Monday, 14 December 2015

Heading Home for the Holidays

Home? What is that you say? Well, we are homeward bound in two days. We call it home as it is where the bulk of our kids, grandkids and bestest pals reside. We know we'll be welcomed and everyone will want to hear about our further adventures in the land of snow and ice. We'll stay in Prospect Bay, visit in Halifax, Fox Point and Chester. We'll eat too much and stay up too late. We probably will get hopelessly behind in Longmire episodes, but we won't give a care. We'll miss our bed and our view of the beach, but we won't miss Bella, cuz we're bringing her with. Yay says step-dot Sarah! We'll miss Robin and our special brand of family dinners, but heck - she left us lonely the last two Christmases, so now tis her turn.

Recent news of interest to Sojourner visitors - we were plagued by a wolf for the past two weeks. It meant I came to work an hour early so I could catch a ride, and it meant no idly walking on the beach for this scaredy-cat. Now rumours abound. Was it killed? Someone shot one wolf from a snowmobile but wasn't sure it was fatal. Another person says there are two - a black one and a reddy-brown one. The black one killed a dear little beagle in the its yard, just down a few houses. I wish they didn't have to be killed but I sure understand the need to do so. That is one of the weird twists of living here. Yes, there are wolves, bears, and foxes - but there are also hunters, trappers and plenty of guns.
here is a bear whose photo I took
and a wolf that I found on the net:

I'm finished work today - go tomorrow for graduation and then not again until the fourth of the new year. In between, I'll draw, I'll write, I'll loll and visit.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Where Winter is Greeted with Delight

One of my favorite things about Labrador is that I no longer dread winter. In Nova Scotia, and before that in Ottawa, my spirits would sink into my mukluks as the dread season approached. By February and March I'd be beside myself with hatred of snow and ice and black ice and more snow and most of all, of lousy driving conditions.

Here in Labrador, winter is anticipated with delight. The former mayor was just over to our house and he was exclaiming how happy he was that the colder temperatures had FINALLY arrived. It is minus fifteen today and sunny as can be. Why does he and most of the others here want that low temperature? Why, so the bay will freeze of course, and the snow-goes can be brought out. So folks can get to their cabins, and ice fishing can commence.

We have no cabin - feeling no longing to escape the hurly-burly of downtown North West River (population 523 on a fat day). We do have Uncle Dick's snowmobile. I don't love it - racketing along with the bumps and dips of the land or bayscape. But I do love walking along the shore instead of slogging through the woods and that is easy-peasy once the bay has frozen tight. And I love the infinite variation of snow and ice forms along the shore - the ballycatter, the crazy candle-ice of spring, all of it. The ice makes a poetic long-line showing where the determined tide still manages to effect its design.

Here are some photos of my walks to work this week. I will also include a photo of the lighting of the kudlik - a soapstone lamp used for centuries by the Inuit. Miriam Lyall, an Inuk from the coast, came to our centre to show our families how it is done.

 the road I live on...
  A view of Upalong from the bridge.

Miriam lights the kudlik

 the hills behind Little Lake with their dusting of snow

 the hill from the bridge where I work.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Grace in Small Things #4

1. A picnic at the Halifax Airport with my bestest pals. On a four hour layover I was taken to a observing deck where we had smoked salmon, delicious cheeses, baguette, florentines, bubbly, and best of all - great huge helpings of good conversation, hugs, and kisses.

2. When my daughter-in-law was trying to get my youngest grandchild's onesie on he yelled out beseechingly "Meemaw!" (his name for me).

3. Is this a small thing? No. However. We got out country back - we got our country back. I can't stop being so grateful for that.

4. Last night I knit and watched a silly show with my fella. I love that.

5. Crows.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Grace in Small Things #3

1. My coffee warms me thrice. Considering it. Holding the cup of it in my hands. Feeling it slip down my throat.

2. Two new pals are coming for dinner tonight. I stayed up late to make Arroz con Pollo for them. It smells delicious and the recipe connects me back to one of my oldest pals, who I got to think of while making it, as we have done so many times over the past 40 years.

3. I am going to help the Buffalo Riders (grade 5s) make medicine bags today.

4. The yellow leaves of the turning trees make every view even more delightful. Medicine for the heart.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Grace in Small Things #2

Where I found grace in the past while:
1. Making a new dolly.  So utterly satisfying when I was stuffing the little limbs. I don't know why, but it is.

2. Watching Bill Cunningham, New York on netflix. This octogenarian cool hunter is such a lovely, enlightened being. Watch it.

3. Making a kale dish that everyone went yum yum for by transforming a Canadian Living recipe from swiss chard. Who doesn't like frazzled onions?

4. the sun coming up all rosy and pearly over the bay this morning. I never get tired of that.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Grace in Small Things #1

I just joined a movement. It is the movement to notice what is working instead of what isn't. Or that's how I see it. The campaign I just joined is called Grace in Small Things and this will be my inaugural post. Here is a link to the community GIST. I have agreed to not much which is about my speed these days. I've agreed to post,  whenever I feel so moved, a list of things that gave me a moment of grace. From this time on I won't give a big to do about it - just a posting of things...

Here goes -

1. When we turn the heat on in the kitchen it comes up under the padded bench. I love to sit there in the morning, drinking my coffee, and reading my book. Sometimes the gal, Bella, joins me.

2. My sweet patootie drives me to work because he knows my joints are giving me a hard time right now. He never makes me feel bad to ask.

3. My discipline is strong right now and it gives me so much joy to know that I am keeping my promises to myself - an hour of writing every day (more on weekends), a half to full hour of meditating (more on weekends), drawing at least four times a week.

4. Fall apples - eating and drawing.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Where I Find Myself

Where is home? It is a question I've pondered on this blog before, and undoubtedly will do so again. Today I'm talking about a different sort of home. Labrador - the wild part - is vast and awesome in the real meaning of the word. The communities that are speckled across it, like the freckles on my shoulders in early spring, are small and isolated. Several of them are communities made up primarily of indigenous people. I live in a town of settlers, settled when most of the Innu (one of two indigenous peoples here) were mostly on the move. They would come to this part of Labrador in the summer, when fishing was good, and the bugs in the interior too thick and voracious to ignore. Now they are settled here permanently in a community called Sheshatshui. The other community of Innu is farther north, in a place called Natuashish. Families do still go between the two but by plane and boat mostly. Natuaushish  has no white community nearby like Sheshatshui does and so has a slightly different set of opportunities and obstacles.

I work in Sheshatshui. I work for a treatment centre that works with indigenous families from Labrador (both Innu and Inuit) Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I also work as an outreach counselor in Sheshatshui. So that is two different sets of people. As the outreach counselor I go into the community - the school mainly and group homes and halfway houses.

Since I started going to the school (late spring and now this fall) I have fallen in love with the community. It is a tortured love though, as this is a tortured community. I think if I posted photos of the community you might think I'm in a war torn part of the world. And I am. The war is not between the people and substance abuse, as many might assume. No, the drug and alcohol abuse is simply a symptom, or a lousy coping device. The war is between hope and despair. It is between an image of a strong and independent people and the ones who were left after they were shamed and traumatized by those-who-know-better. I am learning not to dwell on that though. It is pointless and doesn't make things different. The image I hold in my heart is that I am Hawkeye Pierce or maybe Hot Lips Hoolihan and I work in a M.A.S.H. unit.  We don't have the fancy tools that downtown hospitals have (in this analogy that would be a solid team of trained professionals, suicide teams, shrinks, holistic health-care workers). We have to make do with what we do have. We have to try with the skill sets available to reach kids who have seen and experienced atrocities that would fell any one of us. We have to remain positive when we feel like screaming and giving up. We have to keep on keepin' on - just like the kids do. And they do. They are full of fun and smarts and love.

This week is a hard one. It is Band Council elections. That means that candidates have been bringing in truck loads of beer and the parties have been non-stop. The kids are suffering and so are those parents who struggle daily with their own addictions or those of their children. It is backwards and awful and there is no way out of it but through. The election is today. By Monday maybe things will be quieter. I sure hope so.

Last night I got home and started knitting. Then I started crying. Luckily I have a swell guy who gets what is going on. Today I'm going back to the school and I can't wait to get there. Because it feels like where I need to be and that is how we think of home isn't it?

Monday, 31 August 2015

I'm still here

Last night there was a slice of the full moon showing just above the Mealy Mountains and just below a mass of clouds. The fella and I decided to put Nashville on pause and go take a gander. I grabbed my camera but not my shoes (hey, it's still August) and out we ran. Gone. Nada. Altogether goneness. We came back and settled in on the couch. Long about the time that Scarlet was crying or Juliette was getting married, or something like that, the moon popped up again, but it wasn't orange anymore and it was behind a tree, and well, we didn't run out. It's just a moon. It'll come back.

Do you see where this is going? I'm lazy with available beauty. I'm full of gorgeousness and need not make an effort for it to fall in my eyes. The bears and the bugs are too bad, I'm too tired from work, I have other stuff to do.

I'm heartbroken with my craziness about this. Heartbroken.

I'll get back to it, but not today. Today it is bucketing down. Well there is supposed to be between 15 and 25 mm fall. And I'm at work.

My first year here was absolute heaven. I totally appreciate that and it is not re-doable. I hope I never took it for granted and I hope I realize right now, that this part of my life is precious and unique too. I will never have my first year of getting to know the Innu people again. Nope. Just this one mad swing through life.
Whew. Hold on.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

1st Annual Aurora Art Show

Tonight our show opens in North West River. I have eleven photographs in the show. They are all Labrador photos - seven are of the beach in front of our home. I'm excited and thrilled at the whole process so far. It was great finding a good printer and deciding on a workable size (13 x 19). I have two of them framed and more frames coming for those who want that option. I'm happy with the prices and how I displayed them. I like the group of artists that I'm working with - and that I got all the publicity done in time. We're having wine (partridge berry and boxed), cheese, fruit and crackers. We have a schedule of who will man (or woman) the show through its one week run. Now let's get this show on the road. Well, not really, but up and at em. I hope we get a good crowd. The reason we're doing it this week is that NWR hosts an annual beach festival and lots and lots of folks will swell the usual 500 residents. People come home for the festival - though we did have some bad news. Apparently Dr. Hook broke his foot and won't be coming. Dang. Don't know what he needs his foot for anyway! But there will be lots of great local music so no problemo. Truth? I don't really care for Sylvia's Mother or On the Cover of the Rolling-Stone so...

Here's a sneak preview...

Monday, 13 July 2015

I want to be awake

I want to be awake to my world - whatever it is. I want to notice the little bird that just landed on my window sill - is it a Northern Paralu? It might be...but right now I just want to see it. I want to hear the voices of the families and staff as they get ready to set off to Nutshimit  (the land-based portion of the time they spend at the treatment centre where I work). I want to touch the velvety face of the baby who is here, and smell the Twin-Flowers in our woodland yard. I want to stop rushing through my life as if it was a race and I'd get a prize for finishing first (in my age category!). I want to treasure the view of the lake from my office window and imagine my fella and I canoeing there when the weather clears up. I want to be here now because I know I must be present to win.

Life is hurtling along - haven't written here for ages. I'm back at work and loving it. And I'm going up to Nutshimit in two weeks - with my fella and the pooch too. The fella is going to cook and I'm going to be a counselor as I am here. There is a whole different team that goes up on the land usually but a bunch of the staff are going on a yearly pilgrimage so we're filling in. Yay! This is living in cabins, fishing, campfires, lots of sharing and just being on the land. I'm really looking forward to it as it is an important part of this family program that I've never experienced.

The week before we go I'm involved in a group artist show in the town where I live. There are about six or eight of us showing work. I'm going to have eight photos printed. Next year I hope to do some of my other work - paintings and drawings but no time this year.

And later on this summer I'm hoping the fella, pooch and I will go to Red Bay for a long weekend.

Meanwhile, no looking ahead, no looking behind. Just being awake. Here's a photo of the road into Red Bay...

Monday, 1 June 2015

What is home?

I'm the daughter of a military guy - we were on the move from the time I can remember. Every couple of years it was a new school, new best friend, new bedroom...well, you get the drill. My fella is the same with one important difference - both his parents came home lots and his family still does. I could go back to my Dad's hometown - Deloraine - and not know a soul - well, the pharmacist is the son of the pharmacist that was my dad's best pal, who is also the son of the pharmacist when my dad was a little gaffer - but no family that I know of. They are in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver and so forth. My mother's hometown? We never went there. Not once. It is Rossburn, Manitoba and supposed to be a nice sort of place. She has no family there either. I have some cousins from her side of the family - three in Vancouver and two in the western United States - Oregon and California.

I have two sons in Ottawa, a sister in Perth (in Ontario) a step-mother in London, Ontario, a brother in Yellowknife, NWT. I have three grandkids in Nova Scotia, and one in Ottawa. I have a step-dot in St. John's, Newfoundland and a step-son in Halifax, NS.

My fella, on the other hand, has a sister, brother-in-law and his only niece and nephew living in nearby Happy Valley. His kids are my step-kids so you know where they are. His mother (91!) lives in a home in Happy Valley and he has a sister in St. John's and a bro in Ottawa/Montreal. He has at least 16 cousins in the tiny village where we live - I just made that up but if anything I under estimated. He has an uncle and a couple of aunts (three?) that live there too. He has cousins from both sides of his family. Other cousins visit regularly. He even had a great aunt until late last year.

My point is that he feels at home here.
I feel at home with him so I feel at home here too, but if he was from Kalamazoo I'd feel at home there.

Why am I pondering the nature of home? Well, in two weeks I'll be home for a visit. Or I'll be leaving home to go on a vacation. Which is it? I really don't know.

Some of the articles and books I've been reading on the nature of trauma, the roots of addiction, and so forth - particularly but certainly not exclusively as an aboriginal issue - talk about the sense of dislocation. What is that if not a hankering after a home - even nomads have that. They might travel the land but they usually go the same sort of routes and they travel with their home and loved ones all with them.  Have I been looking for a place called home my whole life? Not sure quite honestly. I can't have what lots do - I can't have grown up in one spot - but I can know that this sense of dislocation is more of a spiritual than temporal feeling.

I'll let you know what I come up with.

And you? Where's your home?

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A Day in My Life

Last year was all about learning from the land. I walked daily - down the beach, through the woods, across the ice-bound bay - Bella leaping along with me, my camera in hand. I wrote letters, I meditated, I worked on various writing projects, I cooked. I slowed down and let the land teach me what it could. I missed my family and friends but I dove in as deep as I could. My relationship with Ron grew stronger. My only organized social contact was my weekly volunteering with the children's program at the library.

This year my self-directed course is the people of Labrador. I learned a fair bit about the settler culture last year - the women who run the town from church to library to dances. I learned about the up-alongs and the down-alongs. (the folk who settled originally on different parts of the river). This year I'm learning about the original people - the Innu, the Inuit and the Metis.  I meet them in the treatment program where I work and I meet them in the outreach counselling that I do in Sheshatshui.

I want to use this blog to record some of my impressions - they are like the patterns left by birds flying across the sky - only memories. Yesterday was a typical (which is to say completely mixed!) day at work. Here's how it went.

I got to work at the treatment centre and opened up (first person there most days). The clients are all on the land (Nutshimit) this week - they are here for the clinical program for seven days and then out at the cabin for seven - for a total of six weeks.  Wednesday - regardless of whether it is a Nutshimit or Clinical week is always hectic.  This morning I got a lift over to a house on the reserve to visit a family. They are in the last bit of transition of having their family back. I am to go and give them a bit of parenting counsel. They are doing super and I love visiting there - seeing the happy kids and the happy parents. So far a real success story. Then I came back to my office where I did some research on a new way of thinking about addictions by a fellow that I was turned onto from a friend. He believes that addictions are not a disease of the brain but a refined adaptation and I like what his model looks like. Right now I'm not sure how it might affect what we do here or what I do in my outreach counseling but it speaks to the bigger view of addiction that I am after.
 Bruce Alexander is a professor of Psychology in Vancouver. You could follow the link if you are interested or read about it in the Huffington Post here : Addiction is Not What You Think.  
All of that was whirling around in my brain pan along with Housing First which is a model that has been successful at eliminating homelessness in communities like my home town of Medicine Hat, Alberta.  I am stewing an idea with the working title 'Families First' . It keeps me awake at night pondering the possibilities. 

I'm an avowed magpie - I love to find models that work and adapt them for what I'm seeing. I will always give credit, though in this age of hyper-certification, I won't always fly off to Singapore or wherever to take a course. Many of the models I'm finding do not suit an aboriginal community so need a fair bit of jigging around but I will try! 

After my little foray into learning I spent some time assembling materials for the Buffalo Riders Group I help run at the Sheshatshui school. Myself and a woman from another agency spend every Wednesday lunch hour with a group of kids doing crafts and exercises. We are (we hope!) helping build competencies in self-esteem, awareness and  helping youth defend against the effects of traumatization  so rampant in the community.  I got together some games provided by Six Seconds on emotional literacy, individual copies of a book to draw and write in called You're Great! and some animal masks to cut out and colour (owls and foxes). I like to have lots as we never know who is going to be there and what the mood will be. 

I got to the school at noon and my co-facilitator was already there eating lunch with two kids. Attendance is down because the school buses are being repaired. Truancy is a huge issue at the school and is for the younger kids as much as the junior high and high school age children.  Sometimes we get one kid and sometimes ten. We decided to work on the book pages I had brought and had lots of good conversation about why we liked our best friends and so forth. 
After lunch I set up myself for the Place2Be part of my day. That is a model I've poached from the Brits. I set up in the cafeteria and see anyone the principal, vice, guidance counselor or teachers think I should see. Also the kids are learning that all they have to say to a teacher is "I want to go see Jan" and they will be allowed to leave class.  I saw two kids yesterday (1:15 to 3 pm) and drew with them and talked. I have a big sketchbook - they draw on one side and I on the other. While we draw we chat. I find getting them to draw (which is easy) allows them to get to what is going on in an indirect and safe feeling way. 

As school got out a bunch of kids came into the cafeteria as they were selling ice cream. I started arm wrestling a few of them - maybe grade five students. I teased them that they were letting a white-haired old lady beat them. We all laughed quite a bit. It was extremely pleasant. After that I packed up my stuff and went to sit outside the cafeteria on the benches that line the entrance way. I always do that so I can talk to curious students leaving the school. That is where the real magic happens for me! I decided when I created this way of doing things that I needed to think about how one feeds squirrels. It takes a lot of time to build up trust and have the children believe that it is a good thing to talk to me. The kids at this school are a very friendly bunch but they don't believe that white people have their best interests at heart. I'm in for the long haul here so will wait and magnetize with drawing and being silly. A group of teenage girls sat beside me and asked me if I was the counselor. We had some good joshing about and now they know I'm friendly, confident and have a good sense of humour. 

After most everyone had left I walked from the school to the group home. On the way I stopped to talk to some kids who were surprised that I was walking and curious as to where I was going. When I said the group home they got it. Everyone knows the group home. 

Inside the group home I saw two of the kids of the four that are living there. With one of them I drew and with the other I didn't. We talked about how it was going for them - what they were having a hard time with and what was working well. I like the group home - the people who work there are easy-going and nice with the kids. One of them drove me home after. I hadn't met her before and we talked easily about what some of the issues were in working there. One of the staff had called me a social worker and so I made sure to tell her that I wasn't. Social workers are not a good thing to be in an aboriginal community. You are considered (fairly I think) to be child snatchers - not something I want to be thought of as. 

So there is a day in my life at work.  In the evening I thought about the kids laughing when we played arm-wrestling. I thought about the open curiosity and the wonderful drawings that we'd made. I thought about families first and third-world communities in the first world.  I slept well.

Here is a photo I took last year of Elizabeth Penashue with family and friends setting out on her yearly walk. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Today it is misty moisty snowy rainy

Work is done for the day and I`m about to hop on my bike and head home but I thought I`d post first. A few notes about what is happening on my sojourn these days

1st of all - the bay is breaking up! Yes! There are large pockets of moving water out there and it really started happening yesterday. So thrilling! Those that get around on snow machines don`t like it but me - I love it. And it also means that pretty soon (maybe this weekend) they`ll have the Ice to Water Dance. Kazow!

2nd of all - my pal Deb is coming on Saturday and I`m taking two days off to play with her! Ron and I can`t wait to see her and show her where we live and just lie around eating and talking.

thirdly - I`m riding my bike! I`m still slow going up the hills and have to half-walk it to work in the morning but I can sail home in minutes. Who knew...?
photo of Muskrat Falls last fall....
finally - I might have just a bit of spring fever. okay?

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

It is a soft morning...

It is a soft morning and I walked to work - it really only takes me about 14 minutes unless I stop to take photos. I brought my camera today but didn't take one. If I don't take it I might see Snow Buntings or a bear (as if I'd take a photo of it if I were on my own).

Today I will be talking to my group of parents about the roots of family violence in First Nations and Inuit communities. Family violence, alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, physical and mental disease, high suicide counts, self-harm,  - all of these are symptoms of a much bigger problem - that of trauma. The communities I am working with have been traumatized by colonization. It is a deep spiral downward and it starts with a group of people who, in all probability, were also oppressed. The Innu and Inuit of Labrador were told in no uncertain terms that they were not worthy - their spirituality was ridiculed, their language and way of life taken away. This was reinforced by the residential school program across Canada and now it continues with the constant apprehension of children by social service agencies. Generations of families have been wounded in such a way that the only legacy being passed down is that of no-hope disease and all its attendants.

And I will sit with them and we'll talk about this and what is to be done. No-hope disease is highly contagious but despite feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the force of it I have not succumbed.  The families I meet are cheerful, matter of fact and intent on healing and repairing themselves, their families and their community. I'm in awe of them.

Friday, 24 April 2015

A different but still engaging life in Labrador

I am not the same person who started this blog when I moved to Labrador a year and a half ago. That first year was about the land and being mostly solitary. I walked sometimes two or three times a day. I had a few friends and lots of visitors from home. Ron was gone all day all week and I was lonely but I kind of like myself so basically good. It was strange not to work but I was busy - I learned to quilt, wrote daily, took zillions of photographs and drew. I meditated and cooked and read.

Now what? Since October I've worked. At first just filling in here and there but now full-time. I work at a treatment centre in Sheshatshiu - the Innu reserve across the bridge from where we live. I work with aboriginal families and help them get their lives together so they can maintain a family. I work with lots and lots of children in the community. I hang out at the school (k-12) on the reserve and am available so kids can chill out if they need to.  I bloody love my job! It is so brilliant that I get to do this. It is like a distillation of all my 63 years of learning and growing. I get to play and teach and draw and listen and meet them where they are instead of where anyone thinks they should be.

And the rest? Well, my walking has taken a big hit - this winter with its incredibly deep snow and constant -40 C temp would have done that anyway but I have missed it. I'm getting fat because although I'm not walking I'm still cooking and eating! I still take photographs (on my walk to work - where I'm fitting some walking in) and on the weekends. I've not been writing much - but I'm teeming with ideas and awaiting my YA manuscript back from a fella who has had it too long. I am not meditating enough and am making a commitment to change that as of May 1st.  So it's a mixed bag I guess but definitely worth it. Yesterday I was walking from the school to a group home to see some kids and I looked across the village at the Mealy Mountains (they look even closer from Sheshatshui) and I thrilled to be there doing what I was doing. Thrilled. I could be Jane Goodall or Stephen Lewis or any of those people who found their groove. The dream I had as a kid to join the Peace Corp or something like that - finally! I always thought I was living my life backwards and this proves it.

So I'll be by to comment on how it is going but this blog isn't my priority now - warning - to those of you who love consistency - this ain't it! I will come by though so check in now and then - there is nothing time-sensitive in my blog so ...

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Blasted by Beauty

Today I fly out to Halifax for a much needed hit of grandkids and buds - of city and hustle. Here's what I'm leaving behind (as well as my dear dear sweet patootie).

Out today on the snow shoes with the gal. Heaven.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Forecast? up to 50 centimeters of snow...

Hi dear peoples - no excuses, just someone with different priorities these days... get an idea of some of what I've been up to go to my writing site - there I tell more.

Here's some just of the past few months - out the bay, a gorgeous Bohemian Waxwing, and then the last couple are of Bella playing out in today's snow storm with her buddies (that we call Ginger and Laddie but have no idea what their actual names are)
The man is reading, I'm posting and soon I'll get writing...ah...a snow day.