A Love Story

When I was 6 my family loaded up our tent trailer, station wagon, our stuff and my beloved Nanny and we hit the trail. Taking advantage of my Dad’s holiday from being a school principal we headed east.  That meant time with family in Montreal enroute to the Maritimes.  Our destination was Springhill where my Nanny had her childhood, our accommodation was 11 km away where we parked our trailer beside a small white house with a big yard at Mapleton, Nova Scotia.   I remember very little about that holiday, but I remember meeting Logan.  He was my Nanny’s cousin, he was 73, and he taught me how to pick beans.  I really liked him. 

9 years later I would take my first plane ride. Part of our family flew to Halifax where my Dad had a conference.   Nanny came with us again. After Dad’s conference we headed to Mapleton where we visited Logan and his family once more.

My Nanny and I in front, my sister Jan beside me, visiting with the Nova Scotia family. My mouth was still swollen from jaw re-alignment surgery I had a couple months before.
The visit included lots of music. Logan was very talented as you can see here.
Bertha serves a family favorite, Maple Cream, made from sap harvested in the family sugar woods.

Logan’s wife Bertha was so kind to us.  I loved how I felt while there.  They entertained the family from around the district and some connections were forged. 

Seven years later I took French immersion on the south shore of Nova Scotia.  I lived in a dorm there for five weeks.  I tried poutine for the first time, it was presented as a must try Acadian dish.  I was hooked ….but back to the story.

I could not leave Nova Scotia without visiting Logan and Bertha.  I don’t remember how I got from Point de l’Eglise on the south shore to Mapleton but I do remember how sad I was when it was time to leave.  There was no Disney level excitement happening, it was better than that.  I felt so safe, so cherished, so relaxed, so cared for, so…..at home.  The difference was that at this home I had a Grandpa type guy in my life,  that was a novelty for me.  I loved that.  I loved Logan and I loved Bertha for who she was and how she welcomed me in their world.  During this visit I would make a memorable connection with Norene, their daughter, 8 years older than me. 

The next summer I was back.  I was on tour with Up With People and our cast was in Maine.  I couldn’t bear that I was so close to Bertha and Logan but couldn’t see them.  I asked for special permission to leave the cast for a few days, I rented a car and headed to Mapleton.  It was another special time.  I needed it.  My brother had been given a brain cancer diagnosis and died in the year since I had last visited.  Up With People was amazing but hard hard work.  Logan and Bertha were sanctuary. 

My 1991 visit, standing with Logan and his sister Beulah.

It would be seven years before I saw them again.  An airline strike in ’98 had the airlines scrambling to redeem their reputation and offering great deals on flights.  My Mom and I were caring for my Dad at home, his dementia was advancing.   We got a respite bed in a nursing home for him, I took a week off of my final year of seminary, we recruited my Mom’s sister and the three of us headed back to Mapleton.  Logan was 97 by then, starting to falter, but we sat together in his pipe smoking porch and talked.  Bertha wove her magic and we had another great visit, more time seeing the sights and visiting with the extended family.  

in 1998 – my Mom at the piano, Logan beside her, Cecil in the front. We loved being able to join in the music.

Then I graduated, got ordained, moved to Gainsborough, met Russell, got married, had three kids, and started to become a rancher.  There was no time or money for airplane trips.  That was okay.  The kids were fun and we made lots of trips back to Saskatoon. It was how it needed to be.

Last Wednesday Russ and I boarded a 5am flight in Winnipeg after a brief sleep in the airport parking lot and a 3am check-in.  At 1:15pm we landed in Halifax.  I am embarrassed when I think about the words that flew through my head as the wheels touched down.  I said to myself, “I’m home.”  It’s embarrassing because it makes no sense really, but for what it’s worth those were the spontaneous words that touchdown brought out of me.

We are on the plane home now, suspended somewhere between Toronto and Winnipeg. We had a wonderful but busy week.

Sadly, Logan and Bertha are both gone now.  We got to visit their grave and drove by their beautiful home where their grandson now lives.

We drove to the Northumberland shore where Russ met cousin Norene (Logan and Bertha’s daughter) for the first time and we both met her husband Brian at their cottage.  We walked the beach, talked, picked sea glass and savored the ocean. 

Thru the day Norene and I got to talk about many things, including Bertha’s time of dying, it was good for me. 

Time together in their gorgeous cottage.

We drove to Parrsboro where we met my Nanny’s cousin’s daughter in law Carol for lunch.  Russ and I had spent time with her and her husband Cecil in Saskatoon 21 years ago.

2001 – My sister Jan and I beside Cecil, Russ and my Mom beside Carol.
21 years later, Carol explaining a little bit about the tides at Parrsboro
I think Russ felt very cherished by Carol.

Thanks to Facebook Carol and I have been in close touch for years, she calls me dearie in her comments and I savor that.  Carol organized extra visits for us so we met family we had never met before and got tours of the most amazing farm and the sugar woods.  It wasn’t Logan and Bertha’s old sugar woods but it was close by. 

Gary, one of our extended family (Nanny’s cousins boy), is an expert in berry farming and consults closely with Millen Farms, his niece’s family business. He toured us around their amazing operation which includes pork, chicken, beef, strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, turnips, corn. They supply much of the berries found in the east coast Costco stores. We had such an interesting morning.
A field full of strawberry plants, one of many.
Russ got to work for a minute in the sugar woods, taking the tap out of this tree and binding it up.
Harold teaching us about tapping locations.
The sugar woods were stunningly beautiful.
I took this selfie in the sugar woods. When I looked at it, I felt like I looked at peace. I felt that way.

A very wow moment was when I sat down directly across from Gloria, meeting her for the first time I saw a clear and striking resemblance to my Nanny.  Gloria is my Nanny’s cousin’s daughter, genetics are really something.  

Carol, Gloria and I

We had four days in Nova Scotia that didn’t arise from my family connections.  They hold other stories that will wait to be told.

I titled this blog “A Love Story” because I feel like somehow it captures the powerful reality of attachment to a place, the reality of family ties and shared family stories and the mysterious way that some people just put down roots in your heart and they can’t be removed, not that you would want them to be.

In a way page 1 of this particular love story happened in 1913, when Nanny first breathed the Springhill air.  It got more interesting for me in 1974 when my feet first settled on Nova Scotia soil and I started to forge my own plot line.  What a treat to review it all today, 35,000 feet in the air, and realize anew how blessed I am.  Paul writes in the Christian Scriptures that love never ends.  I believe him.

Addendum: As I polish this up and add pictures, five days after writing it, I am very aware of the turmoil in Nova Scotia right now. Hurricane Fiona has wreaked havoc, especially around the area where we visited the big farm. Over the last few days our hearts have been so tenderized by the concern we feel for our people there and what they are going through. Love never ends and it keeps our hearts on edge and maybe thats the way its supposed to be.

Circle Time

“Kathy you are in ‘Circle Time’, you might not know it, but that’s a big deal.”

These are the words that Russell spoke as we sat atop our horses in the driveway of Evangeline Trail Rides near Stanley in the province of Nova Scotia.  We were about to head out on an evening ride.  But first there was a pause, after the busyness of saddling up.  A chance to look at each other’s faces and introductions made for those who had just joined in the day.  There was a check in about my stirrups and a last word of instruction where needed.

And we were off….

An evening ride thru the changing landscape of fall in Nova Scotia, making our way past a tidal river and thru the woods….how gorgeous.

After a while we pulled up in an opening and gathered into a circle again.  We lingered longer this time.  Stories were shared, my stirrups got lengthened, we experienced something together. It was different than the procession of horses we had been when we were heading down the trail. 

I was intrigued.

We rode some more.  We went thru an opening in the woods and found ourselves at the edge of the Stanley airport field.  We circled up again. Crystal posed a question.  Crystal.  You haven’t met her yet.  She and her partner Ron own and operate Evangeline Trail Rides. 

Crystal and Ron

Crystal who has always been from Nova Scotia met Russell in 1987 thru family events.  Their paths crossed again in 1990 and then many years passed.  Facebook brought them back onto each other’s radar.   When we planned a trip to Nova Scotia there was certainly going to be a visit with Crystal.  Her big and tender heart was brimming over with a welcome to experience her world.

What is her world? Well…….Crystal is a genius.  She has taken her love of horses and found a way to make a life from it by having strangers come and pay to ride, “Evangeline Trail Rides” is the family business in addition to some ranching.  The work at Evangeline is shared by a faithful group of horse lovers who come help with trail rides and horse care and earn themselves a place in the barn family. 

All of that might just sound like a business model but when you are smack dab in the middle of it and privy to the background stories it is abundantly clear there is so much more going on.  

That “so much more” is something I get excited about.
I used to kinda scoff at the words I am about to tell you, but not anymore.  
What Crystal and Ron look to be nurturing, as clearly as I can see, is community and empowerment.  These are big words, vague words, what do I mean when I say them?

Community… having a place where you belong.  Where people know your name, some of your stories, some of your needs, you have people you share memories with.  The fact that a community exists at Crystal and Ron’s is irrefutable.   As we sat around their kitchen and living room before and after the ride Russell and I were wholeheartedly welcomed into the community.  We weren’t exactly strangers….

In 2019 Crystal started scheming to take a group of her barn friends and travel west to our ranch for a fall cattle move. Flights and hotels for nine women were booked. It was to be an October 2020 adventure. The plan meant that many became Facebook friends with us to get acquainted before the big trip. Then the reality of Covid hit. The trip was canceled but these new facebook friends remained. We have regularly seen their names and gained a small sense of familiarity with them. Spending actual time together now, matching faces and voices to names was fun. There was alot of getting acquainted happening.

I got to meet Crystal’s Dad “Pappie” who Russ had spent some days with in 1990.

At this kitchen party, once it was certain that there was enough space for the telling, we heard the broken toilet story. It was epic in its own right but told with such vivid skill we were able to laugh away all the stress of April 2022 I think.  Russell adds, “what good is a story without actions?” In quiet moments of conversation we were told about jobs and family members, and we found people and places we had in common.  Suddenly the world seemed smaller and more caring.  We shared stories about Covid and getting through it.  We learned, again, that we were not alone.  In short, we experienced the community that Crystal and Ron have been nurturing and tending.

And the other word….

Empowerment, isn’t that the word to use when people are welcomed to push their limits, to learn and learn more, to face physical and social challenges and come out stronger?  For example Crystal invites her teenage barn women to serve as trail guides helping tourists over 3x their age to handle their horses.  Wow. 

These girls in grade 8 and grade 12 do not hesitate to do what needs to be done in the barn or on the trail.

Does a family gain strength and momentum when they are all welcomed to the barn life and over and over again they practice together all the equine, social and emotional challenges before them?  I think so.  It was clear to see when observing the busyness in the barn, as all aspects of horse use and care were handled, that everyone on the team has been given chances to grow their confidence.  Does this matter?  100% YES.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes!

Look at Liz’s great smile. She took many of the pictures in this blog. Her great gram and my Nanny were born in the same year in Springhill. We pondered if we might be related.

I don’t know how Crystal and Ron arrived at this model for how they would run their business.   However, it honestly strikes me as brilliant.  It’s got to be tricky.  Most things that involve creatures that breathe, like humans and horses, are a bit complicated at least some of the time.  But the rewards…..

I think the wisdom that underscores all of this is useful to everyone.   There are things that are accomplished when humans meet in circles.  Isn’t this part of the appeal of campfires?  Isn’t circle time action a huge part of what makes meals at a table such a powerful practice for humans?

When I asked about “circle time” after we were all done, my questions were research for this blog.  The way Russ spoke of it at the start of the ride I felt like I was being allowed into a secret society.  But the experience…. stopping in a clearing and doing the moves to get our horses into a circle had a powerful intentionality to it. There is a time for moving forward and there is a time for circling up.  When these moves were followed up by Crystal’s invitations for stories and conversation I just knew there was more happening.  When I asked a rider about it I was told,  “it’s the foundation.”

What I take from that….. its that seeing each other,  literally seeing each other’s faces and focusing on what we share is powerful.   Its a foundation that allows a business to grow and thrive, humans to feel safe and included, and moments of rest for all.

As I write this I am on a plane, descending into Toronto, we haven’t seen our kids for days and days.  It’s time for the Bar MW version of circle time.  There will be alot of stories to share.  I hope Busterkat will sit in his high chair and Morgan will light a candle.  I hope it will feel cozy.  Cow chase season is right around the corner and soon that table will be stretched out to the max, ready to share circle time with the characters in our world.  I am pretty sure Russ and I will be thinking of Crystal as we savor the stories and moments and tackle the work.