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Such an extended absence merits some sort of explanation, I suppose. It usually comes down to one of two things: the fact that I have nothing of particular interest to pass along to my readers, or the fact that there is a move in progress– packing, unpacking, checking into airports, rushing from terminal to terminal followed by excruciatingly-long periods traveling on planes that seem to move at five miles per hour rather than five hundred.

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Like other illustrious communities on the planet, Rome, for instance, the village of Grand Pre is built on a series of hills. The most precipitous one is called Mitchell Hill, after the Mitchell family, of course. At one time they operated an inn for the travellers on Old Post Road, which used to run from Annapolis Royal to Halifax. When horse-drawn carriages came along, the road builders decided to bypass Mitchell Hill in favour of a detour around the hill. The detour turned into Highway One.

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Mitchell Hill provides a wonderful view of the bluff at the end of the North Mountain called Blomidon, which is where the Mik’Maq deity called Glooscap took up residence. One a clear day, you get a fine view of the Bay of Fundy and the Grand Pre Historic Site, with its distinctive, unconsecrated church built to commemorate “Evangeline” and the expulsion of the Acadians. It is believed to have been built on the site of the original church, which was made of wood and burned at the time of the expulsion.

Not many years ago, what most locals consider something of a travesty occurred at the top of Mitchell hill. Because the land was in private hands, one family was allowed to put up a duplex which pretty-much blocked the view. I found the modern structure visually offensive, but it did not occur to me that something could be done about it. I’m glad to say that there were people in Grand Pre who had other ideas.

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With the help of the federal government and a fundraising effort in the community, the land was purchased and the the duplex was sold and moved. A “view plane” park was constructed in its place. On July 4th, the new park was commemorated by Parks Canada. The flags represent the “shareholders,” with the possible exception of the Planters, I suppose, who have no flag distinctly their own. MicMacs, Acadians, Nova Scotian, Canadian, and Unesco, since Grand Pre is now a World Heritage Site. The manner in which the funds were raised in the community was somewhat divisive, so our end of Old Post Road was not particularly well-represented at the commemoration. But it was a nice day for a celebration.

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One of our newer neighbours has taken on the task of scanning as many of the historical photos of Grand Pre as he can lay his hands on. It is a wonderful project, and I was enchanted by what he had unearthed in the various archives that had pictures of Grand Pre in their files. With the exception of the dykelands, the geography has not changed all the much over the last few hundred years. The Stewart house dates from around 1779, so it can be seen in many of the photos.

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Our too brief summer was up. A professor’s work is never done, and my wife’s teaching duties called. On our last day, we headed down to “hidden beach” for one last dip in the Bay of Fundy. The place was swarming with fishermen, but the bouyant ocean water was wonderful. Someday soon, the sandpipers will be settling in for their feast of mud shrimp. They are the true nomads, taking off on tiny wings for South America, with no complaints about the weather, no carry on, just what is under their ever-flapping wings.

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It would be difficult for visitors to look around this bucolic, pastoral country and imagine it as a hotbed of quarrelling neighbours, all with verbal daggers drawn and their backs up. But it is hard to ignore the evidence. Vitriolic emails have been flying back and forth that reveal anger and resentment that boggles the imagination. We have been coming here since 1987 and have never seen anything quite like it.

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We are not here long enough to have a good understanding of the fracture lines, but things have always been a bit dicey in this little backwater hamlet with the pretty French name. It has been farm country for several centuries now, and the French peasants who settled here in the 1680’s needed to cooperate to carry out the extraordinary kind of farming they did, building dykes and reclaiming land from the sea. But it is never been free from conflict.

Even though the Acadian peasants who settled here among the native Mik’maq natives tried to remain neutral in the wars between the French and British, they suffered regular raids by New Englanders. In June, 1704, Benjamin Church led a devastating raid on Grand Pre, burning houses and destroying dykes. When the British took Port Royal in 1710, they became the titular “owners” of “Acadie,” a land populated by natives and French farmers.

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In 1745, the French laid siege to the fort they had previously held, now called Annapolis Royal. They were rebuffed after a six week siege. The next year, Versailles launched a massive expedition with seventy ships and thirteen thousand men to take back the city of Louisbourg, seize the fort at Annapolis Royal and raise hell up and down the eastern seaboard of the Colonies. Fortunately for the New Englanders, everything that could go wrong did. The expedition was plagued by incompetent admirals, horrific storms, scurvy and other diseases.

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Soldiers from Boston were dispatched by ship to come to the defence of British at Annapolis Royal. It was fall when the New England militia arrived, so the commander of the fort sent them down to Grand Pre to settle in for winter. As soon as the “Bastonnais” arrived, an Acadian went out on snowshoes to alert French land forces, known to be holed up about 200 kms away in a French fort. When the French soldiers realised they would be up against superior numbers, they chose to attack in the middle of a snowstorm in the early morning hours. The battle left some eighty new Englanders dead, including the commander, Colonel Noble. It was the bloodiest battle on the Nova Scotia mainland.

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Eight years later, in 1755, the infamous oath of allegiance would be set forth by the Governor of Nova Scotia, a proclamation that would trigger “le Grand Derangement” — the expulsion of the Acadian population of Nova Scotia to lands far and wide, with the majority landing in Louisiana. Grand Pre would become the symbolic centerpiece of the expulsion, thanks to “Evangeline,” the long narrative poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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The UNESCO brochure talks about an Acadian “re-appropriation of the land of their origins… in a spirit of peace and cultural sharing with the local area community.” My own view is that the Planters, the settlers who came after the Acadians, have had as much, if not more impact on shaping and preserving this place than the Acadians, but it is not politic to say so. And I am biased, of course, since my wife’s ancestor was a Scot who took advantage of opportunity to buy property in the fertile land.

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You would think that in an area like this, “No Farms, No Food” would be a safe bet. Think again. It has riven friendships among our neighbours. Fences, property lines, rights of way, pets, and even potholes can set people off. We are a quarrelsome species, ready to take issue with one another over the least slight.

It is hard to get riled up about much of anything on a balmy summer evening, when the sun sheds the longest light of summer. Take a walk with me out along the dykeland, listen to the birds, feel the soft breeze on your face and fingers. You won’t want to be anywhere else.

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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.


Our arrival in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia should have been at the beginning of the season known as “summer” in North America. It was the end of May, and June is generally considered one of the summer months. The weather gods did not see it that way. Spring in the Annapolis Valley had been cold and wet, and June followed up with more of the same. But when the sun managed to peek out from behind the clouds, the angle of the light was long and glorious. And now that the weather gods have given us a taste of the summer to come, it is beautiful. There are long shadows across the ground, playing with perception, treating us to moving images conjured from the interplay of light and shadow among the rich cover of earth and plant.

When I first came to this house it was late summer, 1987. My wife had agreed to buy the house from the other two potential inheritors, since neither was interested in taking it on. They probably believed that it was a white elephant, a money pit of major proportions, and that assessment was not far off the mark. In short order, we had engaged a contractor to have the back chimney propped up with great lashings of concrete. Carpenters were busy rebuilding a rotten corner of the living room, replacing the paper thin siding on the front of the house, replacing sills and the old shingles on the roof.

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Thanks to the reserved, Scottish character of my wife’s great aunts, the Stewart House had been empty for ten years. No one had been asked to look after it.  All my spouse knew was that it was still standing. A local antique dealer had been asked to appraise the furniture. He must have believed that he had a good chance of acquiring the lot, since he came up with a figure of five thousand dollars, and offered to haul away the “junk.”

After driving by the old house, our first stop was a local cafe that has been in business for a very long time. It is now called the Evangeline Cafe. We called it after the family who owned and ran it– Stirling’s. When I came here it was run with an iron first by the indomitable, grey haired Miss Stirling. She closed up the adjacent Evangeline Motel at 7 PM. One day I worked up the nerve to ask her why she closed so early. She looked at me in surprise. “Why, you never know who might be traveling at that hour,” she said. Right, I thought to myself. You just never know when the werewolves and vampires, ax murderers and serial killers will come out. It just might be at 7:15 every evening, but it won’t be dark until nine.

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Stirling’s featured lobster chowder, “hamburgs,” cucumber sandwiches and a very good selection of pies. The pies attracted people from miles around, and Sunday after church the parking lot was always packed. That afternoon back in 1987, we stopped to have lunch and to kill time before our rendezvous with the neighbour with the key.  We had no sooner sat down and ordered than we found ourselves overhearing some local gossip. And it wasn’t just any gossip. “I heard that a New York lady lawyer got the Stewart House and she plans to tear it to the ground. That would be a real shame. I was through there just the other day and it’s a bit run down, but you could live in it and there’s some nice stuff in there. Wouldn’t that be a shame if she threw all those old things out?”

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The woman who confided to her neighbor that afternoon may well be among my acquaintances now, but at the time I didn’t turn around. I gently put my hands on the shoulders of the New York lady lawyer to keep her from levitating. We owned the house and unless this lady worked for Canada Trust, she should not have been going through the place. Lawyers are a little touchy about things like that.

We will never know how many people traipsed through the house, or how many antiques walked away in our absence. We had no intention of tearing the old house down. It had been in my wife’s family since it was built, over 200 years ago. That summer we started the process that led to its registration as a heritage property. Each time we come we spend a considerable amount of time, energy and money attending to the needs of its creaky bones and joints. I look forward to the day when all the problems have been addressed, but I know that day may never come.

The thing is, when the light falls across the old siding in the late afternoon, or when I rediscover a pencil drawing done in 1898 inside an old suitcase that we packed away when we first arrived, and see that the subject is our old back stairs, a shiver goes through me. It is magic. Like the summer light. And I’m ready to do whatever it takes to keep the magic alive.

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Despite the fact that we were able to stay in Nova Scotia longer this summer than any of the previous three years, when the time came to fly South, it seemed that the season had been entirely too short.  When it dawned on us that Canadian Thanksgiving coincided with fall break in the U.S. academic year, we booked tickets back to Nova Scotia.  For those of you who don’t know about Canadian Thanksgiving, Wikipedia should set you straight.

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean.  Frobisher’s Thanksgiving celebration was not for harvest but for a safe return to Newfoundland. During his search for the Northwest Passage, he avoided the later fate of Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin. (Australian readers may recognize Franklin, Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania before his ill-fated adventure). Frobisher’s ceremony in 1578 was one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations by Europeans in North America.

French settlers crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1604. They held feasts of thanks in the settlement of Port Royal, in what they called Acadie. They formed ‘The Order of Good Cheer’ and shared their food with their First Nations neighbours. After the Seven Year’s War ended in 1763 handing over of New France to the British, the citizens of Halifax, held a special day of Thanksgiving.

At the end of the American Revolution, settlers from the colonies who remained loyal to Great Britain fled the newly independent United States for Canada. They brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. The first Thanksgiving Day after Canadian Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872 to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) from a serious illness.

The Wikipedia write up on the Canadian Thanksgiving is somewhat thin on information, but it seems likely that celebrating in October rather than November has to do with the earlier onset of winter in most parts of Canada. In the Annapolis Valley, where we are, harvest was in full swing when we arrived on October 8.  The valley is the bread basket of Nova Scotia.  On the weekends, urban dwellers from the big city (Halifax) drive up in droves to gawk at vegetables for sale at farm stands and look over the pumpkins in the fields.

There are pick-your-own pumpkin patches, and the selection process seems to take on the import of a religious rite.  In the nearby town of Windsor, a farmer named Howard Dill became so obsessed by the squash that he bred the biggest pumpkins on the planet for four years in a row.  His seeds, called “Dill’s Atlantic Giant,” have produced specimens weighing 1689 lbs (767 kilos).  He died two years ago, but his unstinting efforts brought a boom in tourism to the town.

For a dozen years now, the town has held a pumpkin regatta, in which adventurous mariners carve their “personal vegetable vessels” to race against one another on the Lake Pesaquid, an arm of the Bay of Fundy.  I have failed to attend the event every single year, but it is on my list.  This year it was held on Sunday, the day we had selected for our own particular family Thanksgiving.  And I was the chief cook.  So I’ve inserted some else’s photo.  It’s a good one.

I enjoy the harvest aspect of the season, but for me it is a melancholy time.  Winter is on its way, after all.  I will admit that its harbinger is sheer magic.  It happened one morning a few days after Thanksgiving.  I looked out the window and there it was– frost on the field.  It was beautiful.


Thanks to an abundance of sunshine  in the Valley and a longer stay than usual, it was difficult to tear ourselves away from Nova Scotia this year.  We had guests this summer, both friends and family, in greater numbers than other years. It was a challenge, but it gave us an appreciation for some aspects of life in Grand Pre that we may have started taking for granted.  The friends just up and down Old Post Road, the amiability of the local population, the wonderful fresh produce at the farm stands, and the amazing art.  We managed to squeeze in a vacation to Newfoundland and take several long swims across Lumsden Pond, but a couple of magical moments arrived right before we left.

The first came completely out of the blue.  One of my wife’s former colleagues at McGill University arrived in the area with his wife and sons in tow to attend his niece’s wedding.  Let me be the first to say that I am not, by nature, a wedding crasher. Neither is my wife.  But when we learned that the wedding would take place out on a spur of dyke land just outside Wolfville, and that the bride would be transported to that particular spot on a wooden boat that the groom had built, well, we just had to see it.

Our friends had invited us to share a feast at the lobster restaurant in Hall’s Harbour the night before the wedding.  We drove out there in a downpour.  The ferocity of the rain, which taxed the capability of the wipers and the patience of the back seat drivers, did not bode well for a late morning, outdoor ceremony the following day.

But the next day broke with a smile.  It was Saturday, the day of the farm market in Wolfville.  We had convinced ourselves that it would be gauche to crash the wedding, but when we drove into town and looked out over its little harbour, we could see the wooden dory just getting underway.  It was too good to miss.  We joined the throng of familly and friends in their fancy clothes and braved the muddy path.  They had chosen an idyllic spot for the ceremony. When the applause subsided, we slipped quietly away.

The Bay of Fundy is part of the Atlantic, a long inlet with the highest recorded tides on earth.  It is a large, mud bathtub that fills and empties twice every 24 hours, about twenty minutes later each day.  Geographers tell us that the amount of water that runs in and out is equivalent to all the water in all the rivers on the planet.  At low tide, one third of the bottom of the Bay is exposed to the sun.

We have a tide clock in the parlour which keeps reasonably good time.  I had promised my wife that we would go for a swim in the Bay before our departure for Durham.  On the very last day, in the middle of packing and putting away any number of things, local high tide arrived at noon.  It was 1 or 1:30 before we reached Hidden Beach, a stretch of rock and mud where  semipalmated sandpipers stop to feast on mud shrimp before taking off again for their long journey to South America.

These tiny birds come in the thousands from their summer habitat in the far north. They settle in the same spot for a couple of weeks and do nothing but eat, doubling their body weight in the process.  They are spectacular in flight, synchronizing with one another, flashing alternating colours as they bank and turn, low as bats over the surface of the water.  We try not to disturb them because this is their rest period before the long flight South.  Right now, their mud shrimp are covered with salt water, and the birds are biding their time.  A handful of fishermen nearby cast their lines.

We slip into the ocean, surprised by the buoyancy of the water after a summer of freshwater swims.  It is warmer than Atlantic water has any right to be, baked by the sun over the long summer.  It will get warmer still, but we have run out of time.  The tide rocks us, massaging the water against our skin.  Occasionally, a handful of sandpipers take flight, alarmed by some danger invisible to us. They are beautiful, flicking through the air with the grace of aerial ballerinas.

We float and swim and stare at the puffy clouds, not going anywhere.  We feel strangely comfortable, at home in in the bath of the Bay.  It is natural magic.  It is the kind of day you want to last forever.


When the grandchildren come to visit, you can hardly make a better investment than the purchase of a hammock.  For those of us raised in countries settled by Europeans, the hammock is exotic.  It seems insubstantial and a little scary. How can you trust such a thing to hold you up?  But there is the allure of comfort and the gentle swaying motion that take us back to the womb, or back to the days when we lived in trees.  In a hammock, you can relax with green leaves overhead, the gentle brush of a breeze on the skin.  Mosquitoes.

Our long summer in Nova Scotia this year allowed my son’s family the opportunity to squeeze in a visit.  Their two children are four and one now, so the trip from Portland, Oregon would have been trying, even without the missed connection in Toronto.  After a very long day, they rolled into the Halifax airport at 10 PM, sans luggage or car seats.  Fortunately, the airport is quite prepared for such eventualities.  They brought out a couple of car seats and we were on our way.  The luggage arrived at our house the following morning, before the family was awake.

For someone who takes more interest in documentaries and non-fiction books to cartoons and story books, Lucas has a lively imagination.  Long before we hit the hammock, we had introduced me to some of the stick hippos to be found in our field.  They were numerous, and some of them seemed to be thirsty.  So, we wandered down to the stream that borders our property to let them drink.

His little sister is less interested in hippos than the prospect of missing out on some activity her brother has taken on. Zooey’s language is limited, but she has an infectious smile and a refreshing, big “yes” in her vocabulary.  Like the clever little face recognition function built into my camera, Zooey’s neurons light up when her favorite people come into focus.

As the week progressed, the pattern of our visit sorted itself out.  Eating and running around, bath time and sleeping.  I joined their family for a visit to a private zoo on what used to be a farm.  After that adventure, I retired from the daily outings to concentrate on cooking.  Even with our full size Volvo, three adults and two car seats make for a tight squeeze.

A highlight of their visit was a trip to Ross farm, a “living history” farm where one can learn about blacksmithing, oak barrel construction and milking a cow.  The cow captivated young Lucas like nothing else on the trip.  If he had to do it every day as a chore, I suspect the magic would wear off fast, but squeezing hot milk from a large bovine animal made his day.

At one time, there were twelve boys and one girl growing up in the Stewart House.  The twelve boys slept in the very room were I am typing these words.  It was called the “dormitory.”  The wooden pegs where the boys would hang their clothes are still there.

One year, the contagion of diptheria spread through the village like wildfire.  Four of the boys succumbed to the disease within a few days, but my wife’s great grandfather asked for a pickle.  Thinking he was out of his mind with fever, his mother consented.  The acid in the pickle broke through the phlegm that was choking his swollen throat.  Charles Stewart lived to sire his own children, and the old farmhouse stayed in the family.

With the exception of one very wet day, the weather gods cooperated with my son’s visit.  And when the time came to pack up, most of the scattered toys reappeared from places they had been scattered.  Some had been camouflaged by the floral pattern in the rug.

We made our way back to the airport, tucked into lunch at Tim Horton’s, a Canadian institution, and said our goodbyes.  A good time was had by all.  The sticks and the hammock will be here waiting, next time they come.  In the meantime, you never can tell when a hippo will come in handy.


I have taken a leave of absence from life in Melbourne, Australia and from the blog.  It seems like a good time to return to the writing, even though I won’t be back “down under” for half a year.  It hardly seems worth changing the title to Up and Over to point my readers toward North America.  As I said in a previous post, my wife is on sabbatical for a semester and we are currently in Durham, North Carolina, a state that is definitely south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Our transition here was a brief visit with my son and his family in Portland, Oregon, and a two week holiday at the old place in Nova Scotia.  Grand Pre is a lovely place to spend Christmas as long as the weather doesn’t get too Canadian. Our two hundred year-old house does not have central heating and a howling North wind whips right in.

We were greeted by a cold snap that had us quite concerned for friends from Washington DC who planned to spend Christmas with us, but it warmed up to more seasonal temps by the time they arrived.  Right after they left it got very cold again.  Nova Scotia has always seemed gentler with tourists than long-term residents that way.

I have spent a number of years in hot countries, and the celebration of Christmas in such places always seemed odd.  In Hong Kong, I never got used to the neon-lit, red cloaked Buddhas driving Asian looking reindeer on skyscrapers high overhead.  The European traditions of Christmas seem singularly inappropriate when the weather is 40 degrees centigrade and everyone is heading for the beach or the barbecue.

In Canada, men dream of snow blowers at this time of year. A Muskoka man named Kai Gundt got fed up with his wimpy commercial snow blower and decided to build one with a V-8 engine.  His home-built job cleared his driveway in five minutes, throwing snow over a five story building.  The latest model has heated handlebars and a cup holder.  “I know it goes against the green initiative.  But it really works.  It takes the snow and blows it right back where it came from.”

Fortunately, we have a good stock of dry firewood and fireplaces that were built when people knew how to do it properly.  We laid in groceries and got a lovely tree that just fit into the parlour.  Our daughter did a beautiful job bringing it to life.  On Christmas Eve we went to the local church (which is about the same vintage as our house) and sat in straight back pews for the music and the sermon. It was wonderful to come home and snuggle up under the down comforter.

Today, the weather here in Durham went up to springtime temperatures.  People are out running around in T shirts.  Christmas was only three weeks ago, but our connection with the seasons has been tenuous of late;  it seems like it could have been a century ago.  This is what our village looked like then.


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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