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Like a large, featherless bird on a very long migration route, I often make stopovers in between Melbourne, Australia and Grand Pre, Canada. Inevitably, the longest and most rewarding one is a layover in Portland, Oregon, to catch up with my oldest son, his wife and family. The summer visit is the longest, and it often coincides with his birthday, July 16th. This year I happened to hit a milestone– the big Four Oh.

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His mother has her own migration pattern. Until recently it was a triangular path, from a home base in Southern California back to her original home in the Netherlands, then up to Portland. She now has a house in the same neighborhood of Portland as our son, and was good enough to offer me the guest room. My last visit through was a quick stopover in early December, 2011. My son borrowed her four-wheel drive Subaru and we went up to Mt. Hood for a day of snow shoeing and sledding.

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This time he took some time off work and we drove to a small, but thriving town on the Columbia River Gorge called Hood River. It is a mecca for windsurfing and kiteboarding, not to mention the home of “Full Sail,” a wonderful brew pub. From there, we headed due South, along the Hood River, making detours to see three farms, one with fields of lavender, one with recently shorn alpacas, the last with the real money maker in this area– berries and other fruit. Our afternoon was devoted to a walk around Trillium Lake, with its spectacular views of Mt. Hood.

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Last summer we signed on for a weekend trip as part of Bike Oregon. He had acquired a second-hand Bike Friday tandem, so Lucas could come along. The route was through the Willamette Valley, in the country around Salem, the state capital. I had booked a tent, so we had instant accommodation. What we hadn’t counted on was a weekend of solid rain. Salem’s rain usually comes in late Fall. June through September is the dry season.

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Nevertheless, the campus at Willamette University was attractive and the organization of Bike Oregon was impressive. I enjoyed the music and the friendliness of the volunteers and the other riders. The Capitol building itself is one of three art deco capitols in the United States. It is certainly striking, with the gold statue of an Oregon pioneer visible for miles around.

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Yesterday, Dolan’s mother and I headed up the Gorge again into the dry country of Eastern Oregon, a mere twenty miles from Hood River. As different as night and day. The destination was a concrete box of a building on the Washington side. It was constructed as the home of Sam Hill, a Pacific Northwest entrepreneur. He bought five thousand acres along the river, hoping to establish a Quaker community. It was called Maryhill, after his daughter.

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The community never took off, however, and he ended up creating a museum instead of a home with the help of some odd, artistic connections he made during his trips around the world. It holds a substantial collection of furniture from Queen Marie of Romania, some souvenirs from the life of a vivacious dancer by the name of Loie Fuller, and works donated by a San Francisco socialite by the name of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels.

There is a wonderful collection of chess pieces from around the world, an excellent display of Native American crafts, and a room full of Rodin sculptures and drawings.

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Hill’s most astonishing legacy is a full size reproduction of Stonehenge, dedicated to the local sons in the area who died fighting in WW I. His museum may be in Washington but it has an Oregon sensibility about it. The town motto here is “Keep Portland Weird.”

I don’t think that has ever been a problem.


We didn’t make it down to the Park for the live broadcast on June 30 but we got a first-hand report from a neighbour who witnessed the announcement of the UNESCO designation for Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, our home away from Melbourne. All those who worked hard for five years to make the UNESCO bid happen were present at the Park.

When the approval came through, all the men in the room burst into tears. Our female friend was stunned by the emotional reaction of her stalwart Nova Scotia colleagues. Unless it is “some hot,” as locals like to say, men’s handkerchiefs are never used for anything other than blowing one’s nose. They are never, ever used to dry tears.

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The Canada Day celebration down at the Grand Pre Historic site the next day drew a large crowd. It was a triple celebration, in fact– to honour Canada’s confederation, to celebrate Grand Pre’s new designation as an “exceptional landscape with outstanding universal values,” and to witness the unveiling of a wood sculpture commemorating a natural landmark– the Elm at Horton Landing.

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The old elm tree is believed to have been planted around 1835. It stood as a silent sentinel for 175 years, often attracting bald eagles. It could not escape the blight of Dutch Elm disease, but even as a dead tree it was magnificent. The story goes that the tree was planted by a young boy who liked to fish the Gaspereau River with his uncle. One day the boy brought along a sapling, and it grew tall and strong. In time, other children would have shade while they were fishing.

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His uncle may not have told him about the thousands of Acadians who were loaded onto ships during the deportation, beginning in 1755, but he would have spoken about the coming of the New England settlers in June 1760. A town plot had already been laid out at Horton Landing. After they put up their temporary shelters, the Planters fitted two barrels with cranks, filling one with the names of the settlers and another with the numbers of lots.

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There were town lots, wood lots, dyke land lots, and lots on Boot Island, a short distance away Two blind-folded women drew out the slips and matched the names to the lots. Then the trading began. They were not able to get in a crop that year, and the next winter was severe. A great gale increased the highest tides in the world by ten feet, breaking through the Acadian dykes. But with help from Halifax, the settlement survived.

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The photo above was taken by Jim Wolford. In November of 2010, the skeletal elm was finally toppled by a powerful storm off the Atlantic. The storm ripped a large patch of shingles off our carriage house and nearly uprooted a large, healthy, Austrian pine tree in our backyard.

When Monette Leger, an Acadian artist from New Brunswick, found out the tree was down, she got on the phone to Victor Tetrault at the Societe Promotion Grand Pre and told him she would like to carve it. Together, they came up with a plan. They would enlist the help of Gerald Gloade, a Mi’kmaq carver, as well as a local wood worker, Doug Morse, a descendent of a Planter family.

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The three sections are on a turntable that allows the old tree to come to life. It is called: Three Cultures, One Land. According to the UNESCO release, the landscape is an exceptional example of the adaptation of the first European settlers to the conditions of North American Atlantic coast and an iconic place of remembrance of the Acadian’s deportation. The village and dyked lands of Grand Pre have joined the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids on the world stage. Go figure.

Please click on the pics running beside this post to see the fine wood carving and the piece of Paradise called Grand Pre.

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It has been a little over five weeks since my plane descended into Halifax airport. Like the sandpipers that settle down at Evangeline Beach to gorge themselves on mud shrimp before their long migrations, my wife and I come here to inhale Canadian country air, feast on fresh, locally-grown food, renew our bonds with friends and family, and keep this 220 year-old house from ignominious collapse.

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As part of our ongoing commitment to preserve the place, we had booked two weeks work with Tait Graves, a master mason. He and his crew would take on a task that we had neglected for the quarter century we’ve owned the place– shoring up structural supports for two hearths belonging to the old centre chimney. This particular chimney is massive, approximately nine feet (3 meters) square. There are four fireplaces off the chimney, and one more that was bricked up when the Stewarts had an old building moved and attached at the back. I was going on the simple assumption that we could open up the firebox and have a new hearth built for a future wood stove. The chimney had other ideas.

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Our house faces a seriously decrepit asphalt road that has become so littered with potholes the local speed demons now make a detour to avoid it. A week after I arrived, I went out for an evening walk and was startled to encounter one of our neighbours on a backhoe. He was filling in the potholes with dirt. I saluted his enterprise, anointing him Grand Pre’s one-man Highway Department. At a dinner party the next night, a friend and neighbour suggested we all take the opportunity to plant trees. Maples grow just about everywhere and they would be far more effective than speed bumps. I was all in favor but worried about how we would water them.

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It has been dry here. The homily I heard from my mother goes this way: everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. We all know now that is not the case. In fact, we are all doing something about it and it is not good. Spring came two weeks early to this part of the planet. The Apple Blossom Festival was scheduled the usual weekend, but the apple blossoms set too early to have any correspondence to the event.

I kicked up dust walking along the dyke lands shortly after I arrived the last week of May. I don’t remember those conditions ever happening this early. Everything is still green, however, and we are glad to have been here early enough to see the long light and the very first day of summer. Unfortunately, we’ll be heading back to Australia soon. Yet another winter.

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Old Post Road used to have a good reputation. It has gone through a handful of names over the years, but thanks to the ardent efforts of another friend and neighbour, the original name has been re-attached to the road. The name hints at its origins; it was the historic route from the town of Annapolis to what would become the city of Halifax. At the time it was built, those towns and Windsor were the only settlements of any significance in the entire province. Horseback riders would carry mail from one place to the other, stopping at an inn across the road for sleep and sustenance.

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Overland mail delivery was slow. By 1766, postal delivery had crept up to once every two weeks from Halifax to Annapolis Royal. Cornwallis settlers could get across the river only at low tide and on horseback until Thomas Lawdon received permission to run a ferry. Everyone complained about the exorbitant fare until it was knocked down to sixpence for a man and horse. Carriages with springs were introduced about 1795. As they increased in popularity, it was necessary to detour around what I still call “Mitchell hill.” At that point, the route to and from the City began to deviate from the original path. The old bridge across the Gaspereau River fell into the water one year during a flood stage and was never repaired.

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We have returned for what may be one of the most significant events in recent Nova Scotia history. Grand Pre has just been designated a Unesco World heritage site, one of only three in the province. I find it hard to imagine what changes this may bring, or why tourists might wish to flock here. It is lovely in summer, but there is really not much to see or do unless you have Acadian roots or happen to like visiting wineries. The winery growth has been astonishing in recent years.

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“It’s so boring here,” say the kids. I smile, knowing that one day they will enjoy peace and quiet, a light wind rustling the clothes hanging on the line. Maybe, just maybe, the UNESCO designation will mean that they’ll patch a few potholes on the Old Post Road. If that doesn’t happen, I’m going to plant some trees. Wait for some good rain so they’ll have a chance to grow.

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Sorry this blog has taken a back seat to my other duties. Stay tuned for more pics and a report on the great unveiling down at the Grand Park Historic site.

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