Posted in Art, Event Review, New thinking

AI in Plein Air Art

My goal at the recent Art Impact AI workshop held in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was to see how AI (Artificial Intelligence) might play a role in plein air art. The workshop was headed by Valentine Goddard and Jerrold McGrath.

The participant numbers were of a convenient size that we could delve into the subject matter at some depth. What struck me first was the diversity of backgrounds in attendance — from wood sculptor to theatre-savvy software developer, from cellular biologist to explorers of biologic/geologic forms, from filmmaker to former art director. But we all had the creative artistic mind and AI interest in common.

I learned all sorts of AI concepts such as Neural Networks, Machine Learning, CV, and Deep Learning, and dominant AI values such as transparency, fairness, accountability, and more. We were shown a book entitled Neural Networks for Babies by Fernie and Kaiser. We played games to immerse ourselves in the mechanism of AI thinking. “Finding the Criminal” game taught us about the significance of algorithm development, application, confidence, bias, and use/abuse. That type of game, upon later discussions with filmmaker Kimberly Smith from Canning, could have implications in his Movie Games project.

So, how does AI apply to my plein air art world? In the short term, I do not see AI having immediate impact. I do see where AI has the potential for the visual artist; playing a role in my art, down the road, as mentor, coach, teacher and critic. I do not see AI in art as something to be feared. I see AI as something to augment the creative learning process and development of the human artist — where AI and human collaborate.

In plein air art that AI augmentation also includes the process of seeing and interpreting the geography that surrounds us as an artist.

Participants in the Art Impact AI Dartmouth workshop, for their lively and insightful discussions.
Valentine Goddard and Jerrold McGrath for heading the Art Impact AI workshop.


Neural Networks for Babies, by Chris Ferrie and Dr Sarah Kaiser,  Sourcebooks, March 2019
Movie Games, by Kimberly Smith

Posted in New thinking

It is Time

This week, we received an invitation to the Annapolis County Climate Action Summit, scheduled for Cornwallis Park on November 9th.banner_ClimateChangeWorkshop I also received email from Brian Arnott that Robert MacFarlane will be on CBC Sunday Morning with Michael Enright. (see the previous blog)

The questions from County are:

1) what climate changes are you most concerned about in Annapolis County?
2) have you identified any solutions?
3) what local action (both individual and collective) and resources are needed to achieve these solutions?
4) are you willing to be a climate action ambassador for your neighbourhood?

Last night, the Federal Riding of West Nova elected Conservative Chris d’Entremont to represent us in Ottawa.

All of these questions suggest that it is time. Time to recognize the abilities of all citizens in the region. To hear their voices. It is time for the educational and research institutions to step up and contribute to our understanding of the issues (see, for example, a AGRG-developed Emergency Coastal Flooding Decision Support System, test result below).

Floodtide prediction and coastal inundation query 6:00am 23Oct2019 at Wolfville, Nova Scotia

In the 1980’s we renamed the Land Survey Institute to the College of Geographic Sciences. We recognized that there were many new technologies available to manage our geography. If we are going to have three levels of government deciding on the future of the landscape and its use/abuse. Let us work from a common shared digital representation of that landscape and its climate.

It is time to remind the educational institutions that educators when they retire they do not stop contributing to the thinking in their chosen discipline. In other cultures, there is recognition of these educators/elders.

20190927_114423It is time to realize that the movement of individuals from elsewhere in Canada, or other countries, to Annapolis County is positive. It is time to stop thinking that more citizens who have reached retirement (arbitrarily, say 65 years) is negative. It is positive.

Living in rural Nova Scotia, where it is possible to grow your own food, is positive.

So let’s answer the county’s questions.

1) What climate changes are you most concerned about in Annapolis County?
No specific change. Rather our ability to be well-informed, able to make the necessary adaptation, and have emergency preparedness action plans.

2) Have you identified any solutions?
Yes. Full engagement of educational institutions. Access to shared community information on our environment, land use, ocean use, demographics.

3) What local action and resources are needed?
Resources to maintain the existing climate network and a community information utility.

4) Are you willing to be a climate action ambassador?
Yes. If this includes education and research of our representatives, citizens and educational institutions.

It is time for citizens to demand more from our representatives, institutions and ourselves.


To many friends and colleagues in the county, Nova Scotia, Canada and elsewhere.Edward added the excellent graphics and is pleasure to collaborate on this blog.
AGRG, Emergency Coastal Flooding Decision Support System.
Climate Change in Nova Scotia.


Annapolis County Climate Action Summit. November 9,2019 at Cornwallis Park.

Posted in Article Review, New thinking

The Language of Place

I have enjoyed the writing of Robert MacFarlane for several years.


This week, I received notice of a new web site: Emergence Magazine. It includes a podcast interview with the author: Speaking the Anthropocene.

RM. “Language and landscape are the two braids that have twined and untwined in my life, and in my writing to this point. I teach in a literature department but really, I think I’m a bit more of a geographer these days.”

EM. “In Landmarks, is the idea that the words assembled in your book are a possibility of how we can re-wild our contemporary language for landscape. You described that as being the hope, so to speak.”

In Landmarks, MacFarlane provides a series of glossaries for different landscapes: flatlands, uplands, waterlands, coastlands, underlands, northlands, edgelands, earthlands, woodlands.

bookCover_SodsSoilSpadesThis discussion of the Language of Place took me back to my bookshelf. For Nova Scotia, I retrieved Sherman Bleakney’s book Sods, Soils and Spades: The Acadians at Grand Pre and their dykeland legacy. The word that triggered this search was aboiteau and its role in dykeland construction.

A second Nova Scotian author was Peter Sanger. In particular, I had enjoyed Spar: words in place ( check my blog Place in Words, October 31, 2018).

From time spent on Haida Gwaii, I found a back copy of Haida Laas, the newsletter of the Haida nation. (December 2015).BookCover_HaidaLassDec2015

Thinking in Haida. With a slip of the tongue describes a Haida language class. The class is studying Massett Songs, a collection of songs and stories recorded by anthropologist John R. Swanson and translated by John Enrico.

“Xaad Kil is highly directional, the language is constantly creating a picture of motion and place. Xaad Kil prioritized things like wind direction, water currents and one’s own relative location to the ocean.

“ Lost in translation.
Xaad Kil (Haida) Sahgwii ltl
Literal English
Upstream- Direction I’m going.
Colloquial English
I’m going up town


To get downtown from Gaaw, you must travel upstream along Gaaw Kaahli (Massett Inlet). That’s why we say uptown and not downtown like city people. Explained by Rev. Lily Bell.”

Here is my thesis: the language of Place is shaped by the specific geography, e.g. Nova Scotia or British Columbia. It is also shaped by the rules of the language, in this case, either Haida or English.

Regardless of the language, we need to understand the underlying processes, i.e. landscape ecology. In Nova Scotia, we are influenced by our position on the North American continent; the different air masses and ocean currents. These influences are changing within the context of the climate crisis.

I would love to believe that changing our language would help. In practice, we have to deepen our understanding of the landscape, it’s history, ecology and the associated processes.


Edward Wedler and Heather Stewart for their thoughtful conversations.


Emergence Magazine.
J.Sherman Bleakney. 2004. Sods, soil and spades. McGill Queens Press.
Haida Laas.Newsletter of the Council of the Haida Nation. December 2015. p.8
Peter Sanger. 2002. Spar: words in place. Gaspereau Press
Robert Maher. ernestblairexperiment blog. October 31, 2018. Place in words.

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 Event Review, Opinion

Wearing the Land

bookCover_uncommonCommonArt2019In Wolfville earlier this week, I picked up the brochure for Uncommon Common Art. The theme for 2019 is ‘Wearing the Land’. From the curatorial statement by Bonnie Baker:

‘We wear the Land with the marks of our occupation. Habits of movement and occupation wear paths across terrain. In shaping the land, the land also shapes us. How we occupy and move through the landscape impresses itself on our imagination, our minds, our identities as well as our bodies. We build relationships to the land through traditional knowledge, beliefs, memories, kinship and use’

bookCover_islandWithinAt the Blue Griffin used bookstore in Middleton, I found Richard Nelson’s book The Island Within. Nelson is a cultural anthropologist. From the Preface:

“As time went by, I also realized that the particular place I’d chosen was less important than the fact I’d chosen a place and focussed my life around it.” p xii.

Yesterday, Brian Arnott visited us from Lunenburg. The topic for discussion was ‘small communities in rural Canada’ (see 100 Ways of being a Small Community). Brian has read Joseph Weiss’ book on Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii and was interested in hearing more about the role that the Haida played in community development. Both Heather and I had enjoyed a year on the island.

As part of the visit, I offered a field trip to Lawrencetown. We looked at a number of recent developments: Shakes on Main restaurant run by the Carleton Road Industries Association (CRIA), the WineMakers Tavern and the new health clinic, being built near the Library. Finally, a look at the new residence at COGS, we then retreated to Lunn’s Mill for a beer, lunch and stories of Haida Gwaii.

Last night, the Extinction Rebellion organized a climate change panel for local candidates in the upcoming federal election at the Bridgetown Legion. After an introductory overview by Haig Vaughan, we have questions for the NDP, the Veterans Coalition party and the Green Party. But the most telling discovery of the evening was that neither the Liberal nor the Conservative candidate showed up for the debate.

In response to Brian’s question about rural communities, I return to Richard Nelson.

“Since coming to the island, I have sought perspective from some very old ideas, ideas that have guided the relationship between people and their natural surroundings through most of human history, ideas that have been recounted in many places, many traditions, and over many centuries.”p.xii.


Brian Arnott for his inquiry into rural communities. Heather Stewart for creating the Haida Gwaii experience. Edward for his sharing his graphic skills.


Uncommon Common Art web site
Richard Nelson. 1991. The Island Within. Vintage Books.
Joseph Weiss. 2018. Shaping the Future on Haida Gwaii: Life beyond settler colonialism. UBC Press.

Posted in New thinking, Video Review

Rewilding the Annapolis Valley

This week was the end of the Apple harvest.appleHarverst2019_4b Brian Boates picked up eight bins for juicing in Woodville, before transporting it to Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg. At the same time, I heard from Pierre that the first shipment of Hunter Brandy should be available later this month.


On Wednesday, I stopped at Books Galore in Coldbrook. I found a revised edition of Wendell Berry’s A Place on Earth. Berry describes life in Port William, Kentucky. It was first written in 1967 and extensively revised in 1983. I also unearthed Thomas Raddall’s Memoir, In My Time.

Another place-related book was the discovery of Isabella Tree’s Wilding: the Return of Nature to a British Farm. This set me thinking about “wilding the landscape”. The primary inspiration was a pair of YouTube videos by George Monbiot and Alan Featherstone, describing the Rewilding Movement in the United Kingdom, especially in Scotland.

George Monbiot is a well-known columnist for The Guardian. The Rewilding message is a very positive one. It is to bring back species that were part of the landscape and to work with ecological processes in its recovery. In the Scottish Highlands, the main focus has been replanting native tree species.

The concept and philosophy could be applied to the Annapolis Valley. For example, in collaboration with the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) we could remove the tidal power dam at Annapolis Royal and allow the river and its Ecology to return to a pre-dam condition. We could also manage the runoff from the small communities and the surrounding farmland. With this type of action, it may be possible to reapply for heritage river status. This application was tried a couple of decades ago.

Monbiot, in his presentation, speaks to the palaeo-ecology in the British Isles. What would be the palaeo-ecology of the Annapolis Valley region, before the arrival of the settler culture? What have been the transformations of the landscape since the settlement of Annapolis Royal? What is the relationship between the marine environment and its ecology with the terrestrial landscape; in the past, pre-settlement era and today?

To develop an appreciation of these changes in landscape ecology, we must be able to map the ecology over time. This would make a remarkable research project for students and faculty at the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS), alongside the local NGOs.

Meanwhile, reading the latest AIRO newsletter I noted a reference to Royal Acres Estate and their Scottish Highland cattle and the MareGold Retreat Centre at Victoria Beach. Both supported by AIRO, these initiatives seem compatible with the Rewilding Movement in the UK.

Please check out the YouTube videos.


Nina Newington for the Isabella Tree reference. Jane Nicholson for her work at Annapolis Investments in Rural Opportunity (AIRO). Heather for help with the apple harvest. Edward for his continued graphics support.


Wendell Berry 1983. A Place on Earth. North Point Press.
Thomas Randall. 1976. In My Time. A Memoir. McClelland and Stewart.
Isabella Tree. 2019. Wilding: the Return of Nature to a British Farm. Pan MacMillan.
George Monbiot. 2016. Rewilding and its Place on the Global Development agenda.
Plymouth University. YouTube video.
Alan Featherstone. 2016. Presentation at Plymouth University. YouTube video (see above).

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 Art, Nature, Opinion

Behold Cape Breton

Anne and I recently spent a week travelling through picturesque Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, taking in the popular sites, such as the Fortress of Louisbourg, and discovering some underrated nooks and crannies.

Fish Hatchery on the  Northeast Margaree River, watercolour by Edward Wedler

We couldn’t help but notice the various ways people move through and note the landscape. As artists, we spent several hours documenting specific sites en plein air — Anne with her oils and me with my watercolours. Spending time at each location lets us absorb the landscape with all our senses. Our recall for detail is heightened.

20190919_110952_2While painting Pillar Rock from Presqu-île, near the southern part of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, we noted dozens of visitors come for a few minutes to snap photos then move on. Did they see the otters swim the nearby pond? Did they note how the sun lit up the rocky shoreline as it rose above Jerome mountain? Did they hear the high-pitched piping notes of the eagle?

appleMapVehicleAt the other extreme, we were greeted several times by the “Apple Map vehicle” taking rapid-fire snapshots of the landscape as it motored throughout the Cape Breton Highlands. We were surprised to see it in the small northern community of White Point. It had a different purpose — to engorge its databanks with a future, retrievable, online, photo and map record of the region.

Whether painting, hiking, photographing, video-recording or “apple-mapping” we all move through the landscape at different rates and with different pursuits in mind. How do you move through the landscape? How much do you absorb from your travels? What record do you log and keep?

Anne Wedler for being my supportive, painting buddy. All those Cape Breton visitors we met attached to their iPhones and smartphones.



Posted in Opinion

Making the Transition

September is hurricane month in Nova Scotia.

This week, after Hurricane Dorian, the Municipality of Annapolis County passed a Declaration of Climate Emergency (see Annapolis Spectator, September 23rd).

maher_apple_2September is also the month when I need to be prepared for harvesting our organic apples. This means ensuring that the tractor is in good working order. Over the Winter, it developed a flat rear tire. This has led to the purchase of a new rim ($500) and its installation by High Country Tire. Fortunately, I had access to Neil Bent, who was able to mentor me in the challenges of bush hogging the upper field, as well as the forklift to move the Apple bins from the barn to the orchard. Each year, it seems harder to remember all the subtleties, adjusting the various levers and their proper settings.

thinkingTractorThe capacity to move seamlessly from abstract thinking to practical task thinking is something that is needed by all elements of society. To address the climate emergency, we need to learn the details of new technologies, as well as to think differently with existing technologies. The new technologies include solar and wind energy. Existing technologies include different forms of communication. We also need a different approach to the concept of community.

We need a different relationship with our landscape.

The landscape is not a resource for exploitation. Rather, it is an integral, inseparable component of our identity. It should be appreciated, fostered and shared with others, who may stop by, if only for a few weeks or months.

We need, too, a much more inclusive approach to community.

We share our lives with two retired sled dogs. They were born in Nunavut. They spent part of their working life in Northern BC. Today, they enjoy the sights and sounds of the rural Nova Scotia landscape.


This week, I have been in touch with the Hunter family about the apple brandy. One Raymond Hunter quotation which surfaced. “Bloom where you are planted.”


Neil Bent for his patience and knowledge of farm equipment. Timothy Habinski and Gregory Heming for their good work on Annapolis County Municipal Council, leading to the Declaration. Rocky and Debby Hebb for their memories of Raymond Hunter, and the Born Again Barn in Paradise. Heather Stewart for her enthusiasm for alternative technologies, and interest in the Extinction Rebellion movement. Edward Wedler for his graphics.


Annapolis Spectator. Article by Larry Powell.September 23, 2019.

Posted in Event Review, New thinking

Climate Emergency / Watermark

On Monday, we attended the Council meeting of the Municipality in Annapolis Royal. There was a motion before council for a Declaration of Climate Emergency. It was supported with a short presentation by Nina Newington from Extinction Rebellion. A sizeable gathering of citizens were in the Council chamber to witness the event. Of course, interest had been raised by Hurricane Dorian.

Tim Habinski, the Warden made the point that action on the ground happens at the municipal level. This is true, although it does require the collaboration of all three levels of government. This reminded me of a song by Dave Gunning from Pictou County. He performed at the Evergreen Theatre in Margaretsville the previous evening. The song was ‘These Hands’. These lyrics have been included in a children’s book. To be successful, we need ‘all hands on deck’.

That includes a wide array of citizen groups, as well as the educational institutions in the county. For example, David Colville at COGS has developed and maintained a network of climate stations throughout the Valley. Would that be a useful resource ?

Or if we want to monitor changes in land use, whether through natural events or human activities, we could use drone photography.

Or if we are concerned about changes in the coastal zone, we could use the LiDAR technology at AGRG ?

To slightly change the subject. This week at the North Mountain coffee shop in Berwick, I picked up a copy of Christy Ann Conlin’s new book Watermark. I wanted to see whether today’s authors are addressing the questions raised by rural society and its values ( in the spirit of Ernest Buckler).

Watermark is an interesting word. From Wikipedia,

“It is an identifying image or pattern in paper that appears as various shades of lightness/darkness when viewed by transmitted light. Watermarks are used to discourage counterfeiting.”

In Conlin’s work, it refers to a human quality that is inherent from upbringing. In my world, I think in terms of ‘watermarks’ on the landscape. For example, this week, we picked up thirty bushels of drops in the orchard, planted by Raymond Hunter.

As part of our background research into Hunter brandy, I received the following email from his son, Willy Hunter (September 16th.)

“Ray often said, that even when he planted trees when he was 80, he wouldn’t know who would harvest the apples, but someone would.”

Next week, we shall start picking from the trees.Heather and I are that ‘someone’.


Willy Hunter for sharing the rich stories of the Hunter family life in Clarence, Paradise and Lawrencetown. Heather for sharing the orchard work.
Edward is travelling in Cape Breton this week. We will add his graphics later.


Christy Ann Conlin. 2019. Watermark. Anansi Press.