Next Came The Old House And Barn

Our St. Croix Cove, Nova Scotia, House After Remodeling, Summer 1973

The glowing ember of that Nova Scotia trip did not die.  Maybe it was fanned a little by another trip that my college roommate and I took to Alaska in the summer of 1970 in my PowerWagon.  We were gone most of the summer.  When we came back I was even more determined to find a spot away from the big cities of the East.   In the spring of 1971, I wrote to the Longmire Real Estate agency of Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, about a farm and land on the shores of the Bay of Fundy.  The property was advertised in the Sunday Boston Globe.  At the time there was only a print version of the paper and reading the Sunday paper was something I really enjoyed. I was not alone.

Though the details took time to work out, I ended up the owner of 140 acres, a two hundred year old house, barn, and carriage house in Saint Croix Cove. That first piece of land and buildings cost around $7,000. The view of the Bay of Fundy was spectacular.  Soon after with help from my mother, I ended up buying more property across the road.  It actually went down to the shore.

That August after I finished my last class ( I had missed a semester from sickness), I followed in my Land Rover and the adventure really began for me. Two roommates and I had graduated from Harvard and now we were determined to get our hands dirty and let the land tell us what to do. A third adventurer had left Harvard as a sophomore and might have been even more lost than we three college roommates.

Just reworking the old house was a huge undertaking. It needed painting and complete reconstruction inside.  By the time I got there, the plaster, old chimney and lathe had been ripped out. Much of the home was down to its hand-hewn beams. That was only the start of the work. We had to caulk the cracks on the inside of the walls.  Then came wiring and insulation for the exterior walls.  We had made the decision to go with electric baseboard heating because it was easy to install.  We had one very good carpenter, another who loved to tear things apart and to do shingles. A third who was also good with hand tools. I became the electrician and plumber.

There were no beds, we slept in sleeping bags on the floors on four inch thick pieces of foam.  Our few pieces of furniture had come from college dorm rooms.  The decision to relocate the bathroom upstairs delayed having a functional shower for weeks, so we warmed water in a coffee pot for bathing.  Sometimes we took advantage of the showers at a local campground. Eventually one of roommates’ new sweetheart came to stay with us, and she helped with some of the cooking.  Cooking was pretty basic since there was no kitchen.  We ate a lot of tuna fish sandwiches in the midst of our construction and more than a few fried clams at Alice’s Clam shack down in the village of Hampton a few miles away. We did learn how to cook smoked picnic hams and make baked beans.  We also learned to make salt cod and potatoes.  The salty dish was a particularly good excuse for some beer.

We celebrated an amazing first Thanksgiving in Canada with college friends who had decided they needed to see this place that had lured their friends north. There were lots of walks in the brisk Nova Scotia air and the housed now blessed by lots of college friends was soon ready for winter.

By the time winter rolled around, the roommates/helpers started to disappear.

Then there were only two of us left. In the next year, it became clear that I had moved to Canada and beyond working on the old house, I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I bought a few cows and decided to try my hand at cattle and gardening. One of my original helpers had married a local school teacher, he and I began a tenuous partnership with those few cows.

There was a lot to learn and the biggest lesson was that partnerships are hard to sustain. By the next fall, I decided that I needed to move on and find a better place to farm. Between that thought and the reality of accomplishing it there would be a lot that needed to happen. Some things also were hidden in the cards. The decisions were about to get a lot more complicated. Just to keep things interesting, I decided to get my pilot’s license. It would be just a footnote in 1973 which by the time it was done would set me on a course for the next ten years of life.

Sobotta, David. A Taste for the Wild, Canada’s Maritimes

An Unconventional Journey – Life, Learning and Work

My wife, Glenda, in Newfoundland, October 1973

I recently started reading Disrupted, My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons. Dan and I have crossed paths a few times. The first time was when he was in full Fake Steve persona. He offered me sanctuary when it appeared Apple might be coming after my Applepeels blog.

In Dan’s book which starts with losing his job at Newsweek and finding a new job as an editor at ReadWrite. The description of his first new job made me smile.

“Suddenly I am the editor-in-chief of a struggling technology news website called RedWrite a tiny blog with three full-time employees and a half-dozen, woefully underpaid freelancers”

Disrupted, My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble

I was one of those “woefully underpaid freelancers.” Dan was actually my first real editor. I had already written my first book, The Pomme Company, by then but the editor of that book had been my very patient but comma-obsessed wife with some help from two former colleagues.

I wrote for ReadWrite for a few months at end of the five years it took me to find my four or fifth career. After nearly twenty years at Apple that was a tall order. During the years after Apple, I worked at a couple of VP jobs in technology, including one at a startup which fortunately unlike Dan’s misadventure was actually generating revenue and went on to a successful acquisition. However, there were enough similarities in my experience to Dan’s to bring back some interesting memories.

Though writing is one of the things that I love to do, I have never thought of it as a possible career. I also love photography and fishing but I have never understood how to make a career out of any of my favorite things. I have supplemented our income through writing and photography. Perhaps having been “a woefully underpaid freelancer,” I learned how hard it is to make good money doing something you love. Good money is required to send three young adults off to college and help them get off on the right foot. I also figured out that what you do doesn’t matter nearly as much as doing it with someone you love at your side in a place that you both learn to love.

How you end up in your career is an interesting topic that Dan talks about in his book. My experience has some similarities but is very different. I hope to write about it through a number of blog posts here.

Only a couple people in my youth even mentioned a career to me. Things were very different in the fifties especially if you were the only child of a single mother and no one in your family had even gone to college.

Mother worked long hours as a beautician in the beauty shop that was attached to our house. We lived in the small community of Lewisville, just west of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My elementary school and church were just a short walk from home. There were deep woods around our homes. As we were growing up, we thought more about building forts in the woods than we did about building careers. There is no question that I enjoyed my childhood in spite of its share of challenges.

A big turn in my life came in 1963 when I got sent off to a military school that was a six-hours drive from home. Being a boarding student in a dorm was not how I envisioned my teenage high school years. At some point after I got over the worst of being homesick, I decided to make the best of it. Getting good grades had never been a problem for me so I focused on that first. Next I figured out how to do well in the military, stick to the rules, shine your shoes, and do what you are told.

McCallie, where I went to military school did have an important impact on my future. It was assumed that every student would be headed to college. I was part of the pack there so college was clearly now part of my future as well.

While the years at McCallie rolled by, I did get to meet a number of adults with careers that were new to me. Whether they were at McCallie or in Mount Airy where I moved after my mom and dad decided to get back together, meeting new adults did give me an opportunity to think about my future. One of the most interesting people who came into my life was RJ Berrier, who was at the time was the editor of the Mount Airy Times, one of two small local newspapers. RJ was something of a local legend and he loved what he did which was getting the paper out the door onto people’s doorsteps in time for them to enjoy it with their morning coffee. The Times was still using lead type and bourbon to make deadlines. People looked forward to RJ’s Mount Airy After Midnight column as much as I look forward to the comics and the morning paper today.

Though I was already showing some talent for writing, RJ gave me no encouragement to go into the newspaper business. He often explained the pay was poor, the hours long, and job security non-existent. Getting a liberal arts degree at Harvard was not much of a push in that direction either especially since it was during the turmoil of the late sixties and early seventies. I did really hit my stride with writing at Harvard. I am not sure whether it was the expository writing class or all the long papers. However, something clicked and I could churn papers that got stellar marks even at Harvard. I also got paid to do some research work, but there were other things on my agenda that created a hard turn away from writing.

Perhaps, the best description of what was pulling at me was the necessity to get away from the cities that threatened to smother me. Like many others, getting my hands dirty seemed more important than a law degree.

In my case, Nova Scotia appeared to be the locus for a cure. My wife, Glenda, seen contemplating Newfoundland at the top of the post also became a big part of the equation. That we spent ten years building a herd of two hundred head of Angus before I went to Apple is just part of the magic that has touched our lives. I will get around to our lives in Atlantic Canada and how Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and New Brunswick became part of the magic.

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.

(Read More)

Empty Promises

No Paper in the Driveway and An Empty Newspaper Box

I don’t want to be the old guy complaining about other people trying to earn a living. I would like to provide some constructive criticism that might make all of our lives easier.

I spent nearly twenty years at Apple and anyone who knows me will quickly tell you that I am no Steve Jobs fan. I saw him do things that were nothing but mean and contributed nothing to the great products that came out of the company.

However, the one thing that I learned of value from time within the Steve Job’s orbit is that the hardest thing is to say no to things that you might like to do but aren’t in your sweet spot. I would add that if you cannot do something with passion and precision, find something else to do.

Obviously sometimes you really need money and I understand those pressures because I have had my back to the wall with a payment or bill due.  I have been lucky that I have always found ways, one time I sold our bulldozer, to keep going until better times. Those better times have always taken me to opportunities where I was proud to work and more importantly eager to do my best.

So here is the problem today. People take jobs and commit to doing the work, then they don’t do the job. Some never master what it takes to do the job. Some pretend to do the job. Others do not even bother to show up. We have been amazed when trying to hire students to do data entry as part time jobs. It is not hard work, yet continually people commit to working x-number of hours but only work half that. Then there are those who promise but never show.

The problem is widespread. (Read More)

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.

(Read More)

Partners in Cooking and Life

A Loaf of My Sourdough Bread

When I was chasing cows around our farm in Canada, I would have laughed if someone told me that I would replace my wife as the bread baker. I still remember the days that she would bake four or five loaves of oatmeal bread and the kitchen smelled heavenly every time I entered during the day.

I know that cooking together with my wife has become a great joy. We have found a few regional recipes to carry with us as we have wandered from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to Virginia, the North Carolina coast and back to the rolling hills of the Piedmont.

The meals that we have cooked are almost always based on simple ingredients. We are blessed to have grown up in families that were close to the land. Fresh vegetables and food direct from the farm or sea often have delighted us and made our meals special.

We were blessed to have grown much of our own food for over a decade. We have never lost those skills or the appreciation of truly fresh food grown in soil that has had enriched with compost that we have made.

For much of our life, we were too busy to do much more than get food on table. That has changed. (Read More)

A Cathedral of Leaves

Trees at Rich Park in Mocksville, North Carolina

Apparently none of the storybook scary tales of danger in the forest ever stuck with me.  In rural North Carolina in the fifties, no one worried about evil happening in the forests that surrounded us. We did not understand it at the time, but the cathedral of leaves where we played immensely enriched our lives. As a fifties explorer of the local woods, I could not make the connection because I had yet to experience any of the great cathedrals of the world.  Now it seems pretty obvious.

In the summertime, we got up in the morning and headed to the coolness of the deep woods. The towering trees and the brooks that ran through them were our playgrounds. We built dams, seined for minnows, made forts, and played elaborate games in the woods. Sometimes we hardly bothered to leave the woods for meals. We barely escaped the trees as dark descended on the forest.

(Read more) This is post number nine in a series of twenty-two designed to get my blog to 1700 posts before Thanksgiving 2021.

We Were Barn Builders Once

The first barn we built on our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick, Canada

While I had learned a lot about working with my hands since I graduated from college, building a barn was not one of those skills. Living on a farm teaches you quickly do what needs to be done even if means learning how to do something new. I ordered all the materials that we needed from Ontario. They were shipped by rail to New Brunswick and then delivered by truck to our farm. The trusses for the barns were 36 ft. long and the others for the other barn were 36 ft. Even getting those trusses unloaded was not easy but it is amazing what you can do with a couple of farm tractors with front-end loaders. (Read more)