Monday, August 31, 2009

Busy day

I bought some building supplies for an outhouse, and took my truck to a garage to get its problem diagnosed. Burnt out heater core. Antifreeze being sprayed onto the inside surface of all the truck cab windows, windshield in particular. $300. Coincidentally, the building supply store also estimated $300 for all the building materials I wanted for the outhouse. I didn't buy it all, just enough to get started. Yesterday Peter helped me draw up a plan for the outhouse, I had tried earlier to do it but somehow it seemed too complicated (there are special requirements for this particular outhouse). Peter has a gift for simplifying things. After a few minutes of sketching, I had a plan, a materials list and a cost estimate. Plus donations of a door and roofing materials.

I also went and looked at a three acre building lot with "deeded water access" on a lake. The location is kind of interesting, it was a very pretty drive to get there and the lake itself was very pretty. The real estate agent was a very nice lady who lived nearby. It was a fun trip but I have not made up my mind. It has its pros and cons, as usual, although a friend said You just have to decide, the pros and cons don't really matter. Which is true I think in this case. But easier said than done!

Had dinner at Mike and Ruth's and we talked among other things about a book I am reading called The Strange Empire of Louis Riel. Reading it is like watching a bad car crash happen in front of you, you know it ends badly and getting to see the details of exactly how and why it ends badly is not pleasant but hard to turn away from. I can't read too much of it at a time.

The squirrels, the antlers and me

For some strange reason the squirrels around here are becoming quite tame. I don't think I am encouraging it, but I admit I have not tried to trap or poison them so maybe they take that as a friendly sign. But when I go to use the facilities outdoors, invariably one of them is watching me from a tree. They usually talk to me (in squirrel language) and sometimes I talk back. Today a squirrel halfway up a nearby tree came all the way down to the lowest limb, about four feet off the ground, to talk to me. No idea what he was on about. Didn't seem upset or anything, just chatting. I think he realized I hadn't a clue what he was talking about, after a minute or so he went back up the tree and disappeared. It might be one of the youngsters, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the mother.

They still come into the porch to gnaw on the deer antlers. Every time I hear one of them I go out there and yell at it, although these days I don't even have to yell, I just open the door and look at it. The antlers are on the wall right beside the door.

So, they have this funny routine. When I first open the door the squirrel jumps off the antlers and scurries along a high shelf and out a hole in the wall above the outside door. Before its last leg has disappeared out the hole, the damn thing turns around and comes back! Comes right back to the antlers. I just stand there staring at it, it pauses to think about the wisdom of its actions, then it actually dithers, trying to decide whether to run away or go back to the antlers.

At which point I usually say something like, What, are you nuts? Get out of here! And it does.

This happens two or three times a day. Maybe twenty or thirty seconds a day of gnawing on antlers are all they need, what do I know. In any case the antlers are showing a bit of wear but they are still intact. I can always bring them indoors if it gets bad, but so far I am reluctant to find out what they'll go after if the antlers disappear.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tropical shmopical

The weathermen kept downgrading Danny, it was just a tropical storm, not even a tropical storm, it was not coming ashore, just a little bit of rain and wind. Maybe at times heavy.


Worst rain and wind we've had so far this year.

Even Nova Scotia Light and Power says so. They spent today running around fixing all the power outages.

Mike's rain gauge showed 75mm (3 inches) this morning and my driveway was underwater. I stopped trying to find pots for all the drips coming through the roof around the chimney sometime before midnight. As long as it didn't rain on my bed I was giving up on it.

Maybe it wasn't even a tropical storm, but it sure packed a big wallop. This time New Brunswick took notice. Saint John was flooded.

Everybody around here had a bad feeling about this one, in spite of the reassurances of the weathermen. And even faced with the evidence the weathermen are still saying it wasn't even a tropical storm, just a tropical depression. Yeah, so depressed it flattened us.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bill and Danny

Hurricane Bill last week, now Tropical Storm Danny. It's not supposed to be as bad, but considering it's bringing at least two days worth of heavy rain and strong winds, not sure that means much. Bill was out to sea, Danny's supposed to come ashore.

The weather between storms has been pretty good actually, but overall not a great week for me. Let's just say I am not in a sufficiently good mood to say much good about anything.

A neighbour commented this morning that Hurricane Bill seems to have left everyone a bit wonky. Her uncle just up and bugged out without telling anyone or saying goodbye, here one day gone the next.

I kind of sympathize, I've half a mind to bug out too. Except the truck has something wrong with it, it fogs up and stays fogged up in the rain. Someone told me that meant a part was broken, but she couldn't remember what the name of the part was! That's a help. So no driving in tropical storms or hurricanes or even light showers until I get it fixed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

All hurricane all the time

I woke up very early, the ground outside was damp but it was not raining. I had been thinking the day before about moving my truck out from under the trees, in case one fell on it, but wasn't sure where to take it. This morning I decided to move it out to the Garden House. There's a bit of space far enough from big trees that I thought it might be safe there. As it turned out, it would have been fine anywhere, the wind never really got that strong.

I was not going to put the bird feeder out (I bring it in at night to keep four-legged critters from knocking it down and breaking it), but the blue jay calls (kind of a whistle) changed my mind. Once the rain started coming down heavily though, I decided to just dump the contents on the ground and bring the feeder indoors to keep it dry. When water gets into it, all the seed gets soaked and seems to hold the water until it dries into a solid mass. The jays came around several times, each time looking wetter than the last time, until finally they looked like they'd been out swimming. They were grey rather than blue and their crests were flattened.

I went out on the porch deck to watch the rain at one point, and a whole bunch of birds flew out from underneath. They were sheltering from the rain under my house.

The Halifax CBC radio station broadcast only hurricane news. My usual Sunday morning show, The Sunday Edition, was not on the air, at least from Halifax. I could tune in Saint John in New Brunswick and get it there, the hurricane is far enough south to not concern most New Brunswickers. So when I got tired of listening to The All Hurricane News I'd switch to Saint John to listen to whatever the rest of Canada was listening to.

I think I learned a lot about hurricanes today, listening to the radio. Apparently hurricanes behave differently in northern latitudes than further south. For one thing, the storm serge causing higher sea levels and big waves associated with a hurricane precedes the storm further south but comes with the storm here.

The west side of the storm is more benign than the east side, and since the hurricane passed to the east of us, we were on the benign western side. We got a lot of rain but didn't get the super high speed winds.

When you look at a satellite image of a hurricane it doesn't necessarily look the same at ground level. That's kind of obvious, but what isn't obvious is that the centre of the storm isn't necessarily where it appears to be in the satellite image.

As the hurricane moves northward it transforms into a tropical storm and finally dissipates; part of the transformation involves a tilting, the vertical axis of the storm begins to tilt forward. So looking down on the storm you see the centre forward of where it actually is on the ground. By the time Hurricane Bill reached Halifax (midway up the south coast of Nova Scotia) it was beginning to tilt forward so the storm appeared to be further along than it actually was.

People behave badly during this kind of thing. There were actually surfers out today! They were taking advantage of the big waves! Unbelievable. Also, cars lined up all along the road to Peggy's Cove and the rocks on the shore there were covered with storm watchers. Considering that you can get swept off the rocks by a rogue wave and dashed to your death against those rocks in relatively calm weather, it is absolutely crazy to be out there during a hurricane. Finally the RCMP closed the road to Peggy's Cove to keep people out of there.

The highways were rain-slick and covered in large pools of water all over the province, hydro-planing was common and still people were travelling at 100/110 klicks. Can you say death wish? It's Sunday for godsakes, where the heck are they rushing to?!? Maybe people just don't have enough excitement in their lives...

Haven't listened to the news yet as to how Cape Breton fared, they were supposed to get the brunt of the storm before it headed off to Newfoundland. In Halifax the storm serge arrived at low tide, in Cape Breton it coincided with the high tide, and a spring tide (higher than usual) at that.

Here's a couple of photos showing the Baxter's Harbour waterfall before and after the storm.

And a couple more just showing waves in and around the Harbour. Nothing like some other areas of the province. Note the missing boat in the waterfall photo and the boat buoys in the Harbour photo. All the boats were hauled out before the storm, no damage done.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Battening down the hatches

I mentioned yesterday that Hurricane Bill is on its way. As it gets closer the weatherman has a better idea of where exactly it is going to pass. At one point they thought it might come straight up the Bay of Fundy, but now they're saying that it will be south of Nova Scotia but north of Sable Island, a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia. It's supposed to hit southwest Nova Scotia sometime overnight and be in this area by Sunday morning.

Currently the weatherman is saying we will get 70 to 110 mm of rain in a few hours, for the metrically-challenged that is three to four inches.

Four inches!!!

Down on the South Shore (where I was earlier in the week) they are expecting up to six inches. Also we'll get high winds, up to 80 klicks/50 mph, but more down on the South Shore.

But wait, there's more! That big storm that hit Ontario a couple of days ago, complete with major tornadoes and one dead? That's due here this afternoon! Two storms in one! Oh goody!!

And for the icing on the cake:

Yesterday I noticed wads of pink insulation on the ground by the woodpile on the west side of the house. Walking up to take a closer look, wondering where it came from, I heard something galloping away through the underbrush. Couldn't see it, but by the sound it was definitely bigger than a squirrel.

Look up, way up.

There are four dormers on the roof, each one with board and batten walls on the sides. Last fall, Mike and Fritz were going to re-roof the north side of the house and in preparation they removed all the battens from the north-facing dormers. Winter came early and they never did the roofing, they also never replaced the battens. Instead they piled them up in the porch and on the ground on the north side of the house.

These are not ordinary battens. The gaps between boards are six inches wide, so the battens are eight or more inches wide. I saw those old battens when I arrived here in May but I never knew what they were, I thought they were old scrap lumber. When I started stacking firewood by the house, I used them to keep the wood off the ground. That's right folks, they are now sitting under almost two cords of firewood.

So that pink insulation? Some critter---most likely a raccoon---tore it out of the dormer walls where the battens used to be. That critter---most likely a raccoon---had to tear through thick building foil to get at it, so all the exposed building foil is now ripped open from top to bottom, with pink insulation bleeding out onto the roof. Some of it that critter---most likely a raccoon---has hauled away to do with whatever it had planned, some of it I caught him or her in the act of hauling away yesterday afternoon.

There's staging in place for the roofing job, so yesterday afternoon I went out there to examine the damage. Yup, wide open, both walls of both north-facing dormers, lots of hurricane rain will likely go straight in through all those holes. But it's scary out on that staging, my balance sure isn't what it used to be and I'm scared of heights at the best of times.

Of course, I realized right away that the battens were missing and a few seconds later where those battens were most likely to be now. Oh dear. I checked the porch and there were a few still piled there, but about half were missing.

I started phoning around. In a pinch I could steel my courage and go out there and nail the few battens remaining back in place, but at the very least I needed someone to be there to call 911 in case I fell. I left a long message for Fritz, I called Mike and Peter and Chris. Peter called back. He said he was busy, but one way or another he'd arrange for either himself or his wife Nancy to be there if I couldn't get anyone else.

Yesterday evening I called Fritz again and he said he'd be up first thing in the morning to do the job. He wondered what kind of critter would do such a thing.

I said, Raccoon?

He wondered if it were mice. I had to laugh out loud.

I imagined a platoon of mice ripping through that building foil and hauling out two and three foot long batts of pink insulation. If this was done by mice, then be afraid, very very afraid!

True to his word he arrived at 9am today ready to roll. All the battens I could find I had already stacked by an upstairs window that we could crawl out of onto the staging. Fritz went out to take a closer look at the damage and then at the battens we still had, and figured that some wood shingles might substitute OK. This was only meant to be a temporary cover to get through the hurricane.

There used to be a pile of new wood shingles in the porch, but Mike had taken them earlier for another job. He had also taken the ladder. And he was away for the weekend. So Fritz and I crawled around under the house looking for broken old shingles. We managed to scrounge a stack of them, then while he was out on the staging nailing battens back in place, I went hunting for roofing nails to use with the shingles.

Within a half hour Fritz had all the holes covered up, and nobody fell off the roof. He had a busy day scheduled in the Valley so after a glass of water and some conversation he left. I met with Sheila for our daily dogwalk and discussed preparations for the hurricane. For sure the power will go out, so anything I need to do before that happens I have to attend to right away, as the first storm is due later this afternoon. The phone might go out too.

I think I have enough food, I should probably get a bit more drinking water as Mike's well has an electric pump. Nothing I can do about the lights, I have kerosene lamps but no kerosene, but fortunately the stove is propane and I just filled the tank a couple of weeks ago. Should charge the head lamp batteries so at the very least I can read in bed.

I have already turned the kayak upside down. It is covered by a tarp, but there's high winds expected so the tarp might not stay in place; upside down the kayak won't take in water. And maybe I'll get a couple more icepacks out of Mike's freezer for my cooler. I just froze eight quarts of strawberries last month, I may have to make a whack of jam on Monday when the storms are gone.

Gonna be a hot time on the mountain tonight...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Lost notebook

It's driving me crazy so I am writing it here.

My knitting notebook has disappeared. I cannot find it anywhere.

I have turned the house and my truck upside down looking for it. I have attempted to retrace my steps and have called friends that I have stayed with to see if I took it there and left it, but so far no luck. I do not remember taking it anywhere.

This notebook contains instructions and measurements for all the stuff I have made over the past year. Most of it was stuff I designed myself, so I spent many hours knitting and ripping it out before I finally got it right and wrote it down.

All gone now.


It is driving me crazy, I cannot believe I have just lost a year's worth of work.

And I have absolutely no idea how I lost it.

Cottage life in Petite

I've been away the last few days, visiting a friend at a cottage in Petite Riviere (pronounced Ptee Reveer). Wonderful hot weather, but the ocean was a bit cold. Nevertheless I managed to go swimming every day. My friend was taking some vacation time to spend at the family cottage with her parents, Mary and Neil. Mary will be 90 this fall, Neil is 93. They are frail and Mary has dementia, but Neil is very bright, gentle and humourous. He said, Don't look forward to being my age. If you get to be my age, deal with it, but don't look forward to it.

Actually, I wish I had had a notebook to write down some of the things Neil said, he was full of smart comments on a variety of topics.

The first couple of days I was there Neil was hard at work on his computer, drafting an article about a book he is reading and very much likes, The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur.

(the kite propped up by the chair is to reduce glare on his computer screen)

Neil is a retired Baptist minister and I suppose it is a good thing he is retired otherwise I am sure they would kick him out for heresy. He has very radical views on faith and religion. Among other things he advises that it is not necessarily a good thing to have a strong faith. If you do, he says, hang on to it, but doubt is a good thing too. It's always good to question your faith. He says he went to Divinity College when he heard the call as a young lawyer, but in retrospect he thinks he should have waited until he was more mature. His faith has changed over the years.

Every morning he would come out of his bedroom singing Oh What a Beautiful Morning! and we would all join him for a chorus. What a great way to start the day! Other times, if he was working on something by himself, you could hear him singing to himself a mix of hymns and popular songs.

One of Neil's daughters is a doctor and when she catches him on the computer, which is always, she has a list of chores and projects she wants him to work on that involve physical activity and turning the computer off. She says he is not getting enough exercise and so she comes up with chores that will get him moving instead of sitting in one place all day, hunched over his computer. One evening she explained to him exactly why she wanted him to move, why he needs to exercise in order to combat pain. It was very interesting, her specialty is sports medicine and she understands very well what happens when you don't exercise enough. I was kind of surprised but also not surprised when she said that the best thing to do for the pain of arthritis is exercise to strengthen the muscles around the area of pain. Kind of hard to do though.

One day we went on a long walk from Petite Riviere to Broad Cove along the shore.

The trail we followed went through different terrains, sometimes we walked on pavement, sometimes on dirt roads, sometimes on sand, sometimes on rounded beach rocks and sometimes on sharp pointy rocks.

The views varied as well, we passed several rocky or sandy coves, little lakes, fields, forest and little cottages.

In one place we were walking on smooth rounded rocks, easy on the feet, but through very sharp salt grass, I even got a cut on my knee from a grass blade!

At the end of the two-hour hike we reached Broad Cove, and stopped for drinks and food at a local cafe. We had planned ahead and left one car in Broad Cove so that we did not have to walk back afterwards.

On another day we went for an evening sail on the doctor's sailboat moored in a nearby estuary. That was very pleasant, we watched the sun set from the boat.

My friend and I also spent one evening on the cottage deck watching for shooting stars. In spite of being almost a week past the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, we still managed to see several of them. My friend also pointed out Mars, which is very bright now and will not be this close to the Earth again in our lifetimes.

Neil and Mary have owned this property for over fifty years. They built the small cottage and spent most summers while their family was growing up there. Now the grandchildren spend their summers there. It's a very simple place but very comfortable. Their kids have made some improvements, enlarging the deck and the kitchen, and installing an outdoor shower for washing off sand and salt before coming into the cottage.

I have to say the outdoor shower is completely wonderful. But I also enjoyed the pile of old National Geographics, a must for any cottage!

The area is full of small cottages similar to theirs, and many families have summered there over the past half century. One of the nice things about Nova Scotia is that many people have small cottages and cabins along the seashore and inland along the many small lakes. These cottages are relatively inexpensive, most are simple and entirely adequate for summer living on the lake or seashore. Nova Scotia being so small also means that they are very accessible too. Most people can get to their cabin or cottage within an hour. Just about everyone I know either owns one or has access to one owned by a friend or relative.

We went to the local store in Petite a few times, each time we asked about the latest news on Hurricane Bill. It is almost certain that Nova Scotia will be affected in some way by this hurricane, but it is as yet unclear what it's path will be and how severe the effect will be. There was general agreement though that there would be spectacular waves on Sunday, accompanied by varying amounts of wind and rain. The last I heard is that it will pass by out to sea, making landfall on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland, but Nova Scotia would see high winds and over 100 mm of rain. That's a lot of rain!

I enjoyed the three days I spent in Petite very much, great scenery, "refreshing" swimming, good hiking, great conversations, and lots of sun. I do believe I have acquired a bit of a sunburn!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunset on the beach

On Saturday night I went down to Paddy's beach to watch the sunset with Chezzah. There were about 14 of us there to watch, several of us were snapping photos. This is the Saturday night excitement in Baxter's Harbour: the setting sun!

There was a couple sitting in lawn chairs setup in front of their tent on the beach, I stopped to chat with them. They were a bit nervous at first, quick to tell me that a local resident had said they could camp there, I said it was nice that one could still do that, setup a tent on a beach for the night. They thought locals might consider this "their beach" and be a bit resentful of interlopers camping there. It was certainly unusual to see a tent on that beach, but I confess my first thought upon seeing it was, Why didn't I think of that?

They described travels in Newfoundland and how impressed they were with how the Newfoundland government encouraged outdoor activity and life there. They told me that a Newfoundland resident could lease, for $25 a year, any Crown land plot of land on a lake that was not already leased. They also said that seeing folks camped on beaches is very common there, it's the done thing on a nice summer weekend.

The fellow started throwing sticks for Chezzah to fetch, his wife confided that he always wanted a dog that would fetch sticks but their own dog Maggie resolutely refused to do so. But the sun had set and daylight for getting home was at a premium, so I had to break up their happy exercise. Maggie I think was relieved to see us leave, she looked a little jealous of the attention being paid to the new dog.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Chezzah's owners return home sometime today so the house-sit ends and I return to my forest home.

A few days ago I went with a real estate agent to look at a local house for sale, just up the road. It has a bit of land associated with it, a lovely front yard with big old maples and a horse chestnut tree, and the house itself is old but in good shape. The real estate agent used to be a builder so he took me on a detailed tour of the house pointing out its high and low points. Overall a sound house, but it just did not grab me as "my new home." I think the thing that sticks most in my memory is the HUGE new fridge sitting in the dining room because it is too big to fit in the kitchen. And all the old oilcloth on the floors (which the real estate agent thought was wonderful, I was less impressed). Anyway.

To be thorough we toured the basement of course, which was an old fashioned dirt-floor, stone-walled and low-ceilinged affair. Even I, at 5'3", had to stoop low, sometimes bending over double to clear low floor joists. But the details of construction were plain to see, the old unplaned 2x5.5s(?) on 18" centres, the unmortared stone walls, the plank subfloor, the uneven dirt floor. Definitely not a finished basement!

This is not one of the oldest homes in the Harbour, but it was probably built by one of the Schofields maybe 75 years ago, maybe less. A lot of Harbour homes were built then, most likely all by the same few guys.

I used to own a small house in Wolfville built in the same era, right after World War II to accommodate returning soldiers and their new brides, the mothers and fathers of the Baby Boomers. It was a small 2-bedroom square bungalow with a flattened pyramid-shaped roof, where all four sides come to a peak. I have since seen its close cousins in cities all across this country, all built at the same time for the same reason.

I replaced the front door on that house with a newer insulated steel door and in the process uncovered a wall stud bearing the builder's autograph and the year of construction. That gentleman then lived in a house at the top of the hill on which my house was located, with a big picture window overlooking all the houses on that street that he had built. I told him that I had found his name inside the wall of my house, and asked him if he had insulated the house (I was in the process of weather-proofing the house and was wondering whether I needed to insulate the walls). He grinned and winked and said, Oh a little bit, a little bit! In those days "a little bit" would have meant a mess of dry seaweed, horsehair and straw in the walls, and sawdust in the ceiling.

The home I am staying in now was built over 200 years ago. It also has unmortared stone walls and a dirt floor in the basement. I am impressed by unmortared stone walls, I think it takes a degree of skill to put together a stone wall that does not fall down without mortar.

The floor sills and primary floor joists are huge 12"x12" beams, and there are secondary 6"x6" floor joists on 24" centres, open half-dovetailed into the primary joists. The subfloor is made of 2"x12" planks. Talk about solid! The current owner did a lot of work to restore this house to be modern in weatherproofing and amenities while retaining its old style in construction and finishing detail. He covered the basement dirt floor in gravel, so you do have to wear shoes down there but it does not get muddy in the springtime. Head clearance is considerably better than the house I looked at the other day, I do not have to stoop anywhere in this basement.

In addition to original construction work you can also see later modifications, the addition of wiring and plumbing and forced air heating ductwork to the old floor beams. At this point the whole thing becomes rather messy to look at, and the addition of years of old stuff being stored in the basement completes the picture. I wanted a photo of the old stone basement wall but it was hard to find an area of wall clear enough to photograph. Likewise with the floor beams. I looked it up and this type of joist construction is known as Continental Dutch (primary and secondary joists), as opposed to English Colonial (single set of joists, the common modern method). The other house I was looking at was an example of the latter method, but not yet standardized in the modern format of 2x6s or 2x8s on either 16" or 24" centres. In those days you could get unplaned lumber which was thicker and rougher to the touch. Maybe you still can, I've just not seen it in a few decades.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dealing with despair and cynicism

Sorry about the title, hardly appropriate for such a lovely sunny day, but oh well. I am including some nice flower pictures to counteract the heavy topic...

Having access to high speed internet for a short while allows me to feed my addiction to websurfing and blog-browsing. My Firefox Bookmarks list of favourite blogs is quite long, and with my dial-up access I have had to create a short list of blogs I cannot live without. Thus leaving out quite a few that I wish I could keep up with. So I have been browsing the long list.

One blog on my long list is The Great Change by Albert Bates, who I met a few years ago while spending the summer at The Farm in Tennessee. I don't always agree with his opinions but he is very knowledgeable, an interesting writer, and one shouldn't always read only what one agrees with, should one? His latest post among other things is about his own personal existential crisis, one I can relate to since it frequently crosses my mind too.

Albert starts out describing a grim prognosis for the future of the Earth, the overwhelming evidence and scientific opinion that we face massive extinction of life in very short order, including not only humans and other large critters but also fungi and microbes (life on Earth might benefit from the extinction of humans, but definitely not from the extinction of fungi and microbes). Then he posts an endearing photo of his three-year old grandchild, someone who might very well grow up to observe and participate in said extinction.

My own opinion is sadly similar, where I think I part company with Albert is that I think it is irresponsible to hammer on that opinion incessantly. I do think we are on the brink of the ultimate disaster, if not sliding inevitably into it. I have grandchildren I fear for. But I cannot see the future, I do not know for sure that the End Times are upon us, it just feels like it. So knowing and feeling that, what is one to do?

Albert provides an answer to that question for himself and I think it is a good one. He starts with a quote that I really like, a peyote prayer: "I am going to follow God, I am going to follow God, I am not turning back." I'll let you go over to his blog to read the rest...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Not too long ago I heard an interview with Dr. James Lovelock, by Anne-Marie Tremonte, the host of CBC's The Current. He is the originator of The Gaia Hypothesis (that the Earth functions like a living organism, sometimes misunderstood as the Earth is a living organism), and just celebrated his 90th birthday in July. He published a book a few years ago called The Revenge of Gaia that very much perturbed many environmental and climate change activists because he came out solidly in favour of greatly expanding our reliance on nuclear energy as quickly as possible. He has another book out now, The Vanishing Face of Gaia.

At any rate, I found that interview profoundly uplifting, although a neighbour who also listened to it found it profoundly depressing. Quite the fellow that he can evoke both feelings at the same time!

What my neighbour found depressing was his insistence that we are past the point of return with climate change, it's all downhill from here and very few people will survive it. He said that all efforts to avert disaster are too late and a waste of time; we would be far better off putting our efforts toward figuring out how to adapt to and survive the coming drastic changes than trying to prevent them.

But interestingly he does not take a stance of blame on this. I have grown tired of listening to doomsayers who castigate the selfishness and downright short-sighted evilness of humans for creating this situation. So I am happy that he agrees with me on that (excuse my arrogance!). He said that in fact if you want to point your finger at any one cause of drastic climate change on the Earth, far better to point at algae rather than humans.

Several billion years ago the algae very nearly did cause the permanent extinction of all life on Earth. We weren't around at the time so we are largely unaware of how close it really was, but the climate change that occurred in that era was far more awesome than what is now predicted on the basis of human efforts. We got nothing on the lowly algae!

The other thing that he said when Anne-Marie asked him if we deserved to suffer the consequences of our ignorant actions was, Oh no! We are the crowning achievement of Mother Nature! It is to be fervently hoped that we will survive, because we really are worth saving. And this is what I found to be most uplifting, that he does not consign us ignorant human beings to the deepest circle of Hell for what we have done to the Earth, but rather fervently hopes for our survival and even transcendence of the current predicament, because we are worth it.

How 'bout them apples, huh?

My own opinion on that matter is that we are like teenagers, we revel in our new-found (relatively speaking) powers, believe we are immortal, and wreak havoc as a result. A hundred years ago, who knew that we were already on the brink of climate change disaster?!? Fifty years ago? It's easy and even satisfying to point the finger of blame, but what good does it do?

Lovelock still comes out in favour of nuclear energy because he believes that it is the quickest way to switch away from carbon dioxide releasing fossil fuels. He also points to statistics that show that so far it is the safest form of energy production we currently have. He does not suggest that this is a permanent solution to our energy needs, but rather it is a stopgap solution to buy us some time to come up with a longterm solution.

I have read some recent and not-so-recent reviews of Lovelock's work and on the basis of this interview I think that what he is saying is largely misunderstood. Personally, I have huge admiration for the man and he is just about the only thing that gives me hope for the future of my grandchildren, for all the grandchildren.

Let me rephrase that. Not that Lovelock will single-handedly save the world, but rather that he points to the possibility of a positive outcome from a very bleak situation. I know that there are many people quietly and not-so-quietly working toward that end, and their efforts will be what brings that positive outcome to pass, if it is to happen at all. Those people are very much deserving of my/our admiration, maybe even more so. But I admire Lovelock for his lifetime body of work, his realistic but hopeful attitude, and his efforts to communicate that.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The house-sit

This house-sitting gig is so cushy I know I am really going to be disappointed to return to my own digs when it's over (Sunday). So I am enjoying it while I can!

My responsibilities are minimal: water the plants, feed the birds and feed the dog. About 10 minutes a day. The benefits are vast: hot tub! view! the dog! indoor plumbing! high speed internet!

And the weather forecast is unbelievable: sun, heat and clear skies all week! I think this is a first. Folks are saying summer has finally come (mid-August!!!).

Yesterday I walked around the big field surrounding the house with Chezzah. She has a weird obsession: she chases airplanes. Not low-flying or on-the-ground airplanes, but the high flying jets and planes most of us are barely aware of. So out in that field she appeared to be running off in all directions barking like crazy at nothing. But it wasn't nothing to her, it was airplanes overhead.

In the early evening I thought I would cycle back into the woods to get some strawberries out of Mike's freezer, but en route I was stopped by Alden who invited me for dinner and beer with him and Sheila and Jana. I think Alden is trying to matchmake me, first he described his 80-year-old (single) uncle in glowing terms and said he really had to introduce us, then later he introduced me to a visiting neighbour, making a point of telling both of us that we were single. The nieghbour has a house right next to the Baxter's Harbour waterfall, one of the more desirable locations in the Harbour.

I eventually made it back to the freezer, Mike was laying out garlic to dry and offered me some. I had Chezzah with me and he said he didn't understand why she didn't go on vacation with her owners, although he answered his own question by noting that she would have had to stay leashed the whole time. I didn't stay too long, the mosquitoes were swarming and Chezzah was covered in deer flies. Fortunately her fur is way too thick for them to penetrate, but they do bug her.

There's a huge family of pheasants living in the field on the Co-op land. As I was biking into the woods I saw them all on the road in front of me, there were too many even to count, all youngsters. They look kind of like cardboard cut-outs; when you see them broadside they look like ordinary birds, but from the front or back they are so skinny you hardly see them at all! When they saw my bike bearing down on them they scattered in all directions, one running in front of me for several tens of meters, zigzagging back and forth on the road in apparent terror before finally taking wing.

After dark I lay in the hot tub for a while gazing out at the Bay and the Milky Way above until my glasses were too steamed up to see anymore. I was wishing I had a glass of wine, but I can't bear to tear myself away from here long enough to buy a bottle.

Oh well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weekend Tancookers

Isaac had to leave a bit early to take Tristan to spend some time with his PEI grandparents, Tristan and Dobby were being dropped off there before Phelan and Isaac headed home to Toronto. They all left early Friday morning, and then I went into the Valley to do laundry and have lunch with my friend Lin. She suggested I call Mel in Halifax and invite myself out to her Tancook Island house, which I did. As it happened Mel was planning to go there anyway and was happy to have the company, but she did have to get some work done over the weekend. So I brought along books, laptop and knitting to self-entertain, but all of it was just extra baggage as there was never any time to "self-entertain".

The trip to Tancook Island was fabulous, from start to finish.

You get to Tancook Island by a walk-on ferry out of Chester. This weekend Chester was celebrating Heritage Days in honour of its 250th anniversary (1759-2009), so the Bluenose II was anchored in the harbour for the occasion. When our ferry left the dock at Chester it headed straight out toward the Bluenose, as if the ferry captain intended to ram it! At the last possible moment the ferry veered to port and gave out a great horn blast. The crew of the Bluenose waved at us, no doubt grinning in relief rather than greeting. All of us passengers with cameras got lots of close-up photos of the Bluenose.

I found out later that our first mate used to be the first mate of the Bluenose II, perhaps he put the captain up to that little stunt.

We also passed a schooner race, it was quite spectacular to see all these large two-masted schooners heeled over in the breeze speeding past us. More photos.

At the Tancook Island wharf we met some Island women that Mel knew who helped carry our bags to her house. Mel told me that she was expecting two more women friends to arrive on the evening ferry, they were attending the Lunenburg Folk Fest and would be spending the night on Tancook.

This particular weekend there was a two-day island-wide yard sale, so after unpacking all our food and personal effects, we set out with Mel's friend Mary to hit the yard sales. Mary lives in Portugal but spends summers on Tancook.

There are about 150 permanent residents on Tancook ("Tancookers") and many summer people. Some of the houses are well over a hundred years old. Mel's house appears to be built smack in the middle of the road, the road has to curl around it. It looks rectangular, but inside you can clearly see that it is shaped like a parallelogram!

They used to build schooners on Tancook, and the old boat-building family of Nova Scotia, the Stevens, has a branch of the family on Tancook. Mel's house used to be a Stevens house. The rest of the Stevens' live around Lunenburg. Both the original and the second Bluenose were built by Lunenburg Stevens'. That's the ship on the Canadian dime. Nowadays Tancook is famous for sauerkraut, although I saw no cabbages while I was there.

There are quite a few cars and trucks on Tancook, but none of them are licensed or insured, and hardly any have mufflers. Some residents drink and drive, so you have to be careful. One fellow came to a screeching halt when I was standing by the road, he yelled out to me "Hello sweetheart!" A few more words and it was very clear he was so drunk he could hardly speak, let alone drive.

Also met a young fellow, no more than 14 I'm sure, driving back and forth across the island in his new $450 Chevy S10. One of the women I was with flagged him down and admonished him to drive slower and not hit anybody.

When we were at a yard sale at the far end of the island, Mel suddenly remembered the beets she left boiling on the stove. She hurried off, hitching a ride home to save the beets, or at the very least, her house. Mary and I continued on, spotted a deer in the road, turned around and walked leisurely back to Mel's. We stopped at the Island Cafe for ice cream cones on the way.

Every car that passed us, you could hardly see the face of the driver but you could always see their waving hand. One driver said she always waved because she never knew if the person on the road was someone she knew or not. Another driver was an older gentleman with flowing white hair and no teeth in a bright red car. He played chicken with Mary and me on the road, and laughed as he passed us.

The beets turned out to be a lost cause, but the house was saved. We started preparing dinner and then at 8pm strolled down to the ferry dock to meet Mel's friends, Marilyn and Louise. Between the food we all contributed it was quite the feast. We also had several bottles of wine to go with. Jan dropped by and since she didn't drink I offered her my sweet apple cider from the Valley.

We had a marvelous dinner by candlelight, five sixty-ish women. Then Jan suggested that we go look for a dark place to view the Perseids meteor shower. A bit hard to do since the moon was still pretty full, but we set out in Jan's car to a beach on the far side of the island. Five sixty year old women cruising along at 15 kph in an unlicensed, uninsured old car with no muffler.

We passed the island graveyard twice, many of the gravestones had Christmas lights on them, so the graveyard looked quite gay.

Turns out there was a party going on at the beach, with a big bonfire. We hung out there for awhile and then headed off to the other end of the island in search of darkness. None to be had, and in any case it was a bit early for the meteor shower so there you are. Jan dropped us all off at Mel's house and then headed out again, I suspect back to that beach party.

On Sunday we thought we'd try to go swimming. We had heard that the water was warm, a bit unusual and not to be missed. I had left my camera in Jan's car the night before so we went to her house to get it and Jan said she'd join our expedition.

We had a map of the island trails and set out on foot to find a good swimming beach. The trails of course did not match the map, but we encountered lots of raspberries, gooseberries and chanterelles, so that was OK. I got a chance to chat with each of the women individually and they were all very interesting people. Jan is an "experimental" novelist and creative writing teacher from Manhattan, a sober alcoholic who likes to party. Marilyn is a Halifax doctor with hair dyed blond and red. She showed us all the things she could do with two-coloured hair, alternately a redhead or a blonde (or both simultaneously!) depending on how she arranged her hair. Louise is an English professor and a grandmother who owns a summer house in PEI but is very interested in finding a house on Tancook. We also met Gay, a retired English prof from Montreal who tried to live fulltime on Tancook but found the winters too depressing so now she winters "away".

We finally decided to go swimming off a dock on the far side of the island, but if that was warm water then I'm just way too hot-blooded to appreciate it. Marilyn loved it, the rest of us just made a quick in-and-out to say we did. We picked up Gay at her house and headed to the Cafe for more ice cream cones, then Louise and Marilyn packed up to go back on the Sunday evening ferry. I didn't have to be home for anything so I stayed over one more night with Mel. We took all our leftovers down to Jan's house and she made something called Pezzole? The basic ingredients were chicken and hominy, with added lime juice, salsa, hot pepper, and fresh tomatoes. Very interesting.

But before we ate we took Jan's canoe out for a paddle down the shore to a little cove where we landed for a while to poke around on the shore. As we were heading back one of the local men showed up in his motor boat to do a bit of handjigging. He said he saw fish jumping right by our canoe so he headed over to try his luck. It was amazing to watch, I've never seen anyone handjig before. It's kind of simple, just a fishing line with a hook on it that he "jigged" by hand. All the while keeping up a patter in a classic Tancooker accent about the fine art of handjigging and hook-removal, when you inadvertently hook yourself in the face. You don't want to know any more than that.

We ate Jan's Pezzole and then headed back to Mel's. Mel had not yet gotten any of the work done that she planned for the weekend, so I went to bed and she stayed up to work. We had to be up early in the morning to pack up and catch the 8am ferry back to Chester. The weather had turned and was grey and drizzly, but somehow a drizzly Monday morning is just fine after a lovely sunny weekend having fun. Gay was at the ferry dock, I guess heading to Chester for shopping.

I like this picture of the ferry boat and some fish boats; to me it looks like the ferry boat is the mother ship and the fish boats are all the baby boats...

The ferry has a small crane on it for lifting cargo onto the aft deck. It can carry one or two small cars, but you can't drive on, the car has to be lifted onboard.

This one was taken by Marilyn. Not only is she a doctor but she also has a degree in cinematography; she didn't have a camera with her but she loved taking pictures with mine...

We all piled onto the early morning ferry and it began to leave, just as a young man on a bike came tearing up to the end of the dock, looking all pathetic and soaked. He was the lone camper on the island that weekend. News travels fast there, while none of us had seen him, we all knew of his presence. Anyway, the ferry captain saw him and put the ferry into reverse and backed up to the dock again. Mel and Gay joined a crew man in helping to get the young man's bike and bags onto the ferry and then invited him to sit with us for the ferry ride. He was from Knoxville Tennessee, cycling around parts of Quebec and Nova Scotia on holiday.

He told us some interesting stories. He drove to Albany NY in his car and then cycled up to the border, through the Adirondacks. At the border, US Customs wouldn't let him cross on a bike! Apparently there is a rule forbidding bike crossings! So he tried to get the Customs guy to drive him across, and that didn't work, so he waited five hours before he found a cardriver willing to take him and his bike across the border. Unbelievable. Anyway, he cycled up to Ottawa and then through the province of Quebec to Quebec City, where he caught the train to Halifax. The province of Quebec has marvelous dedicated bike routes all over the province, making cycling there a joy.

Once in Nova Scotia he began cycling down the South Shore. He told someone that he had a fantasy of becoming a hermit on an island, and they told him about the Tancook Island ferry so he had to check it out. He came across and asked at the Cafe where he could camp, and the proprietor told him he could camp on Lee's land on the far side of the island. So that he did. He said he had a great slate beach all to himself for the three days that he was there. He was a three-day hermit.

On the weekend the ferry leaves at 9am, but on weekdays it leaves at 8am so kids can get to the high school in Chester (little kids go to school on the island, right now there are four kids in the island school). The young man from Knoxville didn't know that, so he thought he was early when he arrived at the dock at 8.30am.

Good thing the ferry captain doesn't ram schooners or leave late passengers behind!

I found out later that the Gulf Stream came further north than usual this August, so the water on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia was unusually warm. But on Saturday night a northwest wind blew all the warm water in Mahone Bay out to sea, so that's why everyone told us how warm it was, and why when we went swimming on Sunday it was frigid.

When I got home there were lots of messages on my answering machine: Sheila wondering if I was going walking, Ruth offering me some of her surplus beans, and Nancy enquiring as to whether I was available to house-sit. So here I am, eating Ruth's beans in Nancy's house, and going walking with Sheila in the morning!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kids on beaches

I know I've been away from here for awhile, life took over I guess.

Isaac and gang came and went...

...I spent a couple of days out on Tancook Island, and now I am house-sitting again for Peter and Nancy while they go camping at Keji. It was supposed to rain for half the week so they kind of dithered about whether to go or not, but as soon as they decided to go anyway (Don't Complain, Camp in the Rain!), the weatherman changed the forecast to sunshine for the whole week! So I get hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, a hot tub, a real fridge, high speed internet, DVDs and DVD player, a fabulous view of sunsets over the Bay of Fundy, and Chezzah the dog for the rest of the week.

Doesn't get much better.

While Isaac and the kids were here we visited old friends in Mahone Bay, spent time on the Baxter's Harbour beach, went to the Blomidon beach and the Look-Off restaurant. Had ice cream cones at Hennigar's and milkshakes at Stirlings (traditional!), and of course walked Dobby with Sheila's dogs Max and Moose and Riley's dog Queen Matilda.

The various beaches we spent time on were probably the best part. Both kids loved the rocks at Baxter's Harbour and the sand at Blomidon, and my friend Barbara taught all of us to skip rocks on the beach at Mahone Bay.

Yippee, I can skip rocks!

Phelan didn't quite get it but squealed with delight every time he threw a rock into the sea. Eventually he tackled the big rocks in someone's rock garden and had to be redirected back to beach pebbles. Dobby chased the rocks and attempted to paw them up from under the water.

After some discussion about the kids' food likes and dislikes, Barbara made a fabulous mac and cheese and salad for dinner. The kids gobbled up everything and the adults drank wine and reminisced about the old days.

On the road to Mahone Bay we hit a deer (or the deer hit us). It seemed to survive, at any rate it disappeared into the woods, but Isaac's van suffered a smashed headlight and dented fender. Once we got to Mahone Bay we called around until we found a friendly garage that could take a look at it and see what could be done, so Isaac had to spend time dealing with that while Barbara and I took the kids to the beach. Unfortunately they could not replace the headlight without replacing the fender, so instead they duck-taped the bulbs in place (they still worked!) so we could drive home that night. After successfully driving home with a smashed headlight, Isaac decided to just continue on back to Toronto before trying to get it fixed properly. It looked weird but it worked.

Of course the encounter with the deer had to be reported to the police, but they said that as long as the deer made it off the road under its own steam, they didn't care. It was hard to tell what kind of injuries it sustained, there was no visible blood on the van and the deer appeared to be running on all four legs when I looked in the rearview mirror. Hard to imagine it survived the impact, but maybe it did.

I took Tristan down to both the Baxter's Harbour beach and Paddy's beach the first night he was here. We were there till after sunset and I had to drag him off the beach in order to get back home before dark, as we did not have flashlights. A couple of days later we all went down when the tide was way out and crossed over the brook running from the waterfall through the Harbour to the rock formations on the other side. There are towers and bridges made of solid basalt there.

Phelan loved the rocks. He wandered around for a long time on the rocks, spreading his arms wide and yelling, "Big rocks! Big rocks!" Once again, the kids had to be dragged up long before they were ready to leave.

Blomidon had a nice sandy beach, but the tide comes in very fast there and we arrived an hour before high tide. Tristan went off down the beach to explore, and quite a while later we realized that he was well out of sight and the tide comes in all the way to the foot of the cliffs, completely covering the beach. So we had to go running down the beach yelling at him to return quickly. He was a tiny speck way down the beach, it was a little tense. A woman sitting by the stairway up the cliff to the parking lot was sketching, when we returned to where she was sitting she said, "I'm a grandmother, I was scared too!"

There were people Isaac would have liked to visit but was unable to, we had such a short time and it was just not possible to contact folks in time. Zack, a fellow he grew up with was arriving back in Nova Scotia the day before Isaac had to leave, but he was going to be in Mahone Bay and we could not travel that far on his last day here. We tried to contact Lin but she was on the South Shore the day we called. Isaac did see Fritz and Carolyn briefly, but Isaac was exhausted from his drive down from Ontario and Fritz was on his way to work, so it was not the best of visits. We kept missing Mike and Ruth but did finally manage a visit with them, however Peter was working on the South Shore all week (I told him today that he missed Isaac and he was very disappointed. He said he didn't know if Isaac would remember him but he would very much have liked to have seen him again).

We did spend an afternoon wandering around Wolfville though, and Isaac showed the boys where he lived and went to school. The kids got to play on the train tracks and view the Wolfville harbour.

Sheila showed them Alden's tractors...