HRM drivers running bus lights

January 2, 2012   2:12 pm

Filed under: Blog,Portfolio — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 2:12 pm

I have a story at OpenFile Halifax today about the spate of drivers passing school buses while their red lights are flashing.

I was shocked when bus driver Sharalyn Boudreau first told me this was a problem, and even more shocked when I realized how prevalent it was.

My own son (who is in the piece) was nearly hit by a school bus a couple of years ago, but I thought it was a very rare and isolated incident. Apparently not.

Soon after I completed this piece, I was slowing down for a school bus on the St. Margaret’s Bay Road, near the Armdale Roundabout, when the car in front of me shot ahead and passed it as the red lights came on.

The story at OpenFile is an audio slideshow. I’ve also included a map of the worst areas in HRM, and a transcript of the audio.

How to run a corn maze

November 18, 2011   11:44 am

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 11:44 am

Last week I posted a few tidbits from an upcoming piece on farmers who run corn mazes. The story’s online now, and you can read the whole thing here.

Boundary rock goes national

November 8, 2011   2:03 pm

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , , — Phil @ 2:03 pm

My radio documentary on the search for the Boundary Rock aired nationally on CBC’s In the Field, November 1 and 6. (If you missed it, you’ll find the podcast at that link.)

I was interested to read the comments on the piece — especially from a couple of folks (Beavis1 and Bush Rat) who were less than impressed. (Update: comments seem to have been removed.)

All of the commenters disagreed with the decision to remove the flagging tape. I was a bit surprised to see it come down myself, but I wasn’t part of the discussion. My main role on the trip was to record, capture what I could, and share the story as accurately as possible.

I can tell Bush Rat that it’s highly unlikely the tape was a critical marker for anybody. The rock is several kilometres inland from Junction Lake — so it’s definitely not marking a fishing hole. The rock is also in a heavily forested spot in the midst of a protected wilderness area: no ATVs, no snowmobiles, no forestry, no hiking trails. Limited hunting is allowed, but you’d have a hell of a time getting your deer out from the Boundary Rock on foot.

But whether or not the tape should have been removed is a real question for debate, and I’m glad to see the question come up.

When I was working on this piece I was hoping that someone would hear it and come forward to say they knew who had put the tape up.  A lot of people have looked for the rock over the years, but the number who have actively devoted effort to researching the location and trying to find it is probably limited to a relatively small number of hardcore outdoors enthusiasts — many of whom know each other. As one of the people on the trip said, “There aren’t that many people in Nova Scotia who’ve been looking for this rock, and probably half of them are right here.”

At this point, I think we can safely assume the Whynott brothers had nothing to do with it. A rumour I’ve heard from a guy who spends a lot of time in the woods is that some apprentice surveyors marked it as part of an exercise. I don’t know if they hiked in or flew in with a helicopter, but I’d love to learn more.

Corn mazes

November 4, 2011   4:29 pm

Filed under: Blog — Phil @ 4:29 pm

Corn maze season is over in Nova Scotia for this year. After Halloween, it’s time for farmers to mow the crop and sell the feed corn.

This week I wrote a piece for the FCC Express (it will appear on November 11 — I’ll link to it when it’s public) about what it takes to run a corn maze. I spoke with Nova Scotia farmers from three very different operations: Evans Family Farm, Riverbreeze Farm (which opened the province’s first corn maze, back in 2002), and Noggins Corner Farm market. One of the things that really struck me in the interviews was the realization that the skill sets required to be a successful farmer aren’t necessarily the same as those you need to run an agritourism operation. In other words, if you’re putting in a corn maze, you’d better like dealing with the public.

Last  year, I did a documentary on agritourism for CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon. Here’s part of my interview with Jim Lorraine of Riverbreeze, describing how his father reacted when he saw Jim mowing a maze into the cornfield.

Jim also told me that his original motivation was a love of mazes. He used to visit the now-defunct Rainbow Valley in PEI when he was a kid, and loved crawling through a hedge maze there. So he thought it would be fun to have a hedge maze on the farm – only it would take about a decade to grow. Corn is a whole lot faster.

NS veggie yields vary

October 31, 2011   3:54 pm

Filed under: Blog — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 3:54 pm

It’s been a mostly wet and wild growing season in Nova Scotia. That means lower yields for some vegetable farmers this year — or, as horticulturalist Viliam Zvalo told me, it’s “back to reality” after a couple of stellar years for heat-loving crops like tomatoes and peppers.

For more, read my story on the province’s fall veggie harvest in the FCC Express.

One of the factors complicating life for farmers is climate change. As Zvalo points out in my piece, instead of having regular rainfalls, we now see dry periods followed by huge amounts of rain in short periods of time. That can wipe out a crop and leach nutrients right out of the soil.

In case you’re wondering, according to the most recent census figures, Nova Scotia’s top vegetable crops are carrots and broccoli, with almost 2,500 acres of carrots planted. Nova Scotia also accounts for more than half the Maritimes’ production of vegetables.

More Boundary Rock

June 23, 2011   12:17 pm

Filed under: Blog,Radio — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 12:17 pm

The Boundary Rock in 1899

If you missed it, you can hear my radio documentary “The Search for Boundary Rock” here, on the Atlantic Voice website.

The Boundary Rock, marking the meeting of counties in southwestern Nova Scotia, was once a significant landmark. But, as wilderness traveller Bob Johnston says in the documentary, “It’s fallen so far out of folklore that nobody even knows where it is anymore.”

If you have listened to the documentary, you’ll know we found something that had us baffled. Well, Bob Johnston, the man who put 10 years of research into finding the rock, has a theory he shared with me — that the position of the flagging tape was coincidental. Here’s Bob.

You know, rocks back there are as big as a house, ugly, and made of granite. Not something that you need to flag with tape to draw attention to it. They sort of stand out on their own. And people that travel back there are creatures of habit. They normally mark rocks with spray paint. An ugly habit, but I have seen it done many times.
In my humble estimation you found somebody’s snowmobile trail. The Tobeatic is laced like a tennis racket with them. You see, the snowmobilers love to run back there. And their favorite targets are the “Indian turnpikes” (eskers and ridges), followed by lakes and barrens. Many times while travelling I have come across trail tape and markers that just didn’t make any sense, until I got curious and tried to figure them out.

This is normally how the snowmobile thing works:They will cross a lake and leave its surface at a prescribed point. At the first oppertunety they will get back on a ridge or barren so they can get rolling again. The eskers are easy to follow, you just stay on them. But clearings and barrens are a different bird. You have to know where to enter and exit them to hit the next part of the trail. This is what I propose you found with the trail tape. You really get a good incidence of this on the barrens between Moosehide and Sandbeach lakes. The portage trail runs top to bottom, but the flagging tape runs left to right. Also up on Stoney Ditch lake, the portage trails are at the upstream and downstream ends of the lake, but on the right side of the lake there was trail tape marking where the snowmobile trails left the lake.

Boundary Rock

June 16, 2011   2:33 pm

Filed under: Photos — Phil @ 2:33 pm

A set of photos from a recent expedition to find the elusive Boundary Rock in southwestern Nova Scotia. Click anywhere to see the complete set.

Search for Boundary Rock

   2:17 pm

Filed under: Blog,Portfolio,Radio — Tags: , , , , , — Phil @ 2:17 pm

How does a massive rock disappear?

The Boundary Rock was once a southwestern Nova Scotia landmark. Hunters and fishermen had their picture taken by (and on) it. It even appeared on a postcard. But sometime over the last century, its precise location seems to have dropped out of our collective memory.

In my latest radio documentary, The Search for Boundary Rock, I join Paul Maybee and a group of four others, as we head into the remote Tobeatic Wilderness area for a week. Our goal: to find the rock and drag it back into history. This is Paul’s third attempt. But this time, he’s far better prepared than he’s ever been. With the help of experienced trekkers — including Bob Johnston of New Minas, who has spent 10 years researching the Boundary Rock — Paul is convinced we can find it.

The documentary first aired on CBC Radio’s Maritime Magazine (now called Atlantic Voice) in June 2011. You can listen to it here.


Below is a selection of my photos from the trip. Click anywhere to be taken to the full set on Flickr.

Friends of Redtail succeed in protecting forest

December 13, 2010   3:24 am

Filed under: Blog,Radio — Tags: , , , — Phil @ 3:24 am

In the fall of 2009, I spent some time with  The Friends of Redtail.They are a citizens’ group who were fighting to save several hundred acres of forest in Pictou County, Nova Scotia from being clearcut. The Friends of Redtail had a vision that went beyond simply buying this land in order to protect it. People I interviewed repeatedly referred to “a new ethic” of land ownership.

My half-hour radio documentary on the Friends of Redtail aired as the deadline for purchasing the land was looming — with them far short of their financial target. Eventually, they gained an extension from the company, and this week announced in an email that their efforts have paid off:

Today Friends of Redtail Society has officially become guardian—and student—of 313 acres of forestland, waterway and life giving habitat. This is a momentous day in a journey that began one August day in 2006. This is a day of reflecting, a day worthy of marking and celebrating.

You can listen to my documentary here. It first aired on CBC Radio’s Maritime Magazine in December 2009.

Pot-bellied pigs

December 12, 2010   11:44 pm

Filed under: Blog,Magazines — Tags: , , — Phil @ 11:44 pm

Despite what you may have heard, they won’t fit into a teacup when they’re fully grown, and they’re not just like dogs.

I’m talking about pot-bellied pigs, which have been in and out of fashion as pets ever since they were first imported to North America from Vietnam back in the 1980s.

I’ve got a piece about keeping pot-bellied pigs in the November 2010 issue of Reader’s Digest. You can read it here.

I wound up with lots of great research I couldn’t use in the piece, because the word count was so low. But one of my favourite moments came from an interview with a woman who runs a sanctuary for abandoned pot-bellied pigs. She told me she spoke to a disappointed pig owner who told her that her pet wouldn’t fetch when she threw a ball. The owner had read that pot-bellied pigs were just like dogs — and it sounds like she took that literally. My source said, “They’re food motivated. If you want her to chase after something, throw an apple. Just don’t expect her to bring it back.”

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