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 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 Book Review

Commons, community and communications

A couple of years ago, I first read Heather Menzies Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good. It is a combination of memoir and manifesto. In the ‘dog days of Summer’ it was time to re-read it.

Menzies states ‘ To reclaim the commons as a model for how to organize and govern society, then, we must assert the legitimacy of knowledge and ways of knowing that help define that model’ p.98

Before defining her manifesto, she identifies a set of capacity building activities:

  • Healing and Connecting with Our Selves
  • Healing, Habitats and Reconnecting with  Nature
  • Ecoliteracy and Knowing through Implicated Participation
  • Commoning Knowledge and Knowledge Commons
  • Commons Organizing and the Common Good
  • A Spirit Dialogue, Reconnecting with Creation.

Picking up the Menzies book, came about after finishing the book by Chris Benjamin Eco-innovators: Sustainability in Atlantic Canada. Benjamin interviewed a number of innovators. One of them was Alan Warner at Acadia University. He teaches in the Department of Community Development. Warner offers a number of noteworthy comments.

“Creating healthy, happy, caring humans was as simple as designing better communities, one where people work and play together, take care of each other, and take care of their environment”. p.184.

” In the trickle up model, individuals collaborate as organizations and communities to influence their municipalities which work together as municipal associations, which influence provinces, which eventually influence nations” p.187.

” We’re pretty good at community in this part of the world. We’re backward compared to modernity. That ‘backwardness’, that old fashioned sense of interdependence, connectedness, and community, is hopeful.” p.189.

The third ‘comm-‘ word is communications. One of the pleasures of rural living is access to local newspapers, in both printed and electronic format. Only this week, did I realize (by mistake) that we have the Annapolis Valley Register  serving Annapolis and Kings County and the Valley Journal Advertiser serving Hants and Kings County. Plus, there is The Reader, published by the Endless Shores Books in Bridgetown, serving the communities and people of Annapolis County. Thanks to Larry and Lewis. Such richness !


Chris Benjamin. 2011. Eco-Innovators. Sustainability in Atlantic Canada. Nimbus Publishing.

Heather Menzies.2014. Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good.New Society Publishers.


Posted in Book Review

Anne of Tim Hortons

At the Ernest Buckler event in June, Alex MacLeod made reference to the work of Herb Wyile, who was a Professor at Acadia University. Wyile had organized with Jeanette Lynes a conference in 2004 ‘Surf’s Up ! The Rising Tide of Atlantic-Canadian Literature’. This book is the result. From Wyile:


“As suggested by the title of the book “Anne of Tim Hortons: Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic Canadian literature, a young girl in Eastern Canada is less likely to be found in a quaint, gabled farmhouse than in an internationally successful chain doughnut store that is a ubiquitous presence through the region and indeed serves, in so many towns and villages, as the de facto community centre.”

And further, “Rather than a haven from the consumerizing corporations and global competition that characterizes our current milieu, Atlantic Canada has  been palpably affected by these very trends, as recent writing in the region has underscored”.p.1

In his Introduction, Wyile provides the context with sections on Atlantic Canada: the making of a region; Neoliberalism, Globalization and Restructuring; Atlantic-Canada literature and the Paradigm of Folk. As someone interested in the stories that we tell about ourselves, it is challenging to see the reviews from this neoliberal critical perspective. There is a strong underlying appreciation of both ‘geography’ and our ‘sense of place’. Hence my interest.

What is neoliberalism ? From Thom Workman “neoliberalism has become the everyday wisdom that guides most discussions about public policy across the country. Its alluring language of efficiency, responsible state spending, flexibility and free markets have been absorbed effortlessly into the intellectual horizons of politicians, academics, bureaucrats and, indeed, even many on the left.” (2003)

The book is divided into three sections. Each section reviews the work of different Atlantic Canada writers.

Section 1: I’se the B’y that leaves the boats: the changing world of work.

The Fisheries.

  • Donna Morrissey.    Everybody Knew.
  • Bernice Morgan.     Waiting for Time.
  • Kenneth Harvey,     The Town that forgot how to Breathe.

Mining and Offshore Oil

  • Alistair MacLeod.   No Great Mischief.
  • Leo McKay Jr. Twenty Six.
  • Lisa Moore.     February.

Service Sector

  • Sheree Fitch.  Civil Servant
  • Wendy Lill.     Corker
  • Edward Riche. The Nine Planets

Section 2: About as far from Disneyland as you can possibly get. The Reshaping of Culture.  Under the heading of a simpler and more colourful way of life, there are reviews of the writing of indigenous, black and women writers including Rita Joe, George Elliott Clarke, Lynn Coady, Sheree Fitch, MT Dohaney and Wendy Lill.

Under the heading ‘Rebuffing the Gaze. the growing role of tourism in an economically vulnerable region, there are reviews of the works.

  • Lynn Coady.   Strange Heaven
  • Charlie Rhindress. The Maritime Way of Life
  • Edward Riche. Rare Birds
  • Frank Barry. Wreckhouse.

Finally, Section 3 The Age of Sale: History, Globalization and Commodification is mainly reviews of the books by Newfoundland writers

  • Wayne Johnston. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  • Michael Crummy. River Thieves
  • Bernice Morgan. Random Passage.
  • Michael Winter. The Big Why

Plus  A Place that didn’t count any more: the Maritimes.

A review of Harry Thurston’s ‘A Ship Portrait’ and George Elliott Clarke’s ‘George and Rue’ and the ‘Execution Poems’.

In his conclusion, Wyile brings it together.

“One of the key achievements of recent Atlantic-Canadian literature is its demonstration that the region is a place that continues to matter, but not just to those who, one way or another, belong to it. It also matters in a broader sense because its perilous fortunes put to the test, in a neoliberal climate in which traditional loyalties to place are being vigorously and strategically eroded, our willingness to resist the redefinition of place in such limited – and largely financial –  terms.” p.247.

As you can tell this is a densely packed, and intellectually demanding book. For the reader, I have tried to identify the writers and the book reviews. The interesting aspect for me is the inclusion of ‘geography’ in the analysis. This begins with work of Edward Soja and David Harvey on neoliberalism, and ends with Ian McKay on the Folk paradigm and Jim Overton  on Tourism.

It is a complicated story. We still see exploitation of our natural resources: fisheries, forestry, mining. We see the continued focus on tourism. There are alternatives to the neoliberal climate: other approaches  to agriculture, forestry, tourism.

What is the impact of the changing technologies? What is the importance of community ?

This weekend, there will be the tenth Thomas Randall symposium, celebrating Dr. Herb Wyile 1961-2016, at Acadia University, Thoughts from the Eastern Edge.

Thanks to Edward Wedler. He is always willing to create a relevant graphic composition.


Ian McKay. 1994. The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia. Montreal: McGill Queens University Press.

James Overton. 1996. Making a World of Difference: Essays on TourismCulture and Development in Newfoundland. St Johns: ISER.

T. Workman. 2003. Social Torment; Globalization in Atlantic Canada. Halifax; Fernwood.

H. Wyile. 2011. Anne of Tim Hortons. Globalization and the Reshaping of Atlantic-Canadian Literature. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.




Posted in Book Review

A Sense of Time, and Place

Last month, this book review was published in the Nova Scotian, December 19th edition of the Chronicle Herald under the title ‘Sustaining on traditional valley values.

“Paul Colville and his wife, Ruth, immigrated to Nova Scotia in the early ’70s. They farmed the land on Delusion Road and over the years developed ColdSpring Farm – a certified organic vegetable/free range poultry operation. They were year-round vendors at the Halifax Farmers market for over twenty years.”

Paul and Ruth have lived on North Mountain overlooking the Bay of Fundy, and above the town of Middleton fir more than 40 years. Over that period, as he farmed the land and fixed up the buildings, Paul wondered about the original owners of the property.

The View from Delusion Road is a work of fictional non-fiction. It describes a real place and real events from a hundred and fifty years ago. Paul has recreated the dialogue between the settlers, Joseph and Jane Bent.

“Not me, I want to be independent, I want to be on the land. My land. I want to build a farm and provide for myself and my family.

I don’t mind working at a forge or picking apples or whatever it takes to earn hard money. My father used to say ‘when you hear opportunity knock, be ready with hard money to unlock the door'”
(That sounds like Paul’s credo).

The events described in the book cover the decade 1860-70. Events include the 1864 election, the birth of the Windsor-Annapolis Royal railway, the Confederation of Canada and the Saxby Gale. Paul’s research under the mentorship of historian Barry Moody covers these events and their impact on Joseph and Jane Bent. Paul also benefited from conversations with Linda Bent, who has maintained the family history of the Bent and Mosher families.

His Settlers story is enhanced by the foreword from Barry Moody and the Afterword from Linda Bent.

This creative work of fiction shows that each of us occupies a ‘place in space’. To use a term from author and poet Gary Snyder (A Place in Space. Ethics, Aesthetics and Watersheds. New and Selected Prose). It also illustrates ‘a Place in Time’

The View from Delusion Road uncovers the story behind Delusion Road, the term Bluenosers, plus details about the different settler groups – the Baptists, the Irish Catholics.

We can step forward in time and ask questions today about the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970’s, or the Buddhists in Nova Scotia.

Paul has made a contribution to our understanding of the local history and geography. He also offers an approach that marries fiction and non-fiction. As a Geographer, I wanted to see a map of Port George, Moshers Corner and beyond. But later, I realized that a modern map would not be as effective as Paul’s story map.

The next challenge for Paul is to write the recent history with his own View from Delusion Road. Certainly, I can recall living in Clarence when Paul was the local chimney sweep. Our conversations often turned to the Survey school in Lawrencetown and its potential impact on the local communities and their residents. But that is another story…..

Last week, Larry Powell wrote an excellent review of Paul’s book for the Annapolis County Spectator HERE.

Posted in Book Review

Citizen Scientist…………

(Edward Wedler was a Remote Sensing instructor at COGS. In the late ’80s, Edward and his wife, Anne decided to run an independent bookstore in the Greenwood Mall ‘The Inside Story’ A couple of weeks ago, I visited the store and purchased two books:

Mary Ellen Hannibal. 2016. “Citizen Scientist. Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction.” The Experiment LLC, New York.

Matthew B. Crawford. 2015. “The World beyond your Head. On becoming an individual in an Age of Distraction.” Penguin Books.

Thank you, Anne and Edward, for creating an accessible resource of current and local literature. They have now retired, and have sold the business.
Of course, there is still the wonderful Annapolis Regional library.

The book by Hannibal is the easier read. It describes the role that citizen scientists are playing around the world, but especially in the Western United States. Interestingly, for me, it retells the story of the relationship between Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell. ( I wrote a blog for GoGeomatics based on the book by Eric Enno Tamm 2004. “Beyond the Outer Shores: the untold Odyssey of Ed Ricketts”, the Pioneering Ecologist who inspired John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell).

The other lesson was the back cover reference to the work of Muki Haklay. He praised the book from the perspective of Professor of Geographical Information Science and co-Director of the Extreme Citizen Science Group at University College London.

My understanding of ‘extreme citizen science’ is somewhat like ‘extreme sports’ or ‘extreme Plein Air art’. In this case, ‘extreme’ indicates that the questions are posed by the citizens, rather than the ‘scientists’ identifying the issues and the citizens providing volunteer data collection services.

Elsewhere, Hannibal (page 330) states:”I think ‘citizen scientist’ is a compliment Ricketts would gladly accept. Scientist in general refers to a man or woman alone, and citizen is communal – not only as one member among many in place and time, but across those boundaries as well”.

Connecting the dots (thanks to Edward) we are led to Muki Haklay’s blog site: Po Ve Sham means ‘Here and There’ in Hebrew. If you are a GIScientist, go to his entry on 30/09/16 “Has GIScience lost it’s interdisciplinary mojo?”

My conclusion from Hannibal’s book and Haklay’s blog is that we should not be trapped by our language. We are citizens in the sense that we belong to a nested community of interests, defined by space (Geography) and time (History). Along the way, for our own purposes we acquire observational skills, technology skills and communication skills.

Am I a ‘citizen Geographer ?’ Is Paul Colville a ‘citizen Historian ?’
Does it matter ? No.

This takes me to Matthew Crawford’s book. This is a much more challenging
read. It is part philosophy and part ‘an ode to craftsmanship’. There is also his first book “Shop Class as Soulcraft”. In the second book, there is a philosophical discussion on ‘how we learn’, with our bodies as well as our mind. While I have not yet finished the book, I am motivated by the sub-title: “on becoming an individual in an age of distraction”.

Certainly, I feel the pressure of the current ‘age of distraction’. How to mediate the information flows from FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn or access to podcasts at any time. Is it easier to manage in a rural setting ? Which dots do we connect ?

The other day, I was in a store and noticed that you can buy books that allow you to ‘connect the dots’. With a pencil you can follow the numbers and hence create an image: of the city of London or the Statue of Liberty. In these cases, you are following a predefined path. What if there is no path or there are no numbers ?