THE TRAILS OF OUR LIVES

My Nova Scotia Trail

By the time I found the first trail that really meant something to my life, I had graduated from college and was living in an old farm house on the shore of the Bay of Fundy. Behind the house was a large field which sloped upwards to a spruce forest. At the top of the field there was a trail that wound through the woods. As much as I loved the rocky shore that was part of the property, the trail at the head of the field seemed to be more personal.

My two Labrador Retrievers, Tok and Fundy, often accompanied me on my hikes. There was nothing spectacular about much of the trail but it finally opened into a clearing that actually was on my neighbor Joe’s property. The view from the clearing was spectacular. I was living in the Village of St. Croix Cove and you could see the actual St. Croix Cove. I loved the view so much that I eventually traded some land for it.

There were times that I thought that Nova Scotia was the greenest place that I had ever seen. We sometimes were able to find baskets of chanterelle mushrooms just off the trail. No mushrooms since then have ever tasted like those.

It being Nova Scotia, the trail had a winter look and often stayed that way for a month or two. While it was hard to walk up the hill, getting up it on cross country skis was even more challenging.

With each move, we managed to find new trails, some of them memorable. (Read More)

Not Enough Wilderness To Save Us

Sunset on White Oak River Near Swansboro, NC

Towns are magnets and they suck people from the countryside, especially the young and talented. We noticed this happening when we returned to New Brunswick in 2012.We farmed there in the seventies and early eighties. Since our trip, what remained of the three churches in our old town disappeared. The community store closed. Yet the provincial capital, Fredericton, is thriving as the small towns wither.  It is a story repeated time and again in Canada and the United States.

I still worry that some of those wild places like the North Carolina coast will become too populated. I sometimes think that what we call the Northern Outer Banks from Corolla to Cape Hatteras will sink into the seas just from the weight of all those beach castles. I offer up my profound thanks for those who created the National Seashores. Beyond nourishing our souls places like coastal Carteret County and hilly Davie County where we now live grow a lot of food that North Carolina cities need.

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The Shade Trees Are Still There, We Aren’t

Shade Tree, Mount Airy, NC

I remember well the Sunday afternoons under the shade trees enjoying watermelon or homemade peach ice cream. As children, we played like there was no tomorrow.  It was a simpler time when people could actually talk politics without getting angry.  There was nothing like an old fashioned chicken stew to bring families together in North Carolina’s rolling hills. 

There were no chicken stews that I got to attend during my college years. Those were the especially turbulent late sixties and early seventies and I was far away from North Carolina in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As I finished my degree in the summer of 1971, I needed to get away from those strange-hued city-night skies where it was impossible to see the stars.

Just as people used to gather under shade trees in North Carolina, friends used to just drop by on Sunday afternoons at our farm for visit. It was a great excuse to stop working and spend some time catching up on the neighborhood news. It was the way people built relationships, established trust and found common ground.  I cannot ever remember discussing politics.

Beyond the impromptu visits, there were community picnics, shared meals, church services (even burials) and work done for the good of the community. All these things made for richer shared lives. When we were on the farm, I never doubted that the community and friends helped us be successful. The support of their communities was essential to success of farming when we had our farm.

That was back in the seventies. The fifty years since then have not been kind to under the shade tree gatherings or any of the other ways that we connected and established relationships.

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Turkey Tussles

Our perfect 2012 Turkey

The first turkey that I remember being prepared in our house was cooked after we moved to the Mount Airy house with my dad. The first Thanksgiving at college, I did not come home but I got invited out by a college friend, Jack. We had a wonderful dinner and I got my one and only opportunity so far to sample stuffing with oysters.

The next memorable Thanksgiving happened after college. I had purchased an old farmhouse with a barn and 140 acres on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Four of us had spent months remodeling the two-hundred year old house with hand-hewed beams. College friends came up to celebrate that first Thanksgiving on our own in the fall of 1971. We bought the biggest turkey we could find and the ladies in the group figured out how to cook it.

Little did I know I was already on the slippery slope to a smaller turkey and eventually just a turkey breast. I never take exception with the cook but I sure do miss those whole turkeys. (Read more)

Finally a Backyard

Our Backyard in the North Carolina Foothills

It seems since my childhood that I have spent much of my life searching for a backyard. I have had hayfields and marshes as backyard but until this last move none were close to the one where I played ball with friends when I was in elementary school. I could plow up part of it for a huge garden but I have been there and enjoyed that when I was a lot younger. Read more.

Not the Last Farmer’s Market

Mocksville, NC Farmer’s Market, November 3, 2021

We actually started going to farmer’s markets as a couple when we were living north of Fredericton, New Brunswick. We went to see people and to pick up a few things that we did not grow on our own farm. Even more so than most farmer’s markets, there were homemade items interspersed with farm produce. There were no food items that we really needed but I think we went home with baskets to use with our own garden produce. Still we enjoyed the market especially the people.

Maybe it was because we had dirt under our fingernails and a close connection to producing food but for whatever reason, visiting farmer’s market became a life-long passion. Read More

The First Snow

Our former Roanoke, Virginia home after a good snow in 2009

I have seen a lot of first snows. I have also gone through a lot of years when there was never a first snow. Snow is an unusual thing. How it impacts your life depends a lot on where you live. We have lived in lots of places so our snow memories span everything from flurries to blizzards just as you might imagine.

Back in 1960 when I was in elementary school in Lewisville, North Carolina, I had my first serious experience with snow. In March 1960, it started on my birthday and snowed three straight Wednesdays. We hardly went to school that month. Those storms must have created a powerful pull on me. It took me at least twenty-seven years before I had enough snow to move back from Canada and end my sixteen years north of the border. Read more

From Cambridge to Cattle

The sign at our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick.

Many people have asked me how I ended up farming in New Brunswick. It is a fair question. I did not grow up on a farm. I went to a military school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and got my undergraduate degree from Harvard where I studied mostly Colonial American History. I am sure it drove my mother crazy but it was something that I needed to do.

“But if we were not going to be lawyers what would we be? There could be only one answer. You had to go back to land to find yourself. It was only there that you could sort out what was good and bad. There you could find out what was important and how to live life the way it should be. That the roads had turned back to dirt was a good thing.

Read more at YEARS ON THE FARM.

A Loss of Innocence

Raymond’s Gut behind our NC home just off the White Oak River near Swansboro

It seems that I have finally lost even those places that I could retreat to in my imagination. The COVID19 crisis and the mass shooting in Nova Scotia have stripped away those places that have anchored my psyche for most of my adult life. Now there is no place to run. Read more here.