Posted in biographical sketch

Arrival: return to Newfoundland

Over forty years ago, I was teaching Biogeography and Computer Mapping at Memorial University in St Johns, Newfoundland. In the Summer, we conducted field research on the west coast in Gros Morne National Park. This was complemented by ten-day back-packing trips into the Long Range mountains for Black Feather outfittersSs.

Heather and I returned to the west coast of Newfoundland these past two weeks to see what had changed in the landscape and to ourselves.

We took Highway 430, the Viking Trail, from Deer Lake to St. Anthony. We camped and hiked Gros Morne Mountain and Green Gardens. We drove from Rocky Harbour to St. Anthony on a paved road. Forty years ago it was a dirt road from the Northern boundary of the National Park. This had proved a major deterrent in the past.

Nfld_1bWe had many personal realizations. While we had studied the plants in the National Park, visiting the serpentine Tablelands and the barrens on the top of Gros Morne, we had not gone North of the park. Over the last forty years, scientists have rediscovered the geology and biology of the Great Northern peninsula, in particular the uniqueness of the limestone barrens.

As you travel North from the Port aux Basques ferry you can obtain regional maps : southwest coast, Humber Valley, Gros Morne and the Great Northern peninsula. Each regional map identifies things to do and see. For the Great Northern peninsula, categories include hiking trails, parks and ecological reserves, cultural experiences, heritage and museums, attractions, tours and adventures.

A second realization was the engagement of the fishing communities with the scientific community, plus government and academic institutions. We were able to pick up a copy of Burzynski, et al., Exploring the limestone barrens of Newfoundland and Labrador. This book was published by the Gros Morne Co-operative Association. It gave us the story and the location of the different ecological reserves. We stopped at Burnt Cape, White Rocks, Port au Choix. At Sandy Cove, we noted the sign ‘Home of Long’s Braya’, a species first identified by Fernald.

Aside from hiking and botanizing, there was also the human story. The Viking Trail leads to L’Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered the site in the sixties. The Viking Trail  takes you to St Anthony, where you connect to the life and work of Wilfred Grenfell. The Grenfell Mission improved the lives of the fishing communities in Southern Labrador and along the Northern Peninsula. At St Lunaire-Griquet, we visited the Dark Tickle Company. They produce a wide range of jams, sauces, drinks and relishes from wild berries.They belong to the Economusee network, promoting local products.

We returned slowly to the Annapolis Valley, stopping in Cape Breton Highlands National Park for more hiking and botanizing.This allowed us to reflect on the different approaches to rural development, as well as the similarities, between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

On our return, a copy of Nick Mount’s book Arrival. The Story of CanLit. was waiting for me at the Lawrencetown library. It describes the changes in the Canadian literary scene, starting in the late sixties (1967 Expo in Montreal). Of note, the copy was donated by his Mother who lives in Deep Brook, NS. ( see earlier blog).

I have the same sense of ‘Arrival’ after revisiting the landscapes and people of Western Newfoundland. We returned to hiking, Botany and Geography. We used regional maps which engage the local communities, share their unique ecology, cultural history and local economy; all done in typical Newfoundland style and flair.


Nick Mount. 2017. Arrival. The Story of Can Lit. House of Anansi Press, Toronto.

Michael Burzynski, Henry Mann and Anne Marceau. 2016. Exploring the Limestone Barrens of Newfoundland and Labrador. Gros Morne Co-operating Association.

Artisans at Work. Economusee magazine. Summer 2017.

Patricia O’Brien. 1992. The Grenfell Obsession. An Anthology. Creative Publisher, St Johns.

Ronald Rompkey. 2009. Grenfell of Labrador. A Biography. McGill -Queens University Press.

For the regional maps of Western Newfoundland, check


Posted in biographical sketch

The Uncluttered Mind

This last two weeks it has been difficult to focus on writing. There has been so much clutter.

confused-mindFirst, there was the news that the tenant was moving from Andrew’s farm house across the road. This meant screening a number of possible new tenants. Meanwhile, there was a significant number of ‘to do’ tasks while Heather was away. They included chain sawing several cords of firewood, painting outbuildings, and getting organized for this year’s apple harvest in the orchard. Apple picking demands moving full apple bins with the fork lift on the tractor. Ah yes, this requires fixing the ‘soft’ tire on the tractor.

Many of these tasks do allow quiet reflection. Others offer snapshots into life in a rural community. This week, I have scheduled meetings to discuss regional economic development, as well as ideas about hosting the Canadian Cartographic Association conference at COGS in May 2018.

Later in September, there are a number of local festivals: the garlic festival at Avonport and the Ciderfest in Bridgetown. Locally on Hwy #201, there is an open house for woodlot owners on South Mountain. The Municipality of Annapolis is hosting a town hall meeting in Bridgetown. Perhaps, this will provide the opportunity to learn about the planned Internet services for the region. Another opportunity to hear about the vision for the County is the Thinkers Retreat in Pugwash, co-hosted by the Centre for Local Prosperity, Warden Timothy Habinski and Councillor Gregory Heming are two of the invited Thinkers.

The concept of uncluttering the mind comes from my conversations with my wife, Heather Stewart. She has just returned from a week long meditation retreat at Dorje Demna Ling, outside of Tatamagouche. It also refers back to an earlier blog on Task-oriented thinking and Retirement. Without the clutter we can find creative solutions to community development. With the clutter, we are aware of our surrounding environment, the needs of citizens, and the availability of different services in the region. Truly, it is not an either/or situation.


Dorje Demna Ling. Check web site

Thinkers Retreat. Check Centre for Local Prosperity web site

Task-oriented Thinking and Retirement . Check Dated July 25, 2017


Posted in biographical sketch

Task-orientated thinking and Retirement

In the traditional work environment there is a certain routine or schedule. Each day there are tasks that need to be completed and deadlines that must be met. In the post-working environment (retirement), deadlines and tasks are more self-imposed. There are self-defined tasks related to the family, the community and to yourself. The timing of these tasks, their priority are up to the individual. The task-mix is determined arbitrarily. Therefore, at any point in time or on a particular day, you choose which mix seems feasible and which suits your mood.

In retirement, the priorities can be affected by your sense of self, your sense of family commitments or your engagement in the community. Ideally, you attempt to create a balance: your well-being in relation to the well-being of others around you.

What happens when the number of tasks becomes overwhelming, or to put it differently, if everything in life becomes a task?
In retirement life there is the potential for inundation through tasks or to reach a standstill, unable to prioritize the numerous tasks. In the working world there was a limit; you could expect or be expected to complete a finite number of tasks in a day or a fixed period. In the retirement world, the limit is your mental and physical energy.

How do you get away from the ‘task-oriented’ thinking of the working life to a more ‘open-ended’ reactive, observational thinking in retirement — more meditational?

The solution is not to see life as a series of tasks but to see life as a flow of energy. We observe the living environment. We interact with it in a spontaneous way. We experiment with different ideas and relationships. We do activities but we  don’t segment life into a finite number of tasks which must be completed in a specific order or time frame. We do not know the time available. We may not even understand the sequence of events or actions. Of course, as in all life, there are always constraints: money, time, physical and mental health, or the surrounding culture.

Edward Wedler has contributed his graphic skills and note below.

NOTE from Edward Wedler:
Based on your post, Bob, I explored YouTube and came across this Tony Schwartz TEDx talk on managing our energy, not time, by “embracing opposites“.

Posted in biographical sketch

Two kinds of thinking

This morning in response to a set of questions from Jon Murphy at GoGeomatics in Ottawa, I found myself answering the question : Who gets to call themselves a Geographer ? This caused me to reflect on my fifty or so year career associated with a specific academic discipline (to be added  link).

thinkingTractorAfterwards, I was driving my son’s tractor to bush hog the lower field on his property. Last week, I had discovered that the PTO (power take off )  was not driving the mowing unit. Over $1400 later, I had an operational unit. This was the test.

This led to the following realization. There are two types of thinking. The academic, focused on abstract ideas, and the practical, focused on understanding the mechanics of a tractor and its related parts.

It is a scary proposition, upon retirement, to make the transition from one to the other. Although I am sure for many people it is possible to switch back and forth between the two modes. Not so, in my case.

I can easily imagine situations where an individual has gotten used to one set of thinking practices and suddenly, they are expected to apply a different set. The stereotype is the ‘gentleman farmer’. Of course, it is exhilarating to take the risk, and even better the satisfaction of completing the task at hand.

I have this image. Across the Valley, there is a cadre of professionals who have retired to get their hands dirty but they are challenged by the demands of the two kinds of thinking. Just as in the academic world you depend on access to functional technology, the same is true in the farming world. It is critical that the tools are well-maintained and can be considered your ‘best friend’ to complete the task.

What happens if you are unable to move seamlessly back and forth between the two kinds of thinking. One answer is to find a mentor. Another is to go back to trade school.

Posted in biographical sketch

A day in rural Nova Scotia

blogPost_27Mar17_1Yesterday, the ‘Learn to Run’ club met in Bridgetown at 10 am. They meet three times per week. The program  goes from January to April each year. Afterwards, we went to Endless Shores Books. We were looking for second-hand children books to take to grandchildren in Iqaluit next week. We found a great selection. I also found a number of local, new books, including Geoff Butler ‘Our own Little World’. Geoff is from Granville Ferry. His books are a combination of paintings and poetry, with a sense of humour.

Home for lunch. Given the recent snow storm on Wednesday night, there was still good snow in the woods. Time to put on cross-country skis and go down through the property to the Annapolis River. On the way back up, via the old plantations at the defunct Lawrencetown nursery, there was ample opportunity to check the tracks of coyote, deer, squirrel and other mice and voles.

We stopped briefly at the orchard. The apple prunings remain encrusted in ice and snow. It will be at least another week, before burning can take place.

blogPost_27Mar17_2On Saturday evening, CARP hosted a movie night at the Paradise Community Hall on ‘Forest Schools’.It was a good turn out. We had the chance to watch documentary on experiential environmental education in Switzerland and to hear about a similar new initiative underway in the Greenwood area.


Endless Shores Books publishes a free weekly paper for communities and people in Annapolis County. It is available at the web site or you can receive it online, contact

Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) have a web site or you can email Their mission is to  ‘enhance the ecological health of the Annapolis River watershed through science, leadership and community engagement’.

Posted in biographical sketch

We are all Geographers

Everyone lives somewhere at some time. In a lifetime, some of us may stay in one place or culture, others may move and change places or cultures for family, work or political, reasons.

bobmaher_19jan17 If we want to change our attitude towards the earth, it’s resources and our place on its surface, we must become more informed about our ‘geography’; not simply latitude and longitude, but rather ourselves and the processes that affect our behaviour. Geography, in an holistic sense, is physical, biological, economic and social. It is spatial and temporal: neighbourhoods, regions, countries and global; hours, days, years, decades, centuries, lifetimes and beyond.

What matters is that we creatively communicate and understand our geography through our spoken language, our writing, art, music, and technology. This means ‘geography education’.

This blog is for anyone who has an interest in geography education. This could include teachers, researchers, citizen-explorers of our environment and creative communicators. The blog is for action-oriented people who are undertaking projects and creatively communicating their geography.

Locally, I want readers seeking better relationship with the land and sea and the local economy. Provincially and nationally, I’m looking to policy- makers affecting economic and natural processes, whether rural or urban. Globally, I want readers to share experiences of alternative approaches in expressing their geography.

I have been concerned about our loss of geography education in our schools and about appropriate use of technology. Today, my interests include extreme citizen science, “making is connecting”, geography experiments in writing, visual imaging and maps, the Sand County Almanac and a land ethic.

In closing, expect some future blog posts to throw out challenges and discussion points to my readers — such as “A Yidan Education Workshop” and opening up “institutional Geography”.

Join me in this exploration of maker-geography and connecting the dots.

— Bob Maher