Friday, January 31, 2014

It's all about a stallikin.

Yours truly with Jigger last summer

This rare and endangered breed will find hope in the promise of the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary Inc.

The votes are in, the judges have made their decision and the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary has been awarded the grand sum of ninety thousand dollars in the Aviva Community Fund Competition!

I have spent quite a number of times in the past few days talking to people and a question that arises frequently is why I personally took on this cause.  I’ve answered that this province was built on volunteerism and community spirit and I’m just one of many.  That I like to elevate people and that it’s not about me, it’s about everybody doing what they can.  I am someone that prefers to dwell on all of the contributions of others—too many to mention—but I thought I would give it a bit of an explanation as to my own personal motivation since it’s been asked so much.   Perhaps it seems rather insane to some to spend hours and hours devoted to something you don’t get paid for or really get credit for just because it’s there to be done.  It’s not unusual, I see people giving of their time more here in Newfoundland than anywhere but here is my own personal motivation.

You see, for me,  it’s all about stallikins.  Now you all know what a stallikin is right? I am unsure of the spelling but phonetically that is how you spell the word.  Basically a stallikin is a scrawny crooked stick, a tree with branches missing that isn’t particularly attractive but entirely functional and serves a lot of purposes particularly in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

This month—January 9 to be exact—held the sixteenth anniversary of my father’s( Harold Parsons) passing.  It is a difficult day and it tends to make me melancholy and introspective.  In order to cope I went back to the memories of the rest of my family and their support during that time.  I believe that all you leave behind are your stories and it through their anecdotes that I got to know my father as the man he was even before he was my dad. 

And of all the stories told about him at that time I recall one in particular.  It was told by my Uncle Bruce and it was about how, when he was a young boy, my father bought him a hockey stick.  Yes, it was a real honest to goodness hockey stick.  This was a big deal back then and from what I recall, a surprise gift on no particular occasion. Times were difficult, money was hard to come by and yet, my father got him a hockey stick that, of course, became his pride and  joy.  I do think though, that the memory of that gift might be more of a treasure than the hockey stick. 

In any event, at the time I asked my Uncle Bruce “Why do you think he did that?” and he replied, “I guess he got tired of watching me play with a stallikin.” 

The humour was wonderful but even more so was that it solidified in my mind one of the key character traits of the man my father was.  He was the type of man who, if he saw a need, without a thought, provided a solution if he could.  I think it’s a common trait in Newfoundlanders but my father had an abundance of it and I grew up watching that but even more so, upon his passing it was impressed upon me that this very characteristic was the most valuable of all his good ways.  Yes he was patient and kind and had a great sense of humour.  He was understanding and listened well and is still the most intelligent man I’ve ever known but all of those attributes would have meant much less if he had simply sat in a chair and done nothing with them.  

I grew up watching him join committees and go to meetings and writing letters on behalf of others to this authority and that.  He was well read, educated, possessed an ability to comprehend big picture issues and bring them down to the basics.  He was not a sideline type of person. Neither am I.

What does that have to do with the ponies and the Aviva Community Fund competition?  Everything.   I came home to Newfoundland write books, fiction of all things.  I’m a poet really so perhaps I should just be sitting in a corner making up rhymes.   But all my life, my father, who didn’t once engage in any sort of traditional discipline, has been looking over my shoulder.  In all things I look and think if it’s something he would do or approve of.  I always get a yes when it comes to helping others. 

 I come back to this province and I see Netta LeDrew and her ponies. She gives her entire life happily to them and their needs are great.   She does it so well, her love of them is the biggest love you ever saw. Her devotion is beyond measure and her gift to the province of trying to preserve this heritage treasure is worthy of great reward.  She uses her gifts and talents to the fullest, a trait that I have deepest respect for.

We all are meant to use the talents we have to the fullest.  I happen to have a knack for writing.  I also have, as some might call it, the gift of gab.  While this may not be appreciated by all, it’s served me well  and it’s served others well, because  I’ve chosen to take an active part in making my voice heard to the betterment of the lives of others particularly towards those things that benefit the community and the people I love the most, Change Islands. 

I am incapable of halfway measures. I’m in or I’m out and if I’m in I will not stop.  I will lose sleep, forget to eat, and do whatever it takes to reach the goal.  You all saw that. Many of you stayed up nights with me.  I don’t care if people don’t like what I’m doing, if it’s a good thing, good people will want to be part of it. The rest are kind of irrelevant.   There will always be the dissenters, the negative people, those who minimize and who criticize and that’s fine. They write their story, I write mine. 

The best part of anything is the people.   I love people.  I love finding out their particular abilities and seeing them utilize them fully and I see resourcefulness and a skill set among the people of the islands that stands out.  This tiny town of just around two hundred with talents takes me aback and makes me wish I was more like them.  I can’t sew beautiful quilts, I can’t knit, I can’t crochet, I can’t carve beautiful wooden art but what I can do is write and what I can do is participate.  I see Netta LeDrew playing with a stallikin and  I see Jessica  Porter at just sixteen trying to help her and it’s inspiring.  I think of all the people I know who want to be a part of a good thing and I figure they could all chip in a bit.  So I asked people to help and they asked people to help and we were all a part of a wave of good things that culminated in the grand prize of ninety thousand dollars towards a facility that will make Netta’s work easier, make the ponies lives better, impact our community and give others the opportunity to know about the treasure that is Change Islands.

Netta could have sat out the game but instead she picked up a stallikin and started playing. She plays harder than anyone I’ve ever known.   Least a person could do was get her a hockey stick.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Year in Review and a Year in the Making!

Me;  It's been a good year.

I was out for a drive yesterday and took this photo--

The epitome of Newfoundland in winter.

Slob ice in Little Burnt Bay

One step in front of the other, sometimes with sand between the toes, other times with running shoes or rubber boots and most recently with the crunch of snow underneath snowshoes. Such is how we make our way through each year of our life, marked off by human hands on a calendar in our infinite and wasted need to organise and categorise our world.

And this is the day we mark of the the beginning of a new year.  Today, January 1, 2014 is New Year's Day according to our calendar.

For someone like me, who loves beginnings this is a day I embrace.  The energy of all of those who feel optimistic about the upcoming year is palpable and I do so I love the joy of others.

Today I made my resolution--to continue to be as happy as I can be and to take as many people along with me as possible.  It's simply a reaffirmation of how I spent last year.

And oh what a year it was.  The best one ever full of exactly all the right people.

Life comes down to the wonderful people in it and this year mine was overflowing.  I have met so many amazing individuals this year, too many to count.

Just a few of the amazing people that stand out are  in no particular order:

The Stairs family;  an outstanding family here in Lewisporte who host music shows featuring world class musicians and have a recording studio in the basement of their home--a renovated Salvation Army Citadel--appropriately named Citadel House.  Through them I've met award winning musical acts that have MusicNL nods, ECMA awards and nominations and even a Juno prize winner.  The Stairs family have become friends, their girls take turns babysitting mine, we attend shows regularly and will be there for their Open Mic night on January 3.  This homeschooling family with ten(yeah makes me feel like an underachiever) children are truly special and a blessing to my life.  I look forward to working with them in the future.

The Cranfords:  my good friend, Jerry and his parents, Garry and Margo, owners of Flanker Press, the largest publishing company here in Newfoundland.  Great people with who I share a common goal--to bring the stories of our people and our province to the world.  I hope to finish a book for them to publish at some point this winter.

Sabrina Whyatt, musician, crab fisherman, business woman, television personality and all round sweetheart.  I interviewed her about her autobiography that was released this year. I think I may have been the first to do so.  She was one of the Newfoundland entertainers of the year and a very interesting person.

Bill Rowe;  What can I say?  He's a legend in Newfoundland and well known in the rest of the country. He is former Liberal party leader, host of Open Line on VOCM for over 30 years and best selling author.  It is in the latter category that I connect most with Bill and we've forged a nice new friendship over the past year.  I attended the launch of his last book in St. John's and then brought him out here to Lewisporte with the help of my friend Dean Stairs who hosted a book signing and reading at Citadel House.

I've met numerous local authors--reviewed quite a few of their books, talked to people at all levels of government, interviewed a plethora of interesting people and enjoyed every single interaction.

And interspersed within these familiar names are the extraordinary people I've met and befriended that you wouldn't know.  A great many of those joined with me as we forged into new territory in the Aviva Community Challenge Fund, an endeavor we undertook to try to win a new barn for the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Sanctuary.  With a population of 200 our community came second to just one other cause(by a few hundred votes in a city of 200,000 no less) and exceeded the necessary 20,000 vote mark in a remarkable show of teamwork, community spirit and resourcefulness that still leaves me breathless in bewildered and grateful at its scope.  People reached out and found every possible connection and with each one taking different approaches and with the talent of each individual being utilized fully we reached the finals. The sanctuary will get $5000 and on January 28th after a panel of judges have looked at the results of the semi finals judging us on community impact, sustainability, the budget and our entire proposal which resolves around a provincial effort to save the Newfoundland Pony from extinction, we will know who the winner of full funding for their project might be.  The sanctuary has a chance, and we gave them the chance, everyone of us by working together.  I've never been prouder to be a Change Islander or a Newfoundlander and I've never known with greater confidence that we can do anything we set our minds to--if we work together.

And it is to that end I also started an effort to convince the Federal government to make a permanent solution to the oil seeping from the sunken ship Manolis L off the coast of Change Islands a priority.   I am very concerned about what one member of our group called a "ticking time bomb" and it is, in fact some form of that.  For when all 520 tonnes of bunker C oil spills into Notre Dame Bay it will be disastrous for then region and indeed will impact the entire province.  And while the environment minister Leona Aglukkaq ignores our request for financing of such an operation the provincial government sits mute on the topic with not one word of solidarity with the thousands of people in the region who want this resolved and who will be affected by the disaster and indeed the MHA who lives in the Isles of Notre Dame seems very unconcerned as well.  He should be locking arms with his people as they beg from attention on this matter and instead he separates himself from his constituency. Perhaps he doesn't realise that he isn't an employee of the government but rather an employee of the people with a review coming in under two years. Perhaps he will redeem himself and help us find a solution.

I feel though, we will resolve this problem in 2014, and that the right people will come forward to ensure it does.

I miss my Ontario family and friends, specifically my older daughters and my sweet grandson. And my friends, especially the St. Mary's ladies, Denise Fergusson,  Anna Ferguson, Janice Middleton, Nancy Harper, Carol McLeod, Darlean Morris, Rosemary Radcliffe and in all the naming of them feel for sure I'm missing a bunch.  I miss my Tavistock neighbours and friends also.

Now, the snow piles high, the sun sets on the first day of the year and I sit here with a nice gin and tonic drinking to a most perfect year gone by and another laid out before me.  A chocolate cake is cooling and a pork roast and cod au gratin are on the menu for supper.  My family is healthy, my home is warm and my friend gave me snowshoes to explore the trails that transverse the town.

My entire year will be devoted to one thing--my resolution--and the writing of my book.  I am looking forward to the winter's hibernation.  I feel 2014 is going to be another amazing year and I look forward to watching it unfold with more of exactly the people I need to have in my life.

Happy New Year and much health and happiness to you all!