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Here’s an update I promised back in the post about our river trip in Quebec – 48 48N 38 07W. These are the current coordinates of our friend Eric, who is sailing across the Atlantic ocean in the boat named Charlie 1.

If you plug those numbers into Google Earth, zoom out until you are 1400 miles or so above the planet, you’ll see that he and his mates are due east of Labrador, heading on a collision course with a volcano (just kidding, but what is that unnamed geographic feature out there?) I’ll keep you posted.

Summer has finally arrived in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. All of June and the first half of July were leading up to this moment, this intense sunshine that makes you think of going to the beach or taking to the hammock. It is actually hot right now. And what am I doing? I’m gearing up to return to Melbourne. My days of sun are numbered. Yesterday it was colder there than it has been in nine years. The temperature hovered around 6 degrees. It is wet, cold and dark. Serves me right, you say? Well, at least I tasted fresh strawberries.

Not so long ago I used to come here every summer for four months and spin my spider web for tourists. I went into the B&B business to subsidize the substantial upkeep of a 220 year old house. It started out as a very casual thing. Some days I would take off for a long bike ride, leaving a note on the door that I would be back about three o’clock. Over the years, tourism got more regulated and professional. The expectations of tourists increased accordingly, especially those of my countrymen, the Yanks.

From muffins and coffee, I progressed to fruit salad, blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs with feta cheese, along with any number of variations. I would get up at 6 AM to get breakfast on the table by 8. We bought new mattresses, put in bathrooms for every bedroom, invested in a brand new kitchen.

I flew back from Hong Kong every year we lived there (even missing the Handover.) I got a cell phone and fax machine, religiously forwarded calls whenever I left the house. Even then, it never generated a significant amount of income. It was little more than a contribution to the upkeep of the house my wife inherited and I so casually suggested she keep. Old houses, like boats, are simply holes in which one pours money.

The best part was the talk show. Every morning I got to be Oprah, orchestrating the conversation of complete strangers. Drawing out the introverts, occasionally changing a touchy subject or a dead end monologue. Inviting them to learn a little bit of history, learning what was on their minds. My favorite guest was a character actress who had been an ingenue with Alec Guiness in London. She was loud, opinionated and wonderful.

There were disasters, of course. The time my wife decided to water the garden during breakfast and drained the holding tank while a guest was still lathered up in the shower; a general who got himself so worked up over a misunderstanding that he left in the middle of the night, banging his suitcase all the way down the stairs; the occasional double booking; the overflowing coffee machine; the waffles sticking like glue to the waffle iron, the wet bed.

Some of the guests got to be regulars, a few still come to dinner (see the last post). We hung on to this old house despite our peripatetic lives. Every now and then I get to rattle around with the ghosts and shake up things. This summer we have renovated the only untouched bathroom in the house. It has good bones, the Stewart House, and when the sun stretches out long shadows across the grass, when the Bay of Fundy shimmers, when there’s a glass of wine to enjoy on the front lawn, it comes damn close to paradise.

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I can’t think of another mammal that has the ability to transform its appearance so quickly and completely as the male of the species homo sapiens. It is the ability to add and remove facial hair which gives us this odd, utterly useless gift.

I have had beards, off and on, since I first discovered they would actually grow. There was one Mennonite-type beard that I grew directly under my chin. I can’t believe I actually shaved it that way now, but who can explain bell bottoms?

It has been a long time since I shaved off the last one– some thirteen or fourteen years. The reddish-brown whiskers seemed like an integral part of my face. It must have been a spontaneous decision, triggered, perhaps, by the first flecks of gray, or a wish to astonish our four-year old daughter.

The week on the river (the subject of the last post) made me decide to have another go at my “natural” state. The shaved face is, of course, the true transfiguration, but naked has now become the norm. Beards seem odd, like something out “Lord of the Rings,” a relic of the past, almost a disguise.the bearded man

A neighbor here, a good friend who has known me long enough to remember my last beard, told me it was sexy, that I looked like an outdoor intellectual. That convinced me to keep it. Needless to say, she will be on the Eiffel tower of my esteem for the rest of her days. (Pictures do lie.)

I still remember our daughter’s look of stunned disbelief when I emerged for the first time without whiskers. I’m looking forward to her astonishment when I return to Melbourne in two weeks with a full growth of gray hair, an arctic ice cap creeping over a wrinkled, pink continent. Small compensation for the erosion that is taking place up top.

Last week some friends from Montreal came for a brief visit. I took the opportunity to play tour guide, leading them down to Annapolis Royal, one of the earliest European settlements in North America. There are fortifications and a reproduction of the first stockade, and on a sunny Saturday, a garden tour.

We had invited some Australian friends (who live in Halifax) for dinner that night and they had told me they would come by after spending the day visiting the gardens. Sure enough, we caught up with them at the last stop of our visit.

I rushed over to say hello, then froze. They didn’t recognize me! I was some strange furry creature emerging from the undergrowth. They failed to identify my new, sexy, outdoor/intellectual look.

All’s well that ends well. I whipped up dinner and we had some good Australian and Nova Scotia wine, lively conversation with strawberries for dessert. The perfect end of a good day. Now, if only I could get a good haircut….

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