Posted in Creative writing

In Praise of Libraries

In a recent email, John Montgomerie mentioned a letter written by Ernest Buckler in 1976 to the Halifax newspaper. It expressed concern about cut-backs to libraries in rural Nova Scotia. ” Buckler relied heavily on the bookmobile services to provide him with the necessary resources to aid his writing, for which he was so grateful”.

John and I are both Board members of the Ernest Buckler Literary Event Society (EBLES). It is hosting an event next Saturday, June 3rd. ‘Reading where we live, a celebration of local authors and literature’ (see The Reader,


If we go forward forty years, we still need to protect library services. After living in Nunavut for the last six weeks, it is a joy to return to the Lawrencetown branch of the Annapolis Valley regional library, the Dr. Frank W.Morse Memorial Library and to requests number of books through inter-library loans. These books allow me to write a regular blog for GoGeomatics and contribute to a conversation with Geomatics professionals and Geographers across the country (see latest blog, Atlantic Geography: through books and film).

Many thanks to Jaki Fraser and other librarians across the province. I can only echo Ernest Buckler. As we approach a provincial election, it is important to remind everyone that books and film allow us to tell our stories, about who we are, and where we are.

There are many examples. This weekend, there were four sold-out showings of Maudie at the King’s Theatre in Annapolis Royal. You could augment your understanding by reading Lance Woolaver’s book ‘Maud Lewis. The Heart on the Door ‘.

If you are a tourism operator, you must wonder about the relationship of the film, its setting in Newfoundland, and the cuts to the Nova Scotia Film Tax credit. For more insight, check out Darrell Varga ‘Shooting from the East. Filmmaking on the Canadian Atlantic’.

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.

Posted in biographical sketch

A day in rural Nova Scotia

blogPost_27Mar17_1Yesterday, the ‘Learn to Run’ club met in Bridgetown at 10 am. They meet three times per week. The program  goes from January to April each year. Afterwards, we went to Endless Shores Books. We were looking for second-hand children books to take to grandchildren in Iqaluit next week. We found a great selection. I also found a number of local, new books, including Geoff Butler ‘Our own Little World’. Geoff is from Granville Ferry. His books are a combination of paintings and poetry, with a sense of humour.

Home for lunch. Given the recent snow storm on Wednesday night, there was still good snow in the woods. Time to put on cross-country skis and go down through the property to the Annapolis River. On the way back up, via the old plantations at the defunct Lawrencetown nursery, there was ample opportunity to check the tracks of coyote, deer, squirrel and other mice and voles.

We stopped briefly at the orchard. The apple prunings remain encrusted in ice and snow. It will be at least another week, before burning can take place.

blogPost_27Mar17_2On Saturday evening, CARP hosted a movie night at the Paradise Community Hall on ‘Forest Schools’.It was a good turn out. We had the chance to watch documentary on experiential environmental education in Switzerland and to hear about a similar new initiative underway in the Greenwood area.


Endless Shores Books publishes a free weekly paper for communities and people in Annapolis County. It is available at the web site or you can receive it online, contact

Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) have a web site or you can email Their mission is to  ‘enhance the ecological health of the Annapolis River watershed through science, leadership and community engagement’.

Posted in New thinking

Using online games to study what tourists find attractive here.

Imagine if we could, through games, explore the preferences of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, North American and other visitors to our region and cater our tourist destinations (and direct our dollars) to meet those preferences.

We THINK we know what attracts tourists to our area, but how can we measure that objectively?  How can we rank one destination over another? I propose we have tourists play games — online games. Apply game concepts to unearth the mindset of our potential visitors. Here I pilot a basic game called “ValleySeen”, the results of which can be used to evaluate what landscapes/streetscapes appeal to our visitors. Go ahead and play in my test area of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.


ValleySeen applies the urban “StreetSeen” project, created by students at Ohio State University and used in the MOOC, Technicity, to explore gaming in a rural setting. StreetScene is based on the work of Open Plans Beautiful Street Project and MIT’s Media Lab Place Pulse Project .

This is how it works …

Display pairs of images that are randomly selected from a library of Google Street View images within an area. Pose a planning question. Have the player vote on the image that best suits the question. Tabulate and analyse the responses to rank users’ preferences and even generate ‘heat maps’.

I applied StreetSeen to look at Annapolis Royal through the eyes of a tourist. I wanted to know what tourists found attractive. I focused on Annapolis Royal as a test area. I randomly selected twenty Google Street View images and generated results in spreadsheet and map form. I ranked the preferred images based on the question asked, and analysed results.


My pilot was limited in scope: geography, number of images, analyses. In future, I propose adding the geographic source of respondents in the analyses.

Furthermore, I propose that gaming concepts be used to study our tourism and tourists to better develop destination plans for Nova Scotia.





Posted in Creative writing

gtong len: taking and sending

mermaidInTheSnow_400h400w90dpiKen McLeod in his book ‘Reflections on Silver River’ translates and comments on Tokme Zongpo’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. Zongpo was a fourteenth century Buddhist monk living in Ngulchu (Silver River), Tibet. McLeod describes the fundamental Buddhist concept of gtong len, or empathy, where one receives the emotions of another person and responds by sending back supportive feelings. This concept raised the idea in my mind whether we can take or receive from a landscape and return positive empathy back to it.

To explore the idea further, I looked at the literature of two geographies: England and Nova Scotia. My jumping off point for England was Alexandra Harris ‘Weatherland. Writers and Artists under English Skies’. She looks at English culture over a thousand years in terms of the story of changing ideas about the weather.

‘Weatherland is a celebration of English air and a life story of those who have lived in it. As we enter what may be the last decades of English weather as we know it, this is the history for our times.’

My starting point for Nova Scotia was Janice Kulyk Keefer ‘Under Eastern Eyes. A critical reading of Maritime fiction’. Keefer introduces chapters on Community, Nature, History, Politics and ‘Going and Staying’. The region was a stepping stone to the rest of Canada.

Within the context of Nova Scotia, we can find the ‘nature’ writing of Silver Donald Cameron (beaches) and Harry Thurston (tidal wetlands). For ‘community’, we might look to Ernest Buckler or Thomas Raddall.

From the gtong len perspective, what do we receive from the local geography (land,sea and air) ? Depending on the scale, we can think in terms of the Gulf Stream, the Labrador current or the tides in the Bay of Fundy. What do we send back ? A detailed description of our interaction with the landscape and its history — from the Mic’maq, Acadien, New England Planters, Black Loyalists.

If we wish to practice gtong len, then we must relate our stories to the geography. Expanding Harris’s documentation of the relationship of the weather in England to the weather(air),land and sea (geography) in Nova Scotia.

It is the writers and artists who are ‘sending’ us back. It is the destruction of the ecological resources that we are ‘taking’.


Keefer titled her book after the novel by Joseph Conrad ‘Under Western Eyes’.
In her words ‘Conrad wished, among other things, to present to his readers a unique way of seeing and being, to underscore the essential difference between the Russian and European traditions and temperaments.’


Ken McLeod. 2014. Reflections on Silver River. Tokme Zongpo’s Thirty-Seven Practices of a Bodhisattva. Unfettered Mind Media. Sonoma, California.
Check web site

Alexandra Harris. 2015. Weatherland. Writers and Artists under English Skies. Thames and Hudson. New York.

Janice Kulyk Keefer. 1987. Under Eastern Eyes. A critical reading of Maritime fiction. University of Toronto Press. Toronto.

Silver Donald Cameron. 1998. The Living Beach. MacMillan. Toronto.

Harry Thurston. 2004. A Place between the Tides. A Naturalist’s reflections on the salt marsh. Greystone Books. Vancouver.

Ernest Buckler.1952. The Mountain and the Valley.New Canadian Library Series 23. Toronto. McClelland and Stewart. 1968.

Thomas Raddall. 1950. The Nymph and the Lamp. New Canadian Library Series 38. Toronto. McClelland and Stewart. 1968.

Posted in Creative writing

Citizen Engagement and Virtual Reality

This week, we celebrated the availability of craft beer from Lunn’s Mill Beer Company in Lawrencetown. Their elegant growlers include a couple of messages, as well as a map of Nova Scotia. The beer company is an example of engaging citizens in a rural business venture.

Lunn’s Mill growlers 

‘In 1760, this beautiful part of the Annapolis Valley was known as Lunn’s Mill, named after the major industry in the area a bustling sawmill owned by John Lunn. Around this time, the Charming Molly set sail from New England carrying the first New England Planters. These intrepid people helped expand the community with farms and shops and in 1822 it was renamed Lawrencetown.’

‘Lunn’s Mill pays homage to our past and to tIhe people who choose to come to Nova Scotia and make their living from the land. We strive to keep up this tradition using top quality ingredients locally sourced wherever possible, and partnering with local businesses to put Lunn’s Mill back on the map as a proud brewer of Nova Scotia craft beer.’

Meanwhile, in the weekend newspaper (Chronicle Herald) the debate continues about the state of the forests in Southwest Nova. The Opinion section includes columns by Mike Parker, author and researcher, as well as Jeff Bishop, Forest Nova Scotia. In the Style section of the Globe and Mail, there was a discussion on the use of Virtual Reality as a tool for interior designers.

Here is my point, why not use the tool of Virtual Reality to help engage citizens in decisions related to our landscape. First, a simple example, Nova Scotia Power is consulting with property owners about expanding (doubling) the buffer around power lines. Rather than go house to house, we could organize community meetings, where citizens could look at the impact of this expanded buffer, on their property as well as on the South Mountain as a geographic unit.

The same form of citizen engagement could take place, in relation to the planning of forest harvesting. Indeed, when I was interviewing Tim Webster, Research Scientist at AGRG, they had recently received funding to establish a Virtual Reality laboratory in Middleton.

Citizen engagement is a key ingredient in the new craft beer venture.
Could we not apply the same philosophy of citizen engagement, in terms of using virtual reality technology to make collective decisions with regards power line easements and forest harvesting practices ? This tool would allow all parties to see the same geography.

Of course, right now, today, there are some limitations with regards line speed and access to the Internet in rural areas. But we do have some key institutions in the regions with high speed access e.g. NSCC.

One final note, on Tuesday, March 7th, at the Centrelea Community Centre there is a session on the mapping of historic buildings in the community. This is a collaboration between a group of citizens and Ed Symons, instructor and students at COGS.(

Mike Parker ‘Don’t listen to industry reassurances’ Chronicle Herald, March 4/17 Page F2.
Jeff Bishop. ‘Confusing opinion with the facts’. Chronicle Herald, March 4/17 Page F2.
Matthew Hague. ‘Noticed: Digital Design’.Globe and Mail, March 4/17. Style section page 5.

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.