Posted in Creative writing

In praise of Second-hand Bookstores

threebooksBefore Christmas, I went into Ed’s second-hand book store in Sydney, Cape Breton. I found a copy of ‘George Orwell’s Friend. Selected Writing by Paul Potts’. It caught my attention because of my personal interest in things ‘Orwellian’.I also appreciated the use of Orwell’s name to introduce the work of Paul Potts, a little-known Canadian poet. There were several remaindered copies, all signed by the author.How did they end up in Sydney ?

In January, I was advised to go to Endless Shores Books in Bridgetown. I was looking for a copy of Whirligig, a selection of Ernest Buckler’s short prose. Instead, I discovered ‘Cape Breton Island’ by Pat and Jim Lotz. Essentially, a geography of Cape Breton written in 1974. It begged the question of an updated version in 2017. Jim was a Geographer and independent writer (he died last year).

This weekend, we went to Wolfville and gravitated to The Odd Book, a second-hand bookstore on Front Street. As a university town, there seemed to be an excellent supply of books. I found ‘Land and Life. A Selection from the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer’ 1967, edited by John Leighly. As the quotation on the back cover states ‘ Geographers will treasure this volume for many generations’ The Professional Geographer.

In Part V, The Pursuit of Learning, we find essays on ‘The Morphology of Landscape’ and ‘The Education of a Geographer’. Inside the back cover a previous owner had made the following notes:

‘The Valley’s physical boundaries are everywhere visible. North and South Mountains…’

‘Landscapes have subjective meaning for the inhabitants (cf page.344).’idiom’ and ‘vernacular’ are part of that, and so is distance perception and knowledge limitations’.

This brings up two questions. First, there is no teaching of Geography at Acadia University, who was the previous owner of the book ?

Second, there is the larger question. How, and what books find their way into second-hand bookstores ? What is the history of a particular book, as it passes hand to hand ?


Paul Potts. 2006. George Orwell’s Friend. Selected Writing by Paul Potts. Introduction by Ronald Caplan. Breton Books.

Pat and Jim Lotz. 1974. Cape Breton Island.  Douglas, David and Charles, Vancouver.

Carl O. Sauer. 1967. Land and Life.A Selection from the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Edited by John Leighly. University of California Press, Berkeley.


Through inter-library loan, I received from Acadia University library.

Heather Davidson 2005.CBC Broadcaster Norman Creighton. Rejecting the American Dream. This book is about the life and times of Norm Creighton, long time resident of Hantsport.

Inside the front cover, three very timely quotations.

Edward Albee

‘The play (The American Dream) is an examination of the American scene, an attack on the substitution of the artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen’.

John Maynard Keynes

‘Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all’.

ee cummings

to be nobody but myself, in a world which is doing its best night and day to make me everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting’.

Posted in Creative writing

A Proposal: Crowdsourcing and Citizen Scientists

Let’s connect the needs of remote coastal communities in the Arctic with the expertise of the Geomatics and education communities (e.g. AGRG/COGS and other institutions who are familiar with the analysis of satellite imagery) and with data suppliers (e.g. Digital Globe).

Top: Arctic Bay/ Ikpiarjuk, Nunavut, Canada – Mike Beauregard.  Bottom: VIIRS image from Suomi National Polar-orbiting satellite – NASA Jeff Schmaltz

Remote  Arctic communities can identify their needs in terms of change detection and can provide intimate knowledge of their environment with ground truthing. The education/science community can provide both scientific and technological image analysis expertise. Industry can provide the data under an appropriate business model. This is a classic case of ‘joining the dots’ and crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is the process where you use the resources available through the Internet to complete a task. The usual model is one person has an idea and is looking for funding partners. However, it could be using personal computers to run different climate models or it could be organizing citizens to detect change from high resolution satellite imagery.

At the recent workshop on High Resolution mapping of the coastal zone at the Centre of Geographic Sciences(COGS) John Roos, from Canada Digital Globe showed examples of crowdsourcing with their WorldView satellite data.The data is stored in the cloud and can be accessed by a variety of users.
At the same workshop, I had a conversation with Don Forbes, Emeritus Research Scientist from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography(BIO) with expertise in Coastal Geomorphology, about his involvement in Circum-Arctic Coastal Communities Knowledge Network (CACCON) and SmartICE

It seems to me that my proposed collaboration would be of interest to both GeoAlliance Canada and GoGeomatics because it would be national in scope, and would engage Geomatics professionals as Citizen Scientists. Along side the networking, there might be the possibility of developing an online course e.g. Digital Canada 101. This course could define the procedures as well as illustrate different Northern landscapes.

This concept does not have to be limited to change detection in the coastal environment. Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in the Halifax newspaper, Chronicle Herald (February 11th Opinions F4) about changes in the forest cover of Nova Scotia. We could link citizens conducting field work, with Geomatics professionals interpreting change from high resolution satellite imagery. This type of connection, combining crowdsourcing and citizen science, would create a better awareness of our forests on the ground, and enhance communication within our communities.

Whether marine resources or land resources, innovative approaches are available that allow us to be better informed and more effective in our resource management. We just need to collaborate across institutional boundaries, and to engage citizens across generational/educational boundaries: schoolchildren, college graduates, Geomatics professionals, retired scientists. (The last category is an oxymoron. Scientists never really ‘retire’; they simply ‘fade away’).

Posted in Art

Artists’ view of the landscape.

Unlike photographers, geographers or geologists, landscape artists see their world as collections of lines, contours, shapes, colours, light and shadows. Identifying features is secondary.

“Annapolis River at Tupperville, Nova Scotia” (watercolour by Edward Wedler)

A geographer tries to make sense of the landscape,  looking at relationships between features to explain where things are, how they came to be, how they evolve and change over time, and how they interact with us. A geologist examines the makeup of landscape to understand how it formed over millennia and how it may change in future. They want to understand how the landscape works. A photographer captures the visual character of a landscape under different lighting and weather conditions at a particular point in time on photosensitive material.

The “en plein air artist” paints on location, mostly outdoors. Each artist pulls out their materials and tools and begins to work quickly. It’s like speed dating with light and shadow. The artist will look for one or two focal points. They will look at distant, mid-ground and foreground features to figure out what to highlight and what to suppress. Often they will add to or remove elements from the scene for aesthetic/design reasons. Their view of the landscape is an interpretation perhaps in oils, watercolours, acrylics, pastels, pen and ink, or graphite. The plein air artist also seeks to elicit an emotional response to the art of their immediate environment. I consider the geography of the plein air artist as the geography of perception.

The Annapolis Valley Plein Air Art group, to which I belong, paints landscapes throughout our area — towns, farmlands, and coastal waterways. Each week we assemble at a different “paint-out” site. At the one site, some will paint details of rocks in a stream bed. Some will paint tourists enjoying the sunshine on benches along a path. Some will paint distant hills framed by woodlots. The landscape becomes a collection of deeply personal, visual expressions and no two paintings or sketches are the same.

What can we learn from interpreting the landscape through artists’ eyes? One of my mentors, Vlad Yeliseyev, is often heard to “rant” to plein air artists, “Don’t paint a photograph. Paint a story.” Local Digby artist, Poppy Balser states in her profile “Watercolour is the perfect medium for me to capture the atmosphere and light of my local environment.” In his book “Interpreting the Landscape in Watercolor”, Don Andrews illustrates the magic of linking light, shadow and colour”. For me one artist may see a tree as blue, nestled in the cold shadows. Another may see the same tree as olive green, absorbing scant rays of sunshine peaking through breaks in the clouds.

Unlike the photographer, geographer, or geologist, the artist is the landscape’s chorister; composing a visual libretto.

Posted in Book Review

A Sense of Time, and Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Book Review

Citizen Scientist…………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Creative writing


This is what I don’t understand
How does Bodhi know
When is the time for a walk ?


This is what I don’t understand
Why is the predominant value
An economic one ?

This is what I don’t understand
As we move down past the first field
He wants to turn back home.

This is what I don’t understand
How much education takes place
Outside of the public institutions.

This what I don’t understand
Down in the nursery he follows
A limited number of paths.

This is what I don’t understand
How did we inherit a dog
With a name meaning ‘enlightened one’?

Photograph: Bob and Bodhi above Gulliver’s Cove on Digby Neck, NS.

Bodhi died February 15,2017. Rest in Peace.



Posted in biographical sketch

We are all Geographers

Everyone lives somewhere at some time. In a lifetime, some of us may stay in one place or culture, others may move and change places or cultures for family, work or political, reasons.

bobmaher_19jan17 If we want to change our attitude towards the earth, it’s resources and our place on its surface, we must become more informed about our ‘geography’; not simply latitude and longitude, but rather ourselves and the processes that affect our behaviour. Geography, in an holistic sense, is physical, biological, economic and social. It is spatial and temporal: neighbourhoods, regions, countries and global; hours, days, years, decades, centuries, lifetimes and beyond.

What matters is that we creatively communicate and understand our geography through our spoken language, our writing, art, music, and technology. This means ‘geography education’.

This blog is for anyone who has an interest in geography education. This could include teachers, researchers, citizen-explorers of our environment and creative communicators. The blog is for action-oriented people who are undertaking projects and creatively communicating their geography.

Locally, I want readers seeking better relationship with the land and sea and the local economy. Provincially and nationally, I’m looking to policy- makers affecting economic and natural processes, whether rural or urban. Globally, I want readers to share experiences of alternative approaches in expressing their geography.

I have been concerned about our loss of geography education in our schools and about appropriate use of technology. Today, my interests include extreme citizen science, “making is connecting”, geography experiments in writing, visual imaging and maps, the Sand County Almanac and a land ethic.

In closing, expect some future blog posts to throw out challenges and discussion points to my readers — such as “A Yidan Education Workshop” and opening up “institutional Geography”.

Join me in this exploration of maker-geography and connecting the dots.

— Bob Maher

Posted in Poetry

At the Edge of Paradise.

graphic_attheedgeofparadise_01aby Bob Maher

At the edge of Paradise
The bobcat walks across the road
Disguised by the snow squall
In front of the speeding Honda CRV

At the edge of Paradise
River Bend Cranberry Farm
Has re-invented itself,
For another day

At the edge of Paradise
The CRIA building is repurposed
Into the Lunn’s Mill Beer Company
To support the local folks








At the edge of Paradise
The multiflora rose grows
Between the majestic spruce
In the experimental nursery plot

At the edge of Paradise
High speed Internet is promised
This will allow residents
To run businesses from home

At the edge of Paradise
The empty Naramata apple bins
Show the intent of youthful renters
To move into the neighbourhood


At the edge of Paradise
There is a hidden orchard
Full of NovaMac and MacFree trees
Showing the work of an early orchardist

At the edge of Paradise
The lone coyote leaves its scent
The dog walkers notice
On their next day trip.