Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on October 26, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments


The true north strong and free



By the time you receive this and, weather permitting, I will be back in Kangiqsujuaq.

A dear friend, mentor, and colleague passed away a few weeks ago and to honor her memory, I decided to come back to the village and take over her class for the balance of the school year.

I will be home at Christmas and hope to launch my newest book about my time in the north. I might have to add a second epilogue!

Stay tuned.

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on October 5, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with no comments yet


150 years to grow. 15 seconds to come down. Thanks, Fiona.


These are my recollections of hurricane Fiona. I wrote this for posterity. It is not riveting but simply a chronicle of events of one of the greatest natural disasters to hit our part of the world.


“Oooh my little pretty one, pretty one,

When you gonna give me some time, Sharona?”

My Sharona – The Knack


Oooh my little nasty one, nasty one,

When you gonna leave us, my Fiona?

With apologies to The Knack.

For me, it started early Friday, the day before hurricane Fiona was due to make landfall in Nova Scotia. So many hurricanes and tropical depressions have, in my mind, been overhyped over the years. We’ve become immune to the warnings of “Storm of the Century”. Cry wolf. Even a skeptic like me decided to heed the dire warnings and get prepared.

And what, you ask, was the very first thing I did on Friday, September 23rd?

I made popcorn.

“That’s a pretty bizarre choice, Len.”

Did you expect anything different?

I’m sure my neighbours were puzzled by the smell of popcorn at 7:00 a.m. I always get my priorities straight and I figured that if Fiona arrived earlier than expected, I would have, at a bare minimum, a stash of snacks. I also filled some water jugs and the bathtub. Water and popcorn. Really, what else does a person need to survive a hurricane?

Later that day, I cooked some real food, knowing full well that I would be eating it cold over the next few days.

Going anywhere near a grocery store on the Friday before a major weather event must be like standing before the gates of hell. I avoided the former and hope to elude the latter.

And then I waited.

I woke around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday to use the bathroom. Predictably, the power was out, and the apartment was in total darkness. I had slept quite soundly up until that point and hadn’t heard the telltale howling winds of a hurricane. I pulled back the curtains and peered into the darkness. Our apartment buildings are surrounded on three sides by trees that are easily 100 years old and incredibly tall providing a lovely canopy of shade on hot summer days. I was shocked at what I saw or, more to the point, what I didn’t see. I couldn’t detect any damage and actually I couldn’t see any movement in the trees. My cynicism started to creep in. “Yup. Storm predictions overblown yet again.” I crawled back into bed realizing that we had dodged a bullet.

When I opened the curtains in the morning, the devastation was jaw dropping. I quickly realized that what I saw at 2:00 a.m. might have been a 20 second lull in the winds. And because I live in a basement apartment, the noise from the wind had been muted. There was no doubt that we had taken a direct hit from Fiona. Majestic trees were splintered and looked more like a box of toothpicks.

After consuming a cold breakfast, I received an invitation from my brother and his wife to come to their house a few blocks away for coffee. My brother is an active outdoors person and had in his possession a “pocket rocket”, a very small propane device for heating water. There was no way that I could walk through the tree littered pathway between our street and the one running parallel, so I headed up Court Street. The street was littered with debris and one gigantic tree was ripped from its mooring and lay across power lines. It was raining hard, and the wind was still strong but certainly not hurricane strength. Later that day, my neighbours across the hall also offered me hot water to make coffee. They too, were equipped with some gadgetry to boil water. At a bare minimum, I knew that I could get coffee on demand from two sources. It was at that point that I knew I would survive the storm and resultant power outage.

Things got a bit dicey after leaving my brother’s house. Th wind was absolutely ferocious. Hillcrest Street was covered with twisted trees. Many of them looked like they had exploded. It didn’t feel safe walking. A very large branch with a pointy end came hurtling down on the street about 25 yards in front of me. It was at that point that I knew I had made an error in judgment leaving my apartment. I literally ran the rest of the way home.

Day 1 was predictable. The entire town and surrounding area were completely disabled. Luckily, we were still able to access information through our cell phones. Some people had wind up radios and were able to get up to the minute reports from CBC. News filtered out that areas of Cape Breton and Newfoundland had taken direct hits with devastating consequences.

My brother and I took a drive down to our family cottages at Bayfield. The news was not good. The storm surge destroyed another several feet of declining shoreline and a set of stairs, built at a significant cost with reinforced steel a few years ago, were swept out to sea. My brother was hosting guests from Vancouver. They had planned a trip to the Maritimes for some time and had received this rather rude welcome.

Later that evening, when the storm had passed, I took a walk around town and the carnage was jaw dropping. Roofs on several houses displayed gaping holes where massive trees had collapsed overnight. It was Armageddon and something I had never witnessed in my lifetime.

Because of the time of the year, darkness came early. I brought out candles and was able to read my book with the aid of a solar powered flashlight. With nothing else to do, I crawled into bed and continued to read holding the flashlight in one hand and turning the pages with the other. Visions on my childhood when we read books under the covers.

For many of us, the hurricane and its aftermath were an inconvenience, nothing more, nothing less. That was not the case for so many people. A large swath of the province was without power and reports from our neighbors, Prince Edward Island, indicated that a whopping 90% in that province was in the dark. One of the looming issues for homeowners was food spoilage. With predictions that we could be without power for at least 72 hours, there was a good chance that a lot of food was going to go bad and have to be thrown out. I am not about to cry foul, but just a few weeks before, I had filled my fridge freezer with all kinds of meat and fish (and fowl!) including several pounds of fresh Pubnico haddock.

For the second day in a row, I headed to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for morning coffee and storm story swapping. It so happened that on this particular day, my oldest brother was celebrating his 75th birthday. Two days earlier, my sister had celebrated her 74th. Karen and Gerard invited the lot of us for lunch. We convened at noon, and you would never know that anything was amiss as we dined on crabcakes, salad and birthday cake.

Later that day, I took another stroll through town. The two most prevalent sounds were generators and chainsaws. The massive cleanup had begun.

On day three, I woke to one of the darkest and dreariest days that I can remember. It was raining and my basement apartment felt like a cave. The contents of my freezer were nearly thawed out. I headed to one of the large grocery stores at 7:00 a.m. to try and secure a bag of ice to keep my partially frozen food cool. No luck. Exiting the store, a Sobey’s employee stood outside clutching a cup of coffee. He told me that he had just worked the night shift and had made himself a coffee in the staffroom. He was waiting to be picked up and driven home by a family member. When he saw me drooling, he turned to his grocery cart and produced a cup of black coffee which he offered to me. I was joyous and when I discovered that his ride wasn’t forthcoming, I offered to drive him home. We had a lovely chat along the way.

The thought of spending the day in darkness with rotting food held no appeal so I decided to pack up and head to my daughter’s in Halifax. I was distraught at the thought of tossing out the contents of my freezer. My brother in Bayfield had a generator and a barbeque. I packaged up all of the meat and fish and sent it down to the beach. I am thrilled to report that everything was eaten over the ensuing days.

I had a slight dilemma. I had enough gas to make it as far as Truro, a distance of 115 kilometers. None of the gas stations in Antigonish were operational so I needed to get gas in either New Glasgow or Truro if I was going to make it to Halifax. The thought of walking to Halifax crossed my mind! As I was planning to visit another one of my daughters in New Glasgow, I reckoned that this was my best option to get gas. Wrong. A handful of gas stations were open in New Glasgow but the lineups were massive. The only thing comparable is any Tim Horton’s at morning rush hour. Cars were lined up for kilometers in both directions.

I was very fortunate to get a cup of very strong coffee at my daughter’s place along with 10 litres of gas which they were using for their generator.

The gas stations in Truro were not nearly as busy and I was able to top off my tank.

I had a nice visit in Halifax and early the next morning, I heard from a neighbour back in Antigonish that the power had been restored to our apartment building. It was time to head home. Because my freezer needed to be restocked, I decided that a trip to Costco made sense so there I was at 8:45 a.m. waiting in a short lineup for the doors to open. It didn’t have quite the fanfare as the closing bell at the NYSE, but I was one of the first to answer the opening bell at Costco. They actually opened the doors 10 minutes early. It was a bizarre scene entering a store that normally resembles a thousand ant hills. It was eerily quiet and by 9:12 I was back in my car and on my way home.

The repercussions of this hurricane are still being felt as of this writing and the consequences of the devastation will be felt for months and even years as many properties were destroyed, crops ruined, and shorelines and beaches altered forever.

No more “crying wolf”. This was the real deal.

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