Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Springtime in Grand-Pré

The day before my most recent junket to Newfoundland was spent exploring Nova Scotia's South Shore and Annapolis Valley regions; it was a relaxing and interesting way to make the trip to Halifax for my flight. The South Shore was a natural since it lies between Shag Harbour and the airport, but the jaunt to the valley was prompted by the need for a plate of Santa Fe Haddock at Lisa's Cafe in Windsor, NS. Lightly breaded and seasoned with southwestern spices, the flaky white fish is
served with a delightful cranberry salsa and it's definitely worth the drive. Getting there, though, was a pleasure as well; it was a perfect day for seeing the sights of the eastern Annapolis Valley around Grand-Pré National Historic Site and Evangeline Beach. One of the prettiest views of Grand-Pré is from the Post Road as it travels along a ridge above the community (top). Apple orchards were in full bloom, and the gracefully arching umbrella-shaped trees in the older orchards
were especially striking. Before the widespread use of dwarf varieties of fruit trees, standard trees were pruned in this pattern to allow the sun to reach the fruit more evenly and to keep the apples closer to the ground for picking. Although it's fallen out of favour in more recent years, this pruning style can still be seen in a few locations. The most striking sight of all, though, was a remarkable sculpture along the road to Evangeline Beach. Three doors, one standing on a base at ground level and the others arranged above it, created an intriguing and traffic-stopping attraction -- there weren't many cars on the road that afternoon, but I wasn't the only traveller who stopped for a closer look. I've done a bit of research since, but to no avail; I'd love to know more about this piece of roadside art and the artist who created it. A short drive from here lie the broad, red tidal flats of the Bay of Fundy, stretching out from shore at low tide. There'll be more about them, and their crucial role in shorebird migration, in a future post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Great Way to Spend an Evening

The call came yesterday evening: "I'm going out to visit the iceberg. Care to go?" Of course the answer was yes, so after a couple of phone calls, a friend and I were on our way south from St. John's to Bay Bulls, headed for Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions on the Northside Road. The Captain himself was waiting on the front deck of the ticket office, ready to fit us with warm jackets for the evening ride. The sun was sinking low in the sky, bathing the scene in golden light. We
boarded Blackfish 1 and headed out toward the mouth of Bay Bulls, where a large tabular iceberg was grounded on a ledge just off South Head. We kept a respectful distance, staying back at least the length of the berg at the waterline. The ice glowed golden in the sunlight, bringing out the textures in sharp relief, and waves roared as they rolled under a small ledge at the water's edge. Streams of meltwater sparkled as they caught the light, falling from its flat upper surface. We
completed our circuit and headed back in the bay as the sun was setting, streaks of pastel pink painting the sky. We returned to the dock and tied up just as the sun was sinking below the horizon. What a perfect end to the day!

It's a good year for icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, with prospects of bergs staying around well into June. An excellent resource to see where bergs can be found and to learn more about how they are formed, how they reach our shores and where they come from, can be found by following this link.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For the Love of Whales

Wayne Maloney of Bay Bulls, NL is an admitted whale-aholic -- at least that's how he puts it. He's addicted to the big cetaceans that make their way to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador every summer to feed. Wayne's been operating the boats that go out whale watching from Bay Bulls for close to thirty years. He's the son of boatbuilder Gene Maloney, so when he found himself in a position to start a whale watching
business of his own, the question of where he'd get a suitable boat wasn't difficult: he'd build it. And build it he did -- from the keel up, and from a design that incorporated a "wish list" that was many years in the making. Countless hours were spent poring over plans to get the lines just right, and the details of the deck layout complete. Theatre seating would allow for excellent forward-facing viewing, and the aft cockpit would mean uninterrupted sightlines for those on board. The shot above shows this beautiful boat, christened
Blackfish 1, in progress. He'd be the first to tell you he didn't do it all himself; he's quick to give credit to the good friends who lent a hand, a strong back, or a heaping helping of moral support. Their assistance just helped to spur on the inevitable, though, since this is a man who was born to the water and who has what seems to be uncanny whale sense. He's studied humpbacks and their habits for years, and it's paid off in a knowledge of whale psychology that's remarkable to see in action. It's all based on a deep-seated respect for the whales, and for observing their interaction without intrusion. In addition to the humpbacks that arrive in the area in midsummer, there are minkes, fin whales, dolphins, occasional visiting pods of orcas on the hunt, countless seabirds to be seen on the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and miles of spectacular coastal scenery. Wayne and Blackfish 1 are now in business as Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions, and can be found on the Northside Road in Bay Bulls, NL.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lunch by the Riverbank

Just east of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, on the banks of the Medway River, lies the little community of Mill Village. An iron bridge crosses the river in the middle of the village, and next to it, the Riverbank General Store overlooks the fast-flowing water. The store now features a variety of grocery items including free-range and organic products, a gift shop with a variety of hand-crafted goods, a farm and garden section, and a café offering freshly prepared soups and
sandwiches. The café's atmosphere is light and pleasant, with soft green and white predominating, a charming painted wood floor, and local artwork on the walls. Large windows offer views of the river, the bridge, and a small garden area outside with comfortable Muskoka-
type chairs.

This business is a local success story: it opened in August of 2011 as a project of the Queens Association for Supported Living, a Queens County initiative to give people with disabilities an opportunity to participate more
fully in their community. A steady stream of visitors drop in, some from the Queens area and some from farther afield, to enjoy an ice cream cone on a hot summer's day, chat over a delicious lunch or visit the gift shop or grocery, supporting this very worthwhile endeavor. If you find yourself on the South Shore, the Riverbank General Store is well worth a short detour through scenic Mill Village.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Work of a Craftsman

I stopped at the service station to inquire: "I hear there's a man here who makes some really nice lawn chairs." The young man behind the counter looked up, grinned and said, "Yep! He lives just down that way by the lake." Armed with the name and phone number of the chairmaker, I headed "that way" until I got to the right general area, then phoned for more specific directions. "I heard a rumour that you make the nicest lawn chairs in Nova Scotia," I said. I could hear the smile in his voice as he replied, "You must be
looking for a big discount!" A couple of false starts later, I was in Herman's driveway, looking at some of the most beautiful lawn furniture I'd seen in some time. There were two benches in the garage where he was waiting, and they were works of art. Every corner was rounded smoothly, every screw was countersunk and filled -- there wasn't a rough edge or awkward line in sight. "They're made from hackmatack" he stated. They're made from hackmatack, the local name for larch, all right, and they have a rich,
attractive grain. This is the hardest of the softwoods, a conifer that drops its needles in the fall and puts out a new crop in the spring, a deciduous softwood that has as much in common with hardwood as it has with its softwood cousins.

The workshop was neat and tidy, with every tool in its place -- including the all-important cribbage board on the table. A quest for lawn chairs had turned into a voyage of discovery and an encounter with a delightful character. Just imagine how good those chairs are going to look on the shore in Shag Harbour!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dipping Kiacks

Locally sourced food doesn't get much more authentic -- or more local -- than this. Each spring along the shores of New England, Canada's Maritime Provinces, and the Great Lakes, a member of the herring family best known as Alewives make their way into their spawning streams from open water. Birds like gulls, cormorants, ospreys and herons take advantage of the buffet, and locals line the banks of the streams with dipnets to catch
a share of Nature's bounty. The fish are bony like most herring, but when smoked to soften the bones they're a great local delicacy. In southwestern Nova Scotia they're known as "kiacks", pronounced like "kayak". Years ago, no small community grocery or general store was without a wooden box of smoked kiacks being sold for a few cents each.

The kiacks arrive in early May, and the word goes out up and down the shore. These days, fishing times in each river are regulated, for periods ranging from a few hours to full days. Times are posted near the stream and are strictly enforced, so when there's no fishing the kiacks make their way upstream unimpeded. During the open hours, fishers line the banks with nets at the ready, dipping in just upstream of the rock they stand on and move it downstream with the water's flow, catching the small silvery fish as they head up-river to their spawning grounds. They're placed in tubs or crates for transport, and the best of them are set aside for salting and smoking. The rest will be used immediately for lobster bait or frozen for future use. The
spring lobster season will be in effect until the end of May so they'll definitely be put to good use -- no waste here!

Kiack season is a social event, too; there's plenty of time between runs of fish to visit, catch up with old friends, or talk about a wealth of riveting topics like politics or the weather. All to soon, the run will come to and end and the dipnets will be put away for another year. Right now though, for young and old, the riverbank is the place to take part in a tradition that's been kept alive in these parts since the first natives caught sight of the silver flash of fish in the stream.