Posted in Book Review, Nature

The Royal Landscape: visiting Middle England

For the last two weeks, I have been visiting friends and family in England. Specifically, I stayed in Byfleet, Surrey.

My original intent was to meet my brother for a nostalgic walk throughout our childhood neighbourhood: Twickenham, Whitton, Hounslow, and Hampton. This was abandoned when a winter storm hit England and Europe (the Beast from the East) and he was unable to join me.

But, lets start from the beginning. I left Halifax for Heathrow airport reading Richard Holmes This Long Pursuit. By the time I had landed, the book was finished. I was up to date on the confessions of a Romantic Biographer. Filled with essays on the lives of Keats, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge and Blake.

First stop was the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) gardens at Wisley. The large greenhouse had its annual display of tropical butterflies. On entering the gardens, I noted that the RHS Library had a book sale. This led two purchases. At the end of the visit, we ended up at the shop. There is a section of the store dedicated to gardening and the English landscape. With future walks in mind, I walked away with seven additional purchases (see references below).

As I pondered on my childhood days in England, I recalled listening to BBC Radio 4. When I found Caroline Hodgson For the Love of Radio 4, there were two quotations that struck a chord.

‘Robin Oakley relates that Jeffrey Archer once said to him that the world is divided into those who know how to make money and those who don’t. You, Robin, are in the second category !’ I guess that Bob Maher is in the second category too. p.89

(Jeffrey Archer is a British ex politician and story teller)

Talking about the program, Letter from America by Alistair Cooke:

‘It is perhaps the ultimate audio blog, and like all good bloggers Cooke knew that his words were intended for an audience rather than the product of a mere navel-gazing exercise’ p 232

This left me thinking, well  who is my audience ?

I found a partial answer when I was reading The Spectator. Hugh Thomson reviewed two books under the title ‘A Drizzle of Nature Writers’. He reviewed books by Tim Dee and Paul Readman (see references). Readman references George Orwell (ah-ha):

‘the world centres around the English village, and round the trees and hedges of that village, rather than the houses and the people’.

Readman concludes his book:

‘ we still like to define ourselves as an essentially rural nation, despite all indications to the contrary’

or from Orwell:

‘There is no question that a love of what is loosely called Nature is widespread in England’

Leaving Thomson to state:

‘The fact is that those who really have to deal with Nature have no cause to be in love with it’.

These literary digressions have to be put in the context of my time in England. Most days there was the opportunity to walk through the Surrey landscape. This included Windsor Great Park, Richmond Park, the River Wey Navigations. One trigger for me, was the branding of The Royal Landscape. To park your car and go for a walk through Savill Gardens or the Heather Gardens, you could purchase a membership  card to The Royal Landscape. Likewise, if you were a polo player, you could do the same.

This raised the question of land ownership in Surrey. There are numerous estates, clubs, golf courses in this part of England. How does this contrast with rural England or rural Nova Scotia? My tentative conclusion is that they are totally different worlds, with very different sets of values.

My take home message, besides the books, is to research in more detail the writing of George Orwell, and then to move to the present day and look at current writers on ‘the houses and the people’.

One final story. At Waterstones, I noticed a small book (an essay) by Robert MacFarlane, The Gifts of Reading. The essay is only thirty four pages long. I purchased five copies to give away as gifts. From p 19, where MacFarlane references The Gift by Lewis Hyde.

“Gifts give on”, says Hyde, this is their logic. They are generous acts that incite generosity. He contrast two kinds of ‘property’: the commodity and the gift. The commodity is acquired, and then hoarded, or resold. But the gift is kept moving, given onwards in a new form. Whereas the commodity circulates according to the market economy, the gift circulates according to the gift economy. In the market economy, value accrues to the individual by means of hoarding or ‘saving’. In the gift economy value accrues between individuals by means of giving and receiving’.

What exactly has happened through the branding of The Royal Landscape? Is it a commodity? What is meant by the term ‘Middle England’? Is that the new ‘middle class’ in England?


Richard Holmes.2016 This Long Pursuit. Harper Collins, London.

Caroline Hodgson. 2014. For the Love of Radio 4. An Unofficial Companion. Summersdale Publishers Ltd.

At RHS Booksale

Peter Alfred Please. 1997. Holine – A British Journey Bulletins from the Wayside 1950-1997. Away Publications

Michael Leapman. 2000. The Ingenious Mr. Fairchild. The Forgotten Father of the Flower Garden. Headline Books.

At the RHS book store.

Rob Cowen. 2015. Common Ground.Windmill Books.

Nicholas Crane. 2007. Great British Journeys. Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Nicholas Crane. 2016. The Making of the British Landscape.From the Ice Age to the Present. Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Matthew Engel. 2014. Engel’s England. Thirty nine Counties, One Capital and One Man. Profile Books.

Kathleen Jamie. 2012. Sightlines. Sort Of books

Nan Shepard.2011. The Living Mountain. Canongate Books

Christoper Somerville. 2017. The January Man. A Year of Walking Britain. Black Swan.

Hugh Thomson. A Drizzle of Nature Writers. The Spectator. March 3, 2018. p 48.

He reviews books by Tim Dee and Paul Readman.

Tim Dee (ed). Ground Work: Writings of People and Places.

Paul Readman. Storied Ground: landscape and the shaping of National Identity.

Robert MacFarlane. 2016. The Gifts of Reading. Penguin Books. 34pp.

Thanks as always to Edward Wedler for his graphics capabilities.



Posted in Event Review

Landscape and Food: hidden gems of the Creative Rural Economy

Last week, a good friend from England sent me a link to the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. This annual event is a weekend in July at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. The theme for 2017 was Food and Landscape. This was the start of an interesting week of discovery.

With a birthday and Valentine’s Day on February 14th., Heather and I decided to attend the Valentine’s Cookery School at the Flying Apron Inn in Summerville on Highway 215, East Hants, NS.

Before reaching Summerville, we stopped at Avondale to hike the community trails. The four kilometre loop wends through the ridges and sink holes of the gypsum formation. In the Spring, you can discover several species of Lady Slipper orchids (Cypripedium spp.). Avondale is also the home to Avondale Sky Winery and in the Summer, the annual Garlic festival.

The Flying Apron is an Inn, restaurant, Cooking School, post office and second-hand bookstore, all housed within  a refurbished general store. It has several unique qualities:

  1. it is a cooperative marketing venture with Avondale Sky Winery and Meander River Farm and Brewery.
  2. Chef Chris offers a unique Cooking school.
  3. the signature event is ‘Dining on the Ocean Floor”, an outdoor meal served at low tide on the Bay of Fundy shore.
  4. it bring European cuisine to rural Nova Scotia, using local produce.

The Cookery School is an expandable concept. Students arrive to learn how to cook a three course dinner. All the ingredients are provided. The kitchen is well equipped with pots, pans, stoves, oven, refrigerator, and , of course, sharp knives. Chef Chris acts as the mentor. With proper equipment, local ingredients and a methodology, Chris guides the class through the creative process. At the end, there is the opportunity to savour the result, along with local wine or beer.

Take Home Lessons

Imagine we had a community college, with campuses in different landscapes across Nova Scotia. At each campus, we could identify the needs of the community. With a knowledgeable mentor (aka chef) who would bring experiences from other ‘geographies’, students could learn what are the key ingredients, the method, and create a product which they would test and share with members of the wider community. The cooking class could be a model for other crafts, hands-on activities, and even software development. Within the context of the community, students would learn about the landscape, the geology, ecology, heritage, as well as locally available resources.

After a night at the Inn, we continued along the Noel Shore to Maitland before heading back through the Rawdon Hills to Windsor, gateway to the Annapolis Valley. Driving along Highway 215, across the gypsum, in February, we noticed the abundance of red stems of the local species of Cornus (dogwood) in the wet hollows, along the roadside. Another unique quality of this landscape.


In the second-hand bookstore, I found Soul Voyage. This book is a fictional account by Cameron Royce Jess, of Joshua Slocum’s ‘Sailing Alone Around the World”. Slocum was born on a subsistence farm at Mount Hanley. Jess lives with his wife, Linda, in Hall’s Harbour.

On our return, I received an email, from another good friend, on  ‘Evaluating the impact of subsidized food boxes in Nova Scotia’. Another, very different but important, community link between landscape and food.

Please compare this economy with the economy described by Bill Black (see previous blog).


Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery started in 1983. Check Wikipedia or Google.

The Flying Apron Inn and Cookery

Meander River Farm and Brewery

Avondale Sky Winery

Cameron Royce Jess. 2004. Soul Voyage. Inscape Publications, Port Williams.NS.

Posted in New thinking

Neither Black nor White: shades of grey

08Feb18_goldIn Saturday’s Chronicle Herald, Bill Black wrote an opinion column “How can rural NS prosper without resource extraction ?” and Joan Baxter (White) wrote ” For rural residents, all that glitters is not gold”. This resulted in the following Letter to the Editor.

Black’s last paragraph states:

“Those who want strong rural communities, but want to abolish all mining and quarrying, marine-based salmon farms, oil and gas development, and paper mills are invited to explain how they imagine those communities can keep their young people and thrive.”

I accept the challenge, although I don’t see it as an either/or proposition. Those of us who live in rural communities seek to manage our landscape, without compromising its long term value.

In this corner of rural Nova Scotia, Annapolis County, we have recognized that the management of our natural resources can be achieved through the provision of high quality education and research. Last week, I was once again reminded of this fact when the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) and the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) hosted a two day workshop on three dimensional data; its collection, analysis and visualization. ( see my previous blog for a more detailed discussion,  or go to for the workshop agenda).

This type of alternative educational model can assist in the identification of rural economic development issues, supports rural communities, and offer technology/science solutions that can be exported world wide. It is not unique to this part of rural Nova Scotia. But it does require different thinking, away from the either/or approach as presented by Bill Black.”

I received a positive acknowledgement from the Chronicle Herald.

One further footnote related to the title of Joan Baxter’s piece. There are many ‘nuggets of gold ‘ out there in the rural landscape of Nova Scotia: individuals and groups, with wonderful stories, ideas and dreams.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the intellectual support, and technological savvy of Edward Wedler.


The Chronicle Herald. Saturday February 3, 2018 Page: E3

Bill Black. How can rural NS prosper without extraction?

Joan Baxter. For rural residents, all that glitters is not gold.

Posted in Event Review

3D workshop: from the real world to the digital world

The Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown recently hosted a two day workshop on 3D data collection, analysis and visualization. The event was co-sponsored by the Canadian Institute of Geomatics (CIG) and Geomatics Association of Nova Scotia (GANS). The workshop chair was Tim Webster from the Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) at the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC).
There were over twenty presentations and about two hundred persons in attendance. From my perspective, presentations could be divided into the following categories: technology, measurement science, applications, and implications for society and education.

This was the second 3D workshop. In comparison with last year, Tim webster and his team should be congratulated on expanding the presentation roster to diversify both the technologies and the applications. Technologies included LiDAR, UAV, Augmented and Virtual Reality, 3D printing, and Hologram tables. The applications expanded from geology and forestry to palaeontology, oceanography, shipbuilding, city and interior building environments. In terms of measurement science, there was a sub-theme on terrestrial photogrammetry and camera systems. Government agencies at both the provincial and federal level were represented. They described their approach to open access and high volume LiDAR data sets.

As an independent observer, with no institutional affiliation, my interest was captured by the industry speakers  who came from afar to put the technologies and their applications in a global perspective. These included Anders Ekelund from Leica Systems, Sweden, the Skype presentation from Euclideon, Australia and Kevin Lim from Lim Geomatics in Ottawa. The keynote of local interest was given by Hugh MacKay, MLA Nova Scotia.

Keynote 1. Advances in airborne 3D data capture

Anders  Ekelund described the Leica (Hexagon) approach to our changing world: global population growth, migration to the cities and sustainable resource management.

A couple of Anders quotes:

” 90% of all digital data in the world has been created in the last two years ”

” Data is the new OIL”

For more, go to  to view their presentation on ‘The Shape of Potential”.

Keynote 2. Smarter Spaces – SLAM technology.

Colin Gillis described SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping), LiDAR capture for indoor mapping. Applications include underground structures, stockpiles, buildings, e.g hospitals and shipyards. It leads to Building Information Modeling (BIM). Colin referenced the work at AnyWhere in the UK, as well as research at CSIRO, Australia on GeoSLAM.

On the second day, after an overnight snowstorm, we had a Skype presentation from Euclideon, Australia. Bruce started by quoting Moore’s Law, in terms of the rate of change in CPU power and memory speed. Euclideon has developed efficient 3D search algorithms. They have also designed hologram tables to display these high volume, three dimensional images. The challenge is to develop a better understanding of the ‘use cases’ for this technology.

A second presentation on Day 2 was by Kevin Lim. His company has moved, from LiDAR data collection for advanced forest modelling, into the delivery of large data sets in the cloud within a shared economy. Kevin’s concept of a shared economy included an incentive model, access, quality of data, training and certification. These elements can be viewed within the context of crowd sourcing geographic knowledge (VGI) and, by example, with Open Street Map.

At the Nova Scotia scale, Hugh MacKay was the keynote on Tuesday evening. Hugh emphasized from his experience in the Geomatics industry in Europe and elsewhere, the need for a different collaborative model. In his case, he was looking at the three legged stool: government, industry and academia.


From the two day immersion in 3D data, the following was apparent.|
1) we are seeing multiple technologies for data collection,analysis and visualization
2) the volume of data has increased exponentially.
3) there is a significant need for education and training in both the science and the technologies.
4) we need new models of collaboration.

It is fascinating to be living in rural Nova Scotia, with access to many of these technologies, either at COGS/AGRG or over the Internet. From the workshop, there is evidence of BIG industry (e.g. Leica-Hexagon, JD Irving) and BIG data.

To meet Hugh MacKay’s collaborative challenge and the shared economy described by Kevin Lim, what has to happen at an institution like COGS/AGRG ? Does an Advanced Diploma in Geospatial Data Analytics still make sense ? Or do we need to rethink our educational model ?

Congratulations to Tim Webster and his support team for a very stimulating event. I look forward to seeing the agenda for the next workshop in 2019. Finally, as an ex-COGS instructor, I think that the current generation of technology/science instructors have an awesome, but very scary, challenge in front of them. To do it ‘right’ will require significant investment, creativity, a truly collaborative environment, understanding of the use cases, access to new technology, and fundamental science and technology expertise. In the words of Hugh MacKay: carpe diem. Seize the day.


To check out the detailed workshop program, presenters and presentations, go to



Posted in Nature, Video Review

Community monitoring of the landscape

Towering log pile

Last Thursday (January 18th), Heather and I decided to go snow-shoeing along the Rifle Range road, off the Inglisville Road. We have been doing this trip for the last fifteen or so years. Imagine our surprise, when we discovered that our outdoor recreation route had been turned into a logging road (see photographs). Curious, we persisted to see what was going on. We found signs that indicated that the parcel of crown land was being logged by a local forestry company, under the WestFor agreement with the provincial Department of Natural Resources.

We took some photographs, and shared our discovery with a few friends and neighbours. Dave Whitman, who also lives on Hwy#201 in Paradise, an author and publisher with his wife Paulette, including books on the ‘lost village’ of Roxbury, mentioned a local photographer, Neil Green. Neil has been experimenting with the use of drones for landscape photography.

UAV images over Annapolis County Clear Cut
UAV image captures over Annapolis County Clear Cut [click on image for link to video]
Imagine our surprise, forty eight hours later, we received a video of the clear-cutting on South Mountain, towards Eel Weir Lake. Neil also shared some of his landscape videography along the Annapolis River.

This raised many questions in my mind.

  1. With this new technology, can citizen groups monitor the changes impacting our landscape ?
  2. Our warden for Annapolis County, Tim Habinski is on record (CBC) about the clearcutting on crown land in the County. Could this technology give us a better picture of the current situation ? And allow, evidence-based decision making ?
  3. Given the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown, would the college be willing to support research in the creation of maps so that citizens could monitor the activities in their own backyard ?
  4. We own a small, narrow woodlot with our son, Andrew. It runs from the Annapolis River to the Inglisville Road. Could we commission Neil Green or others to fly the property as part of our woodlot management strategy. For example, we could monitor the red maple coppicing by Alex Cole, Little Foot Yurts for yurt poles on Andrew’s parcel. Or we could map the mature hemlocks on the hillside on our parcel, above the Hwy #201.
Road to the clear cut

These questions could lead us to discover new opportunities. With the technology, UAVs, cameras and GPS it is now possible to develop a much better understanding of the  landscape, its use or abuse, whether it is agriculture, forestry or recreation. Maybe its time to champion the full value of the landscape. Let us view our environment as something that offers so much more than a simple monetary value ($$$$).


Thanks to Heather Stewart for reminding me of our landscape values. Dave Whitman for the connection to Neil Green. Neil for his drone photography explorations. And finally, as usual, to Edward Wedler for his feedback and technology expertise on the web.

Posted in New thinking

A Canadian University of Geographic Sciences.

My last blog looked at the Smart ICE project and its implications for other parts of Canada. This has led to a number of realizations, concerning the role of post-secondary educational institutions and today’s technology in a global context.

In 1986, we redefined the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute as the College of Geographic Sciences. We dropped the provincial epithet and expanded from land surveying to geographic sciences. Geographic Sciences included Cartography, Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Community Planning, as well as the associated computer programming and technology (the story of COGS )

By 1996, COGS had become a part of the autonomous Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). COGS was redefined at a Centre of Geographic Sciences. In this same time frame, in the United States, with NSF funding, Drs Goodchild, Marble and Frank had established the National Centre for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA). It was a network structure including UC Santa Barbara, SUNY, Buffalo and University of Maine, Orono. Elsewhere, in Europe, UNIGIS was offering online programs in the Geographic Sciences.

CanadaNetworkImagine the following scenario, COGS could have been expanded to form a network of campuses of the University of Geographic Sciences (UGS). This would permit technical resources to be applied to a wide range of geographic issues across the country. It would build on Canada’s history of innovation in Remote Sensing and GIS. Today, we could use the network to understand a wide range of geographic issues by monitoring and modelling different conditions. Smart ICE would be one example. We can imagine other contributions to our understanding of the boreal forest, or ocean management. Because of the geographic extent of the country, there are many opportunities to observe changes in land, sea and air. This natural laboratory, supported by a network of technical institutes could provide insight and offer solutions to a number of pressing global issues: climate change, urbanization, alternative energy sources.

On the cultural front, Canada has access to a multitude of views of the land, sea and their associated resources. This can be generalized, as a diversity of interest in community mapping.

It is not too late to build a National University of Geographic Sciences (UGS). Part of the network would include campuses in the Arctic and Boreal Forest.

What would be the technologies today ?

  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Remote Sensing
  • Sensor networks
  • UAV’s (drone technology)
  • Cartography
  • Community Mapping
  • Survey Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Place-based Artificial Intelligence

What would be the sciences/systems today ?

  • Climatology
  • Geomorphology
  • Biogeography
  • Oceanography
  • Computer Sciences


Canada, with its geographic extent, diversity of landscapes and cultures, continues to offer the opportunity to study and understand the condition of our global systems. By investing in a National post-secondary technical education network, the country would be making a major contribution to our understanding of these global systems, but also, be supporting the well-being of its citizens in this dynamic global environment. It would be efficient in terms of costs, speed/catalyst of innovation and degree of ingenuity.

Time to step up to the plate.

Posted in New thinking

Smart ICE and rural Nova Scotia

On January 4th, the CBC program, The Current aired a segment entitled “As ice thins underfoot, technology is combined with traditional Inuit knowledge to save lives “. (see podcast)
It describes the Smart ICE project,  a collaboration between Northern Inuit communities and Southern science at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). The podcast interviews Dr. Trevor Bell, Department of Geography at MUN, Shirley an Inuit resident from Arviat and Glen Aikenhead, an educator from Saskatchewan. The project emphasis is on the safety of Inuit travelling on land fast ice along the flow edge. It involves permanent monitoring stations,, mobile platforms to measure ice thickness as well as community knowledge of sea ice travel conditions around Northern communities.

The discussion centred on the need to combine specific place-based knowledge with more generalized scientific understanding.

This collaborative model offers many lessons for rural Nova Scotia (and other parts of Canada). It emphasizes a sharing of knowledge about the land. The importance of this knowledge to relationships and survival in these communities. The adoption of new technology by Inuit youth and their role in the community.


In rural Nova Scotia,we have many culturally isolated communities) Acadian , Mi’kmac, Black Nova Scotian. We need to adopt mechanisms for sharing geographic knowledge about the land, including climate change, water quality and forest cover. We need permanent monitoring stations, mobile platforms for accessing community knowledge. One example is the network of climate stations established by David Colville, while he was employed at AGRG. We need to share this information and develop relationships between community groups. In the Smart ICE project, the communities define the problem and later, they implement the solution.

“Seeing Nova Scotia” image courtesy of Edward Wedler

Community Mapping offers a forum for sharing place-based knowledge and placing it alongside a broader scientific context. As in other parts of Canada, we can all benefit from ‘two eyed seeing’.

For a different take, on the same issue, see Gary Snyder, A Place in Space.p.250.

” We are all indigenous to this planet, this mosaic of wild gardens we were being called by nature and history to reinhabit in good spirit. Part of that responsibility is to choose a place. To restore the land one must live and work in a place. To work in a place with others. People who work together in a place become a community, and a community, in time, grows a culture. To work on behalf of the wild is to restore culture.” October 1993.

Posted in Book Review

From Pugwash and Pictou to Paradise

The Centre for Local Prosperity hosted the sixtieth Anniversary Retreat at the Thinkers Lodge, Pugwash in late September. The topic was Climate Change and the Human Prospect. Recently,  a nineteen page report is available on the web site. They addressed five topics:

i) Localizing Project Drawdown solutions;
ii) Moving money to finance solutions;
iii) Energy, carbon forestry and agriculture, ocean management;
iv) Treaty rights as a leverage point for change;
v) Educational process and Community Engagement.

Of interest to this reader from Paradise, Annapolis County is that two of the Thinkers were Councillors from the Municipality of Annapolis: Gregory Heming and Timothy Habinski (Warden). Another participant of interest was Dale Prest from Community Forests International. For a full list of Thinkers, go to page 17 of the summary report.

theMillOver Christmas, while in Pictou County, there was the opportunity to read Joan Baxter’s book The Mill. Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest. Baxter provides a detailed and well-researched account of the impact of the Scott Paper Mill at Abercrombie Point, near Pictou. The book paints a sad picture of the relationship between government and the forestry sector and the effect on the local communities and the forest landscape.

In the final chapter, Baxter interviews Dale Prest. He talks about the importance of carefully managing the Acadian forest. In his words, trees “are actually an incredible elegantly designed, partial solution to the climate change problem we have.

Afterwards, I checked the Community Forests International (CFI) web site. There are many positive suggestions for small woodlot owners in the Maritimes. I see parallels between Whaelghinbran Farm, NB and what we are attempting at Paradise Orchards, NS. Using the CFI terminology, we are trying to be ‘walkers’ . That is individuals who are ‘walking the talk’. In that context, I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes from the Retreat, being implemented by the Municipality of Annapolis — from Thinkers to Do-ers.


Joan Baxter. 2017. The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest, Pottersfield Press.

Centre for Local Prosperity. 2017. Climate Change and the Human Prospect. Report from  60th Anniversary Retreat at Thinkers Lodge,  Pugwash. Centre for Local Prosperity

Community Forests International web site.  Community Forests International




Posted in Creative writing

Geobiography and the Annapolis Valley

Scenes from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia

Wendell Berry’s book The Art of the Commonplace is a collection of agrarian essays covering a thirty year period. The first essay, A Native Hill under the section heading: Geobiography, describes Berry’s relationship to the land in Kentucky. As Norman Wirzba writes in the Introduction:

Our lives are always rooted in a natural and cultural community, so that to cut ourselves off from these roots, whether that be in the name of progress or human liberation, is to ensure the eventual withering and then death of life‘ (page ix).

Or more directly in Berry’s own words, when talking about his decision to move back to Kentucky from the academic world of New York.

Before coming back I had been willing to allow the possibility – which one of my friends insisted upon –  that I already knew this place as well as ever I would. But now I began to see the real abundance and richness of it all. It is, I saw inexhaustible in its history, in the details of its life, in its possibilities. I walked over it, looking, listening, smelling, touching, alive to it as never before. I listened to the talk of my kinsmen and neighbours as I never had done, alert to their knowledge of the place, and to the qualities and energies of their speech. I began more seriously than ever to learn the names of things – the wild plants and animals, the natural processes, the local places – and to articulate my observations and memories.’ (page 7).

If one was going to attempt a geobiography of the Annapolis Valley, how might you go about it ? One approach, which occurred to me while I was listening to a CBC podcast ‘Writers and Company with Eleanor Wachtel. It was broadcast on December 1/2017. It was an interview with Richard Holmes reflecting on his life as a Romantic biographer. Holmes was talking about his recent memoir This Long Pursuit.

‘If we have any hope of making a better world, he argues ‘we must understand it both scientifically and imaginatively’.

This offers direction, if we want to describe the Annapolis Valley.

From my personal perspective, I would likely transpose ‘Geobiography ‘, and think in terms of ‘Biogeography’. This feeds back into my unpublished Ph.D thesis, The Nature of Biogeography from the mid seventies.

First, we must define the Annapolis Valley. It is a physiographic unit. It includes both North and South Mountain, the Annapolis River valley, and the Bay of Fundy shore. One of my challenges with the Valley REN (regional enterprise network) is that because of history and municipal politics, it does not include Annapolis County or Annapolis Royal.

I think that a geobiography (biogeography) would focus on stories related to the earth’s surface (land and sea), the qualities of the natural landscape, how they have changed over time, how the different inhabitants have been an integral part of this landscape. It would look at the ecological relationships:plants, animals, geology, soils, climate and the various migrations.

Returning to Wendell Berry, in another book What are People for ?

With reference to Maria Popova Brainpickings site, she has a quotation that I like:

‘Wendell Berry on Solitude, and why Pride and Despair are the two great enemies of Creative Work’


Wendell Berry. 2002. The Art of the Commonplace.The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Counterpoint, Berkeley, California

Wendell Berry. 1990. What are People for ? Counterpoint, Berkeley, California.
Eleanor Wachtel. 2017. CBC Radio. Writers and Company. December 1,2017. Richard Holmes reflects on his life as a ‘Romantic biographer’.
Richard Holmes. 2016. This Long Pursuit. Harper Collins, London.
Robert Maher 1976. The Nature of Biogeography. Unpublished Ph.D thesis. Department of Geography, University of Western Ontario.





Posted in Video Review

From Walnut Grove to Growing Walnuts: two complementary psychogeographies.

Walnut Grove lies in the Township of Langley, British Columbia, between the United States border and the Fraser River.

Like many communities in Southern Canada, the roads follow a grid pattern: streets run North/South and the avenues run East/West. On arrival, our first task  was to re-learn how to navigate this dense man-made, built landscape.

In Nova Scotia, we are looking to grow walnuts on our property in Paradise, Annapolis County. There, the challenge is to fully understand the fine mosaic of plant habitats, related to slope, aspect, soil and climate conditions. The book by Hart surfaced the concept of forest gardening.

Within the context of visiting grandchildren, we had been given the opportunity to explore a man-made, urban landscape and to compare it to our knowledge of a rural landscape.

9780394521046-usWhile in BC, and being in the Fraser Valley, I took the opportunity to check out the current work of Hugh Brody. Brody is the Canada Research Chair in Anthropology at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford. He is likely best known to Geographers for his book Maps and Dreams, published in 1981. From his web site, I noticed that he had recently given a talk at the Audain Gallery, Simon Fraser University. Fortunately, his talk is available as a video online. The subject was the indigenous knowledge of the land by the Dunne-Za in North East British Columbia, The one hour video talks, in terms, of invisibility, dreams, art, making the invisible visible, cultural mapping, and the importance of knowledge of the land in a traditional hunter/gatherer society. His original field work was completed in the late ’70’s.

The end result was, on returning home, to pull from the bookcase, my copy of The Other Side of Eden, written in 2000.

I highly recommend watching the video. Hopefully, your Internet service is not too slow. In Canada, not only can we enjoy the many different landscapes, we have the opportunity to appreciate a wide range of traditional knowledge of the land, described, in this case by anthropologist/writer/film maker, Hugh Brody.

Thanks again, to Edward Wedler for his help with the graphics and feedback on the earlier draft


Hugh Brody.  1981. Maps and Dreams.; Indians and the British Columbia Frontier. Douglas and McIntyre.

Hugh Brody. 2000. The Other Side of Eden. Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World. Douglas and McIntyre.

Robert A. de J. Hart. 1996. Forest Gardening. Chelsea Green Publishers.

Malachy Tallack. 2016. Sixty Degrees North. Around the World in Search of Home. Pegasus Books, New York. Book Review describes it as one of new genre of travel writers on psychogeography.