Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Getting in Touch With Me Before the New Year

It may have been the first cold day of winter today.  As I checked my rain gauge this morning it was -15.3*C and the Environment Canada weather forecast was stating a windchill down to -23*C.  So since I had my afternoon off today, "Why not go for a short hike and blow some stink off before the New Year."  The dog needed a good outing too since we'll be leaving her in the house for the day on New Year's Eve.

I didn't want a really difficult hike, nor did my father, who I invited along.  We took a short drive up the Mill Brook Road and started up the familiar Cotter Holler Road on foot.  Since the fall rains, the road had washed out.  This was the second time this year.  The more intense rain events simply inundate the culverts and once that happens the steep stream seeks out a way around and often that is down the roadways.  If the culverts were enlarged it might change this new natural routine.

As Dad and I discuss the erosion we turn up the Secord road and lean into the steep uphill climb.  In some places the road is also heavily eroded here.  As we reach the crest of the first rise a small, steep, and scenic tributary calls for me to explore its tiny cascades.  Since there is no snow yet, the ice clings to the branches and leaves that were scattered on the ground earlier this summer.  It looks much colder than I feel at that moment.

As the dogs traipse off ahead of us we take in the terrain and enjoy the fleeting sunshine as it penetrates the cold and the shades of the hardwoods.  We reach the top of the hill and stop for a quick drink and head towards the old farm field well below.  The hike down the hill is slightly more gradual than the hike up and so we enjoyed the change of pace.

There was not a great deal of conversation, just a mutual enjoyment of being.

It was not an overly eventful hike but one that connected me to me again.  Funny how nature does that eh?

Here is the route if your interested - hike map.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas and Don't Keep Score

I find Christmas very hard to write about.  Obviously I want to wish all of our friends and family a Merry Christmas but once I get beyond that, what else can I say.  For me Christmas is a family time but it also gets very busy.  Personally I can get wrapped up in gift buying and socializing and then forget what the whole meaning of Christmas is about.  It doesn't happen intentionally but when I get caught shopping, or maybe more appropriately when I wander around the mall aimlessly, I start "keeping score".  You know what I mean by that.  You look at who you have on your list and you think "Hmmm they are likely going to buy me a gift so I have to buy them one."  Once I start down that path, I'm missing the point. 

It is hard not to "keep score" at times.  Even with the kids, we try to make sure that they each get the same amount of toys or that we spend the same amount of money on each, but that isn't Christmas.  We should be trying to make sure that they each give the same if anything.  We shouldn't care what others give to us nor should we feel obligated to give a gift.  If we can't give freely, then we can't fully appreciate what we recieve.

Most of you are probably much better at not keeping score than I am.  I will keep working on it and again I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2014

An Alabama Rockwell Christmas Town

I am fortunate to live in a wonderful part of the globe.  Sussex is a great little community with resilient and friendly people and pastoral scenery.  All this is elevated during the Christmas season.  Main Street recently has been enhanced by the addition of two great stores.  Outdoor Elements and Viewfinders have added a splash of color, class, and culture to the already impressive landscape.  This entry was my column for the December 9th edition of the Kings County Record and will serve as my Christmas version for the KCR.  I hope you enjoy it. 
My kids recently celebrated "Ugly Sweater Day" at school and my wife did a great job of getting them ready.  Photo cred: Michelle King Whalen

Merry Christmas.  Wow.  It is hard to believe that we are already well into another Christmas season.  This is a great time of year and we are fortunate to celebrate it in an area that could come right out of a Rockwellian Christmas card.  Rolling, snow covered hills with frosted limbs and smoky rivers giving you a feeling like you're in the middle of an Alabama Christmas song

On the weekend I was walking down Main Street in Sussex and there were people window shopping, couples holding hands and hot chocolate, and carolers serenading us all.  My kids were walking beside me laughing and I couldn't help but turn my head skyward for a minute and give thanks.  When you consider the comfort level we have and the peace of mind we possess as we walk down the street, the blessing is amplified that much more.

A simple walk down Main Street would set our area apart but it goes well beyond Main Street.  Why not go to a Christmas tree farm, not a stand, a farm, with your family and cut down your own tree and enjoy being outdoors.  That is an old fashioned Christmas and that is how memories are made. The smell of the fir and pine trees will forever remind you of Christmas and how cool would that be when you walk into the woods in July.  You could celebrate Christ year round.

The congregation at St. Mark's church know a thing or two about an old fashioned Christmas too.  As we drove by their church tonight my son asked "Hey Dad, when is the living manger this year?  Honestly I don't know off the top of my head when it is but you can bet we'll keep an eye out for the sign and make sure not to miss it.  If you have never taken in the event, I encourage you to come out and watch this year.

If you can't celebrate Christmas without music then you're in luck.  There are lots of Christmas shows going on.  The St. John's United Church is hosting a music night at their center and if you're not in the Christmas spirit when you go in, you will be when you come out.  If you need more, then check out the local bulletin boards and music shop windows.  There are some big names coming to town and I don't mean Santa.  All the performers are his opening act and all them seem to revel in the role. 
How about those bright windows and the great color on Main Street.  Photo Cred: Outdoor Elements

Don't worry, I won't forget the presents.  The best part is, I don't need to leave town to get all I need.  Main Street is looking vibrant again and with some new shops our choices will be more difficult to make.  There will be lots of people to chat with and share smiles and catch up with.  It might be hard to get all the shopping done if you chat too much but don't worry, I'm sure Santa will take care of it.

Even with all these great activities and surroundings, I hope you have some time to slow down and enjoy family.  From my family to yours, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Walking to Sustainability

This is a topic that has been weighing on my mind for some time.  I have been wanting to push it further but my time has been tied up with other things.  The weight got to heavy however, and so I want to have a discussion with folks from around Kings County, NB who want to push recreational trails to the forefront.  They can serve a multitude of benefits and in a region such as Kings County they can easily highlight the natural beauty, the history, and the people.

Kings County is blessed with rural, rustic beauty that can be accessed by anyone willing to walk for a while.  Walking is the most environmentally friendly source of transportation and is refreshing for the soul.  Typically I enjoy walking in the wilderness but I understand that not everyone is comfortable being off a trail.  Luckily we have some great trails in the Sussex area.

Trails connect parts of our community and provide those near it with an avenue to health and wellness.  In today's environment it is great to have a "walkable" community.  We have a great trail here, but there are still some parts of our community that are not yet connected.  Potential exists for a number of new trails and extensions of trails that already exist.

Imagine a trail meandering along Ward's Creek, or even Parson's Brook.  Such trails could connect Magnolia Avenue, Fowler Avenue, and Skyline Acres to the existing trails and to each other.  People near these corridors could more easily connect to their neighbors, would more likely take a bike ride, and thus be more physically and spiritually healthy.

The required green built for such a trail system could provide much more than simply a walking corridor.  With proper planning and some time, it could serve as wildlife habitat and a buffer to protect our waterways.  The trees that exist in the green belt could help buffer our regions carbon foot print or help filter some of our air to assist some of those with breathing or other health issues.  The green belt would resist impacts due to flooding and also mitigate some of the impacts to existing infrastructure during flood events.  Let's face it any effective flood mitigation approach would greatly enhance our community.

Going beyond the urban setting, a hiking or mountain biking trail could readily connect Sussex to Apohaqui or Waterford.  This strengthens our region and brings us all closer together.  Looking towards Waterford, a hiking trail with the proper corridor could showcase spectacular ridges, waterfalls, caves, and ravines.  This could quickly grow our tourism industry and stabilize our economy and dare I say, remove our need for shale gas.

Winter time does not mean the trail sits dormant either.  Sections of the trail could be designated as cross country skiing while other sections could be set aside for snowshoeing, and it wouldn't be a stretch to create a sliding hill somewhere along the trail either. 

So maybe our area could improve our walkability and by doing so enhance our environmental health and economic sustainability.  This type of action can't happen overnight and it would require many hours of planning and insight.  It will take leadership and sacrifice, time and money, and land and resources, all things that we have in our region.  If this is something you might want to contribute to contact me and I'd love to chat about it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Old Roads

I had this entry published originally in the Kings County Record and it received some positive feedback.  This was one of those endeavors that came together nicely and I hope you enjoy the read.  I was inspired after I hiked along a couple of roads that would be hard to discern now.  The scenery and mature woodlands were peaceful and the remnants of days past added to the peaceful mood I found myself in.

New Brunswick has a long history.  Part of that history is wrapped up in our roads.  Our logging and forestry activities resulted in many roads being developed and, subsequently once they were no longer needed, abandoned.  Traces of these roads can still be recognized and I love wandering on these trails. 
Sometimes it is easy to tell you're hiking on an old road.

In the early 20th century the larger roads were called King's Highways and now when I hike along them I feel like the king.  This time of year it is great to walk these roads as trees often hang over them and during the fall, as the sun shines bright in a crisp blue sky, you feel like you're walking a fragrant hall way in a colorful castle.

One such road runs between Sussex Corner and Waterford and I recently had a chance to walk a short section of it.  If you have ever driven the present road between Sussex Corner and Waterford you know that it is a beautiful drive but to walk the old road is another type of experience.  There is history embedded in the landscape, enormity in the topography, and excitement in the wildness.

As I started the hike my senses immediately heightened and my mind instantly slowed down.  I felt like I could see and anticipate everything.  As I approached an old meadow I instinctively slowed my pace and kept low.  As if on cue a couple of deer bounded away from the old spring they were enjoying.  I wished, rather oddly, that I could share the space with them, but I realize their animal instincts make that unlikely, and I wouldn't want them to lose their wild heart.

To find an old road might not be as hard as you think, especially if you head out to the Fundy Coast or any of the hills that were historically logged around the Sussex area.  If they happen to have a small drainage, try along there and look for a hard pack shelf.  There might be some gravel still showing or some old tracks still slightly visible.  Depending on the last time the road was used, the vegetation will provide some tell tale signs it was a road as well.  Alders and young spruce indicate that the road had been used not long ago, likely as a harvest or farm road.  Older roads might have birch or maples growing up.  The trees will be leaning to the center of the road, not because of the shoulder but because that is where they readily could find the sunshine that feeds them. 

Old roads, like roads of today, connected logging camps to mills, farms to summer pastures, and neighbor to neighbor.  These anthropogenic land marks leave behind clues to their past vitality and with a little imagination you can picture what the road may have looked like in the past.  I have a pretty wild imagination so I readily enjoy this aspect of these types of hikes.

Exploring the landscape around you can be rewarding for so many reasons.  Gaining an appreciation of the past and of the value of the landscape of the present might be one of the best rewards.  If you struggled with history in school then maybe this will be a great way to catch up.  See you in the woods.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Learning Lacrosse

This entry was published in the Kings County Record and at first I wasn't going to post it here.  It keeps speaking to me though and I keep hearing the message in my head.  I'm sure there are other dad's out there who struggle similarly with the differences in personalities between themselves and their kids.  For me it is important to remember that as long as my kids are happy and that I continue to encourage them to explore nature and themselves, then I should be doing an okay job as their Dad.

As a father I have struggled to find ways to bond with my kids.  They are different than I am and have different interests and I don't always understand them.  I have realized that it is better for them, and me, if I simply let them explore their own interests rather than try to push them towards mine.  I am also realizing that they have to explore their interests at their own pace.  I have really struggled with this last point and at times and it has resulted in struggles.

Sport is not always the best avenue for me and my kids to bond on.  I am a competitive individual who always tries hard when playing.  I always was eager to try a new game and find it unthinkable that my kids don't.  Recently we were invited to play lacrosse with some friends.  I had never played lacrosse before and so I thought maybe I could learn with my kids.  While I couldn't wait to play, I found myself surprised by my kids' unwillingness to even try.  After the game was over, my son did pick up a stick and throw the ball around with me, he was actually a bit of a natural with it.

The lacrosse experience led me to realize that even if someone has natural athletic talents, they might not desire to use it.  This leads to another question, what makes some people competitive and others not?  For this I have not yet found an answer, but in my son's case, it might have something to do with being over competitive.  He seems to be afraid of failing or not being able to compete, so instead, he chooses not to play.  With this in mind I wondered "How many great athletes simply chose not to play?"

With team sports not on their radar, I am getting familiar with new activities.  For instance, I now consider guitar players amongst the toughest people I know.  How they stretch their fingers across the frets and press on a single string without wincing is amazing.  My son has been teaching me how to play guitar and my poor fingers are as sore as my legs used to be during two a day hockey practices.  I'm hoping that my fingers will become conditioned and that my son continues to enjoy playing the guitar with me.  One thing is certain, he won't have to worry about me competing with him on the guitar, because I would be scared to lose. 

If you are like me though and enjoy team sports.  If you get a chance, try lacrosse.  It is a challenging sport that combines many athletic skill sets.  I have some of the skills but will need to work on some others.  Unfortunately my age is something I will have to learn to compensate for when I try lacrosse again.  I hope to try again, and there are some others who are much better than I, looking to create a local youth team.  For now I'm hoping they will let me play pick up with them from time to time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beautiful Bogies

This entry was published in the Kings County Record a few weeks ago now.  I've been incredibly busy at work and thus haven't had time to keep up with my blogging.  I was able to get out golfing though a while back and was reminded why I loved the sport so much in my youth.  It is now late in the golf season but fall golfing is very rewarding too.  Lower temps and fewer bugs mean you can be more comfortable while you swing away.

A light rain was falling when I awoke.  The weather forecast was calling for "a risk of rain, sometimes heavy."  I had gone to bed the night before anticipating getting out golfing.  I don't get to golf much so the chance to get out and beat a white ball around a green field had me a bit excited.  My anticipation waned some though with the forecast.

I counted my golf balls to make sure I had enough.  When you golf like I do, you need at least 18.  Then, because I have a tendency to leave clubs behind, I made sure I had them all to start with at least.  Finally I cleaned out my golf bag, throwing out whatever I didn't absolutely need, including a bag of tees, the practice weight and some pennies leftover from a previous round.  If I had to carry my bag, I didn't want any extra weight because regardless of the clubs, I'd be tired after 18 holes and somewhere around 100 swings of the club. 

As we made our way to the Petitcodiac Valley Golf and Country Club the rain held off with only light occasional showers.  We only encountered a short down pour half way through the round.  The course is hilly and offers great views if you can keep your ball in the fairway.  Fortunately for me, I was driving the ball well that day so I was able to avoid the woods for the most part.  Putting however was a poor spot in my round and I can attest that the greens at the Petitcodiac Valley Golf and Country Club are in great shape.  I should know, I saw almost every inch of them, especially the ones on the front nine. 

I may have stated this before in my column but golf is a frustrating, yet rewarding game.  My front nine, mainly thanks to my putting, was horrendous.  Yet on hole 7, after two very poor shots, I stood over my ball, took a deep breath and drove a 5 wood up close enough to make a bogey on the par 4 hole.  I should state that when I see par, I instantly add one stroke and aim for that.  So to make a bogey meant I reached my goal.  It was one shot that made my front nine satisfying despite all the frustration I felt through most of it.  I hadn't made a bogey since the first hole so that bogey was a great feeling and changed my whole outlook.  I managed to follow it with two pars and I finished the front nine with a 54.

There were more bogeys and a couple of more pars on the back nine and I managed to sink a few putts.  The conversation was light and we chided each other lightly when a bad shot, heck even when a good shot was made.  The rain held off nicely and with the overcast sky, it wasn't too warm either.  In all it was almost a perfect round especially if you overlook the scorecard. 

If you're looking for a round of golf the course in Petitcodiac has some great green fee deals and there are courses for all types of golfers in this part of the province.  Check out Golf NB for some of your options.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NS Adventure 2014

Our family recently went on a trip to the Halifax Regional Municipality to visit my brother and sister in-law.  It was an awesome adventure which included some down time, great eats, and awesome scenery.  Peggy's Cove is worth the hype and when you finish it off with a stop at the White Sails Bakery and Deli, the day trip can't be beat.  The kids can no longer go to Halifax without stopping at what our daughter calls the "Bubble Factory" better known as the "Discovery Center."
In Dartmouth we enjoyed Shubie Park which is an awesomely designed green space not far from our hosts home. 
All in all, an awesome adventure.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kayak Fishing on Kennedy Lake

The lake was incredibly flat.  Dead trees scattered the edge of the lake and were reflecting off the calm surface along with the light clouds.  The air was still with only an odd light breeze rustling the leaves of the nearby alders.  Oddly I was disappointed there were no flies.  Yes I said I was disappointed there were no flies as I was hoping to fly fish for trout on Kennedy Lake.  No flies meant my choice of artificial fly was limited.

Nerves built up as we unloaded the kayaks and gear.  Fly fishing from a kayak was a new endeavor and for a novice paddler this can be slightly intimidating.  We laughed it off and pushed our kayaks out into the narrow, shallow, channel that led to the lake.  I should stress shallow as it was difficult to float the kayak to the main part of the lake, but entertaining if you had of witnessed it.  Using a combination of hip shuffles and poling we managed to make the lake.

With little to no wind and no flies, the first thing that hit me as I paddled into the lake was the quietness.  My Dad and I could easily converse while prepping our rods despite being over 50m apart.  The silence made me feel small and as I looked across the lake I grew infinitely smaller again.  Our voices echoed off the far hills and we could easily talk to ourselves and think we were responding.

Cautiously I let the first couple of casts leave my rod tip.  Once I was comfortable, I started doling out more line and before long I was confident in my casting and my boat.  I could use the intermittent breeze to drift my kayak strategically towards the areas I wished to cast to.  In this way I was able to efficiently cover a good portion of the lake.  That was not difficult however as the lake is only about 5ha in size.  It was an ideal setting for this first attempt at fly fishing from a kayak.

Patiently I laid out cast after cast and slowly stripped my "green machine" in.  There were no fish breaking the surface and it was hard to determine if I had a good fly and presentation or if I should change my fly and approach.  After 20 minutes and only raising one trout, I decided I should switch.  I moved to a "wooly bugger" and then to a mosquito pattern.  No matter, I never hooked a trout, but no matter the evening was more about the paddling in any event.

We easily loaded the kayaks and gear as we debated the merits of kayaks over canoes.  The drive to the main road was slow and symbolic of the pace of the evening.  Since there was still daylight left we explored some options for a similar trip in the future.  Crow Lake appeared to be a great candidate.  Both of us didn't want the day to end as we had thrived on the silence and relished in the sense of aloneness.  Being on the lake allowed us to leave worries and responsibilities on the shore and as we got closer to home those issues crept back in.  Regardless it was a great evening and kayak fishing has proven to be a new way to enjoy a favorite past time.

If you want to introduce some children to fishing then check out the upcoming "Youth Angling Day Camps" in Apohaqui and Waterford on August 20th and 26th respectively.  You can find more information on these events by looking up the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Grindstone Island 2014

Grindstone Island was not just about the destination, it was about the whole trip there.  Our boat left from Alma, NB, just outside of Fundy National Park just before 11am.  Nature Trust New Brunswick used the island as a highlight of the work they are doing in New Brunswick.  They are are always seeking volunteer stewards to help maintain and monitor the health of their properties.  If you have some time you should consider helping them. Check out the video of my trip.  It was a great day for a boat trip and the entire trip was incredible.  The coast line was incredibly rugged but so scenic and it offered something different on every wave.  Seriously take a look at the NTNB website.

My travel companion for the day was Don Dow who sits on the Kennebecasis Naturalist Society.  They are one of the oldest Naturalists clubs in Canada and are in need of new members.  If you have any interest in outings similar to this one, check them out too.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Full Moon Walking

Some people have a way of being able to organize events and get people out.  Go Train Fitness in Sussex is organizing a "Go Full Moon Walking" event this Sunday, August 10th.  It sounds like a cool event geared towards families.  Yours truly will be there to share some stories about the local waterway and ecosystems and Outdoor Elements will be there and owner John McNair will host a marshmellow roast after the Moon walk, not to be confused with Michael Jackson's famous dance style.  If you want to join the walk meet at the bandstand at Burton Park in Sussex at 9:00pm and bring a flashlight.

I might have some extra head lamps or lights if you don't have one.  My family is looking forward to this evening hike.  I've always liked hiking at night and this is a great way to help people get over their fear of the night.  Hope to see lots of people out.

See you in the woods or on the water.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pedaling Backwards

I had this published in a recent edition of the Kings County Record.  Obviously July is now over but this could happen when ever I hop on a bike.  As someone who is learning to enjoy a slower pace, it is a blessing to find that I can find it on a bike.  I hope you enjoy the read and that you have a chance to get out to find a pace that suits you.

July is more than half over and I am already wondering where summer went.  Time just seems to fly by at times.  That is why it is good to simply slow the pace down.  How do you slow down time?  I have a couple of key ways to recharge and slow down time.  Sometimes I can even do a couple of them at the same time. 

You've heard me ramble about fishing and for sure that is one way to slow things down.  I've written about camping, hiking, and kayaking and extolled how relaxing they can be.  One activity that I don't participate in or write about nearly enough is cycling.  For many biking is not something they would perceive as relaxing or has a manner of slowing down.  When you watch the "Tour de France" and local Christian Meier, they sure aren't going slow and they are racing against time. 

I admit, when I go biking I don't always relax or slow things down.  I love to see how fast I can go and I don't just coast down hill, I like to pedal to gain more speed.  Even with the speed involved time, or maybe more appropriately, aging, is slowed down.  My mind races back to when I was a kid and I'd race down the Mill Brook Road at a dangerous pace. I remember the jumps we'd build and the trails we created simply to get somewhere we couldn't previous pedal to.

A short time ago I was out biking with my son.  The evening was hot with very little breeze and as we slowly pedaled along the trail, the light breeze kept us cool.  The pace was slow and I was able to take in a lot of the scenery around me.  I wondered why we didn't do this more often.  The trail in Sussex and Sussex Corner is a great way to enjoy our community, exercise, and slow time down.  The slow pace, the church picnic atmosphere, the urban setting, it all led my mind to an earlier time when things were simpler and slower. 

That evening I almost felt like I was pedaling backwards.  As I watched my son I saw myself on my old black and yellow BMX.  Our band of buddies used to bike to "Mac's Grocery" and buy a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, and a pop for under a dollar.  We'd then bike to a nearby hayfield and find a place to sit and watch the road below as we indulged on our treat.  It was a slower time and the memory slowed my mind and suddenly the faster pace of my hectic adult lifestyle slowed as well.

As we age we gain perspective on various things.  In the past I have always been very competitive and that drove me to do things at a fast pace.  I didn't just compete against others but against time and against myself as well.  The lesson learned over this biking exercise has been that I don't always need to compete against the clock or against myself.  Through my youth I may have missed out on some important lessons simply because I thought I had something to prove or had to compete.  Now I realize that biking isn't always a race and that it can be a joy ride.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bluff Memories

One of my favorite hikes is the Bluff near Sussex Corner, NB.  It is a leisurely stroll where almost everyone can take the road less travelled.  Hope you enjoy my little video.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Surprise Settings

I often take inspiration from various political activities or events.  My column in the local weekly paper is not the right place to publish political ideas nor am I always comfortable printing my thoughts.  I often soften the message, as is the case below, and insinuate things and let the reader figure it out.  For this one, I'm going to help you read between the lines.  In recent years there have been attempts to regulate natural features by man made maps.  I find this a bit humorous as nature truly knows no bounds.  Rivers flow down hill but not always within their banks.  Wetlands always change and to try to protect them by putting them on a map is fool hardy.  What do you think?
There are places that aren't on a map.  They exist.  The maps just don't represent them for what they truly are.  I can show you steep ravines that hardly show up on a map.  Caves very seldom show up on maps.  Just because they aren't on a map doesn't mean they have nothing to offer however.  I was reminded of this recently during a walk along a stream near Pleasant Ridge where a waterfall greeted me.  I knew the waterfall was there but those with me knew nothing about it, despite having been through the area before.

Further up the valley there is a ravine which, according to the map, has no water.  If you ask my feet however, there is plenty of water and it is very cold.  I'm sure if you take that water away there would be plenty of animals that would be slightly put out.  All you need to do to confirm this is take your time and notice the number of animal signs along the ravine.  There were a number of birds calling, deer and raccoon tracks, lots of squirrel calls and of course lots of insects and bugs in the moist valley.  By the way, you won't find any photos of those animals on the map either.

The only way to truly know what is out there is to get out there.  Similar to when you are fishing, "The only way to catch a fish is to have your line in the water."  If you want to see a deer in its natural habitat, you have to go find it.  If you want to see a waterfall you need to follow a river.  The examples are endless and the more you get out there the more examples of your own you'll have.

If something isn't on a map, or regulated, it is no less valuable than something that is mapped or something that is considered protected.  Nature isn't bound by conventional laws or controlled by man made walls and barriers.  Nature is always free and has a way of surprising us; sometimes in a positive way, sometimes in not so positive ways.  When you get caught off guard and ill prepared by nature, the consequences can be drastic.  The best we can do is be prepared to meet nature on its terms.  When ever we think we have things under control, nature will surprise us.

On another note the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) wants to encourage families to get out camping.  On July 19th you should practice being prepared and go out and meet nature on its terms.  You don't need to go far, you simply need to get out there and practice your skills in nature.  If you decide to go camping the CWF would love to have your commitment as they want to get 1 million Canadian families camping that night.  Check out their website and make the commitment to get prepared for nature.  You can find the "Great Canadian Campout" online at http://cwf-fcf.org/en/do-something/events/great-canadian-camp-out/.  There are groups making efforts to coordinate a large local event for this area so keep an eye on local bulletin boards in case.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Paddling for Pickerel

I love to fish but very seldom do I compete when fishing.  I wanted to stress this before you read this entry.  My success at the derby described below, or maybe I should say lack of success demonstrates my lack of competitive fishing skills.  I don't use a fish finder, I don't have a trolling motor, and I only have one bait casting rod.  However,  I think as an avid outdoors man I need to support my local Fish and Game Association.  This derby provided me an opportunity to expose my son to lake fishing and support the Fish and Game Association. 

As the sun was coming up I was behind the shed with a shovel.  Don't worry I wasn't burying any secrets, I was digging worms.  I had already loaded the canoe on the truck and a lunch was chilling in the cooler.  It took some prodding but my son got up and was excited to head out for the first time to do some lake fishing.  A fishing trip is one way to get him going.

The Sussex Fish and Game Association (SFG) were hosting their annual "Cassidy Lake Fishing Derby" and we were heading there in hopes of catching the longest fish.  We'd be happy just to catch a fish to be honest.  Cassidy Lake is a big lake and we'd be paddling a canoe and luckily I had my father to help with some of the paddling.  At least with the canoe I wouldn't have to spend a great deal of time unloading it.

Maybe one of the best things about this derby is the breakfast the SFG put on.  As we ate we looked out over the lake, the water glistened and a number of boats were already trying their luck.  It was a full breakfast with pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, and hash browns.  We gobbled it down like we hadn't eaten in days but it was just that good and we were just that anxious to get on the water. 

As we pushed the canoe out into the lake my son got a slight look of fear on his face but it was quickly erased by his sense of adventure.  I love how a canoe quietly glides through water and how you can quickly put distance between you and the shoreline.  I steered us to a nearby point as the others prepped their poles for the first casts.  As I set us up to glide across an area where I thought there might be some pickerel the others already had their lines in the water.

On my first cast I literally hooked a fish.  It was a small pickerel which I failed to land.  Shortly after that my father managed to land another 15" pickerel which we decided likely wasn't going to win the tournament so we let him go.  I thought foolishly that with such a start we might be in for a great day.  We landed one other small pickerel and paddled a great deal of the lake for about 3 hours and caught nothing close to what the eventual winner, Joe Miller, caught.  I think he landed a 24" fish.

We fished right up until registration time and when we pulled the boat to shore, my son took off to see the fish that were registered.  Before I got to the crowd he came running to me holding a fishing pole he had just won in a ticket draw.  He was super excited and the smile on his face made all the paddling aches I was feeling disappear.  I think every kid that took part won a prize and how do you top such an event.

My name was drawn too for a prize and I walked away with a nice kayak.  I didn't even have to catch a fish to win it.  I want to thank the SFG and the organizers of this event.  Often times those who put events on like this are under appreciated so I want to give a big thanks for the time and effort those folks put in to that event.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Proud Moments

This entry was a great one to write.  It was close to my heart on some many levels.  Just before I wrote it we had received some great news about a family member who is battling cancer.  Being proud of an older family member is a different pride.  It is a greater level of new found respect and a joy of having them in your life.  You realize how much of an impact they have had on your life and your family.  My memories of my Aunt are mostly all filled with smiles, laughs, and some mischief.  As I look back on how she impacted me...I am proud to call her my Aunt.  

This was published in the Kings County Record but I really wanted to share it here as well.  I hope you enjoy it. 

I think one of the best things in nature is growth and when you can watch it happening in front of you, that is amazing.  Being able to watch a garden grow is a cool thing; knowing that you planted that garden and tended to it, is even cooler.  When you sit down to eat the vegetables planted from that garden, you feel proud.  Nurturing your family and seeing it grow is similar.

I had a great evening recently.  The sun was shining and the temperature was perfect for being outside.  Usually that is enough to make me happy but on this night I was fishing with my son, so happy was only half of it.   As we walked along the river the sun shimmered off the water and as I watched him walk, I noticed an ease in his stride.  He talked with a maturity and confidence that I hadn't really noticed before.  When he saw a woodpecker he took time to watch it and I could now see a shimmer of excitement in his eyes.  When he got his line caught he didn't turn to me and ask me to get it, instead he unhooked it himself.  My happiness was overcome by pride.

On another outing I watched as my daughter entertained herself on a gravel bar.  She had already hiked a long ways along a river with me, and as the overly independent one in our household she never once wanted help climbing over limbs and rocks, even when offered.  She kept right up with the older boys and never once complained and when they all joined her she showed them all how to make rock paint and then proceeded to paint her face.  As I watched her growing right in front of me I was proud.

My kids and nephews were sitting on a truck bed removing wet sneakers and socks after an outing.  They were laughing at each other, making faces of disgust over whose socks were worse, and nudging one another the way kids do.  They were all bonding and creating memories and as I watched I felt blessed.  As I watched I was proud of the family we have all become.

Being outdoors and sharing moments like these with my kids is an amazing experience.  Lately I have really noticed them growing and maturing and I've also seen things in myself that I never thought I would.  I hover and worry a bit more about them than I thought I would.  When they are growing, I find myself wanting to slow them down, or even stop them.  I am finding myself wanting to hold them back and keep them from getting hurt.  Every now and then it is good to let them push their boundaries but I'm having a hard time letting them do that.  I tell myself, "Its ok.  They can look after themselves there.  They might get hurt a little but they'll learn their own boundaries and heal.  Through that healing, they will grow."  It hasn't been easy and there are weeds to pick from their lives every now and then, but unlike the vegetables, your kids reward you through every stage of growth.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Paddle It In....Paddle It Out

Note:  Littering is one of my pet peeves and when that litter makes its way to our waterways it really irks me.  Most litter, in today's society, doesn't just go away.  We hardly use plain paper bags anymore or standard cardboard, things aren't wrapped in cloth or bound by old fashioned twine.  Instead we wrap things in multiple layers of plastic, with plastic coated cardboard, and tied to the board with plastic ties.  We are a wasteful society and we even waste a great deal of water (I'm even guilty of this one, I admit), so why do we put our waste in our water.  This entry appeared in the local weekly paper, Kings County Record, it was inspired by a drive I took by the Pollet River one day.  The weekend before my drive by there was a "River Run" held there and needless to say...the mess left behind was a complete eye sore, not to mention an ecological mess.  This is my softer take on it....

The water is crystal clear as the front of the canoe moves out into the main channel.  You and your paddling partner are grinning from ear to ear as the current takes its first tug on your floating haven.  The sun is shining bright and warm on the back of your right shoulder as you dip your paddle for that first hard stroke.  Almost instantly the canoe picks up a significant amount of speed and it creates a breeze on your face and causes your hair to blow behind you.  The best part about that breeze is that it keeps the flies away.

The river winds lazily between ribbons of silver maples which keep you shaded when the noon time sun and the rowing heat your body beyond your comfort level.  Some of the maples bare scars, high up their trunks from where ice scoured against them during the spring freshet.  If you were to stand in your canoe, the scars would still be well out of reach and you struggle to comprehend the amount of water that must of flowed through the area during the regular flooding.

Your stomach growls and you are brought briefly back to reality when you remember your lunch cooler sitting in the middle of the canoe.  You scan down river and spot a gravel bar on the inside of a turn less than a hundred meters away.  From the stern position you point the bow toward the gravel bar and instantly your buddy grins approval, without even saying a word, he knows where you're heading.

The gravel bar is warm and relaxing as you lazily chew on your sandwich.  The flies however, have made an appearance, and you become slightly irritated.  You quickly guzzle the soda you had lugged with you and hastily shove the last piece of granola bar into your mouth.  As you leave you drop the soda can into a bush and the granola wrapper blows into the current but since you're irritated you decide to leave them. 

You continue down the river and you start to notice a great deal of litter along the shoreline.  Now you feel a bit guilty about your contribution to the problem.  Plastic grocery bags hang in the shrubs along the shore like prayer flags, while pop bottles sit like old small ship wrecks on the bottom of the river.  You notice oil jugs sitting amongst some chokecherry bushes and feel ashamed.  Thankfully, a big, bright tailed, bald eagle flies over head and you once again start to note the amazing gifts mother nature offers.

There are many lakes and rivers in New Brunswick and many people take the time to enjoy them.  Unfortunately many people also take time to litter and blemish Mother Nature's beauty.  If you are out enjoying the rivers this summer be sure to take out the trash you might bring in.  Those little cuts add up and it can have an impact on how others perceive our great province and its waterways.  If you have time maybe you can even pick up some of the litter you see.  Most rivers flow to the ocean not to the water treatment plant, and the ocean is not a toilet that easily flushes.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May Long Weekend Wandering Style: All Over

I usually write to convey the activities in my life.  This weekend I documented a fair bit using my camera.  I got some great shots and I have been practicing my video editing skills so I thought I would try it here.  I hope this works.  Check out the Whalen's Wanderings weekend below. This is a great start to the summer I think.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

First Spring Fly Fish

On a fly tied by Art Marr in Sussex Corner I caught this beautiful 16" brook trout.
Speckled trout are an incredibly beautiful sport fish.  They have colorful spots, sleek lines, and a cool sport stripe on their pectoral fins.  When you pursue the speckled trout you chase poetry in motion.  The right light, the right water level, the right fly, and the right presentation at exactly the right place.  The poetry when understood is relaxing and soothing, even when you can't finish the poem.

Tonight I was lucky.  I got to finish the poem.  I have to be honest, I haven't read much poetry from the book of spring fly fishing but I thought I'd try it any way.  The warm evening had no flies, although I did have a couple land on my bare arm.     I had no ideas really what type of fly to fish.  I had asked around and some anglers with more experience than I had told me that muddlers and nymphs usually work for early season trout.

I had some nymphs and a couple of different color muddlers in my arsenal and so I decided to try Trout Creek.  I usually prefer fishing in back country areas but on this night I fished in the urban core.  My time was limited so I didn't want to drive that far to get to a hole.  I wasn't expecting to catch much anyways so I didn't think it would matter.  I first tied on a black and yellow nymph and cast it a few dozen times before I lost it when I struck it off a high gravel bar and I'm assuming broke the knot  at that time.  Next I tied on a mottled colored nymph.  I cast it for likely 20 minutes or so.  My confidence in my ability was waning with every cast.  Am I presenting it right?  Is this a good color for these conditions?  Are there any fish there to start with?  This is where fishing becomes more challenging.  You have to trust your skills and instincts.

The urban setting lead people to the shore who wanted to check on how I was making out and I humbly relayed to them my lack of experience.  A couple of fellas even stopped nearby to clean off their fiddleheads.  I was thinking maybe I should have went picking with them instead of throwing a fly all night.  The social setting made the night a bit more enjoyable though and I enjoyed the intermittent talks with friends and strangers.  It kept me at it, as I didn't want to be seen as a quitter or simply a fair weather angler.

Once again I changed flies going to a dark muddler and after about 30 casts on it with no action I thought it might be a bit to dark for the water and light conditions.  I shifted over to a green and brown muddler and then the action started.  It hardly hit the water the first time and a small trout rose to it but I was a bit quick and missed him.  I moved down stream to where a deep run entered into a pool.  I cast and floated all over the run before moving to the top of it.  From the top of the run I was casting across the stream and letting the fly move downstream to the back of the pool where it floated across the stream.  I then stripped it back up stream slowly.  I did this three times and on the fourth I hooked a nice trout, approximately 11" in length.

I moved out of the area for a bit casting across another pool where I had no luck.  I then moved back to the run and fished the pool again.  This time I hooked another fish and at first I thought he ran my line around a branch because it felt heavy and he didn't move from the bottom on my first light tug.  He then ran downstream a ways and then I realized, he wasn't caught up, he was a big fish.  I settled myself in waist deep water and picked my exit point where I could land my catch.  I kept the line taut and lightly wrestled my adversary to submission.

I had let my earlier trout go and decided that this big catch would be a great meal.  A part of me also wanted to keep it so I had proof that I had caught such a nice fish.  When I measured it, it stretched the tape 16" and was likely greater than 2lbs. I was giddy when I landed her and couldn't believe how my night had gone from just okay to incredibly great. That is part of the poetry in angling, the way in which your mood changes, or your perception of things is altered with every line.  It is so rewarding just being there but more so when the line stretches tight.  Tight lines to all you anglers out there...here is to a great 2014 season.

Monday, May 12, 2014

If you Paddle It In...Paddle It Out

The water is crystal clear as the front of the canoe moves out into the main channel.  You and your paddling partner are grinning from ear to ear as the current takes its first tug on your floating haven.  The sun is shining bright and warm on the back of your right shoulder as you dip your paddle for that first hard stroke.  Almost instantly the canoe picks up a significant amount of speed and it creates a breeze on your face and causes your hair to blow behind you.  The best part about that breeze is that it keeps the flies away.

The river winds lazily between ribbons of silver maples which keep you shaded when the noon time sun and the rowing heat your body beyond your comfort level.  Some of the maples bare scars, high up their trunks from where ice scoured against them during the spring freshet.  If you were to stand in your canoe, the scars would still be well out of reach and you struggle to comprehend the amount of water that must of flowed through the area during the regular flooding.

Your stomach growls and you are brought briefly back to reality when you remember your lunch cooler sitting in the middle of the canoe.  You scan down river and spot a gravel bar on the inside of a turn less than a hundred meters away.  From the stern position you point the bow toward the gravel bar and instantly your buddy grins approval, without even saying a word, he knows where you're heading.

The gravel bar is warm and relaxing as you lazily chew on your sandwich.  The flies however, have made an appearance, and you become slightly irritated.  You quickly guzzle the soda you had lugged with you and hastily shove the last piece of granola bar into your mouth.  As you leave you drop the soda can into a bush and the granola wrapper blows into the current but since you're irritated you decide to leave them. 

You continue down the river and you start to notice a great deal of litter along the shoreline.  Now you feel a bit guilty about your contribution to the problem.  Plastic grocery bags hang in the shrubs along the shore like prayer flags, while pop bottles sit like old small ship wrecks on the bottom of the river.  You notice oil jugs sitting amongst some chokecherry bushes and feel ashamed.  Thankfully, a big, bright tailed, bald eagle flies over head and you once again start to note the amazing gifts mother nature offers.

There are many lakes and rivers in New Brunswick and many people take the time to enjoy them.  Unfortunately many people also take time to litter and blemish Mother Nature's beauty.  If you are out enjoying the rivers this summer be sure to take out the trash you might bring in.  Those little cuts add up and it can have an impact on how others perceive our great province and its waterways.  If you have time maybe you can even pick up some of the litter you see.  Most rivers flow to the ocean not to the water treatment plant, and the ocean is not a toilet that easily flushes.


Ben Whalen

Monday, April 28, 2014

Growing with the Flow

Communities come together in times of need and I have seen our community grow immensely in a short period, or maybe more accurately my appreciation of our community grew even more.  This past week has been challenging for many and many are likely still facing challenges in the days to come.  Through these challenges I have witnessed some amazing scenes.  The sights would restore even the most down trodden view on humanity.

I want to share with you a couple of the highlights I saw while trying to do my part.  I want to brag about the community we all call home and provide reasons why we should all be proud.

The first scene was a mother wading through knee high water to get her three kids off the school bus.  She then carried them, one by one, to dry ground.  Traffic waited, in water, while she made the three trips.  The maternal care she showed and the relief she demonstrated as she placed the last child on dry ground moved me and allowed me to push harder through my day.

Firemen are a special breed and we have some of the best volunteer firefighters around right here in our community.  In a time of high stress and continual action, a couple of them calmly aided seniors onto a bus as they evacuated the Lions Villa.  Each fireman was able to smile and infuse a sense of humor to reduce the stress in the entire situation.  As the bus stopped to drop off a couple of the seniors on board, the firemen piggybacked them to dry ground and again humor made the situation more bearable.  I was again left feeling blessed in the midst of chaos.

With homes fully surrounded by water, I could see neighbors gathered on small pieces of dry land, talking and even laughing with one another.  The sound of running pumps and generators prevented me from hearing the laughter but their facial expressions indicated that it was forced simply to help them keep their sanity.  They were leaning on each other as they sat scanning the floating debris and tangled pipes amongst their subdivision.  Their ability to face such a tough situation with a brave face made me realize how small some of my day to day problems really are.

Kids always seem to have a positive attitude and as our future that is a great thing.  As parents struggled with trying to minimize the damage to their homes, I watched kids playing obliviously to the ramifications of what was going on around them.  The link between youth and innocence was driven home as the kids splashed in a puddle at the end of his driveway.

Maybe the biggest testament to how strong our community truly is was how often I saw friends helping friends.  On a normal day, a household would sit lifeless as the home owners went quietly about their day.  Over this week this same home has 4 or more people milling about trying to put it back together.  Some of the people are family members while others are neighbors who are slightly better off.  This happened instantly and likely without even a call.

Witnessing all this made me incredibly proud to call this community home.  I wish every one a smooth road to recovery and can’t wait to see how we grow as we come through this.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jamming Ice

The ice is finally moving out of the rivers and I'm lucky enough to get paid to watch it move.  Have you ever watched ice flows move down a river.  It is a bit of a humbling experience.  We have all likely seen a flooded river carrying debris down stream in a rushing torrent and that in itself is very impressive.  Ice flows move differently.  There is a slow motion effect to the movement and the torrent is hidden under the ice cover.  The biggest indication of the power of the ice is the sounds being created.  The loud pops, cracks, and crunches are signs that the river is powerfully tearing apart large ice sheets and moving debris downstream.  I took a short video recently and thought I'd share it here.  I'm no photographer and by an even farther stretch, no videographer but it still shows the power of nature.

This jam didn't result in any damage and I have seen bigger jams but I felt safe enough next to this one that I could take the video.  Things can change quickly in a jam and where one minute there was water flowing through a hole, the next it is clogged with ice, and then water backs up and a head is created.  If you are observing ice flows do so with caution and preferably from a distance.

Just as a note on the video, what caught my attention first was the fact that there was a tire floating on an ice sheet.  I observed the flow for about 15 minutes and the tire remained on the ice for the entire time.  No doubt it will end up in the Bay of Fundy.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Don't Blink or You'll Miss Me

So today I completed my first TV News interview.  It took all of 6 minutes for Ashley Dunbar to get the footage she needed and it took a small fraction of the time for it to air.  I came across fine but I was nervous to see how she would edit it.  I rambled a bit more than I was taught and this fed my worry.

I don't think that Matt Damon has anything to worry about because Hollywood won't be calling anytime soon.  But why don't you be the judge.  Check it out at CTV News.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Human Nature of Weather

The weather is a part of nature, however, I think it might also be a part of human nature.  There have been a number of times when wandering that the weather has changed my mood as often as it changed its own mood.  What is it about the weather that affects us?  Here in the Canadian Maritimes we recently experienced a crazy winter storm.  In Kings County, NB the storm did not necessarily hit us the hardest but it still walloped us with a wild and windy punch.

Shortly after family dinner, I decided I should shovel the drive way.  I have found it much easier to shovel the driveway a couple of times through a snowfall event rather than shovel it once at the end of the storm.  As I prepared to go out to shovel I nudged the kids into coming out with me.  I quickly shoveled the driveway out and then played with the kids.  It is bizarre how wild weather can bring out the kid in you.  The kids were already laughing and having a blast in the winter blast and I couldn't help but join them.

I decided to bury my head in the snow and show the kids how quiet and less windy it is under the drifts.  We looked like a bunch of ostriches with our heads in the sand but the kids were amazed at how quiet and warm it was.  As a car drove by, I wondered what they thought when they seen us with our heads in the snow.  I couldn't help but grin broadly.

My son ran to the snow bank in the back yard and wanted to show me how high in was.  I have to admit it was impressive, likely about 4.5ft in height.  It ran the entire length of the house and a snow bank that brother created when he plowed my driveway.  We all climbed the high snow pile and jumped into the drift.  I was instantly transported back to my early teens when I would do a front flip into such a snow drift.  On my second jump, at almost 40 years old, I completed a front flip into the drift.  It wasn't graceful but the judges were generous and gave me a 7.

What made me do the front flip?  What made me go out in a driving snow storm to play with the kids?  Why did I grin like a kid the whole time out there?  These questions have came to mind in the past.  I've never found a great answer.  The only thing I come up with is that being outside affects our brain makes us feel younger.  With this thought, I've often felt that maybe simply being outdoors more is the secret to staying young.  Maybe natural surroundings are a fountain of youth.

What do you think?  Is it human nature to be in nature?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Exploring New Woods

This was published in the March 25th edition of the Kings County Record.  A recent trip to explore land conservation models left me feeling something different and I tried to convey that feeling through this piece.  I like the way it came out and feel that I'm not the only one that shares these feelings; either in someone's home or in new woods.  I hope you enjoy it.

When you walk into a friend’s home for the first time you experience a feeling of discomfort.  There is a mix of curiosity and desire to be respectful that tend to battle one another.  You want to sneak into the bedroom and see if the dirty clothes are picked up but you don’t want to infringe on your friend’s right to privacy.  When you walk into unfamiliar wilderness, the feeling might be similar.  I was investigating a new model for watershed conservation near Woodstock, NB recently and I experienced this feeling.

The Meduxnekeag River Association (MRA) has successfully established a number of conservation forests along their river.  One such conservation area is the Bell Forest where I met with a group of grade three students from Centreville.  Simon Mitchell and George Peabody, Program Coordinators for the MRA, were going to lead the group, including me, through the snow clad forest.  Immediately, I felt different, almost relieved, because I had no responsibility here.

Everyone trekked up over the snow bank that separated the forest from the roadway.  I went last and took my time as George and Simon provided the students with some educational tidbits.  I could hear a woodpecker off in the distance and observed a few black capped chickadees.  This piqued my interest and I decided to wander away from the group a little, I guess you could say I was looking for dirty laundry.  After a few minutes on my own I navigated back to the group and listened to the grade three students answer questions that Simon put out to them.

Instantly there was an urge to compare the students from Centreville to those in the Sussex region.  In essence I was comparing my kitchen cutlery to that of my friends.  Just so you know, my cutlery was just as nice.  Comparing the linens might have been me comparing the trees and here I felt a bit conflicted because there were stark differences between the households.  Bell Forest is rich in Acadian species and where I normally trek is mixed forest, so again I was feeling a little uncomfortable. 

The group made its way down the slope, in your home this might be the stairway, towards the river.  The way the topography of Bell Forest literally stepped down towards the river and made me feel like I was heading to a finished basement.  The hills around the Kennebecasis watershed might be more like an escalator to an open storage room.  Every home is great for its uniqueness and I was starting to separate the Meduxnekeag from the Kennebecasis as I became more familiar with the Medux.  See, I’m now at a nickname basis with it.

The hike for the grade threes ended and Simon and I took some time to drive around the watershed.  This was more like going through the drive-thru of a new restaurant or coffee shop.  The distance from the ordering post to the pick up window is much shorter at the Meduxnekeag River than in the Kennebecasis.  Regardless of the size however, the scenery was as rewarding.  Large hills, rock ledges, rapids and waterfalls, and some diverse wetlands, all fed my hunger and left me feeling satisfied.

Looking at someone else’s home can often make you realize how nice your own home is or how unique it is.  We all need to change our perspective from time to time to appreciate what we have and this trip provided that.  If you like the Kennebecasis River and want to help keep the dirty clothes hidden then come out to Sullivan Park on Post Road on April 5th from 9 to 11am to help the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee harvest some willows that will be used for future restoration work.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Easy Wandering

This was a column I recently had published in the Kings County Record.  The hope is to inspire people to embrace the long winter as opposed to complain about it.  If you can get outside and enjoy the late March snow and warm winter time temperatures, then there is a ton of fun to have.

It is starting to look like we are in for a longer than anticipated winter.  This is especially true if you believe what the groundhog predicted.  One good thing about the large amount of snow that is hanging around this time of year; it makes for great snow shoeing.  The sun warms up the late morning and afternoon air to comfortable levels.  You now can easily convince yourself to make time to shake of the winter blues by getting outside.

I recently got out for a snow shoe across a large farm field and it was inspiring for how simple and easy the occasion was.  There was no need to drive far, I didn’t need to worry about getting lost, and for those who don’t like tough terrain; it was flat, almost barren.  When I looked across the field it was easy to see why some parts of the arctic are consider desert.  The trekking was so easy that my mind easily wandered to random stuff. 

The cold was biting at my nose and my ear lobes but the sun was fighting for its share of attention as well.  The bright blue sky and the light reflecting off the snow made it hard to ignore the sun and thus it warmed not only my face but my inside as well.  The wind, not to be out done, blew light wisps of snow around my collar and strangled me as the snow melted down the back of my neck.  The heat, with a big push from the inner heat, wins out and I push further across the field.

A large tree in the distance caught my attention and I alter my course to check it out.  The hardwood tree appears cold, despite being partially hugged by a large pine.  It is a maple tree with scaly grey bark and its outer limbs are partially covered in ice.  I couldn’t help but hug the tree and as I did I noticed a number of black capped chickadees flitting between the maple and the pine.  I came out of my own head for a minute and listened.  The birds were chirping and the wind was more brisk here now that the sun was behind the trees the cold was starting to win the battle.

I moved back out into the field and the sunshine and smiled as my cheeks warmed once again.  My next point of interest was a corral on the sunny side of a tree line.  With the snow draping off of it, it looked older than what it likely was.  I felt like I was in an episode of “Little House on the Prairie” where my character was looking for a missing horse.  It was a cool feeling and I was now fully retreated back into my own head again.  Then it hit me….this easy field snow shoeing is a great place to come and recharge and get inspired.  I should do this more often.

If you’ve been stressed about this long winter season, or fretting about taxes maybe, or considering a job change; try going to a nearby field and snow shoe across or around the field.  Let your mind wander and listen to what speaks to you.  Without a doubt, as you walk, you will feel your body coming to life.  You’ll feel the cold breezes more vividly, you’ll feel that sun light pushing the cold aside, and you’ll feel your soul warming with the season.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lessons Learned to Live By

Even on a cold day the postcard setting of Capstick Cape Breton was comforting.
NOTE: This is a version of a column I had published in the Kings County Record recently.  Maybe sometime soon I'll get to printing the entire journal entry here.  The trip was full of life lessons and I absorbed some great stuff that I haven't forgotten.  Obviously I haven't provided all the lessons here but I hope I have presented an entertaining view of some of what we learned.

A few years ago now, well maybe over a decade ago, I guess, I spent a long weekend trekking through Cape Breton Highlands National Park.  That trip resulted in many great memories of some fantastic winter scenery.  That’s right, winter scenery.  My buddy Pete and I left his home in Antigonish to spend three winter nights touring the Park.  I could go on and on about the trip and the adventurous spirit that we set out with.  Heck the drive back to Antigonish after our trip was an adventure in itself that would require more space than I have here.  The biggest thing that I took away from that memorable venture however, Pete and I wrote down a list of lessons learned.  I was flipping through some journals and albums the other day and found this list of lessons. 

In all Pete and I wrote down 21 lessons.  I laughed as I noted the first lesson we had written down.  “Instant potatoes, Ready Made Bacon, Lipton’s Soupworks are all very tasty.”  When winter camping, most food even bad food tastes great.  That is likely the lesson here.  Lesson 9 also referred to food but in a different manner.  Pete packed in some maple syrup and didn’t pack it in a bag and in the cold weather it broke open inside his pack.  Luckily, in the winter time, bears hibernate otherwise we could have been dinner.
Pancake ice on the shores near Ingonish.

Number 10 on the list might be appropriate considering the weather we’re having now.  “Remember to get weather forecasts before hike, but don’t let weather change your plans just your preparation.”  We had crazy weather as it went from 4°C to -14°C within an hour as we climbed out of our tents on the first morning.  Everything changed to ice in minutes.  While it was difficult it also added to our adventure and we adapted well.  I also liked the way we worded that lesson.

One lesson I still haven’t learned made number 7 on our list “Always scout out area very well before erecting tent, place in area of less wind perhaps, don’t jump the gun.”  This lesson came from our first night as we pitched our tent on the first tent platform at Fishing Cove and later, after supper, we found a much better tent location. I still though let my trail weariness steer me astray on this one.  Now that I have re-read my list maybe next time I’ll remember.

My feet are usually warm, and I’m not bothered that much by cold feet.  Pete however claims lucky lesson 13.  “Socks, socks, and more socks, = happiness in winter.”  I agree fully with this lesson, and find it very important to have dry socks when you crawl into your winterized tent for the night.  Warm feet result in a better sleep when you’re winter camping, and sleep is good no matter what season you’re camping in.

Small fishing piers dotted the coast lines and added color to the winter scene.
Number 19 on the list refers back to our drive home and states “Don’t be scared to be spontaneous.”  We took a back road and we didn’t even mind getting lost.  It resulted in Pete taking his first trip on a cable ferry and it was Cape Breton so the scenery was spectacular.  

There were numerous other lessons we took from our trip but I have highlighted some of the key ones here.  We originally wrote the lessons by candle light while sitting in a warming hut along the Cleyburn Valley Trail on the east side of the Park.  As I write this my mind wanders back to that evening as we sat next to the warm fire.  My whisperlite stove is brewing tea and Pete and I simply smile.  I think I need to go camping soon.
Rugged coastlines dominated the Highlands and we wished we had more time to explore.