My Alberta

Alberta is in my blood.

Bone-chilling winters and sluggish springs, hesitant to begin, are the heritage of my

childhood.

Canola fields in bloom remain printed behind my eyelids and the scent of mud and

growing things, released from a prison of snow, lingers with me still.

Dusky summer evenings are filled with the bark of foxes, shy deer nibbling grass and

a stubborn sun that refuses to set. Eternal sunshine marks these long summer days.

Filled with these nutrients, the rich, black, soil produces a bounty to all who seek it.

God, I miss that smell of dirt, the scent of growth and greenery, a short season gone

wild.

High above, on the heels of summer, wild geese fly south, honking a plaintive song

that sounds like nostalgia and a desire to hold fast to these fleeting days. Inspired by

the sound of fall, the leaves begin to change. Jewel bright, the birch and poplar

leaves turn yellow, purple, red. Knit between the rows of evergreens, they set the

prairies on fire. Light becomes more rare, the days shortening as winter approaches.

Mornings sometimes begin with a lace of frost on newly fallen leaves. Not too much

longer and the first snowfall will be here, a joyous blanket softening corners

and blunting edges. On those days it’s a privilege – and a travesty – to leave the first

footprints.

Perfection is marred.

Quiet as a cathedral, it’s strange how hushed and reverential snowfall makes the

world. Reversing the summer light, darkness is winter’s hallmark in Alberta. Shadows

begin to fall when afternoons are still young, reaching out greedy fingers to steal the

sun and then not releasing her until well into the day. Trees become bare as bones,

the landscape harsh. Unforgiving. Vernal equinox seems a lifetime away.

Whiteness is how I remember this place. Xerographically printed on my mind, it

seems. Years later, and I still recall, so quickly, the way sunlight blinks on snow,

sending blinding diamonds of light ricocheting in all that open space. Zeus himself

couldn’t produce so blinding a lightning bolt, or so that is how I remember my

Alberta.

 

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Dreaming of Nova Scotia

 

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As the plane banked, circling in preparation for landing, I peered out the

small window for my first good look at Nova Scotia.

Down below, I was surprised at the amount of green and blue. Forests of

spruce and pine trees were spread out in a luxuriant blanket and everywhere,

there were ponds, streams, lakes, and bodies of water. It isn’t surprising that

Dartmouth, now a part of Halifax, has been nicknamed “city of lakes.”

Last summer, I spent five days in Nova Scotia.

Located on the very opposite end of the country from where I spent my

childhood, it was a province I always wanted to see.

I went mid-summer, in July, and stayed with my aunt and uncle in a house

so close to the ocean the sound of waves breaking against the rocky shore

lulled me to sleep at night. Their house was a hop, skip and a jump from

Lawrencetown Beach and even on rainy days, there was usually someone

bobbing in the water, swimming or surfing or para-sailing. 

Physical activity was a way of life and it seemed everyone went walking,

hiking, biking or surfing.

My first evening in Nova Scotia, I went for an after dinner walk with my

aunt and uncle. A short jaunt down the paved road and we were at the trail

that led to Lawrencetown beach. In the opposite direction, was a path that

led up a grassy bluff. Even in July, the air was cool and fresh, scented with a

heady mixture of bay leaves, pine needles and a hint of salt air.

It felt like home.

Wild roses thrived beside the path and in the marshy flats, cattails waved on

tall stalks. Once at the top of the hill, we had a clear view of the ocean and

the pebbly beach far below. Every year those persistent waves erode a little

more of the cliffs, carving out chunks of land one piece at a time until giant

boulders tumble into the water.

The trail we walked goes for miles. Called the Trans Canada Trail, it runs

along the ocean, meandering beside water and marshes, over a bridge,

across roads and nearly through people’s backyards. I went for a long bike

ride on the Trans Canada one afternoon, over a path that switched from

packed dirt to loose gravel and that passed under open skies and then down

shady, tree-lined trails. It was a beautiful ride and one of my favorite parts

of the trip. I passed by people chopping wood in their back yards and my 

aunt and I stopped and talked with a woman with a delightful accent who

talked about the “black beers” that wander up in people’s yards in search of

food. I didn’t know this at the time, but the Trans Canada Trail was

developed and promoted by a non-profit organization and is one of the

world’s longest networks of trails. There is already 17,000 kilometers of trail

developed (about 10,500 miles) and more planned. When it’s done, it will

connect the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

We spent one afternoon walking along the Halifax harbor, threading our

way through the crowds and poking in touristy little shops. Out on the

water, tall ships were docked, white sails folded like wings, rigging creaking

with the swell of waves. I stood and took pictures of the beautiful ships and

looked into harbor water as green as jade. After we tired of the crowds, we

wandered through a pretty park and along sidewalks in downtown Halifax. I

love the way the city has preserved its charming old buildings, converting

them into coffee shops and clothing stores. This province has history and it

is displayed in its architecture. One of my uncles lives on a quiet street in

Halifax in a 100 year house he and his wife had restored. All the houses on

the street are beautiful and narrow and sit side by side. Inside, there are

golden hardwood floors, tall ceilings and the weight of history in the walls.

One of the must-see sights in Nova Scotia is Peggy’s Cove, a popular tourist

destination. Little fishermen’s houses, colorful as a bag of candy, dotted he

hillside, while lobster traps sat in piles on the shore and boats bleached in

the sun, hulls facing outward. The main feature of the cove is the pretty, red-

capped lighthouse perched on a jumble of giant rocks near the ocean. The

wind is ferocious and even in mid-summer, I wore a light jacket. We

scrambled over rocks, some black and slick with salt water, so I could take

photos and see the ocean up close.

Even from many feet away I felt the spray from the waves on my face. Get

too close and you’re likely to be swept into the turbulent ocean, never to be

seen again. The power of the ocean was awe-inspiring The drive to Peggy’s

Cove is worth the trip. Smaller coves are tucked away everywhere, framed

by stunning views of pine and spruce trees and blue water. Picturesque

boats are pulled up on shore while sea gulls flutter overhead.

Five days in Nova Scotia didn’t seem to do the place justice and I’d like to

return and see more of this pretty province. Just one more thing to add to my

ever-growing travel list!

 

welcome to the courtroom

The subtle signs of tension are there. A muscle jumps in his cheek, his hands are

clasped behind his back. The man stands beside his attorney, completely still, as the judge

ponders.

The silence in the courtroom stretches on until finally the judge breaks it.

He would scratch the order for the man’s arrest.

A lecture followed. The burden of keeping up with court dates rested squarely on his

shoulders and there were to be no more excuses about lost letters or missed phone calls.

The next time he didn’t show up for scheduled court date, a warrant would be issued for

his arrest and he would find himself sitting in the Cleveland County jail.

Next up, a man in a yellow jump suit that made him look jaundiced.

A fidgety woman with pockmarked skin and sharp bones sat in the front row, eyes trained

on the main with the braided hair. Her young daughter, dark bangs covering her face, sat a

few rows back, head bowed over her seat. The prosecutor read from a file the charges

against him. How the girl said he had touched her, rubbed his private parts on her, poked

his fingers in her. Would the child’s mother like to speak?

She jumped up, stood in front of the judge, and tearfully, jerkily, asked that the man be

locked up for as long as possible.

The man in the jumpsuit pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced.

The drama was played out, exhausted itself, and new characters took their place.

This time it’s a domestic violence case.

A man had shoved his girlfriend into a closet, beat her with the butt of his gun, fired shots

off into the house and threatened to hold her daughter hostage, the prosecutor said. The alleged abuser claimed he paid his dues to stay on the streets and had the cops in his

pocket. Witnesses heard the man threaten the woman. Bullets were retrieved from the

couch in her living room where they had gone through the floor and ricocheted into the

furniture.

Now, the woman stands before the court and asks for the charges to be dropped.

It was all a misunderstanding, she says, nervously twisting her hands.

It didn’t really happen that way.

She doesn’t know where those bullets came from.

She knows him better than the prosecutors and judges.

They plan to have a relationship. They have a child together.

The prosecutor jumps up, spitting mad, the state plan to pursue prosecution.

If she doesn’t have to sense to do if for herself, then the state will do it for her, the

prosecutor said.

“Do you have a death wish, maam?” The judge asks.

The reluctant mother

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I’m not cut out to be a mother.

Not all of us are you know.

In spite of this fact, I became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. She was born on a Thursday in February after 23 hours of gut wrenching labor that began on Valentines day. The surgeon had to slice open my abdomen and pull her out, gasping for her first breaths of oxygen and trying, lustily, her vocal chords out.
I remember a tear slipping down my cheek.

She was beautiful. She was perfect.
And then I took her home and my entire life changed. It wasn’t about me anymore. In fact, some days it felt like there was no me anymore. My glorious freedom, my selfish whims, my desires, were snatched up and held close fisted and were not returned. An eight pound infant was my dictator and I lived by her rules.
As a person, I changed. I learned a new found patience as I rocked her hour upon hour when she could not sleep. I learned what an amazing thing life is and how captivating a feather can be. I experienced a new sense of pride over babbled words, first steps and the word “mommy.”
I am her mommy. Her one and only. The person who holds her little body close before bed. Kisses the bumps and bruises. Rescues her from yellow jackets, the vacuum cleaner and monsters in the closet.
I discipline her two year old tantrums and set boundaries for her blooming independence.
I love her as I have never loved before.
But still. I am not cut out to be a mother.
There are all these things I love to do, all these dreams I have, that don’t seem compatible with motherhood. Traveling the world. Pursuing great careers. Writing novels. Going out in the evenings.
Sometimes, if I have days off during the week, I drop her off at daycare and revel in the me-time. In the car, I turn my music up loud, crank the windows down and feel all my mom-ness evaporating into the atmosphere.
At home, I clean unhindered. I paint the guest room. I read a book without interruption, go shopping with no rush, no fuss, no screaming toddler.
I love it.
But a few hours pass and I see her toys scattered across the rug, remember how she hugged me that morning, and hear, like an echo, “I love you much,” in my ear.
A piece of me is missing.
When I go pick her up in the afternoon she spots me and comes running.
“Mooommmy!”
I scoop her up and hug her tight, her little arms wrapped around my neck and I can’t think of a better place to be or a better person to share a moment with.
Two seconds later, she’s out of my arms.
“I want to walk.” Insistent. Independent.
I think she’s like me.
I think we will grow and learn together and are developing the art of being mother and daughter.
I might not be cut out to be a mother but it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.

confessions of a book nerd

Ever since I learned to read at the age of 4, the written word has been like food for my soul. Or maybe more like a good crack rock to an addict. Through books I am able to live a thousand lives. When my own life disappoints, they provide a temporary escape. Books teach, entertain, transport and elevate. I can leave my small town behind and be anywhere or anything I please.
I blame my obsession with reading on genetics. More often that not, my dad can be found sitting in an armchair, legs stretched out, reading glasses perched on his nose, a concentrated furrow in his brow as he holds a thick volume in his hands. He blasts through 500 page books in hours, running through them like a stack of pancakes.
I like to carry novels around with me like a talisman for good luck. A long stop light, waiting rooms, and other boring moments in life afford perfect opportunities to read.
As a result of this addiction, my home is overrun with books. I have three bookshelves stuffed full. Stacks of novels seem to multiply on flat surfaces and I’m usually caught up in several stories at once. I squirrel them away like I’m stockpiling food during a famine. I love book stores, especially used ones.
This weekend, I made a trip to the Foothills Farmers Market, wandering between booths set out on Washington Street in front of the grand old courthouse. Though the perpetually cloudy sky threatened rain, it held off all morning and I purchased some ground beef, a basket of peaches, still as firm as apples, and a bottle of pale pink wine made of muscadines and scuppernongs at a local vineyard.
Afterwards, we made a stop at the Hospice store. People donate items and the proceeds go towards supporting patients and their families receiving hospice care.
It had the usual jumble of cast-off furniture, toys, handbags, candle holders. And books. Lot and lots of books. Four for a dollar. My arms quickly filled up with a few children’s books for Nat, a Steinbeck classic, a compilation of Annie Dillard’s works and a nonfiction called “Farm City” by Novella Carpenter.
After scanning the first few sentences of Farm City, I was hooked.
It was right up my alley. A quirky, nonconformist with a penchant for both the urban and the outdoorsy, Carpenter details her experience as an inner-city farmer in a section of Oakland, CA known as “Ghost Town.”
It all begins with an empty lot beside the apartment she shares with her boyfriend. That empty lot, claimed like a squatter, becomes a lush garden yielding limes, herbs, melons, carrots and so much more. She keeps bees on her deck and raises meat and egg chickens. I love Carpenter’s fresh descriptions, her forthright personality and the way she takes scraps and abandoned things and turns them into something useful. I also like the way she writes, the fresh descriptions and the way she brings her neighbors to life – an eclectic, motley crew that ranges from Buddhist monks to Bobby who sleeps in junkyard cars.
I’m not even half-way through the book and I’m already longing to see this place in person. Carpenter has also inspired me to begin my own adventures in “farming.”
Now I am scheming how to build an A-frame chicken coop to keep in my backyard. I want to start gardening, canning and preserving.
And that is the power of a good book – it leads to a life that is a littler fuller, a little more enriched and a lot more inspired.

If interested in learning more about Novella Carpenter and her urban farm, visit her blog at: ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com