the old and the new   26 comments

Sage in the back yard

Work continues at the house here in Nova Scotia. Repairs and painting of the exterior seems to have reached a tipping point. In spite of frequent interruptions by heavy rains, I do believe the job will be wrapped up by the time I’m ready to bug out of here sometime in mid to late September. Part of me continues to contemplate the day to day stuff, trying to figure out how to solve each problem as it arises. However, another part of me — maybe 45 percent (?) — is already thinking ahead to life on the road this autumn, and of the coming winter in Arizona. Which route will I take this year? What will I do differently? How can the van be made more comfortable or efficient for this year’s trip? How can I cut costs further by finding free or cheap places to boondock during my travels? What will I do once in Arizona? Will I see about doing volunteer work this winter? What about next year? Should I think more about starting a business? In case it isn’t apparent – yes, I do always have a lot on my mind even as I quietly work on this old house each day.

Sabrina walking along the shore of the river just below the garden

The past couple of weeks, I’ve made more than my usual number of trips to Annapolis Royal. In July, I made an appointment to take both dogs for their vaccinations. The veterinarian suggested that Sabrina might benefit from laser therapy for her arthritis, so I decided to give that a try. Why not? We scheduled six half-hour appointments spaced over the past two weeks. This morning was the final treatment. Although it’s difficult to be sure, I think Sabrina is getting around better and probably feels less pain. She’s been playing with Sage a lot more this week – their canine form of sumo wrestling where they push each other around the garden. She has managed to climb up on the bed in the back of the van unassisted – something she has not done in months. One thing I do know after spending the spring and summer here in Nova Scotia is that the higher humidity is playing havoc with our arthritis (mine and Sabrina’s). I can tell you that I’ll be very glad to go from the moist air of the Atlantic coast, to the arid environment of southeast Arizona. It’s been wonderful to be here by the ocean, but will be equally wonderful to be back in the desert this winter.

bend in the river just below the house and back yard – near the tiny sandbar that I’ve nicknamed “The Beach”

Yesterday, I took a break from working on the house, and spent the morning hacking a new trail down to the river. This one descends closer to the house. It’s steeper, but emerges on a section of shore with granite cobbles and a bit of coarse sand. I’ve already nicknamed the tiny sandbar, The Beach, and will walk down to it with the dogs at least once or twice a day. The uphill grade will be good for Sabrina, helping to strengthen her hind leg muscles in preparation for the walks I hope we’ll take during our travels. These weeks of hot, humid weather have sent both dogs fleeing for the shade. It’s hard to get them interested in walking anywhere, but both of them seem willing to scrape up the energy to visit the river.

couchsurfer-visitor, Antoine, working on a new base for the bed in my van

But for a few conversations with neighbours, and with staff at the veterinary clinic, I’ve spent much of this summer in absolute solitude. Occasionally, I speak with people in the hardware and grocery stores, but otherwise, most days are spent silently sanding or scraping wood, or brushing on paint. However, for four days in late July, I did share my place with an unexpected visitor. About three weeks ago, I realized that my profile on was outdated and still showing me as living at my farm in Osgoode. Although I don’t have a place for anyone to stay, I thought I’d better update things a bit. Much to my surprise, a few days later, I was emailed by a young man from France who is traveling around Canada on a one year work visa. He asked if it might be okay to pitch a tent in my garden for a few days. I emailed back to say that would be fine so long as he understood that things were rather primitive at the moment. He replied to say that was okay with him and that he’d arrive in a couple of days.

Sage, Sabrina, and their new friend, Antoine, relaxing after a day of work and play

As it turned out, the visit was quite fun and interesting for all concerned. Antoine was a very willing worker and a great help around the place. One morning, while on the way to the local lumber yard to buy kiln-dried pine, I asked Antoine if he had any experience building furniture. He said not much – just assembling flat-pack furniture from Ikea. When we arrived home, I asked if he’d like to try his hand at building a new bed frame for the back of my van. He was keen to give it a go, so I described the changes I would like to see. He listened intently, then went to work, creating a frame that is a little different but much nicer than what I’d had in mind. At the end of the day, we were both quite pleased with his handiwork.

Of course, it wasn’t all work. On one very hot day, I suggested that we take a break and drive down to Mavillette Beach on the south shore. We loaded both dogs into the van and took off for the entire day. The breeze off the ocean was cool and refreshing after the heat and humidity of the past week. Antoine took Sage running far down the beach, disappearing into the mist. As I watched, I could not help but think of my last trip to the beaches of the south shore in August 2007. Don and I had decided to make a trip to Nova Scotia to get away from the heat and pollen at the farm. He had been bothered by a persistent cough all summer long. We thought the ocean air would be a good change, and in fact, it did seem to help. Of course, the problem was far more serious than anything we could have imagined, but we weren’t to learn that for another three months. For us, it was one of the last truly happy times together.

Waiting for Antoine and Sage to reappear from the mist, I thought of how strange it was to be sitting on the beach with Sabrina resting beside me, watching a new dog running with a visitor, instead of Don running with Sabrina. In less than a month, it will have been two years that I’ve been alone with my dogs, and three years since I walked the beaches of the south shore with Don.

Enjoy these little memories of Don and Sabrina together in August 2007:
Sabrina hopping away from the waves
Don and Sabrina at sunset on Crescent Beach

Sage and Antoine running out of the mist at Mavillette Beach

Written by bev on August 10th, 2010

26 Responses to 'the old and the new'

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  1. Bev, it was great to read your post and good to learn that you’ve been making your Nova Scotia home your own…complete with a newly-hacked trail to the river. I was wondering if you were really going to head out to Arizona again; I thought you might decide, after getting into the work on the house, to stay put for awhile. I’m glad you didn’t. I think a regular change of one’s environment can do wonders for one’s energy, attitude, and perspective. I hope your young friend’s handiwork will serve you well as you head southwest. Remember, if ever you decide to go through, or near, Dallas, I’ll expect to meet you! And remember next February, too…BlogFest 2011 may be the perfect opportunity to be here!


    10 Aug 10 at 10:17 pm

  2. Wow very cool Bev…….I like the pics!


    10 Aug 10 at 10:53 pm

  3. Hi bev. It all sounds so good. Working on the house. Exploring new areas of your property. And, having this unexpected guest. You seem to have been lucky in having such a handy, and friendly, guest.

    I have been spending far too much time on the front yard of this house. I bought a bunch of beach stones, and succulent plants, to arrange. I also put many other flowering plants in pots, and arranged them throughout the front of the house. I feel so peaceful when I am gardening. Unfortunately, I have somewhat completed all that can be done out there. The back of the house is a huge canyon, which needs a lot of work, but I’m going to leave it alone until the owners feel they can invest some money into it.

    I never really thought to garden until Michael got sick. Our lives slowed down significantly at that time. I worked far less than usual, and needed a place to find serenity during an emotional period. You, more than anyone else, can identify with that. As I was working on this today I was thinking how nice it would be to do this professionally. I’m not exactly sure how one goes from social work to gardener, or if I could make enough money to make ends meet. I think I will look for a part time job that will help with the finances, yet also allow me to maintain plenty of time on my hands as well. I really like this slower paced life, and don’t look forward to being back in the work force.

    One thing that has been fun is my going to every nearby nursery to buy the plants and supplies I have needed for my gardening. I thought it would make the process so much more interesting by visiting some of the local businesses, and I would feel good about contributing to the local economy. Although, I did pay a visit to Home Depot when I started to worry about paying higher prices at these other nurseries.

    The nursery I visited today was originally owned by horticulturalist Kate Sessions. I was told by the landlord that Kate Sessions was responsible for planting, and overseeing all the gardens in the nearby Balboa Park. She is known around here as the Mother of Balboa Park.

    I hope you do okay with reaching the two year mark. I imagine that while most days appear to be going fairly well, the two year date might be a bit more challenging emotionally.

    Take Care.



    11 Aug 10 at 1:25 am

  4. John – Yes, I’ll definitely be leaving here in a few weeks. The reality is that this house is just not in good enough condition for year round residence. I’m not sure that it ever will be, but it’s too soon to judge. I’ll work on it another 2 or 3 summers and see what happens. However, when I bought the place, it was with the intention that it would be more a summer cottage than anything else. I love winters spent in the desert, so there’s probably no danger of ceasing my trips down there.

    Khaled – Thanks! (-:

    Dan – I don’t think you can ever spend “far too much time” working on a garden. Yes, I can and do identify with how, during Michael’s illness, working in your garden helped you to find some serenity. For me, the final few months of Don’s illness, I could not be gone farther than the distance that he could signal me for help as he eventually lost the ability to talk. At that point, I would stand on the front porch at night to photograph moths, the door open beside me so that I could hear if Don needed me. Much of the rest of my time was spent indoors, sketching, painting and writing. You know, the other day when you wrote a post about buying plants for a new garden, I thought of how you should perhaps think about doing something with plants as a business if you don’t think that would ruin things for you. Maybe you should play around with that idea and see if you can think of a niche. I have a feeling you probably have a talent for small space, or container gardening, and creating peaceful, artistic gardens with water or art features, or as places for meditation. Maybe you could be designing gardens for people who would like something for around their doorsteps, a balcony, porch or patio. You’re a good listener and could probably intuit what people would like or need. The other possibility might be to start a garden service specializing in maintenance of small space gardens. I think most “lawn maintenance” businesses probably aren’t interested or suited to caring for small gardens – so there may be a niche there. I also suspect that that type of work would naturally morph into some of the above – working with owners to improve the garden through additions of plants, etc… I have a friend who is a garden designer, but on the scale that works with crews to build walls, patios, bring in trees, etc…. I think that’s a whole different ball game and is learned through much study. For small scale garden work, I suspect word of mouth, a portfolio of photos, etc… might be all that is needed to start a company. All of this seems possible. As we said to megan the other day, if it’s something you think you might like to do, work on the idea for awhile to see if it’s what you feel like doing, and if it is, then by all mean, go for it.
    I’m pretty sure I’ll be okay with the two year anniversary of Don’s death. For me, the dates never actually bothered me too much. It’s more the very powerful memories that are associated with places, activities, objects, that can cause the sadness to suddenly well up. Watching Antoine and Sage at Mavillette Beach was one of those powerful moments – but I’m gradually finding that I can deal with those powerful moments with more ease these days. I don’t think they will ever cease to occur, but that perhaps, in time, I may even welcome them some day.


    11 Aug 10 at 5:29 am

  5. It sounds like this has been a very fine summer, Bev, hard work and the past few years notwithstanding. You do know that someyear you will have to be staying there to give us all a taste of a Nova Scotia winter. Maybe flip it, and go to Arizona in the spring and summer, especially the summer. Now that would be an experience!

    I’m afraid that we have no Antoines who care to come to Arnoldsville, GA to set up a tent – Nova Scotia will probably always trump northeast Georgia. Very neat to have enjoyed the company of a new friend.


    11 Aug 10 at 6:51 am

  6. Wayne – In almost every way I can think of, this summer has been good for me – and for both dogs too. The property has turned out to be even lovelier than I had imagined. In spite of the many problems which the house has – and believe me when I say they are indeed many – I love the old place and intend to do whatever I can, within reason, to preserve it from further decay. It is certainly deserving of at least that much.

    I think you’re right about having no Antoines coming to Arnoldsville, GA. Nova Scotia definitely lends itself to visitors as it’s just that kind of place. Once the house is in better shape, I hope to welcome more visitors in the future.

    Oh, by the way, yes, I agree. It would be amazing to spend a summer in Arizona. My friends keep telling me how neat it is to be there in summer when the plants and insect life really do their thing. Maybe a year or two in the future when this house is in better shape, I’ll be able to tough out a winter here and flip things around for a season.


    11 Aug 10 at 8:02 am

  7. Sage has gotten to be quite a beauty, Bev. And, I’m glad that Sabrina is feeling well enough to play a bit with her. Good for both of them.

    You spend a lot of time alone there… it makes me wonder if you listen to music? radio? when you are working about. Our neighbor here likes to turn the radio on and listen to news when he works around the old place. Sometimes, I listen to music when I’m working on projects indoors. Out in the garden, it’s the song of birds.

    I’ve noticed that since we’ve moved here to the Sierra foothills, I’ve grown to appreciate the reliable summer sun. I’m beginning to understand why people of a certain age start planning their retirements in places that are warm and dry. Our bones definitely appreciate it!

    robin andrea

    11 Aug 10 at 10:19 am

  8. Hey Bev,

    You may be on to something. I have been thinking about this myself. I guess my only hesitation is not really knowing much about plants, other than those that I have started buying lately. But it does give me an idea about finding a part time job at a nursery so that I can start learning. I have thought lately that rather than look for a full time job in my field, where I could make good money, that I would look for something part time. Since I do have my retirement funds that will kick in in 6 months, I could possibly get by on less hourse worked. If I spent those extra hours gained learning about various plants, then I would be doing something I enjoy.

    Food for thought. Thanks.


    11 Aug 10 at 2:11 pm

  9. robin – Yes, Sage sure is turning out to be a beautiful dog. Today, Sabrina seemed to have fun going down to the river, but just remained on the shore while Sage and I went for a little dip.

    You’re right, I do spend a lot of time alone. No, I don’t listen to radio or music. I just like silence – or I should say, natural sounds, both indoors and out. I know that seems to be a fairly rare thing, but I’ve always been this way. In fact, I enjoy silence so much that it’s even a debate whether to turn on some spanish lesson CDs as I’m so protective of being able to hear the birds, squirrels, insects, and the sounds of rushing water from the river below my place. I’m not much for music anymore, but if you were to come and sit in my house and pick up one of my sets of kalimbas and start to make melodies, I would probably enjoy that very much. If you turned on some music – probably not. I like improvisational music made by friends just as much as anything.

    Agree very much about the sun and how it makes us feel. I’m so productive in sunny places, or on sunny days here, but when it is overcast and rainy, my mood quickly changes to gloomy and I lose all sense of creativity. I’ve known this about myself ever since I was a few years old. My youngest brother is the same. We are both so light sensitive that we notice a change in mood if even a dark cloud passes over the sun. I’ve reached the point where I’ve decided it’s not worth fighting this feeling. Time to go with where it takes me – and that is to the desert in winter.


    11 Aug 10 at 3:50 pm

  10. Hi Dan,

    I think the idea of working at a nursery is excellent. Really, you meet the nicest people there too. When I moved here in April, I soon visited one of the local places and ended up buying two rhododendrons from a plantsman who was originally from England and lives here in Canada now. It’s just so nice discussing plants, how you wish to use them in a planting, learning about their care, and so on. I would think that a nursery would be an excellent place to learn such things, especially a specialty nursery where the staff really know their plants. Anyhow, I’ve left a comment over at your blog about some of this too. There are so many good ways to get to know more about plants, gardening, nursery work, etc… There are horticulture courses, “friends of” gardeners who do volunteer work at large public or historic gardens, and then working with experienced garden service companies. I think it could be a wonderful way of spending time doing something you obviously find enjoyable – and it’s nice physical work too – gets you outdoors and also meeting people. Lots of positives!


    11 Aug 10 at 3:57 pm

  11. hey dan – we can hijack bev’s comments! Uh, except that she started it, so maybe it isn’t officially hijacking.
    I was/am a social worker turned gardener. Well, I was a gardener before and during, but farming and gardening is what I was going to do full time before Matt died. I also looked into horticultural therapy, specifically with returning vets, a couple of years ago – I think california has programs going; there are none in maine (far too cold…) So there is some cross-over between social work and the green world.
    I also worked for a few seasons designing garden-meditation spaces. Even here in neither-progressive- nor-terribly-warm Maine, I found work. SD might be quite ready for you to design its peace and beauty. I think (and forgive me if I am assuming too much) you and I come to creating space in similar ways. Or at least, have a sense for what creating space means. Where plants go, which stone goes in which space, why the purple vein in that leaf lines up with the neighbor’s tree that you can see if you stand right there – not things that can be explained, you just know when they are Correct. I think designing personal spaces for people uses all of the clinical and compassionate skills you hone as a social worker – you listen, you respond – especially to what someone has not yet said.
    And, as bev said, there is a constant learning curve. Which can also be overwhelming, but really, the Sense and the Eye are what you need at the core. Lay basic plant skills and a small starting library of plant knowledge over what is already yours, and the rest will unfold. Let me know if you want to talk about plants more – I am a complete plant geek.

    We now return to regularly scheduled bev’s commenters.


    11 Aug 10 at 4:14 pm

  12. Hey megan,
    I’m *glad* that you dropped by to hijack my comments – and I don’t actually think of any of this as hijacking here at my blog. I think of these as nice lively discussions which friends are having as they wander through my neat old house and gardens. (-:
    Very nice ideas about garden-meditation spaces. I too have been thinking there might be a niche for this — designing small zen spaces for people for their meditations. It’s both gardening but also something else — as you say — understanding the needs of the person. What would provide them with the tranquility they seek. The plant knowledge can be learned. The sense of space and how to make it serene or special is the art.


    11 Aug 10 at 4:24 pm

  13. This is so funny. What started as a morning comment, has turned into a brainstorming of ideas. I love how the discussion keeps moving from bev’s blog, then over to mine, and back to bev. I feel like I have been actively moving back and forth today, and I haven’t even moved from this couch all early afternoon.

    Megan I love the idea of creating meditation gardens. After all, that is what I did at my old house, and what I am trying to do with my garden here in San Diego. Great idea.

    Bev, I also going to consider the ideas you and your friends bring up. I was looking at social work jobs online earlier, and already feeling the weight of stress that I am trying to avoid.

    Good discussion.


    11 Aug 10 at 4:26 pm

  14. do you know (or know of) flora grubb? I think she is in the bay area. Only know her by an article, well, I was going to say a few months ago, but more like two years ago, in Garden Design. I’m reaching for her name, but I do think it is somebody Grubb. Gorgeous retail/design space, it looked like, all garden bones and plants. Yes, here she is: I especially like the vertical gardens. I haven’t messed with any of that yet.

    When I was designing, I would sit down with the client and ask how they wanted to feel in their space, and go from there. I’m not familiar with the seasonal changes in SD, but here, I got to do neat things like plant daffodils – spring blooming, receptive little cups for the season the client felt receptive to visitors to his home-based business, followed later in the season by big spiky globe thistles with armored, thorny leaves for when he was tired of all the people and wanted to feel protected. “Doctrine of signatures” stuff, from the world of homeopathy and flower remedies – the shapes of plants and flowers suggesting their uses in medicine and healing.

    The thought of going back to clinical work sends a shiver through me, too. Such a weight. I am not built for any more of that.

    I have been letting the thought of catering think of me for awhile. It still needs some time. Right now, it is calling itself broken cup catering: food for birth and death.


    11 Aug 10 at 5:01 pm

  15. and, you might check out your local cooperative extension for their master gardener training program. I think all counties have them.

    Okay, enough out of me. It’s not even late enough to be insomniac, and I need to get the dog to the beach, poor patient dog.


    11 Aug 10 at 5:07 pm

  16. megan and Dan – yes, I like how this discussion has grown from — yikes, I can barely remember what? However, this is all good. I’m a great believer in brainstorming ideas as I feel that we are often too inhibited in our thoughts when we are on our own. Talking about an idea help to concretize it so that we can think of it more like an object and less like an airy concept.
    I like megan’s idea about the meditation spaces. Seems like a very good idea to me.


    11 Aug 10 at 5:09 pm

  17. hijacking to tell you I started so that I could offer the comments section as another meeting place.


    12 Aug 10 at 6:51 pm

  18. Hi Bev, I loved the pictures today. Sabrina looks so much like Abbie, a dog we had when I was in my teens. She was a grumpy old so-and-so, but an absolute stunner too.

    There are times when your new plan of splitting your time between two places sounds so tempting. I don’t know whether it is just a matter of wanting to run away from responsibilities here, or genuine wanderlust. Probably the former, I think, but I shall take it as a good sign anyway. Not that it is going to happen any time soon – I guess I shall have to just keep ticking off the days until I can retire!



    12 Aug 10 at 6:57 pm

  19. Hi Megan – I checked out your new blog. Nice! I did leave a comment there, but it doesn’t seem to be visible. (?)

    Hello J – Thanks about the photos! About splitting time and wandering – maybe it is something you could try on a limited basis for a start and see how you feel. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for myself – yes, it feels right and seems to be helping me to remain interested in life.


    12 Aug 10 at 8:21 pm

  20. fixed it!


    12 Aug 10 at 8:59 pm

  21. Sage looks like a flower among flowers! I’m wondering what those pink flowers are.

    Wonderful clips of Don and Sabrina at the ocean.

    Ocean in view! O! The joy!

    And the same can be said of the desert in winter. The joy!


    18 Aug 10 at 7:01 am

  22. am – I love that photo of Sage and have printed off a copy of it and the photo of Sabrina to put up on the wall here at the house. Glad you liked the little clips of Don and Sabrina. I like how Don turned to look at the camera and flash a smile after Sabrina hops out of the way of the wave. That was “so like Don”. Yes, the Ocean in view! O! The joy! – and the desert too. I am looking forward to walking the Pacific beaches some time this autumn (I hope!) before wandering on into the desert for the winter. They are both places that help me to keep interested and moving forward.


    21 Aug 10 at 5:05 pm

  23. Loved it all, Bev, Sage among the flowers and Sabrina smiling by the river, Don’s smile… It has been a damp sweltering summer here in the Ottawa valley, a rainforest special with high temperatures and humidity to match. Those of us with arthritis are looking forward to September days with sunshine and less humidity.


    21 Aug 10 at 8:37 pm

  24. Hi, Bev,
    I’m glad I saw the link to your post on Eileen’s (Cicero Sings) sidebar. I was just wondering a couple of days ago how you were doing. It’s good that you’re busy with a house and land, the dogs, and the travel plans. I am moved by your courage; I hope I’ll do as well when my time comes. (Soon, I think; too soon.)


    22 Aug 10 at 1:31 am

  25. Cate – Always good to see you drop by! My mom and brother have been keeping me up to date on the weather back in the Ottawa Valley and they concur – it’s been one long and very hot, humid summer. They said they won’t be at all sad to see the cooler autumn weather. You’re right about the humidity – it sure plays havoc with our bodies. I look forward to being in drier climes by winter!

    Hi Susannah! Good to see you too! Yes, I’m pushing onwards with working on this old place while also planning this winter’s trip and even trying to think beyond. I won’t say any of this is easy, as it isn’t — but I feel that I’ve done what was best for the dogs and me. Looking back on everything, selling our farm was probably the best decision I could have made. Definitely no regrets. I’ve found that there’s no point in looking back at the past too much. Better to just march onwards, keeping on the lookout for something new to keep me keeping on. Sorry to hear that things aren’t so well there — I feel for anyone who is going through some of what I’ve been through. It’s tough and unfortunately, there is no easy way around whatever happens. Wishing you strength in these times.


    22 Aug 10 at 8:42 am

  26. am – I finally found out the identity of the pink flowers. A visitor here – Fred Schueler, has identified them as Soapwort! There are more photos and info at this link.


    29 Aug 10 at 8:54 am

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