Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In the blink of an eye

A photograph taken on an outing to Miners Marsh in Kentville shows how one minute youre swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.
There are moments in our lives when everything changes. No matter who we are, or what we do, we all have experiences that change our lives in a heartbeat. One moment everything is normal, and in the blink of an eye our world has been turned upside down.

I was photographing some birds at the Miner's Marsh in Kentville a while back, and had my camera trained on a black bird walking along the water's edge. In a flash that must have been just a split second, the bird reached into the water and grabbed a small fish. It happened so quickly that I missed the action while looking through my camera lens, and only captured the result - the bird with the fish in it's beak. One minute you're swimming along enjoying life, and in a split second catastrophe can strike.

Maybe it's a cancer diagnosis, or a car accident, or a death in the family. There are endless situations that can pack a wallop that drops us to our knees when we least expect it.

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the swing of our backyard deck and thinking about how lucky I was. I often think about how lucky I am, so that's no big surprise. However, that particular week was not one of my best. I was alone on the swing with only my dogs for company while my husband was in the hospital after surviving a major stroke. At that particular moment, I was feeling lucky and blessed because just a few days before he was completely paralyzed on the left side of his body. But a couple of days can make a huge difference, and after his brain recovered from the shock he became more and more mobile. 

While I was sitting on that swing and trying to process all the changes, I was contemplating life with some new challenges instead of facing a future with a completely dependent person. And that's why I felt fortunate instead of filled with despair.

I am no stranger to strokes and the devastation they can cause. My father had a severe stroke when I was just 21. He was told he would never walk again, but he worked hard and was released from the hospital after one year. He lived a fulfilled life for another 16 years and accomplished many wonderful things.

In a very broad generalization that I am prone to concluding now and then, I have noticed that there tends to be two types of people. We've all heard of the "glass half full" versus "glass half empty" example of how different people can be presented with the same situation and come away with totally a different perception of things. I truly believe that attitude can make a huge difference. 

Don't get me wrong. Since that awful day in late June, I have had times of terrible grief and feelings of complete helplessness. There have been moments when my sadness has been so great that it was a physical thing, squeezing my heart and stealing my breath. I have had periods of self doubt so overwhelming that I didn't think I could cope with the future ahead. I didn't think I would have the patience or ability to do what I needed to do, or be who I needed to be.

But I continue to give thanks for the blessings in my life. I am thankful that we were in the emergency department when the stroke occurred, and my husband received the absolute best and quickest care possible. I am thankful for the doctors and nursing staff, the therapists and team of people working hard every day to ensure whatever possible progress is made. I am thankful for our family and friends who have made my time at home alone more possible to bear. I am thankful for the strength of my husband, who has been determined to prove he can do whatever he is told is not possible.

So in these post-stroke weeks, I have given a lot of thought to the priorities in my life. Some of the dreams that seemed important to me before, now become a lot less significant. Some of my "to do's" have dropped by the wayside. Now, some of the "major accomplishments" I wanted to achieve don't seem to matter anymore. At this moment, somehow it seems more important to be kind, to be generous, and to enjoy friends and family, rather than achieving goals that really dont matter in the grand scheme of things.

I am thankful for this chance to continue to share my life with the most important person in my world. It will be a different life than we had planned, but I have a partner to travel that path with me, and things might have been very, very different.

During our weeks at the hospital, a nurse asked my husband "Is this your wife?", he replied "She's not just my wife. She's my everything." And that is truly something wonderful to focus on during our challenges ahead.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 19, 2017

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Church Going of a Different Variety

A recent trip to St. Matthew's United Church in Halifax to listen to the Lunch Bunch community choir sent me down the memory lane of visits to various church conversions.
I was in downtown Halifax listening to a lovely choir singing a couple of weeks ago. As I sat there, I gazed around enjoying the sights as well as the sounds. There is something lovely about century old churches, almost as if they absorb the feelings of generations of people and then pass them on to every visitor.

I am not a church goer, nor a follower of organized religion. My parents were members of a church when I was young, and I attended Sunday School every Sunday until I was old enough to switch to the services. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I rebelled when I hit the age of 16 and stopped going. It was a year when the young brother of one of my friends died, the father of another friend died, and my own brother, who was 17 years my senior, lost his battle with brain cancer. I was not happy with the world, and religion wasnt my answer. That does not mean that I do not give thanks every day for the blessings in my life.

I do, however, love visiting old churches and a peaceful feeling always washes over me when I walk through their doors. I also enjoy photographing them, although I have yet to capture the essence of how they make me feel in a two dimensional image. 
And, to the bewilderment of my husband, I have always wanted to live in a converted church. I have dragged him to several abodes over the years, in Ontario and in Nova Scotia. Some were already fully converted, and some were a work in progress. Many people, my husband included, would be dismayed at changing a church into a private residence. But I believe that giving new life to any unused building is something to be celebrated.

We visited one residence during an open house. It was partially converted, which lots of work still to be done. We drove by a another while we were living in Ontario and vacationing in Nova Scotia. It was located across the road from the ocean, a more scenic spot than a lot of churches have. They catch my eye, and my interest, no matter where they are located.

We used to travel around the back roads of Eastern Ontario in a bright yellow Miata, and often drove south through small towns like Athens and Delta. Every time we drove through Delta, we would sing "Delta Dawn, whats that flower you have on?" in perfect harmony (not). It was something that one of us started, and then both of us continued doing every time we passed through the area in one of those silly rituals that only people who have been together a long time can relate to. 
We also passed an absolutely beautiful converted church every time we drove that road. But one time we went by and there was a for sale sign on the lawn. Do you want to turn around and go back, my husband asked after we breezed by. Yes, of course, was my reply. He began to regret asking that question. 
One of many rural churches now privately owned and waiting for new life.
We drove by slowly and took a long look. I checked out the listing online when we got home, and then called the real estate agent and booked a showing. I was captivated, and enthralled, and my husband was horrified. The windows were not stained glass, but neither did they open. Ever the practical one, he wondered how we would get any fresh air. My answer was to visit a window supply store with photos in hand, in order to obtain a quote to replace all the windows. Another visit was booked with the real estate agent, and I was still enthralled. My husband was not. Adding yet another negative in my husbands mind, the real estate agent told us that she had to disclose the residence had a ghost. 
Finally, figuring that this dream had been taken way too far, I was told that he was absolutely not interested in moving. His strategy of thinking I would come to my senses had backfired. I was devastated, and cried my heart out sitting on our backyard deck. We were on different pages during that whole period of time, and my dreams were dashed. It was a tough one to get over, and I kept my photographs and looked at them every day until I knew it was time to move on from that particular dream.

But dreams are dreams, and arent always practical. I still look at listings of churches when I see them, even though we have no ability to renovate. Practicalities are not my strength, but why worry about feasibility when dealing with a dream? 
Besides, if that dream had come true, then I wouldnt have ended up living another dream in Nova Scotia.

Since it doesnt look like Ill be living in one any time soon, I do enjoy visiting church conversions, and there are some lovely ones to see. Wineries and art galleries located in former churches are lovely to visit.
Now, I wonder if the former Baptist Church in Bridgewater is being converted to condos or apartments? Theres always something new to focus on.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 14, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

South Shore Stories

a cozy corner from inside The Port Grocer in Port Medway
Being involved with a hobby, any hobby, can be a fulfilling pastime. Sometimes frustrating, when we're trying to learn a new technique. And very rewarding, when something we are trying to create comes to fruition. Whether you sketch, paint, hook, knit, crochet, garden, sail, show cars,or whatever, it all takes patience to learn a craft and a willingness to try new things in order to succeed.

And there comes a time when it's important to share our skills with other people.
It can be intimidating to put our work into the public eye because, let's face it, sometimes people are critical and heartless. It can be challenging to develop the confidence in our achievements, and even ourselves, to put our work on display. 

It may surprise you that I am a very private person, and tend not to share too much of myself with anyone. Writing these articles is a real dichotomy for me, but somehow it doesn't seem too public to reveal my thoughts while keyboarding on my computer in my private office. It always surprises me when someone I meet comments on something I have written, because sending my articles to my editor never seems like I'm sharing with the public.

Maybe for that reason, I have become braver about sharing my photography and have been involved in several exhibits recently. I was thrilled to have two of my photographs accepted for exhibit at a public gallery earlier this year, something I haven't done since 2013. 

One of the most challenging things for me to do regarding an exhibit is to decide which image to display. I'm sure every artist must face the same frustration. Each image that I create has personal meaning for me. Some people think photography is just the press of a button, but it is so much more. It takes time, sometimes many trips to the same location, to get the circumstances exactly right in order to capture the scene the way you want. A lot of thought goes into how to best set up the shot to try to convey some feeling and connection with the viewer. And sometimes a lot of time is put into the processing of the image, tweaking the pixels on the computer in today's modern version of the darkroom.

In addition to my personal displays, I've been working hard with a couple of other people to put together several shows for our photography club. 

It has been five years since our photo club has exhibited, and this year we have created three in just six months. The first one was held at the library in Bridgewater in May, and we have moved some of the images to a new location for the next couple of weeks. Later in the year, we'll be mounting a brand new exhibit at the DesBrisay Museum in Bridgewater.

The Port Grocer, Cafe & Art Space in Port Medway is an active place of food, music and art. A small, rural grocer, they also supply packaged foods for take home, and a wonderful cafe if you choose to eat in. It's a charming location for displaying our photo club's South Shore Stories until July 17th.

Choosing an exhibit theme for a large group of people is more difficult than you might think. Keeping it general enough to entice a number of people to participate, yet interesting enough to create a cohesive display, is a daunting task. But our committee rose to the occasion with the South Shore Stories theme. Reading the story cards that correspond with each image is quite interesting, and reveals the interests of a wide range of photographers.

New to our club this year, Shelburne photographer Brenda Bancroft chose to display an image of the Drowned Forest at The Hawk, Cape Sable Island. Only visible at low tide, the 1500 year old forest of petrified tree stumps are a wonder to see. I have never timed my visits to The Hawk right in order to see them, and Brenda's photograph is a beautiful capture of this intriguing area.

Dublin Shore photographer Kas Stone also chose to display an image of a sight I've never seen. Using her artist's eye, she took the waterfront buildings of the iconic town of Mahone Bay and re-imagined them into a vibrant display of colours and whimsical reflections using her post processing skills.

Trevor Awalt, a photographer from the Aspotogan Penninsula, keeps us in the real world with his image "While I Lay Sleeping", a beautiful night scene from Northwest Cove. The boat "Jubilee 1", built in Chester in 1996, was involved with recovery operations during the Swiss Air disaster in 1998.

Gary Smith, our current Photo Club President, chose to display a beautiful nature photograph of two young fox nestled in the sand dunes at Crescent Beach, capturing their innocence and curiosity.

I can't list them all here, but there are more photographs made by a talented pool of interesting people, and I hope I have enticed you to take a look. All these people have found something good to focus on for their South Shore Stories.

published in the South Shore Breaker - July 5, 2017 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pond-ering Several Homes

Backyard ponds are a benefit to frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, and birds, to name a few, and also create opportunities to improve photography skills.
I spent a few days last week harvesting one of Nova Scotias best crops, a never ending supply of rocks. I was digging a hole for a small backyard pond and Mother Nature threw me a challenge or two. Admittedly, it would have taken me a lot less time to dig a few years ago. It's amazing how age seems to creep up on you and then hit you with a wallop.

Weve been without a backyard pond for the past two years, ever since we moved from our country place into town. We did, however, have a pond form, one of those molded shapes made out of rigid material to make backyard do-it-yourself a simple task. The pond form has been sitting unused in various places over the past two years, either hidden by a fence in a corner of our backyard, or taking up prime real estate in our garage. 

Both storage places irritated me enough to forget about how much work having a pond is, and planning the best spot to locate one on our town lot. How did we end up with a pond form, you might ask. Are we the only ones who have carted a pond from home to home as we moved across the country to a new province? Probably.

Our first pond in our first home was really just a spot of water in our postage stamped size downtown lot in Ottawa. We used a half whisky barrel, filled it up with water, and threw in a pond plant. The barrel was buried in the garden, and absorbed and retained the water just fine without a liner. We moved from the city to our first country place, which was actually not in the country but in a suburban type residential area just outside a small town.

Thats where my gardening adventures began. We had a one and a half acre lot, and when my dad visited us his piece of advice was not to let my gardens get too large or they would be a burdensome amount of work. I remembered that advice about 15 years after he gave it to me, two properties and very large sized flower and vegetable gardens later.
Our cat Phantom enjoyed drinking from one of our first ponds
We had a few ponds at that home. We started with a new half whisky barrel and liner on our deck with the obligatory pond plant and our cat Phantom enjoyed drinking out of it. To be honest with you, I really cant remember what happened to that pond. Next, I spotted a blue bathtub at the end of someones driveway when we were out on a back roads drive. I convinced my husband to return and pick it up and we lugged it home for me to create a larger pond on the ground at the corner of our deck. I made a rock wall around it and we became the owners of two goldfish. 

It didnt take me long to be unhappy about my bathtub. It turns out that although I like the thought of re-purposing used items, I really dont like to have them in or around my own home. 

We lugged the bathtub to the dump, where it should have been deposited after the first owner, and invested in a three foot by four foot pond form. Im not sure if the fish were happier, but I was. Until the day that our fish disappeared and I found a molted snake skin on the edge on the pond.

After 10 years living in suburban country, it was time for us to make one of my dreams come true and we moved to Nova Scotia. Crazy me, I dug up my pond form, filled in the hole with dirt and perennials, and hauled the pond across the country to our new home.

But the pond looked puny on our 20 acre lot. You know where this is going, right?

After we purchased a tractor with a back hoe, we put my husband to work. He dug a huge 15 foot by eight foot pond, with a depth of over six feet. We bought a tarp and created our own liner, and filled it up gradually so our well didnt run dry. A birthday present of two koi, lots of work to "naturalize" the area, and a bench made out of a huge rock slab dragged into place by the tractor, made it a wonderful spot to sit and contemplate. Our pond form was retired to the storage shed.
Our granddaughter, with the help of our dog, added koi to our expanded country pond before the surrounding landscape was created.
We didnt see our koi the next spring, and thought they must have perished over the winter, so we stocked the pond with six goldfish. It turned out that the koi got moving once the water warmed up, and the koi and goldfish like the pond so much that we ended up with hundreds of them. Frogs, dragonflies and butterflies all loved it and, along with quiet times around the pond, I had lots of opportunities to improve my photography skills.

This is about the time I remembered my dads advice from years ago, and all that work catches up to you as you age. It was time to move into town, and time to move the pond form to its third home.

I contemplated selling it, but I couldnt do it. Two years later, and here we are with a freshly dug hole and inserted pond form. Im very proud to say that its as close to level as it has ever been and it has just been filled with water from our rain barrel.

Its primed, and ready for a couple of fish. But were waiting on a visit from our grandchildren to introduce the fish, so that will be a focus for another day.

published in the South Shore Breaker - June 28, 2017