Posted in Art, Nature, New thinking

Viewing vs Interpreting the Landscape

Last fall, I drove through New Brunswick on my way to/from Québec and Ontario with my wife, Anne. The roads have improved immeasurably from a couple of decades ago, so we actually had time to savour the landscape and talk about what we saw. As we travelled, I noticed something strange about our conversation.

We increasingly saw the landscape as artists.

mixPaintsThe sky wasn’t just overcast or sunny. The sky was a mix of Burnt Sienna with a touch of French Ultramarine Blue or was a variegated wash from Cerulean Blue to Cadmium Yellow. We were not just engulfed in fall foliage of colours. Hills became brushstrokes of Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Gold (I love that colour) and Prussian Blue.

foreMidBackgroundWe divided the landscape into zones (foregrounds, mid-grounds, and backgrounds) and described how we would paint aerial perspective, “treat edges” and change tonal contrasts, to give a sense of distance.

POIMany times we would identify a focal point in the landscape (almost with “eye-spy-with-my-little-eye enthusiasm) and would suggest ways to direct viewers’ eyes to that point. Would it be the slope of the hills, the line of our winding road, edges of forest stands or the illumination of light breaking through the clouds? How would our favourite artists, or The Group Of Seven treat that focal point?

IMG_6235pairAs we drove, we unpacked our landscape NOT in terms of “things” (such as houses, fence rows, barns, silos or cows) but in terms of shape, line, colour, patterns, gradation and composition. We became exhilarated, as artists, to not only view the landscape but to offer ways to interpret the landscape — whether it be as a realist, impressionist or abstract artist — in oils, acrylics, watercolours or inks.

Anne and I enjoyed kilometres (miles) of child-like revelations and “aha” moments on what could have been just an ordinary road trip through New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario (although the scenery was spectacular). We did not just see the landscape. We interpreted the landscape.047_BlueBarnsBaieStPaul_Sep17_90dpi

Great to be an artist!

Edward Wedler website:
Anne Wedler website:


Bob Maher brought to my attention an article where art and science meet to bring the issue of rising sea levels to the public’s attention in dramatic fashion (that helps connect my left brain and right brain).

Posted in Nature

Puzzles and Otters

puzzle_handsThis Christmas, we decided to send Cobble Hill jigsaw puzzles to our three grandchildren families. The puzzles were images of dinosaurs, birds and marine life. They are designed so that the size of the pieces changes from left to right. This allows the youngest grandchildren to match the larger pieces, and the parents can work on the smaller pieces.

The puzzle can be seen to be a metaphor. It is a problem to be solved. Each age group works on the puzzle pieces that they can handle. The community (family) work together, applying their particular skills to complete the puzzle (or solve the problem). From a fragmented image, we derive a holistic picture.


puzzle_birdCountLast Thursday, it was the Christmas bird count. It was a cold (-15C) windy day. The birds were sparse. In the morning, we walked up the Inglisville Road to the top of the mountain, and then back down through our property for lunch at home. In the afternoon, we went down through Andrew’s property to the Annapolis River. We saw a Golden Crested Kinglet flitting around the upper branches of the poplars. On the river, we spied a Common Merganser.

puzzle_ottersThe Annapolis River was full of floating ice pans. The highlight was to see two river otters who were curious to see two humans on the bank.

The otters reminded me of Gavin Maxwell and his book Ring of Bright Water. Maxwell went with Wilfred Thesiger to see the Marsh Arabs in Southern Iraq. The otter was a gift from Thesiger to Maxwell. Later Maxwell established an otter sanctuary near the Isle of Skye in Western Scotland. Not that far from where George Orwell (Eric Blair) ended his days on Jura.puzzle_iceBooks

Today, I am struggling to finish reading John Sutherland’s book, Orwell’s Nose: a pathological biography. It describes the importance of smells to Orwell and Orwell’s England.

Best wishes for the New Year 2019 to all readers.


Thanks to David Colville for reminding us about the Christmas Bird Count. Edward Wedler for his graphics contribution.


Gavin Maxwell. 1960. Ring of Bright Water. Longmans.

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

Cobble Hill puzzles Cobble Hill puzzles

Posted in Creative writing, Nature

Place in words

Through the services of Inter-library loan, I received a copy of Peter Sanger’s book, Spar: words in place, published by Gaspereau Press in 2002.

It includes four essays: Biorachan Road, The Crooked Knife, Keeping: the Cameron Yard and Groundmass.

From his Foreword, “this collection speaks a word for Nature and that it does so in the spirit of sauntering“.

I was surprised to find the first essay ‘Biorachan Road’ covered part of the geography near Earltown. Heather and I had walked this section a few years ago, as part of our ‘Road to Georgetown ‘ project.

In the fourth essay, ‘Groundmass’, Sanger links a silvery-white translucent, vitreous, laminated rock that he found in a shed on his farm in South Maitland to the earlier science of Charles Lyell, Charles Darwin, William Dawson and to the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop ‘Crusoe in England‘. Sanger named the rock ‘spar’ from the Anglo-Saxon “spare” or “spaeren” meaning gypsum. There is much more to this essay, but for now, it gives an explanation of the title for this elegant, small collection of essays.

Cover_gettingOutOfTownIn Annapolis Royal at Bainton’s bookstore, I picked up Kent Thompson’s book Getting out of town by book and bike. It is an entertaining read, including the idea: “every now and again, I get on my bike and ride to a small town public library to look for Anna Karenina“. Thompson visits both the towns and writing of Ernest Buckler (Centrelea, West Dalhousie) and Elizabeth Bishop (Great Village). Writing of both EBs is of interest to me, and likely, to Nova Scotia.

cover_waterfallsOfNovaScotiaIn this same spirit, Heather was reading Waterfalls of Nova Scotia. It describes one hundred waterfalls. Number #19 is Eel Weir Brook Falls up behind Lawrencetown on South Mountain. While a short hike, it gave us an excuse to ‘get out of town’.

We can take this concept of ‘place in words’ a couple of steps further. If we fully appreciated the landscape, in terms of its geology, botany, zoology would we be quite so willing to remove the forest cover, to mine the bedrock? Perhaps, its time to resurrect, the works of Albert E. Roland. He made a significant contribution to our understanding of the geology, physiography and botany of this province. Would these words speak for Nature?


To Heather Stewart for the suggested waterfall hike. Also for access to her library, that includes the books by Albert Roland. Edward Wedler is on his way south to Florida yet we caught his graphics contribution.


Peter Sanger. 2002. Spar: words in place. Gaspereau Press.

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

Benoit Lalonde. 2018. Waterfalls of Nova Scotia. A Guide. Goose Lane Editions.

Albert E. Roland.1982. Geological Background and Physiography of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Institute of Science.

Albert E. Roland and E.C. Smith. 1969. The Flora of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Museum.


Posted in Nature

Low hanging fruit

Now I understand the expression ‘low hanging fruit’. applePicking_01After a week in the orchard picking apples with ladder, picking bag and hook, I can appreciate the pleasure gained from low hanging fruit. However, it should be recognized that the best apples are found in the top branches of the tree. The low hanging fruit tends to be found on the side branches; smaller apples, more of them, but easily available for hand picking. There is no need for the combination of technology: ladder, picking bag and hook.

How does the metaphor translate into our day to day lives? Some things are easy to achieve, with relatively minimal effort however it does not necessarily give the high quality that can be found at the upper extremities of the tree.

Talking about trees, this was the subject for this week’s Brain Pickings . Maria Popova describes the contemplation by Walt Whitman on the wisdom of trees.

maher_apple_2At the end of the week, we were able to celebrate ten bins shipped to Brian Boates for juice that will be a component of IronWorks Distilleries, apple brandy. The brandy will be named after Raymond Hunter who planted over one hundred trees in his organic orchard in 1993.

Next week, we shall pick the remaining apples, primarily Mac Free variety. They too will go to Brian Boates, to be converted into cider vinegar.

The apple orchard teaches us many lessons. It shows the impact of microclimate on our landscape. It engages us in agricultural production and the associated risks. It offers us a metaphor for a rural living: the seasons, climate, the engagement with others in the community, living close to the land. It gives us a relationship to the trees around us.


Edward Wedler for his graphics. Heather Stewart is a partner of the apple picking team.


Brain Pickings September 16, 2018. Consider the tree: Philosopher Martin Buber on the discipline of not objectifying and the difficult art of seeing others as they are, not as they are to us. It also includes Walt Whitman on Creativity.


Posted in Event Review, Nature

Northern Musings

Everyone returned safely from the four-day dog sledding trip. dogSledCrew
The GARMIN InReach technology worked well, allowing us to track the progress from cabin to cabin. With Edward’s help, I was able to follow their route across the sea ice from Iqaluit and back.screenshot_08_06Apr18 2-21-13 PM
Indirect exposure to this type travel in Winter raised a number of questions or musings.
In Northern latitudes, there is the opportunity to experience the same landscape in very different conditions. In the winter, travel across the sea ice is either by dog team or skimobile. In the Summer, Frobisher Bay is accessible by boat. On the land, the lakes are frozen — a beautiful blue ice, again Winter travel uses the same transportation or skis. Hillsides are rounded out by extensive snow banks. In the summer, it is hiking or canoe.
If this landscape changes so dramatically with the seasons, how does this increased knowledge of the same space, impact our relationship to the land?
There are stories about the land, for all seasons. How will climate change impact the landscape, our travel and hence the narrative?
Meanwhile, back in Iqaluit, I am tucked away, reading some books from England. The current tome is Nicholas Crane’s ‘The Making of the British Landscape‘. Over five hundred pages, describing the changes in Britain from 10,000 BC to the present day. In the frontispiece, Crane comments:
     ‘To care about a place, you must know it’s story’.
In the Inuit oral tradition, these stories extend across the landscape in ALL seasons. Each season offers its own unique version of the landscape.
Nicholas Crane. 20816. The Making Of the British Landscape. W & N , London.

Nicholas Crane is an author, geographer, cartographic expert. He has presented several acclaimed series on BBC2, among them Map Man, Great British Journeys, Britannia, Town and Coast.  He was elected President of the Royal Geographical Society in 2015.
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 Nature, Video Review

Community monitoring of the landscape

Towering log pile

Last Thursday (January 18th), Heather and I decided to go snow-shoeing along the Rifle Range road, off the Inglisville Road. We have been doing this trip for the last fifteen or so years. Imagine our surprise, when we discovered that our outdoor recreation route had been turned into a logging road (see photographs). Curious, we persisted to see what was going on. We found signs that indicated that the parcel of crown land was being logged by a local forestry company, under the WestFor agreement with the provincial Department of Natural Resources.

We took some photographs, and shared our discovery with a few friends and neighbours. Dave Whitman, who also lives on Hwy#201 in Paradise, an author and publisher with his wife Paulette, including books on the ‘lost village’ of Roxbury, mentioned a local photographer, Neil Green. Neil has been experimenting with the use of drones for landscape photography.

UAV images over Annapolis County Clear Cut
UAV image captures over Annapolis County Clear Cut [click on image for link to video]
Imagine our surprise, forty eight hours later, we received a video of the clear-cutting on South Mountain, towards Eel Weir Lake. Neil also shared some of his landscape videography along the Annapolis River.

This raised many questions in my mind.

  1. With this new technology, can citizen groups monitor the changes impacting our landscape ?
  2. Our warden for Annapolis County, Tim Habinski is on record (CBC) about the clearcutting on crown land in the County. Could this technology give us a better picture of the current situation ? And allow, evidence-based decision making ?
  3. Given the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown, would the college be willing to support research in the creation of maps so that citizens could monitor the activities in their own backyard ?
  4. We own a small, narrow woodlot with our son, Andrew. It runs from the Annapolis River to the Inglisville Road. Could we commission Neil Green or others to fly the property as part of our woodlot management strategy. For example, we could monitor the red maple coppicing by Alex Cole, Little Foot Yurts for yurt poles on Andrew’s parcel. Or we could map the mature hemlocks on the hillside on our parcel, above the Hwy #201.
Road to the clear cut

These questions could lead us to discover new opportunities. With the technology, UAVs, cameras and GPS it is now possible to develop a much better understanding of the  landscape, its use or abuse, whether it is agriculture, forestry or recreation. Maybe its time to champion the full value of the landscape. Let us view our environment as something that offers so much more than a simple monetary value ($$$$).


Thanks to Heather Stewart for reminding me of our landscape values. Dave Whitman for the connection to Neil Green. Neil for his drone photography explorations. And finally, as usual, to Edward Wedler for his feedback and technology expertise on the web.

Posted in Nature

A Day in Nunavut (April 27)

The day started around 1:30 am.


Juniper, a female Eskimo sled dog started giving birth to puppies in our garage. Even though the mother is brown and white all nine pups were black and white; the same colour as the father, Niksik. The birthing process took until mid- afternoon.

Later, around 4:30 pm, Julia (daughter-in-law) and the high school students arrived at the airport. They had been on a school trip to Costa Rica. Because of Spring blizzards, their return was delayed for two days in Ottawa.

After supper, we needed a break and so went to the free Thursday night movie at the Visitor Centre. The film was to be a documentary ‘Martha of the North‘ about Martha Flaherty. Unfortunately, the showing was cancelled because of ‘staffing issues’.

Instead, we hastened to the Frobisher Inn to enjoy a drink and dessert.

Hardly, a typical ‘birthday’ however it illustrates the uncertainties in a community which still has close ties to the land. Indeed, just by looking out of the kitchen window, it is very apparent where the land/sea meet the town boundary.