This book was just what I needed after my string of amazing Giller reads. Engaging, but completely different.
In 2006, when Sara Jewell’s marriage ended, her first thought was to go to Pugwash, a small community in Cumberland County Nova Scotia where she had spent her summers as a child. She ended up staying, and Field Notes is made up of essays and observations about rural life seen from the eyes of someone who has lived most of her life in the city.
The book is divided into four thematic sections, and includes essays on everything from Maritime kitchen parties to funerals for mice. She writes about the people who make up the surrounding area, as well as the animals and landscape that are the background to their lives. Made up of more than 40 essays, it’s impossible to talk about them all, but there were some topics that stood out for me, or had me nodding my head in familiarity.
Sara Jewell married a man from rural Nova Scotia. I married a man from the city (Halifax). So I recognized in her some of what my husband experienced when he moved out of the city with me for the first time. For example, it is a requirement for everyone to wave at each other. Not only do I automatically wave at everyone, but I sometimes wave to them more than once – when I see a neighbour getting into their car and again when they’re driving off down the road. My husband has diligently practiced his hand-waving skills over the years and now seems to enjoy his perfected two-fingered wave to other vehicles as they pass.
I know from my past life as a vacationer that waving freaks out visitors. That person from Ontario could have spent the rest of his or her vacation trying to figure out who they knew in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, because someone waved at them.
Talking about the weather is another favourite Maritime activity. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone around here without the weather coming into it. Around here, small talk = talking about the weather. Sadly for me, not books.
In a world where locations, likes and preferences, meals, and workouts are recorded – and where storms are tracked weeks in advance – to have the natural world operating above and beyond our control is exactly what we need. In our universe, weather remains supreme ruler no matter how many attempts we make to overthrow its regime.
I love her observation that “rollators should come with snow tires”, as she watched on two different occasions older women determinedly plowing through snow on the sidewalk to get to their destinations; not letting a little bad weather get in their way.
Sara (I feel like I can call her Sara) writes about the importance of community, and the decline of church congregations and community events as being detrimental to small communities and the connections that are so important to keeping them alive and well.
Our rural communities are no longer filled with people in their thirties and forties who are starting families and putting down roots. While that is reflected most obviously in church pews, it’s also apparent in the readership of local newspapers, and attendance at local events like pancake suppers, craft shows and concerts.
She writes of rug-hookers and fiddlers, old dogs and new puppies, walks in the woods and the death of trees. (Even more devastating than the essay on road-kill is the one about old dogs – don’t say I didn’t warn you!) And I have found someone else with a strong desire to own a goat. I think we could be friends.
Reading Field Notes right through, I did notice some repetition of phrases and snippets of backstory. Being a weekly or bi-weekly newspaper column, this makes sense, but doesn’t work quite as well for cover-to-cover reading. It would be perfect for dipping in and out of. However, this is just a small thing, and didn’t stop me from reading the book right through.
Sara Jewell is good at writing about the things that happen, or are there, but that most of us don’t take the time to reflect on. I heartily enjoyed reading her essays with titles such as “The Truth About Roadkill”, “My Husband Knows Jack About Decorating”, “Muslims in the Maritimes”, and “Check Me For Ticks” (which made me think of this song).
Warning: This book may make you want to move to Nova Scotia. It does for me, and I already live here.
Field Notes is a bi-weekly column in the Amherst Citizen-Record. Another place to find more of Sara’s delightful ramblings about country living is her blog.
Thank you to Nimbus Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book for review!
Tell me, do you wave to everyone, or is it just us?