Posted in Creative writing

Apple Pressing and the Ghost Orchard

apple_2Richard Sennett says it well in the Acknowledgements to his book The Craftsman, “Making is Thinking’. This week, we have been busy pressing apples and making it into sweet cider.

We started with thirty five bushel boxes of MacFree apples. It is a three step process: cutting, grinding and pressing. The apples need to be quartered before putting through the grinder. One box of apples fills a twenty litre container of ground apples for press. The pressing is done with a hand ratchet press. The end result is forty five, two litre containers of sweet apple cider. On good day, we were able to complete three pressings.


What did we learn ?

Most of our learning was about the qualities of the different apple varieties. Our orchard has four varieties: NovaMac, Liberty, MacFree and Nova Spy.

NovaMac is an early variety. It is a cross between the Nova and the MacIntosh. Talking to Brian Boates from Woodville, he confirmed that this variety ripens quickly and drops soon thereafter. Liberty, (we only have one tree), produces early, deep red apples. MacFree is a later variety. This was our primary cider apple. It keeps well in storage. It is a cross between a MacIntosh and Freedom. Finally, NovaSpy, another cross between the Nova and the Spy, is a late apple. We can leave these trees until the end of the harvest season. Liberty and Freedom are brother and sister varieties.

We found Tom Burford ‘s book, Apples of North America  an excellent resource, describing one hundred and ninety two varieties.

In September, Helen Humphreys was interviewed on the CBC. She is the author of The Ghost Orchard. (Fortunately, Bill Crossman loaned me a copy of her new book.) It is creative, non-fiction. Starting with the White Winter Pearmain, Humphreys’ researches the history of apples in North America. There are multiple stories: about the white settlers (Ann Jessom) planting orchards in the late eighteenth century; the watercolour artists who drew the illustrations in support of the US Department of Agriculture catalogue of seventeen thousand varieties of apple on the continent. Humphreys also describes the relationship between the poet, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas and their walks through orchards in England, at the time of the first World war. Part of Frost’s legacy was to plant new orchards in the United States, towards the end of his life (late 1950’s).

His poem caught my mood. Here are the first eight lines.

After Apple-Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Towards heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Besides it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

For the complete poem, go to



Tom Burford. 2013. Apples of North America. Timber Press, London

Julian Gwyn 2014. Comfort Me with Apples. The Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association. 1863-2013. Lupin Press. Berwick, NS. This book gives a local context.

Helen Humphreys. 2017. The Ghost Orchard. The Hidden History of the Apple in North America. Harper Collins.

Robert Frost check

Richard Sennett 2008. The Craftsman. Yale University Press, New Haven.




Posted in Creative writing

Two books and a thought

The Newfoundland ferry docks at North Sydney. This gave me the opportunity to stop at a couple of my favourite shops in Sydney. First stop, was Ed’s second-hand book store where for two dollars I purchased Larry Mc Cann (ed.) People and Place. Studies in Small Town Life in the Maritimes. Later, I had a coffee at Doktor Luke’s, which also has second-hand books. There, I picked up a copy of David Ehrenfeld’s book Beginning Again. People and Nature in the New Millennium.

The McCann book was published in 1987. It contains a wide range of essays by faculty at Mount Allison. The essays are divided into three categories: Casting the Pattern, the Passing of Traditional Society, and Contemporary Small Town Life. Besides the book title, the essays that caught my attention were:

Carrie MacMillan. Seaward Vision and a Sense of Place. the Maritime Novel 1880-1920.

Eric Ross. The Rise and Fall of Pictou Island.

While I had a copy of Ehrenfeld’s book at home, I had not previously noticed his chapter on ‘The Roots of Prophecy: Orwell  and Nature’. This seemed serendipitous.

I had specifically called my blog site: the Ernest Blair experiment. Ernest celebrates Ernest Buckler. Blair recognizes Eric Blair aka George Orwell.

Ehrenfeld talks about the three qualities that Orwell used in his analysis of the changing life of his, and our times. The first is honesty. The second is reliability/continuity/durability/resilience . And finally, the third property of nature important to Orwell is beauty and serenity.

“Orwell had two visions of utopia: one, a vision of a world in which nature is cherished and improved by a gentle and caring human civilization, and the other a vision of a world in which people treat each other decently and fairly, without exploitation.

Ultimately, as we see in The Road to Wigan Pier, the two visions came together in the picture of a ‘simpler’, ‘harder’ predominantly agricultural way of life in which the machine is present, but under human control and ‘progress’ is not definable as making the world safe for little fat men. A world in which progress, itself, is not a form of exploitation.” Ehrenfeld see page 27.

Thought: “Living in the Moment”

Does this concept change as you get older ? That is, you have a finite number of moments. Can you replace living in the moment  (time) with living in the place (space) ?Why do older people go on cruises ? Change the place; change the moment.                      Its time/space. Not time or space.

What is the meaning of going back to visit old haunts ? Realize changing time, but same space ? Not really, spaces (landscapes) change too!

The value of a long term relationship with a place e.g. a garden. Growing things, different seasons.

Why in youth, keep moving ? Different spaces. Living in different moments  Are we trying to extend the good moments. No, trying to find the right space. Is it the moment or is it the sense of being able to change or control ?  Is there a progression as you age ?  The changing perception of time/space, over a lifetime or over a lifespace.


Larry McCann (editor). 1987. People and Place. Studies of Small Town Life in the Maritimes. Acadiensis Press. Mount Allison University.

David Ehrenfeld.1993. Beginning Again. People and Nature in the New Millennium. Oxford University Press.

George Orwell. 1937. The Road to Wigan Pier. Gollancz Press.



Posted in biographical sketch

Arrival: return to Newfoundland

Over forty years ago, I was teaching Biogeography and Computer Mapping at Memorial University in St Johns, Newfoundland. In the Summer, we conducted field research on the west coast in Gros Morne National Park. This was complemented by ten-day back-packing trips into the Long Range mountains for Black Feather outfittersSs.

Heather and I returned to the west coast of Newfoundland these past two weeks to see what had changed in the landscape and to ourselves.

We took Highway 430, the Viking Trail, from Deer Lake to St. Anthony. We camped and hiked Gros Morne Mountain and Green Gardens. We drove from Rocky Harbour to St. Anthony on a paved road. Forty years ago it was a dirt road from the Northern boundary of the National Park. This had proved a major deterrent in the past.

Nfld_1bWe had many personal realizations. While we had studied the plants in the National Park, visiting the serpentine Tablelands and the barrens on the top of Gros Morne, we had not gone North of the park. Over the last forty years, scientists have rediscovered the geology and biology of the Great Northern peninsula, in particular the uniqueness of the limestone barrens.

As you travel North from the Port aux Basques ferry you can obtain regional maps : southwest coast, Humber Valley, Gros Morne and the Great Northern peninsula. Each regional map identifies things to do and see. For the Great Northern peninsula, categories include hiking trails, parks and ecological reserves, cultural experiences, heritage and museums, attractions, tours and adventures.

A second realization was the engagement of the fishing communities with the scientific community, plus government and academic institutions. We were able to pick up a copy of Burzynski, et al., Exploring the limestone barrens of Newfoundland and Labrador. This book was published by the Gros Morne Co-operative Association. It gave us the story and the location of the different ecological reserves. We stopped at Burnt Cape, White Rocks, Port au Choix. At Sandy Cove, we noted the sign ‘Home of Long’s Braya’, a species first identified by Fernald.

Aside from hiking and botanizing, there was also the human story. The Viking Trail leads to L’Anse aux Meadows, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered the site in the sixties. The Viking Trail  takes you to St Anthony, where you connect to the life and work of Wilfred Grenfell. The Grenfell Mission improved the lives of the fishing communities in Southern Labrador and along the Northern Peninsula. At St Lunaire-Griquet, we visited the Dark Tickle Company. They produce a wide range of jams, sauces, drinks and relishes from wild berries.They belong to the Economusee network, promoting local products.

We returned slowly to the Annapolis Valley, stopping in Cape Breton Highlands National Park for more hiking and botanizing.This allowed us to reflect on the different approaches to rural development, as well as the similarities, between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

On our return, a copy of Nick Mount’s book Arrival. The Story of CanLit. was waiting for me at the Lawrencetown library. It describes the changes in the Canadian literary scene, starting in the late sixties (1967 Expo in Montreal). Of note, the copy was donated by his Mother who lives in Deep Brook, NS. ( see earlier blog).

I have the same sense of ‘Arrival’ after revisiting the landscapes and people of Western Newfoundland. We returned to hiking, Botany and Geography. We used regional maps which engage the local communities, share their unique ecology, cultural history and local economy; all done in typical Newfoundland style and flair.


Nick Mount. 2017. Arrival. The Story of Can Lit. House of Anansi Press, Toronto.

Michael Burzynski, Henry Mann and Anne Marceau. 2016. Exploring the Limestone Barrens of Newfoundland and Labrador. Gros Morne Co-operating Association.

Artisans at Work. Economusee magazine. Summer 2017.

Patricia O’Brien. 1992. The Grenfell Obsession. An Anthology. Creative Publisher, St Johns.

Ronald Rompkey. 2009. Grenfell of Labrador. A Biography. McGill -Queens University Press.

For the regional maps of Western Newfoundland, check


Posted in New thinking

Apple Pickings

At this time of the year, in early September, there comes a moment to decide whether the number of apples dropping in our organic orchard justify moving into full time harvest mode. For the last ten years, we have been custodians of an orchard planted by Raymond Hunter in the early 1990’s. Raymond was an early organic farmer in the Valley.

Last year, we picked fourteen bins. It takes eighteen boxes to fill a single bin. The apples come from ninety one trees; four varieties: NovaMac, MacFree, Liberty and NovaSpy — all scab free. We arranged for Brian Boates in Woodville to pick up the fourteen bins on a flat bed, and then to juice the crop. The juice was transported to Ironworks distillery in Lunenburg, where Pierre Guevremont is turning it into apple brandy. It will be another year before we can sample the result.This year, so far, we have picked five bins. It looks like the yield will be less this year. The size of the harvest depends on pruning, pollination and microclimate. This year we pruned the higher branches to make for easier picking. We have had a dry, warm Summer. Less water likely affects the number and size of the apples.

Besides picking for brandy production, we have invested in a hand grinder and press. Last year, we borrowed the equipment from the Community Gardens in Annapolis Royal. This lets us produce small batches of sweet cider (apple juice). There may be a business opportunity here. I can envisage a mobile unit travelling throughout the Valley to relic orchards. The apples could be collected, allowed to ripen, and then pressed into sweet cider. With different varieties, we could then experiment with the effect of apple variety mix on taste and quality. A further step is to use the juice to make hard (alcoholic) cider for personal consumption.

Future considerations include the addition of organic fertilizer (earthworm castings), drip irrigation in dry years, the addition of beehives for increased pollination. These thoughts are my brain pickings from the orchard.


Every Sunday morning, I receive a blog from Maria Popova; Brain Pickings (brain pickings).

Posted in biographical sketch

The Uncluttered Mind

This last two weeks it has been difficult to focus on writing. There has been so much clutter.

confused-mindFirst, there was the news that the tenant was moving from Andrew’s farm house across the road. This meant screening a number of possible new tenants. Meanwhile, there was a significant number of ‘to do’ tasks while Heather was away. They included chain sawing several cords of firewood, painting outbuildings, and getting organized for this year’s apple harvest in the orchard. Apple picking demands moving full apple bins with the fork lift on the tractor. Ah yes, this requires fixing the ‘soft’ tire on the tractor.

Many of these tasks do allow quiet reflection. Others offer snapshots into life in a rural community. This week, I have scheduled meetings to discuss regional economic development, as well as ideas about hosting the Canadian Cartographic Association conference at COGS in May 2018.

Later in September, there are a number of local festivals: the garlic festival at Avonport and the Ciderfest in Bridgetown. Locally on Hwy #201, there is an open house for woodlot owners on South Mountain. The Municipality of Annapolis is hosting a town hall meeting in Bridgetown. Perhaps, this will provide the opportunity to learn about the planned Internet services for the region. Another opportunity to hear about the vision for the County is the Thinkers Retreat in Pugwash, co-hosted by the Centre for Local Prosperity, Warden Timothy Habinski and Councillor Gregory Heming are two of the invited Thinkers.

The concept of uncluttering the mind comes from my conversations with my wife, Heather Stewart. She has just returned from a week long meditation retreat at Dorje Demna Ling, outside of Tatamagouche. It also refers back to an earlier blog on Task-oriented thinking and Retirement. Without the clutter we can find creative solutions to community development. With the clutter, we are aware of our surrounding environment, the needs of citizens, and the availability of different services in the region. Truly, it is not an either/or situation.


Dorje Demna Ling. Check web site

Thinkers Retreat. Check Centre for Local Prosperity web site

Task-oriented Thinking and Retirement . Check Dated July 25, 2017


Posted in Book Review

Commons, community and communications

A couple of years ago, I first read Heather Menzies Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good. It is a combination of memoir and manifesto. In the ‘dog days of Summer’ it was time to re-read it.

Menzies states ‘ To reclaim the commons as a model for how to organize and govern society, then, we must assert the legitimacy of knowledge and ways of knowing that help define that model’ p.98

Before defining her manifesto, she identifies a set of capacity building activities:

  • Healing and Connecting with Our Selves
  • Healing, Habitats and Reconnecting with  Nature
  • Ecoliteracy and Knowing through Implicated Participation
  • Commoning Knowledge and Knowledge Commons
  • Commons Organizing and the Common Good
  • A Spirit Dialogue, Reconnecting with Creation.

Picking up the Menzies book, came about after finishing the book by Chris Benjamin Eco-innovators: Sustainability in Atlantic Canada. Benjamin interviewed a number of innovators. One of them was Alan Warner at Acadia University. He teaches in the Department of Community Development. Warner offers a number of noteworthy comments.

“Creating healthy, happy, caring humans was as simple as designing better communities, one where people work and play together, take care of each other, and take care of their environment”. p.184.

” In the trickle up model, individuals collaborate as organizations and communities to influence their municipalities which work together as municipal associations, which influence provinces, which eventually influence nations” p.187.

” We’re pretty good at community in this part of the world. We’re backward compared to modernity. That ‘backwardness’, that old fashioned sense of interdependence, connectedness, and community, is hopeful.” p.189.

The third ‘comm-‘ word is communications. One of the pleasures of rural living is access to local newspapers, in both printed and electronic format. Only this week, did I realize (by mistake) that we have the Annapolis Valley Register  serving Annapolis and Kings County and the Valley Journal Advertiser serving Hants and Kings County. Plus, there is The Reader, published by the Endless Shores Books in Bridgetown, serving the communities and people of Annapolis County. Thanks to Larry and Lewis. Such richness !


Chris Benjamin. 2011. Eco-Innovators. Sustainability in Atlantic Canada. Nimbus Publishing.

Heather Menzies.2014. Reclaiming the Commons for the Common Good.New Society Publishers.


Posted in New thinking

The Geographic Sciences and Regional Development

Imagine you are a movie maker, and you have been charged with marketing the Annapolis Valley.

You discover that the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown has world-class expertise in the application of geomatics technologies to geographic issues. Given the current state of these tools, how could your movie be enhanced ?
First, by Geographic Sciences, we include a range of methodological tools. Historically, this would be map making (cartography) and the interpretation of aerial photographs. Today, we would expand the list to cover a wide range of remote sensing (e.g. satellite imagery), the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones, networks of climate sensors, as well as airborne and bathymetric LiDAR. We would include Geographic Information System (GIS), software which permits the integration of multiple layers of geography in a digital and web-based environment. At COGS, there are also other complementary programs in Surveying, Planning and IT.

Given this rich array of technologies, how might COGS assist in marketing the Annapolis Valley geography?

  1. We could ensure access to high-quality maps. This might include historic maps from the Walter Morrison collection. It might include early satellite imagery showing the changes in the land cover in the region, e.g. agriculture and forestry.
  2. Since Cartography is also a digital science, we would want to ensure the best quality design for display both on-line and in a traditional paper format.
  3. GIS is an integrating technology. It allows the viewer to interrogate the landscape on many levels at the same time. For example, we could have an interactive map of the Valley. The user could identify transects across the landscape and then move the cursor along the transect. Whenever there was a change in soil, land cover or geology, a window would pop up with the details. Or imagine hovering over a place name and a pop up shows you the demographic profile and other economic facts about the community.
  4. Another feature of GIS is the ‘story map’ concept. To explain the diversity of residents in the region, we could create a point layer (dots) of video interviews in the Valley. Each dot would be classified or coloured, according to the type of interview e.g. topics, age group of the interview subject. Click on the dot and watch the video or listen to a podcast.
  5. The combination of GIS and Remote Sensing allows the user to ‘fly through the landscape’. The topography can be seen in three dimensions with current imagery draped over the surface. We could create a series of ‘fly through’ transects from South Mountain to the Bay of Fundy, at Annapolis Royal, Middleton, Kentville, Windsor.

By combining modern film techniques from different airborne vehicles, delivering high quality online cartographic products and experiences, we could showcase innovative Valley regional development. Our stories become embedded into the digital landscape.

I challenge our citizens and communities, then, to market the Annapolis Valley through geomatics technologies, the type we have at COGS in Lawrencetown, as a part of our economic development, tourism and heritage-building process and build our quality of place.

Thanks to Edward Wedler for his creative graphic and comments on earlier draft.

Posted in Creative writing

The Valley Region of the Mind

Donald Savoie in his recent book, Looking for Bootstraps and subsequent commentaries on regional development in the Chronicle Herald talks about:

startButton_annapolisValley” the business community, not just governments, has a responsibility for turning the region into something more than a region of the mind. Community institutions need to step up and contribute to the region’s economic development.” (July 29/17 Chronicle Herald F3).


From my perspective, we do need a “Valley Region of the Mind”. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that there is a need for a 2017 version of Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley. Buckler in 1952 described life in rural Annapolis County, mid-twentieth century. For him, the mountain was West Dalhousie (South Mountain) whereas Bridgetown was the Valley.

Fast forward to 2017, if we were to describe the Mountain and the Valley, what are the important features of the landscape? What has changed in terms of agricultural practice? New crops? What are some of the new features (e.g. Highway 101)? If we listened to the conversations of residents, what would be the topics of concern?

EKG_annapolisValleyIn my neighbourhood on Hwy 201, I see new craft beer company (Lunn’s Mill) and Beavercreek Winery. In Paradise, the Morse Estate (Buckler. The Cruelest Month 1963) has been transformed into Burnbrae Farm and Paradise Inn. The town of Bridgetown has merged with the Municipality of Annapolis County.

There  are new communication services extending along the Valley bottom. The Harvest Moon Trail has replaced the railway. It is open to hikers, cyclists and ATV users. The Annapolis River has been upgraded for kayakers and canoeists. The newest thread will be high speed Internet that should create opportunities for remote work sites in rural Nova Scotia.

The new book should address the geography of the Fundy Shore. It would offer more details of our cultural history, the Mi’kmaq and the Acadian.

Conversations with our neighbours would talk about the changing demographic, the role of educational institutions in preparing the next generation for an entrepreneurial, global economy. We would share stories about the remarkable community events throughout the region – access to theatre, music and film. The importance of networking opportunities, illustrated in the print media by The Reader and The GrapeVine.

On the environmental front we would voice concerns about the status of our forests, the soil condition of our agricultural land, as well as species loss in our oceans and rivers. We need, too, to monitor the rate of climate change and its impact on our natural resources.

A new book in 2017, by a next generation Ernest Buckler, would help us to more fully appreciate ‘the region of the mind‘ as well as define ‘the mind of the region’.


Ernest Buckler. 1952. The Mountain and the Valley.

Ernest Buckler. 1963. The Cruelest Month.

Donald Savoie. 2017. Looking for Bootstraps. Economic Development in the Maritimes. Nimbus Press.



Posted in biographical sketch

Task-orientated thinking and Retirement

In the traditional work environment there is a certain routine or schedule. Each day there are tasks that need to be completed and deadlines that must be met. In the post-working environment (retirement), deadlines and tasks are more self-imposed. There are self-defined tasks related to the family, the community and to yourself. The timing of these tasks, their priority are up to the individual. The task-mix is determined arbitrarily. Therefore, at any point in time or on a particular day, you choose which mix seems feasible and which suits your mood.

In retirement, the priorities can be affected by your sense of self, your sense of family commitments or your engagement in the community. Ideally, you attempt to create a balance: your well-being in relation to the well-being of others around you.

What happens when the number of tasks becomes overwhelming, or to put it differently, if everything in life becomes a task?
In retirement life there is the potential for inundation through tasks or to reach a standstill, unable to prioritize the numerous tasks. In the working world there was a limit; you could expect or be expected to complete a finite number of tasks in a day or a fixed period. In the retirement world, the limit is your mental and physical energy.

How do you get away from the ‘task-oriented’ thinking of the working life to a more ‘open-ended’ reactive, observational thinking in retirement — more meditational?

The solution is not to see life as a series of tasks but to see life as a flow of energy. We observe the living environment. We interact with it in a spontaneous way. We experiment with different ideas and relationships. We do activities but we  don’t segment life into a finite number of tasks which must be completed in a specific order or time frame. We do not know the time available. We may not even understand the sequence of events or actions. Of course, as in all life, there are always constraints: money, time, physical and mental health, or the surrounding culture.

Edward Wedler has contributed his graphic skills and note below.

NOTE from Edward Wedler:
Based on your post, Bob, I explored YouTube and came across this Tony Schwartz TEDx talk on managing our energy, not time, by “embracing opposites“.

Posted in Creative writing

Story Maps: writing, art and the landscape

This week, I rediscovered the following quote from John Ralston Saul: “The key to the idea of leadership in the environment area, and in society in general, is that you must find ways to integrate people and place.”

This month, I have noticed several examples where artists, writers and cartographers have followed this idea, integrating people and place in Nova Scotia.

In Annapolis County, with 150 funding, we see a lot of new signage. On Belle-Isle marsh there is a new bi-lingual map identifying the Acadian families who lived there between 1636-1755. The cartography was completed by Scott Comeau, a COGS student. At the Jubilee Park in Bridgetown at the pavilion in support of the Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) Monica Lloyd  has created an air-photo mosaic of the Annapolis River with distances and points of interest. Monica is a COGS faculty member. Further up the Valley in Grand Pré, Marcel Morin has contributed his cartographic talent to the landscapes of the region, as well as a map of the wineries.

In Kings County, we have the installations of “Uncommon Common Art“. It includes twenty stops and four eye candy locations. For each stop , there are directions, a geocache and a statement by the artist.

“Working from the perspective that our relationship to place is formed in reference to our own ancestry and cultural histories, the artists this year represent a wide range of cultural contexts”. Curatorial statement.

In Pictou County, Sheree Fitch, author and poet lives outside of River John. In her childrens’ poetry, she has created the character, Mabel Murple who ‘loves purple’.
Sheree and her partner have created Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery. At the bookstore, you can browse a wide range of Atlantic Canadian books. (Many of them are referenced in the book “Ann of Tim Hortons). You can also enter the purple world of Mabel Murple. This may be most extreme example of ‘story maps’, where the creative writing overflows into the landscape.

John Ralston Saul. 2002. Spruce Roots. Transcript #1 ‘Leadership and the Environment’.

Grand Pre Trails Society. 2016. The Landscapes of Grand Pré: images, maps past and present.

Sheree Fitch. 2017. Maple Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery.

Uncommon Common Art, 2017. Kings County.