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.