Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Hallowe'en Memories

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 29, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Homemade Hallowe'en circa 1979. My sister is behind the paper-plate mask.

“What was Hallowe’en like when you were a kid?” I asked my husband.
“Exciting,” he said without hesitation. “Really exciting.”
Since Dwayne grew up in the country and would have been a kid during the 1960’s, I wondered what could have been so exciting. 
“Did you go trick-or-treating?”
“Of course.”
And by the time he was finished telling me his story about trick-or-treating in the country in the 1960’s, I was in love all over again.
A whole bunch of the neighbourhood kids went together, about seven or eight of them. The Casey kids were dropped off at the Mattinsons and from there, the band of beggars  headed down the gravel road we now call Route 301.
Without any parents trailing along behind.
They had about a dozen homes to call at on their way to Port Howe, about a three mile walk.
“Dad was doing chores and he would pick us up when he was finished,” Dwayne explained. “We left a pile of stones on the road in front of every house we visited.”
That’s when I fell in love again with rural life and with Hallowe’en. With the image of that group of sibling and friends walking and chattering along an unpaved road and yelling “Trick or treat” at each house they stopped at then pausing to scoop dirt and stones into a pile so that Dwayne’s father could track them down.
“The farthest we ever made it was Bert and Flossie Bowser’s house just before the bridge.”
What a huge distance for a group of children to walk and yet they thought nothing of it. Dwayne’s dad would pick them up and take them into Port Howe for a final round of trick-or-treating.
“I remember walking in snow flurries some years,” Dwayne recalled.
“What were your costumes?”
“Rags. We went up to Granny’s kitchen chamber and put on whatever old clothes we could find.We used to wear the old jackets and scarves and hats. Most of them were ten times too big.”
The kitchen chamber at his grandparents’ house was upstairs and full of chests of old clothes.  The kids solved the size problem by stuffing the clothes with hay.
 “We used lipstick to change our faces and some kids wore masks,” Dwayne added. “One year, I had a Lone Ranger mask so I wore my cowboy hat and my holster with my cap guns.”
He laughs. The kind of laugh that says that these are good memories, that those were good times.
Old clothes scrounged from the rag bag, Mother’s makeup to create a new face, and, ladies, do you remember being annoyed because she had the perfect strappy shoes for your princess costume but there was no way to make them fit your child-sized feet? 
My own happy Hallowe’en memories are from the 1970’s when Hallowe’en was still simple, still mostly homemade. My princess costume started in my mother’s closet with a red caftan my father had given her for Christmas a decade earlier. That same year, my sister went as Santa Claus, wore her own almost-outgrown red slipper pajamas and a face mask made from...
....wait for it...
....a paper plate with cotton balls glued to it!
Homemade costumes aren’t as common as they once were. Thinking of my bizarre Miss Piggy costume, were they ever cool but in memory?
Yet when you consider how many Princess Elsas, Malificents, Spidermen, and Ninja Turtles will be wandering the streets Friday evening, it makes you kind of nostalgic for a time when a band of beggars wearing straw-stuffed cast-off clothes headed out for a three mile walk on a gravel road to collect apples, molasses candy kisses and peanuts, and thought it was “exciting”. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Secret To Eternal Youth

This is the reason we went to Ontario. For Mrs. Stinny's 90th birthday.
Yep, this is 90, folks. 
And she looked 29 in that dress. 
The secret? I could say...
Being a geniunely nice person. 
Surrounding yourself with a huge family that adores you.
Living in the same house for sixty years. 
And gardening. 
Mrs. Stinny didn't eat vegetables.
Surely that can't be the secret?
It must be said that we are not family by blood. 
We are family through friendship. 
My sister and I didn't grow up thinking of the Stinsons as our grandparents
but my sister's kids call her Great-Grandma.
For a few years in the Seventies, I knew what I was getting from the Stinsons for Christmas. The shape of the perfectly-wrapped parcel was expected; square and flat and thin: the latest ABBA album.
Mrs. Stinson's older brother is 95. They are the last of the five siblings.
Her brother says the secret to a long life is a positive attitude. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Early Morning Start

At home, my morning photos are of misty fields and tree plantations, or of a two-lane highway beyond which ripples the river.
On the road, it's a four-lane highway with on and off ramps, a vast sky, and trees.
I suppose that photo could be anywhere along the TransCanada highway in Nova Scotia but that's Ontario sky. The sky I grew up with but really, the same sky.
Same sky over Nova Scotia. Over Canada, over the United States, over England, over China, over India, over Iran, over Australia, over South Korea.
We all live under the same sky. Wherever you call home, that's the sky. Your home and my home lie under the same sky. On the same planet.
All of our boundaries are human-created.
This photo was taken three hours before Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. One week ago today.
Under the same sky.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beverage En Francais

When you are an English-speaking person travelling through Quebec, what you drink is "the".

Monday, October 27, 2014

Flying Cloud

I've been away.
And when I returned, I tossed and turned in my own bed all night and woke up with a scratchy throat and a stuffed left nostril. Not a good time for laryngitis.
There was a sermon and a column to write and my energy went into those. Picture me collapsing over my keyboard when the last word was typed and being carried, limp and empty, back to bed.
But the first-few-days-with-a-cold fogginess have passed and now the ability to function as a writer is back.
This is a photo of my mother, behind the wheel of her blue Honda Fit, somewhere in Eastern Ontario. Nicknamed "the Flying Cloud" by my husband for the speed at which she can go to Parrsboro and back. We think of it as a day trip; Mother does it in a morning.
We do road trips together frequently, whether to the Mic Mac Mall or to Ontario.
"Do you want to go to Amherst with me?" I'll ask -- it could be anywhere, really -- and she says "Yes." Of course she does. Everywhere is a road trip not to be missed.
When she drove to Georgia in September, she called me from the Tim Horton's in Salisbury, NB, where we always stop for breakfast on the first morning, and said, "This is more fun with you."
That clinched it.
So we drove to Ontario to celebrate the 90th birthday of a family friend and Mother did all the driving, as always. She drives because she hates pumping gas. That's my job as the passenger. And since she won't let me listen to the radio, particularly the news, I get to read out loud to her from the book I'm reading.
It's like LIVE books on tape. Or something. Like that. Ish.
(Perhaps I'm not quite over my cold.)
In case she's not reading this blog, I can say how much I cherish these road trips. Not just because My Friend Jane smacks me up the side of the head and tells me not to take this time with her -- my mother -- for granted. MFJ lost her mother when she -- Jane -- was 30. But I know how lucky I am that 1) we get along so well we can spend two days in the car and still be laughing when we arrive 2) in order to spend a week in the same hotel room and still be laughing when we arrive home, after a two day drive, a week later, and 3) that we have the money to do these trips.
That's the real reason I take photos of my mother when she is driving.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

In Conversation With...Gerry McLellan

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

You know that old insult, “Build a bridge and get over it”? Hurl that at Oxford’s Gerry McLellan and he’s likely to take you literally. And with enthusiastic agreement.
“I’ve been involved with trails in one way or another since I got my first snowmobile in 1968,” explains Gerry. “I was president of the Cumberland Snowmobile Club for a number of years and we built a lot of trails and received major funding.”
He says he backed away from that volunteer work when he and his wife Marion decided snowmobiling was getting expensive and the trails busier. 
“There was a lot of traffic on the trails, a lot of speed, so we decided to do some other things.”
But Gerry couldn’t resist the lure of the Trans Canada Trail, the cross-country multi-use trail initiated in 1992. 
“When they came out with the idea, I was nosy so I got involved in the meetings and one thing led to another and we formed the Cumberland Trails Association for the express purpose of building the Trans Canada Trail through Cumberland County,” says Gerry. “It’s a major undertaking and we haven’t got it finished yet.”
According to the trail’s website,, the trail is 75 per cent complete across Canada. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland & Labrador are 100 per cent complete while Nova Scotia is only 42 per cent, the second lowest completion rate in Canada (Saskatchewan is at the bottom at 34 per cent while  New Brunswick is at 60 per cent).
When the trail is complete, it will be 24,000 kilometres from the Atlantic to Pacific to Arctic Oceans. There are 5,700 kilometres to go and Oxford is one of the missing links.
“People ask why we went this way or that way,” Gerry says. “I had a lot to do with picking the route to the New Brunswick border and the reason it’s laid out this way because there are fewer land owners. There’s Bragg, Irving, Department of Natural Resources and maybe ten, twelve small landowners. That’s a lot less people to negotiate with.”
In 2008, Gerry commissioned a map that marks out the trail winding through and around Oxford. Part of it follows the old rail bed to the highway then it runs alongside the TCH back to Upper Main Street where it heads through woods and fields. 
According to Gerry, the Oxford section of the trail is the only part that runs close to a closed-access highway. That adds a complication and involves extra work and money.
“We have to plant trees and privacy fences so that the lights from the snowmobiles and ATVs don’t shine into oncoming traffic,” he says.
That’s not the major obstacle, though. 
“Oxford is called ‘the black hole of Canada’,” Gerry says. 
That’s because a bridge needs to be built over the River Philip near the Trans Canada Highway just east of Oxford’s Exit 6. That bridge is an essential connector.
 There also needs to be a tunnel under Upper Main Street and a bridge over a section of Black River where it meanders beyond the Oxford rifle range yet those two projects combined are expected to cost less than the River Philip bridge.
“The money that was given out this summer by the federal government, that was a big shot in the arm for us here,” says Gerry. “That’s all going to the bridge.”
The creation of the Oxford and Area Trails Association was a big help in harnessing interest and fundraising. 
“We need a lot of help, a lot of ownership,” Gerry says about why he encourages everyone to get a $5 membership. “When we make an application for funding, to say we have X number of members that are actively participating seems to loosen up a fair amount of cash.”
“I would never believe we would have as much money raised and promised to us as we have right now. We’re approaching $300,000 with emphasis on the bridge,” he says. 
Even with that 2017 date looming in the near-future, none of the work of fundraising or trail building is finished.
“Hopefully we can get it done in that time frame but it depends upon the funding, how well it keeps coming,” admits Gerry. “It’ll take a lot more money than that to do the tunnel under Upper Main Street and do the second bridge over Black River.”
What’s really needed to get the trail completed, however, are workers. Making the trail isn’t just stomping through grass to clear a route; there’s clearing and building to be done. It’s a major construction undertaking.
 And for those of us with bad backs, Gerry has an answer.
“There is tying ribbons on construction stakes or writing numbers on different stakes. We have to stake it off and the measurement written on the stake so the builders know where they are. There’s all kinds of stuff like that.”
The help needed isn’t just about moving rocks and clearing trees and piling brush, though; there are administrative duties like taking minutes of meetings and helping with funding applications.
“We need a lot of cooperation to get this trail put through,” says Gerry.
When the trail finally opens officially in 2017 as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations, Gerry will have been involved in this project for 20 years. 
“I’ve made it known that I don’t want anything to do with it if it’s not for everybody. Hiking, biking, snowmobiling, ATVing, horse-back riding, cross-country skiing. We really want to see people out walking the trail,” he emphasizes. “That will be mission accomplished. I don’t worry about the snowmobiles and ATVs using it.”
What drives his passion for this particular trail system?
“Since I had my little truck and sand pail, I’ve liked building things. That’s my sport and recreation. I like the idea of the benefits that the trail will hopefully bring to Oxford. When this is open,” he says pointing on the map to the spot on the River Philip where the bridge will be installed, “it will be possible for a lot of people to get on the trail and go somewhere.”

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Before And After

October 2010
October 2014
This is the first autumn since our neighbour cut down the 65 acres behind his farm, and next door to us. 
How can this be viewed as anything but devastation?
First we lost our birds.
Now we have lost our fall colours. 
I still miss seeing and hearing the pileated woodpeckers.
And my heart still aches.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pumpkin Bust

This is our pumpkin harvest for 2014.
Pretty pathetic, isn't it? And utterly uncommon. Usually we produce a dozen really nice pumpkins in perfect sizes for Jack o' Lanterns and a sweet display under our mailbox.
Not this year.
And it just occurred to me, since I'm the carver and the displayer, that this could be my fault.
I'm working too hard, writing too much. I'm sucking all the creative energy out of the ground and into my body.
I haven't thought of it that way but perhaps that's the truth. This is my punishment for being absent from gardening for yet another summer. The tomatoes wouldn't ripen, the potatoes were eaten by bugs, the pumpkins didn't produce and even the sunflowers were patchy this year.
We cannot live by words alone, you know. We need our gourds too.
Time to squash the workaholic tendency. Next year, we will have a pumpkin bounty.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A New Discovery While Walking in the Woods

This is what you see when you don't walk in the woods with your eyes on a phone.
A hole where one wouldn't normally see a hole.
That hole under that long piece of yellow grass? As I crouched down to take a look at the strange gauze laying on the leaves, a medium-sized brown spider shot back into the hole. When I looked closer, it was obvious this 'hole' was not a tear in a gauzy web but woven right into the whole structure. This spider hides in this hole.
So - back at home, not during my walk with my phone - I Googled "spider web hole" and learned this is a grass spider and the hole is properly called a funnel.
The spiders who weave the circular hanging webs we commonly associate with spiders are called "orb" spiders. Those are sticky webs that bugs cannot escape from once they are caught by it. A grass spider works in an entirely different fashion.
Further reading revealed that the quick dart with which the spider retreated back into his funnel is part of his hunting strategy. For these pleasant-sounding grass spiders are hunters: When a bug lands on this non-stick gauze-like web, it gets tangled long enough for the spider to sense the vibrations, dart out of the hole and paralyze the bug before dragging it back down the funnel to devour it.
Welcome to your new spider nightmare!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Udderly Unexpected Education

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

We were two grown women hanging out with the petting goats at the Magnetic Hill Zoo. 
It’s not as if there weren’t other grown-ups in the enclosure, it’s just that we were the only ones without children.
And we were spending more time with the goats than the (human) kids were.
It’s my fault we were there so long; I was getting my goat fix. Ever since I spent two days at a friend’s dairy goat farm near Mahone Bay last April and hung out with her large, friendly Swiss Toggenburgs, I’ve been in love. 
But I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to have goats. Anyone can learn about dogs or horses or goats or goldfish if they wish to; I simply don’t have the time or money at the moment to become a proper goat keeper. 
Because if there is a goat born with the hankering to hang out on the hood of a car, that’s the goat I’ll get. 
But if ever I do get a wee herd of these entertaining ungulates, my goat guru and milking mentor will be my friend Jane.
She who almost got us arrested at the petting goat enclosure at the zoo.
A couple of the pygmy goats looked very wide around the belly and I asked Jane, she who grew up with goats in Oxford Junction, if they were pregnant. 
“Let me check,” she said and commandeered the company of one of those round-bellied goats. She proceeded to squat down behind the goat and grab hold of her udder.
A man with two young girls looked at Jane. Then he looked at the goat. Then he looked back at Jane. 
He took a few steps towards his daughters who were giggling as they hand-fed pellets to a group of greedy goats.
“It’s okay,” I said to him. “She knows what she’s doing.”
My words really didn’t register and it was obvious he remained in flight-or-fight mode induced by watching this goat fondler in the petting enclosure.
“She grew up with goats,” I explained. “She’s just trying to figure out if that goat is pregnant.”
The man blinked then he laughed. 
“Oh, I see, okay then. I was wondering...”
“Her udder is firm,” Jane announced, “so there is milk in there.”
The man took a few steps closer to his daughters. 

And yet what Jane was doing wasn’t freaking me out; I was fascinated by her ability to assess the situation, by her hands-on efficiency, by her knowledge of the workings of a working udder.
This ease with animals, this knowledge of their bodies and cycles and abilities are things I crave to possess. 
Item on a city girl’s wish list: Learn how to grope an udder to determine if there is milk inside. And not get kicked or bitten in the process.
There is an art to udder fondling, I’m sure.
If I had to pinpoint one perspective altering influence of my early days of visiting rural Nova Scotia (the pre-2007 years before I became the wife of a Nova Scotia country boy), it would be the in-your-faceness of the birds and the bees. 
You know: the “birds” and the “bees”. There is no farmer, no keeper of horses or goats, cows or rabbits who isn’t familiar with animal genitalia, and more importantly, their purpose in being attached: You don’t get milk if your cows or goats don’t get pregnant. And if you want to ensure that everything is working as it should, you have to inspect the equipment and watch the process. It doesn’t get more basic and practical than that. 
(There’s hope for me: I wrote that paragraph without fainting.)
If you want to make a living as a farmer, you know everything about the birds and the bees, and the “birds” and the “bees”, and nothing about it makes you squeamish or nervous. 
So I was quite proud of my friend Jane as she fondled the goat’s udder, trying to answer the question I’m sure other grown-ups visiting the goats were asking themselves. 
I just have to remember that maybe the petting enclosure isn’t the best place for my first lesson on the proper technique for fondling an udder.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How To Get A Writer To Relax

This is how you get a very busy writer away from her desk.
You take her for a drive through autumn woods.

You lay out a blanket and offer her a cup of chai tea in a very sunny spot.

It won't take long.
Two cups of tea later, she is completely and utterly relaxed. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. - Albert Camus

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of the year. I love that we have a day, a weekend, in fact, devoted to gratitude. Count your blessings and revel in the abundance of your good fortune, even if there are struggles and challenges. At the very least, we need to be thankful we live in Canada where -- and I mean this as a comparison to other countries that are ravaged by war, misogyny and disease -- we are safe, we have clean water to drink and food to nourish us, and we are healthy.
We cannot take the peace and beauty that surrounds us this weekend for granted. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Morning Joy

Isn't it funny how you can't remember the origins of a ritual that ends up being so meaningful? I don't know exactly when I made the first contact with the ponies. All I know is stopping to feed and pat these friends has become the sweet spot of my days.
As far as I recall, this moment during my morning walks on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, most of those days, began last year. There was a day when the two ponies were in this field on my way back up the road so I stopped to say hello. The next time I stopped with clover and they happily accepted. They weren't always in this field but if they were, we met at the fence to say hello. They let me pat them although the smaller, darker pony is less forward because the brown one makes her so. So I sneak extra to the black pony with her sweet hippopotamus face.
Now I must stop at the beginning of my walk as well because if they are in the field in the morning, they watch for me, trot to the fence when they see Abby and me coming. They recognize us.
How amazing to be known by horses that are not your own.
It was this fall that the big grey fella took an interest in what was going on at the fence. The first time he wandered over, he stood back, wouldn't take any of the clover I held out. Then I discovered apples lying in the lane on the going-up-the-road side of the road, red apples scattered on the ground under an apple tree across from our meeting spot. I scooped up several, cracked them open a bit with the heel of my shoe and offered them up. The big grey fella thought that was okay.
The third time he came over for an apple, he allowed me to touch his big, velvety nose. The bliss of that moment! The fourth time, and all other times since, I'm allowed to pat his face and neck and chest.
I love love love this.
My heart swells when they see us coming along the road and they trot to us, trot alongside the fence to our meeting spot, wait as I collect the apples, nudge me for more. They are not nippy, they are not skittish. They are happy to eat these apples.
I love love love this.
This is not a weird thing to be thankful for. The horses are grateful for the apples, sure, but I am much more grateful for their acceptance of me. If they sense I know nothing about horses but their gorgeousness, they don't hold it against me. Not as long as I'm offering apples.
"You were gone a long time this morning," my husband will say when I arrive home.
"I had a visit with my friends," I tell him and joy ripples through my body.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Attack of the Giant Zucchini

It took Fern a couple of days to walk by this zucchini without giving a wide berth or stopping to check it out. It took us a couple of days to get it all eaten. Our favourite zucchini recipe? Sliced, sauteed in olive oil with garlic, oregano, pepper, walnuts and Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

In Conversation With...Mark Murray Stevens

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

The kitchen of Mark Murray Steven’s bungalow in Malagash is white, bright and spotless. It doesn’t fit the stereotype of the bachelor pad for a musician who performs rockin’ country tunes. 
A few years ago, a reporter might have walked into a completely different scene but today, Mark is committed to a clean and faithful lifestyle.
The 33 year old admits that’s still a day-by-day journey. The cleansing of his heart and soul didn’t come early and it didn’t come easy.
“In elementary school, I had my own desk in the principal’s office,” he explains. “I was always getting suspended for something. She’d send me home with a suspension slip and I’d throw it out the bus window. When I got home, I’d try and play it off that all was good but she caught on after awhile what was going on. It went on throughout high school,” Mark adds. “I was smoking and drinking and skipping class and running around with girls and stealing cars.”
When Mark says he’s been in jail, he’s not using a metaphor for being spiritually lost; his first taste of incarceration arrived when the police showed up at the door on his twelfth birthday and took him to the Shelburne Youth Centre.
“I was in jail in total 11 years,” Mark admits.   “Six years in juvenile and jail and another five years in prison.” 
Those 11 years inspired a song called “Do My Best” on his recently released collection of gospel songs. Mark wrote all the songs on the self-titled CD and produced and recorded it in the living room of his Malagash home. 

Mark shares his home in Malagash with his dog Mika.
As a boy growing up in Pugwash River, Mark spent his childhood hunting and trapping, working in the woods, working with dogs, but his father also handed Mark the tools he’d one day use to rebuild his life and make that CD possible.
“My dad bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was eight years old,” Mark remembers. “I started banging on it, broke all the strings. It was the first thing I ever refinished, that guitar. I took furniture stripper to it and stripped it all down, sanded it, stained it then put polyurethane all over it. I had no idea that I even knew how to do it.”
But the affinity for music was no match for his proclivity for bad behavior and it wasn’t until he was lying in the infirmary at the prison in Dorchester, healing a broken ankle and plotting revenge against a fellow inmate, that Mark discovered a way to change.
He knows the date and time of his life-changing moment: May 23, 2003, shortly after midnight. 
“For three days, I’d been wracking my brain how to get back to Springhill to get those guys,” Mark says. “I said to myself, ‘God, if you’re real, I need you to show me right now.’  Just like that, in that second, I don’t even think I’d finished saying ‘now’, I felt an invisible hand reach into my stomach and grab a hold of all the garbage, all the hate, the fear, the anxiety, the worry, the pain, everything I’d been holding onto, everything I’d been carrying around, the whole reason behind why I wanted to get back at these guys, all of that was grabbed hold and pulled out like a handful of tar. When that let go, I took a deep breath and for the first time in my life, I felt completely clean.”
Mark says that feeling terrified him.
 “I cried myself to sleep and when I woke up the next morning, I automatically took a deep breath and I thought, ‘Wow, it was real.’ At that point, I knew God was real. I knew God had intervened in my life.”
Having only gone to church once in his life, when he was 12, Mark says he knew nothing about God or Jesus or the Bible.
 “The only thing I related God to was a cross. I knew a cross was at a church and that had to do with God and these religious freaks who would lay down their drinking and smoking and good times.”
While that experience in the prison infirmary opened a new door, it also opened a long-closed one.
“That same day, I wrote my first song,” Mark says. 
The clean and sober life was a hard one for Mark to maintain. Although he started working as a commercial painter and gained success in Moncton as a musician, his demons kept rising up and he hit rock bottom again and again. 
“Little by little, God revealed himself in my life,” Mark says. “What’s known as the Holy Spirit has been nudging me to do certain things, like clean up my lifestyle and quit drinking, quit smoking, quit doing drugs.”
It didn’t happen in a day or even a year; it’s been happening over the past ten years. Now, Mark has been clean for a year and a half and has chosen to live alone while he follows what he believes is God’s true calling for him. 
With that choice, though, came perhaps the hardest lesson of all: In learning to be true to himself, other people were hurt.  He’s coming to terms with that as he supports himself with his own painting, refinishing and restoration business while embracing what his musical talent really means.
“What I’ve come to realize is that it’s not about playing in church. It’s about why I was playing,” Mark says. “Before I was playing to glorify Mark Stevens; that’s what God wanted to cut out. There’s a lot more to it than saying ‘I’m going to play gospel music’ because there’s all sorts of singers who play gospel music but they’re only in it for themselves. There’s also country singers because they’re in it because they want to glorify God. It’s all about why are you doing this music. The first time that I said ‘I’m going to do it for God,’ it succeeded. I just sold my first hundred CDs.”
Mark admits he’s provided what he calls “the pulpit version” of his story.
“It’s been such a dramatic process getting to this point,” he says. “It’s far from the end point but hopefully those crazy, crazy times are behind me. I have ten years in now.”
But he admits even those ten years since May 23, 2003, just after midnight, have ben crazy. 
“The only explanation is that angels were holding me up.”
He believes the point of telling his story, in words and in music, is so that someone can see there’s always hope. 
“Nobody’s trash,” he says. “Nobody’s written off. Anything is possible.”

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Perk of the Job

While doing an interview for an upcoming article in the United Church Observer magazine, I had the brilliant idea of taking some photos of my subject dressed in his "circuit rider" garb and standing next to a horse -- which he and his wife happen to have four of on their rural property -- to go with the theme of the article.
While I waited for him to change, I wander out to the fenced pasture to look at the horses and this paint, named Sioux, was one of two that wandered up to the fence for attention.
There was something about her eyes that caught me. They were different than the other horse standing at the fence, different than the big grey fella I meet while walking the dog. In Sioux's eyes I sensed a deep intelligence, an intense awareness. That's the best way I can describe it but I have heard enough stories about the spirituality of horses, about their intuitive nature and intelligence to understand I was seeing something important.
Growing up, I knew the story of my parents having dinner with friends and my mother couldn't understand why her allergies kicked in badly in a house with no dogs or cats; turns out the daughter of their friends had riding clothes hanging in the front hall closet. For me, this story meant horses were meant to be seen but not touched, admired but not enjoyed. The irony of this is that if there had been no allergy and we'd wanted to ride horses, my sister and I would have with my father's full support -- he likely would have bought us our own horse if we'd showed enough interest.
But horses are wandering into my life now. Partly because I live in the country but perhaps also because I am craving more and more the interaction with and the learning of horses. And cows and donkeys and goats. I am attracting them, I'd say, in small, delightful doses. With every interaction, their enchantment of me grows.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Old Dog On A Hot Day


Stella came along on our walk yesterday afternoon and I didn't realize just how hot it was. Both dogs were panting before we reached the church.
I could see Stella eyeing the ditch; she has this habit of flopping into the grass in a ditch if she gets hot while walking and now that she is old and fat, I wouldn't be able to move her until she wanted to move.
"Just a bit further, Stella," I pleaded, trying to make to the horse field with the bag of carrots I was carrying. "You can lie down when we get to the gate."
On the way back, we cut down into the field next to my in-laws' place and Stella was much happier. So happy, she had to roll around in the grass for a bit.
We made it to Nanny and Grampy Donn's for a big bowl of water and some digestive cookies -- which restored Stella enough for the rest of the walk home.

Saturday, October 04, 2014


We've been down in our egg supply, the hens giving us five or six eggs a day, down from a high of 12 during the summer. Dwayne blames old hens (they're "retired", thank you very much) and the change of season. Well, he discovered yesterday another reason: someone has been laying her eggs outside. There are 14 eggs in this little pile, not deep inside the hen pen where we would never find them but hidden behind a clump of asters. Dwayne was tipped off by an egg lying out in the open and when he looked around to see if there were anymore, he found this cache.
And rotten! He dropped one inside the coop where he took the collection to wait for transport to a far-away location (no rotten eggs allowed in our composter, I guess).
This is not the first time this has happened.
In 2009, when our flock was it's biggest, around 24 hens and a rooster, Stella was intensely interested in the bushes behind the garage, the kind of behaviour that made me realize something was in there. It was a hen, soaking wet from a heavy rain the night before, sitting atop a pile of 19 eggs. That had been going on for weeks -- and we hadn't missed her! It might have been in the spring when we let the hens out to roam free before putting the gardens in because I remember thinking it was a case of egg-tortion.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Morning Glory

I was about to write about mornings, about being a morning person, but as I gazed at this photo, it reminded me that these flowers are dying, hanging their lovely heads towards the ground, the entwined morning glories faded and shrivelled as October arrives, gently but definitely feeling like fall. 
Autumn is the perfect season because autumn contains so many different qualities, can represent so many different emotions. Sadness, joy, gratitude, anticipation, dread, transformation, hope.
Some of the most beautiful flowers bloom at this time of year, carrying us through the shorter days and cooler nights with bursts of stemmed sunshine. But, see, too, how we face those shorter days and what they mean. Less time outside, petals falling without our noticing. What I did notice while walking the dog after supper the other night was that it really wasn't light enough for walking along the road. It was only seven o'clock but the day was done.
And I did notice yesterday how yellow the leaves of the day lilies have become. Just like that, the garden has given up. It is over for another year. Now I must face the cutting and trimming, the cleaning up and the preparing for winter. Yet that preparation is not just for winter but also for spring. There is a circle we trace through the year and autumn is simply part of that endless, enduring and infinite circle of change.
Remember that at same time we lose the light, we gain so much colour. The reds! The oranges! The yellows!
(Which makes me look up to the window next to my desk to see these colours but the trees are gone, the colours are gone. Not from my anger, though; it glows molten red still. There is a new season for me since the woods were cut down -- a year-long, rest-of-life-long season of mourning.)
Where was I? Autumn. The metaphor for both endings and beginnings.
Most people see autumn as merely an ending -- the end of summer. They see autumn as the beginning of the end -- the coming of winter. Yet winter is as lovely and varied as autumn.  White, too, is a colour. Snow, too, is an invitation.
But that, my dears, is a post for another day, another day that is months in the future. For this day and the next, and for the following weeks, we are inside the perfect season.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

All Smiles For Harriet

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, September 24, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

Often a “celebration of life” column will begin with Pugwash has lost a well-known resident... but in this case, the celebration is of the life of a well-known woman who is very much alive and well. 
Harriet Barbour is about to begin a new chapter in her interesting life. 

Harriet sits in one of her favourite spots, Cyrus Eaton Park next to the Pugwash harbour.
Harriet is a Pugwash resident well-known for her friendliness and hard work both at Sunset Industries and for the village. I can’t remember when Harriet went from a familiar face to a bona fide friend but I imagine it happened after we started sitting together at the kitchen party Friday nights at the cafe. 
Harriet is originally from Labrador and was placed in foster care when she was 10. When Harriet was 26, her foster mother moved from Goose Bay to Antigonish, bringing Harriet with her but encouraging the young woman to live at the Sunset Residential Home. For the past six years, Harriet has lived in her own apartment above the hardware store. 
She was a pioneer in a program called Independent Living Support. Back then, she says she was happy to move into her own apartment, not scared at all. 
“I was ready,” she told me in an interview in 2013. 
But now she says living on her own is lonely. 
That’s why she’s moving. At the end of this month, Harriet, who turns 40 next year, is moving back to Antigonish because she wants to be closer to her foster mother. Even though she’s lived here for 13 years, to her, family is in Antigonish. 
“I have quite a lot of friends there because of Special Olympics,” she told me last week. “And I’m looking forward to meeting new people.”
This time, for this move, Harriet admits she is both excited and scared. Although the move is about being in the same town as her family, she’s not moving in with her foster mother; she’s staying in the ILS program and will have her own apartment. 
One of the things Harriet says she’ll miss about Pugwash is working for the village so I contacted Lisa Betts, the village clerk, and asked what it was like to have Harriet around.  
“Harriet has been working for the village one or two days a week for several years,” Lisa said. “She mows with the push mower, paints, cleans, helps with the banners and other decorations, shreds paper and any number of little jobs that need doing around the village hall or other properties.”
According to Lisa, Harriet loves to mow and had certain places she pay special attention to.  
“She made the cenotaph and the train station her special projects and helped to keep them well trimmed.”
Lisa wishes Harriet the very best. 
 “I will miss her happy smile, her eager help in anything she was asked to do.”
She won’t be the only one who misses those things. 
Although these didn’t happen nearly enough, there were several road trips to Oxford after Harriet, who can’t drive, called me up to say, “Can we go for coffee and a donut this week?”
What will I remember best about Harriet? She is a Canadiens fan, she doesn’t like spicy food and she loves rock ‘n’ roll. We would sing along to the radio as we drove along together. 
But most of all, I  too will remember her smile. 
Best wishes on your latest adventure, Harriet. Antigonish is lucky to get you.