Posted in Book Review

Orwell’s Nose

orwellsnoseThe idea for the Ernest Blair Experiment blog came from a combination of Ernest Buckler, writing about the Annapolis Valley and Eric Blair (aka George Orwell) known for his writing about England. When I came across John Sutherland’s book Orwell’s Nose – a pathological biography, it was hard to resist.

Sutherland, Emeritus Professor of English at the University College London describes Orwell’s life (b. 1903 and d. 1950) in terms of his literary career, but within the context of smells.

David Lodge, in his review of the book, states. ‘Orwell’s obsession with smells, agreeable and (more often) offensive, has been noted before, but never explored to such effect, not excluding the smells of shag tobacco and BO he emitted himself’.

Orwell was born before the First World War and died after the Second. He went to school at Eton, served in the Burma police service. He was inspired by social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski. He spent time ‘down and out in Paris and London’, as well as visiting the North of England (The Road to Wigan Pier).
orwell_roadtowiganpier orwell_1984
His final book was Nineteen Eighty-Four, completed on the remote Scottish island of Jura.

Robert MacFarlane, in The Wild Places, writes:

” It is clear that Orwell needed to be in that wild landscape to create his novel; that there was reciprocality between the self-willed land in which he was living and the autonomy of spirit about which he was writing. The price of this vision, though, was his life’.  p.140.

A visual biography, taken from artist’s website www.

It is interesting to reflect on the next generation in England, born around the start of the Second World War and subsequently emigrating to either Canada or Australasia. I am part of that generation, as well as my older brother. This year my artist-brother has put together a series of postcard paintings for his grandchildren, with notes for every five years of his life. This has now been supplemented with a YouTube video matching each postcard painting.

All of this reflection has set me thinking. How does the landscape enter into the writing task?


Thanks to Edward  Wedler for his graphics contribution. Peter Maher for sharing his autobiographical work in progress. Shared memories indeed.


John Sutherland. 2016. Orwell’s Nose. Reaktion Books.

Robert MacFarlane. 2008. The Wild Places. Penguin Books.

George Orwell’s books include Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia, Coming up for Air, Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four.


Posted in Book Review

Proust and the Squid

On CBC’s The Sunday Edition (December 2nd), Michael Enright interviewed Maryanne Wolf on the subject of the reading brain in the digital world and her new book.readerComeHome  squid


The following day, we went over to Mahone Bay and Lunenburg. At Lexicon Books, I purchased a copy of the earlier book Proust and the Squid: the story and science of the Reading Brain.

‘Knowing what reading demands of our brain and knowing how it contributes to our capacity to think, to feel, to infer and to understand other human beings is especially important today, as we make the transition from a reading brain to an increasingly digital one.’ p.4.

Wolf describes the reading brain’s development and evolution – both the personal-intellectual and the biological. She uses Marcel Proust as a metaphor and the squid as an analogy for two different aspects of reading.

Proust saw reading as a kind of ‘intellectual sanctuary’ where human beings have access to thousands of different realities.

‘The study of what the human brain has to do to read is analogous to the study of the squid in earlier neuroscience’.

My interest revolves around the relationship between reading about a landscape and experiencing that landscape. From my blogs, you will have noticed the tendency to link reading of a variety of local authors to our sense of place.

The other dimension relates to our changing digital world (check out the podcast). There is a difference between book-length reading and short blogs. It is increasingly difficult to balance the reading brain between these different formats. However, the challenges presented by Wolf in her books make it all worthwhile.


Kent Thompson describes his search for copies of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as an excuse for getting out of town on his bicycle. Today, I found two volumes of this book at the Thrift store in the village of Lawrencetown.

artOfTravelMy second link relates to Alain de Botton’s book The Art of Travel. He describes the work of John Ruskin on word-painting.

‘The effectiveness of Ruskin’s word-painting derived from his method of not only describing what places looked like but also analyzing their effect on us in psychological language. He recognized that many places strike us as beautiful not on the basis of aesthetic criteria – but on the basis of psychological criteria because they embody a value or mood of importance to us’.

Back to Wolf (in fact Walter Ong)

‘The interaction between morality that all human beings are born into, and the technology of writing, which no one is born into, touches the depth of the psyche.

Writing introduces division and alienation, but a higher unity as well. It intensifies the sense of self and fosters more conscious interaction between persons. Writing is consciousness-raising’.

Finally, Marcel Proust:

‘I believe that reading, in its original essence, is that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.


CBC Sunday Edition. December 2, 2018. Michael Enright. Podcast.  Come Home: the Reading Brain in the Digital World.

Maryanne Wolf. 2008. Proust and the Squid. The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Harper Perennial.

Maryanne Wolf. 2018. Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper and Collins.

Alain de Botton.2002. The Art of Travel. Penguin Books.

Posted in Book Review

Eccentrics in Paradise

In 1926, William Inglis Morse self-published a limited edition book, Eccentrics in Paradise and Other Essays. Besides short descriptions of some of the characters in the village, it also offers a description of the village itself.


‘In the Notes of 1888 (Ticknor and Company, Boston) Paradise is sketched as a ‘pleasantly situated village of about 400 inhabitants, with several sawmills, grist mills and tanneries. The principal exports are lumber and cheese, though there are also large deposits of merchantable granite in the vicinity’. p.8.

With reference to the Mi’kmaq:

‘their habitat was a government grant on the south side of the Annapolis River, at the head of the tide, from which vantage ground they witnessed the passing of the years and the river flowing to the sea.’ p.12

The book’s appeal, besides the title, is the relationship between the author and a specific place. Today, we still have the Morse estate and Burnbrae Farm.

A second example of author and place is between Elizabeth Bishop and Great Village. This week, Sandra Barry gave me a copy of Elizabeth Bishop’s Great Village. A Self-guided Tour. This is a beautiful combination of maps, history and images linked to Bishop’s writing.

‘ Bishop’s childhood in Great Village had a profound effect on her and years later her memories found their way into poems and stories. The village and its people were not merely subjects in Bishop’s work, her experience with them fundamentally shaped her worldview and artistic sensibility’. p 1.

A third example can be found in the writing of Kent Thompson, Getting out of town by book and bike. Thompson describes a bicycle ride from Annapolis Royal to West Dalhousie, and then back to Lequille on the old Dalhousie Road.

” Some 65 kilometres. Great day; one of the great rides in Nova Scotia. I almost hate to tell anyone about it. Might want to keep it a secret” p.98

En route, he visits Ernest Buckler’s gravesite at Gibson’s Lake.

” The graveyard sloped upward on one side, and on the other, the lake lapped softly in the sun, like the breathing of someone asleep”. p 91.

The original quote is from The Mountain and the Valley p. 89. For the full context, read Thompson, Chapter 6 Secret Road to the Lost Village. p. 83-98.

There, we have three very different examples of the relationship between literature and geography. I am not sure whether the self-guided tour format produced by Sandra Barry for the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia could be transferred to a self-guided bicycle tour of West Dalhousie for the Ernest Buckler Literary Event Society. What is evident, is that there are ‘eccentrics’ in many small rural communities. Their observations on rural life continue to sustain us, or in Sandra Barry’s words:

” Great Village is a place where roads converge. Each road (each travelled by Bishop) is followed to the edge of the village with hints of what lies beyond’ p. 1.

or Kent Thompson:

‘You can even capture passing time, a way of life with all its implements and terms, which is escaping. And is gone to the eye, now. Not a farm left on this road.” p.98.

The last word is with David Canaan (aka Ernest Buckler)

‘Suddenly he knew how to surmount everything….. (And all that time the key to freedom had been lying in these lines, this book) There was only one way to possess anything: to say it exactly. Then it would be outside you, captured and conquered.” MV p.195.

Discussions with Edward Wedler reveals that economic development has sprung from connecting literature/film to place (including Nova Scotia), as noted in his blog post “What do the Films Outlander, Titanic and Def-Con 4 have in Common?”


Thanks to Edward Wedler, Sandra Barry and Heather Stewart.


There is a screening of Climate Change and the Human Prospect on Wednesday, November 28th at Kings Theatre, Annapolis Royal at 7:30 pm. It will be followed by a Question and Answer session with Timothy Habinski, Gregory Heming and Robert Cervelli.


Willam Inglis Morse. 1926. Eccentrics in Paradise and Other Essays. Nathan Sawyer, Boston.

Sandra Barry 2005. Elizabeth Bishop’s Great Village. A Self-Guided Tour. Gaspereau Press.

Kent Thompson. 2001. Getting out of town by book and bike. Gaspereau Press.

Ernest Buckler. 1952. The Mountain and the Valley. McClelland and Stewart.(MV)


Posted in Article Review, Book Review

Two magazines and a book

One of the additional pleasures of visiting my father-in-law in New Glasgow is the opportunity to catch up on the current magazines. This time, it included Canadian Geographic and Saltscapes.

In the latest issue of Canadian Geographic, Michael Palin talks about his new book, Erebus.

” I already knew a lot about Canada, as it was a country beloved by British Geography masters, being friendly and coloured pink, and because all maps were on a Mercator’s projection, it looked absolutely colossal.” p.69.

This reminded me of my Geography teacher at Chiswick Grammar School in England. Howard (Hank) Williams would draw maps of the world on the blackboard with coloured chalk. Our task was to identify all the numbered cities and rivers on the map. It seemed that we had these tests every couple of weeks (1958-61).

saltscapesCover_AugSep2018In the latest issue of Saltscapes, two articles caught my attention. Jodi DeLong reviewed  Sandra Phinney’s book ‘Waking up in my own backyard. Explorations in Southwest Nova Scotia. Or as DeLong titled her article ‘ Celebrating our own spaces’

The second article was by Suzanne Robicheau describing an alternative approach to rural economic development, where a group of Annapolis Royal artists put their faith in a brick and mortar marketplace. She describes how “after reading the Ivany report, Jane Nicholson cashed a bond and invested in her community by establishing a private economic development firm called Annapolis Investments in Rural Opportunity (AIRO)”.

Both local, good news stories.

When we drive from the Annapolis Valley to New Glasgow, we often prefer to take the back roads, rather than the 100 series highways. This weekend, we detoured through River John to revisit Sheree Fitch at the Mabel Marple Bookstore. It has one of the best collections of Atlantic Canada books, aside from the wonderful collection of children’s books.

divisionsOfTheHeart_CoverThere, I discovered:
Divisions of the Heart: Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Memory and Place. Edited by Sandra Barry, Gwendolyn Davies and Peter Sanger.  The book is a collection of twenty-five essays presented at a conference at Acadia University in 1998, as well as forty photographs relating to Bishop’s life.

One essay that caught my attention was by Brian Robinson. He is described  as ‘a Geographer interested in the relationship between Geography and Literature’ p.314

Robinson, in his essay, references a couple of other Geographers which took me back to my graduate residency at the University of Western Ontario (1969-1972).

David Harvey. Between Space and Time: reflections on the Geographical Imagination. AAAG (1990) p. 418-434. and

John Pickles. Phenomenology: Science and Geography, Spatiality and the Human Sciences. Cambridge University Press. 1985.

It is going to take me a while to read all twenty-five essays in the book plus conduct research into the relationship between Geography and Literature.

I wish to acknowledge the graphic contribution of Edward Wedler, and my travel companion, Heather Stewart.


Michael Palin. Life of Erebus. Canadian Geographic. p68-71. September/October 2018.

Jodi DeLong. Celebrating our own spaces.  Saltscapes. p.35 August/September 2018

Suzanne Robicheau. Reinventing the shopping mall. Saltscapes. p.92-94. August/September 2018.

Barry, Davies, Sanger (eds) 2001. Divisions of the Heart: Elizabeth Bishop and the Art of Memory and Place. Gaspereau Press.

Posted in Book Review, Opinion

Community Engagement: a ghost story

bookCover_capitalAGhostStoryThis blog was inspired by Arundhati Roy’s book Capitalism. A Ghost Story. It is a collection of short stories about life in India. Indeed, it is a VERY scary book [Youtube interview with Arundhati Roy], especially if we look South of the border, to the United States.

In a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s one hundred richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP‘. p.7

At the opposite end of the demographic spectrum, we have rural Nova Scotia. I have identified a few of the concerns that have crossed my desk in the last week or two.

The Municipality of Annapolis County is seeking a solution to the demand for high-speed Internet. Meanwhile, i-Valley is evaluating different alternatives.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources has responsibility for forest practices across the province. A recent hike along North Mountain, above Bridgetown, illustrated the challenges faced by both humans and wildlife, in traversing the trash left by clearcutting. We still await the Lahey report; an independent review of forest practices in Nova Scotia.

econous2018On the economic development front, The Centre for Local Prosperity is promoting EconoUS 2018 in its latest newsletter, as ‘an economy that works for all‘.

We are beset by water quality issues, related to our geology, giving us high levels of arsenic and uranium, especially on South Mountain.

Today, the Municipality of Annapolis County is threatening to withdraw from Valley Waste Resources. Thus we may lose our garbage delivery. This information has been conveyed through an online newsletter and video.

We live in a world with a multitude of multi-media communication tools; be it podcasts, YouTube video, online courses, Twitter, LinkedIn or FaceBook.

The uncertainty, defined through these technologies, can lead to an increase in anxiety for our rural communities. They may lead to a false sense of community engagement. This aligns well with the picture described by Roy, under a plutocratic Capitalism in India where a small group of individuals or organizations are controlling the lives of a rural population. These new technologies can be used to improve the health of communities or they can be used to exploit the community resources. The choice is ours. Again, a VERY scary proposition — A Ghost story.

As usual, thanks to Edward Wedler for his editorial comments and graphics.


Arundhati Roy.2014. Capitalism. A Ghost Story. Haymarket Books.

Centre for Local Prosperity. Newsletter dated August 13, 2018

The Municipality of Annapolis County. Newsletter and video. Referenced August 13, 2018.

Posted in Book Review

The Story of COGS

As a contribution to the Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA) annual meeting at COGS, May 29-June 1st, 2018,  Ted McKinnon has produced a Flash version and a downloadable PDF version of The Story of COGS: a Nova Scotian Experiment in Technical Education. COGSThe original was written by Bob Maher and Heather Stewart in 2013. Ted was also responsible for adding the graphics and making a book-like product.

This type of collaboration has been a fundamental COGS value from the early ’80s. With the design of the Scientific Computer Programming program, we had to combine the application of the technology with the ability to customize the technology through programming. At the outset, the original team was Bob Maher and Bruce Peveril. Subsequently, we brought on board a number of our graduates: Patricia Castel, Bill Power, Kate Bate, David Colville, Roger Mosher, Marlin Gould. The applications evolved to include GIS and Image Analysis. We formed strong relations with industry leaders: ESRI and DIPIX.

Jump forward to 2018. We have a more complex technology suite. We are working on different devices: desktops, laptops, iPads, mobile phones. We are using software on the web to access information and to communicate with each other.

For myself, to produce a blog, whether for the GoGeomatics or Ernest Blair site, I need to collaborate with others who bring their complementary technical skills to the table. For example, the ability to find and add graphics, or to include maps on a website, all require technical expertise.

In our work, we need to combine the stories of geography, with the language of maps and technology. This remains the teaching challenge at COGS and other similar institutions.

This blog is dedicated to Bill Power who passed away last weekend. Bill had an excellent technical, engineering mind and a commitment to the teaching of the next generation of programmers.

I also want to acknowledge the contributions of Heather Stewart, Edward Wedler and Ted McKinnon.

Posted in Book Review, Event Review

Merging: hopes and fears

We have been back for a week. It has been a difficult time. When you move from one landscape to another, there seems to be a different rhythm in terms of how space and time are structured. northSouthFirst, we are back to the organic orchard: time to burn the prunings and brush; time to complete the paperwork for certification. Second, there are meetings related to community mapping, and the forthcoming Canadian Cartographic Association (CCA) symposium at COGS. The ‘to do’ list becomes overwhelming.

This week, I had the chance to hear Ed Symons talk about the accomplishments of the collaboration between COGS and the Age Advantage Association aka MapAnnapolis. The meeting was in Wolfville and thus there was talk about MapValley.

bookCover_mergingThe next evening, I went to Melvern Square to hear Soren Bondrup-Nielsen. He was presenting a CARP-sponsored (Clean Annapolis River Project) talk on “Riparian areas: natural filters and critical habitat in agricultural landscapes”. Luckily, I was able to purchase a copy of Soren’s beautiful book published by Gaspereau PressMerging: Contemplations on Farming and Ecology from Horseback. It inspired my blog title.

Friday evening at the End of the Line pub, meeting with friends, I was able to catch up on Tim Webster’s presentation “Sea level rise, Geomatics and Climate”. Bill MacDonald was at the talk, and apparently, mentioned the concept of a barrage at the Digby Gut.

On Friday, Andrea Vandenboer emailed me about the drone footage in my earlier blog (January 21, 2018). She was producing a video for the Centre for Local Prosperity. Via a recent interview with Tim Habinski, Warden, Annapolis County, she had become aware of the drone footage. I was able to connect her with Neil Green, the drone videographer.

Yesterday, it was time for a break. After a short visit to Annapolis Royal farmers market, and a coffee meeting with friends, to discuss the concept of the St. Mary’s Bay Community Centre: (the concept is to repurpose the school as a social enterprise), we headed off to Wolfville and Windsor.

I wanted to go back to The Odd Book in Wolfville where the week before I had noted an interesting book on the first geology map for the United Kingdom. I wanted to go to Windsor to see Dick Groot’s photographic exhibition. This is how things unfolded.

We dropped into The Odd Book but the book had been sold. It was Simon Winchester’s The Map that changed the world. We continued on to Windsor to the Cedar Centre, only to find that it is closed on the weekend. This was turning out to be ‘a dud’.

As we drove around Windsor, we noticed a large number of cars at the Schoolhouse Brewery. We also noted a second-hand bookstore on Gerrish Street. We stopped in, and I found a copy of Winchester’s book. Things were looking up!

Why my interest in this book?

It describes the life of William Smith. In Winchester’s words:

‘He noticed that the rocks he was excavating were arranged in layers, more important he could see quite clearly that the fossils found in one layer were very different from those found in another. And out of that realization came an epiphany: that by following the fossils, one could trace layers of rock as they dipped and rose and fell – clear across England, and, indeed clear across the world. Determined to publish his profoundly important discovery, by a creating a map that would display the hidden underside of England, he spent twenty years traveling the length and breadth of the kingdom by stagecoach and on foot, studying rock outcrops and fossils, piecing together the image of this unseen universe.’

Now transfer the concept to the Annapolis Valley, in the words of Bondrup-Nielsen p.73:

“The fissure that started separating North America and Africa, which ran up the Bay of Fundy, ceased for some reason and another fissure started further to the east, leaving what is now Nova Scotia, attached to North America.

When geologists examine the rock types in southern parts of Nova Scotia they find distinct similarities with the rock types of Morocco in North Africa. The rock types in Cape Breton are similar to rock types in Scotland. These massive geological events are continually shaping the world although at a slow pace. The land we interact with is not static; it is continually changing”.

My interest is the importance of the geology to our understanding of the Valley environment, as a fundamental layer in a community geographic information utility.

windsorMakersAt the second-hand bookstore, we noticed the Grand Opening of Makersa non-profit, social enterprise where the community can make, learn, teach, tinker, gather, collaborate, share, innovate, socialize, build, create, buy or sell’.

After a quick stop at the Schoolhouse Brewery for a small flight of local craft beers, we visited Makers. There, I bumped into Michael Caplan and his family. As part of Refresh Annapolis Valley, they are offering two programs: Creative Computing for kids, aged 8-12 and Exploring Computer Science for teenagers. For example, with the younger group, May 8, Animating Stories – interactive stories from Scratch. For the teenager, June 16, Teaching a Computer to see. Explore AI by learning how to build a program that can guess what it sees in a picture.

Whether it is St Mary’s Bay or Windsor, there are grassroots, non-profit, social enterprises which are leading the change, across the generations. These are the hopes. The fears are the bureaucratic infrastructure that may distract us from these initiatives. Candidates for concern would be the expert opinion, tidal barrages, certification processes.

Or in the words of Bondrup-Nielsen, page 212:

“The perception is that the current game, the quantity game, is the only game in town, but that is not the case. If we think instead in terms of our quality of life, as measured by connections and the relationships we have with all life, the game will change. Nature operates as a system in balance – it is a dynamic, steady state. This philosophy needs to be the guiding principle of our human economy.”

Thanks again to Edward Wedler for his contribution to the graphics. Thanks too to the friends and family who unknowingly act as a source of inspiration.

Ed Symons. MapAnnapolis could turn into MapValley.  Talk sponsored by Wolfville and Area Historical Society. April 25, 2018.

Soren Bondrup-Nielsen. 2014. Merging. Contemplations on Farming and Ecology from Horseback. Gaspereau Press.

St Mary’s Bay Community Centre. The Weymouth Events Newsletter. April 17,2018.

Simon Winchester. 2001. The Map that Changed the World. William Smith and the birth of Modern Geology. Harper and Collins.

Makers. go to website

Creative Computing and Hoist Annapolis Valley. go to website

Trailer for Climate Change and the Human Prospect:




Posted in Book Review, New thinking

Up Here: the Voice of Canada’s Far North

As I fly from Ottawa to Iqaluit, I notice my free copy of “Up Here” magazine in the seat pocket in front of me. After a few days, hanging out indoors, waiting for a blizzard to die down, I start to read back issues of the magazine. upHareMagCover_Aug2015The August 2015 issue had an article by Tim Edwards (p 42-50) entitled ‘From the West to the Wilderness‘.

“Europeans arrived in North America looking for wealth and the Pole. Explorers defied death for glory. What drives today’s adventurers ?”

The article begins with the Franklin Expedition, and then talks about Frederick Cook and Robert Peary “who were welcomed as kings by governors and the public alike, as they stopped In various ports on their way home from the North Pole.”

“Now the world is mapped and the heroes of old are long in their graves. When people go missing in the High Arctic, we consult SPOT trackers, we send out search and rescue missions that last days, not years.”

“Sarah McNair-Landry and Erik Boomer and their dog team spent 120 days circumnavigating Baffin Island. Their goal was to retrace a journey by McNair-Landry’s parents took twenty-five years earlier.”

“Gear and communications are leagues above what it used to be. When Franklin’s ships were lost, other ships were commissioned to follow the route and find the crew – who were stuck in some unknowable corner of the Arctic Archipelago – at their own peril.
Today adventurers have SPOT and InReach devices, satellite phones and helicopters can extricate them from tight spots.”

Today, 2018, with new underwater technology, the wrecks of the Erebus and Terror have been found. Many books have been written on Arctic exploration and its historical context, whether from the European or American point of view. A new history is being written by modern-day adventurers, combining traditional transportation and knowledge, with modern technology, and from a variety of disciplines.

“Whereas early explorers brought European society to the Americas and 20th-century explorers were out to leave a  legacy and gain high esteem. Today’s explorers are mostly unknown outside adventure travel circles, looking for not much more than to leave society and experience the world in its natural state.”

Up Here. The Voice of Canada’s Far North. Published by Canada North Airlines.

Specific back Issue. August 2015. Article by Tim Edwards. From the West to the Wilderness. p. 42-50.
Check Canadian North web site for

For US perspective,
Michael F. Robinson. 2006. The Coldest Crucible. Arctic Exploration and American Culture. University of Chicago Press.

There are many books written about the European perspective on Arctic exploration and the prevailing European culture.

Today, my son headed out for a four-day trip via dogsled team, across sea ice and through a blizzard. Garmin technology allowed him to track and relay his position, average speed, distance traveled, maximum elevation, and time, and send-receive text messages. As I was unable to access these via my computer, I worked with Edward in Nova Scotia to relay that information back to me.
As noted by the Up Here magazine writer, Tim Edwards, “Gear and communications are leagues above what it used to be.

Posted in Book Review

Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut

bookCover_iqalurait” During a blizzard, the snowfall is usually soft. A type of snow mound, uluangnaq, is formed. The (prevailing wind)  then erodes the mound, thereby forming an uqaluruq – a drift with a tip that resembles a tongue (uqaq) – this is pointed and elevated from the ground – Uqalurait  are formed by the uangnaq , (west- northwest wind)” p xxv

Abraham Ulayuruluk, Amitturmiut

“In Winter we used Uqalurait to tell us which direction to go. We would follow the direction of the Uqalurait.” p. xxv

Mariano Aupilarjuk, Aivilingmiut

“In the past, Inuit history was transmitted orally from generation to generation. The Inuit who shaped this project decided that, unlike other Arctic histories, this one should concentrate on the time before extensive contact with the Europeans.” p. xxvii

” The Steering Committee wanted this work to get to the heart of Inuit culture and give the reader a sense of the richness and completeness of life that countless generations lived on the land and the sea ice.” p. xxvii

“Most of the quotations represent life as Inuit lived it from the end of the nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.” p. xxvii

The book is divided into two parts: Inuit Identity and Regional Identity. Within these two parts, the emphasis is upon five themes: flexibility, sacrifice, social control, sharing and respect.

One final quotation, under Section 12. The Land.

” The living person and the land are actually tied together because without one the other does not survive and vice versa. You have to protect the land in order to receive from the land. If you start mistreating the land, it won’t support you …
In order to survive from the land, you have to protect it. The land is so important for us to survive and live on; that’s why we treat it as part of ourselves,” p. 118.

Mariano Aupilaarjuk, Aivilingmiut.


John Bennett and Susan Rowley (compiled and edited) 2004. Uqalurait. An Oral History of Nunavut. McGill Queens University Press.

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.