“There’s lots of room here to be different”

Talking to people who are drawn to live on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, I find it interesting to learn about what attracts them here.

Living in Nova Scotia is a choice, whether you come from “away” or  have your roots in the province.

I often buy meat from Kevin Veinot at local farmers’ markets. His farm has been in his family for seven generations. Yet he too has made a conscious choice to live here, and to farm sustainably.

As he says in this video, “There’s lots of room here to be different.”

Nova Scotia Sea School Restoring Dorothea

An iconic sight in the waters of Mahone Bay and beyond, Dorothea has taken hundreds of young people on maritime sailing adventures as part of the Nova Scotia Sea School.

It’s the kind of intense, group adventure that teenagers crave and need for their development, and that schools don’t usually provide.

Lives have been changed.

Dorothea needs an overhaul. Compare the $30,000 they’re looking for to the cost of rebuilding Bluenose II! Small projects like this are very satisfying to support as they can have a huge positive impact on individual lives.


Click here to visit the Nova Scotia Sea School website.

Blockhouse School getting recycled

École de la Rive-Sud and schoolbus
When it was the French school

Exciting things are happening around the old Blockhouse School near Mahone Bay. The 1962 building has been abandoned since the local French Acadian school moved to its new location outside Bridgewater in 2010. That left the property in the hands of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg  (MODL).   Plan B was to bulldoze the property. They were looking for someone with Plan A.

A growing group of people has been coming together around a vision – repurpose the building, and show the world how it can be done.  Insulate it to its eyeballs and add active and passive solar heating. Use it as a business incubator for projects that will make the area more self-sufficient and sustainable.  Plant perennials that will add to our food supply in the long term, and teach people how to do the same. Aquaponics. Permaculture. Green roof. Composting toilets. Time-share commercial kitchen.

Possible future model
All these things have been done elsewhere; we just need a model of how to do it here.

Check out the new website at TheBlockhouseSchool.org.



Woodchip heaven – organic material for the garden

A glorious pile of chipped forest!

I just scored a truckload of chipped branches from a road crew trimming the area around the phone and power lines on our road.

They were happy not to have to cart it back to Halifax, where the truck was headed, so I suppose I saved the contractor a bit of money in diesel.

But I feel like the real winner. I was thrilled to get this much steaming organic matter, a nice mix of “browns and greens” (branches and leaves) which avid composters know to be the ingredients of the slow fire in the middle of a compost heap that produces all that nice gardener’s gold that makes gardens grow.

I’m spreading it over future garden beds. First, I covered the sod with overlapping layers of corrugated cardboard (from behind a grocery store) to smother grass and weeds. Under the cardboard are oak leaves that someone was throwing away. (More free organic matter!) The woodchips go on top of the cardboard in a thick layer. Later I’ll add some manure (which I’ll have to pay for).

In a year or two, the beds will be ready for annual vegetables. The soil will be deeper and contain more organic matter, which it sorely needs. I get out of breaking sod, which is the physically hardest part of gardening. The worms will do the work for me.

Spreading woodchips on future garden beds.

The soil here is sandy and poor – not like the rich drumlin soil of the LaHave River Valley nearby. It needs lots of organic material to become productive for gardening.

Fortunately, Nova Scotia is a leader in “waste” management. Even if I had not intercepted this truckload of material which is so valuable to me, it would have been composted, not buried in a landfill.

Red sky at morning, sailors take warning

Sunrise this morning. Taken with a Fujifilm FinePix F1800 on a tripod.

Another storm is on its way.  This one is the kind of blizzard you’d expect in January, with 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches) of snow.

Atlantic Canada has been in the news lately with a series of storms in December, one week after another.  If you just watched the weather channel you might think that we’re living in a disaster area and maybe that’s why I haven’t been posting frequently.

But where we live, we haven’t lost power for more than a minute, and we’ve escaped the brunt of the storms. The worst damage tends to be localized, and even though Nova Scotia is small, one side of the province often has very different weather than the other. Some weather systems track up the Bay of Fundy, for example, while others are phenomena of the Atlantic Ocean.  And the Margaree Valley has received a lot of rain which seems to get trapped by the surrounding mountains.

The Annapolis Valley was hard hit by one storm which downed many trees, knocking out so many power lines that it took days to restore full service.  Berwick United Church Camp, with its 500-year-old towering hemlocks, was badly hit, as was the Kentville Ravine which also has a stand of old growth hemlock.  I’ve seen photos of damage in both places on Facebook.  It is evident that some of the trees that came down were hollow and perhaps were near the end of their natural life.  Thus the storm did what storms do:  fell trees so that they can return to the soil and nurture new growth that will flourish in the sunlit openings they leave in their wake.  Much as it feels tragic to those who love those trees – and I speak as one who grew up attending Berwick Camp every summer and loved its cool, shaded grounds and majestic trees – this is Nature’s way of renewing itself.

So we’ll take what comes – what else can we do? – and hope the power stays on.

Snapping turtle street wise?

Snapping turtle laying eggs at roadside
Snapping turtle laying eggs by the side of the road, Upper Northfield, Lunenburg Co., June 24, 2010

This cannot be a good survival strategy.

Snapping turtles lay eggs in June and July uphill from a water source.  This snapper has found some gravel right by the side of the road, a foot or two from the pavement.  The water source, as you can see in the picture, is a human-excavated pond some distance away.

I wonder if  this snapping turtle has tuned into her ancestral memory.  Perhaps, before the road was developed, her mother laid her eggs in a sandy bank here, and when my friend emerged from the egg, she scampered and tumbled down the hill to the embracing water in a natural stream or that once flowed quietly just below this very spot.

Now she is laying her eggs in gravel that has been brought in to elevate and level out the road.  If the eggs don’t dry out in the gravel and hot sun, or get squashed by a truck parking on top of them, her hatchlings will have to reach the artificial pond in the distance in order to survive and thrive.

Trying circumstances, it seems to me, and not unsimilar to those facing many young members of a much more recent species on this planet, homo sapiens.

It’s an early spring

Apple blossoms, maple, birch
Apple blossoms, maple and birch in Lunenburg, May 13th

Apple blossoms were blooming in Lunenburg last Thursday, which means they’re past their prime in the Annapolis Valley already.  The Apple Blossom Festival will apparently be blossom-less.  Usually the organizers hit the blossoms right on with their timing, but this year it is generally agreed that spring is 2 to 3 weeks ahead of schedule.

Not that we’re complaining … this is my favourite time of year, when the leaves burst forth.  If it’s part of a long-term trend, however, it could be very disruptive to the natural balance of blooming and birthing, migration and munching, which governs the ongoing survival of many animals and plants.

Spring is early across Canada, not just in Nova Scotia, or so I hear.  Is spring early where you live?  Leave a comment below.

The timing of spring

After almost 3 weeks in Brussels and London (delayed by the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano), I confess to having mixed feelings about coming home.

That’s because it’s really spring in Brussels. When we got there on April 4, the daffodils were past their peak. Forsythia – great bunches of it growing wild – was everywhere. The cherry trees on the streets were blooming pink, and along the highways were many white-blooming trees and bushes. The trees were just on the edge of leafing out when we left Brussels on April 19th.

Sure looks like daffodils and primula were growing wild on the forest floor in the Belgian Ardennes region, April 2010

Now at home, my daffodils have just started, and they’re early this year. I’d counted on this when we planned the trip: seeing two springs. And I will enjoy my second spring as much as the first.

So what is it about Nova Scotia that makes us put up with this extra month of not-quite-spring? And with the cold winters that would kill the broadleaf evergreens that keep Brussels green all year? That’s what I was asking myself as I went for my walk today.

And of course the answer is: the wildness of it. Nature raw and pure. Everything in Europe has been trod upon, cultivated, dug up and built over many times. There is hardly a river that follows its natural course through riverbanks that it carved itself. Humans have had their way with the land for thousands of years.

And we’re having our way with the land in Nova Scotia too, it’s just that we haven’t been here so long in such numbers. Natural shoreline is gradually diminishing, soils are being depleted, pollution locally-made or imported on the jet stream fills our lungs.

The closeness of the wild world reminds us that we still have something to protect, even while we seek to build a viable economy. Can we effectively, sustainably, balance these two concerns?