In mid-summer, my partner Susan was concerned. She was sure my behavior had changed in recent weeks and wanted me to get it looked into. I wasn’t convinced and consequently was shocked when our doctor told me that my MRI scan showed that I had suffered “a small stroke.”
When he said “stroke,” I imagined what I had seen on TV or heard from friends whose parents had suffered strokes: half-paralyzed faces, an inability to talk and perhaps the loss of the use of hands or legs. My doctor was upbeat, but I was stunned. And as I left his office, I had many questions.
In the 1970s, back home in Kelowna, B.C., I had fantasies of becoming a race car driver. My cherry red ‘69 Dodge Charger was too fast for my own good, and speeding tickets were a regular expense. I drove fast, and I loved cars that went fast.
On the Greenfield Dragway near Liverpool, N.S., I’ve rediscovered that love of fast cars, of roaring big V8 engines, and have found one of the last places where global warming and fuel economy just aren’t on the table for discussion. It’s not that people aren’t aware of these things, or don’t care, it’s just that when you’re driving a car at 320 kilometres an hour, they really don’t enter your mind.
I’ve also found one of the few remaining places where virtually everything on wheels has a North American nameplate. In an age when the car business is global, and when electric cars are becoming more and more common, drag racing is still the domain of big-block Chrysler and Chevrolet engines, with a smattering of Fords. Even the token Volkswagen Beetle and the two Honda Civics manage to squeeze in loud and powerful Detroit engines.
At the Greenfield Dragway, which leases the little-used South Shore Regional Airport runway for several weekends each year, Noel Peach is repacking the drag chute that slowed his car at the end of his first run.
It’s a tricky business, and one that benefits from a second set of hands. On this sunny October weekend, he was helped by his wife Lindsay.
Peach’s dad was a racer, too. After Noel and Lindsay met, it was natural that Lindsay became part of the race team – or more accurately, exactly one-half of the team.
Nova Scotia drag racing is still dominated – although not exclusively – by male drivers, but partners are integral members of most teams. Whether providing bookkeeping and planning skills, or hands-on maintenance and support, a lot of drivers rely heavily on their partners. (It’s a good thing Noel and Lindsay are a team in other ways, too: The couple’s home in Upper Tantallon, near Halifax, burned in the wildfires just a few months before, when they were here for another race.)
Drag racing still uses imperial measurements – a quarter-mile track is about 402 metres. Cars are measured in inches and feet, and an explanation on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) website explains that a Top Fuel dragster “can burn up to 15 gallons of nitromethane fuel during a single run,” reaching more than 330 miles an hour. That’s more than 50 litres during a 3.7-second run at more than 530 km/h.
Peach drives a 1988 Trans Am, a car that hit 164 miles an hour on this day. He explains that even though drag racers are fierce rivals on the strip, they’re a strong community back in the pits. If you need a hand, or a part, someone will step up to sort you out.
Working together is what Peach and Lorne Buchanan of Bedford, N.S., did when it came time to upgrade their cars. Peach wanted to buy his current car from another racer, but didn’t want the engine that came with it. Buchanan’s dragster was fine but needed a new engine. Buchanan and Peach bought the white Trans Am together, and each took what they needed.
Today the two cars are parked side by side in the pits. Buchanan’s partner, Brenda Rafuse, guides the dragster into the pit, and helps him to pull off the hood covering the electronics. If you look for it, you’ll see Rafuse’s name is also painted on the side of the car.
If you only have cursory knowledge of drag racing – fat tires and loud engines – you may be overwhelmed by the many classes of cars and races. The NHRA points out that there are 10 classes that feature a straightforward, heads-up race between similarly classed cars.
Two cars line up beside each other at the “Christmas tree,” watching as a sequence of
three yellow lights flashes, one after the other. When the bottom light turns green, they both take off.
At the Greenfield Dragway, things get more complicated. Cars range from full-length dragsters, to various levels of pro and super-pro cars, to what seem to be factory stock sedans. Each is assigned a handicap based on the number of seconds the weight and configuration says it should run a quarter-mile. And each car can choose to run in more than one class.
In practical terms, you usually see two cars lined up side by side, with the slower one getting the green light first.
Greenfield is still a small-town race, and spectators aren’t kept in the grandstands. You can walk up and down the pits, talk to the drivers and their teams, and take the time to marvel at the cars and the obvious pride of the people who maintain these vehicles.
Beyond the (usually) shiny paint jobs and sponsor logos, serious cars need to meet a plethora of NHRA safety rules intended to protect the drivers, crew members and spectators. In all but the slowest cars, a roll cage is required, made to specific dimensions. Safety belts are replaced every two years, and helmets and neck collars are mandatory. Faster vehicles need to add a drive shaft loop and axle retention devices, and cars that can hit 150 miles an hour must have a parachute at the back of the car.
All of this costs a lot of money, and as Fred Thibeault from Middleton, N.S., describes it, it has been many years since the winnings at a Nova Scotia race paid enough to cover what it cost to build the car. At this point, everyone is doing it for the love of fast cars and the thrill of racing.
Thibeault’s 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS is a shiny red thing of beauty. He has been racing this car for 34 years, and it’s obviously his pride and joy. The car is, in some ways, still stock – the same car that came off the dealer’s lot when it was purchased – but over the years it has been slowly upgraded in nearly every way allowed by the NHRA rules.
Under the hood, the car is cleaner than most kitchens. The stock 375-cubic-inch engine has been bored out, and has seen the pistons, rings and camshaft replaced or upgraded to boost performance. A dry-sump oil tank makes sure that everything stays lubricated under extreme conditions. And the transmission – well, the outside is stock Chevy, but what’s inside is another thing altogether.
Another of Thibeault’s cars is the 1989 Camaro parked right next door at the track. It’s driven this weekend by Thibeault’s son Scott. He has three sons who drive, and two are here on this cool October weekend.
The race track family goes beyond the children and spouses who are part of the teams. The 160 drivers and hundreds of family members and spectators all seem to know each other, and spend as much time socializing as they do prepping their cars for the next run.
Drag racing today is high-tech. The Christmas tree tower at the start and the photosensors at the finish line time each run and generate the printed slips that each driver picks up on the way back to the pits. Inside the cars, many of today’s dragsters rely on an electronic box to time each shift to perfection. All you need to do is steer the car for a few seconds – the computer will make sure that each shift happens at the perfect moment.
Not everyone wants such a high-tech racing experience. The head of the Greenfield Dragway Association is David Joudrey. He explains that when he’s racing his 1979 Chevrolet Nova, he’ll do so in the “non-box” class, racing against people who still shift their own gears instead of letting the “box” do it.
At the start line, some things haven’t changed. Once you’ve done your prerun “burn-out” to warm up your tires, and have positioned your car’s nose at the starting point, you’ll have both the brake and the throttle pushed in as the Christmas tree counts down. You want your engine revs to be as high as possible before you start moving. Your aim is to release the brake when the lights hit “1/3 yellow” – if you wait until the green light comes on, you’ve already lost.
After a day revelling in the smoke and sound of these cars, I’m sadly reminded that I hardly drive over the speed limit any longer, and that it’s been years since I even did my own oil change. My Mazda CX-5 SUV is a convenience now, not the passion that my Charger used to be.
Still, as David Joudrey reminds me, if I can borrow a helmet, and can pass the safety inspection, my Mazda and I can join them at the Greenfield Dragway next season and recapture those days of speed – though I doubt my insurance policy will allow it.
By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
October 14, 2023
In Nova Scotia, September marks the peak of the hurricane season. All of us who live here, right next to the Atlantic Ocean, learn quickly to watch the skies, observe the winds and prepare for the kind of weather that many Canadians will never have experienced. So far this year, Hurricane Franklin grazed us with heavy rain before heading for Bermuda. Hurricane Idalia laid waste to Florida, but missed us. Then Hurricane Lee headed our way – arriving as a still-ferocious “post-tropical storm“ – and all of Nova Scotia braced as it hit us directly.
I grew up in British Columbia. Everything I know about hurricanes I learned from TV. What I didn’t know is that they are incredibly slow to arrive, and incredibly hard to predict. Living on the edge of the Atlantic, you learn that the only thing you can do for an impending hurricane or post-tropical storm is to prepare, and then wait for as long as it takes. After you have gassed up the generator and packed the patio furniture into the garage, all you can do is sit at home, endlessly refreshing Facebook for an update.
I am a city boy: I’ve lived and worked my life indoors, while weather has always been something that happened outdoors. Seasons were defined by changes in wardrobe and themed parties, and nature was what I found at nearby Princess Park, or on a sunny hike on the mountain trails above North Vancouver. The natural world was something I appreciated from time to time, but it wasn’t part of my day-to-day life.
Now I find myself fascinated by the patterns and progressions of the world around me. Since moving to Western Head, on Nova Scotia’s east coast, at the end of 2022, we’ve had different periods when we were overrun by various life forms: first with ticks, then mice, then big ants, and then mosquitoes. We had one week of big fat moths, and then bees and wasps arrived for a short stretch, and some little black bugs that we never did identify before they disappeared, too. And finally this week, inexplicably, we had fruit flies congregating unseen inside of a newly opened wine bottle, before riding the wave, drunkenly, into our wine glasses.
We’ve seen big brown snowshoe hares dancing around the yard, then disappearing, and now returning with little babies. We’ve seen a myriad of birds arrive, then depart as they migrate north or south, and now we look out every morning to see who is perching on our bird feeders today. What we’re learning is that the creatures around us are almost always temporary visitors, so we enjoy them when they’re here, then welcome the new birds that arrive the following week. In more practical terms, we watch the skies each day to calculate whether it’s safe to hang laundry on the line. We know that we need to stay alert for the time each day when the wind changes direction, to prevent the almost-dry clothes from getting damp again. We understand that when you only live a couple of hundred metres from the Atlantic Ocean, the official weather reports are at best a suggestion, and that looking out the window gives a better picture of what weather is about to come your way.
For the first time in my life, I find myself waking at 6 a.m. or earlier for the singular pleasure of watching the sun rise over the sea, revelling in the clouds’ changes as they move across the sky, and gauging the size and ferocity of the waves below us. For the first time in my life, I stop before going downstairs to make coffee, peer out of our bedroom window, and say, “Oh my God, that is so beautiful.”
And at day’s end, I look out from the back of our house and marvel at the breathtaking red sunsets behind our ancient old barn. Living here, you can’t avoid being conscious of the moments when the day begins and ends.
We’re only now learning when and how to plant a garden, and which of our two- and four-legged visitors will invade the vegetables and steal them. As newcomers to Nova Scotia, we planted far too early, and with 101 things to contend with in our new home, managed just barely to find time to observe as the rain and wind turned our tidy vegetable patch into a tangle of colourful but inedible weeds.
Our failing attempts at building a garden are honestly very sad when compared with the established gardens encircling our house. The flowers, bushes and shrubs that we inherited when we bought our home are simply brilliant. Each week, some new flower blooms: some white, some orange, some red, and a myriad of bushes and hedges appear and flourish with little or no warning. Once again, every morning I peek out the windows and marvel at what surprises have appeared. And I thank the people who obviously spent so many hours, months and years building a Garden of Eden that we can now sit back and admire.
The sea, too, changes from week to week and month to month. The height and violence of the waves shift, of course, but the sea winds also constantly change from one direction or another, from cold and destructive to warm and pleasant. When you live this close to the Atlantic shore, you learn to love the hissing sibilance of the waves blowing in from whichever direction the winds choose, and the equally romantic lowing moan of the foghorn in the lighthouse at the end of our road. In our part of Nova Scotia, there is something that has connected us to the natural rhythms of the world around us. In all of this, I’m looking at the patterns, the shifts in weather, the things that appear and prosper and the things that die off until next year. None of these are things that I ever really noticed while living in Vancouver or Toronto.
And now, of course, we’re looking forward to the rest of autumn, and then our first full winter in Nova Scotia. We know it will be cold, wet and windy, but we also now know it will be beautiful, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. And we know that on occasion, the Atlantic weather can be frightening, and even dangerous. I’m looking forward to Christmas; I can already see the snow that will cover the ground and the trees, and can smell the turkey in the oven. I’m planning now to order the plow for our tractor, and where to safely store the outdoor furniture. I’m looking at the big tree that I can see out of my window, looking for all the world like the grandest live Christmas tree imaginable.
In the midst of everything else, and during the endless changes and cycles that are now such a part of my life, I find myself wondering whether we should put the coloured lights in the trees now, while the weather is good.
In all of this, I’ve learned to slow myself, to wait until the next cycle, or the next season, and to be patient. I’ve found the space to stop, to look around me, and to trust that the opportunity, or the delight, that has passed me by will surely return in due course. Just as the birds who visit our feeders accept the bounty of seeds without question, I am learning to embrace the good things I see all around me, and leave aside any fears or doubts for the future in this new place.
For the first time in my life I understand that, like the birds, bunnies and flowers, I am really just one tiny part of a great and all-encompassing world, and that my happiness depends entirely on my accepting my place in that larger universe.
My hacking spirit dates from long before I used computers. My first memory of it dates back to some time before 1980 – before the Internet, before personal computers, and surely before cel phones.
My group of close friends and hard-core partiers included the trio of Marty, Brad, and Frank. Frank and I had met at cooking school in Vancouver, and the rest – as they say – is history. We drank, we smoked, and we partied, including one year when I arrived at a Hallowe’en party dressed as Annette Funicello (as a Mousketeer).
The biggest memory for me though was running a proper pirate radio station.
At some point Marty had been owed money, and had accepted a small FM radio transmitter and antenna as payment. Since he also had a successful and longstanding DJ business it was a match made in heaven.
DJing in those days meant turntables, wooden cases full of vinyl records, big amplifiers, bigger speakers, and on occasion a home-built refrigerator sized dry-ice fog machine. Fill it up with water, stick in an immersion heater for a few hours, then dump in the dry ice. Fog!
Soon that do-it-yourself spirit extended itself to radio.
The DJ setup in his living room was quickly attached to the transmitter, and the antenna was stuck out an upstairs window. It didn’t take a lot of time to figure out where the “empty” space was on the local FM band, and with a little bit of tweaking we were broadcasting a music mix like nothing you heard on commercial radio or the CBC. While Marty filled the airwaves with New Wave and alternative music, the rest of us took turns driving around town just to see how far our signal went.
Marty worked on the assumption that the guys at Industry Canada who monitored such things didn’t work weekends or holidays, and he kept the radio station limited to those days. It was fun, and harmless, and cost nothing.
Still, it felt an awful lot like broadcasting into outer space, and after a while everyone started wishing they knew who was listening, and what they liked.
My friend Brad came to the rescue. He was employed by BC Telephone. In those pre-digital days every phone line was attached to a mechanical switch, and each of those switches was hard wired into the network. That was how you got your phone number. Brad was one of the guys that made those connections.
Brad figured out that there were always a few unused numbers and switches, so every Friday afternoon he would connect one of them to Marty’s home phone. Now, as well as his own phone calls, Marty could get calls from listeners. Each Friday he got a new “On-Air” phone number, and each Monday morning it would disappear when Brad arrived at work.
It was perfect. The radio station was success, there were more listeners than any of us imagined, and we could even take requests! And as far as we could tell, it was risk-free.
That was true until Marty moved into a south-facing tenth floor apartment, and attached the antenna to his balcony railing. Suddenly his radio signal went much further, and was much clearer.
He arrived home from work one day and found an Industry Canada vehicle covered with antennas sitting at his front door. Even though as far as we could tell that spot on the radio dial was vacant, it turned out that he had been interfering with a legitimate radio station 50 miles south of us in Washington state. The broadcaster in question called the American FCC, they contacted the Canadian Industry Canada, and Marty was visited by some very official folks who politely, but firmly, asked that he give them the transmitter. To his credit Marty’s reaction was to smile and say “What took you so long?”
Looking back at it, that experience probably changed my life by getting me involved in legal community radio, moving me far to the left, and by teaching me to generally distrust government.
The lesson learned is that if you can help someone to break the law just a little bit – like crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red – and if you can quietly point out to them that absolutely no-one was harmed, and no-one arrested, then you’ve started someone down the road to being anti-authoritarian.
If you plant that seed at just the right time you can change their life. Maybe they’ll even turn into a hacker!
By Barry Rueger
Published: CBC Gem
December 28, 2023
CBC’s political panel asked me to provide a year-end question. Rosemary Martin hosts the discussion, and I ask why Justin Trudeau lacks the backbone to stand up to oil companies . I appear at about 7:32.
In need of medical attention One of the first things that my wife and I did after moving to rural Nova Scotia was to look for family doctor, but we couldn’t find one accepting patients. Getting care has been a challenge.
My wife Susan and I arrived at our new home in Liverpool, N.S., at the end of 2022. Since then, we’ve discovered one valuable lesson: If you’re trying to learn anything about how things are done here, it will be via word of mouth. This is especially true if you need health care. The Nova Scotia Health Authority and the provincial government have websites, phone lines and pamphlets, but for real answers you need to talk to the people who live here: your neighbours, workmates, people you meet in stores and supermarkets, your librarian, the man who cuts your hair.
Susan and I had both been hammered by a vicious COVID-19 infection the previous September. Over the course of 10 days, we suffered all manner of extreme symptoms, ranging from sweating and coughing to diarrhea and a complete inability to do anything beyond survive. I have never been so sick in my life. Since that time, and continuing after we moved to our new home in Nova Scotia, we’ve suffered endless aches and pains, and continuing fatigue – symptoms that seem to reflect long COVID. We knew that we needed medical attention, and sooner rather than later.
One of the first things we did after unpacking our furniture was to set out to find a family doctor. At store counters and in lineups it didn’t take long to understand that there are only a handful of doctors in Liverpool, and not one of them was accepting new patients. And as far as we could tell driving around or looking online, there is no walk-in clinic here – those “fallback” services seem inexplicably rare in rural Nova Scotia.
Canada’s health care services are in crisis across the nation, but the situation in rural Nova Scotia feels especially severe. Official statistics say that one in 10 people in Nova Scotia have no regular family doctor. The reality is that the government’s “Need a Family Practice Registry” for people without a doctor recently reported that there are more than 142,000 on the waiting list – more like 14 per cent of the population. If you’re in the one big city, Halifax, you may have some choice, but the rest of Nova Scotia is rural, and doctors are scarce.
People in my area on the registry’s list can eventually sign-up with a “real doctor” at the Collaborative Family Practice at Liverpool’s Queens General Hospital. Until then, though, you’ll be encouraged to visit the emergency department during the few hours a day when they’re open. For instance, in a recent week in May there were four days when the emergency department shut down at 1:30 p.m. until the following morning at 8 a.m.
In the meantime, those 142,000-plus people without a family doctor are being directed to Maple, an online medical practice that operates across Canada. The publicly funded side of Maple in Nova Scotia – there is also a for-profit, pay-for-service side available – is also short of physicians, and many patients are directed to nurse practitioners.
Even if you reach a qualified doctor, there is no route available to you to return to the same doctor for a follow-up or to discuss the results of tests – you are given the first doctor or nurse practitioner available. If needed, it’s possible that you’ll be referred for an in-person consultation, but that usually doesn’t happen, and I can’t help wonder what’s being missed when knee problems or internal aches and pains are being diagnosed by a different practitioner every time, and over an online video instead of in person.
And that is the real problem. As willing and knowledgeable as the doctors and nurse practitioners are on Maple, it’s still a video call on your laptop. You can hold your phone or iPad up to the area where you’re hurting, but sometimes you really do need a medical professional to examine you in-person, touching, prodding and assessing where your problem lies.
The shift from in-person to online medical evaluations makes a profound difference. We’re feeling the lack of having a regular doctor who knows us and our medical histories. Instead of the familiar routine of visiting a doctor who already knows you, briefly checks your file as a memory refresher, and then begins a consultation and diagnosis based on that knowledge, we find ourselves sitting in our kitchen with printouts and pill bottles at the ready. Every consultation involves using most of the brief time allotted to update a new physician. The onus is now on the patient, not the doctor, to maintain, organize and communicate a full medical history.
There’s also the very real worry about what would happen if we need emergency medical care. This week, the mayor of Middleton told Nova Scotians about a frightening incident. In a letter to Premier Tim Houston, Sylvester Atkinson described how on the evening of June 15, the local volunteer fire department was called to the Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Middleton. The local fire department was called because there were no doctors in the hospital, and no doctor on-call, and a patient was in cardiac arrest. The firefighters did what they could, but the patient died. A doctor did drive down from Kentville, a half-hour away, and declared the patient dead. For small-town residents like me, the story is absolutely terrifying.
Fortunately, we haven’t needed any emergency treatments since we moved here, although we have found ourselves at the local hospital for other medical services. Even when the hospital’s emergency room isn’t admitting patients, the hospital lab and X-ray departments are still open, and it’s possible to be in and out for X-rays or blood tests in a few minutes. And even if it’s near impossible to see a doctor some days, we appreciate that the rest of the medical workers there will take the time to explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and to gossip about local affairs.
That is honestly the one positive side to Nova Scotia’s woeful medical system: The local health care team of nurses and lab technicians are relaxed and friendly, and likely someone you’ll run into at the library or supermarket. After decades of brusque treatment in big cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, it’s nice to deal with real people who seem to genuinely care about your welfare.
Nova Scotia’s current budget claims to be ramping up health care spending, but the two headline areas in the government releases are retention bonuses for nurses (to the tune of $110-million), plus an additional $50-million to address continued surgical backlogs. Still, many people believe that not enough attention is being paid to the challenge faced by many Canadian health care systems: a significant lack of doctors, especially family doctors. As convenient as it is to access nurse practitioners and pharmacists for day-to-day health needs, the most important member of your health care team is still a consistent family doctor.
I was raised at a time when every family had a doctor – someone who cared for parents and children through all life stages, tracking their history from month to month and from year to year. These physicians lived in your community and were a constant in your life. It was understood that medical care was not just about emergencies, it was about keeping patients healthy on a continuing basis. It was about a long-term personal relationship with a physician who you knew and trusted.
Today, in rural Nova Scotia, that sort of relationship is harder to find. The older doctors are retiring, and news reports tell us that new, younger doctors don’t want to take on a small-town family practice.
I can’t help but think that decades of “restraint” budgets, and the losses to health care funding that resulted, have to be responsible for this change. Young doctors look at practices in small-town Nova Scotia and see nothing but overwork and underpay, long backlogs on routine surgeries and referrals, and medical treatments such as physiotherapy or prescriptions that aren’t covered in one of the poorest provinces in Canada. Is it any wonder they shy away from family medicine?
Ultimately this all speaks to priorities. Nova Scotia brags about an increase of 21 per cent in health care spending over two years, but every time I drive from Liverpool to Halifax to see a specialist or a relative in hospital, I can’t help but notice the tremendous amount of highway construction that is happening. To my eye, neither the population of Nova Scotia, nor the traffic volumes, merit the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent to upgrade all these roads to four-lane divided highways.
It feels as if Canada’s second-smallest province – only Prince Edward Island is smaller – chooses highways over health care. That, I think, is the core of the problem we face in Nova Scotia: Health care is seen as an expense, while highways are an “investment.” We’re faced with months of waiting for surgeries, and we sometimes get questionable treatment options over video chat – but at least the drive to Peggy’s Cove is wonderful.
After many months reflecting on the sad reality that we can’t have a family doctor, we had come to accept the unfortunate situation. Last week though, with no warning, we received a phone call from Queens General Hospital’s family practice. I don’t know how we reached the top of the list, but we now have a family doctor once again. Ours was trained in Khartoum, and several weeks ago he’d left a position in Birmingham, England, for his new job in Liverpool, N.S. He tells us he likes the small town that is now his home. We don’t yet know what chain of events led us to having our new doctor, but he seems good, and we’re very relieved. I hope the many other thousands of Nova Scotians on the family-practice waiting list also receive good news soon.
We’ve made our home at the point of Western Head, near Liverpool, N.S. On Tuesday, I was awakened at 4:30 a.m. when my phone shrieked with a warning from the government of Nova Scotia telling me not to light a campfire. By the time the sun rose around 6:30, there was a curtain of thick grey smoke, and I could taste it on the back of my throat. We already knew about the forest fires burning out of control in our province, so the real question was: Where was the smoke coming from, and how close was the fire?
We live right between the two major blazes. The Tantallon fire is about 30 kilometres from the Halifax Citadel. At the time I write this, on Thursday, we’re told that it has consumed about 837 hectares, and is possibly becoming under control. The other one is the Barrington Lake fire in Shelburne County. It had been the fire nearest to our children and grandchildren, burning more than 17,000 hectares. Then late Wednesday night we heard that another wildfire had broken out perhaps three or four kilometres from their house. Fortunately they had already packed up and left to stay with friends in New Brunswick – the smoke was just too much for them.
After waking on Tuesday, the morning was spent on the internet, and looking at whatever media we could find to try and get an up-to-date picture of these blazes. My frustration grew as I realized that anyone who could be updating me had disappeared. Government, media, even the pundits on Reddit and Facebook had all booked off at 8 o’clock the previous night. If the fire changed direction or speed, or if you just needed to know what was happening now, not 12 hours ago, you would need to wait.
Western Head is part of a point of land just below Liverpool. It’s sparsely populated, and has one road that loops along the shore of the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds it. That morning, while we waited for any information about the fires, the isolation that had been so appealing to us took on a different tone.
Ever since moving here people have told us that the summers have become hotter, and the weather dryer. Now I look at the forest and bush that surrounds us and find myself thinking about how fast it could all go up in flames.
And I’m thinking that if the fires are this bad in late May, what on Earth will arrive in July and August?
At one point on Twitter – apparently the best source for up-to-the-minute fire news – I read that Halifax Fire deputy chief David Meldrum had said: “Without a doubt … climate change is contributing to volatility.”
That statement is, in many ways, the one that frightens me most. Right now there are thousands of households evacuated, and multiple fires out of control. If you live anywhere in Nova Scotia you’re wondering if your town or county will be next. The one thing that’s agreed on is that this is not normal for Nova Scotia.
We moved here, bought our home here, to escape the pressures of the big city. A very large part of that decision was a chance to be more self-sufficient: to grow our own food, care for our own land, and rely less on governments and corporations for day to day needs. And yes, doing all of this in an environmentally friendly way is important to us.
Now I’m wondering if our dreams of a rural, green life were misguided – if we were fooling ourselves into thinking that we could remove ourselves from the fast-paced, plastic-wrapped scurry of city life.
The challenge for us now is to try and understand if the changes coming at us because of climate change will overwhelm whatever efforts we can muster to adapt to them. Yes, we can adapt our home, and the ways that we eat and grow our food. We can remove the old oil-burning furnace, and add solar panels. But is that enough to counter global warming, rising sea waters and forest fires?
So far, the fires have stayed away from us, and have even changed direction, but Nova Scotia is heading into a summer of hot and dry weather. Instead of relaxing in our yard, building a compost bin and cutting grass, I’m spending my day on the internet and watching press conferences to try and guess whether we should be loading up the car and heading somewhere else to be safe.
And, of course, I’m asking about the future of our grandchildren.
That, more than anything, terrifies me. So far they’ve survived this year’s fires OK, but what about the next ones, and the ones in the years that follow? Will it become normal for them to wake up to a hazy sky, the taste of smoke lingering on their tongues?