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Appearances to the contrary, your author/photographer has not been in Australia for the last two months. He has been back at the old family house in Nova Scotia, Canada. I have written most of the posts about the central Australia adventure during our sojourn here. While I escaped the heat of an Australian summer, I have not been so lucky with the cold. Fall and winter in the Maritime provinces of Canada offer every kind of weather under the sun, warm and balmy one day, chilly the next, snow followed by rain followed by snow followed by freeing rain. It is the wind that matters most.


The night before last a storm came through from the Northeast that triggered a memory of the one day while we were living in Montreal when traffic actually came to a halt. It was called the storm of the century, but that was back in the nineties before the weather gods turned into terrorists. The city was over budget for snow removal, so they simply left in the streets until Monday morning. On that memorable Sunday, traffic came to a halt. We could have cross-country skied or snow-shooed to the city centre.

The doorbell rang and we looked at each other, astonished. It was our friend, Eric. He had skied from his home, a few kilometres to the west of us, up the mountain for which the city is named. He did a tour around the top and was stopping off for a visit on his way home. He put down a backpack and we heard a little yelp. It was his new Golden Retriever puppy, along for the ride. He popped his head out, ready to melt hearts.


A more recent memory of a vicious winter wind takes me to the Alpine region of Australia, in between Melbourne and Sydney. I will never forget heading out for a snow camping adventure in a blistering blizzard. I have written it up in this blog. It is another four parter, if memory serves me well.

“Even with goggles, I could barely see the person in front of me. When it looked like I might get left behind and disappear in the storm, the friend who roped me into this adventure suggested I lead the group for awhile. I promptly put my foot wrong, plunging my ski through a snow drift and into water. We had just crossed a bridge over a reservoir, and I had missed the path.”


The snowplow had not yet made an appearance and it was already past nine when we started out on our morning walk in a bellowing wind yesterday. It was a Sunday and the storm had arrived around midnight. Our daily walk here in Grand Pre usually takes us about forty-five minutes. We head out the door and turn left, usually, but it depends on the wind direction. If we have the time we’ll head up Mitchell Hill and down again, turn right at the Sangster property and head down to the dyke road. That leads us behind the Grand Pre Historic Site, with its recreation of a church dedicated to telling the story of the Acadian expulsion.


There are often a number of bald eagles perched in a towering line of trees extending out from the Park. A few of them take flight when we pass, either spooked by our presence or checking us out as possible snacks. They make a high-pitched chatter, sounding like smaller birds. Occasionally, we’ll flush a pheasant from the underbrush. They can fly right past you, making a heart-stopping racket.


After we cross Grand Pre Road we’re really out on the dyke land, fully exposed to the wind. When it comes from the Northeast, there is nothing to stop it but our bodies. Sometimes it does the psyche good to throw your body out there, get a sense of the elements that never quite reach you in the city the way they do here. To really see the bright winter stars, to shovel great buckets of snow, to feel frozen and grateful for the sacrificial geese whose feathers made your coat. That is what winter is all about.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.

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.

Shortly after I left off taking pictures and headed home, the rain began. It was cold and heavy. Some of the riders dropped out. They were on their way from Annapolis Royals to Hubbards, a town on the south shore of Nova Scotia. The race is billed as a unicycling equivalent of the Tour de France. At the end of the second day, it was neck and neck, the Germans leading the Kiwis by only six minutes, with the Australian rider in Team Smile just two minutes behind.

Beth Amiro, one of the Nova Scotia riders, had no idea the long-distance unicycling community was so big. She didn’t even know there was a community. She started riding a unicyle as a child, then took it up again in her twenties. For many locals, it is nothing more than a circus toy. Beth would love to have a dollar for every time someone asked if she knew how to juggle.

It is obvious from the turnout for this race that some people take it very, very seriously. The best riders in this race are expected to zip along between 20 and 25 kms an hour on their 36 inch wheels. The race includes time trials and a criterium, a multi-lap race around a small circuit. Today is last day, a gruelling final stage in rugged Cape Breton.

William Sklenars, one of the young riders from New Zealand, learned to ride when his sister moved away from home to a flat in town. He needed a form of transportation to visit her and a uncicyle “seemed the most sensible choice” at the time. He studies music, rides his wheel frequently and is “stoked” to be representing New Zealand on an international scale.

The sport has become popular enough to develop splinter groups. In addition to the small-wheel unicycles and the large-wheel, long distance unicycles, there are a handful of hardcore cyclists who ride the “ultimate wheel.” It is a unicycle without a seatpost or saddle. Nothing more than a wheel with pedals. It is said to be extremely difficult to ride. I’ll take their word for it.

Catch up with the race on the web site: or on the blog “One Wild Ride” at

Our current living quarters in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia, are about as different from our rental house in Melbourne as it is possible for two places on the planet to be. The place in Melbourne has an art deco influence, but it is ultra modern. This is a 220 year-old colonial farmhouse of post and beam construction. It was probably put together from sugar pines that were growing on the property.

This land was home to Micmac Indians from time immemorial, then French settlers arrived in the early 1600’s. They built dykes and farmed rich soil reclaimed from the sea. They called themselves Acadians. Their deportation by the British, starting in 1755, and their subsequent diaspora is the subject of a long narrative poem by Longfellow, an American poet. Many of the French peasants ended up in Louisiana where they were dumped in a completely different environment, hot, humid, swampland. An English corruption of the word “Acadien” led to the word “Cajun.”

Even though Longfellow never came here, he set the story in Grand Pre because his best source material, the journal of Colonel John Winslow, was local to this area. It was reasonably accurate and the story he related could have happened. I believe it caught on in the public imagination because the poet made this place sound so idyllic. And in summer, it truly is. Longfellow made the expulsion of the French peasants from “Acadie” sound like the Garden of Eden story set in historical time, with the British thrust into the role of God.

A young Acadian woman named Evangeline and the son of a blacksmith named Gabriel are about the get married when the soldiers arrive. The men and boys of the village are locked in the church until ships can be found to send them on their way. Evangeline gets put on one ship, Gabriel on another. She spends years trying to find him, finally gives up and becomes a nurse in Philadelphia. She grows old. One day, making her rounds, she comes across an old man in the hospital. It is Gabriel. They have a brief moment of recognition, then he dies in her arms.

In 1755, the soldiers burned the buildings and killed the farm animals to prevent the Acadians from returning. For five years the fields were fallow. Then the Crown invited settlers from New England and the other colonies to come and settle. My wife’s ancestor came from Scotland by way of Ireland and New England about 1770.

The people who came and replenished the land were called Planters. Most of them were from protestant farming stock, often the second or third sons of New England settlers. They built houses like the ones in Connecticut and Massachusetts. This is one of the few that has stayed in the same family since it was built.

Wherever we are in the world, it calls to us. We feel compelled to come back and do the endless repairs and updates that the place seems to need. The weather in the Maritimes is hard on buildings. Someday, perhaps, we’ll settle in for good. In the meantime, it is the one place that brings us back to our senses.

All five at once. It makes us glad to be alive.

My wife woke up worried about the basil. It was chilly last night, and she was afraid the potted plant might be shivering out on the patio. We have come back to a different country. The heat wave that greeted our discombobulated senses in January is long gone. It is winter and the temps are in their teens (centigrade), thirties and forties (Fahrenheit). There is rain and wind. Clouds skittering across the sky almost every day.

One of my fellow recumbent riders in Melbourne is a weatherman. Such an easy job, I tell him, whatever you predict is bound to come up during this city’s climate lottery on any given day. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs? You got it. To demonstrate his perversity in the face of the elements this time of year, Alan heads for the snow in upper elevations. This weekend he is winter camping.

The political climate has changed as well. Premier Bracks stepped down on the very day I landed. Citing personal matters. It seems that he is having trouble with his children. Having endured more teenage turmoil than he is ever likely to witness, I commiserate. John Brumby, the treasury secretary has taken on the task, launching a scathing attack on Prime Minister John Howard. There’s an election coming up.

Aside from the time zones and the complete change of seasons, the change has included a geographic shift from an old colonial home in the rural farm country of Nova Scotia to an eccentric, modern house in a muliticultural, vibrant city in Australia. Slow to fast. Right now, the Royal Shakespeare Company is in town; a film festival is in full swing, a lively poetry festival has just started and the luminaries attending the Melbourne Writer’s Festival will hit the City in two weeks.

My transition between these two worlds was San Francisco. I parachuted in for a brief visit with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. They tucked me into their busy, young parent lives on their last weekend of normalcy. While I was there, Dolan got an offer from an up-and-coming software company in Portland. It will be a big change after six years at Cisco. Like the weather, it will all take some getting used to.

By the way, Eric and his companions sailed into safe harbor in County Clare, Ireland on July 26. I’m sure the weather there was sunny and fine. Trust the Irish to plug it into their deal with the EU. No more bad food, no more rain. Stay tuned.

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.

Regular visitors to this blog log will have noticed a singular absence of new material during the last month. While I have not been exactly prolific with posts on this web log, the last stretch compares with the drought that plagues Australia. You many have wondered if I went into the bush on a walkabout or joined George B. in the witless protection program.

The truth is more prosaic. A semester break offered us the opportunity to return to North America, to my wife’s ancestral home in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. The house itself is over two hundred years old and, like any geriatric critter, demands attention. The timing of our trip allowed my wife to attend a conference in Brussels (where she is now) and enabled us to reschedule a canoe trip we had planned, paid for, put on hold two years ago.

If you have never downloaded Google Earth, now is the time. Plug in Bonaventure, Quebec. You will slowly zero in on a small town at the bottom of a large land mass that thrusts out into the Atlantic below the St. Lawrence river. This is the Gaspe Peninsula. It looks like a lobster claw. Its mountains, the Chic Chocs, are the end of the ancient Appalachian range. The Bonaventure, a clear, rocky river that starts at a lake in the mountains, emerges one hundred twenty-six kilometres (seventy-five miles) later in the Bay of Chaleurs.

Friends of ours had done this river with their five-year old son so we were not expecting any hair-raising difficulties. We had not reckoned on two things: their idea of easy and our notion of the word do not share any commonality; the river is not the same body of water in June and July.

Entirely by chance, we were paired up with an orthopedic surgeon and his partner, a cardiac nurse. Considering our frailties, we could not have asked for better company. My wife still has hardware in her ankle from a horrendous break; I have a stent in my heart.

Early on, we joked about how our flask of cognac would come in handy to anesthetize whoever needed surgery. Our French Canadian guide was in his early twenties. He had no idea that he was dealing with clients who actually worried about breaking bones and having heart attacks. We were mouths to feed, paddlers with no purpose other than one– to be led down the rocky river to the sea.

C’est le fun! For some reason that I don’t really understand, the French have no word for what they so obviously enjoy. Humping heavily loaded canoes through log jams in freezing cold water. Ducking quickly to avoid decapitation from overhanging branches. Overturning into icy water twice the same day. Not to mention setting up camp on a hillside when our nurse gets hypothermia and can go no further.

There were glorious moments. Intense shades of green that reminded me of a time before I looked through 3-D glasses. Rapids that made me feel like a kid again. Tree-covered mountains that brought me back to the Buddha. An excuse to eat absolutely everything because we were burning so many calories. Stars brighter than Christmas lights.

And, at the end of the day, we made it back in one piece. We dropped in on Eric and Clare on the way home just to be sure we had misunderstood them correctly. It was July, they said. We started further down, avoiding the worst log jam. And we were almost all pretty good paddlers. It is the pretty good paddler part that we had failed to understand.

Were we up for a real adventure? Eric was leaving July 1 for Europe. Sailing with a couple friends across the Atlantic ocean in his sailboat. We drove down to see the vessel. It was up on a trailer, looking reasonably large from the outside, very small inside. We tried to imagine living on the lurching ocean in 35 feet of fiberglass for three weeks. Couldn’t do it.

Hey, c’est le fun. I’ll keep you posted.

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