Monday, June 29, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Dog's Life 12

It's Take Your Dog To Work Day and Abby doesn't quite understand what the big deal is since...
she goes to work with me every day.
But she doesn't have to sit in the rolly chair every day. 
This is her "I don't like a chair with wheels" face.She's actually shaking!
She prefers to perform her Supervisor and Recreation Director duties from the 
well-grounded couch down the hall in the boss's office (a.k.a. my mother).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Dog's Life 11

So every warm evening, my husband will say, "Who wants an ice cream?" and off we go to the store in Port Howe. I get a baby-sized strawberry frozen yogurt and give most of it to Abby.
No, I don't share with my dog. I get my licks in first.
What's fun is that Abby actually licks the ice cream on the cone; in contrast, Stella put the entire cone her mouth, crunched it once then swallowed it. It's more fun to share with a dog who might actually be enjoying the experience.
We take the long way home, along the gravel roads, eating our ice cream and looking for bears.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Dog's Life 10

A day of torrential rain created the perfect conditions for playing fetch with a ball that bounces through the old potato garden. There is nothing this dog loves more than to be muddy.
But that's what I've always said about dogs and kids who are mud magnets: If you aren't dirty, you aren't having any fun.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Dog's Life 9

Bonding between a man and his dog with a post-swim grooming session.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Dog's Life 8

The advantage to my dogs having Retrievers as best friends is that they all have learned to swim, despite Boxers not actually being water dogs.
So when the tide allows, we head to the river for a swim.
I'm amazed at the meditative quality of this brief activity -- it lasts about 15 minutes -- and how calm I feel after. Is it the repetition of throwing the stick over and over and over? Is it the positive energy created by encouraging her to get the stick then praising her as she swims back with it? Is it the laughing we do when she shakes next to us every single time?
There is much going on in our daily lives, the usual mix of concerns about health and money, frustrations and expectations with work, as well as worries about family members and friends. Right now it seems as if there is Always Something and Always Someone to be fretting about, and like most couples, we reach a point where we can't keep up with what is distracting each other.
Nerves fray, tempers shorten, tones sharpen.
 So saying, "Wanna take the dog for a swim?" is our cue to pause, breathe and play for awhile.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Gloves Come Off In The Battle For Schools

As printed in the Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, by Sara Jewell.

The most eye-opening part of the school board vs. rural schools battle isn’t that the board rejected the HUB school proposals or that the government is vowing not to interfere; the surprising part is the passion with which the affected communities are vowing not to give up.
“The gloves are off,” declared author and River John spokesperson Sheree Fitch the day after the board voted to close elementary schools in her community as well as in Maitland and Wentworth.
The school board and the government need to pay attention; this bare-knuckled movement has momentum. And a new theme song.
After battling impossible odds, unrealistic criteria and the expectation they would fail, the committees fighting the school closures continue to believe that HUB school idea is best for their rural community. They are demanding innovation instead of stagnation.
In a Facebook post, the River John Save Our Schools group wrote: “With our HUB model, we can make a difference. We can create something that would be beneficial to all of the children of the north shore.”
“Typical Nova Scotia policy, climbing on the back of a bus that’s going nowhere,” one commenter replied. “Big box schools don’t work.”
Another person wrote, “This issue may not be important to the premier and minister but it’s of utmost importance to three communities, to the more than 100 children and their families.”
Carol Hyslop has been leading the charge to save the school in Wentworth because her roots run very deep under that building: it’s where she began her teaching career in the early 60’s, before there was a school board or a teachers’ union.
“The school was new, provided by the government, and the community was pleased with and proud of that school,” she says.
She went away for six years then returned in 1970 and was rehired by the new school board. She noticed changes immediately. She says when the school first opened, there was a fleet of feeder buses driven by local people bringing students to school.
“When I came back, there was one big bus.”
She also remembers the caretaker, who lived next door and knew the school furnace inside out, being told he could no longer fix it; he had to call someone in Springhill.
“So often [change] is made under the guise of being progressive, of making things easier for us,” says Hyslop about government decisions. “Now it’s come to the point where small communities have no rights.”
The chickens have come home to roost. For decades, we have asked the government to do more for us and in return, have allowed it to take more, shrugging our shoulders and accepting the “inevitable decline of rural areas”. When attacked, we chose flight instead of fight.
Until now.
Keeping open these rural schools is about more than just maintaining a community; it’s about taking a stand, finally, against the “bigger is better” model that has been the basis of government and corporate decisions for decades.
A model we haven’t had the guts for or interest in resisting.
Until now. 
Backed into a corner, people are reacting with defiant calls to action: “Insurrection! Get communities to stop paying provincial taxes. We’re changing the education act. Little ripples turn into big waves. This isn’t the end; it’s just the beginning.”
Carol Hyslop likes the idea of the gloves coming off.
“It’s not a one-time thing,” Hyslop says about the fight to save the school in Wentworth. “We don’t have a plan in Wentworth yet but I’m hearing little rumbles.”
I’m hearing a little rumble myself. As I typed this column, I realized I was humming an 80’s rock anthem by Twisted Sister, “We’re Not Gonna Take It!” 
The perfect theme song for the concerned, committed and spittin' mad rural citizens who make up the Save Our Schools movement.

* The ending of this version of the column is different than in the paper because, long after deadline, I found myself objecting to my own final sentence. So I've rewritten it here to better reflect what I meant by using the word "feisty" in the newspaper copy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Dog's Life 7

Of all the habits I have, both good and bad, the habit of the early morning walk is the most entrenched and the most important. Abby is the third dog I've walked through life with, on pavement and dirt, in rain and sun, through traffic and fields, but the constant is always the morning walk. For 19 years, my best days begin with a walk first thing in the morning with a dog.
Whenever I need to express something in poetry, I turn to the American poet Mary Oliver:
Every morning 
the world
is created.
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
the heaped ashes
of the night
turn into leaves again...
If it is your nature 
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere...

(Excerpts from Mary Oliver's "Morning Poem")

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Dog's Life 6

Monday morning for this human:
Field Notes column due by end of the day 
Phone interview to do for that column
Bulletin for next church service filled in & emailed
Monday  morning for this dog:
It's sunny
I'm adorable
Let's play

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Dog's Life 5

Yep, just hanging around, waiting on the vet.
No problem here. Just waiting. Whining a bit. Panting 'cause it's hot in here. Or it is me?
Nope, not nervous, not me.
I weight 26 kilos, by the way. 57 pounds! Mama says I'm a chunky monkey 'cause of all the Timbits Papa gets me but he says I'm all muscles and brain.
The vet's late 'cause she said she needed to eat something before coming in to see me. I could do with a snack right about now too. I need energy for when I greet her.
I'm okay, by the way. No probs here. Just a wellness check. No needles, thank goodness. Mama says my immune system is strong.

I love my vet, by the way. Just love her. 'Cause she saved my life, you know. I ate something on a walk and went into some kind toxic shock thingy and Dr. Hunter saved my life.Mama wrote about all it here:
So yeah, Dr. Hunted gets extra-extra-love when I see her, which isn't very often 'cause I'm a healthy dog. Yeah, good times at the vet clinic.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Dog's Life 4

Who's on second and what's on third?
We're trying to figure this out now that the first and the last are gone.
Stella was the only animal -- pet -- when we landed in Nova Scotia as permanent residents over eight years ago; then along came Fern, the stray cat, and Abby, the puppy. Archie joined us two and a half years ago as a kitten and he hasn't showed up at the screen door clawing to get in so I'm assuming he's settling into his new home where no one is mad at him for catching hummingbirds and chickadees.
For a couple of years, I'd look down at the four furry faces staring at me as they waited for me to dole out their treats and wonder, "How did we end up with so many animals in the house?"
Within eight weeks, we lost two of our pack. The first and the last are gone, leaving holes in our hearts, space on the couch, and the two middle kids re-establishing themselves in this new order.
And they are quickly adjusting. Both are more relaxed, more tuned into us. Fern isn't checking over her shoulder or sleeping with one eye open in case someone is waiting to pounce on her and Abby doesn't have to compete with Stella for our attention. It's nice to get to know her as a single dog, to see her personality come out, to see her calm down and refocus. We are enjoying the changes: she barks less, listens more and is easier to control. She even spends more time chewing a bone instead of obsessively hiding it from Stella.
Sometimes less is more.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Dog's Life 3

This dog is always up for a walk. Unless it's pouring rain, and she knows how wet it is outside, once I crack the door, I know to stop and listen. Seconds later, I hear her jump off the end of the couch where she has been lying, relaxed and content, seemingly uninterested in moving out of her comfort zone. If that door opens, if I am going somewhere, even just to the mailbox, she goes from zero to ten in the snap of a finger.
Such enthusiasm! What an attitude to cultivate: Ready Or Not Here I Come!
Hitting the floor already running, up for whatever journey lies beyond the door.
Even if it's just a trip to the mailbox.
I know part of it is her attachment to me and part of it is her protective instinct to know where I am, but it's nice to have a quiet companion who expresses such joy in being outside, being together, being in the field behind the house where the world seems so big and green and wonderful. Pleasure in the simple walks as well as in the longer journeys.
Both of which start with simply opening the door and sticking your nose up in the air to smell the possibilities.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A Dog's Life 2

You buried your bone in Nana's petunia patch?
I suppose they were a little scraggly but I'm not sure if this is an improvement.

Monday, June 08, 2015

A Dog's Life 1

Wouldn't it be nice to spend the day outside, lying the soft green grass, chewing on what's left of a knuckle bone? Someone will call you in for lunch then send you back outside again, then call you in for supper, then take you in the truck for an ice cream cone.
The bone will wait. The bone will be there. Until it's been gnawed into bits that get lost in the lawn.
Little does she know there is a brand new, never-been-buried one in the laundry room waiting for the current one to exhaust its life as a bone.
Sometimes, knowing what's out there -- a bone! a bone! -- and being able to anticipate is the best part of life but other times, it's the surprises -- a new bone! a new bone! -- is what makes life utterly amazing.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

For The Birds

"You'll take Archie back if his new home doesn't work out, right?" my mother asked this morning.
"Of course I will but that would mean we'd have to stop feeding the wild birds," I answered.
And that is why I chose to rehome Archie, the cat of my dreams, instead of taking down the bird feeders. Because we got so excited to see this painting bunting under the maple tree (it was a brief visit, unfortunately), because we get excited whenever a rose-breasted grosbeak drops by, because we want to have the sweet goldfinches singing outside our windows. Because we want cardinals here, too.
We are cat people but we also are bird people.
I made a mistake and I corrected it. The correction leaves me with a broken heart and an empty chair in my office where he used to sleep, but as long as I don't dwell on it, I am okay. Sort of. I'm not devastated about my decision to rehome Archie; I'm devastated because my own stupidity made him an outdoor cat in the first place. My heartbreak and the horrible empty space in this house once filled by a spunky orange cat could have been avoided.
But I had an email from his new momma and she says her dog loves Archie and they, humans and furmans, are spending the weekend getting to know each other.
"Thank you," she wrote. "He's such a good boy."

Friday, June 05, 2015

My Boy's New Adventure

I made the decision to find a new home for Archie. And I did it for the wild birds.
It wasn't an easy decision to make but it is the consequence of the decision I made a year ago to let him outside. Within days, he went from being my sweet little boy to being a wild man. He LOVES it outside, that's where he wants to be. Sure, when it's raining or snowing, he's content to be inside snuggled up on his blanket in the living room or sharing Nana's reclining chair upstairs but he really, really likes being outside.
The problem is we really, really like the wild birds. And we've missed feeding them all over the property since we took in Fern, a stray cat, and she began roaming our property in 2012.
So I've been unhappy for the past year, in conflict about my decision and angry with myself for going against what my heart wanted. I wanted him to be an indoor cat but with Fern going outside, we could see the itch in Archie to be outside. It appeared that he simply wanted to be where his family was, on the back deck or in the gardens, so I thought perhaps he'd hang out with us and not be a bother to the birds and the squirrels.
Ha! When I'm wrong, I'm colossally wrong. Sure, he comes when he's called -- but only if he's not roaming the shore of the river on the other side of the road.
When he showed up with a female hummingbird in his mouth last Sunday morning, it was the last straw. They hummingbirds were already struggling with the cold and it wasn't fair for them to have a cat leaping at them -- leaping at them! -- while they were sitting at the feeder. I emailed a friend of mine who was looking for a mostly-outdoor cat to keep the rodent population down in her barn and she picked him up this morning. Archie is off on a new adventure with two lovely people, a dog named Abby (no new name to learn there), and two horses. It relieved me to hear my friend's first words when she walked into my house: "I plan to keep him inside for a couple of days so he can get used to his new place." That's exactly what I needed to hear to erase any lingering doubts this was the right way to fix a wrong decision.
I'm both heartbroken and relieved about rehoming Archie. He was exactly what I wanted in a cat: a marmalade boy, friendly, snuggly, really part of the family. I'm going to miss his little furry body pressed up against mine in bed. But at the same time, I'm relieved that the wild birds and the squirrels are safe. Fern has a problem with one of her kidneys so she isn't well and she has chilled out; she seems to prefer hanging out watching the birds now instead of chasing them down. And she doesn't need to do that anymore; she no longer has to hunt to feed herself. Archie, on the other hand, lives to hunt. It's a game to him so he is now living where his skills will be appreciated, not cursed.
I am going to miss this boy; I was madly in love with him. Hopefully soon, being mad at myself for losing him to the great outdoors will fade and it won't hurt to know I an the reason he gets to be someone's else boy now.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Not Kidding Around About This Birthday Wish

As published in The Citizen-Record newspaper on Wednesday, June 3, 2013, by Sara Jewell.

Best part of the zoo? Hanging out with the petting goats.

A friend on the South Shore has a small dairy goat farm and when I attended one of her cheese-making classes a year ago, she introduced her Swiss Toggenburgs to me by saying, “They are just like dogs.”
That did it. Ever since, I’ve wanted a goat.
She also keeps a small herd of Alpines for weed and brush control and one of this spring’s kids developed septicemia and is now blind. My friend says it would make a good pet.
That did it. Ever since, I’ve wanted that kid.
When I tell my friend Jane, who grew up with goats, that I want a couple as pets, she shakes her head and says, “You have no idea.”
No, I don’t have any idea. And yes, I do have an idea.
I have the idea that I would like to have farm animals around me, to be responsible for feeding them and cleaning them and for learning about the world through their eyes.
On the other hand, I have no idea how to take care of farm animals but that problem was solved by falling in love with a Nova Scotia country boy. This was the man to make my dreams come true.
It didn’t hurt that he lived on 72 acres. So many! Imagine the possibilities. I figured the most immediate possibility would be the fulfillment of my lifelong dream of having a pet pig.
Shortly after I moved here from Ontario eight years ago, however, I read a book about a family who made a pet out of a runt his original owner simply couldn’t bear to put down and discovered the truth about pigs: if not butchered at six months, they grow to be 350 pounds. That was too big a responsibility for this city girl.
Fortunately, my husband was not to blame for the squelching of that dream. Instead, he made another one come true. By our first anniversary, there was a chicken coop filled with hens and a rooster in the backyard and we’ve been going strong – maritally and poultry – ever since.
Unfortunately for my husband, that didn’t squelch my hankering for animals; chickens are lovely but they are small and feathery and require little care. You watch a chicken more than you interact with it.
Even our few rabbits, more wild than tame, weren’t cute and cuddly enough to make me put aside my idea of farm animals so when I started making noises about getting goats and a donkey, maybe llamas or perhaps sheep to keep the lawn mowed, my husband finally sat me down and said, “When you make more money, you can have more animals.”
A reasonable negotiation on his part and perhaps he knows me too well. Because of who I am (a slow worker) and what I do (a freelance writer), I’m no closer to having a variety of four-footed farm animals roaming these 72 acres than I was eight years ago.
I’m sure he was counting on that.
But I just celebrated my 45th birthday and that’s when a woman begins to take stock of what she has in her life. Life insurance is fine, RRSPs are great but what about kids?
There is one on the South Shore who needs a home and would make a great pet. Perhaps a darling doeling is just what this (ahem) middle-aged woman needs.
Did you know a baby llama is called a “cria”? I’m craving a cria.
My poor husband. Every time this hankering for farm animals comes on, I suspect he goes down on his knees in the garage and says a little prayer to whoever is in charge of his world: Dear Keeper of My Sanity, thank you for not blessing us with a barn.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Humans Are Stupid

I miss seeing this, the sight of a doe and her fawn behind our house. For several springs, a doe would give birth in the field behind our house; on the rainy June afternoon this photo was taken, this doe stuck to the ditch under the trees by the lane. What an amazing experience to be so close to new life emerging in the wild. I always felt it said something about our energy on this property, how excited my husband was to have these animals close and appearing to trust us.
This photo was taken from an upstairs window in June 2012. When we still had trees back there.
Since they were cut down over the winter of 2013/2014, we have lost a lot of wildlife. We no longer see pairs of pileated woodpeckers. We no longer see bears. We no longer see deer. When their home and habitat and food source was destroyed, 65 acres in all, they had to move on, find new woods in which to live, get as far away from humans as they can.
Stupid humans with their heavy tread upon the earth. Lazy humans who claim clearcutting is more efficient and economical. Blind and greedy humans who prefer the "convenience" of heating with wood and oil instead of investing in more earth-friendly technologies like solar power and personal wind mills.
I am as guilty, as stupid as everyone else. Then again, I was a child in the 1970's and I remember the oil crisis then and the demands to conserve, to find new resources. Forty years later, little has changed. We aren't even smart enough to make replanting a law.
A green, wet day like today always reminds me of those rainy days in June 2012 when we watched this doe and her fawn for an afternoon, when we celebrated the safe arrival of new life, when we took for granted that the deer and the trees would be here forever.

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Goat Ate My Original Idea

This week's column for The Citizen-Record just took an unexpected turn! Inspired by my friend Heather's Facebook posts about this spring's kids at her Sweetwood Farm in Blockhouse (the photo is of a pair of the farm's delightful Nubians), I started out writing about my lifelong dream of having farm animals but somehow my 45th birthday and a hankering for kids has crept in.
My poor husband. I might have to keep this issue away from him. There are some things a man doesn't need to know about his wife. Or about what his wife is about to bring home...