I live with my husband in a lobster fishing village on the south shore of Nova Scotia. When the weather’s cold and moody with fog horns, my writing space is a small upstairs room. My desk came from a retired music teacher in Lunenburg. Hanging above it are two animally prints. The larger one is by Sally Muir, a Bath-based artist who paints primarily lurchers. This one’s called “Charity.” I love the expressions she manages to capture in her dogs. My husband gave me the smaller print, “Six-part Harmony,” for my birthday last year. It’s by Kenojuak Ashevak. I think the coyote and fox feet are so wonderfully long and tricksy.
Unfortunately, I rarely write at my desk. Most days, I sit in the big chair by the window. The bulletin board above has bits and pieces from friends and editors, an Our Lady of Guadalupe card from Chimayó, New Mexico—where they collect holy dirt for healing—and a ticket from a trip to Delos, Greece, an island that was once too holy for anyone to live or die on. A friend in Boulder made me the quilt on the back of my chair to celebrate finishing my PhD some years ago. Outside the window are three English Walnuts. This is where all the bird drama happens. Grackles, finches, house sparrows and fox sparrows, starlings, hummingbirds, blue jays, and red wing blackbirds all use the upper branches to belt out songs come spring. In the fall, it’s busy again with blue jays scooping up acorns and fledgings putting on their shows.
On the other side of the room, is my husband’s chair. We often have morning coffee up here together. He put the skylight in last fall and now when it rains, it almost feels like I’m in a treehouse. Behind his chair are a few photos of friends and dogs, as well as poetry collections, my never-ending tower of library books, and some seal vertebrae and other bones I’ve found while tramping around local beaches in the winter.
If the weather’s nice, I work outside on our back deck. When we first moved here there was no backyard. Shoulder-high brambles and rogue grape vines covered everything, even backing up against the house. The first summer we were here, my husband found a scythe in the garage and started cutting everything back. Five months later, we could walk down to the water. We met a lot of neighbours while he worked. They liked to stand around and watch and make suggestions like, “You should just take a flamethrower to it!” Now it’s a small haven for wildlife (and sometimes neighbours too).
Warmer weather also signals a shift in how I work. I keep my summer months for reading, research, and editing projects I’ve worked on upstairs all winter. I enjoy the time away from the computer, dipping into books and writing notes for possible projects—always with no expectations. Being outside helps me think slower too. It gives me time to see how each of my writing spaces, and the work done in them, speak to each other. And good distractions are out there too: willets, seagulls, eiders, mallards, shags, and sometimes singing seals and hares poking around the greenhouse. I also have to throw the frisbee many, many, many times for our dog, who insists on coming out to work with me every chance he gets.
Tammy Armstrong has published two novels and five books of poetry. Her most recent poetry collection, Year of the Metal Rabbit (Gaspereau Press, 2019), was a finalist for the Atlantic Book Awards’ J.M. Abraham Poetry Award and won the inaugural Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award. Her novel-in-progress, “Ursula,” was a finalist for the 2020 Harper Collins/UBC Prize for Best New Fiction. She lives in southern Nova Scotia.
Photos courtesy of Tammy Armstrong.