A subject on the minds of many of us these days is the awareness of how everything in this world is connected…the key word being “everything”. It’s easy to grasp the premise that as human beings living on this planet we are all connected, but how about the idea we are also connected to all living things which would include our trees, plants, animals, insects and whatever else that grows? Now there is food for thought. Lately I have been hearing much about a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees written by the German author, Peter Wohlleben. Seems this book has impacted many of my friends so I have put it on my immediate list of books to read.
The opportunity to learn more about why this book is capturing so much interest came knocking at my door while visiting a good friend on the South Shore last weekend. On the Sunday, Mother Nature blessed us with a clear day after a good rain the day before. Blue skies with fluffy white clouds and moderate temperatures made for a perfect day at the beach. We chose Hirtle’s Beach, not only because it just happens to be our favourite one, but because on that day the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy was offering an added bonus: guided nature walks highlighting its rock formations and flora, bird watching, a talk on the history of Kingsburg, a local exhibit of art at Shobac, and boat rides to Ironbound Island where feral sheep reside. What more could we want?
I learned that this conservancy is a charitable, non-governmental land trust started in 1995 by a group of volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the Kingsburg Peninsula on Nova Scotia’s South Shore for all to enjoy now and into the future.
We arrived at the beach around 11 o’clock just in time for the home cooked lunch of seafood chowder and homemade pie. I have to say I had one of my best lunches ever while sitting on the rocks of the beach, and the best part was that it was all for free.
To walk off our lunch, we took a walk along the beach noting numerous sea birds darting here and there. We were delighted to see some plovers in the mix. Several years ago bird watchers noticed that their numbers seemed to be dwindling so a group of concerned citizens took great pains to protect their nesting sites from the beach traffic. Their efforts have paid off as more sightings of these little birds have been noted in the past few years.
We noticed that most people were doing what we were doing which was just walking and paddling in the water. The wind was a little too chilly for those of us without wetsuits but not for the surfers. I settled for trying to get some action shots of them as they manoeuvred the waves.
Since Sunday was the last day of this special weekend, we had only two walks to choose from: a walk and talk about fungi or the history of Kingsburg. Without hesitation we both agreed that the fungi walk would be the most interesting. I was actually excited about learning more about how they contribute to a healthy forest. Would this be the opportunity I hoped for to learn about the hidden life of trees? In the meantime with an hour or more at our disposal before the walk got underway, we opted to take a short run over to see the local art exhibit in Shobac.
I discovered this special place several years ago when visiting my husband’s son who had rented a cottage there for his summer holiday. So, what makes it so special?
The Shobac of today is an architectural wonder. It’s located on the edge of the Gaff Point Cliffs overlooking the LeHave River estuary. First inhabited by the Mi’Kmaq as a camp ground, then sighted by Samuel de Champlain who named it Shobac, not long after established as an Acadian farming and fishing village, to be later settled by German, Swiss, and French Protestants, mostly abandoned in the mid 20th century except for a few fishing families, the land was finally bought and developed into what it is today by a Brian MacKay-Lyons, a talented Nova Scotian architect.
MacKay-Lyons bought this huge tract of land in 1988 with the vision of re-creating an agricultural village for use by the community and the visitors who come to this part of the South Shore which are many due to its proximity to the three towns of Lunenburg, a Unesco Site, Mahone Bay, and Bridgewater. It is also near three of Nova Scotia’s largest and most popular beaches: Risser’s, Crescent, and Hirtle’s, not to mention numerous smaller ones all around.
Commonly called a compound, the land has a fabulous north view with Hirtle’s Beach in the distance. The land is dotted with undulating hills called drumlins which are glacial deposits left by the ice age some 15,000 years ago. Waves beating against the cliffs have created lovely sandy beaches below as a result of erosion. Sheep and horses can be found grazing on the grassy hillsides. What makes the scene even more outstanding are the box like cottages and larger buildings all available for rent on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. MacKay-Lyons’ latest acquisition is an old schoolhouse dating back to 1830 which has been restored to incorporate both the old and the new as many of his buildings do. The Troop Barn where we found the art exhibit was found and rescued by him in 2009 near Bridgetown in the Annapolis Valley This was the last of Nova Scotia’s octagonal barns and was slated for demolition because no one had stepped forth to buy it. Thanks to this man’s money and foresight, it’s been beautifully restored and is now used extensively by the community for all kinds of exhibitions and other community gatherings. Not surprisingly MacKay-Lyons has garnered many awards and much recognition for this architectural wonder so it’s worth a visit and definitely a great place to stay for a vacation.
After viewing the art and voting on the one we favoured most, as well as being fortified with some fresh lemonade and homemade cookies for our efforts, we drove back to Hirtle’s Beach for the fungi trek along the Gaff Point Trail Head.
Our guide gave us an excellent explanation of how nature has devised such an intricate system for keeping an old growth forest healthy and vibrant. Who knew that fungi (mushrooms) played such an important role in their health? Who knew that all that green moss we see on walks in the woods where there is an old and new growth of trees harbours a whole network of fungi threads in the soil underneath? Who knew that these fungi supply essential carbon and nutrients to each and every tree? The more fungi or mushrooms the healthier the trees.
This is my simplified version of how it all works. Hopefully I can gain a more scientific and clearer explanation from Wohlleben’s book. Apparently he goes so far as to say that trees have personalities and actually talk to one another by communicating below ground via a ‘woodwide web’. Willows, he claims, are loners and have relatively short lives compared to beeches and oaks which last for thousands of years and act as a family. He adds that trees have emotions and can feel pain. Who knew? Another ‘ah ha’ moment for me was the realization that perhaps all the clear cutting of our forests here in our province could be classified as a criminal act since it kills any new growth and turns old growth forests into dead zones. I think those who work in the Department of Natural Resources should be putting this book on their reading lists.
My memorable day at Kingsburg will stay in my mind for some time. I learned so much and it inspired me to do more reading about how Mother Nature has a clear plan for how all living things can live together harmoniously if every part of her is allowed to fulfill its purpose. As intelligent human beings, we have a responsibility to not only learn how we can fit into this system but also learn how to do this in a sustainable manner. Kudo’s to the Kingsburg Coastal Conservancy for their concern for preserving our beautiful province and for spreading the word to all those who are listening.