About that Happening, and a Jingle

Another snippet from our North Mountain Happening, this time a short jingle and some dancing.

Music and lyrics by Allison Cornell, video Adam Zinzan. Filmed in Mount Hanley, Nova Scotia.

Who are these people and what was this Happening, you might ask? Here is the invitation I sent out to a motley assortment of friends and acquaintances, all of whom live on the North Mountain, a long wedge of volcanic rock that separates the Bay of Fundy from the Annapolis Valley here in Nova Scotia.

A North Mountain Happening

 August 30th, 2pm on; 31st as rain date.

In and around our garden

What’s the idea?

A cross-pollination between someone saying they might like to perform a dance in the garden here and me wondering how to promote my new novel in Covid times.

The official publication date for Cardinal Divide is September 1st. The novel has lots of queer content including a pre-non-binary non-binary 99 year old main character. Living queer in a rural area is important to the book too. So showcasing the community that is evolving on the North Mountain seems like a fun idea too.

I’d also like to embed an awareness that we are in Mi’kma’ki, on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaw people.

The ‘happening’ part of all this is that it would not be about gathering an audience to watch performers but instead people doing their thing around the garden while Adam Zinzan videos. Some of the happenings might have to do with the book – two friends have offered an advertising jingle, someone might interview me about the book, maybe I’ll read a few pages – but lots of it might not. Dance performances. Possibly Alexa installing a sculpture she’s been working on. Maybe a molten metal and blacksmith muscles moment. Someone declaiming a poem. Other things I can’t even imagine.

The idea is to generate short video clips that can be sent out on social media. For my purposes, links to the book might happen through Eileen sneaking about with the book-as-mask, popping up in the clips. Not all of them, though. Because the idea too would be that people performing would have access to clips of themselves

This is an invitation to friends and friends of friends to dream up something performative you’d like to do here. It’s more about imagination and play than product.

If you want to know more about the book check out this interview: http://open-book.ca/News/Nina-Newington-on-Canada-Uncertainty-and-Her-Newest-Book

If you’d like to be involved, let me know.

Nina

Sketchy but it worked and afterwards we feasted on slow-roasted shoulder of lamb and salad and bread and cheese made from our own sheep’s milk and it was the best book launch I could have imagined even though it didn’t occur to me that it could be that as well as all the other things it was from daft to solemn and back again.

With many thanks to Kate and Allison Cornell, Alexa Jaffurs, Lorne Julien, Eileen Rapsey, R.J. Rose, An Thorne, Angelika Waldow and Adam Zinzan.

Book signing on a clearcut or two

At the end of August, as Cardinal Divide was about to come out, a group of landowners on the North Mountain decided to fight the aerial spraying of some forest land. Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment had just issued a list of parcels of private land approved for spraying with a Glyphosate based herbicide. It included 250 acres owned by a corporation that had previously clearcut the forest to supply wood to the Northern Pulp mill. Now the corporation wanted to poison the hardwoods that were regrowing on the site — all the maple, birch, ash — leaving only the softwoods. That’s the function of these aerial spray programs, to stop the regrowth of the natural Acadian forest, instead creating an industrial monoculture ready for (climate change permitting) another clearcut in forty year’s time .

The government might have approved but the landowners did not. Many had lived in the area for over thirty years, tending their woodlots gently, sustainably. Several lived in houses built with timber cut from their own land. I knew two of them, Anna and Don. We had met at an ungodly hour one morning last October to car pool into Halifax. There we gathered in the cold dawn with other Extinction Rebellion activists to block the John MacDonald Bridge. Similar actions happened across Canada that day, part of a week of global rebellion. Some people hated that we disrupted traffic but it certainly got people talking and thinking about climate change.  And for Anna and Don and me, it forged a bond.

So it was natural for me to lend a hand as they planned their protest, not that they needed much help. ‘Who’s willing to camp out on that land?’ Don asked at their first organizing meeting. Six hands went up. ‘Who’s willing to get arrested?’ Six hands went up. A long white canopy left over from somebody’s kid’s wedding was painted with the words “Don’t Spray Us”. It and some tents were raised on that clearcut land on September 1st, the first day spraying could happen according to the permits. A neighbour with a drone took pictures. Media got interested. Within three days the corporation caved. Their spray application was withdrawn.

Meantime those of us living a little further down the Annapolis Valley found out there were two sites on the South Mountain scheduled for spraying. We were nervous about going up against the company that owned those lands, the biggest sawmill in Southwest Nova Scotia. Anna and Don came to our planning meeting, bringing encouragement and the Don’t Spray Us  canopy. This time we set up on two sites, one near Paradise Lake, the other Eel Weir Lake. It took four days  for the company to decide not to spray this year.

That left us just enough time to scramble a camp together for two more parcels in Hants County. They didn’t get sprayed either.

Spending time on a piece of land that is trying to recover from the assault of a clearcut, you feel the will to heal. The land is a mess. The moist mossy floor of the forest is gone.  The complex, invisible networks of fungi and roots in the soil have been disrupted. The soil, exposed now, is releasing the carbon it has been storing for decades. You know that but you see the stumps of maple and ash and oak sending up sprouts. You see birds and frogs, hear coyotes, know there’s a mama bear and two cubs in the woods nearby. And sometimes you think you hear the sound of a helicopter. You think about it, a chopper flying low over the clearcut, spraying poison on everything. How even if it’s true that Glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans, even if it doesn’t cause cancer in animals that eat the leaves and berries, even if it only does exactly what its proponents claim it does, it is going to kill all of the broad leafed plants in this clearcut. And because it has surfactants added to it to make it stick better to the leaves, it will kill any frog or salamander it comes in contact with. Why? Because the surfactants make it stick to their skin and amphibians breathe through their skin.

You sit in the clearcut and you think about these things and you feel a fierce joy that you are there, putting your body in the way. Saying no. Saying ‘Don’t Spray Us’ and meaning the true ‘us’, all of us. All living beings. You are not alone. I am not alone, out on the clearcut, saying ‘no’ for all of us.

So, in a strange way, I can’t imagine a better place to sign a copy of my book and put it in the hands of another person who has also travelled rough roads to stand with us.

All in all, this September, we occupied land in three counties in Nova Scotia. We stopped the spraying of 615 acres of the 3700 that were approved. It’s a beginning.

Cheese and Writing, a break from book signings

Making cheese is a lot like writing. It’s more fun if you don’t have to be in control. Of course, if you’re trying to turn out a predictable product for an admiring public, it may be better to stick to a formula.

But those of us who have never been in any danger of making a living from writing (or cheese-making) are free to flirt with the unexpected. Making cheese, you keep your surfaces clean but there’s no need to sterilize or pasteurise if the milk comes fresh and warm from the barn. You want the invisible partners to join the dance as the milk sets and curd separates from whey.

Some members of the microbiome prefer a moist surface or a salty one; others need crevices in the curd. Proportions matter: a flat disc attracts one kind of penicillin, another prefers a drum. Bacterium linens likes a brick. This is the microbe that creates the great, glorious, redolent cheeses from Pont L’Eveque to Limberger to Stinking Bishop. All grow a sticky, pinkish-orange coat, all smell of sweaty socks. There’s a reason for this. B. linens lives in the damper, saltier nooks of our bodies, between fingers and toes for example.

Like writing, then, it flourishes in private places.

If nothing is ever pure or preserved but always becoming, the art is in tilting that process towards deliciousness.

Raw experience, like raw curd, can be delightful in its very freshness. There are moments so glorious we’d wish an eternity – but in the thought itself is the demise of the perfect present.

Fermentation is the great tool nature proposes to transform the swift present – of fruit, of milk, of experience – into something slow and rich.

Imagination is the cave where life turns into art. Different forms invite different transformations. Myself, I like the weighty round of the novel though it takes years to ripen, but a haiku or a sonnet or a hip-hop song, each has its particular savour. Each engages with the invisible.

Cardinal Divide has officially come out…

 

Well, today is the publication day for my new novel, Cardinal Divide. The press — Guernica Editions — and I are doing a bunch of virtual promotions, as we must in Covid times, but I am also doing some book signings here in Nova Scotia.

  • Briar Patch Nursery, Saturday, September 5th, 11-1pm
  • LaHave River Books, Saturday, September 12th, 1-3pm
  • Tangled Garden, Grand Pre, Sunday, September 13th, 2-4pm
  • Baintons/Mad Hatters Books and Wine Bar, Annapolis Royal, Saturday, September 19th, Noon-2pm

Alexa Jaffurs and friends will play fiddle and banjo music at each event.

If you can’t make it to a signing, you can order the book from your local bookstore or directly from the publishers — free shipping in Canada September 1st-13th — https://www.guernicaeditions.com/title/9781771834421 Or there’s always Amazon.

If you do social media, check out https://www.instagram.com/ninanewington/ and https://www.facebook.com/NinaNewingtonAuthor

Mid-September there will be some fun postings from the North Mountain Happening we just held to highlight the wild, queer, creative life that’s happening hereabouts. And my book will be part of Guernica’s virtual launch the first week in October.

For more about Cardinal Divide: http://open-book.ca/News/Nina-Newington-on-Canada-Uncertainty-and-Her-Newest-Book

 

Soaring

It gets pretty crowded in the swallows’ nest. Peering up into the shadowy peak of the barn, you notice a wing extended, or a leg, and you know that any day the young will be fluttering about. Landing with relief on the cable that holds the building together in the middle. Lined up, all six, beaks gaping as a parent swoops in through the window opening. A day later they are hurtling through the sky themselves. Landing on the washing line, still with obvious relief. Retiring to the barn at nightfall. But oh the joy it must be to gain the freedom of the air. To soar and bank and dip.

There are moments, writing, that feel like flying. Like being a swallow, in particular. Not a crow rowing alone across the sky, or geese in their galley ships, but an aerial acrobat. Diving for the fun of it. Catching your dinner on the wing.

But equally there are the spans cramped in a nest, waiting. The sense of constriction. The uncertainty. This is the thing it is hard to remember later, that you don’t know. You don’t know if anything will hatch or fledge or fly. I heard a writer on CBC radio the other day describe ‘the terrible ignorance’ of childhood. I felt it in my gut right then, the roiling confusion, trying to find sense in the discrepant realities of my family.

With each book one returns to that condition of not knowing. Though I gather there are authors who grasp the whole plot ahead of time. They have maps and flow charts and biographical notes for each character. I don’t envy them because I suspect, if I knew where it was all going, I wouldn’t bother to write it. For all its terrors, it is the unknown that draws me on.

This is an essential rhythm of life: after constriction, emergence. An ecstatic expansion of all horizons. Moments when I am not making, I am receiving. Or both: the dreamer and the dream; dreaming and being dreamed.

T

That’s how the story of Cardinal Divide came to me, in one of the most ecstatic moments of my life. I was living in Edmonton at the time. My wife and I had immigrated to Canada five months earlier. It wasn’t an easy move, but that’s another story.I was angry and depressed. Instead of celebrating the publication of my first novel, Where Bone’s Dance, with friends in a place I’d lived for decades, it was launched in Vancouver, a city where I knew exactly no-one. My wife and I drove across the Rockies together then she flew back to work. Driving home alone down the Coquihalla highway, a story began to unspool in my mind. I pulled into Kamloops, bought a notebook in the pharmacy and scribbled until there was nothing left.

They would live in me, these characters, for years perhaps. But one day, with luck, they would emerge, blinking and stretching and being themselves. Free of me at last.