I wrote this post 5 years ago. We’re very happy with our place in the universe – Bear River. – Flora
I’m sitting on the couch beside one of our kitties, with one eye on the coals in the fireplace and another on the live stream of CBC reporting from the NDP (Canada’s social democratic party) leadership convention in Toronto.
Larry has made us some melted cheese on home-made bread along with a cup of tea and we are waiting for the fourth-round election results. I’ve enjoyed the interviews with the eliminated candidates because outside of the formality of the debate, they are better able to show their humanity.
The defeated contenders are all asked who they will ask their followers to vote for. They all decline to say because “all the candidates are good people.” and “I want people to feel free to make their own decision.” and “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
I really get it because I often feel the same way when people write to me to ask about moving to Bear River. They are looking for an endorsation and in a way they are seeking affirmation that they should take this bold step.
And I know this so well, because I also had mixed and confusing feelings about whether leaving Toronto to move to an unknown tiny village was the right step for us. I too connected with some of the artists via email before we came here. My idea was that “if I like this person and they love their life in Bear River, then I will probably like it too.”
Unfortunately, it’s much more complicated than that. We are all such complex individuals, not 2 of us among 7 billion the same, that it is impossible for anyone to know the answer to that question of: “Should I ditch my job, and my city life and move to a tiny village in Nova Scotia?”
In the 4 1/2 years since we’ve moved here to this village of 800 we’ve seen people move here from other parts of Canada and some from the UK and at least 50% have left within this same period.
I don’t know why they all came or why they all left, but I do know why we stayed.
So, over the next week or two, I’m going to tell you what our reasons are; what we like and maybe what we don’t like. It’s a good exercise for me because it’s about gratitude. And hopefully, it will help me to post more often too! And maybe it will help to answer some of the questions you’ve had.
Spoiler: It’s not only about landscape, environment, solitude and community.
I can’t resist picking up a purple cabbage at the grocery store. Oh the colour is so rich and the slicing reveals the most intricate patterns. I noticed that the line from the middle spiral outwards. Is everything in creation a series of spirals?
I came across this totally easy and VERY TASTY recipe called Warm Red Cabbage, Red Onion and Apple Slaw. Even the title is visually appealing.
I use apple cider vinegar instead of balsamic, but I’m sure both are delicious. I also add a handful of walnuts. AND, I keep it on the stove until the cabbage is soft. That means putting a lid on it at the end.
It’s snowing outside, the washing machine is washing, and the kitchen is filled with a sweet and sour fragrance. The cat is curled up by the fire. Larry is upstairs creating an ad for this season’s Bear River Artworks Gallery.
Reminder to self: the studio calls.
Today is the 95th anniversary of my mother’s birth. Unfortunately, she only lived to see 75. I wrote this post 5 years ago. Happy Birthday mama, wherever you are. xo
When I was a young girl, my mother read to me at bedtime. I can still see the illustrations in the books she read – Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking glass, Heidi, and the Blue, Red and Yellow fairy tale books. My mother, Sandy, also invented fantastic, serialized bedtime stories where I was the central character. One that I still remember was about me joining the circus and performing on a flying trapeze. (I still don’t like heights and my balance isn’t tightrope worthy either.)
But the one story that she told me every year was a Greek myth — the story of Persephone and Demeter. It is the classic mother – daughter separation story and was the way the ancient Greeks explained how winter came about, thus establishing the life-death-rebirth cycle of the garden. I never tired of the story because her telling was wrapped up in our close relationship as well as her own separation experiences.
And as the story involved a very significant pomegranate, every year in October, my mother would buy one and I would search for the chambers of tarts seeds while she told the story.
That story is one I return to in my paintings.
15 years ago today, in 1997, my dear mother died. Her Toronto hospital room overlooked a ravine filled with trees in their autumn glory. In her last days, I sat holding her hand, looking out the window, thinking, waiting and wondering if the end of this journey would lead to an existence after this one. That’s a tough one for a non-believer like me. On the day she died, it snowed. I’ll never forget the brilliance of the colours behind that screen of falling white flakes.
I miss the most our long conversations about everything under the sun. My art genes come from her. She constantly had a notepad with her to write down and sketch her ideas and thoughts. She was one of the smartest women I ever knew and was decades ahead of her contemporaries in her views about life. She regretted that she was born too late to be a full participant in the 60’s. I know she would have fit in well with the radical shift in thinking that made people challenge the conservatism, racism and sexism that permeated public and private life in North America.
Our relationship wasn’t perfect. Our mother-daughter conflicts were spectacular and heated. Between the two of us, there were so many slammed doors that the paint chipped around the door frames. But do you ever wish you could have been a contemporary of one of your parents? I do. I wish she was here to share this life with me. We could paint together. We could have wonderful conversations. I know she would have embraced the internet and it’s publishing and researching possibilities. And I have so many questions for her — there was never really enough time to say everything.
At work two weeks after mom’s death I heard a song about loss on the radio. (And believe me, when you are fresh with grief, you’ll find that most songs deal with separation.) I cried in front of my coworkers and felt overwhelmed that evening with loss and with the realization that I would never talk with my mother again or experience her love. I am very fortunate to have a treasure trove of letters from her, written to me while I was an art student in the German Democratic Republic in the 1970’s. I pulled one out at random and it began:
“Dear Flora – yes, I do love you.”
The letter was dated only with the month and day – Oct.23 …. what would become her death day! I was quite astonished — how fitting, it seemed, that my mother the writer would choose just the right words to comfort me.
Today I’ll think about my dear mother and miss her as I have every day for 15 years. I’ll read some of her poems and I’ll paint. And for sure, I’ll eat a pomegranate. I am so thankful to her for exposing me to art and books and ideas and for being the free spirit she was. I know it was her wish for me that I could paint full-time. Well, I can now and I do. And thankfully I do this in a beautiful valley, much like the one she imagined in this poem she wrote when she was 38.
To Be in Country Warp Again
To be in country warp again, in fields who, sleeping, stir and rustle of the past; in hills, from whose veiled summits are downcast night shades, still showing glistening shields; where footed cattle strike the ground unseen, in pastures, beaded in the night by incensed air that with night cries resound, as one by one, stars thread the dark with light. – Sandy McConnell Doehler, 1960.
The loss of a parent is profound. Parents are extraordinarily significant in all our lives. If you are interested in reading more about the various impacts on adults losing their parents, there is an excellent article here.
See more of Penny’s stitching, dyeing and fibre story-telling at her blog
I’ve left out the conversations about the recent local Herring Deaths, the Trump stories, the agony of aging parents, the state of the world, heating systems, fostering creativity, music concerts and lost cats.
I’ve left out the Bob Dylan, John Prine and similar soundsin the cafe.
I’ve left out the stop at the post office.
And finally, the walk home……
Upstairs at Sissiboo Coffee is the Rebekah. Open New Years Eve.
Can you spot the typo?
The final hill to climb to our place.
And then a peek into the studio at my newest creation. A need to add some colour to this beautiful, monochromatic world.
The studio beckons on a grey, snowy day.
Unfinished painting by Flora Doehler, 2016
And finally for you, dear reader, a little puzzle.
I’m not sure why, but this summer I forgot to grow my pumpkins! There are still pumpkins and squash at the local farmer’s markets so I’ll be making these delicious patties again.
In 2013, I grew beautiful winter luxury pumpkins and dumpling squash. I love the flavour of squash, but there’s only so much baked squash a person can eat. And if I turned all the pumpkins into pies…well that’s not a great health move either.
Because they are the same family, anytime a recipe calls for squash, you can substitute pumpkin.
I made a few changes to it. I left out the flour, instead substituting it with ½ cup of corn meal and ½ cup of oat flakes. I added fresh basil leaves too.
I baked the pumpkin first and then scooped out the pulp for this recipe. I used about 2 cups of pumpkin.
Then, instead of frying it, I baked it in the oven. I put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and then spread a thin layer of olive oil on the paper. I baked it in the oven for 30 min at 350, then turned them and baked another 5 minutes.
The flavor is out of this world. It’s kind of like a potato latke. So, a dab of apple sauce or chili sauce tastes wonderful on top. Tomato sauce works too!
You can freeze these patties for those evenings when you need to throw together a meal in a hurry.
Meanwhile, here are some photos of the gorgeous hoarfrost that will soon end when the temperatures continue to drop.
This post from 2010 describes this month and the harvest so well, that I’m reposting it. That summer the harvest was amazing! this summer my yields were way down because of the drought and I couldn’t water as much as I wanted. As it is, our well is half full or empty and it has never been that low. The water table is down and this summer we received 1/3 the rain of average summers.
We don’t have a friend with a cow anymore, but still order lots of bulk food with friends and neighbours. And tomorrow, I’m planting my 100 cloves of garlic for next year.
My life has been reduced to harvesting our organic, homegrown vegetables and cultural immersion! Hey, I’m not complaining, but if anyone had told me 3 years ago that I’d be immersed in more food and visual delights than I could fit into a day, I wouldn’t have believed them.
I’ll tell you about the food and then bring you a full cultural report in a few days (I promise!)
Before we moved here we knew that we’d want a vegetable garden, but I never dreamed that I’d be baking all our bread, making all our yogurt and soft cheeses, freezing up vegetables galore or lying in bed at night thinking about root cellars.
We haven’t had a frost yet but the nights are getting very cool and the garden foliage has started to change in the last couple of weeks. It’s hard to see it come to an end…I’ve barely had to go to a grocery store this summer because of the garden and the farmer’s market in Bear River.
The tomatoes just keep on coming and thanks to a great tip from my friend Cheryl, who grows gorgeous flowers and tasty vegetables, I have roasted the tomatoes whole in a deep pan with slices of zucchini, green peppers, garlic and onion. The flavour is so much better than boiling down the vegetables. The house is filled with cooking smells and I’ve run out of space in our stand-up freezer so now I’m practicing new canning skills too!
Larry and I are vegetarians so this bounty from the garden is really welcomed.
There are other ways to bring down the grocery bill while eating like kings. Bear River has a long tradition of organizing food buying groups and we belong to several different ones. We are members of a cheese co-op and although the cheese is not organic, we are able to buy havarti, cheddar and mozzarella at close to 1/2 the prices in the supermarkets.
A couple of times a year another food buying group purchases organic flours and dried beans and rice at reduced prices from Speerville Mills in New Brunswick.
Still another group we’re in buys organic and fair trade nuts and dried fruit from Rancho Vignola in BC.
I’ve also started making my own yogurt, cream cheese, ricotta and butter from the creamy milk of a local cow. It is dead easy to do and if you want the instructions, just ask and I’ll post the information.
And of course, there is the fantastic fair trade coffee that we buy from Sissiboo Coffee here in Bear River. Yum, yum!
All of these ways of food preparation and shopping have reduced our dependency on the 2 big box grocery stores in Digby, who still don’t seem to understand that people want to buy locally grown produce. It means too that our grocery bill is reduced. We wouldn’t be able to eat this much organic food if we couldn’t grow it ourselves or buy it with others. And by eating food from crops that are rotated and without insecticides etc as well as fresh, I know that the nutritional quality of the food is better.
The downside and the upside is that all meals are made from scratch. This is fairly labour intensive and wouldn’t be possible if I still worked full-time in the city.
We still didn’t get it together this summer to build a greenhouse to try our hand at winter gardening, but maybe next year. “Fingers crossed”.
I also went a little crazy last night and ordered some spring flower bulbs to plant out this month when I plant my garlic. The gardening season is drawing to a close, but it’s not over yet.