When Nova Scotia was Twinned with Africa

Blue Beach, Nova Scotia

A few years ago I turned 60. When I look at that number on the page it looks big but when I listen to my thoughts or look into my heart or look around me I feel much, much younger. But even if I were turning 100 it would still feel insignificant after our journey in 2011 to a magical place in Nova Scotia that is 350 million years old.

Slate cliffs are partly buried.

I’m talking here about a little-known place called Blue Beach near Hantsport Nova Scotia.

Originally I wanted to go to New York for my birthday but as it turned out it was way more affordable to jump in the car with a very tasty picnic lunch that Larry had prepared and drive two hours up the valley past Wolfville, to visit the fossil beach that our visitors last month had told us about.

Fossil hunting.

Years ago Chris Mansky and Sonja Wood bought 20 acres of woods with a shale cliff overlooking the Avon River that empties into the Minas Basin and then to the Bay of Fundy.

Larry searches the beach.

Their beachfront was loaded with fossils–and I mean loaded; almost every stone you pickup has something embedded in it. They created a museum for the collection called the Blue Beach Fossil Museum.

Low tide reveals treasures.

Over the years they’ve learned a lot about paleontology and they’ve developed a museum to display some of their more spectacular finds. Chris spends his days cataloging the discoveries and documenting them and is in contact with paleontologists and scientists around the world who recognize what a significant and unusual beach it is.

They formed a non-profit society in 2011 to protect and promote Blue Beach and to apply for funding to help in its future research.

On our way down to the beach we chatted with a couple in their 80s who were just leaving. I mentioned that it was my birthday and the woman broke into song serenading me with the happy birthday song! It was very touching and very Nova Scotia.

Typical of sightseeing in this province in off-season, we would only run into one other couple during our 3 hour visit.

Larry and I spent three hours alone on the beach studying the fossils and watching the tide recede to reveal ever more pieces. The fossils are in the shale deposits that are in a constant state of erosion. The strong tides reveal new treasures all the time but they also take away the 350 million-year-old evidence of the rich life that happened on this beach when it was still part of–get this–Morocco. Yes, that would be Morocco, Africa. Because at one point when all the continents were together and it was called Pangaea, most of Nova Scotia was a piece of Africa fused with some of Scotland.

An ancient ripple, frozen in stone.

So I learned a couple of things on my birthday. I learned that 60 is a teeny, tiny number and that our existence is shorter than the flicker of a firefly in the summertime; and that even our Bear River used to be part of Africa.

The churning waves turn the salt water brown with silt and slowly dissolve the fossils.

On their website Sonja and Chris list the unique qualities of Blue Beach:

A. The world’s oldest and largest collection of tetrapod bone fossils dating from the Earliest Carboniferous interval known as “Romer’s Gap” (more than 500 specimens).

B. Recognized as earth’s earliest known assemblage of terrestrial tetrapods, showing a well-established population and previously unsuspected level of diversity with at least six species.

C. The oldest and largest collection of Carboniferous Tracks on earth (with over 1,700 specimens)

D.  Soon to be the most completely known and important fossil Rhizodontid fish in the world (over 2,000 specimens)

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Here is an article about the importance of this beach:

Blue Beach fossil finds are bridging gap in evolution timeline:

Kings County finds helping to solve mysteries in fossil record from 350 to 400 million years ago

And here is another article about a primary student who found the only fossil in the world of a horseshoe crab.

Blue Beach fossil first of specific horseshoe crab

One of a kind find has captured the interest of scientists from around the world

PS: the museum is looking for a benefactor or new owner to take it to the next step.

Give Me One Reason to Stay Here…and I’ll turn right back around

I wrote this post 5 years ago. We’re very happy with our place in the universe – Bear River. – Flora

Bear River at low tide.

I’m sitting on the couch beside one of our kitties, with one eye on the coals in the fireplace and another on the live stream of CBC reporting from the NDP (Canada’s social democratic party) leadership convention in Toronto.

Larry has made us some melted cheese on home-made bread along with a cup of tea and we are waiting for the fourth-round election results. I’ve enjoyed the interviews with the eliminated candidates because outside of the formality of the debate, they are better able to show their humanity.

The defeated contenders are all asked who they will ask their followers to vote for. They all decline to say because “all the candidates are good people.” and “I want people to feel free to make their own decision.” and “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

I really get it because I often feel the same way when people write to me to ask about moving to Bear River.  They are looking for an endorsation and in a way they are seeking affirmation that they should take this bold step.

And I know this so well, because I also had mixed and confusing feelings about whether leaving Toronto to move to an unknown tiny village was the right step for us. I too connected with some of the artists via email before we came here. My idea was that “if I like this person and they love their life in Bear River, then I will probably like it too.”

Unfortunately,  it’s much more complicated than that. We are all such complex individuals, not 2 of us among 7 billion the same, that it is impossible for anyone to know the answer to that question of: “Should I ditch my job, and my city life and move to a tiny village in Nova Scotia?”

In the 4 1/2 years since we’ve moved here to this village of 800 we’ve seen people move here from other parts of Canada and some from the UK and at least 50% have left within this same period.

It’s all here. Or is it?

I don’t know why they all came or why they all left, but I do know why we stayed.

So, over the next week or two, I’m going to tell you what our reasons are; what we like and maybe what we don’t like. It’s a good exercise for me because it’s about gratitude. And hopefully, it will help me to post more often too! And maybe it will help to answer some of the questions you’ve had.

Spoiler: It’s not only about landscape, environment, solitude and community.

Warm Red Cabbage, Red Onion and Apple Slaw

I can’t resist picking up a purple cabbage at the grocery store. Oh the colour is so rich and the slicing reveals the most intricate patterns. I noticed that the line from the middle spiral outwards. Is everything in creation a series of spirals?cabbage3

I came across this totally easy and VERY TASTY recipe called Warm Red Cabbage, Red Onion and Apple Slaw. Even the title is visually appealing.

I use apple cider vinegar instead of balsamic, but I’m sure both are delicious. I also add a handful of walnuts. AND, I keep it on the stove until the cabbage is soft. That means putting a lid on it at the end.


The book Vegetarian by Joanne Weir is out of print, but here’s a link to it.

It’s snowing outside, the washing machine is washing,  and the kitchen is filled with a sweet and sour fragrance. The cat is curled up by the fire. Larry is upstairs creating an ad for this season’s Bear River Artworks Gallery.
Reminder to self:  the studio calls.



My Mother Sandy

painting ©Flora Doehler, 2014
Today is the 95th anniversary of my mother’s birth. Unfortunately, she only lived to see 75. I wrote this post 5 years ago. Happy Birthday mama, wherever you are. xo
When I was a young girl, my mother read to me at bedtime. I can still see the illustrations in the books she read – Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking glass, Heidi,  and the Blue, Red and Yellow fairy tale books. My mother, Sandy, also invented fantastic, serialized bedtime stories where I was the central character. One that I still remember was about me joining the circus and performing on a flying trapeze. (I still don’t like heights and my balance isn’t tightrope worthy either.)
Sandy McConnell Doehler 1922 – 1997
But the one story that she told me every year was a Greek myth — the story of Persephone and Demeter. It is the classic mother – daughter separation story and was the way the ancient Greeks explained how winter came about, thus establishing the life-death-rebirth cycle of the garden. I never tired of the story because her telling was wrapped up in our close relationship as well as her own separation experiences.
And as the story involved a very significant pomegranate, every year in October, my mother would buy one and I would search for the chambers of tarts seeds while she told the story.
That story is one I return to in my paintings.
Proserpine’s Folly. Paintings by Flora Doehler, 2002.
15 years ago today, in 1997, my dear mother died. Her Toronto hospital room overlooked a ravine filled with trees in their autumn glory. In her last days, I sat holding her hand, looking out the window, thinking, waiting and wondering if the end of this journey would lead to an existence after this one. That’s a tough one for a non-believer like me. On the day she died, it snowed. I’ll never forget the brilliance of the colours behind that screen of falling white flakes.
I miss the most our long conversations about everything under the sun. My art genes come from her. She constantly had a notepad with her to write down and sketch her ideas and thoughts. She was one of the smartest women I ever knew and was decades ahead of her contemporaries in her views about life. She regretted that she was born too late to be a full participant in the 60’s. I know she would have fit in well with the radical shift in thinking that made people challenge the conservatism, racism and sexism that permeated public and private life in North America.
The Unmade Bed. Pastel detail by Sandy McConnell Doehler, 1944?
Our relationship wasn’t perfect. Our mother-daughter conflicts were spectacular and heated. Between the two of us, there were so many slammed doors that the paint chipped around the door frames. But do you ever wish you could have been a contemporary of one of your parents? I do. I wish she was here to share this life with me. We could paint together. We could have wonderful conversations. I know she would have embraced the internet and it’s publishing and researching possibilities. And I have so many questions for her — there was never really enough time to say everything.

At work two weeks after mom’s death I heard a song about loss on the radio. (And believe me, when you are fresh with grief, you’ll find that most songs deal with separation.) I cried in front of my coworkers and felt overwhelmed that evening with loss and with the realization that I would never talk with my mother again or experience her love.  I am very fortunate to have a treasure trove of letters from her, written to me while I was an art student in the German Democratic Republic in the 1970’s. I pulled one out at random and it began:

“Dear Flora – yes, I do love you.”

The letter was dated only with the month and day – Oct.23 …. what would become her death day! I was quite astonished — how fitting, it seemed, that my mother the writer would choose just the right words to comfort me.

Sandy in her twenties.

Today I’ll think about my dear mother and miss her as I have every day for 15 years. I’ll read some of her poems and I’ll paint. And for sure, I’ll eat a pomegranate.  I am so thankful to her for exposing me to art and books and ideas and for being the free spirit she was. I know it was her wish for me that I could paint full-time. Well, I can now and I do. And thankfully I do this in a beautiful valley, much like the one she imagined in this poem she wrote when she was 38.


To Be in Country Warp Again

To be in country warp again, in fields
who, sleeping, stir and rustle of the past;
in hills, from whose veiled summits are downcast
night shades, still showing glistening shields;
where footed cattle strike the ground
unseen, in pastures, beaded in the night
by incensed air that with night cries resound,
as one by one, stars thread the dark with light.
– Sandy McConnell Doehler, 1960.

The loss of a parent is profound.  Parents are extraordinarily significant in all our lives. If you are interested in reading more about the various impacts on adults losing their parents, there is an excellent article here.

Flora, Sandy and nephew Ben, 1972

Snow Storm Latte, Art, Tides and Bear River Hills

Bear River snow.

Snow storms are very OK if you don’t have to drive anywhere. But even better is having a walking destination that leads to:

  • a delicious Sissiboo Coffee latte that I could never emulate at home
  • a place with wonderful art
  • somewhere with just the right music
  • friendly folks

So Larry and I bundle up and slip and slide down the hill.

Bear River snow.
Sliding down the hill to the village.

Then over the little bridge from the Digby County to Annapolis County side.

Then into Sissiboo Coffee Bar and Gallery for a treat and to enjoy the art.

See more of Penny’s stitching, dyeing and fibre story-telling at her blog 

I’ve left out the conversations about the recent local Herring Deaths, the Trump stories, the agony of aging parents, the state of the world, heating systems, fostering creativity, music concerts and lost cats.

I’ve left out the Bob Dylan, John Prine and similar sounds in the cafe.

I’ve left out the stop at the post office.

An advantage of living in a small town

And finally, the walk home……

And then a peek into the studio at my newest creation. A need to add some colour to this beautiful, monochromatic world.

And finally for you, dear reader, a little puzzle.

Can you spot and count the crows at the compost?


What to do with all that Squash and Pumpkin?

I’m not sure why, but this summer I forgot to grow my pumpkins! There are still pumpkins and squash at the local farmer’s markets so I’ll be making these delicious patties again.

In 2013, I grew beautiful winter luxury pumpkins and dumpling squash. I love the flavour of squash, but there’s only so much baked squash a person can eat. And if I turned all the pumpkins into pies…well that’s not a great health move either.

This pumpkin has another month to grow.
This pumpkin had another month to grow.

Because they are the same family, anytime a recipe calls for squash, you can substitute pumpkin.

Which is what I did using this recipe that I found online.

I made a few changes to it. I left out the flour, instead substituting it with ½ cup of corn meal and ½ cup of oat flakes. I added fresh basil leaves too.
I baked the pumpkin first and then scooped out the pulp for this recipe. I used about 2 cups of pumpkin.

Then, instead of frying it, I baked it in the oven. I put parchment paper on a cookie sheet and then spread a thin layer of olive oil on the paper. I baked it in the oven for 30 min at 350, then turned them and baked another 5 minutes.

The flavor is out of this world. It’s kind of like a potato latke. So, a dab of apple sauce or chili sauce tastes wonderful on top. Tomato sauce works too!

You can freeze these patties for those evenings when you need to throw together a meal in a hurry.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of the gorgeous hoarfrost that will soon end when the temperatures continue to drop.

Kale growing out of the old cold frame.
Cabbage waiting to become Borscht soup.
Cabbage waiting to become Borscht soup.