I’ve been dying to get out on the trails and since the snow is finally clearing out I figured today was the day. I kept close to home, deciding to try the Headlands trail loop on the Thomas cove trail system only a few miles from home. I’ve done the main loop many, many times and have wandered the mud flats at low tide but never the secondary loop.
What a surprise!! Frank, my partner and I spent the better part of the day exploring the older spruce forest through a well-worn path. We had lunch, wished we had binoculars and planned some upcoming trips for backpacking and kayaking.
Before setting out, I quickly glanced at the newly placed trail map to see what the afternoon would bring. I hadn't looked close enough because I missed the trail to the bridge!! But as I walked around the tidal plain I found the path, thankfully missing the chance to get hip deep in mud crossing the emptied river. The path wound around to the smallest point of the Economy River to a debarked log fashioned into a bridge.
Frank was the first across, darting straight into what I’ve named Squirrel Haven. The path was littered with spruce cone remnants and the squirrels yelled above us to leave their sanctuary. We hiked along to a bench overlooking the mouth of the river. The tide was completely out and people walked along the red clay basin bottom. We shared a little snack as we watched people milling about the mud flats.
After our shared jerky and water, Frank and I trotted on toward the coastline.Frank was bounding on and off the trail, at home in the cold April afternoon. My pack was only 10bs, just a small taste for what is come as I get back into backpacking shape. The view of Five Islands was amazing and even though the day was hazy, I could see all five. The tide was out so far the basin looked like the Grand Canyon. Seagulls flew low through the channels, looking for crabs or whatever else the surf has to offer. Crab shells lined the eroding banks above, poor souls lost in the cycle of life.
The trail meandered from the coastline into the soft, mossy canopy. The birds sang above as I hoofed it through the last section before the loop connected back to the bridge. I saw a few different trail marker along the way, the yellow I knew was the Headlands trail, the red the entirety of both loops but I was unsure what the orange marker indicated.
Once back at the trail head, I saw on the map that there was third loop breaking off which must have been the orange markers. With so many trees down from the winter storms, I am sure I missed an exit somewhere along the way. I have plans to come back and do all the loops with a full pack as a training day for the season opener.
News Flash! The season opener this year is Cape Chignecto. I did it with some friends almost two year ago and although I swore as I walked out with blistered feet that I would never hike it again, I think I am finally ready for expedition numeral dose!! I am totally out of shape for a back-packing trip like Chignecto (53Kms) so if I don’t start gearing up for the for season I might not be ready in time.
I am sure there are a few of you out there who are experiencing the same thing right now (too many storm chips!) and are looking to get back out on the trails. I have been laying the ground work for a club to get together for day hikes, over night back-packing trips or whatever gets us out in the woods!!
I’m curious about my readers past experiences and what ya’ll plan to do this year. What’s your longest hike? Any over nighters? How do you plan for an excursion? What do you bring? Any luxury items that you know you shouldn’t!? How are you getting ready for this season? What are you planning? How’s far too far for you doggie companion?
If you want more information on the Thomas Cove Trails , visit https://www.colchester.ca/thomas-cove-coastal-reserve
"I was born in Lower Economy, Nova Scotia seventy-five years ago. At the age of sixteen on July 21st 1878 I shipped on the brigantine “Busy Bee” with Capt. Robert Ellwood of Five Islands, Nova Scotia. We loaded lumber at Economy, N.S. and was bound for Newery, Ire. We arrived in thirty days. We discharged our cargo in Newery, Ireland; which took about a month, took in sand ballast and started back light. At thirty days out of Newery we were only half way across because of high winds and gales.
Around the 25th of Oct. we struck a gale and was love to for three days. The fourth morning at eight bells while the watch below was eating breakfast in the forward house the Captain saw a big sea coming and knew the ship could not ride on top. He called al hand aft. When the sea was about twenty feet away from the ship the top of the wave broke and smashed the forward house and life boats and heaved her right over on her broad side. The ballast shifted and took part of her bilsom with it. She stayed down on her side with the end of the end of the yards sticking in the water.
The captain gave orders to cut the spars out of her. We cut some of the riggings on the weather side and both masts broke flush with the deck. She then righted up and lay on her beam end. She started leaking badly and the pumps could not work because she was laying over too far. So we had to rig a barrel on a sling. Two men went forward on the life line and bailed water out of the hole. The two men were relieved every half hour. This continued or three days and three nights without food or water. The food and water were spoiled with salt water.
During the third night the Captain, thinking we had a slim chance of being saved, called all hands to-gether and wanted all to pray. We sat in a row and all prayed to be saved until was came to the second mate. He was a Norwegian, the captain asked why we would not pray. He answered that he would have to pray in Norwegian and it would be of no use because the Captain could not understand him. This did not seem funny at the time, but does as I recall it.
The fourth morning at day break, the Captain’s sister who was the cook’s wife, sighted a ship on the horizon. When the ship came nearer she sighted us and ran close by our stern.The rescue ship, with Capt. Joyce, was bound from Newfoundland to Italy, and was loaded with dry fish.
Capt. Joyce hailed us and asked how many in our crew we had. Our captain answered ten all told and that one was a woman. The sea was too rough to transfer us then, so Capt. Joyce said he would stand by for calmer seas. He stayed by all that day and that night, the next morning at sun rise he ran down close to the Busy Bee. We had to run and jump over-board as far from the ship as we could. The cook’s wife was afraid to jump so had to heave her overboard. The life boat from the ship standing by picked each one up as they jumped.
I was one of the last to leave the ship. Before we jumped overboard we had to set fire to the wrecked ship to sink it. Just as we two got aboard the rescue ship the Busy Bee exploded and sank.
Capt. Joyce kept in his course and landed at [illegible]. All hands lost everything except what we stood in. But the English counsel took care of us and sent us to Liverpool where we were able to ship for ourselves.
This was quite an experience for a sixteen-year-old boy, don’t you think.
I have lived in the United States for the last fifty years and am a naturalized citizen.
This is the first hand account of a ship wreck in 1878 in the Atlantic Ocean of which my great-great grandfather survived at the age of sixteen.He had sailed from the time he was 16 until he was 61 years old. My grandfather sent a photocopied letter of this account and I have written it just as Daniel did in 1939, 8 years before he passed away in Boston, Massachusetts.
Fair winds and following seas....
The wind woke me up during the loneliest hours of the early morning and I crept through the darkness to the picture window, hoping the moon’s light would illuminate the destruction I was sure was unfolding outdoors. There was no light and as my eyes adjusted to the night, I saw the tops of tree bending and dancing to the howling winds. I stood there for some time watching and listening, appreciating the comforts around me but at the same time wanting to feel the cold night nip at me.
I visualized myself down at the local beach, experiencing the night, the wind and the waves as all three muted my senses. By this time I was transported into my imagination to another time, another place. A day dreamer at my core, I never miss an opportunity let myself get lost, spinning a tale that I only I can see.
In this other world I left the house, my feet knew the path before me, I did not need to see, an unknown desire drew me down the gravel road toward the uninhabited beach. I reached the waters edge, I stood quiet and alone clearing my mind from the worries of life, leaving no room for anything except what was right in front of me.
Far out into the bay I could see the outline of a ship from a time I knew before, not of this earthly body but an ancestral one. The tide rushed at my feet, the methodical yet chaotic ebb rising to my ankles. The ship swayed on the waves and I could make out people. Listening as the water brought their voices to me, I could hear the chatter of preparation for a journey to be taken.
The wind quickened, pushing me further into the numbing sea water, tangling my hair and making me believe I could be swept away with no repercussions. The water sirens were there, humming at first, a slow, quite tone barely recognizable. Their song grew louder as the wind died down, knowing that it was their time. They followed the ship out of the bay and I was left alone on the beach once more, to watch the ship depart towards a destiny that at this time I only knew.
My wandering thoughts had taken me back to a letter my grandfather had written me about our shared ancestors. He wrote to me after I had moved to Canada to tell me that our relatives arrived to the area now known as Economy, NS in the early 1700’s.
The story goes that the man was given as much land as he could walk in a day and so he did just that, inviting his relatives to come settle after he was granted the land. We became ship builders and seaman and in my grandfathers words….Pirates.
I am enthralled with idea that I am descendant of a pirate. Not in the romantic, Hollywood version of “pirate”, or male center idea of a rebel. I like think I have a bit of she-pirate in me; bold, calculated and a natural leader, able incite a following of like minded individuals to achieve together what we could not alone.
But pirates was not the meat of this letter, it was to tell the tale of a voyage to Ireland that nearly cost a crew its life. And at the last possible moment, as the ship was certainly doomed and the men prayed together, they were saved. My great-great-grandfather, a young man of 16 at the time, living through an ordeal that no doubt shaped his entire life. And a story that I often think about when the weather turns this way.
Little Frank came upstairs to find me, pulling me back to the present day. Her nails clicked on the laminate as she made her way to join me at the window. In a way I wondered if she knew how I was feeling and that’s why she sought me out. She nudged at me and we made our way back to bed, to be lulled to sleep by the signing of the winds.
The next morning, we set out for a day of beaching combing, hoping that the high tides from the last full moon and the winds of the night before would bring in some interesting finds, or at least provide a mornings entertainment. It was chilly, my wool beanie and gloves kept me warm as we made our way down the familiar path leading to the little beach on the Minas Basin, the upper part of the Bay of Fundy.
The wind whipped at my face, pushing me toward the expansive beach. The sun was hidden behind a thick cloud bank and I was glad I was bundled up for this adventure. Frank shot ahead, running easily on the soft silty clay sand while I took my time scanning the rocks for sea glass or other treasures. Shells and rocks, rocks and shells but no sea glass.
As I walked, I remembered a ‘Happiness Rock’ I had seen last summer on the Dobson trail. A plain flat rock painted a bright color with an inspirational message. I enjoyed finding those little ‘gems’ and as I was not having luck finding sea glass, I switched my focus to flat rocks.
After hearing my plan, my beach partner yelled out “Only the interesting rocks”, just as I put my hand on wedge shaped rock that instantly struck me as wanting to be painted as a pizza slice. We continued this way, directionless and silent, listening to the waves creep closer as the sun started to emerge from the clouds. Not a piece of sea glass to be found but my pack was gaining weight with every interesting stone; a future butterfly and a stack of books were among my favorite finds.
We scanned the vastness in front of us for some shelter from the cold, biting winds, to make some tea and compare our treasures. A sun bleached heavy log that had accumulated a grouping of drift wood was the obvious choice, offering a block against the wind bringing in the Fundy tide.
My pack off and the kettle boiling I ran down the beach, Frankie chasing after me, stopping quickly to let the sun hit my face. The waves were increasing speed and I stood memorized by their random synchronicity. The sounds of the beach were growing louder, the narrative in my mind retreating. I stood in my power stance at the edge of the water, arms straight up and feet firmly planted. I breathed in and reached toward the sky, absorbing the March sun.
I was struck with the realization that I could possibly be sharing a view, a moment through time, with a relative from the past. As a girl who has very few kin in this current world, it is a comforting thought. Many of my lineage stood on the shores of this bay, gazing out into the bright day, wondering about what lays ahead for the people they love; their futures yet unwritten.
I was brought back to the moment last night, thinking about that ship on the eve of departure. About the story of those men untold and the connection to this area that is undiscovered. I set an intention to find the letter and properly share their story. A seagull called out over head and I was brought back to myself as Frankie pawed at me from below.
We meandered back to our small camp to enjoy the rest of the outing. As we eventually set out for home, turning from the sun, I left behind the red clay rocks for another day and quite possibly another time.
In the late fall, when the spectacular colors of the sugar maples were at their peak, I went on a exploration hike of the Cobequid Hills. During this meandering hike with no real purpose, I stumbled across a large Chaga conk on a mature yellow birch tree. Having some experience with brewing tea from the mushroom (purchased from the Moncton Market) but no experience harvesting, I took a little piece and promised to make it back to the distance ridge before the snow hit.
In the meantime, I have been doing some research into Chaga online, talking to others who have used/harvested while experimenting with my own ways to prepare. I am in no way an expert and I encourage everyone to do their own research and form their own opinions when harvesting or using. I am just an adventurous gal who loves to hike, forage and share her experiences.
Here is a few things I discovered about harvesting Chaga from yellow birch:
Research was in-between my characteristically hectic schedule, the days inching towards the negative temperatures of an Atlantic Canadian winter and the snow hit. My time on the trails was becoming less and less, not just because of the seasonal changes.
Frank and I have been house bound, cooped up with the cat for too many days until one day in January, when there was a reprieve from the negative temperatures, the snow melted and I had the day off. I threw the kettle in my pack, filled my pockets with Frank treats and set out to find that Chaga tree.
Frank led the way through the spruce trees, following the little creek behind the house, criss crossing to chase the squirrels that chirped at her for breaking their solitude. The ferns were flattened, the stream frozen and the damage from the recent wind storm evident. Along the way, I spotted an Orange Jelly (Darcrymyces palamatus) mushroom and a crisply, ringed bracket fungus that I could not identify.
Miss Frank had disappeared, and I was absorbed in filming a frozen waterfall when I heard her growling and yelping just over the hill. She found a porcupine den, thankfully she was smart enough not to go in, but after some coaxing (treats) she was back on her way, looking for less dangerous woodland critters. I could not see the porcupine, but I heard rustling inside the dug out, so I knew somebody was home. I stood quietly listening to the animal sounds before I took a hint from Frank and moseyed.
As I turned to head back into the ravine, I was struck by the view this porcupine was fortunate to enjoy. The steep incline looked over a meandering stream, nestled in a rich green valley. A view not many people have seen, an area reserved for this porcupine alone. Although still obviously winter, I tried to imagine what the thick canopy of leaves would look like from this vantage point and how cool their shade would be on a hot July afternoon. I thanked the porcupine for letting me be here and started down toward Frankie, who had made the descent in no time and as on her own again.
We traveled like this for some time, before settling for tea at the confluence of two streams, near a large mossy rock. We snuggled in a blanket while the kettle heated and listened to the trickle of water still flowing despite the ice dams. There was no doubt it was still winter despite the bright, warmth emanating from the February sun; deep in wood, next a frozen stream there was no confusion.
We drank our tea and nibbled on sandwich and almonds. Frank was restless and out of liver treat so I plotted our next move, realizing that I would probably not find that particular Chaga tree during this adventure. The temperature was dropping, and the sun was sitting low in the late afternoon sky.
We embarked up a steep ridge, zig zagging as we climbed. I looked out at the valley, scanning the trees now on the other side of ‘Porcupine Ridge’ a mirrored view from our earlier find. Frank was gone, bouncing through the underbrush on her own hunt. I stood, breathing deeply trying to connect myself to this spot, to make a connection that I could come back to if I needed to ground myself during the upcoming frenzy of projects and deadlines.
I asked myself a wealth of questions just then, mostly coming back to my recent prolonged absent from myself and the things that make me the best version of me possible. How quickly we let the stress of life, outside influences change our priorities. Finding the balance within ourselves and the world around us is a relationship that is not just achieved, it needs to be re-evaluated and re-adjusted, changing as the world around you changes.
The realization that I have not been checking in with myself over the last few months was staggering, I have always been in tune with what I needed to thrive. Not only has the season changed, affecting my life routine, but my day to day life has drastically changed as well. The last 8 months have a been whirlwind of decisions and changes without much room to look around, to put down roots.
I marinated on this thought as I continued, my eyes darting to something colorful up ahead, just a same slice of purple stood out to me. Another bracket fungi, a rich deep royal color that stood out from its brethren. I studied it for awhile, contemplated taking it home before remembering why I was here in the first place.
Onward we trucked, along the ridge line winding on a well traveled deer trail when I spotted it! The golden ringed cone still prominent on a old yellow birch tree which was weathered but secure on the slanted ground. Before we harvested I stopped to give thanks, not just for the Chaga I was about to harvest but for the experience of the day, the reflections the outdoors provided. I wrapped in a towel, nestled the conk in my pack and set off for home thinking along the way about how to use the realizations discovered from afternoon.
As I started back to the house, the sun nearing setting, I thought about this blog and what it would mean to me, what direction I would take it and weather or not I would be able to give it the attention it would deserve. Not to mention the needling thoughts related to any creative endeavor; Will I be good at this? What experiences or thoughts do I have that will benefit readers or enrich other peoples lives? Do I have the time to attempt something I’ve always had an interest in?
It was this last statement that struck me. Boiled down, do I have the time do something for me that will enrich my life and benefit my well-being? That question sat with me as Frank and I made our way home.
I still sat with that question as I went about processing my foraged Chaga. First, I weighed it, wet it came in at 6 pounds! Second, I used a hammer and chisel to break it up into smaller pieces. I chipped away at the ‘woody’ pieces still attached but I left the ‘charred’ outside since I think it adds flavour. I lined some baking sheets with parchment paper and laid the pieces a few inches apart from each other to dry.
As I turned the pieces (every few days) and rotated to prevent mold, I continued to think about that lasting question until I didn’t think about it anymore, until I moved onto something else, forgetting about the need I uncovered that day. A week turned into a month and it wasn’t until I met with a friend for dinner that I realized how far off track I gone again.
We walked through a light snow in Downtown Moncton, NB to a local favourite (and mine) St. James Gate. The restaurant is set in the style of an old estate library with a cozy fire place and thick wooden pub style tables. The place was almost empty when we had arrived, and we sipped our beer while we waited for a burger that comes but once a year. I enjoyed a Blueberry ale from a local brewery, The Pump House, and she a Stella Artios. Both of us order the ‘Reuben burger’, an amazing beef patty topped with shaved meat and coleslaw and split our undeniable favourite truffle fries.
As we sipped and chatted the place started to fill up, the weather report worsened, and we were deep in conversation. Just returning from a vacation down south she had plenty to catch me up on. Umbrella drinks, sun drenched day and solitude. I listened intently, watching behind her as the snow flakes thickened and wind blew harder. If I imagined the scene just right, the warmth of the fire could be sunlight?
When the conversation turned to me, I froze, I had nothing to contribute to our ‘catsup’ conversation. Since last I saw her, I had not seemly accomplished or experienced any of the things I had set out to do. The first and most importantly, spend time on myself doing things that help me better a person. We are all guilty of spending so much of our energy and time on others, or things we cannot control. I struggle with the work/life balance more than most and it was an intention of mine for New Year to hit those trails, find some mushrooms, spend more time with the dog and BLOG about it!
Was I doomed to be that person who just couldn’t find the time to do the things that make her who she is? I was taken back to that day in the woods and my determination as I marched around the deer trails, mushroom identification book in hand. I felt fraudulent. How could I attempt an outdoor blog when I was so clearly out of sync?
And in that moment, I finally made the decision. Over my delicious burger in that downtown restaurant, far from the ‘Porcupine Ridge’ birch stand in the Cobequid mountain range, nearly a month since I first set out that day I knew I wanted to do this, regardless of all reason my self-doubt was throwing at me as reasons not too. I realized that having a purpose for my experiences would help lead me down the path of change that I sought.
Too many blueberry ales later, we braved the intensifying storm for home. Me with a mission, to prove to myself that I can overcome whatever self doubt I was feeling and give this an honest try. I could only guess at her mission, but I take comfort in her ability to handle whatever life may give her; strong women empower themselves and others.
The next day I filled a pot with water, setting the heat on high. I let the water boil for a few minutes before lowering the temperate to simmer. I dropped a thumb sized chunk of my now dried Chaga in the pot, put the lid on it to steep for two hours and turned on my laptop to start a new journey.
“Nothing will work unless you do” Maya Angelou