Posted in New thinking, Opinion

Maps from an animal’s perspective

We often talk about geography and the land from a human perspective. What about from an animal’s perspective?
How do they understand the land? They do not use our compasses and maps but must understand landmarks, boundaries and “sense”.
I think of the resilient service sledding dogs offer to travel in the North, such as those shown here on Andrew Maher’s recent trip.
I think of migrating caribou and how they are impacted by human interaction.
I think of the industrious beaver and how their drive to “use the land” is different from our “land-use”.
I think of the wolf — how we “re-introduce” species and we learn, serendipitously, over time how important they are to the health of the (ours and theirs) ecosystem and physical geography.
Bob’s past posts on clearcutting highlights, for me, our insensitivities; placing our needs to strip bare our land ahead of animals’ needs of land to maintain their livelihood and form basic shelter and protection.
As an experiment, I decided one morning to carry a video camera at knee height (my dog’s eye view)  for almost an hour as I walked an island in The La Have area of Nova Scotia (this was no easy task). Upon review, I was intrigued to experience the world’s perspectives, vistas, obstacles, nooks and crannies as my dog saw them.
And, what would maps look like if crafted from an animal’s
point of view?
Posted in New thinking, Opinion

Can maps do a better job in our back-yard?

If the technology exists to instantly light up our phones when our village has been hit in the game “Clash of Clans” surely we can work to do the same when our land/water/air is being impacted in real-life.

With the many technical advances these days maybe we need to set aside or identify tracts of land where we research ideal mapping practices — maps that readily and fully inform and seamlessly engage us, citizens.

Sure, Google has made mapping strides with easy access to street view, traffic assists, and feature identification. Many of us use these maps. ESRI lets us, not as easily, mash databases and tell stories to create personalized maps. Fewer of us use these maps. I suggest, however, that maps can reflect a larger part of our DNA when they subsume social-media/market value. We need to explore the real market potential for interactive, immersive, and adaptive maps.
As I have been south this season and have read many of Bob  Maher’s blogs I have been pondering as to WHO, these days, most interacts with the natural landscape and HOW we interact with it, and of the role of maps. Seeing forest clear-cuts first-hand, for example, contrasts drastically with viewing them on a screen, days/weeks/months later. If we could better connect maps with our daily lives we could find greater transparency of forestry and other practices or issues.
If game developers can market and make b/millions with “what if” scenarios and if we can be tweeted, poked and notified instantly then surely we can create maps to do do the same for us citizens. Can we improve maps by better connecting them via social media network for all stakeholders and citizens?
Maybe, Bob and Heather who live in Paradise, Nova Scotia would not have had to discover, with surprise, that their “back-yard” had been violated with forest clear-cuts.
Posted in Uncategorized

There’s Nothing There: a rural myth

There’s nothing there!” scolded Joan, my plein air artist friend. “You’re sending us to a place next week, to a crossroads, where there is absolutely nothing to paint”. Joan was referring to the intersection of Black Rock Road and Brooklyn Street , Kings County, Nova Scotia — our fifth paint-out site of the season (we have 21 more to paint). “I go by there almost every week. Why are we going THERE?”

En Plein Air sketch of decaying home along Brooklyn Street, Kings County, Nova Scotia by Edward Wedler at

That’s part of the problem. Through familiarity Joan has become numbed to the nuances of this rural setting — the details many would miss just driving past. Along with six other artist friends we rhymed off to her the many scenes that can be captured there. “You can do the graveyard or the decaying house across the road from the Grafton Community Hall. What about the cows or the rows of corn in the farmer’s fields? Have you ever looked up the road, towards North Mountain, to see the thick fog hanging in the air from the Bay of Fundy? If you drive up the mountain you can look back at the patchwork quilt of farmer’s fields and see the sunlit silos across the Valley on the South Mountain. “

My wife, Anne, was trained in acrylic art by Floridian artist Joseph Melançon. He paints in the form of the Canadian Group of Seven artists and can create masterpieces from what look like banal landscape photos, devoid of details. He opens our artists’ eyes to the understated geography of rural settings. He creates something from what appears to be nothing.

In my travels across Canada it was the Prairies that struck me most as an artist. The smallest glimmer from a pond, the most subtle grouping of wild flowers, the flutter of startled ducks, the line of telephone pole after telephone pole, was magnified ten-fold in contrast to the expanse of fields and open sky. One notices more clearly the slightest shift in colour, line and form.

I have learned that, through artist’s eyes, when we focus we begin to see what may appear ordinary but in a new light. Bear River photographer and film maker, Tim Wilson, reminds me of that every time he posts another photo or video to his Facebook or website from rural Nova Scotia. Anyone see the film Maudie? Stricken with arthritis and almost stuck in a small house in rural Nova Scotia folk artist Maude Lewis managed to paint and paint and paint. There was always something to paint.

Look carefully and maybe stop awhile. There is always something to see (and do). To say that there’s “nothing there” is a rural myth.


Posted in New thinking

Using online games to study what tourists find attractive here.

Imagine if we could, through games, explore the preferences of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, North American and other visitors to our region and cater our tourist destinations (and direct our dollars) to meet those preferences.

We THINK we know what attracts tourists to our area, but how can we measure that objectively?  How can we rank one destination over another? I propose we have tourists play games — online games. Apply game concepts to unearth the mindset of our potential visitors. Here I pilot a basic game called “ValleySeen”, the results of which can be used to evaluate what landscapes/streetscapes appeal to our visitors. Go ahead and play in my test area of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.


ValleySeen applies the urban “StreetSeen” project, created by students at Ohio State University and used in the MOOC, Technicity, to explore gaming in a rural setting. StreetScene is based on the work of Open Plans Beautiful Street Project and MIT’s Media Lab Place Pulse Project .

This is how it works …

Display pairs of images that are randomly selected from a library of Google Street View images within an area. Pose a planning question. Have the player vote on the image that best suits the question. Tabulate and analyse the responses to rank users’ preferences and even generate ‘heat maps’.

I applied StreetSeen to look at Annapolis Royal through the eyes of a tourist. I wanted to know what tourists found attractive. I focused on Annapolis Royal as a test area. I randomly selected twenty Google Street View images and generated results in spreadsheet and map form. I ranked the preferred images based on the question asked, and analysed results.


My pilot was limited in scope: geography, number of images, analyses. In future, I propose adding the geographic source of respondents in the analyses.

Furthermore, I propose that gaming concepts be used to study our tourism and tourists to better develop destination plans for Nova Scotia.





Posted in Art

Artists’ view of the landscape.

Unlike photographers, geographers or geologists, landscape artists see their world as collections of lines, contours, shapes, colours, light and shadows. Identifying features is secondary.

“Annapolis River at Tupperville, Nova Scotia” (watercolour by Edward Wedler)

A geographer tries to make sense of the landscape,  looking at relationships between features to explain where things are, how they came to be, how they evolve and change over time, and how they interact with us. A geologist examines the makeup of landscape to understand how it formed over millennia and how it may change in future. They want to understand how the landscape works. A photographer captures the visual character of a landscape under different lighting and weather conditions at a particular point in time on photosensitive material.

The “en plein air artist” paints on location, mostly outdoors. Each artist pulls out their materials and tools and begins to work quickly. It’s like speed dating with light and shadow. The artist will look for one or two focal points. They will look at distant, mid-ground and foreground features to figure out what to highlight and what to suppress. Often they will add to or remove elements from the scene for aesthetic/design reasons. Their view of the landscape is an interpretation perhaps in oils, watercolours, acrylics, pastels, pen and ink, or graphite. The plein air artist also seeks to elicit an emotional response to the art of their immediate environment. I consider the geography of the plein air artist as the geography of perception.

The Annapolis Valley Plein Air Art group, to which I belong, paints landscapes throughout our area — towns, farmlands, and coastal waterways. Each week we assemble at a different “paint-out” site. At the one site, some will paint details of rocks in a stream bed. Some will paint tourists enjoying the sunshine on benches along a path. Some will paint distant hills framed by woodlots. The landscape becomes a collection of deeply personal, visual expressions and no two paintings or sketches are the same.

What can we learn from interpreting the landscape through artists’ eyes? One of my mentors, Vlad Yeliseyev, is often heard to “rant” to plein air artists, “Don’t paint a photograph. Paint a story.” Local Digby artist, Poppy Balser states in her profile “Watercolour is the perfect medium for me to capture the atmosphere and light of my local environment.” In his book “Interpreting the Landscape in Watercolor”, Don Andrews illustrates the magic of linking light, shadow and colour”. For me one artist may see a tree as blue, nestled in the cold shadows. Another may see the same tree as olive green, absorbing scant rays of sunshine peaking through breaks in the clouds.

Unlike the photographer, geographer, or geologist, the artist is the landscape’s chorister; composing a visual libretto.