Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Future Does A Tree Have?

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

Just before six o’clock, the rumble of a large truck slowing down in front of our house jerks me into full wakefulness. I know what it means, haven’t wanted to believe it is going to happen, know there is nothing I can do to stop it. 
The truck, hauling a long trailer, turns onto the unmaintained side road that runs alongside our property. On the trailer is a large machine with a great steel arm stretched out to the taillights. As the truck lumbers up the lane where I walk the dogs, I see the business end of that arm and know exactly the purpose of that huge, serrated disc: to cut down everything in its path. 
So a company is logging a small woodlot behind our home. The extensive woods beyond our 72 acres are owned by several different individuals as well as this company. One of them logged further back a few winters ago and while the decimation was hard on the eyes, it didn’t cause the physical ache inside me like this does: It’s summertime. Birds and fawns, fox and bears, insects and wildflowers, squirrels and bees are at home in those woods. It’s a busy ecosystem in the summer. More than a deer yard is affected by the arrival of that monster.
What is it with the human compulsion to dominate, desecrate and destroy? We seem utterly unable live in harmony with nature, insistent that our needs trump any ecosystem, any lesson from the past or any consideration of the future. Not even a moment’s acknowledgement of what is about to happen as that huge disc of death is pressed against the first tree trunk. 
As the truck disappears into the lush, green, unsuspecting woods behind our home, I grab my yoga mat, roll it out on the shady deck off the bedroom and stand there, breathing in, breathing out. 
Looking at what is always in front of me and around me and above me: Trees.
Trees create oxygen out of the carbon dioxide we breathe out. They clean the air we breathe. We live in a symbiotic relationship with trees yet we tear them down as if our existence wasn’t absolutely dependent on theirs. 
One mature leafy tree produces in a season enough oxygen for ten people to breathe. In two weeks the wood lot behind our house will be flattened. Two weeks to decimate what took fifty years to grow. Doesn’t it take your breath away? 
Moving to the country and writing about rural life and hearing stories from people who have lived here for generations has awakened me to the reality that this is where we all began and this is where we will all end – sooner than later. This is where the barns are disappearing, leaving barn swallows without a home; this is where we dump chemicals on blueberry fields without worrying about what happens down river; this is where we level our woods, leaving birds and animals and insects without habitat, humans with fewer air purifiers. 
We think the air and the water and the soil is ours to command and control, to use and use up. This is our human folly and it will be our downfall. I state that as a foregone conclusion since -- let’s face it -- we know nothing is going to change. I’m as guilty as any consumer, as any company that puts price and profit before that which provides us with everything we need: air, water and soil. We know we are hurting the environment, and ultimately ourselves, yet we refuse to make the sacrifices, the choices, that will make a difference. We buy boats instead of solar panels and campers instead of personal windmills. We clear cut because people want their cords of wood as cheap as possible. We buy meat packaged in Styrofoam and plastic wrap because it’s convenient. We pollute the air and the water and the soil because we believe we are invincible. We close our eyes and refuse to see what is right in front of us.
Standing on a deck constructed of pressure-treated wood, on a rubber yoga mat, breathing in the scent of the grass my husband was cutting with a gas-powered ride-on lawn mower, I take the only action an arrogant, all-consuming, doomed human being can: I put my palms together, bowed towards those mature leafy trees and say, “Thank you. And, I’m sorry.”

The spirit world is connected to the world of breathing creatures. 
An old man can’t be too happy about his afterlife. 
If his soul should choose a tree after it has left his body, what will become of it?
What future does a tree have nowadays?
-- Chief Dan George

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Baby Pictures

Took a wander through the field after work to take some photos of this year's osprey babies hanging out in the nest, whining like teenagers that they were hungry and wanted food.
"There's never anything to eat in this dumb nest!"

Here are the oldest two hatchlings. 

The youngest is hunkered down in the nest, on the right behind some twigs.

Wait! There are four in the nest. One of the parents. 

The money shot! And the reason you don't stand under the nest. 

The two oldest kids decide they've had enough of posing and want to show me their flying skills.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Field Notes Photo Shoot

Although the summer project of writing a book proposal has been sidelined by assignments for two different magazines, I will get back to work on a book inspired by my "Field Notes" columns in the fall. Part of the proposal is to include an idea for a cover so I asked my photographer friend Catherine Bussiere to take some photos.

It was a hot June day but I had to work around Catherine's travel schedule and the blooming season of my favourite flower, the daisy, so hot and sunny it had to be. Since photographers love what rain does to colour, I suppose I'm lucky.
My husband had a few props to move around, including two bales of hay and a chicken, in two locations. The field remains my preference.
The photos arrived today. Here are a few of the good ones that ultimately are rejects for the cover:

Seriously, I'd never do this! Too hot and too many bugs. 

I think we're comparing hair and makeup. 

I'm bribing her with the promise of a strawberry. "Just one more shot!"

Did a wardrobe change to coordinate with the red Bog boots. 
The hen eventually got away from me -- not easy juggling a notebook, a laptop and a chicken -- and went running back to the flock so that pretty much wrapped up the photo shoot. Once the star calls it quits...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

First Flight

There are four major dates in the cycle of the ospreys' presence in our life:
April 11, they arrive at the nest near our home.
July 2, we see the heads of the babies for the first, and know how many hatched out (since 2010, it's been three).
July 28, in time for our wedding anniversary, two of the three the young ospreys make their first leaps off the nest (the last born is two to three weeks behind its siblings and seems to take more convincing to make that leap into the air).
September 12, the last of the osprey family of five leaves for the flight down south.
When I stepped out the door this morning under heavy, grey skies to take the dog for a walk, I heard a thick rustle of wings and looked up to see an osprey taking flight, low to the ground. I knew then it had been sitting on the ground or on one of the round bales of hay near the strawberry patch.
The main challenge for a young osprey on its first flight is mastering the land in a tree. This one tried several times to land on a tree top only to have it wobble, only to have to let go and fly on. By the time I watched and called to my husband and took photos, it was obvious rain was coming so both dogs got a walk up the lane.
Two young ospreys were sitting on dead tree limbs above the lane. First flight, check. Landing in a tree, check.
Next lesson: catching fish.

Empty nest at 6:30 a.m. (turns out, youngest hatchling hiding inside).
Not yet mastered the art of landing on poles or in trees.

Practicing. Lift! Lift!

When a parent returned with a fish, two young returned to refuel.

The dogs and I were coming back down the lane when one parent flew off a tree next to me and at the same time, I saw another parent approaching the nest with a fish in its talons. It looked like four ospreys in the nest but I had only seen three flying, and there is a difference between the adult's style and the style of the young; the adults are smoother and they flap their wings less.
When the fish arrived, my husband, sitting on the deck, saw the third and youngest hatchling pop its head up. In a few weeks, when the older two are confident in flight and fishing on their own, all attention will turn to convincing that last young 'un to leave the nest.
Or perhaps we'll find this year's baby will be bolder and braver than babies of the past.


We have new neighbours across the road and I hope they are appreciative of the experience of having an osprey nest so close. I thought of this last night as I walked the dog past their house and heard the now-incessant chittering of the osprey babies. They were particularly excited last night, I think, because they were ready to fly but it was far too blustery for a first attempt. They might not have had the control and the skill to return to the nest in a strong headwind.
It is such a joy to have the experience of these strong, beautiful birds living so close, being part of our lives every spring and summer that I hope our new neighbours realize the birds were here first.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In Conversation With...June Thurber

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

We’re about halfway through our conversation when I have to ask June Thurber if she was born in Nova Scotia. Every time she says the word “arm” or “harbour”, I hear a New England accent. Considering June lives in Pugwash and paints seascapes, including the lighthouse painting behind her, she says “hah-bah” quite a bit.
She chuckles and tells me she’s originally from the  South Shore. 
“The kids in school used to make fun of me once and a while,” she says. 
She was Mrs. Turner when she arrived in Pugwash in 1972, a recently divorced mother of ten, to teach junior high English. 
“I had ten children,” she states, watching my face and apparently, I give her what she expects. “Now, wipe that look of your face.”
I’m not shocked; I’m in awe. Ten children plus a full-time job as a teacher? 
“I haven’t seen that face for awhile,” June says. “People would ask -- ” she raises her voice, minces her tone -- “ ‘And how many children do you have, Mrs. Turner?’ and I’d say, ‘Ten’, and they’d say ‘Oh, isn’t that lovely’ but there would be that look of horror in between,” she laughs.
“It’s not horror, it’s amazement,” I insist.
“Well, we’ll put it down as that.”
When she moved to Pugwash, a few of her children were old enough to be on their own so six children came with her, ranging in age from six to sixteen. (One of her children has since passed away.)
I ask her what it was like to raise so many children and work outside the home as well. 
“Oh, hard. Very hard,” says June. “And I never got to be a mother. I was Attila the Hun. I was a man. Now I have nine best friends. I don’t know how because I wasn’t a sweet little mother, I can tell you that. My students used to say I didn’t bore them. They were good years but they were busy.”
There was a simple reason for making it work: Desperation. 
“I was divorced from my first husband so it was desperation,” June explains. “We had to survive. My kids were pretty good about all of it. ”
 She became a teacher because she likes kids but the profession also allowed her to keep the same hours as her children. 
“I liked teaching for a long, long while. At the last, I didn’t. Kids’ attitudes changed.” 
When she retired in 1984 at the age of 55, June didn’t keep on as a substitute teacher; instead, she devoted herself to a talent that had been put aside through her working and family years. 
“I’d always played around with painting but never had time,” she says. “It takes quite a bit of time. If you have to drag everything out – kitchen table painting is not good. You don’t get much time to paint and it’s upsetting to everyone else in the house because it’s a mess. You need a place. ”
When all the kids were gone, she turned a downstairs room into a studio. 
“I started out with watercolours but I didn’t hang with it long enough to get any control,” June says. “Then I went to acrylics and then I went to oils. I like oils. They’re stinky and dirty and messy and destroys your clothes but I like them.”
She doesn’t paint every day but she always attends the Mixed Palette’s painting group every Thursday morning at the Pugwash Village hall where she paints “just about everything. Seascapes are hard but landscapes are easy. I like animals, horses in particular. Just about anything.”
She’s been a member of the painting group since 1984 when they started meeting at the old fire hall. 
“If you don’t get your Thursday painting, your week is off,” June explains. “And we don’t gossip,” she assures me, eyes twinkling. “Only intellectual conversation here.”
Her favourite painting is one of two deer; it is a painting she won’t sell. Anything else, if she likes it enough, gets offered up in the annual Mixed Palette Art Show that runs at the village hall before and during HarbourFest. Last year, June sold all of the paintings she had on display. 
“I paint under my maiden name, Frauzel. I told my husband at the time that I could have three or four more husbands before I stopped painting. It was only a joke...” (She did remarry after all her children were grown.)
June is a self-taught painter although she says the ability to draw has always been there. 
“If I was making up a grocery list, the kids would make fun of me because there would be drawings all around. If I was taking a course at school that was boring, there’d be drawings all over. I’ve always done that. Way back, I used to draw for my mother to make hooked mats. I’d draw on the burlap, flower arrangements, landscapes.”
Out of her ten children, 13 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren (“I’m old,” she states but won’t allow me to print her age), only one daughter and a granddaughter paint and none of her children became teachers. 
She surveys her painting space at the end of a table. She’d spent the morning searching for a photo with the right background for her lighthouse painting. 
“I don’t think I’m good enough mixing my colour to paint from my mind,” she says about using photographs. “Sometimes I mix something I shouldn’t but it’s getting better. By the time I’m 95, I’ll be okay.”
And that’s a long way off yet. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Worth the Slog

At the Read By The Sea festival on Saturday, each author was interviewed after reading from their recent work. Vincent Lam (The Headmaster's Wager) spoke about the hard work of writing, how most days it's a hard slog, how there are those wonderful but brief moments when it flows, when it feels easy. For the most part, however, it is hard work.
Writers do it because they love writing in spite of the hard work. The payoff is worth it.
I nodded my head as he spoke because I know what he was talking about.
And yesterday, I was thinking about what Vincent Lam said as I was working on the fifth draft of this week's column. I started with an event and wanted to write about it but it's linked to a big issue (logging) which leads to an even bigger issue (conservation of the environment) so I found myself writing away from my main point, whatever it was, whatever I was hoping it would be (sometimes writing is like that: you write yourself to the point).
It took four days to come up with the column, to make sense of the paragraphs being added, being taken out, to wait until that moment of "Eureka!" when the other half of the event gave me the wrap-around that made my point.
Four days of work, plus some tweaking today before putting in the paper. All worth it to say what I need to say and say it the way I want to say it.
Worth the hard work.
(I hope readers think so, too.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Read By The Sea: A Win for the Newbie!

Feel free to smack me when you read this: This the first year I attended the Read By The Sea festival of authors in River John.
(Ouch, oooh, ow, ouch! Okay, okay! Uncle!)
I'm glad I did and I'm sorry I hadn't gone before. 

Went with friend, co-worker and fellow avid reader, Jane.
Featured authors were Rebecca Silver Slaytor, Vincent Lam, Phil Hall and Marni Endicott. Three novelists and a poet. They were introduced and after reading, interviewed. 
Rebecca Silver Slayter reading from her book, which I happen to be reading.

The big deal of our day was winning the bag of books! It almost didn't happen.
Instead of buying one book, by the featured poet, Phil Hall, I decided to gamble and spend that twenty bucks on two arm-lengths of raffle tickets (one arm-length was $10).
When the time came for the raffle draw, Jane had one arm, I had the other. They drew numbers for each of the four authors' books and none of our numbers came up. Then they called out the number for the bag of books and the first few numbers matched the first few on mine.
"Do you have the number?" I asked Jane after checking mine.
"Nope," she said and showed me her tickets all in a tight little clutch. She pulled a few tickets out so I could see the number. They were in descending order.
"What are the numbers at the other end?" I asked as the MC called out the numbers for the second time. Going once, going twice...
"That's the number!" Jane hollered and ripped the ticket OFF HER ARM OF TICKETS so that I could claim my bag of books.
That was way too close.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Wind Is Trying To Kill Me

I woke up mad this morning because the wind kept me awake last night.
My mother doesn't like wind but I've walked enough dogs in all kinds of weather, watched enough trees bend almost to breaking, seen enough flower beds flattened because of wind that it doesn't bother me. Why did it wake me over and over last night? What was it trying to tell me?
I woke up too mad to wonder. 
I was mad enough that I didn't go for morning walk because I didn't want to walk in the wind.
Foolish but that's what wind-related sleep deprivation will do to the mind at six o'clock in the morning.
Once I was up and feeding the dogs and drinking chai tea and looking at the haze over the river that suggested a very hot day to come, I didn't want to be mad at the wind anymore so I grabbed my yoga mat and tossed it onto the side deck where it was shady.
And windy.
Two beautiful trees that shade the deck and the bedroom all day, that watch over me while I work upstairs in my office. One beautiful breeze that kept me cool while I did Sun Salutations and Tree Pose. That took my breathe away and forced me to breathe deeply. Inhale, exhale. Inhale right into my belly, exhale right down to my toes. Empty the mind, fill the lungs.
Filling up with beauty and peace and all the love I feel for these trees and the sun and yes, even the wind.
I woke up with the wind as my enemy but finished the morning with the wind as my lifeforce. As it should be.
Leave it to the great modern writer Frederick Buechner to be more eloquent than me:
"Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before & never will be again."

The view skyward from the yoga mat.

(The title of this post is from a great song by Dale Murray, off his most recent album, Dream Mountain Dream.)

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Voice of Harry

I learned, many years ago, the hard way but thankfully not too late, to listen to my inner voice. As voices go, I'm rather lucky: Mine speaks in full sentences. I suppose it had to; the single words weren't getting my attention. So when the voice inside me piped up on a Sunday afternoon and said, "Take Harry's workshop," I listened and signed up for the three Tuesday evening sessions.

And this is how it goes. You see the notice for a workshop being held at the Tidnish Bridge Art Gallery -- writing or painting or woodworking -- and you think, "I can't do that on Tuesdays because it's such a long day at work," or "It's too far to drive" or "What will I get out of it?" Then you hear that voice, you do what it tells you and you show up and sit in a chair and think, "Why am I here?"

Then Harry Thurston, award-winning Nova Scotia poet and nature writer, a smart and lovely man, starts to talk and you sit there and listen. Much of what he says in the beginning you already know about: the routine of writing. When do you write? Where do you write?

I already know the answer to those questions, I know the routine, value it, but Harry's words remind me of my best friend, who is an artist, a painter but also a wife and mother so I took notes for her: "the routine is very important - it's the discipline of going to work - your routine, your discipline becomes the discipline of others = your time is your time and they get to know that."

 What I needed came later: the creative writing. I arrived at the workshop feeling overwhelmed by elusive writing goals that consume more energy than they feed back to me, feeling worn down from writing the same way every week. I brought me a deep worry that without practice, the creative part of my writing is being lost.

There were the requisite handouts and introductions and explanations about writing and prose. Then Harry introduced us to the "object poem" which, as a prose poem, consists of two parts: the first section is a description of the object and the second section is the leap -- how you respond to the object: what or who it reminds you of, what memory it evokes, what emotion it brings up.
"It's the details," Harry tells us. "What writing needs are details." 

He quoted Ezra Pound: "No ideas but in things." Meaning focus on concrete details more than big ideas or emotions. Write down all the details of the object then make the leap into its meaning.

On the 35-minute drive home (so not a big deal), I thought of a dozen object poems I could write. I came in the door with the notebook already open and flung myself across the kitchen island in order to write all those ideas down. 

Now I was feeling energized, rejuvenated, inspired, motivated. Even rested.
And there's homework. Harry wants us to complete the second part of the object poem we began in class and to write a page describing a place. So I took advantage of an empty house this morning to immerse myself in two hours of creative writing -- doing something I haven't done in a very long time. Simply because my true self knew what was best for me.


Writers and painters, sculptors, poets, potters all need some professional development, professional connection and stimulation. We need to gather with others who create, who struggle, who struggle to create, and know we aren't the only ones who feel overwhelmed, worn out, scared of losing that spark that sent us to that workshop in the first place. We need to feel the exchange of energy that makes it possible to drive home with a mind racing with fresh ideas. 
I definitely left my fears on the asphalt behind me.

Nova Scotia is full of wonderful, creative people who actually offer up their skills and knowledge and energy to others. Find that workshop, listen to that voice, pay the money. How you'll feel the next day when you wake up that fire blazing inside you once again is more than worth the drive, the time, the effort. 
Don't ignore the voice.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When It Comes to Chicks, The Bra's the Limit

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

In May, fox kits emerge from their den on the riverbank while in the rain of June, a doe gives birth in the field behind the house. Birds lay eggs and sit patiently. By the summer solstice, the ospreys nesting nearby begin a steady delivery of fish and we await “head day” at the end of June: the day the first baby head is visible above the top of the deep nest. The calves in the pasture up the road are twice as big as they were in May. A farm on the South Shore belonging to the friend of a friend starts posting photos on its blog of newborn piglets. A friend brings home a kitten. 
If there is one thing everyone can agree on, it’s babies. They are small, they are cute, they are huggable. Sure, babies grow up and become terrible things like teenagers and roosters and contestants on Big Brother but for a few months, they are totally lovable, irresistible perfection. 
This year, even my husband and I have succumbed to baby fever. Our flock of laying hens is too small; not only are we not getting enough eggs, but we lost our two green egg laying hens. Needing eggs now, we made inquiries about pullets or young hens only to find none available. Breeders sell day-old chicks because it’s too much work and money to keep hundreds of chicks until they are ready to lay. It became apparent that if we wanted to restock our flock, we were going to have think small and be cheep. 
So now there are five chicks scuttling around a pen inside our chicken coop. Five black-eyed, fuzzy-feathered, cheep-cheep-cheeping chicks who will grow up to be lace Wyandottes, a large, docile, dependable layer with beady orange eyes.

“Oh, here you are,” my husband said the other night after the sun went down and he found me kneeling against the hay bale barricade in the coop. 
“I’m just hanging with my peeps,” I said. 
The other reason for the drop in our egg production is several relentlessly broody hens. Forced to buy eggs at the farmers’ market, we discovered our egg broker is also a baby broker for hens who lay green eggs. Wes assured us his green eggs are fertile so we could stick a few of the green ones under a broody hen and hatch them out.
Naturally, this resulted in a competition: My husband bought an incubator and stuck nine green eggs inside; I took three out to the coop and stuck them under a hen hunkered down in a nest box. Now two broody hens, NoNo and Gwen, take turns sitting on the eggs (it’s a very modern coop: these chicks will have two moms). 
It takes a mere 21 days to hatch an egg and as of today, we are 15 days in and both of my hens are stalwarts on the eggs. They have to be. 
I know a woman who rescued three eggs that a hen abandoned a week short of their due date and stuck them inside the abundant gifts God gave her to finish incubating them. The Incu-bra-tor hatched those three eggs into perfectly proper chicks. If Gwen and NoNo get over being broody before next Tuesday, I don’t have the facilities to finish the job. 
This is what I love about living in rural Nova Scotia: the ingenuity and the practicality of the people. In the city, you would just head out to the nearest superstore and buy an incubator in which to stick those at-risk eggs (or maybe not; aren’t city folk, poor things, still denied the pleasure of keeping chickens?) but in the country, you don’t have time to run to town. It’s a moment that calls for quick and creative thinking and a few days of having one’s personal space invaded. 
Where else but in the country do we get the chance to experience life so intimately? We come to a greater appreciation of birth and death watching animals struggle to come into this world and survive. If we’re lucky, we might even get to help. Knowing that farmers are willing to slide an arm up inside a cow to help deliver a calf, tucking a few eggs inside a bra really doesn’t sound so difficult.
And if I need a surrogate, I know who to call.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Popsicles for Chickens

When it hits 30 degrees, the chickens deserve a treat to cool them down. Once they figured out they could eat it!
This one had strawberries, blueberries, peas and corn in it.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Burst of Sun & Toddler Fun

Sunflowers pop up in our front gardens randomly because of the birds we feed all winter. It's rather fun to see where they appear; mostly in the gardens right under my mother's balcony but several are scattered throughout the gardens along the front of the house.
This one emerged first and is the first to bloom but first by far; it seems rather early for the sunflowers to be blooming, does it not? Perhaps it's special; we counted eight blossoms on its stalk. Maybe it had to start early to fit them all into the season.

My father-in-law says everything is early this year. Others at our birthday brunch for my mother-in-law's 85th birthday concurred. 
"That means an early fall," he said. "And snow in October."
It's a wonder he gets invited to any parties at all with that kind of talk.

Speaking of sprouts, the chicks are growing. They're reaching that gangly, sprouting stage where they leave behind the cuteness of their chickhood and enter into the chicken version of adolescent -- no longer a chick, not quite a chicken.
Now it's less easy to tell which ones could be roosters. I thought I had it pegged but now I'm not sure. I hope "Goldie" (far right) isn't a rooster but she's getting quite big.

There is still five; one was pecking around in the other corner.

The chick with the deformed beak.

Now this poor little guy, for I thought the two chicks with the most black on them were roosters, he's doing poorly. See that little brownish bit out to the right side of his beak? That's his lower jaw. His bottom beak doesn't line up with the top and it could be preventing him from eating properly. He's sluggish, sleepy and stands with his head hunched down into his shoulders.
"I don't think he's going to survive," I admitted to my husband.
"Well, let's hope he's a rooster, then," came the practical reply. And one must be practical about these things; although I can't see us 'doing away' with the chick in order to prevent suffering, neither will I try save him. It's unfortunate that he was developed this deformity but that's the way it goes.
I have to admit, though, if he's able to survive and thrive even with a crooked beak, I hope it's a female because then we get to keep her. We have NoNo, the hen with no toes; why not add a hen with a crooked mouth?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

In Conversation With...Ron & Mary Maron (My 300th Post!)

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

If you ask Ron Maron what has surprised him most about living in Nova Scotia, he’ll tell you the wind. 
“That was the surprise coming up here. I never registered that when you live in a peninsula out in the ocean it’s going to be windy!”
That’s what you get when one of the things you are looking for in a retirement home is “on the water” and instead of Florida or the French Riviera, you choose Nova Scotia. So how did a psychotherapist and an elementary school teacher from Buffalo, New York, end up in Wallace-by-the-Sea?
“My grandfather was from Canada,” explains Ron. “He was a dual citizen. He came to the States when he was about 17. He’s the one who taught me very quickly to love Canada; he took me on fishing trips and all sorts of neat things. And living so close to the border, before we moved here, I imagine I’d been to Canada well over a 100 times.”
His wife, Mary, says a friend once told them that you don’t retire from something; you retire to something that you can do for the rest of your life. 
 “We decided we could go wherever we wanted to go and live wherever we wanted to be,” Mary says. “We felt a pull to Canada because of Ron’s grandfather so we looked into it, to see if we could become permanent residents. We didn’t want to do seasonal, we wanted to really be in a place, put roots down. We wanted to be here all the time.”
According to Ron, the couple considered both Nova Scotia and British Columbia. “How we determined here was we took a vacation and the topography and people are wonderful up here,” he says. “There was no need to even examine BC.”
Mary remembers an evening out for dinner in Darmouth as a turning point. “Ron asked the waitress, ‘If we decided to move to Nova Scotia, why should we do that?’ She didn’t just flippantly come up with something; she really gave it some thought before she answered. She said, ‘It’s the people.’ ”
Ron asked that question over and over during that vacation and received the same answer every time.
But they didn’t really believe it until they saw it in action. 
In the fall of 2004, the Marons received word from the Canadian government that they had been accepted as permanent residents so as soon as Mary retired and they sold both their cabin in the woods and their home near Buffalo, they packed up their station wagon and their dog and headed north.
In January. 
“We were ready to have some kind of adventure,” Mary laughs at the memory from their big move in 2005. “Not too many people are looking for houses in January! Wherever we stopped, we met the most wonderful realtors. They weren’t just trying to make a sale. That also lead us to believe we were on the right track.”
On that earlier vacation to Nova Scotia, they hadn’t even bothered to drive was far as Cumberland County but this time, they couldn’t avoid it.
 “We had to drive through here to get where we wanted to go, which was the South Shore,” Ron explains. “I had seen this house [in Wallace] on the Internet so I said let’s go see it. It was one of the first houses we saw but we had fifty, sixty more houses we wanted to see.”
By March, they realized the South Shore was too crowded and touristy for what they wanted so they put an offer on the first house they’d viewed, the big house on a sprawling lot on Route 6 on the eastern edge of Wallace overlooking the bay. 
This is when they understood just what that waitress and countless others had been talking about. 
“I don’t think Maritimers realize how friendly they are and how quick they are to include people,” Mary says. “We moved in at the very end of March. Now some of our stuff that was in storage was coming in a big moving van. Huge semi. These guys looked at our driveway and knew they couldn’t even make the turn to get in; if they did, how would they get back out again? So they had to park down by the road. Now think of that long driveway and how all of our things would get here. Well, we found out right away that day what nice neighbours we had because right next door – ”
“Remember, we haven’t met any of these people yet,” interjects her husband.
“We call them the two Shirleys; they had been talking to each other. They were very anxious about what in the world was going on with these Americans! Their first thought wasn’t, ‘What’s going on?’ Their first thought was, ‘What can we do to help?’ ”
Ron takes up the story. “So we get a phone call from our next-door neighbour asking if we’d like to borrow their pickup truck. We hadn’t even met them.” 
“The moving guy saw me driving it over and gave a huge sigh of relief,” Mary remembers about using the pickup to transfer their belongings from moving van to house. “That just told us early on that people who hadn’t even met us were willing to welcome us.”
Right from her first day driving a pickup truck, Mary, a lifelong suburbanite, took country living easily. She learned to drive a four-wheeler and snowshoe in the winter; she tends beautiful gardens and enjoys watching the wildlife that traipse through the yard ; and she revels in the space that puts the ocean on one side of their house and woods on the other. 
“We made two pacts when we came up here,” Ron says. “One, if no one liked us, that was okay because we really, really care about each other. Two, Mary has never really lived in the country so I told her that there were only two rules she had to follow: Never lie, and always do what you say you’re going to do. Those are the country mantras you have to live by.”
Mary says they have never had any regrets. 
“We absolutely love it here. There has never been any moment of looking back and wondering if we did the right thing. We entered into this as something we wanted to do, a very conscious decision. It’s part of life’s adventure for us and it continues to be that way. We never know where it’s going to lead but it’s been absolutely wonderful.”
Remember their original need to put down roots as part of their retiring to something? 
“We could have remained permanent residents,” says Mary, “but for me, it was rounding out the whole thing and putting closure on it to become Canadian citizens, which we did in 2009. Our citizenship ceremony was in the Maritime Museum. Going through that ceremony and looking around at the other people in that room made me realize that these people had come to Canada from all over the world and that everybody had a story to tell. We could go back anytime we wanted to our country but some of these people could never do that. Some of them had been in Canada for a long time, they had children born in this country and now that those children were grown up, the parents had decided to become Canadian citizens. It was a very welcoming kind of feeling that day.”
Ron ranks their move to Wallace high on his list of the best decisions he’s ever made. 
“The first best decision I’ve ever made was to marry Mary,” he says. “The second best was to go to college. The third best was to move here.”

The quiet Americans in one of Mary's gardens.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

OMG! That Looks Delicious

My  husband is finally admitting that no matter how convenient it is to keep a large box pre-made frozen hamburgers from our local butcher in the freezer, nothing compares to one of my juicy, spicy homemade burgers.
Even better, instead of using a mass-produced gluten nightmare of a bun, he built his burger with slices of homemade bread his mother-in-law had made mere hours earlier.
Local is good -- homemade is better!

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Mind-blowing Music

If you're not checking out the Friday Night Kitchen Party at the Chatterbox Cafe in Pugwash, you are missing a whole lot of fun and great music.
Organized by the house band, The Abandoned House Band, featuring Ben on bass viol and guitar, Louise on vocals and hand & snare drums, John on guitar and Richard on harmonica, every Friday night is different -- and every Friday the music gets better and better.
Last night, a saxophone player showed up and absolutely blew the roof off. It was so unexpected and such an amazing addition to the band. What makes it even better is the obvious enjoyment of the four members of the house band; the more the merrier.
Last night, we had not only the saxophone player show up but five other singers, four accompanying themselves on guitar and another doing some jazzed-up jazz numbers, performed. Did I not mention it's an open mic kitchen party? Even yours truly provided a brief break from the music by sharing a story. You get all kinds at this evening. 
Music starts at 7: 30 but get there early to get a seat. I recommend going for supper, or at the very least, the plate of nachos to go with your beverage (which can be pop  or water but also wine or beer).
If you're tempted but coming from out of town, there are a couple of places to stay in Pugwash so don't hesitate -- and if you stay over, you'll get to check out the wonderful farmers' market the next morning. 

The Abandoned House Band.

Couple of local musicians are playing this weekend and next, and by local I mean my Beckwith neighours!
Tonight, Fresia are at the cafe and next Saturday night, Christina Martin along with Dale Murray will be performing.
In the summertime, the Chatterbox Cafe becomes our second home!

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The City Girl Learns To Do The Wave

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, by Sara Mattinson.

For someone who lived most of her life in large urban centres, there is a phenomenon that occurs in the Maritimes that takes some getting used to. Actually, it’s quite possible that if you are not born with this behaviour genetically implanted in your DNA, you never can fully embrace this aspect of rural life.  
Let me take you back to May, 2002. I’ve just arrived with my parents at their summer home on Pugwash Point. It’s been ten years since my last visit to Nova Scotia and I’m arriving directly from Vancouver. Getting settled into the house requires several trips into the village for supplies which means driving by our neighbour’s house. Gary is outside working in his yard and every time my mother and I drive by, he waves. Mum always waves back.
 “Do we have to wave every time we drive by?” I finally ask. 
“Yes,” my mother answers.
I’ve been traumatized ever since. 
Fast-forward four years. Gary sets me up on a blind date with a friend who picks me up from the house on Pugwash Point and drives us to Springhill for supper. He waves at every vehicle we pass. I wasn’t nervous about the date with a man I barely knew but now I was freaked out by the fact that he seemed to know every single person in the county. What had I gotten myself into? 
We all know the answer to that and although living here permanently hasn’t reduced my anxiety about the expectation of waving to everyone, it has allowed me to make a study of it. As far as I can tell, there are three distinct waves that make up this Maritime phenomenon. 
The Gary Wave: This is the most physically demanding of all the waves because it involves throwing both arms up into the air and flinging them side to side. Now, upon seeing someone executing this wave properly, you might assume he is in some distress. If Gary were up to his waist in water, you’d assume he was drowning. If there were flames shooting out of his pants, you’d assume he was on fire. But since Gary is standing in his driveway with a big smile on his face, you realize he is waving (and possibly practicing some dance moves). The good thing is you only have to respond with a waggle of your fingers. 
The Dwayne (or Bob or Ron or Paul or...) Wave: This is the most common wave and used, as far as I can tell, exclusively by men driving trucks. It involves the lifting of two fingers from the steering wheel, just barely an inch, holding for a brief moment then laying them back down on the steering wheel. Repeat as often as required. My observations have revealed that men tend to identify vehicles rather than drivers which may explain why so many men wave at me when I’m driving my husband’s truck. 
The Nicole is the third wave and this is the one usually employed by women. Properly executed, it suggests the driver is squealing, “omigod, hi,hi,hi!” as she waves. Starting from its grip on the steering wheel, the wrist flings back and up then the hand waves back and forth quickly. It is very friendly and enthusiastic; could be considered a version of The Gary toned down for safe driving. 
Some people take waving very seriously. They want to receive as much as they give. A friend of mine recently met up with a woman who said she waves every time she sees my friend walking her dog. 
“But you don’t wave back!” she admonished.
“I have a hard time seeing people behind a windshield,” my friend replied, “and I don’t identify people by their vehicle.”
“Oh, well, then, I’ll toot when I drive by so you know it’s me and can wave back.”
Thereby adding a fourth type even though technically it’s not a wave: A Toot occurs when one is walking and someone driving by uses his or her horn. It is usually followed by a wave. Hearing a Toot means you know the person in the vehicle very well (except in Vancouver, where someone tooting means you are about to be run over). The Toot is usually done gently unless your initials are Randy Smith; then you lay on your truck horn right as you pass me walking the dog so that I jump four feet off the ground and land head-first in the ditch.
That’s one way of getting a wave out of me: I’ll be waving frantically for help. Let’s call that one The Randy.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Hicks Love Their Chicks

There are no more renovations to do on our home this summer so we have a new rebuilding project: We're working on building up our flock of chickens. Although a small flock is nice, and easy on the outside pen, it doesn't produce enough eggs.
Wes and Maryanne, our Mount Pleasant neighbours (close by country standards - we could walk to their house in a day) provided us with brown-shelled eggs to eat and green-shelled eggs to hatch out so my husband and I decided to make a competition out of it. It's a lopsided competition, mind you, and I don't know who really wins but this is what we're doing: Pitting the natural way against the modern way.
Dwayne is incubating nine eggs...

...while my dear little Rhode Island Red, NoNo (she of the no toes), who has been broody since May, is faithfully sitting on three eggs dated June 25. We started a day late because when I tried to remove her to the other room, into the rabbit pen which is vacant all summer (Rosie the rabbit being in her cottage), she wouldn't settle for being away from the flock. So between NoNo and an unnamed Australorp, with the shiny black feathers and black eyes -- who I am now going to name, breaking news, folks, let's call her Gwen, after a woman in my hometown who died her hair jet black!
Okay, so between NoNo and Gwen, my eggs are always underneath a toasty warm feathery roof.

I'll stick a photo of Gwen in here at some point...she really is part of the game and a very pretty, very quiet hen.
(And here she is taking her turn on the eggs. Gwen, everybody!)


Hey, two moms for my eggs! So natural yet so modern.
The eggs hatch out around Day 21 so I will start watching closely from July 13 on. It will be easier to see my husband's chicks hatch out since they are incubating in the laundry room. I don't know if this gives me an advantage but the body temperature of chickens is 102 degrees -- hot chicks indeed! -- while my husband keeps his incubator at 100 degrees.

In the meantime, we're already getting our chick fix.

Five lace Wyandotte chicks from local breeders of heritage breeds, Joseph and Tammy.
These two photos are from their first few days here. The night we brought them home and put them under the heat lamp, the temperature outside dropped to 10 degrees. But they survived the night to cheep-cheep another day.

They also survive periodic maulings from their human mother. 

For the first few days, I left a big butt imprint in the shavings in their pen (I keep finding shavings in my laundry basket). These days -- nine days later -- they are scurrying around everywhere so no more sitting inside; I don't want to step on one of them. 
I've named one of them Goldie because she had more yellow and less black on her and as of today, now that they are a little older, I am predicting -- more breaking news, folks -- I'm predicting that in our five chicks, we have two roosters and three hens. The two are slightly larger with more noticeable tail feathers. According to that, therefore, my Goldie is a hen. 
That's the fun of getting day-old chicks and hatching out eggs: You can't know what you're going to get; you can only hope you end up with more hens than roosters (sorry, guys). And with the eggs...we hope we get more hatched than not. For NoNo's sake, my toes are crossed. 

Took this photo of our one and only lace Wyandotte, "Mimi". This is what the chicks will grow up to look like. Boy, they still have a looong way to go.

AND just because she was standing right in front of me, waiting for me to take her picture, here is Beulah, one of two Plymouth Rocks (the other is named Gabby). Rocks are my favourite (that's a Barred Rock behind Mimi) because they are an inquisitive, friendly, docile bird. 
In case, you know, you were looking to get chickens and wanted my recommendation.
Anyway, say Hi to Beulah. She might just say Hi back.