Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Wander With the Wildlife in Our Yard

Our large but still friendly rooster, Brewster. His spurs are 3 inches long
so you don't turn your back on this fellow. He can ruin a good pair of jeans...
as well as a calf muscle.

We are down to ten hens now. The middle hen lays green-shelled eggs. It was
her "sister" that the fox got last week. At least Blondie fed the three fox kits.

The first blades of spring grass...

...are eagerly awaited by Rosie. She's not overly friendly but she comes
running when she sees me, hoping for some fresh green.

Mama Squirrel in the garden shed. Dad takes off but she stays inside when
I'm there so there must be babies in the nest.

The nest in the corner of the shed. Even a rag was dragged up there.
Curtains? How am I supposed to edge my gardens now? 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Good Idea: Be Friends with a Photographer

Shaun Whalen takes a lot of photos around our part of Cumberland County plus he donates his school sports photos to the paper (which is good of him). He was out cruising around last night and stopped in to take some shots of our ospreys. But he also caught sight of the fox who dens in the bank on our lot across the road.
For all they live across the road, we are enemies, the fox and I. I've never seen kits this young this close. When I showed this photo to my husband, he said, "Man, and that's why I don't want to have to shoot her."
That's the tough part about country living: the balance between protecting our own and co-existing with beautiful wild animals who are just doing what they do.
Beautiful photo, Shaun. Thanks for sharing.

On the shores of River Philp.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In Conversation With...Rose Horsman

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 10, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

Born in Springhill, the youngest of seven, Rose Hunter felt the call of the wild west when she was 22 years old. She went to visit family in British Columbia in 1981 and ended up staying. She met and married Jeff Horsman and the pair lived in the northern town of Chetwynd for 30 years. 
“Family brought me back,” says Rose of the couple’s decision to return to Nova Scotia in 2006 (Jeff is originally from Moncton). “Jeff retired [from BC Rail] and we decided to move back home to be with family. My mother was still alive and my sisters and brother.” 
Rose and Jeff settled on the Dickson Road between Port Howe and Oxford with their three dogs and three cats. Rose is known for her huge garden, her jars of pickles, and her generosity with vegetables and sunflower seeds. That garden had humble beginnings, however; it began with just a few rows dug the first summer. Then a neighbour loaned them a rototiller.
“Jeff went crazy,” Rose says, “but I’m obsessive. When I get started I can’t stop. Actually, the gardening is Jeff’s fault,” she laughs her distinctive deep, raspy laugh. “When we lived out west, in town, we had a ravine in back of our house and it was sloughing off so we ended up terracing it off. We threw a garden in there and it kept growing. Then we moved outside of town and the garden just kept getting bigger.”
It seems they quickly fell into the same pattern here. 
“I love anything to do with food,” Rose says. “I pick wild mushrooms, I pick all the berries, I make jams and jellies and pickles. I garden. Anything to do with food. I remember the first time we butchered the ducks and geese and the turkeys and harvested the big garden. There’s a picture of me sitting at the kitchen table, totally exhausted, with all these ducks packaged up for the freezer and summer savoury hanging in the corner and the table just piled high. Wow! I did that. When I lived out west, I used to can a lot. Meat, fish, anything that walked through the yard I had it in a can. I don’t can so much here, mostly pickles and jam.”
Their garden right now measures 200 feet by 200 feet. 
“It’s too big,” Rose admits. “Found out last year, it’s too big. Couldn’t do it.”
Anyone who has driven up the Dickson Road is familiar with Rose’s unique landscaping skills: Chickens, guinea hens, geese and ducks used to roam freely all over the property and driveway, even onto the road. But Rose and Jeff butchered all the chickens and guineas last fall, and this summer, Rose plans to only do half the garden and raise turkeys instead. 
There is a very good reason for this huge cutback.
“Last year, I started getting pain in my wrists,” Rose explains. “I was busy doing this, busy doing that, I had an order for ten cases of pickles. So I thought ‘I’ll get that done, it’s just carpal tunnel.’ But it got worse and worse. That’s when I went to Moncton to see a specialist and the report came back that it was not carpal tunnel. So I went to the doctor in September and he sent me for a whole workup. In October, they found a mass in my right lung.”
Scans, blood tests and x-rays also revealed abnormalities in her stomach and lymph nodes. But all Rose could focus on was the pain in her wrists. 
“I couldn’t brush my teeth or have a shower.  I couldn’t even put a sock on. I couldn’t do my chores. I was getting very depressed. So when they said it was in my lung and stomach and lymph nodes, I thought, forget it. I hadn’t been able to do anything for a year now, why bother.” 
Because of the pain, because of the diagnosis, she got rid of all her chickens. She was going to get rid of the ducks and geese, too, “but Jeff promised he’d take care of them.” 
Fortunately, the abnormalities and the pain were connected to the mass in her lung. 
“I went in for a biopsy on January 18. Within a week of getting the results, the surgeon told me he’d would get me in for surgery.”
On February 15, the surgeon removed half  of Rose’s right lung and a few lymph nodes as well.
She stands up, turns and raises her sweater to show me her scar. It is long, thin and purple. It is shockingly...simple: eight inches long, curving from under her armpit up towards her neck. 
“I go back in three months for another CAT scan and a follow-up. There’s no other treatment.  It wasn’t the kind of cancer that spreads and likely I’d had it for a couple of years and it just kept getting bigger and bigger. But the cancer gave off hormones that caused the pain in my wrists.”
Not only that, this lifelong smoker of two packs a day quit smoking the day before her surgery so as of today, which happens to be Rose’s 53rd birthday, she is 56 days cigarette-free.
Rose looks great and is very  cheerful but then again, this health scare has given her a new outlook.
“First of all, it reminded all of us that anything can happen at any time. The family decided to be a little bit closer. We lost Mom a couple of years ago. Second, slow down, take more pleasure out of things. You don’t have to kill yourself doing a huge garden. You can do half a garden and be able to take care of it.”
In the yard, the geese have started honking loudly enough to stop our conversation.
“That’s the other thing,” Rose says. “I’ve always liked to have animals that are noisy.”
And she laughs that deep, raspy laugh that reeks of gratitude and optimism. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Blondie, When You Call Me

We don't let our hens run free in the yard for two reasons: 1) They turn my flower beds into dirt baths which wrecks the flowers, and 2) the F-word.
Two years ago, we had a pet hen named Betty. Came about because our rooster decided he didn't like her (after pecking her sister to death -- and you think teenage girls are vicious...) so we let her hang out on the other side of the coop with the rabbits and roam the yard as she wanted. She even had her own theme song: Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al". Every time I came across our pet hen, I sang, "Betty, when you call me, you can call me Al." It was lovely. 
But as I returned home from a walk in the woods, I found a pile of feathers that I recognized on the lane. The fox got her -- while my husband mowed the lawn. 
So yesterday we lost another hen. Happened while  my mother and I were in Moncton. When we arrived home at 4:30, I said, "I'd better take Abby [our young dog] for a walk."
My husband said, "Oh, she doesn't need one. Abby, tell your mother what you did."
Dwayne said he was on the front deck and knew Abby was around back. When he went to find her, though, she was gone. He called and called but finally had to jump on the four-wheeler to go back the road to search for her. When she finally responded, she came rushing out of the woods at the top of the field. We have a dog who likes to run with the wind. 
Since I needed a walk, we went anyway and on our way back, I decided to cut through the field instead of going back down the lane. That's when I spied feathers sticking to the dried grass.
I knew them immediately: They were Blondie's feathers.
Blondie was one of our two Americauna hens who lay green-shelled eggs. Both Blondie and Annie (she's orange, named for Anne of Green Gables) are excellent layers. They also are hens who fly out of the pen to wander around the yard. (This loss is our fault: We said a week ago we needed to clip their feathers.)
Perhaps it's because she's young and playful, perhaps it's because she went partridge hunting with my husband but Abby runs after the chickens. I can't tell if she's chasing or herding. She stops as soon as I tell her to but she's quick. I've never seen her catch one so I'm not sure what her intentions are. She never tells me, just as she didn't say a word when I found the feathers in the field and asked her, "Did you kill a chicken? Did you?"
She did not answer but she looked upset. Was it my tone of voice or a guilty conscience? 
I showed the feathers to my husband as soon as I got back to the house. 
"Fox," he said. 
"But maybe Abby -- "
"Nope. That's why she disappeared. She was chasing the fox."
She was on a rescue mission. She was trying to save one of her chickens. 

The last of Blondie's feathers...next to the last egg she'll ever lay. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ground Search and Rescue: Searching for New Members!

It was warm and drizzly and I was the only person at the Amherst Shore Provincial Park not wearing blaze orange. It started to pour at eleven o'clock. But everyone was dressed for it because they came prepared for walking around in the woods all morning. 
Since this week's "In Conversation With..." interview is with a 35-year member of Pugwash Ground Search and Rescue, I was checking out an actual in-the-field training session to get a feel for what this group, and its counterpart, Springhill Ground Search and Rescue, does.
First of all, "Pugwash" and "Springhill" are misnomers; these searchers cover a vast area, all of Cumberland County from the New Brunswick boarder to the Colchester County line, with the Trans Canada highway splitting the are into north (Pugwash) and south (Springhill).
Secondly, what is involved IS PRETTY DAMN COOL, from the people to the equipment to the dedication. And this is what makes my job so great, getting a chance to learn about something and share that experience. Most of us know that GSaR groups exist but we couldn't actually say what they do beyond "they search for people who are lost". We don't give them another thought but these groups are important and they need members.
The searches they do can range from a hunter who didn't return home to a child who is lost to a shore search after someone went under water and didn't come up. The groups also work with the Project Lifesaver program which is geared autistic children and Alzheimer's patient (and anyone else who is prone to wander) and uses electronics to track and find. (I saw a demonstration of this and it works so well; it's the subject of an article that will appear in the May 1 issue of the newspaper.)

But Ground Search and Rescue is not as simple as a group of people showing up to look in the woods; training is essential and the law. Yet...it also is not as complicated or time-consuming as we might think (the last search the Cumberland County GSaRs did was 18 months ago). There is one meeting and one training evening a month, and every so often they run a Saturday scenario -- they create an actual search in the woods for a missing person. Yesterday, clues were planted at the park and four teams were searching for them as part of a scenario involving a missing child whose older siblings went to find him and got lost themselves. Everyone was having a good time while working on the skills that some day could save a life. It's fun and the camaraderie is great but it's done in all seriousness.
The enthusiasm of these searchers (and the groups include a couple of women; four now with Pugwash -- go, girls!) is high and contagious. This work is important to them and as technology makes the job more efficient, they get more excited about helping others. 

This photo shows what the members say is typical of an actual search: Everyone standing around, eager to get started but waiting on the RCMP to give the go-ahead. Unless it is a Project Lifesaver search (in which a team of two armed with a receiver gets started right away) which the RCMP do not coordinate, the teams work under the local police. Once they get going, they usually find the person or the body they are looking for.
Both groups have mobile command posts now and they make such a difference; Ed Mackenzie of Springhill GSaR says they used to work out of someone's truck! With laptops and additional monitors being part of the process, these mobile command units are must-haves for groups even though they are an added cost. Springhill painted their truck last year while Pugwash is hoping to paint theirs this spring; according to one of the team managers, however, county council doesn't consider GSaR an "essential service" so they aren't providing any funding.
Both groups must put on fundraisers to cover operating costs of between nine and twelve thousand dollars a year, and the mobile command posts will increase those costs. If you see an event (poker rally, pancake breakfast, etc.), please support your local GSaR; you never know when you or someone you love will need their help. Better yet, commit an random act of kindness by dropping off a donation! Trust me, it will be most appreciated.
But money isn't everything. They need people. 

After what I saw yesterday, I'd join if I didn't have so much on my plate right now. All it takes to become a basic searcher is being over 19 years of age, in good health/physically fit and having a clean criminal record. The fact that I get easily turned around -- lost! -- might be seen as a deterrent but since searchers go in groups, there's no way I could be more of a hindrance than a help.
Plus, the groups use technology now: GPS locators in the radios allow those in the command post to know where each team is at every moment. They use maps and compasses but GPS is part of the gig now.
It's a dedicated and enthusiastic group of people who volunteer because they want to help others in need. They need the support of the community and they get it from area businesses but they also need as many members as possible (not everyone can show up to a search every time and longer searches need fresh searchers) so support from community members makes a big difference.

Thanks for a great morning, folks. It was eye-opening and inspiring. One could almost say "essential."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My Dad and Me, and Rita MacNeil

The understanding of love and music are the two things that dementia cannot touch. After receiving the very wise advice, "Don't focus on what your father can't do. Focus on what he can do," we did lunch, movies and Rita MacNeil concerts. Her music was with us to the very end.
Here are two excerpts from my as-yet-unpublished memoir involving Rita MacNeil and her music and how it kept me (and my sister Araminta) connected to Dad as his disease progressed. The first story comes from 2004, while the second, very short one comes from his last days:

     In the meantime, there was still Dad to take care of. Besides going for coffee, music was the other pleasure my father enjoyed that dementia could not destroy so when I saw the ad in the paper about a Christmas concert presented by Rita MacNeil, his favourite singer, I bought two tickets. This was the third of her concerts we’d been to since I’d moved home and of everything we did to give my mother time to herself, these concerts were my favourite. The music gave Dad such enjoyment that I could pretend, and perhaps he did, too, that there was nothing wrong with him. On this evening, hearing the familiar songs, sensing how much he was enjoying himself, and knowing this would be our last concert together, I used the applause to cover up the sound of my sniffling.
     By the end of the concert, it was ten o’clock and several inches of snow had fallen since we parked. After Dad got into the car, I started the engine to warm it up while I cleaned the snow off the windows. When I tried to open the driver’s door to turn down the heater, it was locked. Likely it became too warm inside the car and when my father tried to open his window, he hit the wrong button. Now what to do? The car was running and the cell phone was inside my purse which was inside the car. Dad had enough trouble locating the handle to open the door so how on earth was he going to find a small button in the dark?
     I smiled through the window at him. “Dad, the doors are locked so I’m going to get you to unlock them.” My voice was calm and pleasant. I saw his hands fluttering around, touching but not settling on anything. “There are buttons along the door, Dad, just like in the van,” I encouraged.  My hand was on the door handle, ready to yank it as soon as he managed to hit the button. “Just hit the buttons, Dad, and something will happen.” He was banging away on the door panel and as soon as I heard the thunk of the door unlocking, I whipped open the door.
     I laughed with relief. “Great job, Dad.”
     “I’m sorry,” he said. 
     “It’s okay. Think of all the times Araminta locked her keys in the car.” 
     I felt awful as I finished cleaning off the car, the open window reminding him of what he just did, my activity reminding him of what he could no longer do. That was the thing about Alzheimer’s: no matter what you did, no matter how well something went, you still ended up making your father feel stupid and useless.

May 2009:

     Returning to the nursing home for the afternoon, I explained to my father that Mum was at home talking on the phone with Araminta. When I said her name, his eyes and face reacted. Sitting with someone for hours at a time, you learn the different facial expressions and what they mean. You learn what discomfort or pain looks and sounds like, how he will respond to certain words, and that most definitely, he will respond to certain names. Deeply-rooted knowledge no disease could touch.
     My father seemed melancholy so I put a Rita MacNeil CD into the player next to the bed and we listened to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” over and over.

Songs my father loved

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Elephants and Small Town Funerals

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Many, many years ago, when my father was a funeral director with his own business in Trenton, Ontario, two men and a young boy were killed in a plane crash. It was a father and son, and the father’s brother, in a small, personal aircraft. The pilot didn’t ruffle the surface of the lake before taking off and they crashed in front of their family cottage. 
The father owned one of our town’s car dealerships; the uncle was in the armed forces; and the boy was 12 and a really good kid.
Visitation lasted for hours past the regular times, the line-up streaming out of the funeral home and around the side of the building. The funeral, for all three at the same time, was huge. 
My mother remembers this about the funeral: My father escorting one of the widows up the aisle, his face grey with grief and strain. He maintained his impeccable poise as a funeral director but on this day, this wasn’t simply business as usual. These deaths were personal, to the community and to my father. These deaths could not be held at bay by professionalism.
I had another column written for this week but on Monday morning as I sat at my desk at the Journal office, I decided this time, this week, could not business as usual. 
Each of us knows the pain of one sudden, tragic death; an accident, an unexpected illness. It seems to happen every month. We know the horror of five sudden, tragic deaths; those young fishermen lost at sea in February. A month of funerals.
The compulsion to rewrite my column comes from the fact Oxford is dealing with two losses this week. There likely isn’t a person in this small town that isn’t touched in some way by the sudden death of a long life and the tragic death of a young life. These deaths are not personal to me but I know people for whom they are and it seemed important, this time, to acknowledge the shock and sadness. 
I think of elephants, too, at this time, because they mourn their dead the way we do, with emotion and ritual, but also because elephants have a way of communicating using vibrations they send through the ground with their feet. There are vibrations coursing through the ground here, reaching everyone in some way, giving us a feeling for what is happening with our neighbours. In a small community, for one death or five, these vibrations make it possible to be aware of the circumstances even if there is no connection to the person who has died. That is what makes life, and death, in a small community so exceptional.
There are three ideal places to die: at home, in one’s sleep, and in a small town.
I do not write that facetiously. In a small town, no one dies alone, no one mourns alone. Death is one of life’s Great Inevitables and to shuffle off this mortal coil knowing that your family and friends, your children, your dog, will be cared for and supported, fed both physically and emotionally in the days and weeks following your departure is a comfort unique to a small community where everyone, even if he or she didn’t know you personally, knows your name, looks up from reading the obituaries and exclaims, “Oh, no! Mr. Little’s mom has died.”
This community, like other small ones, gathers together, not merely for a time at the funeral home but every day, before and after. The community does not let go, not before and not after. The names of the deceased are spoken widely, with kindness, while those who loved them and will struggle with their absence, are spoken to with understanding.
My only connection to the grief and mourning is that other element of death: regret.
Mr. Little, I’m very sorry I never acted upon my thought last year of interviewing you and your companion. It would have been a conversation to remember.

(Photo: iwantapounddog.blogspot.com)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Who Says Nothing Ever Changes In A Small Town?

CBC.ca's Canada Writes site is hosting a new writing community called "Hyperlocal: Put Your Story On The Map". The request is to write about what is new or what is changing in your neighbourhood and how you feel about that.
My friend and esteemed colleague, Jane, has written about losing a familiar sight off the streets of Oxford, where she walks every morning with her dog, Sam.

Check it out!  Jane's Hyperlocal story here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Time to Get Dirty

It starts innocently enough.
After collecting the eggs and closing up the chickens' night door, I call the pup from chasing a bird around the hen pen and walk towards the house. I pick up a downed branch and change directions, heading to the fire pit to deposit the burnable. I spy my favourite shovel lying on the ground, the ash on it evidencing its use for cleaning the pit (wrong use!). As I lean it against the shed, there is a pile of bags of black earth.
This reminds me of the gardens so, from the shed, the dog at my heels, I stroll to the flower beds.
All I see are dead and rotting leaves and brittle, empty stems that poked through the snow. Ah, yes, I always give up in November, the cold and the dark and the sheer volume of leaves on a property surrounded by maple and birch trees. Winter arrives to cover my mess, to mask my guilt for not preparing better.
Crouching down, I start pulling away the leaves, feeling the cool, thick soil jamming under my fingernails.
I'd forgotten how good it feels to do this, get dirt under the nails; reminds me of the satisfaction of weeding.
The earth smells ready for spring, ready for the buds already pushing through to the light, the air, the sunshine, the threat of frost next week, next month. This is Nova Scotia, after all.
Three flower beds, random cleaning, piles of mess strewn behind me.
The sun hasn't set yet; there are many minutes left in this day. I pull my fleece collar tighter around a throat still recovering from laryngitis and that's when it happens: I decide to get the rake. This is the commitment to garden, this is starting on April 15 to work. I feel the excitement. How good it feels to start again, to seek and find, to imagine and create.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Opening the garden shed door, swollen tight with winter, elicits a flurry of scurry inside. I admit it: I shriek. I start to run but realize, it's just squirrels. Two big, fat, red squirrels who have been living in this shed all winter. Their nests are up in the corner, hitched to the top of the huge deck umbrella we won't be able to use again, hitched, too, I think, to a shovel. Good real estate. Are they subletting? Sitting on the shelves, they don't say anything, surprising since they chatter endlessly  from the trees when the dogs and cats appear, but they scurry up and over shelves and window ledges while I try to wedge the rake I prefer out of the rafters.  I'm wrangling the rake at the same time I'm trying to block the squirrels from dashing out the shed door because the dog is just outside, listening, tensing, and I don't want her to chase them. My greatest fear is the great chase across the road...
But it turns out, the squirrels have chewed a hole through the paper and barn boards above the door and that's where they're trying to go. I stand outside, rake in hand, and we stare at each other, the squirrel's head poking out the hole -- a hole in my beloved garden shed -- then I decide I'd rather be gardening and turn away to leave the squirrels to their business. Their rental properties and property management meetings and maintenance logs.
And this is how it starts: a cool, damp evening in April, I smell the earth and see the daffodil leaves poking through and the round cabbage-like sedum buds and the old hair of the lilies and I remember. The hard work, the sore shoulders, the broken back, the split fingernails, the dirty knees. Lugging rocks and wheelbarrowing soil and lugging watering cans. All this manual labour when wild flowers grow freely in the field behind the house.
So I rake. Because I remember how much I love this.
And it's only April 15. I redeem myself from November's neglect. See? Hope springs eternal. Always redemption for the lazy gardener.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Moving Forward...And Learning the Lesson?

There is a belief, to which I am an adherent, that you keep getting the lesson to learn until you learn it. 
Well, I'd say our society hasn't yet learned a very big lesson...because the death toll keeps rising.
But there is hope and with hope, we can accomplish so much. 
Students at Dartmouth High School will be taking a pledge on Monday to use social media only for positive messages. The idea comes from the school's sociology teacher, Heather Hughes-Leck, in response to the Rehtaeh Parsons' tragedy. According to the article on the front page of the Halifax paper, the teacher says students were upset with what happened and how all young people were being portrayed, and how hopeless they felt to create change.
Just creating awareness of language -- slut, bitch, loser -- and the power of clicking "Like" on a snarky comment will make a difference; to have students post their promise for positive social media messages only is so much more. It's change and we desperately need to change so much if we are to move forward and learn from this...and all the other examples of social media used to wreck lives.
The teachers and her students hope this campaign takes off nationally. I hope the media outlets that jumped on the sensational story of Rehtaeh Parsons (and now the very same kind of tragedy revealed to have happened to a 15-year-old girl in California) will jump on this sensational idea.

Herald columnist Marilla Stephenson provides very excellent points in her column today about how parents can go about creating change with their children. I'm glad to see someone addressing parents about their role in keeping their children safe and protected and educated; she covers some huge points that every parent needs to read, memorize and take action on.   
Notable points: 
2. It's time for dads to step up.
4. Stop turning a blind eye to underage drinking and providing minors with alcohol. 
7. Be realistic. We can't expect school principals and teachers to be police officers in the evening.
10. Don't trivialize rape or suicide. Ever.

Read the whole thing here:

Better yet, buy a copy of the paper and CUT OUT THE COLUMN. Post it on the fridge as a constant reminder that parents are the ultimate guardians of their children's lives. Let's learn this lesson this time.

Friday, April 12, 2013

NOW Spring Has Arrived

No matter when the spring equinox occurs, spring does not arrive here in our river valley until the ospreys return to their nest on our property.
Yes, I know how lucky we are.
And every year, with the first sighting of that wonderfully familiar body outlined against the sky, we know we are lucky that these birds survived yet again the flight to and from Texas (or South Carolina or California or Mexico or wherever they go) and returned to their winter-battered nest here in northern Nova Scotia. You can set your calendar by them: April 11 around noon.
There is no way to know if it's the original osprey who built the nest in 2008 or any of their offspring so we just assume it's the original mom and pop. But really, considering what they face in migration, what are the odds?
Like I said, we're lucky. 

My husband became fairly animated when he spied an osprey on the vacant pole he erected last summer on our vacant lot. He thought perhaps one of the offspring had decided to make a nest there.

Alas, he is wrong.  But if you erect it, someone will build, eventually.
The osprey have mixed it up this year. Usually one returns first, spends a little time sweeping out the dead flies and mice leftover from the winter and filling holes blown out by the wind and snow, then about a week later the other one arrives. Not this time. BOTH osprey came together and are mating like crazy. Which is a good thing.
City girl that I am, I'm getting used the whole spring mating thing. Which means I will actually watch now!
But I won't take pictures. This one is post-coital, thank you very much.

 Really, there are no words for how much this sight fills our hearts with joy, relief and peace. Our osprey family is back.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Father's Words Are All We Need To Hear

Rehtaeh Parsons' father writes the most important words of his now-shattered life.
Please read them. Please remember them. 
And from now on, speak only words of love. To anyone, to everyone. No matter what. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Too Many Layers of Horror in The Latest Teen Suicide

Another suicide because of bullying.
All this talk about "Bullying is wrong" and "It's time to stop bullying" but no one is actually doing anything. When that photo was circulating around Rehtaeh Parson's former high school, why did no one stand up and say, "Stop! This is wrong." More than that, why did no one stand up and say, "Stop! This is criminal." Isn't that what every student is hearing in the anti-bullying campaigns? Isn't that what they are being told to do? The campaigns aren't working because the bullying is not ending.
On two levels, nothing is changing: We still blame the victim, and we still don't speak up against the bullies. People are giving lip-service to ant-bullying but not actually taking action. Because taking action is hard and it's so much easier to be blind and deaf to what is happening to someone else (We've lost the ability to ask: What if this was happening to MY daughter?) Now the government is taking on anti-bullying and still nothing is changing. You know why? Two reasons: Parents aren't doing their job, and our obsession with social media.
Yet there are at least two layers of wrong here, one more awful than the other. First of all, there is a rape. Second of all, there is malicious bullying. Rehtaeh Parson was the victim TWICE (although really, there was no end, no finite number to her victimization). No one did anything about what happened to her at that party and no one did anything about the bullying. What she went through is so unimaginably horrific, so beyond any woman's nightmares, let alone a teenaged girl, that she needed to focus on her healing and on retribution against those who hurt her. She did not need to focus on -- and be obsessed by -- what was being said about her by people who didn't know her, who didn't believe her, who didn't support her. The community that allowed that to happen to her was not the community to whom she could turn for help. She needed real, caring human beings, not comments and status updates and gigabytes of hate.
Which begs a question I hate to ask: Why was she still accessible by texting, by Facebook? She was being tormented by the very thing she and her parents had control over -- her phone and Facebook. Why did no one say, "Don't allow anyone access to you. Don't give them a way to reach you." It absolutely boggles my mind to read that she continued to have a Facebook account up until the day she died.

I have the nerve to ask that question because I have a faint idea what cyberbullying can be like. My scale is very tiny so on a large scale, I can't imagine Rehtaeh's devastation.
My husband was slandered on Facebook last summer. We don't have Facebook accounts so we weren't receiving the information ourselves and for that, I am grateful. Knowing how obsessed I became, as an adult and without my own account, I can't imagine how it would have taken over my life if I had been able to access what "everyone" was saying/repeating for weeks, months on end. For us, the best choice was to not only ignore the smear campaign but also say, "Don't tell me anything. I don't care," and our lack of social media involvement made that possible. It saved our sanity because we couldn't control what other people said but we could control what we allowed into our life.

Parents, please: You are your child's one and only defense in this brave new social media world. Not your kids' friends; not teachers or principals; YOU. You can take your kid out of the community that's hurting her but if you don't get rid of the phone and get rid of the Facebook, etc. accounts, the community, along with the abuse and the harassment, comes with you. It's not about being "the bad guy", it's not about making your kid love you -- it's about keeping your child safe and protected and sane in this brave new world that isn't even spitting out the bones of those it eats anymore.
The suicides are not going to stop as long as the stupidity about phones and social media continues. By allowing children uncontrolled and life-consuming access to phone and social media, parents aren't empowering their children; they are endangering them.
It is possible to live without a cell phone and without social media so perhaps it's time for our kids to live, and live a long time, without them.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

In Conversation With...Brian Field

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

If you live on a rural route, chances are your mail is delivered to a box at the end of your driveway. Ever wonder how much your Rural and Suburban Mail Carrier knows about you?
“You get to know almost everybody’s middle name, when their birthdays are or anniversaries,” says Brian Field of Port Howe. “Most of the time, you see it so much, you don’t remember.”
In April, Brian will achieve a remarkable milestone: It will forty years since he began delivering the mail for the Port Howe post office. 
He started during his final year of high school, delivering over noon hour and first period in the afternoon.
“The contract was in our family for many years and Dad worked away so he had Reg and Vaughn Pauley as interim drivers while he was gone. They wanted out of it,” Brian says, “and I was getting to the age where I could take over. I wanted to farm so the mail worked in good.”
As far as Brian knows, his grandfather started the contract in the 1920’s. 
“I found a clip on a DVD that my cousin sent from the States. It shows my grandfather delivering the mail from the Wood Brothers store, picking it up then doing Cameron’s Beach in the mail buggy.” 
That would be a horse-drawn buggy. Fast forward fifty years to 1973: The first car Brian used to deliver the mail was “a bright orange Volkswagen,” he recalls. “It was the Fastback model. Bright orange with a black trunk fin. I didn’t keep her very long. I went to a 6-cylinder Plymouth  Duster. The best mileage I could get out of her doing the mail was 13 miles a gallon.” 
Until the post office opened in Port Howe in 1969, the mail was sorted and delivered from the local store. In forty years, Brian has only worked out of the small brick post office.  
“I think back then it was approximately 70 customers,” he says. “Port Howe was two delivery routes, 1 and 2. Alma Johnson got so she couldn’t do route 2 so Doug and Jean Mills drove the mail to finish Alma’s contract out and when it came up for renewal, Canada Post looked at it and said one person could do both routes.”
That one person was Brian. It takes him about 2 hours to deliver the mail to 110 or so households but that can go up to 200 in the summertime when seasonal customers put a mailbox up on the main road. 
Asked about the changes he’s seen over the past four decades, Brian says, “Personal mail has gone out of it. The hand-written letter. Certain people write quite a bit, cards and letters, but overall, it’s gone. As far as general mail, on most days, it’s bank stuff.”
Yet another change is kind of personal as well. 
“Very few people are home now,” Brian says. “Because they aren’t farming, because they’re not self-employed like that, they are working away. I had one old fellow say, ‘I never had to worry about what time of day I had to go and put my dinner on because I could set my watch by you every day.’ Those old guys, if they were out in the yard, they’d always come to the mailbox to have a chat. They might chat for only two minutes but if they were handy, they made a point of talking to me.”
For 13 years, Brian also delivered the newspaper first thing in the morning, and for the past ten years, he’s driven a school bus twice a day.
When I point out that all of his jobs since he was 17 years old have involved delivering something -- mail, newspapers, students -- he says he hadn’t thought of it that way.
“Almost every job I’ve had has been precise timing,” he says. “If the Herald wasn’t there, people would be calling. If the mail isn’t there, people call. If you’re five minutes late to pick up the kids...There’s pressure some days, if the mail truck driver calls up and says he’s going to be late or the roads are bad. It’s hard to change my timing. Some days it’s quite stressful, getting everything done.”
He doesn’t know when he last ate lunch. 
After forty years, and turning 58 later this year, what is Brian looking forward to? 
“The Golden Mailbox,” he laughs. 
He means retirement but his wife, Ann Marie, claims he won’t be able to give it up.
“It’s habit,” he shrugs, knowing she’s likely right. “I’ve always done it. If the service keeps going until 2020, something like that, we will have 100 years in.” By ‘we’ he means his grandfather, father and himself. “I don’t know if I can keep it going that long,” Brian admits.
He also doesn’t know what changes are coming to the way our rural mail is delivered.
“I’d hate to see it go because it’s the rural way of life. People have always looked for the mail. The older people made the mail route a lot more personal because they used to look forward to the mail. Maybe it’s not as important now, though.”
Brian starts to think out loud about all the kilometers he’s driven in the past 40 years. 
There’s the 75 kilometers a day, five days a week for the roughly 220 days of the year that he delivers mail, but he also drove 140 kilometers a day for six then seven days a week when he was delivering the paper until 2007.
It’s a really, really big number. Well over two million. Well over. 
But Brian only knows for sure the mileage from the four Dodge Dakota trucks he’s driven since 1994. Adding up those numbers alone comes to 1.7 million kilometers. 
This is a man who delivers. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

My Typical Childhood = Today's Adolescent Nightmare

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, March 20, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Typical childhood memory: When 14-year-old Roger Ferguson found out that my middle name is “Mode” -- likely one of my friends ratted me out -- he made a joke out of it. With his buddies gathered around, he shouted “Mojo” at me as I walked down the street. This drove me crazy but it was something I had to deal with on my own. It taught me the futility of reacting to verbal taunts.  Once I ignored him, he lost interest. 
This is the value of confrontation. At any age, it teaches us something about ourselves but also about the people with whom we share our lives. Confrontation exists at every age in every environment -- kids fight about toys while coworkers take credit for someone else’s work -- and it’s normal, a necessary evil, if you will. We grow more confident, more knowledgeable because of it.
Here’s the thing: Roger’s teasing happened in 1981.  
Imagine what would happen today. Let’s say Roger Ferguson has 400 Facebook friends so he posts his mockery of my middle name there. Now instead of the joke being limited to his group of friends and my group of friends, hundreds of people are in on it. Many of them jump on the joke bandwagon, adding their own comments, some of which are mean, even degrading, because the writers don’t know me and that anonymity makes them feel clever and powerful. 
So instead of being annoyed and learning a lesson about thick skin, I end up humiliated, unable to face the kids at school the next day because the situation quickly -- at high-speed speed -- spiralled from teasing to harassment. I likely wouldn’t tell my parents about it and I likely wouldn’t be able to walk away from the source of my torment. 
Twenty years after Roger’s harmless taunting, there is a fire-breathing dragon called cyberbullying. That scares me more than being hollered at by a teenaged boy I barely knew because it’s so easy for people to hide behind a computer. Thanks to the Internet, people can now bully and berate, lie and mislead, mock and ridicule behind a username  or an outright fake identity. They no longer have to face the person on the receiving end, a person who is real and vulnerable and feeling very, very exposed. 
With the explosion of (and obsession with) social media over the last five years, bullying has become a whole different game, making it is more imperative than ever that parents exert their benevolent power and control over their children -- and their children’s online activities. 
Smart phones give bullies 24-hour access and an unlimited audience without ever having to face their victims. It’s the worst kind of cowardice and children need to see how pathetic and unworthy of attention the actions of this person are.
We need to empower children to believe that it’s okay to block someone, it’s okay to delete an account, it’s okay to say “Don’t tell me what they said. It doesn’t matter.” And truly believe it doesn’t matter. We need to get them through adolescence understanding that fitting in doesn’t mean taking abuse.
It’s not just a case of protecting a child’s personal information but also of setting and enforcing boundaries so that those children understand the difference between confrontation and bullying, truth and hypocrisy, real friends and social manipulators. They need to trust in the firmness of those boundaries (some might even call them “rules”) so that they can trust in the idea that they don’t have to take any crap from anybody at any time. 
Because bullies of any kind, in person or online, at school or at work, in the 80’s or in the 21st century, are what they’ve always been: Troubled people needing attention.
And perhaps a punch in the mouth. 
Because there are two ways to deal with bullies: ignore them or confront them. While I am from the school of ignore and cut ties, when bullying becomes physical, sometimes protecting yourself means hitting back. Ultimately, I’m from the school of sticking up for yourself and not letting someone take your life from you.
Because a kid has a better chance at surviving a fight than a suicide attempt.