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poetry and prose about place

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Book Review: Meadowlands – A Chronicle of the Scovil Family’ by Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund

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I have lived in New Brunswick for more than 40 years and love its rural nature and the landscapes dominated by its waterways. In our travels on the weekends, we have spent lots of time in the Oromocto to Cambridge Narrows corridor. For many years we had a cabin in the woods just over the hill from the Narrows. In the last ten years we have had a cabin south of Gagetown. As a result, we have used the Gagetown ferry many, many times. It’s an enjoyable crossing of the Saint John River, like a mini-cruise, with lots to see. I always love disembarking at Foshay Farms. From there, we continue towards Jemseg, watching for turtles in the ponds, osprey on their nests, Canada geese foraging in the fields. One year we watched a glossy ibis in a marshy area along the road, a rare sighting for New Brunswick.

Because of my familiarity with the area, I have looked forward to reading a copy of Virginia’s book Meadowlands, former name of the homestead where the Gagetown ferry lands, the Foshay Farms mentioned above. I also looked forward to the book because Virginia is a member of my writers’ group Wolf Tree Writers. Through the years, Virginia has talked about her Aunt Bessie’s home and workshopped many of the passages in the book.

Meadowlands – A Chronicle of the Scovil Family’ by Virginia Bliss Bjerkelund (Woodstock: Chapel Street Editions, 2020)

An interesting, readable, often humorous, portrayal of life in the early years of the 20th century.

Meadowlands is an enjoyable read, presenting the life of a family after the death of the mother of the five Scovil children. Major characters in the book are Aunt Bessie (Elizabeth Scovil), a professional nurse who knew Florence Nightingale, and Mary Scovil, the youngest daughter in the family and the author’s mother. The book follows the lives of the family, detailing their adventures and travels. The reader is assisted by a map of the area, a family tree and photos of the people in the book.

A remarkable characteristic of the book is its portrayal of women’s lives in the early 1900s. Elizabeth Scovil, a well-known writer in her field and a professional nurse, was an unusual woman, ahead of her time, independent, self-supporting and a source of strength and guidance for her family.  Other women’s roles are also presented including the women who taught school, public and private. The division of labour into men’s work and women’s work is a thread running through the book. The lack of control of a woman over her own life, especially in matters of romance, provides some interesting story-lines.

My favorite aspect of Meadowlands is the attention it pays to the transportation of the times. Travels to Saint John and Windsor, and into other parts of  Canada and the United States were a regular part of the Scovil year. In particular, the local travels to Gagetown (for school, medical care and various groceries) are interesting for their seasonal nature. In winter, a sled and skates were the preferred way of crossing the river. In summer, a row boat was the norm. The family’s adventures include early innovations in transportation: the first motor cars and the addition of an Evinrude motor to the Scovil boat are memorable.

Meadowlands is an enjoyable book, written in an engaging style with the author’s voice clear and consistent. The reader’s appetite will be inspired throughout by descriptions of the foods eaten and images of sipping cordials on the veranda or turning the crank to make fresh strawberry ice cream.

Meadowlands has had the honor of being short-listed in the New Brunswick Book Awards for the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick Non-fiction Award!

You can find your copy of Meadowlands at your local bookstore, at the Chapel Street website here, or at Amazon here .

Enjoy your reading!

Jane

Written by jane tims

March 31, 2021 at 3:56 pm

where we read

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I am a reader. There are stacks of read and unread books wherever you go in my house. There is a Kindle by my living-room chair and a Kobo by my bedside. Since I read multiple books at once, most are marked ‘last-page-read’.  I read the books a bit at a time, choosing whatever I think will suit me on a particular day.

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So where do I read? Anywhere!

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When I was young, I read in my bedroom. I’d take a flashlight to bed and hide under the covers to read. Mom was not fooled! When we went to Nova Scotia for summer vacation, I read in my grandfather’s orchard. There was a tree-limb perfect for sitting!

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During my university days, I read like a mad-woman, as much mystery/romance as I could absorb. I think I wanted solace from my steady diet of science texts and journal articles! My preferred reading place was my car – also a rest from the lab where I did most of my university studies.

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I still favour mysteries, especially detective series. Science fiction too. And poetry, always poetry!

A few series I’d recommend:

Chuck Bowie -“Donovan: Thief for Hire

Ann Cleeves – “Sheltland Island Mysteries

Ann Granger –  I like her older “Fran Varady Crime Novels

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Through the years, I have been constant in my reading spaces:

  • the car … for years I drove to a park on my lunch hour and cheerfully read the time away. When my son was in his early university days, I never minded waiting for him because I could read while I waited.
  • in bed … as the years go by, reading puts me to sleep faster and faster. It sometimes takes me months to read a particular book!
  • in my accustomed chair in the living room … experience with decades of public service work means I can read with any distraction.
  • in our camp at our table. No distractions, just good company.
  • but never in my planned reading space … when I retired I bought a comfy chair and designed a perfect reading corner. It is a great space to store stuff – books for my next signing, the shower head we haven’t yet installed, two throw pillows no-one wants to sit with and recent purchases not put away. When the chair is empty of stuff, it is filled with Zoë. I never read there …. never, ever.

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Where do you read? If you had a special reading spot, do you think you would use it?

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Copyright 2018 Jane Tims

 

 

Written by jane tims

February 8, 2018 at 7:00 am

ghost stories

with 10 comments

Although I hesitate to write this post, I am trying to go through my older poems and think about them a little. The next one on the list (I am working backwards through the alphabet) is called ‘visitations’. The subject matter is a bit ghostly.

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I do not generally believe in ghosts although I do believe in phenomena if that makes sense. A phenomenon is defined as a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one whose cause or explanation is in question.

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I have experienced many phenomena in my life. Odd things that seem to have some particular significance at the time. My mother, who also had such experiences, called them “comforts from heaven.”

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Here are a couple of examples from my own life:

  • After my mom died, a little yellow bird came almost every day to peck at our windows (not a goldfinch, in spite of the drawing below). After that year, I never saw it again.
  • Once I bought a handmade quilt at an auction and laid it over our upper loft railing. One night I came out to the hall in the dark, touched the quilt and heard the following words, quite distinctly: “Henry, come in to supper!” I don’t know anyone named Henry.
  • When she was alive, my aunt and I had a contest to see who could lose the most weight. My aunt told me to pick an item from her home as the ‘prize’. I know she was disappointed when I chose a little framed picture of a waterfall she had won as a prize in Sunday School in 1937. Neither of us lost any weight so the prize was never claimed. After her death, we retrieved some boxes from her estate. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the box in the trunk of my car and the little picture of the waterfall was the top item.
  • Once when I was staying away from home, I heard the front door open and footsteps, crossing the tile floor. I expected to see someone else and instead a little girl with ringlets came into my view, reached up for the doorknob of the adjacent bedroom and went inside. There were no children in the house at the time and I was terrified.
  • My husband had his own weird experience on our local covered bridge. He was crossing the narrow bridge one day in our truck and was alarmed to see another car enter the bridge. He was certain there would be a crash but the other car, an older V-8 model, squeezed right by. My husband, knowing there was no way two vehicles could pass in the bridge, had to stop the truck at the other side of the bridge, he was shaking so hard.

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Now every one of these experiences could be explained. Probably a vivid imagination is part of that explanation. But I do believe in the phenomenon. Have you had any experiences of your own?

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visitations

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moonlight on birch

stark shadows

words precise on the page

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her tread heavy

she reaches for the door

opens, ringlets close as a spring

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lengthen, what else is possible?

hand touches a quilt, a voice asks

a practical question, distilled in velvet

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a small yellow bird

at the window

every morning for a year

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Copyright Jane Tims 2018

 

 

Written by jane tims

January 26, 2018 at 7:00 am

pick faster

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October 21, 2016 ‘blueberries’, Jane Tims

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pick faster

for Dad

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blue ripens as morning, deft fingers

noisy pails, hail on metal gutters

this bush spent, unsatisfactory

berries over there fatter

bluer

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I am certain I see, beside mine

my father’s hands, callused

and quick

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berries roll between

thumb and fingers

I try to meet

his expectation

pick faster

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Published in: ‘within easy reach’, Chapel Street Editions, 2016

Copyright Jane Tims 2016

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October 21, 2016 ‘sweet hurts’ Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

November 9, 2016 at 8:35 am

so many kinds of apples

with 6 comments

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October 24, 2016 ‘yellow transparent’ Jane Tims

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orchard outing

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wooden bushel baskets

of laughter, delirious tumble down

the avenue of trees, shadows ripple

among the dapples, Cortlands tied

with scarlet ribbons

burdened

boughs

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my son grown tall

on his father’s shoulders

stretches to pick the McIntosh

with the reddest shine

small hand

barely able

to grip the apple

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Published: ‘within easy reach’, Chapel Street Editions, 2016

Copyright Jane Tims 2016

Written by jane tims

November 7, 2016 at 7:49 am

getting ready for fall – blueberries

with 2 comments

Another painting in my series! I could call the collection paintings to illustrate ‘within easy reach’ since each one was inspired by a poem in my book.

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Blueberries are probably my favorite berry to pick. This could be because every summer, when my family visited Nova Scotia, we spent a week at my Grandfather’s blueberry farm. I picked blueberries with cousins, siblings and parents. I was never very good at the task but my idea of picking is one for the bucket, two for the mouth, so I guess you now know why I love picking blueberries!

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This little painting was fun to do. I was inspired because I had just finished putting together freezer bags of blueberries from a big box we bought at McKay’s Wild Blueberry Farm Stand in Pennfield, New Brunswick (https://janetims.com/2012/08/04/blueberries/).

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The painting is 10″ X 10″, gallery edges, acrylics, painted with Ultramarine blue, Cadmium yellow, Cadmium red, Burnt sienna and Titanium white.

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August 20, 2016 ‘pick faster’ Jane Tims

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And, to accompany the painting, another sampling from the poems in my book ‘within easy reach’. My book of poems and drawings is available from my publisher http://www.chapelstreeteditions.com

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pick faster

for Dad

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blue ripens as morning, deft fingers

noisy pails, hail on metal gutters

this bush spent, unsatisfactory

berries over there fatter

bluer

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I am certain I see, beside mine

my father’s hands, callused

and quick

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berries roll between

thumb and fingers

I try to meet

his expectation

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pick faster

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within easy reach, Chapel Street Editions, 2016

Copyright 2016 Jane Tims

morning bird chorus – ephemera

with 7 comments

When I was a child, one of the things I prized was my collection of ‘bird cards’. These were an advertising give-away from ‘Cow Brand Baking Soda’ (Church and Dwight Limited, Montreal, Canada).

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I would spend hours looking at these, putting them in order of the ones I liked best, thinking about the birds depicted. The Meadowlark was a local bird I had seen many times and his call was as familiar to me as breathing – he always made it to the top of the pile! Today the winner would be the Cedar Waxwing who sits in the tops of the pines at our cabin, or the Goldfinch who spends all winter at our feeders!

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Scan0021

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Today I still have two packs of these cards. They are in sets of 16 in a paper envelope. The card sets are called ‘Useful Birds of America’ and the front of each card shows an image of a bird by artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), an American ornithologist and artist. On the back, there is a tip on how to use ‘Cow Brand Baking Soda’, the bird’s common name, its scientific name and a charming paragraph about its appearance and habits. The card concludes with a short message still relevant today:

For the good of all, do not destroy the birds 

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Scan0022

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Copyright 2016 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 3, 2016 at 8:22 am

early schools – the exotic and the common

with 4 comments

In my Aunt’s book about early schooling in Nova Scotia, she tells an amusing story about field days at school:

… I recall another field day when Dr. DeWolfe, Miss Harris, and Miss Baker came with shrubs to our school. The shrubs were ten cents each. My mother had always longed for a weigela and a snowball and we were delighted that at last she could have her wish, for both these varieties were among Dr. DeWolf’s  collection. They were duly planted at my home on the bank of the French River. One turned out to be a high bush cranberry and the other a spiraea, but today we still refer to them as the “snowball” and “weigela” and, I may mention, they have many an offspring throughout our province.

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I must have seen the high bush cranberry and spiraea many times at my mother’s old home, but I don’t remember them in particular. I do remember the gardens, lush with rose bushes, tiger lilies, and grape vines.

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June 17 2016 'an exotic shrub' Jane Tims

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Copyright 2016 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

June 24, 2016 at 6:45 am

a place for Zoe

with 8 comments

I’ve heard the theory that the Internet is 90% occupied by cats. I have spent a fair share of my time watching feline antics on stairways, kittens tumbling from chairs and cats sneaking up on cameras.

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The cat I spend most time with is Zoe. She is a small cat, about eight years old (whoops, my niece says Zoe is twelve)! She tries so hard to communicate and can usually make herself understood via telepathy. She sits and stares at me and I go through the list. Food? No. Water? No. Ice cubes? Yes.

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Zoe checks in with me at intervals through the day. She greets me and listens to the morning bird chorus with me. She runs in front of me to her bowls and waits while I feed her. When I am typing at the computer, she hops up and tries to help. Later, when I watch TV, she snoozes on my lap for a few minutes. She usually appears later to race through the house from corner to corner.

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Nothing special about this particular cat post. But I wish I had Zoe’s nonchalance, her utter calm, her faith that all will be well.

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Copyright Jane Tims 2016

Written by jane tims

June 22, 2016 at 7:00 am

Posted in a niche for Zoë

Tagged with , , , ,

early schools – the autograph book

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A tradition in schools before the 1960s was the autograph book. I had one of these books in the 1960s, but although I collected some autographs, it was considered a quaint activity.

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two of Jane Margaret Norman's autograph albums

two of Jane Margaret Norman’s autograph albums

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Both my mother and my aunt had autograph books in the 1940s and 1950s. One of my aunt’s albums was from her students when she taught in a one room school.

I also have my great-grandmother’s autograph album with messages from 1885 to 1914. Her name was Mary Jane (Johnson) Clarke. Her daughters (including my grand-mother) wrote in the album in the later years.

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Mary Jane Johnson Clarke's autograph album

Mary Jane Johnson Clarke’s autograph album from the 1880s

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These books are small, rectangular in shape. The covers are heavy stock paper, sometimes flocked. The older albums have embossed leather covers. The albums range in size from about 3″ by 5″ to 7 3/4″ by 4 3/4″ (the oldest books are the largest). Each page of the book held one autograph: the date, a message, saying or poem, perhaps an address and a signature. Males as well as females wrote in the albums. The albums from the 1940s and 1950s have variously coloured pages in now-faded pink, yellow and blue. The pages in my great-grandmother’s album are beige and white.

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my grandmother's autograph in my great-grandmother's autograph album

my grandmother’s autograph in my great-grandmother’s autograph album

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Some of the messages offer serious advice for a good life:

Life is like a mirror

Reflecting what you do

And when you face it smiling

It smiles right back at you

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Some messages are amusing or even politically incorrect. One from 1947 shows a disturbing flippancy about marital violence:

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When your husband at you flings

Knives and forks and other things

Seek revenge and seek it soon

In the handle of a broom

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Some messages are just funny, and seem almost modern:

Great-Aunt Laura Clark's autograph in my Great-Grandmother's autograph album

Great-Aunt Laura Clarke’s autograph in my Great-Grandmother’s autograph album in 1909

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Since my focus in my ‘old schools’ project will be on the school in the context of the landscape, I was pleased to find one or two messages about landscape!

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When hills and dales divide us

And distance is our lot

Just cultivate the little flower

That is called forget-me-not

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And:

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I’m glad the sky is painted blue

And the earth is painted green

And such a lot of nice fresh air

Is sandwiched in between

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June 8 2016 'the autograph' Jane Tims

June 8 2016 ‘the autograph’ Jane Tims  (Is she writing the autograph for her friend or her doll?)

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Did you ever have an autograph album? Do you remember any of the verses people wrote?

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Copyright 2016  JaneTims

Written by jane tims

June 15, 2016 at 7:00 am

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