Our Cape Chignecto Trek

We returned a few days ago from our 51 km, three-day trek around Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and – spoiler alert – we survived!  There were moments when I wasn’t so sure, especially when the rain was coming down in sheets on Saturday, but we persevered.

Cape Chignecto Map
Cape Chignecto loop trail

We arrived at the park shortly after 8 am on Friday, full of energy, clean and fresh.  The parking lot is at Red Rocks, where the Visitor Centre is also located.  We decided to do the hike counter-clockwise, although a lot of the hikers we met were travelling in the opposite direction.  The reason we chose this direction is so that our longest day of hiking would be on the first day, and each day after that would require fewer kilometers.

Friday was a beautiful day for hiking.  A bit foggy in the morning, but the sun broke out pretty early on.  Luckily, it wasn’t too hot, as this leg of the hike would take us directly across the park, mostly through the forest, to Seal Cove.

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Amazing coastal views just a few minutes into the hike.
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Beef jerky break on the Eatonville trail.
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The first 6 km is frontcountry standard, with lots of stairs.

The first 3 km or so of Day 1 is a steady uphill climb but after you reach the Y where we turned right for Eatonville, the trail levels off for most of the rest of the way.  At the end of Day 1, we had hiked approximately 21 km, arriving at camp around 7 pm.

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Friendly hiker we chatted with on a break at the Eatonville bunkhouse.
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Red cliffs and the Three Sisters in the distance.
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So many cliffs, so little time.

The Seal Cove campsites are small, but flat.  Not all campsites have picnic tables, but the ones that are there seem to move around quite a bit.  We managed to set up camp and have some time on the beach before it started to rain.  It’s a short hike to the beach but well worth it.  One of the nicest thing about this hike was all the small, private beaches along the way.  They were so perfect, I wanted to climb down to each one, set up shop and live out my days there.

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I wanted to live on this beach.

When we woke up on Day 2, it was already raining.  Luckily, we had brought a tarp with us and set it up over the picnic table so we had somewhere to prepare and eat breakfast. On this day, we were planning to make it all the way to Refugee Cove, about 17 km along the coastal trail.  We got a short break in the rain in the morning and couldn’t believe our luck.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last as it started to rain lightly for a long time and then quite heavily as we were coming into the Big Bald Rock area.  This area is wide open and would be stunning on a nicer day, however, we had to boot it across the rock face to keep from drowning.  We took shelter on the porch of the Big Bald Rock cabin while we waited out the worst of the rain.  At this point in the hike we strongly considered getting the hell out of there but as we were halfway around the loop we figured any hike out would take just as long as the rest of the loop so after a short break, we headed back out.

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The rain held off for views of these stunning little coves.

We did eventually make it to the campsites at Refugee Cove, completely soaked through, tired and hungry.  We were lucky that we have a dry pitch tent so that we could set up our tent without getting everything wet.  We got into the driest clothes we had, ate some food and passed out pretty early.

The next morning, the rain had mostly stopped, thank goodness.  We packed up for the last time and headed out early for our last and most challenging 12 kms of the loop. There are two major hills to deal with on this leg of the loop, one to get out of Refugee Cove and one to get out of Mill Brook.

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Hiking out to Refugee Cove beach.
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A foggy day at Refugee Cove.
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Campsites are in behind the beach at Refugee Cove.

The park doesn’t make use of switchbacks nearly as much as we would have liked.  Most of its major hills are straight up.  In fact, Mill Brook hill is so long, there are two benches for resting along the way.  In between these two hills and after Mill Brook, you find yourself hiking through a beautiful old growth forest.  Lush with ferns and with a well groomed and easy-to-follow trail, this was one of my favourite parts of the hike.

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Hiking through the old growth forest, on our way back to Red Rocks.

When you get closer to Red Rocks (the finish line!), you have the choice of taking the main trail back or descending to the beach for the rest of the hike.  If you time it right with low tide and you take the beach, it knocks off about 1.5 km from the hike.  At this point, we were all for this so down to the beach we went.  It was actually the perfect way to end the hike, walking on the floor of the Bay of Fundy, with cliffs towering above us and waves crashing to our right.

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Last 1.5 km on the beach back to Red Rocks.

Even with the heavy rain, we still very much enjoyed this hike.  Even when we were soaked completely through, we could still appreciate the incredible beauty right in our back yards.

Here are a few of my take-aways of the hike:

  1.  This is a stunning hike.  With so much of the hike following the coast of the Bay of Fundy, with numerous little coves, red cliffs and 100 ft waterfalls, it’s well worth the sore feet and tight calves that it costs to do.
  2. If the forecast calls for 15 or more mm of rain, I would recommend renting a cabin or bunkhouse, if available.  They’re well built, with bunks for at least 8 people and a furnace or heater for those cool nights (or if you get soaked and need to dry out!).
  3. Take your time.  We only allotted two nights on the trails so each day was full of hiking and there wasn’t much time for checking out lookouts or stopping to admire the views. We plan to go back next summer and rent three bunkhouses/cabins and really take our time with the hike.
  4. While there are some tough hills along the trail, most of it is pretty moderate, making this loop a great introduction to backpacking, for those interested in testing the waters.  If it’s going to be your first outing though, I would recommend taking at least three nights on the trail, so you don’t overwhelm yourself the first time out.
  5. Hiking poles are highly recommended.  There were some pretty swampy areas of the trail between Big Bald Rock and Refugee Cove and many brook crossings along the way.  Poles really helped us getting around these areas and provided balance when crossing swollen brooks.
  6. Have fun!  The right attitude is key.  You are going to have ups and downs and times when you doubt whether you can keep going but it’s really important that you realize that nothing lasts forever, even Mill Brook hill.

And we highly recommend checking out the Wild Caraway Restaurant in Advocate Harbour, after your hike.  You’ll surely be hungry and this place has amazing eats that are going to satisfy that post-hike hunger.  They even have two rooms upstairs for rent, in case you want to get a shower ASAP.

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Finally get to take off those packs and boots!
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Preparing for Cape Chignecto: What’s in My Pack?

Joel and I are preparing for a challenging, 51 km, three-day hike of Cape Chignecto.  Cape Chignecto is a Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, with over 50 km of wilderness trails along the beautiful Bay of Fundy.

Cape Chignecto Map
Cape Chignecto loop trail

This will surely be the hardest hiking challenging I have faced yet.  I’ve done plenty of overnight hikes, but never more than two days.

What’s great about this hike is that it’s a full loop, meaning that you don’t have to worry about ferrying cars around.  It’s also nice because it’s a Provincial Park, with more facilities available than most wilderness hikes.  I’ve also heard it’s stunning, with amazing coastal views almost the whole way around.

When you’re on longer hikes like this, you really rely on your gear, so having the right stuff with you is important.  I thought I’d give you a preview of what we’ll be taking with us, in case you are curious what to take with you on a 3-day hike in the woods.

Tent

We use the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person tent.  It’s ultralightweight, coming in at under 4 lbs.  It packs up pretty small, which is great when you have only so much room in your pack.  We like that it has two doors on either side, so you don’t have to climb over the other person if you have to get up in the night.  You’ll want to get the footprint also.  It adds minimal weight but is really important for keeping you cozy and dry inside the tent. We’ve been backpacking with this tent in the rain a couple times and have had no problems staying dry.  We love it.

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MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person ultralight tent

Sleeping Pad and Bag

A sleeping pad is a must to create a barrier between you and the ground and keep you warm and dry.  We use Static V full-sized lightweight inflatable pads.  They weigh only 514 grams and because they are inflatable, pack down pretty well.  They blow-up pretty easy with just a few breaths (apparently 12, see below).  For a sleeping bag, I use The North Face Furnace 20/-7.  This bag is down filled and doesn’t pack up as tightly as some other sleeping bags but I tend to get pretty cold at night so I like the extra warmth this bag provides.  Make sure you have a compression sack for these bags, so that you can squish them down to their smallest size in your pack.

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Static V lightweight sleeping pad
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The North Face Furnace 20/-7

Camping Cookware

The only stove we use in the backcountry is the Jetboil MiniMo.  These things are awesome.  They boil water is a matter of seconds and they’re super compact and light. While you can cook food directly in the stove using the simmer option, we tend to use it just to boil water which we then add to dehydrated foods.  As for cookware, I use the Woods individual enamel set.  I don’t take the plate into the backcountry, just the cup (for morning tea) and the bowl (for morning oatmeal).  Evening meals we usually eat out of the bag (more on that later).  To eat with, you’re going to need a spork.  What’s a spork you ask?  It’s a utensil with a fork on one side and a spoon on the other.  Titanium sporks are amazing because they’re pretty much indestructible but they are very expensive.  The plastic ones work fine, just don’t put too much weight on them or they’ll snap.

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JetBoil MiniMo System

 

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Light My Fire plastic sporks

Water Management

Water is life, on the trail.  I use a Platypus Hoser 2.0 L hydration system.  These are great because they slide right into a slot designed in your backpack, with an attached hose that threads up through so that you can have hands-free access to water at all times.  Now, obviously on a 3-day hike, 2 L of water isn’t going to be enough.  For that, we use a Sawyer Water Filtration System, with water we collect on the trail.  It weighs next to nothing but is one of the most vital pieces of gear we carry in the backcountry.

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Platypus Hoser 2.0 L Hydration System
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Sawyer Water Filtration System

Food

Ah, food.  Food is tricky on the trail.  You want enough food to keep you moving, but not too much that it will weigh you down.  It’s a little extra tough for me because I can’t eat gluten so I have to come up with easy-to-prepare, gluten free options.  As I said before, we use a JetBoil stove, so we usually eat food on the trail that we can just add hot water to, like dehydrated camp meals, or noodles.  For my money, I really like the AlpineAire camp meals, especially the rice-based ones.  They are pretty delicious and the gluten free ones are well marked, which takes the danger and guesswork out for me.  These meals act as their own bowl also, minimizing clean-up.  They are expensive but oh, so worth it. For breakfast, we eat quick-and-easy oatmeal.  We snack a lot along the way on trail mix, dried fruit, KIND Bars, beef jerky, etc.  We’re also going to take along a couple bagels prepared with peanut butter and Nutella – drool – for quick lunches.  What we don’t want to take is anything in heavy cans or that requires a lot of preparation.  For us, at the end of a long day of hiking, you want something good, quick and easy.

 

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AlpineAire Dehydrated Food Packs

Clothing

Clothing is another tricky one.  It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what you’ll need. Even if the weather doesn’t call for it, we always bring a lightweight rain jacket.  You want clothes that are light and dry quickly, so synthetic materials and wicking layers are great.  I’m bringing along two pairs of light cushion hiking socks (I like Darn Tough), underwear (obvi), light hiking pants and a sweater for cooler nights, two light t-shirts and a long sleeve wicking layer.  That’s it.  I’ll strap a hat to the back of my backpack but I don’t usually wear it hiking.  We’ll surely be ripe when we get out of the woods three days later but when every gram you’re carrying counts, you have to take only what’s necessary.  Keep in mind that you always want to hang your food in a bear hang away from camp at night.  You don’t want visitors in the backcountry.

Other Necessary Items

There are numerous other small items we take with us that are pretty important to a successful trip.  A small First Aid kit, paracord rope, fire starter (cotton ball slathered in petroleum jelly), a hatchet and knife, a tarp, bug spray, sunscreen, antibacterial wipes for cleaning, a garbage bag, toilet paper (obvi), head lamp and hiking poles.  We also take waterproof pack covers for when it rains, because your pack may be water-resistant but everything inside it will eventually get soaked and putting on wet clothes sucks.

Luxury Items

Luxury items are those things you don’t need to survive, but you really want to bring.  I bring a Eureka! inflatable pillow, for instance.  It’s really light and doesn’t take up much space in my pack but really increases my ability to sleep comfortably.  I also take along a tripod and my DSLR, huge luxury items but I can’t help it, I’m a photographer at heart and I don’t want to miss a shot.  We also take a Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern, which is a bit of a luxury item but more a necessity.  It’s super light, doesn’t need batteries, packs down really small and is great to have around the campsite at night.  We think every camper needs one.

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Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern

Backpack

All these items will go in my Osprey Ariel 55.  It is by no means the biggest pack available in women’s sizes but it works well for two or three day trips.  A good fitting pack is absolutely essential on backpacking trips.  A good fitting pack can make 30 lbs feel like nothing.  What I like about my Osprey pack is that the torso is adjustable, making for a better fit, it has spacer mesh at your back to promote air flow, a separate compartment for your sleeping bag (for easy access) and lots of other pockets and compartments for all your little stuff.  Lots of other companies make great packs, though.  Joel really like Gregory packs, and has a Zulu 65.  I would just encourage you to try a lot on before you buy, it’s really important to get that good fit.

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So, there you have it.  Most of what we’re taking with us on our hiking trek of Cape Chignecto.  Most of these items are available at MEC, or your local Scout and/or trail shop.  If you follow me on Instagram (link on sidebar), I’ll be adding stories of our adventure for as long as I have cell phone service.  Wish us luck!

Nothing Gold Can Stay: Exploring The Places of Our Youth

While visiting my hometown this past week to help my parents with the wild blueberry harvest, I took my camera out to explore some of the areas of my youth, mainly the fields around the old homestead that me and my friend Meranda used to frequent.

You see, we were kind of horse crazy in our early teen years, and Old Man Russell had a little farm just down the road.  He had cows and work horses and lots of cats.  He liked to sell and trade the horses often, so there was always a new resident to welcome.  We often walked down to feed the horses a carrot, clean out the barn for Russell and sometimes even go for a ride around the fields.  It was a pretty perfect setup for a couple of horse crazy young girls.

Russell died some years ago and the old homestead stands empty now, the house long ago torn down and the old barn now collapsed.  The vegetation has grown up so that it practically envelopes the abandoned buildings.  Where trails and pathways across brooks used to be, now only stands a wall of shrubs and trees.

I was struck by how different everything looked to the picture I had frozen in my memory. It’s funny how you expect things to stay exactly the way you remember them, frozen in time.  It’s just not the truth.  It reminds me of that Robert Frost poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Despite the fact that nothing gold can stay, there is still plenty of beauty here.  You just have look for it.

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Tourist At Home: Nova Scotia Road Trip ’16

The Smith’s are back from a whirlwind 6-day road trip of the western half of Nova Scotia!

What I love about vacationing at home is that it usually costs significantly less due to the decreased travel costs and you get to discover some really cool places in your own backyard that you might not have known were even there.  In my case, I wanted to hit all the spots I’ve heard about and wanted to visit for years, but had just not gotten around to.

The first leg of our journey took us across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John, NB to Digby, NS.  It was fun as neither me or my husband had ever traveled to or from Saint John by boat, and this offered a cool perspective of the city and the harbour.

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Later, Saint John!
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Views of Partridge Island on the sail out of the harbour
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Leaving New Brunswick behind

The Fundy Rose is very well appointed and fast!  We arrived in Digby is just under 2 hours.

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Nice lounge and cafe on the Fundy Rose
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Checking out the views on the approach to Digby
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We’re in Nova Scotia!

Our first adventure in Nova Scotia was an overnight backpacking trip to Cape Split, a provincial park reserve that juts into the Bay of Fundy and features dramatic cliffs and incredible scenery.  The drive was to the park was lovely and we stopped to take some photos at a lookout along the way.

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The Annapolis Valley

When we arrived at the parking lot of Cape Split, our spirits fell a little to see it packed with cars – there were so many people!  Undeterred, we set off with our backpacks, sure that many hikers would not be staying overnight and that we would soon have the place to ourselves. The hike is about 6km long and is easy to moderate with gentle uphill slopes.  The trail is well marked; it would be very difficult to get lost along the way.   It was extremely windy at the cliff edge when we arrived!  I was afraid to get too close in case I lost my balance.  It’s a long way down!

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Checking out the views
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The famous Cape Split rocks
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The gulls love this place!

After setting up camp, we hiked down to a rocky beach where we sat on the rocks and took in the beauty of the Bay of Fundy.  And our camping buddies got engaged!  Congrats, Mahshid and Jason!

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The happy couple
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A rock that rivals Cape Split itself!

After spending a lovely evening on the cape, we parted ways with our friends who were heading back to Saint John and set out for Yarmouth.  We were pretty tired after the backpacking trip and it was raining (a theme we would encounter for the rest of our trip) so we didn’t make many stops along the way.  Once reaching Yarmouth, we had much-needed showers, strolled through the lovely Frost Park, had dinner and went back to the hotel to crash early.

Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth
Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth

The next morning after a quick breakfast in Yarmouth, we headed out to discover the South Shore.  It’s a long but beautiful drive along this rugged coastline.  We made a stop in Cape Sable Island to see The Hawk Beach, the most southerly point of Nova Scotia.  The beach here is a stunning grey/white sand and is home to the tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia, at 101 feet.  The lighthouse is some distance from the beach so we couldn’t get up close but the stop was well worth it with the beautiful views it offers of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Cape Sable Island
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The tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia in the distance

By early afternoon we arrived at our next destination, Lunenburg, a picturesque port town and home to the Bluenose II.  We quickly discovered that Lunenburg is a major tourist destination; the place was swarming with visitors, just like us, gawking at the brilliantly coloured buildings and snapping photos along the way.  We were lucky that the sun decided to make a rare appearance, just as we were exploring the downtown area.

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Colourful shops in downtown Lunenburg
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Bluenose II
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Pretty waterfront
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More colourful buildings

We quickly discovered Ironworks Distillery, a local company that makes spirits inside an former blacksmith’s shop.  We sampled many of their delicious products and learned a little about the process, leaving with several bottles to take home.  I would definitely recommend a stop here if you are in town.

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The old blacksmith’s shop, now Ironworks Distillery
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Beautiful wood fired still

We stayed the night at the Rum Runner Inn, a lovely spot right in downtown Lunenburg, which serves a gluten free fish and chips, so I was in heaven!

The next morning was gloomy and after a quick and delicious breakfast at The Savvy Sailor, we headed out for the small community of Blue Rocks, just a few moments from Lunenburg.

This might be my favourite place we saw along the way.  It had true Maritime charm, even with the light drizzle and moody skies.  This community is famous for the slate rocks that give it its ‘blue’ name.

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The gloomy morning didn’t diminish the beauty of Blue Rocks, NS
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Fishing huts at The Point
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The famous blue rocks

After Blue Rocks, we headed for Halifax, where we visited with friends and did some shopping.  We had a fantastic meal at The Bicycle Thief and did as much sight seeing on the waterfront as the rain would allow (not much, as it turned out).

Red bicycles at The Bicycle Thief
Love this art installation on the Halifax wayerfront
Georges Island views


The next morning we set out for my home county of Cumberland, stopping in Truro to check out Victoria Park.  I had wanted to visit this park for some time, after seeing photos of the waterfalls and the daunting Jacob’s Ladder and it did not disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time to explore more trails but we had to get on the road and the weather was pretty chilly (we’ll have to come back!).

That’s a lot of steps!
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Joe Howe Falls
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Witches Cauldron
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Cool tree roots

The discoveries continued with my parents when we took a drive to the historic mining town of Londonderry.  Once a bustling community of almost 5000 people, it’s now a collection of just a few homes.  The town square is still well maintained though, where a few artifacts of the mine are preserved for visitors to see.  It’s a reminder of what once was, and what is not likely to be again.

Londonderry Memorial Square
Fly Wheel used from 1903-1910
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Boiler used from 1849-1908, and an abandoned bike
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Country bridge

And that pretty much wrapped up our tour of the western half of Nova Scotia.  We look forward to exploring the eastern half and Cape Breton later this year.

I would encourage everyone to be tourists at home, and to explore spaces in your own backyards.  You never know what you might find.

Growing Up Baseball

The sting of the Toronto Blue Jays elimination loss in the ALCS is still fresh in the minds and hearts of Canadians.  In order to take the series with the Kansas City Royals, both talent and luck were going to be required and the only thing lacking was the luck.

The Blue Jays’ incredible season and playoff run united the country as is only possible on a few occasions outside of the Olympics.  I can’t imagine what it was like to have both the support and the weight of expectation of an entire country on your back.  The Jays carried their burden admirably and they did Canada proud.

Their playoff run brought back memories of a childhood spent at softball games and my grandparent’s living room, where my Grampy Rushton could always be found in his chair in front of the TV, hollering at a Blue Jays game.  I was 13 yrs old when the Jays won their first World Series.  I don’t remember many of the details but I do remember the feelings associated with it: the anticipation, the excitement and the elation.  It felt like something special had happened.  And it had.  An entire country rallied behind a team in blue and white, as they captured something that no American probably ever thought they would.  And then we did it again the next year.  It was an embarrassment of Canadian baseball riches.  And then there was not much excitement for many years. Until this Cinderella season.

The Jays’ tremendous run reminded me of just how much baseball/softball was a part of my growing up in rural Nova Scotia.  An assuming sports broadcaster commented during the Jays series with Texas, that Canadians don’t grow up playing baseball.  But they do, Harold Reynolds, they most certainly do.  I didn’t belong to a team but I played tee ball when I was small, my parents and most of my Aunts and Uncles were on local fastpitch softball teams and we always played at school on warm spring afternoons. Baseball was a larger part of my childhood than any other organized sport, including hockey.  We didn’t have a town rink or soccer field growing up.  But we did have a diamond.  That fact would probably shock Harold Reynolds.

Even in our tiny village, we had our own baseball field, with bleachers and dugouts and the whole bit.  So many of my childhood afternoons and muggy summer evenings were spent at that field.  I can still smell the dusty earth and fresh cut grass, and see the backs of legs from my hiding spot under the bleachers.

The baseball field also served another purpose: that of community gathering place and celebratory space.  We had events called Field Days, with parades (in which the softball teams would feature prominently), carnivals with dunk tanks and fake jail and fireworks after dark.  They were the kind of celebrations that a kid lives for.  And they all revolved around that baseball field.  I can imagine it was much the same for small towns across the country.

As our town shrunk, so did our ability to maintain the field.  It’s a little sad to drive by the field  and see it completely overgrown with maples. There are no more bleachers and dugouts and diamonds.  No more carnivals or parades or fireworks.  There are only our memories.  And the Toronto Blue Jays.  At least we still have the Jays.  And there’s always next year.

The following are a few snapshots of our local teams and Field Day events.  Thanks to Marsha and Wendy for allowing me use them on the blog!

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Another kind of Blue Jays. The team walked 20+kms to raise funds for their snazzy uniforms.
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1985 North Shore League Champions, the Westchester Wolvies on their float on Field Day.
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Webb’s vs Westchester Fire Dept tournament, 1982.
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My grandfather Orland Webb sits on the field bleachers with his trophy. Apparently he always pitched in his plaid slippers.
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1985 Field Days championship trophy for the Blue Jays! This was the Blue Jays first tournament win.
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And the tradition goes wayyy back. The 1931 Westchester Ball team.

Do you have a story of growing up baseball?  I’d love to hear it!

Thanksgiving Weekend Fall Foliage Tour

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

It’s that wonderful time of year when friends and family gather to stuff themselves silly on turkey and pumpkin pie and oh yeah, pay thanks for all the wonderful gifts we usually take for granted.

This year, my husband ventured across the border into Maine to attempt his first hike of Mount Katahdin.

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Spoiler Alert: He made it to the summit! Photo credit: Ryan Orser

I traveled home to spend some time with my family in Nova Scotia.  I love driving this time of year because it’s a great way to see the fall foliage in all it’s glory.  It sort of turned into a fall foliage tour of upper Nova Scotia for me. Saturday was clear and cool but great for capturing all those glorious fall hues.  I ended up driving around Cumberland County, stopping the car for a photo op every few minutes.  And while the trees certainly are brilliant, it’s always the blueberry fields that really knock my socks off this time of year.  If you have never seen a blueberry field in it’s fall coat, you’ve really been missing out, fall foliage-wise.  They turn a shade of red so brilliant that they almost look like they’re on fire.  I took a shot from the same position as one I took when we were harvesting the blueberries to show you the dramatic transformation:

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Soft greens turn to brilliant reds

If I live to see 110 fall seasons, I will never tire of seeing these brilliant colours.

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Fields of fire
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This section had a more orange/red fire effect
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Magic hour in the country
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My childhood schoolhouse
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Love the way the sun highlights these trees

The combination of soft evening light on pretty country roads and time spent laughing with loved ones soothed my soul this weekend.  And even though my mother is currently fighting her second battle with ovarian cancer, we feel very lucky to have all that we do. Many warm memories were shared and made this weekend.  It’s important to remember that the only moment we are promised is this one and it’s the only one that counts.

I hope that you had time to spend with loved ones this weekend and also that you took a moment to look around at the beautiful show that Mother Nature graces us with every year around this time.  Gobble, gobble.

Maritime Growing Season: The Wild Blueberry Harvest

My family owns a few wild blueberry fields in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.  Every year around this time, the blueberry harvest begins and it’s like a siren call luring me home.  I take a week off work each year to make the trip from Saint John to help my parents out with the harvest.

Most blueberries are harvested now using large tractors with special attachments but some fields aren’t conducive to this method or have sections that the tractors can’t get to. So me, my parents, my siblings, the older grand-kids and anyone else who wants to earn a few extra bucks and give themselves a backache, head to the fields to handpick a path for the tractors and anywhere else that my father, aka the Blueberry Warden, deems fit.

At one time, blueberry fields would be completely handpicked.  Bus loads of workers would wearily make their way to the fields each morning, straining away all day in the hot sun, doing this incredibly physical work everyday for 3 or 4 weeks.  You got paid by the bucket; depending on how good the berries were you would probably get $1.25 or $1.50 a bucket in my childhood.  Not many people want to work so hard for so little reward these days and the harvesters do the work much faster so the days of handpicking are pretty much over, at least in Cumberland County.

And it is backbreaking work, let me assure you.  For those of you that have never had the distinct “pleasure” of handpicking wild blueberries, let me paint you a picture: you spend your entire day bent over in the late August heat, with blueberry vines scratching at your legs while you heave away at those loathsome blue bastards using your metal-teethed torture device (that you are likely to stab yourself with at least once by the end of the week).  You will come to hate those devil-spawn berries, probably by the end of the first day.  It will hurt to bend over; it will hurt to stand up.  You will see blueberries when you close your eyes at night.  They will stain all your clothes and your hands.  And don’t even get me started on blueberry spiders – I live in fear of those monsters.

But the thing is, despite all the hard work, I have a lot of fond memories of picking blueberries. Memories of childhood summers spent running around Papa’s blueberry fields and well deserved afternoon treats of ice-cold Popsicles.  Stuffing your face with blueberries, straight off the vine and warmed by the sun, until Papa yells at you to “stop eating all my profits!”.

These days, the harvest is one of the few times a year my whole family gets together.  It’s a reunion and it’s a time to catch up.  My maternal grandmother picked blueberries well into her 60’s and when she finally had to stop, she found she really missed the social aspect of it.  You’ve got lots of time to chat in the blueberry field.  It’s also a time to celebrate the end of summer and reset ourselves for the start of a new season.  To this day, every blueberry harvest season makes me feel like I’m going back to school.  And there are benefits to your family owning blueberry fields: all the blueberries you can eat.  I love a bowl of them with milk and a little bit of sugar.

There will come a time, perhaps soon, when we will no longer get together for the blueberry harvest.  We’re all getting older, it’s harder on our bodies.  We won’t converge on this lonely hilltop for a week in late August to share in the experience of hard work and a job well done.  We won’t tease my father for being a slave driver and each other about who picked more.  And as strange as it might be to some, I will probably miss it. Because nothing bonds a family quite like a common goal.  And this year was particularly sweet, as we had another reason to celebrate – my father’s 60th birthday. The celebration brought family and friends together for an incredible feast and was a wonderful way to end our visit and another successful blueberry harvest season.

Here are a few photos from blueberry harvest 2015:

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