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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.



We could have chosen a worse time to fly to Halifax. We could have come on December 13, when hundred-mile-an-hour winds were wreaking havoc in Nova Scotia, knocking down towering fir trees and ripping shingles off our carriage house. Instead, we picked the worst time to leave Durham, North Carolina. Soft, wet snow began falling around midnight, followed by freezing rain on the morning we were due to depart. Not exactly conducive to getting to the airport.

We considered booking a hotel in the vicinity, but finally decided to take our chances. I did revise our departure time, insisting that our cab driver show up at 6:15 AM for a 9:15 flight. The appointed time came and went, followed by a flurry of phone calls. It turned out our driver wasn’t lost, but fender benders had turned the route into an obstacle course. Since we were leaving Durham after almost a full year in residence, we were not traveling light. The cabbie came from Africa originally, so we got in with some trepidation, but he immediately informed us that he had lived in Michigan. Not to worry.


One item in our carry-on may have been unique to our luggage– two hats in an elegant German hat box. One of our serendipitous discoveries in Durham was a first-rate hat store, owned by a classy Cuban. Southerners like hats, and they are willing to invest in them. On the afternoon we wandered into the store, my wife, who is fairly abstemious with her personal wardrobe, emerged with TWO hats, one for spring, one for winter. The purchase of two German hats made the owner’s day, so he threw in the fancy box.


When we first took an informal inventory at the Stewart House twenty-three years ago, we were delighted to discover a genuine beaver hat, complete with leather box. Peeling stickers indicated that the hat (and its owner) did the grand tour of Europe. It may have belonged to Florence Nunn’s father. Florence was named after his favorite city in Italy. She married Charles Stewart, the great great grandson of Robert Laird, the man who had the “Stewart” house built, circa 1779. They traveled by sea in those days, but it was nice to return a hat box to the old homestead, even if it was in the overhead compartment of an airship.

To say that the Raleigh-Durham airport is a little light on de-icing equipment is something of an understatement. They have exactly two trucks to service every single flight, and it is a busy airport. My flight to Philadelphia was number seven in line for de-icing, so we took off three hours late. Fortunately, the flight to Halifax was delayed an hour and a half.  All’s well that ends well.  And arriving here on the same day was a good ending.

It was a quiet and green Christmas this year, with only one other family member present for the holiday. And our daughter, Stephanie, got on a plane for Vancouver on Christmas morning. Happy New Year. May 2011 bring you all serenity, peace and good fortune. We are living in interesting times, so those may be in short supply. Cheers from Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

The French settlers of Acadie must have wondered how they had offended God when New England militia marched into the village of Grand Pre and locked up the men and boys in the church. The proclamation of the British colonel said they were to be transported. Like the petty thieves of London, they had got themselves on the wrong side of British law. The law had been conceived by Parliament and the new Governor, who insisted that the people inhabiting the land he called Nova Scotia take an oath of allegiance to the Crown.  It was 1755.

Thus began the expulsion of the Acadians, peasants who had been living for over a hundred years in the fertile parts of Acadie, a peninsula bordering the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic ocean. They had dyked the sea like the Dutch, reclaiming rich soil off the bottom of the Bay of Fundy for farmland. They had prospered, skirting the constant wars between the French and English like squirrels living among wolves. Their day of reckoning became almost inevitable in 1710, when British troops took a strategic fort they called Fort Anne, not far from where the Princess of Acadia sails. From that point on, the land mass of Nova Scotia became British, while the population was French.

The British plan was to load the Acadians on ships and scatter them in the colonies along the Eastern seaboard, but they had not counted on the intransigence of the English colonists. French-speaking Catholics were not warmly  welcomed by English-speaking protestants, so many of the ships sailed on, seeking a place to offload their human cargo. They settled on Louisiana. The name of the people transported there was soon corrupted from “Acadien” to “Cajun.” The swamps and bayous of this new place were as different from Nova Scotia as anyone could imagine.

This year the American Association of Law Schools chose New Orleans for its annual conference. My wife had decided to attend some time ago, so I packed a suitcase for a trip to the home of jazz and Mardi Gras soon after arriving in Durham. Fortunately, we had booked into the hotel where the conference was held. The city of New Orleans was freezing!

What with the miserable weather and my lack of due diligence as a tourist, the visit was less than satisfying. I barely skimmed the surface, astonished at my own ignorance of the place, from Mardi Gras rituals to the Battle of New Orleans, which helped saved the country’s independence in the War of 1812.

It was a city I knew from books and jazz and television, a city of the imagination. I had no idea that Degas spent six months here before he became famous. His mother came from a prominent French-Creole family and two of his brothers settled in the city, engaging in the cotton business during its slow demise as an engine of enterprise. Degas did one famous painting here of his family’s cotton office, but his relatives and the place unsettled him.

There is a National Historic Site in Grand Pre commemorating the Expulsion of the Acadians and the long narrative poem it inspired– “Evangeline.” Although “Le Grand Derangement” was not genocide, the Acadians were certainly hard done by. And, as the disastrous hurricane relief efforts have shown, that was just the beginning.  The poor people of Louisiana are the Haitians of North America and the city on the Mississippi with the fascinating past has a very tenuous future.

Back in the days when I ran a bed and breakfast business in the Stewart House, I was always on the lookout for attractive words and phrases I could plug into the minimal amount of advertising we did for the place.  The tourism season was very short (basically July and August), so it really didn’t pay to put a lot of money into marketing.

The province of Nova Scotia offered the best advertising around, a write-up in a telephone-size book called the “Doers and Dreamers” guide.  The books were widely distributed to tourist offices up and down the Eastern seaboard.

In the early years, I took great pains to put together an attractive brochure,  and get them distributed in time for the summer season.  They disappeared off the tourist bureau racks, but I never saw anyone walk in with one in hand.

At some point in our decade of doing business, the title of this post made it into our advertising.  I used to kid my wife about it, because it was her doing. We are only three kilometers from the Bay, but the trees across the road make it difficult to see more than a band of silver when the sun glances off the water. The attic has the best view, but our guests never went up there.

The phrase reminded me of “Fawlty Towers”, which was my favourite John Cleese vehicle, for obvious reasons.  At the end of every season I would get grumpy, beginning to identify with the irascible innkeeper in the show. In one episode, an unpleasant older lady with a hearing problem takes Basil to task for the rather ordinary view from her window.  Basil retaliates:  “It is Torquay, madame.  What did you expect to see, thundering wildebeasts?”

My guests at the B&B would inevitably ask, disarmingly, where they could see the tides.  That was is a difficult question to answer without seeming evasive.  The Bay of Fundy tides are the highest in the world.  One hundred billion tons of water rush in and out of the mud bathtub twice a day, but the land surrounding Grand Pre is flat, so instead of climbing up the side of a cliff, the salt water covers and uncovers vast areas of mudflats.

During low tide, one third of the basin is exposed to the sky.   Many thousands of migratory birds take advantage of that, stopping to stuff themselves with mud shrimp before tackling the long trip down to South America in the fall.

It is difficult to get a true sense of 17 meter (fifty-five foot) tides without a wharf or bluff or a very small harbour where fishing boats can be seen sitting on mud one minute, then heading out to sea the next.

For a good time-lapse view of the tidal change, have a look at this video–

Check out the “Not Since Moses” video to get a playful picture of the kind of a one of a kind race held once a year on the other side of the Bay of Fundy.  It is truly amazing–

The blizzard began during the second course of our New Year’s Eve dinner at Le Caveau, an elegant restaurant at the Domaine de Grand Pre, our local winery.  Fine new snow began to fall about ten o’clock, swirling down in a wiry wind.

It was fortuitous that there was room for us, since the reservations had been made before we knew we were coming for Christmas.  We were seated at a very substantial table fashioned from a foot-thick slice of a century-old Douglas fir from British Columbia.  It glowed like warm honey.

It was a long, lovely evening.  Our dinner began with a delicious cream of celery soup, followed by by four more courses.  We finished right before midnight.   We crept home in the car, following the tire tracks of our neighbors, and tumbled into bed about 1 am.

We could have walked to the winery, but the blizzard was predicted and there is no shoulder on Highway 1.  Many of our neighbors walk for exercise, but no one walks simply to get from one place to another.  This is the country, after all.  In the country, we drive.


Our winery has a checkered history. When we came to Grand Pre twenty-two years ago, there were rumors that the owner was spending much of his time in the South of France and the winery was going downhill.

It had been started up by an American professor from California who had come to Canada to teach.  The Annapolis Valley apparently reminded him of Napa Valley and the property he purchased was beautiful.  For awhile, it seemed that it was successful, but then it fell into receivership.

Since then, it has been sold more than once.  During one particularly worrisome period, we were quite concerned about the fate of the heritage buildings.  Fortunately, a Swiss family rescue was on the way.

In 1993, Hanspeter Stutz purchased the property and almost immediately began extensive and expensive renovations.  It is a family operation, with grown children and their spouses participating in vital roles.  Our little community has benefited considerably from their dedication, good taste, fine wines and excellent restaurant.

Since we began coming here, the wine business has boomed in this part of the world.  There are at least half-a-dozen wineries within a half hour of here.  Hanspeter’s motto speaks for them all –  “Life is too short to drink bad wine.”

Here’s to the New Year!  Le it be the beginning of a new era.  This is my toast to uncommon intelligence, undervalued compassion, creativity and peace, which seems to be particulary scarce right now.  Snow blankets the ground, but warmer weather and sunshine is promised.  It is already a new day in Melbourne.

The day before I left Turin for Christmas in Canada, I had two scares.  In a misguided attempt to keep from bumping my head, I caught my foot under our platform bed and did a swan dive on the floor of our flat.  I cut one eyebrow open and bruised my ribs.  The second event was far more serious.  It was late in the afternoon in the center of the city, and I was getting ready to cross a major street after descending from a tram.  Like most people in the shopping mode, I was preoccupied.  And I was plugged in, listening to a book on my MP3 player.

The  young woman beside me stepped off the sidewalk.  From the corner of my eye I could see a car coming.  My brain screamed but no words came out.  By the time I reacted she had walked into the side of the moving car.  I caught her on the rebound.  For what seemed like a long time, I held her while she shook. She was bruised and in shock, but nothing appeared to be broken.

The driver stopped and came back.  An ambulance was called.  Her partner showed up.  If she had stepped out ten seconds earlier I believe she would have been killed.  It was that close.  I will never, ever tune out the city again.  Life is too precious to be preoccupied at a crucial moment.


The teaching position in Turin offered us a choice that we would never have considered if we had been in Melbourne in December.  We could spend the holiday in the Alps, which certainly had its attractions, or we could return to the Stewart House in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

The stars seemed aligned for a small family reunion in Canada this year.  My sister could come from Montana, a son from China.  Our daughter was already in the province attending school and her new husband planned to fly in from Hawaii. They had been married there and we had not had a chance to meet him.  He is in the Marines Corps and we are very pleased to have him in the family.

There is plenty of room in the old house.  The main trick is staying warm this time of year.  It has been at least sixty years since anyone has lived in the building in winter.  There is no furnace, no central heating and no wood stove.  There are electric baseboard heaters and five fireplaces.

During the cold snap leading up to Christmas Eve, we struggled to keep two of the fireplaces stuffed with wood (and the family with food) from morning until night.  In many parts of the province thousands of people lost power.  I was glad it didn’t happen here.  I was very grateful for electricity, grocery stores, merino wool, the CBC, and indoor plumbing.

The cold snap was followed by a warm wind on Christmas day that quickly melted almost all the snow.  The cold has returned, and I am now staring at a field of frozen, green grass with patches of snow.  A blizzard is predicted for tonight, New Year’s Eve.  No one who lives in the Maritimes expects predictable weather any time of year, so this is not surprising.

I’ll be back in Turin in a week, so the Italian lessons are not over yet.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get up the nerve to drive.  The Alps are calling.  Happy New Year!  Stay safe and stay tuned.

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.

Flickr Photos


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