Ode to the Rural Schoolhouse

I was born and raised in rural Nova Scotia.  In a tiny village you’d be hard pressed to find on any map.  I went to one of those rural schoolhouses, the kind from a Lucy Maud Montgomery novel.  The same one that both my maternal grandparents were taught in.  The same one that some of their parents were taught in.  Originally a one-room schoolhouse, a second room was later built, stacked on top of the first.  Grades primary, 1, 2 and 3 were taught downstairs; grades 4, 5 and 6 were taught upstairs.  We had two teachers for all seven grades and a music teacher who drove in from the next town a couple times a week to teach music class.  There was a little playground outside, with two swing sets, monkey bars, a slide and a couple of teeter-totters.  We had gym class outside when we could and when the weather was poor, we moved our desks to the side of the room so we could have gym inside.

The school was pretty busy at one time, but in my time there weren’t as many kids around.  Enrollment was down.  People weren’t having as many kids anymore and a lot of people were moving to larger towns and cities to find work.  Until grade 3, I was the only member of my class (I won all the year-end awards!).  After I graduated grade 4, they shut the school down to save money and bused us an hour into the next town to go to school.  It was hard for me to adjust to such a “big” school and a new curriculum with so many kids I didn’t know.  I struggled to find my place that school year.

Some of my favourite childhood memories are from my time at that little schoolhouse: epic King of the Mountain contests, making a lifelong friend with one trip around the schoolyard, reading challenges where each book represented a paper scoop on a paper cone on the wall, biking to and from school in the warm spring sun.  There is something so pure and idyllic about being taught within your community, with other kids from that same community, by members of the community.  I think it really fosters community spirit and pride, something that seems to be missing from the mega-schools so many of our kids are being educated in today.

It feels special to be a part of something that no longer exists.  People seem genuinely surprised when I tell them I was taught in a two-room schoolhouse.  As if I also used to ride unicorns across rainbows.  Our school is now used to train local firefighters but I know so many stand unused, doting the countryside like abandoned sentinels of our youth.  Someday ours may be gone, torn down because no one wants to pay for the upkeep of the building.  I hope to never see that day.

If you have a story about a rural schoolhouse you attended, I’d love to hear about it!

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Record Setting Winter: One Last Look Back

Well, spring has officially arrived, even though it doesn’t much look like it with the feet of snow we still have.  But the temperatures are above zero today and the snow is melting here in Saint John so it feels like we might actually make it out of this alive.  We feel for those parts of the Maritimes recovering from another winter blast last night.  We swear it gets better.  This winter was certainly one to remember.  Saint John broke its record of 424cm from the 1962-1963 winter and Charlottetown broke its recently held record of 451.3cm from just last winter.  And there is no indication that the snow is finished yet, although the melting snow is promising.  While I think everyone want to see green grass, this historic winter warrants one last look back.  Here are some images Joel and I took from the winter that was 2014/2015.

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It started off dry and cold.
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And then the snow started…and didn’t stop.

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If you can’t see the Stop sign, does it still apply?

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That’s an interesting way to park at the movie theatre.
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Fort Kickass under construction.

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Fort Kickass at the height of its glory.

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Springtime Dreamin’

Beware the Ides of March, indeed.  As winter pounds us with yet another snowstorm, just 5 days from the official start of spring, I think everyone is over it.  It’s time for you to go, Winter.  You’ve overstayed your welcome (if there ever was one).

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I’m dreaming of springtime in the Maritimes.  I love all the vibrant colours that come with the season.  Everything seems so vivid after the monochromatic winter.  People emerge from their homes as if from bomb shelters, squinting in the bright light.  The birds will sing in the early morning; there will be an obscene amount of light in the day. It will be sensory overload.  I can’t wait.

Springtime


Springtime is a Van Gogh’s dream:

Emerald green carpets,

Sapphire skies,

Blooms of ruby, citrine and amethyst.

Golden evening light;

There’s a fire in the west.

A gentle breeze whispers,

Like two lovers with a secret.

It’s coming, folks.  It’s coming.

Saints Rest Beach at Irving Nature Park on the city's West Side.

Sunday Snowshoe to the Midland Ice Caves

The best way to survive a Maritime winter is to try to find some enjoyment in it.  That means getting outside and spending a (hopefully) not too cold day doing some winter activity.  This Sunday started out sunny and eventually went overcast but the temperature was comfortable at around -5 Celsius.  So we hopped in the car and headed for the Midland Ice Caves.

Joel and I usually try to make the hike into the Ice Caves at least once a winter and we decided that today was as good a day as any.  One of the truly wonderful things about living in the Maritimes, and New Brunswick in particular, is all the great hiking you can find close by.

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Making our way to Midland.

Apparently many others had the same idea.  When Joel first took me into the Ice Caves several years ago, there was hardly anyone else around and there was very little signage.  People have caught on now and the trail is heavily traveled and the way is well marked with signage.  I can’t blame them.  A trip to the Ice Caves is great family fun. Kids bring their crazy carpets and sometimes the family dog comes too.

The Caves are a good hike across a field, up a hill, and into the woods following a snowmobile trail.

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It’s a long climb all the way to the top of the tree line.
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Starting to regret all those hours binge watching Netflix instead of going to the gym.
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Getting closer!
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Last part of the hike into the caves.

Snowshoes are helpful but not really required, since the trail, at least from the top of the hill, is well groomed.

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Once there, it’s a steep climb down to the base of the caves, made easier by the use of a rope strung from tree to tree.

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The caves are not really caves at all, but are formed by water running over the edge of a cliff, creating a thick sheet of ice that walls in a small ledge.  Nevertheless, they’re quite impressive.

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Several entrances are usually hacked out so that you can get inside.  The ice glows greenly from the inside and is layered in sheets.  Careful walking inside as it’s a sheet of ice from top to bottom!

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Looks a bit otherworldly in here.
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View from the other side of the cave.

We set up a hammock at the top of the hill leading down to the caves and enjoyed a nice rest and a snack before starting the long hike back to the car.

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A place to relax with a great view.

We felt we earned a treat, so when we got home we had a delicious hot chocolate and a piece of cheesecake.  If I always get this kind of reward, I’ll make the hike to the Ice Caves every day!

IMG_0193UPDATE: As an update to this post, I would like to remind everyone that is heading out to the Midland Ice Caves to give the right of way to the snowmobilers while on the snowmobile trail.  The snowmobilers pay to maintain this trail so please move off the trail when you hear or see one coming through.  Be safe and have fun!