Friday, June 25, 2021


Hello, there, friends!

I have two bits of news to share with you. 

The first six months of 2021 turned out to be pretty exciting, and seem to prove that "things happen in three's". It's nice because the last eighteen months -- well before the pandemic -- I was wondering what I was doing with my life and planning to give up writing and the church work in order to have a "real" job that would give me some financial stability. 

If the book news in April -- about The Alphabet of Faith -- confirmed that I'm not to give up writing or church work, this bit of news will seem like overkill: I've sold another book! 
At the end of May, I found out I'll be publishing another book -- in a whole other genre than anything I've written before: A children's picture book! 

It's called "I Built A Cabin" and the photo is of a Grade 3 student's drawing of the story when I first workshopped the manuscript with a friend's class. Yep, it's inspired by my life in the country -- woods and a river, osprey and owls, a bear and a raccoon, just to name a few of the Nova Scotia animals that play a role in this fun little book. 
Wow! I'm going to have a children's picture book published. Even though I wrote it and pitched it, I'm still in shock -- but I'm absolutely thrilled. It publishes in 2023. 

It just goes to show: You just never know. 
It's not about giving up writing, it's about trying something new. 

Which leads me to my second piece of news: I have a teaching job. It's short-term but it's the perfect step for me to take in getting some classroom experience at the elementary level. Substitute teaching really isn't the same as having your own class, and even two months makes a difference. 
I'm working September and October to finish of the regular teacher's mat leave so I have some reading on child development to do over the summer. Just to get into the mindset of five and six year olds before school starts again. 

Maybe I'll get a swing set and kiddie pool for the backyard -- that should help me adopt a child-like attitude!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Eighty and Greaty!

Today is my mother's 80th birthday. 

I've been so busy working, I haven't really written a proper tribute to share publicly, but don't panic! When we were in lockdown last month here in Nova Scotia, I had the time to put together a large book of photos and her writing. It turned out beautifully and the best of her writing is together in one book; there's a copy for her grandchildren, as well. 

So that's where my effort went, into her gift. Believe me, while typing up her stories, I kept starting to shout down the hallway about something I was reading but remembered I couldn't let on I was doing something special for her birthday! 

It's clear I get my writing talent from my mother. And she was good. First a poet then a writer of letters to her family once she'd moved out of Toronto. The famous "Epistles". She was funny and clever and creative. I'm sorry she didn't pursue more of her writing, or more of her music because she's equally talented in both. It makes me grateful I get to share my writing career with her. 


Here's one of her early poems: 


The waves lap softly at the shore
As they have done since days of yore.
The bees that buzz so loudly near
Come close to me without a fear.

The water lilies that float so calmly
Look to the sun that shines so warmly
And then I feel a fragrant breeze
That gently stirs the grass and trees.

It’s oh, so peaceful and quiet here
Without the crowds of the city near.
A fish jumps, a bullfrog roars,
Here beside these sparkling shores.

Composed at Little Mud Turtle Lake, Coboconk, Ontario, Summer 1957, where her family had their  cottage.

Interesting that I got Mother's writing talent, and my sister got her musical talent. An even split between her two daughters. That's just the way she is.  And we all love to cook, and go on road trips, which is what we're doing today to celebrate this big birthday - heading out to Peggy's Cove for lunch (after visiting a bookstore, of course). 

It's been ten years since we built the addition on our house here in Nova Scotia so Mum could move in with us; I suppose we'll still be in this house when Mother celebrates her 90th birthday! 
If there is one word to describe my mother, her life and our life together, that word is


We have good times. 
I have a good mother. 
I have a mother in great health - eighty and greaty! 
We are celebrating her today. 

Her graduation photo from teachers' college

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Happiness is the Sound of Buzzing Bees

There were at least half a dozen "potato pollinators" in these lupins when I took this picture last night. So that's good news because we love bumblebees. 

The gardens are planted which means we're into evening watering now, and the black flies are vicious this year. I'm afraid to see how big the mosquitoes are! But we're really windy this year so I'm not sure how my raised beds are going to fare; they get lots of sun but it turns out, I forgot to account for the wind tunnel that is our backyard. Fourteen years and I still don't have the hang of this gardening thing. Oh, well, as long as the salsa garden produces the ingredients to make salsa, I can live without the lettuce. 

It's been awhile since I've posted here because since June 2, I've been working full-time providing literacy support to students in Grades Primary through Three. What a great job, although when one of your three part-time job suddenly goes to part-time hours, there's a lot of juggling that happens. My brain has to operate in three different ways. 

Added onto that is editing essays for the book coming out next April, keeping up with my Thanatology course, and planting gardens -- it's been a really busy spring. 

What bothered me most about the past three weeks was that my creative juices dried up. I've been writing poetry this year and I wrote only one poem in all that time, and it was a way of dealing with a friend's family tragedy -- I couldn't have not written that poem if I'd tried. 

So that teaching job has wrapped up and my church work is down to two Sundays -- and now I'm anticipating my summer off. I know the two months of summer will fly by and I won't feel like I'm getting anything done but the plan is for writing, weeding, and reading. I don't want to touch any of my non-fiction books; I just want to enjoy fiction, fiction, fiction for two months. 

Fiction and flowers. 

Bee balm and bumblebees.

My chair in the gazebo. 

Strawberry jam and salsa. 

The perfect plan for summer in Nova Scotia. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Words Are Not Enough

I couldn't sleep last night. I tossed and turned. I don't feel guilty for being the descendent of white immigrants (my family arrived after the settlers took over the land) but I'm tired of being shocked and horrified and frustrated by what we put the Indigenous peoples through, and continue to put them through. Hundreds of years and through generations of abuse and suffering, denigration and dehumanization. I don't get it - how anyone could treat other human beings, let alone children, the way we've treated the Indigenous people. And to call them savages? Their spirituality is beautiful and enviable. Those of us who feel spirit in nature can absolutely relate to Native spirituality.

It's hard to be a member of a church, to be a Christian, and know these atrocities were committed by members of the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches. Here's what radio personality Charles Adler of Vancouver said, "The church's mission was to 'take the Indian' out of the children. It seems they took the Christ out of Christian." 

Do you know the federal government is involved in litigation against the survivors of the residential schools? Likely to deny them all the compensation they deserve. Generations of government-and-church sanctioned trauma and you want to nickel-and-dime them? 

I don't write about this -- I tend to listen and learn, and I don't want to say the wrong thing, I keep my privileged white mouth shut; I also don't know what to DO that will make a difference. I mean, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women issue -- that's horrific too. But governments and government agencies ignore the truth, ignore the details, and refuse to change. That's the problem. The System simply won't budge. 
And it kept me awake last night. Where is the fairness? Where is the kindness and mercy and justice? 

I don't write about this but on Saturday, the following poem shouted to be written so I did what I do now: I opened a blank document, placed my fingers on the keyboard, and let it flow out of me. When I posted it to my Facebook page, fresh and rough, I encouraged those with more understanding of the issue to correct or suggest changes, but no one did. It was shared 27 times. 


(after the discovery of the remains of children
buried in a forgotten grave
at the former residential school in Kamloops, BC)

An Indigenous woman challenged,   

“Imagine finding the bodies of 215 children
buried in the yard at your local elementary school”

and the collective white mind replied, 
“But that wouldn’t happen.”


We cannot imagine 
We don’t know what it’s like
We are afraid of the truth 

So we deny
we ignore
we mute 
we refuse to let the grief and rage
of those who tell their stories
of abuse and terror and suffering
that are beyond our imaginations
infiltrate our minds
and bleed into our hearts
just as their life bled from them 

In a burial register
the name, age, gender, cause of death, 
dates of death and burial
and the location of burial
are written

on a single line

Those Indigenous children
forcibly – legally – 
from their families
from their homes
from their land and their culture

turned over to the collective white mind
whose job it was to transform them
by any means

into … what, exactly? 


Even though their spirits resisted
they died or they survived
and they reconciled themselves
to living 
inside the collective white mind

where they were not
worth the ink 
for writing a line in a book
as a record of their existence

where they are not
worth the effort 
of signing on lines  
in recognition of their persistence 

the truth
is not written in ink
but in blood

and dirt

~ by Sara Jewell
 May 29, 2021