Posted in Book Review, Opinion

Blue Water and Gold Brandy

After we returned home from the West Coast in late Summer, we noticed that the water in our bathtub had a blue tinge to it. Upon further investigation, we learned that the water treatment system for arsenic and uranium had the side effect of creating water with a low ph (ie. acidic). The combination of acidic water with copper piping resulted in copper sulphate deposition. Fortunately, we have never used our well water for drinking or cooking.map_arsenicNS

This combination of events triggered memories of Health Geomatics Research with Dr Judy Guernsey at Dalhousie University. At that time (early 2000’s) we recommended the mapping of incidents of different cancer that could be potentially attributed to water quality. Then, it proved impossible to obtain statistics.

Moving to 2020, with the shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas, it may be time to re-visit the question of human health and especially its relationship to water quality in arsenic/ uranium prone bedrock parts of the province.

This week, I have been trying to catch up with re-reading the Heather Menzies book.bookCover_reclaimingTheCommons After attending the Climate Action Summit, my recommendation would be for both citizen groups and politicians to do some reading.

“The commons model offers a hopeful third choice: re-enfranchising people as responsible co-participants in the governance of the larger habitats that sustain them, including their individual lives.” p.184.

“ It’s about placemaking as I said, quoting Nicholas Blomley earlier: claiming our place as part of the picture from the local to the global. p.184.

“It involves people taking up the power of agency that is latent in every situation requiring change and becoming implicated participants in changing the status quo”. p.184.

Nicholas Blomley is Professor, Geography at Simon Fraser University.

hunterBrandyYesterday, we went over to Lunenburg and picked up six bottles from the first shipment of Hunter Brandy by Ironworks Distillery. If you go online to their website, you can read a brief backstory to the product. It has been three years in the making.


Steve at R & S Clear Water Specialists, Kentville for the blue water diagnosis. Pierre and Lynne at Ironworks Distillery, Lunenburg. Edward for his graphics contribution.


Heather Menzies. 2014. Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good. New Society Publishers.
Nicholas Blomley. 1994. Law, Space and the Geographies of Power. Guilford Press.

Posted in Book Review

My Bookcase

kilnQuick Note

Last week, I was asked to list my top ten books on the Geography of Canada. The results appear in a blog for GoGeomatics. You can link to this site from here. (see entry for November 13 on the right-hand side).

Meanwhile, I am expecting Alex Cole, Little Foot Yurts here tomorrow.
He has been coppicing the red maple for yurt poles, and he plans to reignite his charcoal kiln over the next two days.


Jon Murphy for his continued interest in things ‘geographic’. Alex Cole for his pursuit of traditional woodland skills. Instagram: @littlefootyurts
Edward inserted the image for me.

Posted in Book Review, Event Review

Tantramar Marshes

This week, Heather and her Dad had an appointment at the Cumberland County Genealogy Centre in Amherst. They wanted to research the history of the Stewart and Ross families in the region. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to check out the bookstores in Sackville and Amherst.

bookCover_cultureAndAgricultureAt the Tidewater Books and Browsery, I found a small book by Graeme Wynn. Graeme is Professor, Geography at UBC. The book, Culture and Agriculture on the Tantramar Marshes is based on his M.A thesis at the University of Toronto. It describes the utilization of the Chignecto Marshlands between 1750-1800, the Acadian settlement, the Planters and the Yorkshire and Loyalist influxes.

Wynn is also the co-editor, with Colin Coates, of The Nature of Canada. This is a recent publication, which I picked up on my travels to BC this Summer.

Returning to Amherst, I stopped at Dayle’s Grand Market.bookCover_seasVoice I had noticed on a previous visit that they had a good selection of books by Harry Thurston, who lives at Tidnish Bridge. This time, I purchased Animals of my own kind: new and selected poems and The Sea’s Voice: An Anthology of Atlantic Canadian Nature Writing. Two poems caught my eye. Chimney Swifts and Geography: on first discovering Elizabeth Bishop in a used bookstore in Manhattan. Heather had been part of the CARP chimney swift monitoring program in Bridgetown this Summer.
The Geography poem is dedicated to Sandra Barry, friend and writer living in Middleton.

The anthology includes excerpts from Joshua Slocum, Harold Horwood, Peter Sanger, David Adams Richards and Harry Thurston.

On our way home, we stopped for a late lunch at the Masstown Market. What an amazing example of entrepreneurship!

bookCover_artOfLoadingBrushOne last literary reference. Last Summer in Langley, BC I was reading Wendell Berry’s The Art of Loading Brush. It was a library book and I did not get to finish it. Last week, it arrived in Lawrencetown through inter-Library loan. As we were travelling to Amherst and New Glasgow, I was able to read Berry’s new agrarian writings. It is a combination of essays, stories and poetry. In the ‘stories’ section, I read ‘The Order of Loving Care’. It starts as follows.

“By now many of Andy Catlett’s mentors and old schoolmates among the writers, in Kentucky and elsewhere, have left the visible world to take their places only in the convocation of his mind. With that company of friends, while it lasted, he carried on a many-branched conversation that he had grown into and so had grown up in his trade.” p.179.

Check out the story: page 179-216.


Heather and John Stewart for their company on the road trip. The independent bookseller, Tidewater Books (see their bookmark below).

‘We employ local independent thinkers, artists, writers, musicians all with their unique point of view. Money spent at our store goes to support these important members of our community’.

Edward for his graphics contribution. Edward and Anne Wedler were previously owners of the independent bookstore, The Inside Story in Greenwood.


Graeme Wynn. 2012. Culture and Agriculture on the Tantramar Marshes. Tantramar Heritage Trust.
Colin Coates and Graeme Wynn (Ed) 2019.The Nature Of Canada. OnPoint Press.
Harry Thurston. 2009. Animals of my own kind. Signal Edition.
Harry Thurston (Ed) 2005. The Sea’s Voice: An Anthology of Atlantic Canadian Nature Writing. Nimbus Press.
Wendell Berry. 2017. The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings. Counterpoint Press.

Posted in Article Review, Book Review

Somewhere/ Anywhere

This weekend, we spent Thanksgiving in New Glasgow. While there, I had the chance to browse a book by Tim Marshall, The Age of Walls.brexitWalls This is his third book in the Politics of Place series. It includes chapters on walls in China, the United States, Israel and Palestine, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Africa, Europe and the United Kingdom. Of particular interest was the chapter on the UK and its relationship to the Brexit vote. Looking at the map of voters who want to stay in the European Union and those who want to leave. Scotland, Northern Ireland, some of the cities in England want to stay whereas ‘rural’ England want to leave the EU.

bookCover_roadToSomewhereMarshall quotes from the book by David Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere. According to Goodhart, there are ‘people who see the world from anywhere’ and ‘ people who see the world from somewhere’. It seems that it is that part of the population who see the world from somewhere who want to leave the EU.

Another Marshall quotation is taken from George Orwell’s essay The Lion and the Unicorn, written in the early ’40s.

“England is perhaps the only great country where the intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality”.

Given the absence of Conservative and Liberal candidates at our local climate change debate last week, it was fortuitous that the Saturday, Chronicle Herald had a full page on the candidates from West Nova: Chris d’Entremont (Conservative), Jason Deveau (Liberal), Matthew Dubois (NDP) and Judy Green (Green).

For West Nova, the ‘somewhere’ in this case, the bottom line expressed by the candidates.
Conservative: resource industries and rural jobs
Liberal: health care, international trade in lobster
NDP: climate change
Green: poverty

Note. Gloria Cook, Veterans Coalition did not provide a profile.

Let me try to ‘join the dots’. If in Marshall’s words, we are ‘prisoners of Geography’. What can we say about West Nova in terms of the impact of place? Do we agree with our federal candidates? In Nova Scotia rural communities what is the balance between somewhere and anywhere? Are we talking about nested scales of geographic viewpoint?


John Stewart for access to his library book The Age of Walls.John DeMont for his column ‘NDPer running without much hope’ in Chronicle Herald, Saturday, October 12th. p. A13. Edward for adding the graphics.


Tim Marshall. 2018. The Age of Walls: How barriers between nations are changing the world. Scribner.
Chronicle Herald. Saturday, October 12, 2019. page A13.

Posted in Book Review, Opinion


I have been in contact with Willy Hunter about his family memories of Paradise and the Born Again Barn. This relates to Raymond Hunter’s biography. The first two volumes take us up to 1968 when Raymond and Rona emigrated to Clarence, Nova Scotia.

bookCover_fantasylandMy interest was the relationship between the different religious and education movements in rural Nova Scotia. Willy brought to my attention the book Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen which describes the different movements in the United States over the last five hundred years.

“America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by impresarios and their audiences, by hucksters and their suckers. Believe-whatever-you-want fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.”

“In Fantasyland, Andersen brilliantly connects the dots that define this condition, portrays its scale and scope, and offers a fresh, bracing explanation of how our American journey has deposited us here.”

Relevant to my own lifestyle, was the era of the ‘hippies’ and the ‘back to the land‘ movement.

bookCover_crystalSpiritThis week, there has been very little time or energy for reading. Picking apples in the orchard consumes both time and energy. I have fallen behind on my reading of George Woodcock’s story of George Orwell, The Crystal Spirit. Indeed, Orwell’s life in mid-twentieth century seems far removed and romanticized from the current state of world affairs.

In terms of ‘fantasy’ land, we need to understand how to change our use of the landscape. What can we do to improve the quality of the soil, under changing climate conditions? What crops should we grow? What does it mean to grow apples for brandy, hops for beer, cannabis for recreation? What are the real food alternatives under these changing conditions?

At the community level, we do not need to seek evangelical solutions but a rather inclusive town hall-style gathering where we solicit input from a wide range of citizens. This is a different style of democratic process than we see being played out in the current election.

Meanwhile, we still have a few more apple bins to fill this week. It is so refreshing to be high in the tops of the tree and see the size and quality of the fruit, with so little evidence of insect damage. Reminding us, once again, of the horticultural efforts by Raymond Hunter at Super Organic Produce in this part of Annapolis County. That is not a ‘fantasy’.


Willy Hunter for his book recommendation. To Jaki at the Lawrencetown library for tracking down various books. Heather for putting her shoulder to the apple harvest. Edward for his graphic contribution.


Kurt Andersen. 2017. Fantasyland: How America went Haywire, a 500-year history. Random House.
George Woodcock. 1966. The Crystal Spirit: A study of George Orwell. Little Brown (download PDF).

Posted in Book Review

Wandering Home

Last week, at Shelf Life Used Books in Kentville, I picked up Wandering HomebookCover_wanderingHome by Bill McKibben. It is subtitled ‘a long walk across America’s most hopeful landscape. McKibben walked from Vermont to the Adirondacks in New York State, often accompanied by friends or colleagues. The book was originally published in 2005, as part of a series of small books about ‘writers taking walks’. In his afterword (2014) he describes the impact of Hurricane Irene in 2011.

“But the psychological effects linger: each season of weird weather makes it harder to maintain the idea that our local progress will be enough to forestall the press of global decline.”

McKibben is the founder of the environmental organization and was among the first to warn of the dangers of global warming. Other books include The End of Nature, Oil and Honey, Eaarth, and Deep Economy.

His efforts remind me of our effort to walk ‘The Road to Georgetown’. As we hear about changes to the Nova Scotia landscape through forest cutting, one approach is to walk, cycle or paddle through the interior of Nova Scotia, recording our observations along the way … ‘Wandering Home’ in the footsteps of McKibben.

maher_apple_1Meanwhile, at home, we are busy picking up the apple drops in the orchard. We wait for the apples to grow larger on the trees. We also wait for the first batch of Hunter’s brandy at Ironworks Distillery. Interspersed, with walking Patrick’s retired Inuit sled dogs: Uqaliq (rabbit) and Siqsiq (ground squirrel).

This weekend, we are off to New Glasgow for Grandad John’s ninetieth birthday party.
Next week, it is time to check out Extinction Rebellion, Annapolis County.


Heather Stewart, Edward Wedler and Bodhi who shared the Road to Georgetown.


Bill McKibben (2014) Wandering Home. St. Martin’s Griffin. New York.

Posted in Book Review

Lessons from Haida Gwaii: part three.

On the ferry between Vancouver and Nanaimo, I noted The Nature of Canada in the gift shop.bookCover_NatureOfCanada Subsequently, I picked up a copy at Munro’s Books in Victoria. It was categorized as a “Read Local BC Selection”; edited by Colin Coates and Graeme Wynn, published by UBC Press. Both Coates and Wynn are environmental historians.

The book included sixteen essays. Five authored or co-authored by Wynn, and one authored by Coates.

From Wynn:
Nature and Nation
Painting the Map Red
Eldorado North? (with Stephen Hornsby)
Nature we cannot see
Advocates and Activists (with Jennifer Bonnell)

From Coates:
Back to the Land

The book was purchased before my visit to Haida Gwaii; and only back in Nova Scotia did I have the time to reflect on its content.

What surprised me in this third reading was the distinction of Lessons from Haida Gwaii. Weiss, in Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii, talks at length about care for the land. Davidson and Davidson, in Potlatch as Pedagogy, describe a very different relationship to the land.

Coates comments:

‘The hippies’ back-to-Nature dreams involved a certain degree of self-sufficiency which usually entailed small scale farming. In ways that they might not have appreciated – though many may have read Thoreau’s Walden (1854) for inspiration – agrarian independence had been a long-standing dream of many migrants to North America from the seventeenth century on.’

The one essay that did capture the indigenous perspective was Julie Cruikshank ‘Listening to Different Stories’.

“A story is different. It does not expand itself. It preserves and concentrates its energy and is capable of releasing it after a long time’ — quote from philosopher Walter Benjamin. The enchantment that pervades a universe inhabited by a community of beings in constant communication and exchange offers a hopeful (and possibly necessary) vision. It deserves more space in our modern world” p.97.

Or returning to Potlatch as Pedagogy:

“They lived the culture and it was common knowledge in my (Tsinii’s) time period. Like they knew the land, they knew the water, they knew the weather. I remember when Dad was looking at a tree, Tsinii said ‘There’s a tree at this….” and he would name the spot at Naden Harbour and describe the location. So they had a visual map of where the different trees were because their life relied on it. Being a canoe maker,(Tsinii) would know where the trees are. He would have a mental map.”


Heather, my travelling companion. Edward for his graphics contribution.


Colin Coates and Graeme Wynn. (eds.) 2019. The Nature of Canada. UBC Press.
Joseph Weiss. 2018. Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life beyond Settler Colonialism. UBC Press.
Sara Davidson and Robert Davidson. 2018. Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning through Ceremony. Portage and Main Press.

Posted in Book Review

Lessons from Haida Gwaii: part two

At the Book Stop in Sitka Studio, Tlell, I picked up a copy of Potlatch as Pedagogy, co-authored by Sara and Robert Davidson. Robert is a Haida artist and his daughter Sara is an Indigenous educator. They have produced a remarkable collaboration.bookCover_potlachPedagogy

“ This story is being shared to support us, as educators, to continue to move forward in honour of my father’s belief that the sharing of knowledge helps us grow.” p.6

“The Haida word for “teach” is sk’ad’ada and the base of the word “teach” is sk’ad’a which means “learn”. The connection between these two words reflects my own understanding of teaching – that it is impossible to teach without learning.” p.13.

There are nine sk’ad’a principles that teach us from where learning emerges, how learning occurs, and what learning honours.


1) Learning emerges from Strong Relationships
2) Learning emerges from Authentic Experience.
3) Learning emerges from Curiosity.
4) Learning occurs through Observations.
5) Learning occurs through Contribution.
6) Learning occurs Recognizing and Encouraging Strengths.
7) Learning honours the Power of the Mind.
8) Learning honours History and Story.
9) Learning honours Aspects of Spirituality and Protocol.

Chapter 3, ‘We were once silenced’, talks about the implications
of the Potlatch ban.

‘In the past, people lived by a strict code of laws that was defined by public opinion. Since there were no written documents, all changes to the existing order were made at feasts and potlatches, at a time when the public was present. If you accepted a chieftainship, or you raised a memorial pole, or you got married, all activities were recorded in this way.’ p.25

In the final Chapter 7, ‘Potlatch as Pedagogy’, Sara Davidson reflects:

“As I witnessed the gyaa isdlaa, I was able to understand for the first time how the Haida Potlatch was being used as a tool to relearn and reteach ceremony. My father has relearned ceremonial knowledge from the Elders in preparation for the pole raising, and he was now using the Potlatch as a means of sharing what he had learned about our ancestral knowledge with our community.” p.67.

In the remainder of the chapter, Sara Davidson recounts her father’s use of the nine sk’ad’a principles to teach us about Haida ancestral knowledge.

“Based on what I learned from my father about sk’ad’a and ceremony, I believe that our connection to our roots have merely been dormant, and as we honour and bring together the pieces of our ancient knowledge and our history, we will revive that connection once again.” p.74

So, here is the challenge, can we apply these nine sk’ad’a principles in our learning, elsewhere, in other parts of Canada?


To Heather and Edward fellow travellers, and other educators in both England and Canada.


Sara Florence Davidson and Robert Davidson.2018. Potlatch as Pedagogy: Learning through Ceremony. Portage and Main Press.

Raising of the Totem Pole Potlatch …

Posted in Book Review

Lessons from Haida Gwaii: part one

When you are travelling it is hard to find time to read (except in the air). Thus it was impossible to provide a meaningful book review earlier. This is the first of my book reviews based on our visit to Haida Gwaii.bookCover_ShapingTheFuture Joseph Weiss, in his book Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life beyond Settler Colonialism, has written an excellent, thoughtful analysis of life beyond settler colonialism. In particular, the relationship between Haida and non-Haida in the future management of the island.

The book is divided into three parts: Pasts and Futures, Home, and Care. He starts with an introduction to Haida future-making in Old Massett, and the everyday temporalities of life in Haida Gwaii. This was particularly poignant since I had purchased the book in a gift shop in Old Massett.oldMassettBC

Under Home, Weiss looks at the Haida departures and returns in the future perfect, followed by a chapter on ‘Of Hippies and Haida: fantasy, future-making and the allure of Haida Gwaii’.

logo_oldMassettVillageCouncilThe third section addresses Care and Governance and the role of the Old Massett Village Council (OMVC) and the Council of Haida Nation (CHN). Again, this resonates, in contrast, to here in rural Nova Scotia.

Weiss concludes with a discussion of ‘unsettling futures’.

To give a sense of the quality of the writing, I have included three quotations from the book.

‘Thinking about the future enables Haida people to address dilemmas of the present, to suggest solutions to issues that seem intractable at the moment. These are not just the problems of indigenous people; rather, we have seen that many rural communities face challenges of mobility and migration, that questions of political accountability resonate across (neo)liberal democracies, and that environmental struggles seek to protect the planet itself’ p.191

The relationship of a nation within a nation is an interesting one. Especially on Haida Gwaii with its unique ‘island geography’. Consider the CHN constitution:

‘The Haida Natilogo_HaidaNationon is the rightful heir to Haida Gwaii. Our culture is born of respect; and intimacy with the land and sea and air around us. Like the forests, the roots of our people are intertwined such that the greatest troubles cannot overcome us. We owe our existence to Haida Gwaii’ p.175

Finally, on the back cover, Weiss writes:

‘Indigenous peoples are not in any sense ‘out of time’ in our contemporary world. Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii shows how Indigenous peoples in Canada not only continue to have a future, but are at work building many different futures – for themselves and for their non-indigenous neighbours.’


Heather shared the journey. John Broadhead explained some of the current initiatives at the Gowgaia Institute. Edward added graphics.


Joseph Weiss. 2018. Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life beyond settler colonialism.UBC Press.

Posted in Book Review

Ground Work

Tim Dee’s collection of thirty-one writings on Places and People is organized in alphabetical order. It includes contributions from Hugh Brody, Richard Holmes and Richard Mabey. Most of the places are found in the British Isles and are as diverse as the personalities of the authors. Nick Davies, Professor of Behavioural Ecology describes the life of the cuckoo in Wicken Fen. Marina Warner talks about the medieval shrine at Binsey in Oxford; its link to Gerald Manley Hopkins and Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland. The final contribution by Ken Warpole describes the role of public parks in the British landscape.

“Richmond Park Understorey”, image by Gossipguy, Creative Commons 

This reminds me of the parks near London: Richmond Park and Bushy Park.

He concludes:
“Inequality is on the rise, and London’s socially mixed communities are under continuing pressure from ‘the invisible hand’ of the housing market to segment even further into discrete enclaves of wealth and lifestyle. Yet parks remain among the last places in the city where all users are equal and preferential terms of access or treatment cannot be purchased or parlayed”

One essay by David Matless, ‘Seaview: the anthroposcenic’ struck a personal chord. (Anthroposcenic: landscape emblematic of processes marking the Anthropocene).

Page 187.
“Holidays at East Runton; forty years ago, with predictions of a new ice age, and in newer hotting times. A beach mile from Cromer, rock pools and sand, the wave-cut platform and forest bed. A minute from door to paddle, cliff’s topping to North Sea summer icing; always a chill.”

I remember too Summer holidays in a caravan at East Runton on the Norfolk Coast; an escape from the suburbs of South-west London. Likely over sixty years ago.

Today, I think of the time at Rathtrevor Beach with our grandchildren, escaping from the Greater Vancouver mainland to the coast of Vancouver Island.

“Making footprints on Rathtrevor Beach”, image by Ruth Hartrup on Flickr

Will these memories stay with the next generation, sixty years from now?

As we walk the trails of Walnut Grove BC,  we seek the shade of cedar filled ravines. Will they offer the same respite for the next generation. Playing a similar role to the public parks in the British landscape?


To Heather, Laurel, Nic, Marcus and Owen all great travel companions.
Edward for his graphic contribution.


Tim Dee (Ed.) 2018. GroundWork: Writings on Places and People. Vintage Press.
Hugh Brody. A Story of Arctic Maps. p.44-53.
Richard Holmes. An Elemental Education. p.117-131
Richard Mabey. A Wood over One’s Head. p.140-147.
Nick Davies. From the Old Tower Hide on Wicken Fen. P.77-83.
Marina Warner. Binsey. P.249-259.
Ken Warpole. The Echoing Green. p.260-269.
David Matless. Seaview: the Anthroposcenic. p.185-188.