Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Lights

Whalen’s Wanderings
Lighting up Christmas Traditions

Christmas is fully in the air at my house. The lights are all up and the tree is decorated. The smell of candy, ginger, and fir boughs is wafting lightly through the dining room as I write this and I get a bubbly feeling in my gut. Christmas for me has always been a time where family and friends come together and enjoy the season. It is a time of traditions.

One of the many traditions we have is the annual drive around to look at all the Christmas lights on the houses in our area. It is amazing the lengths some people go through to make their home look festive. Some houses are decked out in a variety of colors with thousands of lights while some have a single color, other houses use a flood light to accentuate certain features of their house while others simply light there windows with a battery operated candle.

No matter how you decorate your house, it is always great to drive around and see the colors and the spirit of Christmas. While I appreciate the lights and colors I also like the drive and the tradition. The drive is much more complete if it is snowing. We have even gambled on not taking a drive one night so that maybe we could get snow at a later date. The snow adds a surreal, snow globe feel to the drive.

The fact that we frequently receive a snowy white Christmas is a large benefit of living in this part of the world. I can’t imagine Christmas in a warmer, greener climate. I really couldn’t enjoy Christmas without the snow. It not only softens the topography but also the youthful celebration and places a sullen peacefulness over me that that helps me appreciate the true spirit of Christmas much fuller. The slow pace of tradition and the softening touch of the snow provide me with the structure I need to slow my pace down and keep me sane through the holiday season.

Another holiday tradition is the turkey dinner, but beyond that we often take an afternoon hike after the dinner. I think a part of this is to rid ourselves of the guilt of gluttony during dinner, but a bigger part is the simple enjoyment of the outdoors and family and knowing that we are continuing the tradition.

It is my hope that all of you have a white Christmas filled with great traditions. I hope you are able to enjoy the comfort of friends and family while gathered around a Christmas tree on the morning of Christ’s birth. I hope you are able to get out and enjoy the natural gifts Mother Nature has bestowed on us here in King’s County.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Living Manger

The Christmas spirit is at work within me again. My family and I went to the St. Mark’s Church in Sussex Corner tonight for their Living Manger. What a great event for family’s in this Village. This is definitely something I will be looking for next year. It was entertaining to say the least to watch my four year old son as he listened to the choir signing classical Christmas hymns. His eyes shone wide in the evening light and just when you thought they couldn’t get bigger, he saw the donkey. I’m giggling simply writing about it. “Heeeeehhaaaw” he laughs with excitement.

The night was crisp and cold, but calm. The songs rang out and lifted everyone who was there. The expected missed steps simply added to the event and made it memorable. The animals appealed to the young people in the audience while the story and music kept the attention of the adults. The makeshift manger and the hay bale seating just made it feel that much more like a traditional Christmas outing. By traditional, I mean one where people and community come together as one, where the message is more important than the presents, and where Christ is idolized more than the tree.

This night was one where we could sit and simply enjoy one another while the hectic pace of the commercial side of Christmas buzzed by behind our backs on the street. The parking lot of the church was its own little world for the entire length of the twenty minute show, and very little penetrated the Christmas mood it was setting. A slower pace is what we all need this time of year and I hope you can find it.

This time next year I recommend that you make time to take in this wonderful Christmas event. I thank those who organized this great event and I tip my hat to you all.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

An old fashion Christmas Party

I am very fortunate to be able to serve my community in various ways. Often through this service I am provided opportunities that allow me to enjoy something that I might not otherwise been able to. I like food, so luckily for me these opportunities often allow me to eat at locations I might not normally try. This was the case recently when I met a committee I work with at the Sussex Tea Room (Jitter’s Café) for a Christmas meal.

To write about this evening of food and friendship is hard. I want to tell you about the food but I also want to tell you about the atmosphere around the Café. Which should I start with first? Which made the evening more? I guess the best thing to do is tell you right now that both the atmosphere around the Café and the food both were incredible.

The Sussex Tea Room is located in a small building on Maple Avenue in Sussex. It is an older building that appears drafty and in need of some TLC. On one side it has a large mural painted as part of the Kings East Development Partnership's Mural Project. Once inside, it is a cozy space, with older looking décor that matches nicely to the exterior mood of the building. In the back of the café is a big door that leads to the Don Stiles Museum and if small town history is your thing then this is a place you should visit. Older pictures, posters, newspapers, and paraphernalia are spread across the small back room. The museum easily fits into the feel of the building right down to some of the scratched up tables the items are displayed on.

On the walls around the eating area are paintings, photos, sculptures, and pottery by local artisans. These works are available to buy so you can shop while you eat. What I find great abou the art co-op being right there is the local flavor it adds to the whole place.

As my wife and I walked into the Cafe this night there were trays of hors d'oeuvres that filled the air with a delicious taste. A smell that suited perfectly to the many snacks that I consumed at a shameful pace. When the main meal came I was worried I would not have any room in my stomach, but the instant I saw the large plate in front of me, the fear was gone. I made short work of the home cooked ham and potatoes with all the trimmings.

Conversation around the table was jovial and laughter filled the air and I truly felt like it was an old time Christmas celebration. My wife and I enjoyed ourselves immensely and will surely make an effort to support this small local business more regularly in the year to come. We want to wish the staff at the Tea Room a very Merry Christmas and to all those who enjoyed the meal with us and shared in the laughter a Merry Christmas as well.

Monday, December 14, 2009

An older journal entry.

Note: I wrote this piece a couple years ago and enjoyed reading it the other day so thought I would post it. Enjoy.

Flipping Through the Years

Accidents happen no matter what you may be doing, but those of us who play, ride, climb, run, swim, etc. on a regular basis inherently take greater risks. The risk is part of the enjoyment; otherwise it would be a boring activity. I recently took a risk that resulted in me breaking my wrist and I will be home bound for a little while. No worries though, I have plenty of journals to draw from for my regular dispatch from the wilderness.

My journals are tattered photo albums with papers peeping out the sides, stains on the pages, and one has teeth marks where my dog, then a puppy, chewed at it. The older ones are crude and the written notes are brief with simple descriptions. The newer journals are more refined with notes that show the growing passion within me. All together they tell how a boy became a man.

“So, where do you want to go this week?” I often ask my brother this question when we decide to wander. This time we decided to head for a ridge we noticed long ago as kids. In our early teens we had built a “camp” that looked across the upper Mill Brook onto Misty Mountain. Just down stream there was a cirque with a steep ridge that had exposed rock. That was more than enough to stir our curiosity and so, a few years later, on a cold and snowy day we headed up the Mill Brook for a full day in the woods. We packed thermoses filled with tea and soup and enough cookies to feed a pack of starving coyotes. We headed along a trail that followed the west bank of the Mill Brook. The snow was deep but firm, so the going was easy in our snowshoes and we made great time. Before we knew it, we were at the home of an older friend. We stopped and asked if he would mind if we wandered across his property and chatted with he and his wife. After turning down a lunch we turned our attention to the steep hill that would lead us to our final destination.

The climb up the ridge was difficult and cold. The wind whipped the wet snow which coated our faces making us look like the sons of old man winter. We talked very little but often pointed out different things and exchanged joyous grins. As young men we were already bonding with quiet confidence. We reached the exposed rock ridge and looked east toward Misty Mountain and Waterford. We hunkered down and shared our lunch including every last cookie, still not talking, but knowing what each was thinking. At that moment we felt like we had topped Mount McKinley. We languished for over an hour before heading down into the small creek that had created this wonderful cirque. We crossed the Mill Brook and stumbled up to the road to home. Brothers, now tied closer through a silence shared in the wilderness, walked home down the Millbrook Road, young men acting like boys.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christmas Tree Spirit

Do you have one of those events that happen once a year. Every year at a certain time you expect a phone call requesting your help (and not a call center.) I got this call a week or so ago and when I saw the name on my caller ID I knew what it was about. The request came and I gladly accepted and laughed with the caller before hanging up. The caller was asking me to help with a fund raiser. Last night I had the privilege of selling Christmas trees for the 2nd Trinity Scout Troop as a result of this seasonal call. This troop has been selling Christmas trees for over 15 years now and it is one of their big fund raisers and as a former Scout and leader for this group I feel a rewarding loyalty that painlessly obliges me to help with this wonderful effort.

It was snowing hard as I arrived at the tree stand and I couldn't help but be in the Christmas spirit as I whistled "Let it Snow." The snow flakes were big and fluffy and I was glad I had dressed for snow as I helped a number of customers pick out trees and load them into or onto their vehicles. Some folks loved the snow while others weren't to certain and this led me to observe the people I met that night a bit more than usual.

It was amusing to see the different approaches to how people pick their trees. Some folks will look at a number of trees before picking the first one they looked at. Others simply pick a tree and fire it in the truck with a smile and a big thanks. Others take their time and look over various trees until they find one that is just right. To some people, picking out a Christmas tree is serious business, while others are light hearted.

Personally, I think, even Christmas trees are starting to contribute to the commercialism of Christmas. If you have a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree or if you have a huge full tree, your Christmas should still be the same. It is the spirit of the tree and that which surrounds the tree on Christmas morning that counts.

I still have to get my tree and I look forward to the family trip to the tree lot and the decorating that follows. If you're in the Sussex area and need a tree stop by the Scout's tree lot at Wayne's Convenience on Main Street. The trees are a great price and lots of Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter is Exercise for the Mind

Whalen’s Wanderings
Pushing The Mind Through Winter Snow

It has been a beautiful fall with lots of mild temperatures and I have been able to get out and enjoy a good portion of it. I have been wading up and down streams for work lately and the ice is slowly starting to creep over the stream channel. Despite the great fall weather, the ice tells me winter is coming. I am sure that the skiers are starting to get the itch as bad as I am, even though I don’t ski.

For me winter brings about a whole new chapter in out door fun. The snow and cold temperatures add a whole new set of challenges when heading outside this time of year. Aside from the challenges winter also offers a smooth, white, landscape that begs to be enjoyed and played in. For some, winter is a time to stay inside and pass the time. Those people don’t know what they are missing. Even some, who claim to be outdoor enthusiasts, head to the gym in the winter time to get their exercise. Those of us who wander outside in winter know that the ice and snow make walking twice the exercise as what it is in summer.

I know the cold provides a mental obstacle to overcome but if you can push yourself out the door and shovel off the nearby pond and go skating, you will be well rewarded. If you can strap on a pair of snowshoes then your walk won’t even seem like exercise but rather a walk in the clouds. In Canada we are blessed with four well defined seasons and our winter months only need to be as long as you make them. As Canadians, many of us are well adapted at making winter a glorious playground. In New Brunswick and in Kings County especially, we have many great outdoor activities that we can partake in. Poley Mountain, once the snow flies, offers great skiing and snowboarding. Ski-dooing on our “white gold” is another way to enjoy winter and Adair’s Lodge and the Timberland Motel cater kindly to these groups. Elmhurst Outdoors offers those looking to snow shoe or cross country ski a variety of scenic, groomed trails as does Fundy National Park. Ice climbing is quickly growing in popularity in the area as we have places such as the Parlee Brook ice amphitheater and the Walton Glenn Gorge close by. For skaters any nearby pond or the outdoor rinks in Sussex Corner or Quispamsis can provide hours of cheap outdoor fun. Last, but definitely not least would be tobogganing or sliding and this can be done on any hill near you and easily becomes a party with the right friends and family.

So no matter where you are in Kings County there is no excuse for getting the winter blues. Simply push yourself to get out there and explore and wander through the snow covered playground. Hope to see you in the woods, on the trails or the well frozen pond.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Last week I got to do one of the favorite things in my job. I got to go electro-fishing. The Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee is partnered with the Canadian Rivers Institute to do a riparian health modeling project. Part of this project is using sculpin presence as an indicator of riparian health and water quality conditions.

Electro-fishing is a method in which field staff collect fish population data. An electric pulse is sent through the water which, in a manner of speaking, forces the fish to swim towards the pulse where they can be netted. It has very little effect on the fish, if done properly, and once counts and measures have been completed the fish are released back into the stream. A crew of 3-6 can effeciently complete a population survey on a typical stream.

What is interesting about electro fishing this time of year is the water temperature. The air is cold and steam is usually lifting off the water while ice gently laps against overhanging branches and the shoreline. The ice formations hanging off the branches are like winter bells waiting for Christmas before they ring. But if a bell rings in the water, does any body hear it. Another cool thing about electro fishing this time of year is to see how many fish are actually still in the rivers and brooks. Trout, dace, sculpin, stickleback, were all caught last week and safely returned to their habitat. Some streams, which you might think would have no fish on a good day, surprise you with fish while others you think should have fish, don't.

Of course when you are on a river it is hard not to press around the next corner to see what is there. I think every site we fished, once we completed our site, I would head upstream to snap some pictures. We live in a great place full of natural scenery which many don't get to enjoy or even know exist. I get to find and see these places and that is just another reason why I love my job.