Field Notes Spring 2019

My husband won’t teach me to shoot a gun because he’s afraid I’ll shoot him (fair), and he won’t teach me to drive the tractor because he’s afraid I’ll break it (not fair). He hasn’t even taught me how to use a chainsaw because he thinks I’ll cut my leg off. Thankfully, when I took up residency in Nova Scotia twelve years ago, I did bring one useful skill; I know how to build a fire.

This spring marks the tenth anniversary of my father’s death. He had early onset dementia and one of the hardest things about losing him to that disease are the regrets and “should haves” that are my legacy as an adult daughter caregiver. Over the years, I’ve reminded myself there were things I did right, like taking the advice of a friend in the community care sector who said, “Don’t focus on what your father can’t do; focus on what he can do.”
Recently, I find my memories of him, and my gratitude for having him as my father, are focused again on what he could do all his life because
I’m using what he taught me in my life in rural Nova Scotia.
Let’s be honest: I’m not a particularly competent country girl. I don’t know how to raise goats or ride a horse. I can’t drive a tractor or bale hay. I can’t gut a fish or cut the head off a chicken, and I’d rather watch the fox prowl around our property than shoot it. I’ve always been an observer of country life, rather than a full participant. But when I moved into the house at the edge of the field in March of 2007, I arrived knowing how to hang a flag, how to stack a woodpile, and how to build a fire.
Growing up, our houses were heated by electric baseboard heaters or a gas furnace, and to create “fire”, all one had to do was turn a knob on the wall. Fortunately, we had cottages with wood stoves or fireplaces, and because my father explained what he was doing as he did it, I learned how to get a
fire going with twisted newspaper, kindling, and small sticks.
Heating a home with a wood furnace, however, was an entirely new experience for me, and a lot more work, so I was quite happy to let my husband maintain control over the acquiring and stacking of eight cord of wood in the basement, and keeping that home fire burning.
When a city girl marries a country boy, there’s a certain dynamic the two of you fall into, certain roles you play, and the longer you’re together, the more ingrained those roles become.
Until something changes. Until someone isn’t able to do what they used to do.
During the first years of our marriage, my husband left for work at six o’clock in the morning so he always “fixed the fire” before heading out. Since his shoulder injury, and more recently, a stroke, he sleeps later so now I’m the one getting up at six o’clock to fix the fire.
Every morning, as the cats prowl the woodpile, I squat in front of the open door of the wood furnace in my pajamas and slippers, and I build the fire. Every time the flames erupt from the remaining coals or from my match, I thank my father for teaching me this skill. I also think about how lucky my husband is to have a wife who is not only able to fix the fire, but also willing to keep this home fire burning.
My father never saw me at home in rural Nova Scotia (he died before our second wedding anniversary) but he’s still with me. I feel his spirit around me on this property where his ashes are buried, and every time I build a fire in the furnace exactly the way he taught me, I know he’s focused on the things I can do, not on the things I didn’t do.