Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Leap of Fate

Any day now, the first young osprey will take the leap.
The ospreys hatched out another three eggs this spring and we have reached that time of the summer, always around our wedding anniversary, when we wait for the babies to become fledglings -- to take that brave and amazing leap off the side of the nest, and become what they are born to be: flyers and fishers.
All three babies are flapping their wings but we have yet to see the hopping from side to side in the nest that implies one is ready to go, ready to hop right into that beautiful blue sky.


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Raccoon Came Back - Sort Of

Now it's really broken.
"Where did the raccoon go?"
"What raccoon?"
"The one in the garden shed."
"The broken one."
"The one the squirrels were nesting in. Where is it?"
"I threw it out."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because it was broken."
"But the squirrels were living in it."

I'm sure you can guess who the city girl raised on Disney movies is in this conversation and who is the Nova Scotia country boy. 

"It's in a big pile out back that I'm going to burn in the fall."
"So you can bring the raccoon back?"
"Yeah, I can bring the raccoon back."

The broken garden ornament in the shed was a perfect nest for squirrels.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Shit Happens

I look at this picture and I imagine what my teenaged self would be doing: goofing around, feeling self-conscious, and exclaiming, "Ew!" and "Do I have to?" That very young, privileged young woman would not have appreciated this moment and this opportunity.
On the other hand, my forty-ish self practically ran for the shovel, hollering, "I'll do it! I'll do it!". This photo is my version of a victory fist pump in the air, shouting, "Yes!"
Just like having a chicken coop full of hens was a symbol of sophistication for me when I first moved to Nova Scotia, so too is this shovel full of fresh horse poop. It also means I'm exactly where I want to be, doing exactly what I've always wanted to do.

Yes, shovelling shit has been one of this city girl's aspirations. And, like riding, it's not as easy as it looks. There's a way to flick the shovel when you're scooping that allows you to pick up more and make fewer trips to the wheelbarrow, or directly to the manure pile outside the doors. Dawn, the lifelong horse woman who is my riding instructor, can do it in two scoops; I made six trips to the manure pile.
Grinning the entire time.

My sixth riding lesson was all about working on and building on the basics I've learned so far: turning the horse, halting him, posting in a trot, and stopping a horse that has bolted (this is the most important skill for me, in particular, to know since I panic first, think second, if I remember to think at all). The rest of my lessons will go like this, round and round the ring, walking and trotting and stopping over and over. That's the only way to learn.
There's this idea that after 10,000 hours of doing something, it becomes muscle memory and you never forget. I can see how this would work for horseback riding, especially when I consider how many muscles are involved in riding, even in the basic riding I'm doing.
Last week's posting lesson gave me an acute awareness of my inner front thigh muscles!

New revelation: You use the entire body when you ride a horse, yet you are using each part individually. For example, to make a horse go, squeeze your calves BUT to stop the horse, squeeze your thighs (while doing three other things as well). Your hands hold the reigns but your elbows do the work. Cripes, even the ears, which do nothing, are involved: Ears, shoulders, and hips are to be in alignment when you're sitting in the saddle. Maybe the heels, too, but I can't remember.
So many details.
Not only do I need to be aware of every part of my body, as I gain a skill, there's a way to build on it. I was using the outside leg and inside reign to turn when Dawn said, "It's actually more about the outside reign" so that was an add-on. Later she instructed, "You're leaning into your turns. Just turn your shoulders. Don't lean." That's an add-on to the "Turn your head in the direction you want to go."
There isn't a part of the body that doesn't do something in riding. And there are four or five things to think about when doing something even as simple as turning. I was paused at one point, gathering myself, and Dawn told me to get going.
"I'm going over everything I have to do before I start moving," I told her. "There's so much to remember."
She laughed. "I don't remember what it's like to know nothing about riding."
At 15, I wouldn't have had the confidence to say that to her, to do what I needed to do; at 47, I know how I need to approach things and I'll no longer let anyone tell me what is best for me.

Some habits are hard to break, though, and I'm not talking about my propensity for leaning.
"I'm not coordinated enough for this," I said later as we trotted in a circle around Dawn. I was feeling awkward and bouncy, like I'd never figure it out, and I wanted an excuse for not getting it.
My usual self-conscious horseshit.
"You must be coordinated if you're posting," Dawn answered. "Some people never master this."
Knowing how unathletic I am and how many times I've said "I can't" about trying something new, that comment hit my heart like a powerful kick from a pair of hind legs. I can do it. I AM doing it.

My friend, Gail, one of the women who inspired this Summer of the Horse, arrived at the stables in Linden during yesterday's lesson. This morning, she sent me a text: "Good to see you riding so well. You looked confident."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Place to Play and Learn

As published in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, by Sara Jewell

The sun porch of the Wallace and Area Museum is gently lit by afternoon sunshine, yet with screens for walls and large trees providing shade, the porch remains cool on a July afternoon. Overlooking the vast lawn and the perennials gardens, the porch provides a lovely venue for the museum’s long-running Wednesday afternoon tea.
The new curator stands before the capacity crowd gathered around small tables and explains that the museum (which opened in 1992 in a house built in 1839) is trying to attract more visitors. This tea is the first of four author readings in July; in August, local painters will anchor the teas.

This is Gail’s first season as the new curator and she brings to the museum a lifetime of experience with art galleries across Canada, as well as a deeply personal connection to this particular place: the land on which the museum sits was settled by her ancestor, Peter Graham Tuttle, the youngest son of the United Empire Loyalist, Stephen Tuttle, whose family settled in Wentworth and Wallace.
So despite the fact she had just retired and returned to the area, Gail couldn’t resist the opportunity presented by the museum’s job posting last January, calling it “serendipity and synchronicity”. She’s easing into the role left vacant by the sudden death of long-time curator, David Dewar, in 2015 with only a few small changes. Besides tweaking the teas, her short-term goal is rebranding the museum as a place to learn and to play.
“The whole end goal of a museum is a place of learning,” Gail said, “but with this property, it’s also a place to play because we have walking trails, perennial gardens, barns and outbuildings, the house, the screened porch, and the meeting room. It’s a place for people to enjoy.”

Her long-term goal is discovering how to make the museum more relevant to the needs of the community.
“We have to open the museum up to a broader community so at our flea market and fun day on July 29, we’re launching a Friends of the Museum membership drive.”
In a time when libraries are struggling to remain open, and arts and music programs suffer from flagging support, why bring such ambition to her job at a rural museum?
“Museums matter because they are part of the community,” Gail replied. “The museum itself has the job of preserving artifacts and heritage but the community decides what its value is and what its meaning is. The museum must also serve the needs of the community. It’s a symbiotic relationship. If you don’t serve the needs of the community, you’re just an artifact yourself.”

The first author reading goes over well and Gail is pleased.
“Aren’t the flower arrangements beautiful?” she said as the summer students tidy up. “Ryan does those for us.”
This is Ryan MacInnis’ second summer working at the museum and he discovered a knack for arranging flowers last summer.
“People liked my ideas so I’ve been ‘volun-told’ to be the new flower picker,” he explained with a chuckle. “I like to change them up each week. People notice. People realize we pay attention to details, and that’s better for the museum and the community.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The River Flows, the Words Not So Much

I'm six hundred words into a new story.
Let me tell you, I'd much rather be out on the river today than writing about it. This is the hard part, the starting. The story is there but putting those first words, first paragraphs down is torture; it's rare to have the flow right from the first sentence. But I know how this works and I know what to do: All I have to do is write the first draft. It doesn't matter how crappy it is or how many facts and details need filling in; all that matters is getting the skeleton of the story put together. That gives me something to edit.

So remember that, all you with a story that wants to be written: you just have to write something down. No first draft is good, they're all crap, so just write and worry about the details, about the style and the structure, the spelling and grammar once you've written down whatever it is inside you that wants to be birthed into the world. Listen, I've published a book and I still dreaded sitting down at my computer this morning and opening up a new document. I would have much rather sat on the deck today reading than start typing in that blank white page. But if I don't start it, it doesn't get done.
And here I am, six hundred words later. Stalled only because I allowed myself to be distracted.

My plan is to expand the Moon Tide story, with its 11-year-old protagonist, into a book of four stories, set in winter, summer, fall and again in winter, for children aged eight to eleven. This is the story that won a writing for children competition in 2015 and will be published in an anthology of winter stories this fall. Already there are significant changes from that original story; the grandfather is still alive, for one thing, and I've added a sister. 

Today I've started to work on the summer story. As with Moon Tide and all the other stories, it's inspired by this fella, and his childhood growing up along the River Philip. I'm looking forward to some in-the-field research today or tomorrow: Dwayne will take me out in the boat to show me the swimming hole I'm writing about today.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Summer of the Horse: Feeling the Diagonals

Learning the posting trot in the outside arena at Galloway Stables in Linden.
I feel such pressure to learn forty years' worth of riding lessons and horse information in one summer that it was a relief -- and a release of pressure -- to be praised by my instructor, Dawn, this morning, during my fifth lesson.
"You're doing a good job at posting," she said to me halfway through our learn-to-trot session (I'd told her about my less-than-enjoyable experience trotting on a trail horse Read About It Here). "You're getting it faster than a lot of my younger riders."

In my books, that's a gold star for me!

When I first prodded Dakota into more than just a brisk walk, Dawn said we were doing a jog rather than a trot but it seemed plenty fast enough for me. Yet as I adjusted to moving quickly around our circle at the end of the lunge line, I realized the faster you ride, the more smoothly you ride. I started to post immediately; it was almost instinctive but perhaps just some of that knowledge I've picked up over the years of watching horse competitions. The posting trot is such an obvious move; you see the jumpers doing it all the time.  The most important part of the trot, however, is understanding the diagonals.

Diagonals are tricky. According to the book that inspired me to take up riding, Year of the Horse by Marjorie Simmins, "diagonals" refer to the diagonal configuration of the trotting gait.
"When the horse's left front leg moves forward, so does the right hind leg," Simmins wrote and went on to explain that rising out of the saddle -- known as posting -- happens because of the hind leg.
"When you are going in a circle or around an arena fence, the inside leg bears more weight. This is because of how the horse's body is arced. So by lifting your weight out of the saddle as that hind leg bears weight, you're relieving the horse of extra pressure."

With proper boots for riding, I began posting almost as soon as we started trotting but Dawn could see I had no idea what I was doing. She told me to feel for the diagonal but I find I can't feel the horse's movement because I'm worrying about my hands and my posture, my legs and my feet.
"You're thinking too much," she said. So I did the only thing I knew how to do in order to counter my brain: I rode with my eyes closed to try and feel the horse.
"You'll sense right before you want to rise out of the saddle," I heard Dawn telling me. "That's when you start to post."
Now that I've read Marjorie's explanation of diagonals, now that I know the point is to relieve pressure on the inside hind leg, I'll focus on feeling the diagonals as they relate to the inside hind leg.

Now I just have to remember which leg that is depending on which direction I'm going!

There are a lot of confusing elements in riding; it's simply not as easy as it looks. It's like every body part is involved in some way, even if it's just keeping it loose and uninvolved! I have a hard time doing more than two activities at the same time, like lifting out of my seat at the same time I'm squeezing my calves (that keeps the horse trotting) YET with practice, I got it together.
It's often the smallest things that cause the problem.
"Stop thinking about your feet," Dawn said. "You're not really using them."
What??Actually, my foot was too far back in the stirrup; I was using only the balls of my feet and when I slid my foot forward, suddenly stability was there. That small change made a huge difference in "not using" my feet.   
There was a graduation of sorts near the end of our lesson this morning: I walked Dakota around the outside arena free of the lunge line. It was nice to be able to go to the corners and decide which jumps to walk around and when to turn on my own with no instruction. Through the wisdom gained from past failures, I know the only way to learn a skill is to do it yourself then keep doing it over and over.
I let Dakota break into a trot but Dawn hollered from across the arena, "You're only supposed to be walking him."
"I'm enough of a perfectionist that I want to practice," I told her when we came up to where she was standing. "I want to keep going until I get the posting trot down pat."
She laughed. "You're going to be really sore tomorrow."

When I first started riding, I searched for yoga poses for horse riders (sorry, that's yoga for equestrians) but the ones suggested are ones I already do in my regular practice. I told Dawn this and she said that yoga is best for balance "but you're using muscles that you never use in any other activity. This is why riding is such good exercise," she added with a knowing grin.

Look, Ma! No lunge line. Also, I'm rockin' my new helmet.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

It's All Goat to Me

I milked my first goat.
I wrapped my fingers around those hot little teats and I pulled. Nothing came out.
I tugged. Nothing came out.
"You wrap your thumb and forefinger around the top to seal it off then squeeze with the rest of your hand," Mark, my new goat guru, told me.
I wrapped, I sealed, I squeezed.
A teeny, tiny stream of milk streamed from one teat.
"Woot! I've got milk!" I hooted.
Mark's 13 year old daughter Sam laughed and rolled her eyes. She's a real farm girl, and she's showing a six-month-old goat for 4H this year.
"I'm going to show off a bit," Mark said, squatting down beside me, and proceeded to demonstrate how he can milk two teats simultaneously.
Turns out I'm not ambidextrous enough, at least when it comes to teats, to milk like that; not practiced enough, not skilled enough.
But I managed to get a decent stream of milk out of both teats.
I milked my first goat. 
Mark chose Autumn as my first milker because her teats are big.
"Violet's teats are very small and Bubblegum can be difficult to milk," he told me. "So Autumn is easy."
Autumn is patient, I can tell you that. (So is Sam and Mark and his wife Theresa. I have a family of goat gurus.)
I can't say that I filled the bucket with milk because Autumn twice knocked it over; not kicking it out of goatheadedness but because I was taking soooooo long and the mosquitoes were biting. But I was getting the hang of it, the feel for it, and figuring out the easy-squeezy of goat milking.
I came home covered in bug bites and the tendons in my lower back were aching but I was happy happy happy: I milked my first goat!