Home: Jim’s 50 word book reviews for regular guys: Endurance

fullsizeoutput_1299 Jim’s 50 word book reviews for regular guys

Jim is a retired shop teacher living in Nikiski, Alaska

Endurance by Alfred Lansing, 1959: Ernest Shackleton’s trip to Antartica from England in 1914

True story. Unbelievable stamina, and suffering. Shackleton’s great leadership in extreme conditions in the most inhospitable place in the world. Not a single man died despite overwhelming odds. Optimism, ongoing teamwork under Shackleton. Near starvation, sickness, lack of sleep, prolonged physical exertion. Overcame  startling life endangering events. My favorite book.

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Home: Jim’s 50 word book reviews for regular guys: Endurance

This Christmas


Though yellow and curling, I still periodically unearth a newspaper article titled “The Unhappiness of Christmas “ from decades ago. The article talks about the fact that very few people live in the stereotypical Christmas so warmly painted by Norman Rockwell. Death, grief, illness, money, depression, loneliness, food insecurity, homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, heartbreak, job woes, single parenting and relationship woes contribute to a more realistic picture than Rockwell’s.

In my 70 years I experienced many hard and forgettable Christmases, in addition to happy ones.

Sometimes though, tough times turn into a treasure. After a divorce, I returned to university. I only completed one year before marrying. There was simply no extra money. I despaired how few presents I could buy for my 4 year old and 7 year old even after discretly selling some of their toys from younger times and working an extra job at holiday breaks. In desperation I called my parents, across MI from Kalamazoo and asked if we could come on Christmas Eve. They welcomed us. That began a tradition that continued through their high school years, a ritual they dearly loved. Christmas Day was a feast with nearby cousins, aunts and uncles.

In 2018 I put up a real tree, the first time since 2009.

This year, Christmas makes me happy, almost a bit Norman Rockwallish. Jim and I and DustyKitty sit in our cozy living room looking out on the pure, white snow and iced lake, enjoying the twinkling tree, content that all packages are sent. At almost 12 years Dusty is too lazy to climb the tree and chase ornaments. I soak in happiness and want to share it with everyone.I have so much happiness that I offer it to those in harder places.

My husband, Rick, was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2008. With ongoing chemotherapy, he managed to continue to work and do some of the things he loved. But he was an angry man and his cancer made it worse. Christmas was a rote time we went through, half-heartedly decorating the house, giving each other presents and sharing Christmas with friends. Pretend happiness is hard.

When he died in September 2011, I was exhausted and depleted. I finally went back to work, but did little else. When Christmas came, I declined all invitations—I just could not be jolly. No decorations, no baking—I just wanted to be alone with DustyKitty, my staunchest friend and cuddler.

My grief became manageable, but I still did not muster the strength to celebrate Christmas, choosing to cook myself a lovely dinner, light the candles and be at peace. Widowhood was just fine with me. Luckily, friends did not desert me and gently urged me to join them in their festivities. I just couldn’t.

In May 2014, I met Jim who went through a difficult and humiliating divorce, something so alien to this warm, gentle, man. We grew closer and closer. In October I was diagnosed with a rare and disabling large tumor in my lower back. As I contemplated what to do and where to do it, we rushed Jim to Seattle in early November with Stage 4 lymphoma. We stayed there 5 months for his treatment with me leaving at the end of December for a month at the Mayo Clinic for tumor removal surgery. Unfortunately the tumor that pushed on the nerve bundle resulted in nerve damage and lower trunk paralysis. Learning to walk again was hard.

In Seattle, we stayed in a corner apartment in the Seattle Cancer housing with big windows. I wanted to decorate even though we would spend Christmas morning getting blood work for Jim—cancer doesn’t honor holidays. By this time, I walked with a painful limp that worsened the more I walked. But I found some decorations in the hospital and clinic gift shops. A foot high fake Christmas tree, some cutout felt ornaments and colorful cardboard reindeer/caribou and white plastic angels that lit up. Jim happily joined in putting our decorations together. We planned a day out with a rental car. We went to Ikea and I pushed Jim in a wheelchair. I promised him meatballs, but almost killed him!! I wanted more angels, we needed all the help we could get.


We put the angels all around the windows and sat on the bed watching their soft, warm light. We hung the felt ornaments around the room and set up the caribou. It made us happy in spite of months of cancer treatment ahead of Jim and my pending surgery. We didn’t need other people or fancy dinners on Christmas Day, we had each other and a holiday bedroom.

In November 2015 I went back to Mayo for another 10-hour surgery, but Jim came too. The only decorations that year were our angels. In 2016, we flew home from Arizona for a few weeks, leaving The Grey Panther at an airport parking lot. We really missed Alaska and home and were so tired. In November 2017 my knee was replaced in Soldotna, close to home. Angels brightened the long and dark Alaska night.

This November I felt happy and wanted to decorate for Christmas—even get a tree. Jim was all for it. I found my boxes of decorations and we hauled them to the living room and I placed them around the room.

We bought a “living tree” at a nursery—5 ft tall in a bucket of soil. We lost our two biggest spruce trees this past summer to the spruce beetle, home to birds and squirrels and the first place to lose snow in the spring. The moose liked to lounge there in the sun.

So this spring we will plant our Christmas tree near where the big trees lived for 70+ years. In the interim, we will pack it with snow on the side of the house until it is time to plant it. Jim put the batteries in the angels and turned them on. He put the caribou back together and claimed, like he does every year, that there were two wounded caribou without back legs.

I know there will be troubled days ahead. How long Jim’s cancer stays in remission is unknown. How long my rearranged body parts and back tumor behave is unknown. How long we can stay in this beautiful place we call home is unknown. But we are so happy here on Daniels Lake we decided to stay here as long as possible instead of moving closer to medical facilities and supportive care.

We don’t formally buy each other presents for Christmas and birthdays. If we want something we buy it ourselves or just decide to buy each other something on a whim. Our materialistic days are pretty much over and we celebrate every day as beautiful and special.

Being open makes the world a different place. I never wanted to even visit Alaska—but I’ve lived here for 28 years and miss it when I gone. 6876xe1rTjSgXe7fqhlJRQI told Jim clearly that I could never live in Nikiski so far away from a city—but here I am and happy every day. Va9Hree0T02rv%reHqWZhw

Norman Rockwell painted a beautiful Christmas. But, in the end, it is just a day. Sometimes it is a beautiful day, sometimes an ugly day. But ugly or beautiful, it will soon pass like every other day. May 2018 be a wonderful Christmas year for you and your family. If not exactly Norman Rockwell, know there will be better days ahead.

Peace on earth, good will to all.

Chris, Jim, reluctant DustyKitty

The Owl Family (they adopted an orphan in Cooper Landing)

Mr and Mrs Bunny

The Mooses















This Christmas

Stories along the Way: The final leg of the 7 week, 7000 mile journey

Pennsylvania October 24

Jim has great fondness for parts of PA where he spent his youth and we find the Ohioyke campground. It is open all year and  a popular spot for rafters. We select a site and settle in. Once again it is peaceful with few campers and we seem alone in the woods. Jim is intent on finding the river and the falls he white-river rafted down with the Boys Scouts. It is a wonderful memory for him.

Tonight, after a Maine crab salad dinner, I’ll tuck in with a book about FallingWaters or “Loving Frank” while Jim dreams he is 17 again in a raft going down the rapids.

The next morning we go to town and park the Sprinter and walk down to the river and the falls. We pause at a placard talking about the river. Behind us Mr. Marmalade Cat walks down the switchback path with intent. He is well collared and tagged. He barely pauses as Jim tries to pet him before continuing to some appointment down the path. Jim shows me the spot where the Boy Scouts jumped off the falls into the water before rafting. He is convinced it is much smaller than it was when he was 17years.

The town and the Falls were once a tourist area with large hotels for people that came down by train from Pittsburgh for $1. As the automobile took over transportation, the hotels and other buildings were torn down. In 1948, clear-cutting started on the Ferncliff Peninsula. A local resident, Lillian McCahan, began writing letters to protect it. Mrs. Albert Keister worked for years to gather 589 acres from distant relatives to be preserved as a state park and saved Cucumber Falls. Edgar Kaufmann, from FallingRiver became aware of the fight to save the area, purchased several acres and donated them to the Western Conservancy.  Since tthen, thousands and thousands continue to enjoy the natural beauty because of the hard work of these forward thinking citizens

We drive on, searching for another boyhood lake, Crooked Lake,  following the GPS directions. Ironically, as we turn onto a narrow road we see a sign on a small hill be

“Not the way to Crooked Lake”.

Obviously we aren’t the only ones tricked by the GPS. We find the Lake and Jim points out various spots and wanders with his memories. His family often came here for a day trip of canoeing, swimming and picnicking .

October 26

We book a hotel for two nights near Jim’s boyhood home. He shows me the house, the ice skating arena, school and the long hill they climbed each day.

On Friday we visit Jim’s oldest sibling, Judy and husband Bob. At almost 70 years, Judy, an RN, still teaches a 5 month long certified nursing assistant class. It is for the nursing home she has worked at for many years. The course is far longer than required. If I had to go to a nursing home, I would want a “Judy graduate” to take care of me.


Energizer Bunny Judy is busy this Friday morning. The table is spread with small round shortbread cookies she made for Jim. It’s their grandmother’s recipe. She took the bus down from Montreal to Pittsburgh once a year laden with toys and boxes of shortbread cookies for her six grandchildren. She came from England at 21 years to be a nanny in Montreal.v%mMNsgbS5SmKSqWEd+OhQ

The shortbread is made of salt, flour, butter and sugar. The secret lies in the 20 minute hand kneading.  Grandma taught Judy the technique and they are Jim’s favorite. Judy came to Seattle to care for Jim for a week during cancer treatment bringing him his favorite cookies. It probably worked as well as the chemo. Judy hoped to take me to downtown historic Harmony, but my mischievous right leg nerves had a merry time the previous night so I didn’t want to push it. Instead she went to the bakery, and brought back lovely things for dinner.

Saturday 11:30. Shooting at nearby Pittsburgh synagogue, multiple casualties, an hour ago. Suspect in custody. This past week all the mailed bombs. Suspect captured in Plantation, FL, close to my grandsons home. Violence grows closer…..to all of us. 

The Pennslvania Turnpike is fast and straight, a boon to Jim who finds the winding lesser roads hard on his neck and shoulders. Me, I’m not so fond of the highways. We decide to sleep at the service plaza and its horrid, Lots of trucks and highway noise.

On we go into Indiana. I search for a campground. Many campgrounds close in September or mid-October and it varies between states. I find one campground but it’s just for tents. I found another one near Marseille IN. We drive into the park at dark, tired and not sure of what is in the  but it’s only $10 for the night. The next morning we awake to a beautiful fall morning, warm and glowing with bright tree leaves. There are a few other campers, but no one near our Sprinter. There is a nice path to walk on around the camp site and people and dogs took advantage of it.I could stay all day.

Sadly my meditation and exercise program suffers on these trips. But in the campground in the warm morning, I step outside to do QiJong in the woods, standing in a pile of rustling leaves and looking up to a blue sky through bright leaves.  Or standing at the edge of the lake. I’m so close to nature as I slowly complete the moves looking around me. Any thought of a bad mood quickly departs.

Driving through the small town of Marseille we come across a number of memorials for local men and women who died in Wars. A relatively new memorial is for those that died in the Middle East—Iraq and Afghanistan. It is erected by the Illinois Motorcycle Association. Banners on light posts name individuals who died during their military service.

Now that Jim is taking to the major highways, I find at least one special spot to stop in each state we whisk through. Today it is Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, on the banks of the Illinois River. Once quite shallow, it is now a series of canals with locks that allow boats laden with goods to travel to Lake Michigan and onto the St Lawrence Seaway in Montreal and down to Louisiana on the Mississippi.  Even on this late Fall Tuesday, there are many cars in the huge parking lot.

The Park includes 18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion.They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles through the Park. At one time a fort stood on Starving Rock. It is an area that switched hands between the French, the British and finally the U.S. after the War of 1812. 

The name comes from an unproven legend of injustice and retribution. Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa Indian tribe was killed by an Illiniwek. The killing was revenged by the Potawontomi, an ally of the Ottawa. The Illiniwek sought refuge atop a 125 foot sandstone butte. The other tribes surrounded them until they died of starvation.

We climb the wooden staircase to Starving Rock. Below is a brilliant colour quilt of leaves reaching for miles. A huge, long barge begins its slow journey through the locks below us.

The Park is full of magnificent old trees, dropping their colorful leaves. Something  that delights me is that many of the trees have a “memorial” a stone engraved in front of them telling about the virtues of the tree. In other spots, where trees died, a figure is carved in the remaining trunk.

We drive to the Lodge, surrounded by small log cabins. A large part of the lodge and cabins were built by CCC workers from the area who also worked on the canal. Looking at their memorabilia, they were typical 19-23 year old single men who pined for local girls and complained about the heat while working diligently to complete their work.

We enjoy lunch in the lodge, seated in chairs and a table made by young CCC workers in the 1930’s. It is a popular place and people wander in and out of the dining room and Great Hall. It is a well known venue for weddings and other events with sleeping rooms decorated in traditional furniture  connected to the main lodge.

As we stand near the bottom of the steps up to the large visitors’ information center for Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River, I notice a woman with a walker at the bottom of the ramp. She is well dressed and walks slower than a tortoise up the long ramp. Someone opens the door for her and she walks in. It is obvious that this trip many people complete without much of a thought is hard for her.fullsizeoutput_1203 Unlike others, she won’t go on to hike the trails on the beautiful day. The visitor center is her outing.But she did get to stand outside and smell the fall air and listen to the rustling leaves on the many trees. I am humbled. I’m sometimes frustrated as I find my own travel  annoyingly restricted with rearranged body parts—but if we really want to travel and expand our world—we will find a way. 

Noting that the Indiana Turnpike is just below MI, I make a quick call to friends in Western Michigan who urge us to come and stay for the night. It was a good visit and catch-up time. Alas other friends on the side trip had a sudden family medical emergency so we contacted another couple west of Kalamazoo, Ed and Debbie, and enjoy a happy, but too short visit. I’m glad that longtime friends allow spontaneous visits from Jim and me who happen to be in the neighborhood from Alaska. I mean Deb even cancelled her ice cream date with girl friends!

On I-80 again, we whisk through Illinois and into Iowa.

Iowa November 1

Last night was a beautiful night as we pulled into the Prairie Rose State Park campground. No one is here, except us on a beautiful lake. Of course we never know until morning as we arrive just past sunset. This morning we awoke to blue skies and a warming, windless morning.  Flocks of geese landed on the lake for a rest for their journey south.

Jim wants go to a town for a local breakfast but I insist on a short walk in the sunshine. He stops at the park office to pay the camping fee— $6 . Prices vary significantly between states. We continue on a, scenic byway without mountains and curves. We reach the town of Harlan that the two lane highway swings around. 

“We have to go downtown for a local restaurant,” I say as we pass chains that we dislike. “Let’s see whose right,” I add and we drive to the center of Harlan with its town square and county courthouse squarely in the middle. We park and start to walk around the sidewalks and I spot the “Milk and Honey” restaurant serving breakfast and lunch. While housed in the corner of an old hotel, the small restaurant boasts about its relationship with local farms listed on the wall. We order at the counter and help ourselves to silverware and glasses of water.  I grab a tea bag, add the water and milk but it seems to curdle. I learn that it is minimally homogenized and that is just the cream from the top. The owner and his cook work nonstop preparing large takeout orders and serving customers that arrive sporadically. Thankfully breakfast is an all day offering. The old tin ceilings painted gold are in good shape. There is an old switchboard sitting on top of an old safe. It’s a good breakfast. 

A man from the restaurant comes up to me as I stand outside taking photos. He asks if I would like a brochure about the original uses of the buildings. Some of the buildings around the square are being remolded. We follow him to his real estate/title office and he gives us a nicely done booklet. The prices of real estate listings are extremely low compared to Alaska.  I decide to go into a gift store and Jim goes in search of a bank. I find him sitting in the sun on a bench in front of the court building.He talks about the friendliness of the bank employee who helps him find the ATM. There is definite pride in this community. As usual, walking back to the Sprinter, Jim explains to me the construction of the old buildings we pass and how they are renovated.

Amana is intriguing and we drive into town early in the morning. There are several “Amana’s including West, high, middle, east and “plain Amana.” They were founded by German descendants to practice their religion. Originally it was a “co-op” model with private dwellings and common areas for eating. Separation happened and individual houses and businesses sprung up. It is the home of Amana appliances and Westinghouse.

We start at the visitor center that is housed in a former corn crib. A knowledgeable woman tells  us about the area and the times we can visit the original furniture and clock making shop with a catwalk to watch the workers. By this time, Jim is drooling. She shows us a couple of wooden “compositions” made by the workers.


We walk down the streets and look at the beautifully preserved buildings with different offerings. Jim is soon bored and heads back to the Sprinter while I do a little shopping. We drive over to the Woodworking and Clock shop with its retail store attached. Jim and I go to the enclosed catwalk to watch the craftsmen, naturally Jim stays longer. I linger in the room devoted to clocks including several grandfather clocks with chimes sounding in many tunes. Captain Kangaroo’s grandfather clock is here. Remember when he used to wind it every day and take a note from it?fullsizeoutput_1223

The craftsmen also made a huge walnut rocking chair that Lily Tomlin did her Edith routine in.

While many clocks chimed at the same time, I was surprised it wasn’t a cacophony on noise–it was delightful

 Back on the road again, we head to the true destination of today’s travel—LaMarr  who’s main product is ice cream. The Iowa legislature voted it  the “the best ice cream in the world”. Annoyingly, the ice cream parlor is closed for a few months and no  other place in town sells ice cream. Most of the storefronts are empty.

 It’s time to leave Iowa. We didn’t get to go to the John Wayne museum located in the house where he was born; visit Grant Wood’s studio; or renew our relationship at the covered bridge in Madison County.

We did get to look at the Grant Wood sculpture  painted by a local artist in the Amana visitor center; enjoy a delicious coffee in the Chocolate Haus; buy a few things in the artist co-op in Amana; buy corned beef and dark rye bread for sandwiches at the butcher shop and spend 3 quiet and solitary nights in wonderful state parks for $6-11.

Me: reading a sign at a rest stop: Josiah Grinnell (for whom the town is named) is the young man that Horace Greeley said to” Go West Young Man.”

Jim: Who Cares?

Me: leaning in “How bout a kiss??

Jim looked startled and then laughed. Our hearing problems offer momentary comedy.

South Dakota

We spent time 2 years ago in South Dakota seeing My Rushmore so we spend spend time driving through the Badlands National park. But first, while driving on side roads we notice signs for Wall Drugs.

Along the way are fields and fields of sunflowers their brown  heads drooping in the last direction the sun shone on them. I imagine what it looks like when their happy faces are yellow and in full bloom.

Not sure what it is we follow the signs to Wall, SD, a pseudo western town. Wall Drugs is a huge storefront with many small western style stores inside and a restaurant where the walls are covered with the “largest private collection of Western art.”  The store survived the Depression by offering free ice water to thirsty travelers beginning  in 1931. They still promote their 5 cent coffee. Indeed, one man was reading a book and enjoying his cup of coffee. I’m pretty sure he is a local person.fullsizeoutput_1201

At another table, we watched a group of young 20’s including one dressed in a cannibis sweatshirt another, wearing a NASA patch,  and one who looked like Sergeant Pepper. The 8 group members were  thoroughly enjoying themselves in a fairly quiet, non obnoxious way—they were quite funny. As they got up to leave, one pulled out  the biggest cowboy hat I’ve ever seen, put it on his head and swaggered out. As we started the drive into the Badlands, we ran into them a couple of times at view points, hiking and taking photos with real cameras. As they were leaving I approached them to ask where they were from—they said they were just passing through and were from Kansas, New York, etc. They were enjoying the park and each other. They seem to be involved in various comical skits. Surely they were Theatre majors!!

Monday. Last night in The Grey Panther for this trip. We will soon fly home to Alaska after visiting WY friends, road weary, but with beautiful memories, I want to sleep in a special outdoor place for our last night in the Badlands of South Dakota. But Jim is worried about the weather and we drive in the wind, rain and darkness to the Walmart parking lot in Rapid City. We put the curtains up and settle in for the night. We are in the far corner of the parking lot of the huge 24hour Walmart. This morning we are part of a “square” kind of like wagon trains circling for the night. A huge semi stretches across several parking places and is the first to leave; the driver in a four door pickup is waking up and a young woman with her 10ish son is putting gasoline from a small can in her aging Chevy Blazer with bald tires. They pulled in about 4am.

“You have a low tire,” Jim called to her.

“I know, she said.”

Jim went out to pump up the tire and give her $20. Her son said, “There’s more air at the gas station.” When Jim finished pumping up the tire, they drove away.

I don’t know her story, but I was once a single mother barely getting by.

Our 7000+mile trip from Michigan to the Gaspe Peninsula and Maritime provinces and on to Wyoming from the East coast where the Grey Panther will rest until Spring when the weather allows driving to Alaska is ending. A very special, memorable trip. Now we’re ready to return home after visiting friends in WY. Regardless of the vitriol in the U.S. today, we are heartened by the good people and the good works we saw and shared.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Mark Twain

Stories along the Way: The final leg of the 7 week, 7000 mile journey

Stories along the Way: Heading West

Massachusetts  October 20

After going around Boston, we look for a place to spend the night. I find Wells State Park near Stutebridge. But when we get into the park, it is closed to camping though nothing on their website indicated closure. Unwillingly to find someplace else to stay, we camp in the large parking lot after I leave a note on the door. We both have colds now but it is a quiet night marked by coughing fits. It’s raining, but we’re cozy and warm. I decide to stay in bed for a bit in my flannel PJ’s in the flannel sheets under the duvet. The staff does not show up for work this rainy Sunday morning so Jim retrieves my note, and makes me tea that feels so warm and soothing going down my throat. As we leave the park, staff passes us on our way out. Ohhhh how we miss Tim Horton’s this morning since I don’t feel like making breakfast.

Response to question on Wells State park website:

“Does the park have Internet?”

“ It’s a State Park. Put your cell phone down and get out and enjoy nature.”


Connecticut October 21

We drove into Connecticut. We didn’t stop at Mark Twain’s house that I wanted to see in Hartford. Then we missed Noah Webster’s house.  I’m not sure why Jim was unwilling to exit 6 lanes of city traffic to satisfy my whim……..The GPS calls out “there’s live traffic on the road”. What does that mean? We heed Finn Murphy’s advice in the audio book “The Long Haul” (recommend for road trips) that those that rely solely on GPS get lost 2-3 times more. Our Rand McNally Road guide of the US and Canada has several weather beaten pages. “Turn right at the stoplight,” Ms GPS says. We laugh, we’re on I84. “Recalulating,” she says. 

New York passes in a flash 

Pennsylvania October 22

We drive through the Poconos, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge mountains.


Pennsylvania is Jim’s home state, growing up in the Pittsburgh area. He grew up delivering newspapers in a wagon, running and playing in the woods behind their house, playing hockey and Boy Scouts. Pretty common for the times.

Driving through the countryside of Lancaster we admire the tidy farms and maneuver around the Amish buggies. They must have turn signals and a large marker on the back of the buggy, a  state mandated response to too many buggy/car encounters.


Downtown Lancaster is busy and we find one campground available. Unfortunately, it seems to have a large roller coaster and other amusements.

There is no one at  the camp office when we pull into the campground for the night. No place to leave money, only a few campers and a camp host. We park in a secluded site amongst the tall rustling trees dropping leaves and quickly fall sleep. This morning, the sun slips in among the tall trees and slides gently into the Sprinter. “Time to get up,” it seems to say. “I have a beautiful day waiting for you.”It is a fine, fall day.  We check out of the campground after enjoying the stream and the large farm across the field. Jim watches the milk truck pull in to load the day’s milk from the cows. 


Flight 93 National Monument

We pass near the memorial for Flt 93 that crashed on 9/11. It’s the  flight that passengers took over the cockpit from the hijackers knowing they would crash and die. We can’t go right to the memorial, but it makes the event so real and close. I was in an airplane flying between Alaska and Florida when the tragedy struck New York.


Gettysburg. Three days in July, 1863

What can you say ? “You’ve read about it, now you must see it.” We watched the videos about the Battle, stood in the incredible, heartbreaking cyclorama theatre with scenes of the battle surrounding us  painted by Phillippoteaux and then went to the museum with its many artifacts of life during those difficult times.


We drive along the peaceful road where the Confederate troops  set up their canons and established a staging area for an attack on the North. Canons stand there now scattered along the long road with monuments erected by southern states in honor of troops that died here. Further down the road we drive by memorials to Northern troops. There is so much to learn here on the actual site of the battle. In the museum we look at an exhibit showing how hard Lincoln worked to make the right decision about abolishing slavery. As the country moved West, southerners wanted slavery to expand, too. 


The country was in such turmoil then and I found myself looking for an answer to today’s turmoil. Civil War was the chosen solution then, hopefully not now.



We drive through Historic Gettysburg and have ice cream in an old building called “Two Sycamores”. President Lincoln walked by the house on his way to making his historic speech. Information plaques show where the residents hid when the fighting took place in the town.


 We camp at Caledonia State Park, again a beautiful night in the woods with few people in the campground. Driving around the next morning we came across a marker for an iron works furnace, built in 1837. There are a number of such furnaces in the area. This one was destroyed by Confederate troops in 1863 and rebuilt as a Memorial. Again, war affects many places not noticed.


It’s a good lesson not to just stop at a historic park like Gettysburg. The surrounding area is also affected by war though not really mentioned. People suffered but faded into history.

Near the iron furnace marker is a marker of a different type. At a time when few roads in the U.S. were paved, a group of people got together in 1912—Carl Fisher founder of the Indianapolis Speedway, Henry Joy of Packard Motors and several Detroit businessmen got together to promote a “Rock coast to coast Highway.” It was completed in 1935. (And we complain about potholes!) Joy suggested naming it for President Lincoln. He thought it a better memorial than the one being planned in Washington. So much history. So much to seek out in addition to the carefully laid out historic monuments and museum.

Fallingwater is our next stop. It is a Frank Lloyd Wright home built for the Kaufmans of Pittsburgh in the 1930’s . They owned a successful department store (now Macy’s). It is designed as their retreat place. Avid hikers and naturalists, the Kaufmans want to incorporate as much nature as possible. Fallingwater is built over a waterfall by up to 100 local craftsmen during Depression years. Wright was engaged to design both the structure and the furniture. When completed, it had a cost overrun of 500% necessitating a few changes like only one bedroom and bathroom in the guest house instead of three.

The house is currently furnished with most of the original furnishings and collected artifacts. The Kaufman’s only son entrusted it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. No photography is allowed in the house, and the guide carefully watches her group. No children, pets, large backpacks or purses are allowed. They are three sculptures by Diego Rivera as well as many other precious artifacts.

Built into the rock wall, among falls and a tumbling river, the home incorporates large stone outcrops into the house including the area in front of the fireplace. Many engineers and architects suggested that the house could not be built the way Wright planned it—supported by a system of cantilevers.


While Wright worked with the client’s wishes, he could be stubborn. When Mr. Kaufman wanted a bigger desk, he refused as he designed an opening window at the edge of the desk. Finally, he wrote Wright, “The desk is too small to write a check to the architect.” He got a bigger desk with a unique cutout to open the window. Qf2KCCyETlSQdCDu2ATa%g





Stories along the Way: Heading West

Stories along the Way: Maine

October 20, 2018 Maine.

“There are many gypsy hearts, but few gypsy feet”

Deciding to move to Alaska’s remote communities in mid-career is a life changing decision. I often say there are two kinds of people that move to Alaska, those that can get a job anywhere and those that can’t get a job anywhere. One thing is certain, those that stay in Alaska make some of the best friendships of their lives. It is so with Brooks and Linda Hurley. There is a high turnover of people in education and healthcare. I thank Facebook for letting me stay in contact with colleagues and friends that I shared tragedies, adventures, and unforgettable times with in the wild, beautiful, dangerous and unpredictable Alaska.

After spending several years in Alaska, Brooks and Linda returned to Maine. They picked  the small town of Belfast, on the Atlantic Coast where Brooks headed up the pharmacy at the local hospital before retiring. Unlike other parts of Maine, Belfast readily accepts newcomers that haven’t lived there for 5 generations.

Belfast, population 5000, had a chicken processing plant at the water’s edge. A smelly, messy, polluting plant. The old brick downtown storefronts were closed and boarded up. A bank decided to make the town its headquarters and bought and cleared away the poultry plant and cleaned up the water front, encouraging  downtown and harbor development. Today it is a thriving town with interesting stores and farmer’s markets, a bustling harbor and too many summer visitors.

We pull into the driveway of the Hurley’s Cape Cod style house. They met Jim at dinner in Anchorage last month and we also met in Cape Breton a couple of weeks ago. Though Jim did not work in Dillingham, he taught school in the village of Nunapitshuk and Bethel for 17 years, so his experiences blend well with ours. Living and working in Bush Alaska doesn’t make sense to those that didn’t live there and it’s hard to explain.

Over Linda’s delicious fish chowder we catch up and learn more about Belfast and our trip. Jim and I talk about crossing the border into the U.S. at Calais, ME. The agent was friendly, professional and nice, not hassling me about my Green Card. There wasn’t much traffic. She talked about the snow in Montana and her husband living there and on his way to see her. She looked forward to his visit. But as Jim said, he has no doubt that she would whip her pistol out if needed.We told Brooks and Linda about the crossing. Brooks asked if she had short, blond hair. Indeed she did and we laughed about getting the same agent.

Not knowing anyone in Belfast,  Linda heeded advice and joined the rowing group, first as a visitor, then a rower and now “cox”. She rowed in long practice runs and competitive races for several years and made special friendships. She also wanted to learn to play the fiddle, so as the oldest student, took a year of Suzuki violin lessons and now plays the fiddle regularly with a group of friends.

She took me to visit two of her friends. Amy and her husband Jim Grant, moved to an old farm ten years ago and established a fibre business. They raise sheep, protected by alpacas, some of whom were “rescued”. Three rescue cats make up the family.  Amy tells how they came to join the family including the cat who made several piles of mice to show he could do the job.  The old cement floored barn has a small retail shop as well as a large yarn production area. Yarn, delicious smelling sheep soap and bath bombs are for sale. In the production area, all phases of yarn making are underway. They are getting ready to go to a big fibre event in New York and are frantically getting things ready.  Amy is well read, listening mostly to audio books as she goes about her day’s work. In addition, Amy is leading a community wide effort to stop a land-based fish farm that has been approved by the city council with little input from the community. It’s ironic that the removal of the poultry processing plant revitalized the town and the harbor and now the environment is endangered again. http://www.goodkarmafarm.com

Willi, a diminutive rower lives with her husband Wes, behind Brooks and Linda. They are committed artists who traveled across the country years ago, purchased an old home with  attached barn and converted it to studios for each of them. Wes is a woodworker specializing in oars, and unusual art pieces and has the ground floor studio. Willi, an artist who works in several mediums, has the upstairs studio with different stations for her work that includes white-line block print making and “Willi’s Wires” jewelry making. They are both serious, talented artists who occasionally take on production work for finance purposes. Willi  painted thousands of tiny wildlife tie tacks for the Nature stores and other groups.

After learning about Jim’s sweater (which is progressing), Willi, wearing one of her own knitting projects, came over to Linda’s to knit a few rows. When we mention we are going to Sheridan WY, and will visit the Knitting Whisperer to resolve a sweater pocket problem, she said they drove through Sheridan many years ago and she bought her first pair of real winter boots from a store with a rows and rows of boots.The store had a cowboy on a bucking bronco flashing neon sign. She asked if we would check to see if it is still there. http://www.williwires.com

We walked downtown to the harbor and Linda shows me one of the rowing boats (gig) . Having devoured “The Boys and the Boat” I’m at least familiar with the terms.

Linda, an avid fly fisher, is not an avid shopper like I am. However, as we are both devoted readers we started with the bookstores. There are three independent bookstores in Belfast. We visit two of them. The Left Bank is slightly formal, though welcoming. It has good music playing, comfy chairs and several newspapers in addition to books. It is the type of book store to go to if you’re feeling a bit down and need soothing by friendly books without too much hoopla. I buy three books.

Located in a very old two-story building with welcoming tables and chairs outside, Bella’s Books has a small cafe that you reach through an old fashioned screen door that has a satisfying wooden “bang” when you close it. Upstairs is an antique store. Scattered around the first floor books are a few antique china items. I bring a few books to the counter. The slightly eccentric bookseller talks about how the bookshop aggressively competes with Amazon. A family membership is $20 that qualifies you for a  reduced price. They handily “beat” Amazon on Maine book prices.  The “family” membership is open, “wink” wink”. Linda joins the membership and my books are included on it. I love it when “small shops” figure out ways to compete with the big guys. Linda also gets a punch card. When completed, she receives $10 off a book.

Linda takes me to Brambles. It sits on a corner in a large, restored wooden building. It has a a garden focus and lots of other items. We both wander separately looking at everything. The store is light with a high ceiling. Gregorian chant music plays in the background and someone it works. I make a few purchases for gifts. I simply must have the iron giraffe hook. And the unusual gnome. And the small garden tools from Holland…

quCtZt50Q3KDSgy4pdlwMQ Sustenance is needed. We go to Chase’s Daily which has operated for 25 years. Bins of produce to purchase are in back—the most perfect looking produce ever. It’s mobbed in the summer. It recently changed from single table format to “family style” with long metal tables.Food is displayed cafeteria style behind the counter. Oh, but what amazing food. We eat lunch and decide to pick up quiche and a berry tart for dinner.

p%r2S3A%QHqej+SUXD2NEg How can we spend an hour in an oil store? In Vinoila there is a front display of small bags of popcorn with a variety of sea salt. It’s “pop it” day. Take a bag of popcorn and try different oils and salts on it. Mushroom/sage olive oil and garlic sea salt. OH MY. We try a few others and taste some of the olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Then Amanda calls us over to try the “Lemon Lavender” drink. Flavored balsamic vinegars mixed into bubbly water. OH MY.  This is simply delicious and healthy. I buy a few bottles for the road and send some home to Alaska. Linda buys the Lavender/lemon for us to try at her house. Amanda is so knowledgeable and quite a saleswoman. She lives year round on a boat in the harbor with her husband and terrier. 

Note: years ago the water in the harbor froze in the winter. It no longer freezes.

While we shop and chat and chat, Jim and Brooks work on the Westfalia camper van, shopping Napa Auto Supplies “where we perused all the aisles” said Jim. They go to the harbor to see the large sailboats for repairs and the rowing gigs, watched sports and contributed multiple stories.

Brooks and Jim share an affinity for ice-cream. Brooks laments the closure of most of the ice cream stores for the winter. However, one remains open, about a 30 minute drive away. Off we go to John’s, who is a 70’s era pot using hippie, that talks with almost closed eyes. He makes his own amazing ice-cream. I have two scoops—chocolate with orange peel and ginger. I’m completely immersed in my own taste sensations not paying attention to anyone else, We groan with full ice cream stomachs and skip dinner. 

There is no leaving Maine without enjoying lobster. We pile into the car again and HbmHQ56sSUSfAi1u236slwBrooks drives us through Rockport and Camden to reach Graffam Brothers for a fresh lobster roll. And it is the best, fresh and delicious.

Brooks is  also a donut fan. He presents us with a bag of warm donuts and two fat Whoopie pies as we get ready to leave.

It is a wonderful visit, sharing meals, talking and laughing. It is a special time with special friends.Like us, in retirement Brooks and Linda are very busy.  Funny, when you live in the same place you promise to get together but rarely do. The beauty of visiting is spending dedicated time together, reliving old memories and making new ones.

On we go, heading for Gettysburg and Pittsburgh, where Jim enjoyed his youth with five siblings, paper routes, hockey, Boy Scouts and happy times in the woods.

Stories along the Way: Maine

Stories along the Way: New Brunswick


New Brunswick October 15, 2018


Leaving Nova Scotia, we cross the bridge to New Brunswick. It’s a fine, sunny day. We stop in Moncton hoping to see the famous bore tide on the Bay of Fundy at the aptly named “Bore Tide Park”.

Alas, not much to see  and after a short walk on the boardwalk, we drive on.  I need to find at least one memorable NB experience before crossing back to the U.S.  St. John’s, the biggest city, is a possibility, and I quickly search the tour books surrounding me in the passenger’s seat.fullsizeoutput_107c

 I’m down to three tour books now and suggest a detour to St Martins Village, on the Bay of Fundy.  I’ve found a restored inn, the previous home of a sea captain.  Captain David Vaughn built the home in 1857. It stands on a hill overlooking the Bay of Fundy. The village was once the most prosperous shipbuilding area in eastern Canada—500 ships were built here. The rugged coasts and the elaborate homes built at the time now draw artists and photographers to the area.

 It is also the start of the Fundy trail, a major project underway to provide a road along the water through the last undeveloped area of the Eastern coast.  It includes two UNESCO sites, Stonehammer Global Geopark and the Fundy Biosphere Reserve. The adjacent park is a designated “Dark Sky” preserve by the Royal Astonomical Society of Canada.

We drive the 12miles of the Fundy trail, stopping at the interpretive center and walk down to cross the suspension bridge. The sun is warm and the tide is out. The trees rustle their colorful leaves and water trickles from the stream to the ocean. Stopping at other marked spots brings different views of the rugged coast.

Back in St Martins, we eat seafood chowder at a restaurant  on the outside deck, soaking in the warmth of the late fall day. Other diners also stop to enjoy the sun on their face. The tide reveals a small portion of the rocky beach.

The stay at St. Martin’s Country Inn is a special experience. Beautifully resorted with original fireplaces, and some of the furniture, the Inn is filled with antiques. The original wooden floors are buffed to a shine and the stair bannister reminds me that I once wished to live in a house with a bannister to slide down. Our room, that of one of  Captain Vaughn’s daughters, is in the front of the house overlooking the Bay.The light dinner we requested is delicious. The chef/manager is known for her cooking skills  and reservations for dinner are necessary. She sets a table for two in front of the big window overlooking the water. Other tables look out at the sumptuous gardens, with fall colours replacing the summer bright colours. There is no rush and we linger at the table slowing down for the day.

Jim is in his element looking over the original construction and making recommendations to the owners to restore the Widow’s Walk at the top of the house.. He comments on how the entire house was built with handsaws. Of course we love the two black cats but it seems they only want Jim to pet them.

We climb the stairs to our room. The sky is changing with the colours of sunset.uxGKHcH%ToSTMfmEqS7%jA

We sleep the sleep of people at peace with the world and satisfied with the day’s accomplishments. The old wood floors, tall ceilings, with their memories of times past float on the ceiling and walls lending to a restful night.


The sun creeps in the window waking me up. I  put my feet on the worn floor boards and cross to the window to watch the morning sun cross the water and into our bedroom. I imagine waking up here 100 years ago. We go downstairs for breakfast, my hand on the smooth bannister that 100’s of hands, big and small, touched over the years. Reluctantly, we check out of the inn and drive  down to the water.

It’s low tide. Down at the harbour, the boats pose in the air, the mud far below them. We walk the beach, seeing how far we can walk. Some people wearing boots, cross the stream and go into the sea caves, inaccessible at high tide.  One couple takes off their shoes and wade across the cold stream. The woman sits down to put her shoes on and says, “We only live once and I would only do this once”. 

The wind is quieter today and the air warm. We walk along the rocks over to the stream looking at how tiny the people appear in relation to the sea cave visible in the low tide. I don’t want to go. I want to get our chair out and sit at the edge of the water and watch the tide come in and the boats float again.

 It’s time to leave St Martins. Time to finish our adventure in Canada’s Maritime provinces and Ontario and Quebec.It is hard to decide what part of the trip is the best, but I guess we can have as many bests as we want to. We have miles to go before we sleep….cross back to the U.S. and onto Maine. fullsizeoutput_10f4

Stories along the Way: New Brunswick

Stories along the Way: Nova Scotia II

Oct 10, 2018 Nova Scotia II


Nova Scotia’s Eastern shore road is a slow, winding two-lane road—our way is the slow way. We pass small fishing towns and houses, different from Gaspe Peninsula, PEI and Cape Breton architecture.  Looking through my four travel guides (different facts in each book). I notice a “GEM” reference to Sherbrooke as we approach the correct turnoff. 

We find the  mostly empty parking lot on this Thanksgiving Day and walk in to the village. When open, costumed interpreters demonstrate crafts and skills in this 1860’s renovated logging and mining town. The print shop is open and 2 costumed women are busy making a recipe book and Christmas cards. They encourage us to walk around the town though officially closed. With no other visitors , it has an eery feeling, like we just stepped out of a time machine. We wander down to the St. Mary’s River and learn that major ship building happened here, but with the changing environment, the tides weren’t reliable. We wandered and read the plaques here and there, learning about the town. The Temperance Hall is now the Canadian Legion, one of the few in Canada that doesn’t serve alcohol. A beautiful home, more majestic than other buildings with a broad front lawn and white picket fence, names the owners and states “The house was built showing their status and financial resources.” 

Peering into windows we see the original boat building equipment. An outdoor kiln from long ago lies broken. We sit on the Adirondack chairs at the edge of the river expecting a schooner to drift by. The day is cloudy and cool, but walking around Sherbrooke village  and learning about life over 100 years ago is an unexpected and delightful time. 

On the way to the provincial park for the night, we pass a boat and ship graveyard with large boats lying on their side waiting to be salvaged.

It’s dark when we reach the park, but we find a quiet site and settle in for the night. The next morning dawns bright and sunny, revealing Porter Lake beside us. Who wants to sleep when the sun coaxes eyes open? Provincial parks offer the most comforting  and quiet places to camp.

We drive to Halifax and look forward to two nights in a downtown hotel. Each day is a fun day in the Sprinter, but when we decide on a hotel, we look forward to it—a bathtub for me and a TV for Jim. Besides, the hotel is centrally located to the museums. Jim looks forward to not driving for two days.

I have a lovely soak in the deep bathtub while Jim stretches out on the bed checking out TV sports. Later, we walk down to the waterfront and look for the Maritime Museum that houses both the permanent Titanic exhibit and the special 1917 Halifax explosion exhibit. It’s a holiday and many people are on the waterfront.

I wanted to see the memorial corvette ship that supported convoys in the North Atlantic during WWII. Both my father and uncle were based here with the Canadian Navy and I hoped to see the type ship they served on, but it is in dry dock. The museum does have a display of the rum each sailor got before dinner. The practice was not discarded until the 1970’s. Funny, my father never mentioned this part of ship life.

We came around the corner to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in which I planned to spend some time while on the trip. Needing a break, Jim led me into the museum cafe to get a coffee and sit down a bit.

Jim decides to go back to the hotel room while I start touring the art gallery. It’s been awhile since I’ve had an opportunity to visit a gallery and I take an excited deep breath.

A few years ago I read a story about Maude Lewis, a folk artist who suffered from juvenile arthritis. She desperately answered an ad for a housekeeper after her parents died and her brother inherited the estate. She lived in a tiny home with the man who she eventually married. She started painting the little house inside and out. He bought her first set of real paints and brushes. A fisherman, he would take her paintings along to sell as he sold his fish. I was fascinated by her story though I never dreamed I would see her original work. But dreams do come true and here I am looking at her paintings and the tiny house she lived in for so many years. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, brought it from it’s original Digby location and installed in a gallery.   I stayed to closing time looking at her vibrant village scenes.

I walked back to the hotel room where Jim watched a hockey game. We wanted Thanksgiving dinner and walked down the street to a historic hotel, visited by a young Queen Elizabeth decades ago. The  wine menu quotes include “If food is the body of good living, wine is the soul.”Sir Winston Churchill. “Cheese, wine and a friend must be old to be good.” Cuban Proverb

On Tuesday we went down to lower Water street and the museum. But, this is cruise ship day.  The cashier cheerfully tells me they have 7,000 visitors coming in today. No matter, we start with the Titanic exhibit. Many of the dead are buried in well-maintained Halifax cemeteries. A major rescue operation was initiated in Halifax. A coroner developed an effective system to try and identify the dead. He assigned the same number to the body and personal belongings to be matched up. So simple, but effective.

The exhibit is well done and there is much to see. One exhibit showed a very small pair of leather shoes from an unidentified child about two years old. For a long time, no one could identify him. But fairly recently, through the shoes, he was traced to a family of five from New York, who perished in the Titanic.

The Halifax explosion of December 6, 2017 is a special exhibit. Since Jim is reading a book about the explosion, suggested by the bookseller in Stratford, Ontario, he is eager to see it and offers many details in addition to each exhibit. A French ship loaded with explosives collided with a Norwegian boat in the “Narrows” causing devastation for miles. One exhibit included the telegraph key used to warn incoming trains of the disaster and his wallet—recovered later. “Good bye boys” was the last message he typed, knowing he couldn’t escape. Massachusetts sent a train with medical help and supplies. Every year since then, Halifax sends a Christmas tree to Boston in thanks.

There is so much to see in Halifax. Many dignified, old buildings. Beautiful gardens. Historical parks and monuments. Alas, both Jim’s and my legs and feet protest all too soon and its back to the room.  As elsewhere on our trip, people are kind and gracious. There are many restaurants to try, including a small Iranian one nearby. But not on this trip. Halifax is still a major shipbuilding centre.

“We need to leave Halifax,” declared Jim O’Neill as a semi truck stopped to let us cross the street even though not a crosswalk.”Everyone is just too polite ,” he added as a car let a big truck in, and then a big truck let a little car in. “I haven’t heard a single horn honk,” he added. “Everyone even stopped at an intersection to let a little old man decide if he wanted to turn right or left,”. “The final straw,”he said “was when all the downtown traffic stopped to make sure a squirrel crossed the road safely. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Jim O’Neill

After two days we check out of the hotel, cheered, bathed, and energetic. We stop at Peggy’s Cove, the most photographed lighthouse in North America and an idyllic village. It was named after an orphan named Margaret who was rescued from an overturned boat. Luckily we were warned “that it is a must see” but there will be hordes of visitors like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. Indeed, there were many tour buses and ant-like visitors. But, it is a worthwhile stop.

A short distance away, with a parking lot too small for tour buses, is the memorial for Swiss Air Flight 211. It couldn’t be more different than Peggy’s Cove. A walk along the path to it with natural vegetation and a breeze blowing on a cloudy day set the tone for this special place. A handkerchief with the Swiss flag on it was tied to a railing. The visitors came two weeks before to honor two friends that died 20 years before in the crash.


We continue on to Lunenburg, a small town initially inhabited by “Foreign Protestants”— Germans and Swiss, brought over by schooner by the British to establish an outpost—escaping religious persecution, high taxes and overcrowding. The private campground we stayed in was the site of a military outpost and it overlooks the bay that has a tiny houseboat anchored out.


Lunenburg has many beautifully painted and restored buildings from the1800’s and a very tidy community. There is an unusually large number of different denomination churches when we usually only see Catholic or Anglican (Episcopal in the US) from the mixture of immigrants.  We go to a small restaurant recommended by the campground attendant. It is delicious. Jim has baked halddock and I have scallops with perfectly cooked linguini.

The next morning, as I cook breakfast, Jim chuckles watching large RV’s go to the dumping and water station and have problems dumping sewage and grey water. The Grey Panther is set up simply to not experience these problems that Jim had with previous vehicles. He researched every possible alternative and the final decisions result in no problems. Well, he did have to fiddle with the water line under the sink once for five minutes.

We drive along the harbor to check out the Bluenose II, Canada’s ambassador schooner. It’s raining now and we drive near the golf course to get a better look at the harbor (my Edmonton cousin provided good, detailed suggestions). It’s raining hard now.

There is a farmer’s market this morning and I happily join the crowd, ogling the fresh greens and other vegetables, breads, baked goods, cider, honey, bees wax candles and many other wonderful things. At one end is prepared food and I buy Indian butter chicken and basmati rice.  I continue around. Alas, the Guinness  steak pie needs to be baked, so that’s out. I buy quiche, a schnitzel sandwich for Jim, beef vegetable soup.And of course some lovely fresh bread “my husband, the baker’s, favorite” she said. And fresh eggs, baby arugula, micro. greens, German sausage and fresh bacon.

Jim remains in the Sprinter reading after coming in with me for five minutes. I come out twice, when I run out of money, and when I need my wicker market basket to look like a proper farmer’s market shopper.

The rain worsens from the tail end of Hurricane Michael and we stop for the night in Digby of the famous “Digby Scallops”.  It is on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. The Sprinter is warm and cozy and as we have both spent too many rainy nights in tents in the Alaska wilderness, we think this is luxury.  After breakfast, we go downtown. The rain slows to a fine mist. It’s warm and the water is flat with no wind. On the boardwalk we are the only ones and enjoy the quiet and the smell of the sea. Digby is a working town and the “Scallop capitol of the world”. Digby was the home of Maud Lewis.

We are on our way to Annapolis Royal but I want to stop at Sherlburne. It is a small town with a major harbor said to be the third best in the world after Sydney, Australia and Havana, Cuba. It also the town established by the Black loyalists rescued by Britain during the War of 1812. They set up a town a few miles away called Birchtown after the general that rescued them.

 The town is a major presence in Lawrence Hill’s remarkable and award winning book……. (In US “Someone Knows my Name) and the miniseries from the book as well as other movies.  Some of the town was restored for the movie and since then more 1800’s buildings are being restored.

One special place on the water in Shelburne is the dory museum and workshop. 10,000 dories have been built here. The lower floor shows the dories and some exhibits and a video of the man that worked here for 76 years—rowing a mile a day to get to work, 10 hours/6 days and row an hour home.  The tour guide explain the dory construction in details, its uses, including life boats because they stack and several of the tools in the boat including “The Priest” that gives the halibut “their last rites”—-which in Alaska we call “the banker”.  Upstairs the dory maker gave us a tour and talked to Jim about the details of the craft and materials. For the most part the wooden dories are no longer used, but special orders come in and they hold dory making workshops. 

The museum tour guide is from Colorado who went to school in Halifax for financial reasons. She met her husband there and moved to Baffin Island when he got a job. She has a Master’s degree and so did some teaching. They moved to Shelburne for his job as city manager. She never thought she would be the tour guide for the Dory Museum. She is enthusiastic about her job and they will soon move back to his hometown for a new job.  I have no doubt she will do well in what ever job she picks or picks her. She shared one tidbit “When Prince Charles and Diana came to visit, the dory maker gave Diana a tiny hand carved toy dory for William.” The tie to the British Royal family is strong in the provinces. 

I stopped at an old building nearby, a pottery store, called the Roundbird. The big  wooden door was hard to open and finally, a young woman helped from the other side. She gives people a piece of clay and asks them to fashion a bird. There were many laid out on paper with a date and name. “Everyone starts with the same blob of clay, but look how different they make their birds.”  

She is from Toronto, a video game developer who had also traveled from Barrow, Alaska to Japan and many places in between. She came to Shelburne to stay with a friend and her father, who had a pottery studio,  to recoup and find a new path.  She works in the old store as well as  displaying other artists’s work. She fell in love with the small town that struggles to survive and restore its history. “It’s a wonderful place where everyone cares for each other,” she said. Somehow we ended up talking about palliative care and she said people her age think they are immortal and death doesn’t come. But her grand dads died close together recently and she now realizes her mortality. Finally we parted with a hug and I bought a small piece of her work. Luckily Jim was still reading his book in the Sprinter.

We drive to nearby Birchtown but don’t have time to go into the museum. Even slow travel people must make choices.

Jim drives to Annapolis Royal with it’s history wrapped in its well-preserved historical buildings. Once again we walk on the wooden boardwalk at the water’s edge. The  warm rain slows allowing us to walk embraced in dew rain, warm, soft and comforting. The fog across the bay lifts showing off Fall’s best colors. Jim goes back to the Sprinter while I shop a bit more. There are many artist’s stores and not the normal touristy ones. It seems the area attracts artists of all types. Of course I have little chats with each of them. And what’s a bookstore without a cat?


We stop at the Annapolis Historic Gardens, one of the top gardens in Canada. I know that most  of the flowers finished a few weeks ago, but I must see it. Jim stays in the Sprinter as I go into the office to get a ticket. There are big umbrellas to borrow as it is still rainy. I start out, filled with delight.  I pass several gardens, including the rose garden with a few rose petals still clinging to the stems. I continue around the garden in the rain, well protected by the umbrella. I go through the gate to the dikes built by the Acadians 400 years ago, carefully closing the gate as I was instructed,to keep the deer out. A sudden downpour of rain falls around me but the umbrella keeps me dry. The last garden I look at is a Victorian garden with its uniform plants and tidy garden beds.  I love it all. 

Wolfville is our next stop but we stop along the way to make lunch. Jim is getting a cold and wants some of the vegetable beef soup I got at thel Lunenburg farmer’s market. We continue on but it’s getting late, campgrounds don’t seem to be available. I discover it’s homecoming week at the local college and most places are booked.

Sometimes a wrong turn brings a right night. The country B&B in Gastreau is delightful. We slept well. This morning there was a breakfast of blueberry packed muffins, eggs, yogurt, cereal, fresh cider and the best part of all, strong hot tea in a china cup. While Jim joined the kitchen talk of hockey and teaching (the Montreal Canadiens alumni are playing the Acadia college alumni tonight) I sat in the living room looking out and enjoying my tea…..and going back for thirds. The tea was kept hot in a metal teapot on the stove. After a stop at the sheep fiber store and flock down the road, it’s off to the museums.

I find a B&B in nearby Gastineau and get the last room. We drive through apple country and vineyards, past trees bursting in colour and green fields on rolling hills. The B&B is at a family farm site since the 1700’s and the hostess grew up in the farm house that is now the B&B. The wood floors are solid, the bedrooms upstairs inviting—as well as the claw foot bathtub. Just down the road is a fibre store and farm with Cotswold sheep in the pasture. I saw it while I looked through booklets and happy to see it a …..and going back for thirds. The tea was kept hot in a metal teapot on the stove.

We stop at the fibre store down the road. The working farm with heritage sheep, in this case Cotswald sheep, has a shop in an old building on the farm that offers knitting and weaving supplies. It is a popular place with people coming in and out as well as 10 or so people at the work table. I bought a skein of their yarn, it is all hand dyed in beautiful colours. They carry other wool as well and beautiful woven and knit pieces by local artisans. Because the Cotswald sheep hair is long, there is only one family in North America that can spin it. The wool goes to a family in New Mexico who minimally treat it and return it to Gastreau. Pride in the product comes through easily.

One of the knitting workshop attendees saw me talking nonsense to a sheep and a llama and wanted to take a picture of me. Gee, I said sheepishly.

We drive into Wolfville  happy with our foray into the countryside. It is home to Acadia University. We went to the museum to see more of Maud Howe’s work but, alas, the exhibit ended September 30, One of her paintings is for sale in an art gallery—$27,500. We stop at La Torta for Neapolitan pizza. There was one other table filled. By the time we ordered and finished our caprese salad, the restaurant was full. Then the pizza came—so simple, but delicious!! Italian tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms, mozzarella and prosciutto. 

The Grand Pre historical site is a short distance away. Unfortunately, we found it closed for the season. We looked forward to the film about the Acadia people originally from France. They were excellent farmers and built dikes over 300 acres resulting in fertile land and high production. In the 1700’s The British were not happy with their unwillingness to sign an oath to Britain and deported hundreds of them, burning their houses or giving them to other immigrants. Another historical event of wrongful treatment of people! Some came back and they are found in this area as well as Cape Breton and Louisiana, U.S.  Archeological digs around the area reveal some of their successes. In 1922 a church was built with donations from Acadians everywhere and the site is beautiful. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a long and epic poem, Evangilene, that tells the story of the deportation. A statue of “Evangilene” is on the path to the church.

The trees are at the highest colour, making the cloudy day bright. We head north to cross into New Brunswick tomorrow.

Our Canadian trip is ending, but I’m pushing for a stop in St. Johns NB. There is always more to see and learn, sometimes from unplanned wanderings. We love Nova Scotia—just like we did Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island. Realistically, this will be our only trip. No longer can we say, “Oh we can come back in a few years.” So we soak in every bit of the trip relishing it, recording it in our memory as a special time.

Stories along the Way: Nova Scotia II