Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'm still alive...

I'm in the final stages of my book, so have been wrapped entirely in last minute research, interviews, words and editing. I'm spending so many hours on it that I have little left over at the end of the day. My mind works on only one track. It's been quite a year and now is winding to a close. I wobble between excitement and fear, but it's not over yet.


I spoke to a teen journal writing class a few nights ago and talked about how, when Callie-dog was a pup, I held her in my hands, marveling at the tiny scrunched face, soulful eyes, velvet fur. I couldn't imagine how she would look as an adult dog. I wondered how her character would develop. Part of me was anxious to see what she would grow into, but the other part wanted to keep her small and cuddly.


When I started this book, it was much the same thing. I could see its potential - I could envision the faint outline, like a shape in the fog. I knew there was an amazing story to be told...but I was afraid to start because it wasn't entirely clear. I wasn't sure how it would grow and develop. How would I pull the story together? Would it turn out as I imagined? Or would it take on a life of its own?

It has shape-shifted on me...

...but I have shape-shifted, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sharing the Nature of Words

Last year, I held my first Write from the Soul workshop on the shores of the Bay of Fundy as a trial. I chose the beautiful and tranquil Artists Garden for the location, where artist, Karin Bach allows nature's own creativity and beauty to influence her art and life. It was magical. There, in Karin's peaceful oasis, we discovered how deeply a connection to nature can influence our own art and soul.


The workshop - which paired creative writing practice with yoga techniques - went so incredibly well, that it spurred an avalanche of ideas. I'm now working on a Nature of Words series of creative writing workshops that will lead participants outside the walls of the typical classroom and into creative spaces. Whenever possible, we'll explore the heart of nature where creativity lives and breathes.

Here are the first two in the series!


I believe each of us has a storehouse of creative gifts and the secret to a happy, purposeful life is found in unlocking that storehouse. And I also believe that learning is most effective in an environment that encourages creativity and calmness.

When we find something that makes our heart pound, isn't our first instinct to share it?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Finding Space ...



"For words, like nature, half reveal, and half conceal the soul within."
Alfred Lord Tennyson

I've met so many people who say they wish they could write. When I suggest that they give it a try, they just look at me and shake their heads...'But I wouldn't know how to start.' Defeat. I can't sail a boat either, but then again, I've never really tried.

I've written about this in a previous posting. Writing isn't just about being published. It's about believing the stories that live inside you are of value. Whether its through words or art or music, our souls need expression...our stories need a voice.

When I first began writing a decade ago, I didn't know how to start either. But, I finally found the courage to let myself dream of being a writer. And when I made a commitment to take concrete steps toward that dream, somehow, the path opened in front of me.

But I had to take the first steps. I had to show I believed in myself.

Today, I look back on that time of my life and marvel at how, when I gave it the chance, serendipity stepped in and guided me down the most wonderful trail I can imagine. Writing has taken me to places I never would have explored and to people I never would have met. It's led me to a deeper understanding myself and life, allowed me to express and develop my thoughts, given me courage and confidence, helped me notice the exquisite detail of my world.


I believe everyone has a creative side. We need to provide a nurturing space to see what emerges. Do you think a flower can imagine all it will become, while it's still just a seed?

So, this summer, in addition to agonizing over my own book writing project (OK - this is the alter side of creativity!), I've put together a series of creative writing workshops with something for beginners and for seasoned writers.

And where else to hold them than where creation lives and breathes and blooms?

"Nature is the art of God."
Thomas Browne

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Metamorphosis

It seems inconceivable that I'm more than half way through the year I've allotted to write my book. I've been so focused on organizing, compiling, interviewing, gathering for this biography - this exploration...this observing and imaginal living of another's life...that sometimes the lines blur between her life and mine.

I've spent literally years dissecting the moments large and small in this life, and now I’m putting it back together again. And after spending so many hours trapped in the fullness and breath of a life tremendously lived, when I do pull away enough to touch myself again, I feel insignificant and insubstantial, like the empty shell left behind when the fledgling flies.

And meanwhile, my own everyday life surrounds my book life, like the white surrounds the yolk, protecting it, feeding it, as it grows into its intended shape and form. Sometimes I wonder, will there be anything of me left at the end of this?

At best, I contemplate with wonder the many ways I've grown and deepened. How my writing and thoughts have stretched. How my interests and views have metamorphosed. I marvel at how I've learned to accept daydreams and mindful meanderings as work.

At worst, I stave off leaden voices of defeat and wonder if I was truly in my right mind to chase a biography for my first foray into book writing. I berate myself for losing focus. I look at what I've written and wonder what imbecile took over my fingers when I wasn't looking.

It's become a tug of war between me and myself. But I'm determined to win.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bird play

My favourite songs of summer are the clear fluted trill of the hermit thrush and the peabody-peabody-peabody melody of the white-throated sparrow.

I wish I had a musical soul.

The thrush's call echoes each evening through the dusky forest, floating on a breath of green rain and moss, luring me to a game of hide n' seek. Sometimes I comply.


I wander about, ear tuned upward and trying to track this ethereal call...does it come from the right? From the left? The thrush eludes me...like a mischievous sprite...he flies deeper into the forest...but not too deep. I thrash through ferns knee-deep, swatting mosquitoes. Then he calls again..."Here I am..." Eventually, I give up.

And the white-throated sparrow..well his song just makes me smile. Except I'd never actually seen one.

Until the other day, when a resounding thud on my office window snapped my attention from my work (any excuse gratefully accepted).

A single feather remained stuck to the glass. I rushed outside, expecting to find a casualty. A shaken sparrow crouched below the window, feathers fluffed and fat. Upright, but eyes closed, unmoving.

After a while, when he still didn't move, I gathered him carefully in a towel and placed him under the covered porch, safe from cats and hawks. With my bird book in hand, I soon realized this was the little songster I so loved.

Mahogany rich, the auburn brushstroke of his feathers...cross-hatch as fine as fishbone...
Tiny beaded eyes...buttoned up snug as a scallop shell. Leftovers on his bill.

He shuddered steadily. I thought he might die...I breathed prayers....I wished....and sent energy his way...and then...right when I thought he would give up his little spunky spirit...

...his little brown eye suddenly, popped open and looked directly into mine. Directly. Into mine. He saw into me. Through me.

For that space in time, there was only him and me. Why does it tingle so, to be recognized...seen...by a wild creature? Why does it feel like such a miracle? Like I've been noticed by God?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Endure


“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
Rachel Carson


This place quiets me with its voice,
Its soft and wild beauty,
This place that pulses in rhythm with
the most magnificent tides on the planet.

I am but one solitary witness.
I see and feel and listen,
but how can I find words to speak of it all?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bay of Fundy whale sighting

Centuries ago, the Mi'kmaq believed the high tides of the Bay of Fundy were created by Whale. After Glooscap commanded Beaver to dam the bay so he could take a bath, he realized he had stolen water from Whale. Wishing to set things right, he asked Beaver to remove the dam, but it was Whale who broke the barrier with the mighty force of his great, powerful tail, causing a giant tide to begin sloshing back and forth in the bay.

It seems the Mi'kmaq knew, even then, what we know now - that the Bay of Fundy is a favoured marine environment for a number of species of whale. They mainly congregate in the Grand Manan area, south of here, where the bay widens into the Gulf of Maine. But this past weekend, a pod of 12-15 Atlantic pilot whales surprised a tour of kayakers with Baymount Outdoor Adventures, at the Hopewell Rocks. In the 13 year history of the company, this was the first such occurrence. One of the guides on the tour sent the link to this video, shot by one of the clients.



Traditionally, we've had very few reports of whales following schools of fish this far up the bay, as at low tide, the water is quite shallow. Just south of the Hopewell Rocks, the bay splits into two tidal rivers, so in this area, fresh water mingles with salt. (see map)

In the 1930's, before a causeway at Moncton blocked the river, about 20 pilot whales were stranded, most perishing, on the mudflats at low tide near Salisbury. Porpoises are common here, and a school of dolphins were also stranded on the mudflats a few years ago, but in the past few years, the odd whale has found its way further inland.

These tourists and guides were very fortunate to have played with this pod.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What if sorrow makes room for joy?

I'm struggling. I feel heavy, lumbering, awkward. When I try to write smaller...when I try to tame the bramble of my own thoughts...to narrow and sort through the tangle of emotion that drifts through my quiet times, I feel I'm just plucking at shadows.

It's a struggle to even write this blog. My handwritten journal these days is wooden, grasping, repetitious.

Absently, I find myself listing loved ones and friends lost in recent days and years, recording their names carefully and reverently on my journal page. Then I continue with those who are slowly fading from view, somewhat surprised by the length of my list...and ashamed how the dead and dying become lost or forgotten in the midst of our life and living.


No wonder I feel empty. As though I, too, am reshaping, transitioning.

I'm being taught.

I wonder...if you can meet life without understanding death, can you then meet death without understanding life?

"It never occurred to me that feeling empty might actually be the route to something deeper and richer within."
Tony Schwartz



"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." Kahlil Gibran

Monday, June 15, 2009

Shadow and Light

Spring’s initial burst of bloom has faded now, the confetti paths of apple blossoms and bilberry petals are past, blown free for another season, lilacs hang limp, wilting in the sun, the chokecherry and pincherry blooms are spent; the tiny ovaries that remain ripening to fruit.


The forest floor is a matted, rumpled carpet of violets, Canada mayflower, pure white starflower, butter-colored bunchberry.


Sasparilla turns from burnished burgundy to green, tangles of fiddleheads long ago unfurled to feathery plumes and new spires of cattails have eclipsed the old. The landscape is settling into summer.
This glorious season has passed so quickly, the transition lost in our own family losses – one tiny grandchild, taken before he had a chance to sigh and breathe; the other, my regal mom-in-law, at the completion of a courageous life, well-lived and loved.


After a time in the flat lands and straight lines of Manitoba, where we flew to comfort my stepdaughter in her tears, then back to NB to attend my mother-in-law's funeral, it was comforting to come home to the hills again...where you cannot always see what lies ahead.


We hiked a coastal trail in Fundy National Park on the weekend…we needed the respite, to grieve for our own losses and to dip our fractured hearts in the serenity of a living forest. We needed the slow, quiet, meditative meandering on curving pathways, sheltered by stately trees that have also seen their share of death and loss and change, yet grow richer and stronger for it.

For we know the dying is a necessary part of the living, as shadow is a necessary part of light. So we surround ourselves with that which brings us peace and we accept change and pain with assurance that all revolves, like the seasons; that death holds hands with life and pain hollows out room for joy.
And tears, like summer, will always come.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A spring visit to the coast

Cape Jourimain marks the point where the graceful curve of the Confederation Bridge leaves New Brunswick shores to cross Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island. The bridge, at 12.9 km, is the longest bridge over ice-covered water in the world and it replaced the ferry crossing that was as much a part of my childhood PEI vacations as Anne of Green Gables, all-you-can-eat-lobster and wading ankle-deep through mud, toes searching for quahogs.

Winter travellers of long ago crossed the 18km strait in small "iceboats" that were dragged, sailed and paddled. Those with money could remain in the boats, while those without, paid their way by helping manoeuver the boats through ice and water. I wonder what they might say now, to see this great span of a bridge that brings such convenience and speed.


Before crossing to PEI, the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre asks us to pause a while to enjoy New Brunswick. Located within a protected National Wildlife Area of 675 hectares, it was designated for conservation because of the diversity of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds using area's marshes and shores. The Jourimain area, sitting at the edge of flat, scenic farmland, has a network of beautiful walking trails and observation points.

It's popular for viewing gannets, great blue herons, willets, and osprey. Even an odd mammal or two...or three...may be spotted...

This shaggy moose is part of a trio created several years ago along the shore by local artist, Peter Manchester. These quirky driftwood creatures have survived several rough winters, and while their coats were a little shabby when we visited last spring, they were still upright and sturdy.

Apropos, indeed, as our own mighty moose have withstood their share of nasty winters lately and no doubt moved into spring with a rib or two showing as well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What is holding you back?

Today, I allow myself to let nothing get in the way of expressing my creativity.

Today, I allow myself to trust in my own light, my own purpose, my own heart.

Today, I allow myself to lean on others when I need their support.

Today, I acknowledge that deep and graceful beauty emerges from loss, but only if we work through our struggles, lift them up and allow them to create a new shape in us...if we allow them to create in us, a new hope.



What is holding you back, today?

Monday, May 4, 2009

On Golden Pond

I’ve fallen to a habit of walking to the duck pond as dusk approaches. As I make my way there, the forest is hushed, pausing to breathe perhaps, after a busy day gathering, nesting, growing. The crackle of leftover leaves and branches underfoot are the only sounds, save the distant chatter of a pair of crows.

But as I near the pond, the silence floats upwards and disappears. The ducks – blacks, mallards, shovelers - have gathered for a community feast. They are gabbing, grabbing, dipping, diving, fluttering, flying, preening and paddling.

The cacophony of babble builds. Hidden in last year’s dry reeds at shore’s edge, the frogs raise their voices, as if determined to be heard. The pond vibrates with sound and colour and energy. On the periphery, a few vigilant geese float, watching the flocks. They take their guardianship seriously, immediately notifying the group of my presence. They seem to be watching out for others, not just their own.



As the sun sets, the water shifts and glows, rippling with orange, pink and blue. Birches, cast in gold, line the bank. On cue, the chatter quiets, as if in awe of heaven’s beauty. A watery kiss and feathery forms float away, 'Vs' trailing behind. The water smooths and softens, like tie-died silk.

For a moment, I am Pisces, as real as the gurgles and cackles and croaks, as elemental as the mud and reeds and setting sun.


For a moment, I can walk on it.

For a moment, I am floating.

And then, for the barest of whispers, I am water…smooth and fluid, cool, vital...


...resourceful, inquisitive, reflective, essential, supportive.

This is why I walk here as dusk settles its weightlessness on me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Firsts of April

First Buds: The Pussywillow


First Flower: Coltsfoot


First Road Trip: to the new Kent Hills Windfarm...whishhhh, whishhhh....


First 28°C day: April 28 - oh joy!

First Coast Crawl: the Fundy Coast


First Rain: heard through an open window

Without the 6 feet of gathered snow this winter, would spring bring such bliss and utter joy as this?

Monday, April 27, 2009

What if we paid heed to childhood desires?

A respectable number of people showed up for Reveille! an open mic event my writing association hosted last Wednesday as part of the Frye Literary Festival here in Moncton. It was pleasantly noisy, but not intimidating, with an appreciative crowd prone to good-natured heckling and howls.

We’d gathered to hear writers and others read from the words of their youth. It was meant to be an ‘awakening’ – hence the name, Reveille - a light-hearted, fun and liberating evening for writers and wannabe writers to give voice to their childhood self.

It was all those things and more.

As one writer after an
other rose to read diary entries, poems, short stories and letters they’d written as children, you could actually hear in the words, hints of the adults they became.

My own revelation came when I stood to recite, “I Want to be Free”, a morose epistle I penned at 16 yrs of age, while I was wallowing in the despair of a social life cut off at the knees. I’d been grounded and in an act of defiance, had skipped school and driven my mother’s car to the beach for the afternoon. There, I pulled out a school notebook and drained my frustration on the page.

Like seagulls against the sky so blue
Like waves upon the beach
I want to be free, oh yes I do,
But freedom’s beyond my reach.

Oh, the trees can whisper their secrets,
The grass can tell its tales,
But to everyone, I own a debt,
My reach for freedom fails…

I want to touch the cool, green trees,
I want to smell the flowers,
I want to forget about all my needs,
Or just while away the hours.

It goes on (and on....), but you get the drift... The audience howled appreciatively (assuaging my fears that they might not think it was funny…) and seemed very happy when I finished and sat down.

But in the midst of the silly words of my teenage melodrama, it hit me. Here I am, some 30 years later, professionally writing about nature.

My writing life has come full circle. I’m still captivated by trees, birds, landforms, ocean.
I still seek out natural settings, beaches and beautiful places when I’m in need of comfort and inspiration.

I think of all the wasted years when I was not writing.

What if I’d had more faith in my childhood desires? What if I'd had more faith in myself?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

MonctonWriters host Reveille! for the Frye Festival

My writing association (MonctonWriters.ca) is hosting a very special open mic event in conjunction with Moncton's premiere international literary event - the Frye Festival). Here is the info...if you live in the Moncton area, we'd love to have you come down and share in the fun...Reveille! promises to be a hoot! Read on...

Are you a writer or wannabe writer (in the Moncton, NB area) who has saved everything you've ever put on paper? Then
Reveille! is for you!

Reveille! Is an open mic event where anyone can share their childhood ‘writings’ with the audience.

Have you saved embarrassing diary entries from your youth?
Letters you wrote to your grandmother?
Short stories you crafted in junior high school?
Angst-filled poetry penned after your high school boyfriend/girlfriend dumped you?

Then come along and
Reveille!

We want to hear what you wrote when the inner 'writer' in you first awakened. (hence: "Reveille – to awaken").

What you need to do:
Bring your original work and be willing to stand up in front of the microphone and read it... with a straight face. The more cringe-worthy, the better!

When: Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Time: 7 to 9 p.m. (pre-registration at 7:00, readings start at 7:30)
Where: Moncton Press Club (160 Assomption Blvd)

Hosted by: Moncton Chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC)

Special guests will be Author Sheree Fitch and CBC Information Morning host, Dave MacDonald (among others!)

Your Emcees for the evening will be PWAC members (and Times & Transcript columnists) Brian Cormier and Brett Anningson.

For more information, visit www.monctonwriters.ca
(or leave a comment here!)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Traveling uncertain ground

It was just an impromptu afternoon excursion with friends, a hike into the waterfalls on Memel Creek.

It would be hard walking; although fields were bare, forests were still thick with grainy cornmeal snow…in some places hip deep. In fact, I hadn’t been on a trail for weeks as my carefully groomed path no longer supported me, and the snow was too heavy and wet for snowshoes. But the forecast warned of two days of snow over Easter (and it was right!), so I wanted to take advantage of an outing before the fresh snowfall.

Armed with gators and trekking poles, we hiked partway, following a groomed snowmobile trail that provided good firm footing. But, once we stepped off the trail to cut through the woods and follow the creek, the snow was uncertain, sometimes holding our weight, other times giving way.

We lumbered along, stepping carefully and consciously; often what appeared firm collapsed or boots caught in covered underbrush and tangled in hidden bent saplings. However, we navigated to the swollen creek and falls without incident.

The noise and power of the spring runoff, surging around granite outcroppings and thundering off the precipice somehow quieted our group and each of us wandered alone for a bit to enjoy the surroundings.

The guys, of course, had typical guy fun.


Later, we heated water for hot chocolate and munched on sandwiches, fruit and cookies, appreciating the cold, clear tumble of water, the musky smell of damp earth, the joys of a first spring outing and easy friendships. A broken birch branch dripped sap slowly...but with steady rhythm...the heartbeat of trees.

We agreed that a life without nature would be empty, like a sky without stars.

The excursion reminded me that too often we are inclined to stick with what we know...the well-traveled paths created by others...easy known routes that are laid flat and firm.


But when we allow a sense of adventure to lead us off the easy route...to make our own path... as uncertain as the terrain may be, we are often courted by the unexpected, challenged by the unanticipated and graced by the uncommon.

And making that journey with friends brings closer ties and even greater reward.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lifeblood of Trees

Frosty nights, tepid days, snowbanks retreating from tree roots, dissolving into drifting mist…this is what coaxes the lifeblood from trees…

The freezing nights lift water from the roots of the drowsy sugar maple - like a sharp intake of breath caused by the cold. There the water mixes with stored sugars in the tree. A warm day expels the sweetened sap like a sigh…

All through the maple woods, thin spiles drip sap into metal cans and friends gather to help collect the clear liquid that fire will turn to gold.

Spring is simply not spring without a trip to the maple sugar camp, where wood smoke mingles with sweet sugary steam, drawing people....condensing community. As sap bubbles and evaporates into syrup, the solitude of winter bubbles and evaporates into the sweetness of laughter and camaraderie.


Like the tree, we also store our sugar...last year's gold...dispensing it throughout summer, fall, winter with care, trying to make it last. Then...one day...we tip the bottle upside down and the last drop is gone.

But spring arrives and we dare to dream of decadence again...glistening maple cream and warm maple syrup...then, finally...FINALLY...we welcome, with a deep, deep sigh, the first taste of spring.