Mui Ne: A Little Resort Town in Viet Nam

People who visit Mui Ne either love it or hate it.

Before I get into why this is so, let me give you a short description of its location and geography. It’s approximately a four-hour drive northeast of Ho Chi Minh City on the coast of the South China Sea. It’s easy accessibility to the city and its 10 km long beach make it a great seaside escape not only for HCMC residents but also tourists. Over the past 10 years it has morphed from a sleepy fishing village into an over-developed resort town.

The main and only street follows the coastline for 10 km. When approaching it coming from HCMC, you enter from the west which puts you into the actual town of Mui Ne… the main tourist strip with all the fancy resorts. This end of the street is called Nguyen Dinh Chieu which then turns into Huynh Thuc Khang somewhere in the middle. Keep travelling along and you will find yourself in the City of Phan Thiet…also the capital of the province…which is graced with a large harbour dotted with a multitude of colourful fishing boats. Here is the centre for SE Asia’s production of nuac mam or fish sauce.

Boats used to catch fish used to produce fish sauce.

Boats used to catch fish used to produce fish sauce.

Overlooking the harbour of Phan Thiet.

Overlooking the harbour of Phan Thiet.

So this is Mui Ne. It’s a one street strip of restaurants, fancy resorts, budget hotels, and restaurants lining both sides of the street and hemmed in by the ocean on one side and sand dunes on the other.

Most people who absolutely love it are the windsurfers. They come from all parts of the world to do their stuff. With more than 200 days out of the year with strong winds coming off the ocean, it’s a surfer’s paradise.

thailand-burma-viet-nam-xavier-2012-452

The red  and white sand dunes are another rave about this place. Coming very close to the strip of beach resorts along the sea, they appear to be in the backyards of many hotels. I just had to go to the end of the garden at my place to see a part of them. The better views are outside the town where you can be right in the midst of them and experience the joy of driving a dune buggy. I preferred to simply walk and observe the buggies as they got mired in the sand. I was attempting to be more ecologically responsible.

On the white dune.

On the white dune.

The Russians love Mui Ne  because they get great package deals to and from their country, and like us Canadians they are eager to escape their harsh winters for some fun in the sun. In fact, they have almost taken over the town as evidenced by the restaurants which serve Russian food. Even the menus are in Russian. Many restaurants, shops and hotels are now Russian owned by expats who have moved there.

Anyone who likes sun and a tropical climate also loves it, especially at this time of the year which is their dry season. For those staying in a four or five-star resort with their own private beach, life at the beach is good. However, for budget travellers a beach isn’t always easily available. If your hotel/hostel has wrangled a deal with one of the bigger hotels or resorts who are willing to let others use what they think is theirs, then you’re in luck. Fortunately, the place where I stayed did have access so I had the beach at my disposal. Although the beach itself is lovely, it is beginning to show some wear and tear. In some spots the sand is disappearing due to erosion. In other places, the beach is being invaded with piles of garbage and cattle who are allowed to roam at will. For me this was not inviting so I merely used the beach to capture a sunset or two. I didn’t bother to sun bathe or go swimming. I may have if I had been staying in one of those swanky resorts who lay claim to a piece of the beach or have their own outdoor pools.

Beach at a swanky resort.

Beach at a swanky resort.

Is it now evident to you what people might hate about Mui Ne? The Russian invasion, the dirty beach, the over-development, and one more thing…the bland food….are the list of complaints I have heard. I have to agree on the dirty beach and the over-development, but the Russians and the food were more than acceptable to me.

I had a young Russian couple next door to my room at Diem, Lien where I stayed. Although their English was limited, I found both Vera and Vasili easy to talk to and curious about Canada. We found we had much in common. Yes, most Russians prefer to keep to themselves, which has earned them a bad reputation, but I have found they are actually shy with other tourists because of their lack of English. I have not and did not encounter any difficult or loud Russians.

As for the food, I found a lovely little restaurant newly opened three months ago, on my first night in Mui Ne. I enjoyed the food and ambience so much that I returned every day from there on. Owned and managed by a young Viet Nam couple with a four-month old baby, who was at first fussy and probably colicky, I indulged in fresh scallops nicely prepared in a garlic sauce, stewed chicken in a clay pot, tasty grilled chicken with morning-glory greens, fresh spring rolls, and for a change, spaghetti carbonara. All the food was prepared by the husband who was a fabulous cook in my opinion. Everything was fresh, tastefully spiced, and reasonably priced. A glass of good Dalat wine was only $1.50. My dinners were consistently at about $5,00 including the wine. The name of this little gem, in amongst all the other similar restaurants along the strip on the Huynh Thuc Khang end on the dune side, was Mui Ne House. They have no website and aren’t on Face Book since they are so new, but if you are ever in Mui Ne then do try to find them. By the way, the baby settled down after that first night and slept peacefully in her hammock from there on.

One more attraction which gets mixed reviews is the Fairy Stream. I wasn’t too excited about seeing it. However, it was part of the tour package I took to see the dunes at sunset so I had no choice. It’s actually a pretty half hour walk…in bare feet…from the sea up to its source. Strange rock formations in various shades of red and white shaped by the water as it meanders through the sand dunes create an unusual and different site every day.

At the start of the Fairy Stream.

At the start of the Fairy Stream.

Strange looking sand formations.

Strange looking sand formations.

Our group.

Our group.

I read in Travelfish that they wouldn’t recommend it because of reports that it was dirty and hazardous. Other than a couple of cows we met along the way, I noticed no garbage at all. Apparently the town authorities have been working on a clean up. One thing which did take me by surprise was the demand from a sweet young woman who was showing us sites and taking our pictures along the way. Little did we know she wasn’t a part of our tour, but a self-employed ‘tout’ who demanded we each pay her 100,000 dong at the end. In Canadian dollars this would be $6,00. Being more budget conscious and perhaps a little more experienced at what was happening here, I immediately spoke up and stated this was way too much money for a half hour of her time. After some haggling, we settled on 20,000 each. To me this was worth her time and the information she was able to share with us. We could have paid her nothing since she wasn’t a part of our tour. Our jeep driver had no English and didn’t accompany us. I doubt if we could have learned anything on our own.

There was one other incident on this tour which took us by surprise. After we had toured the great white dune on our own time, we were told to meet our driver at the jeep by five o’clock so we would have time to catch the sunset at the red dune before heading back to town. After we had all finally assembled to head back, we had to wait. At first we weren’t sure why, but our driver after much discussion with the other jeep drivers informed us simply that the police were asking for money to the tune of 5 million dong or $295 Cdn. I couldn’t believe it! Here, right in front of our eyes, was the corruption you hear about in this and all SE Asian countries. Fortunately, our driver was honest and had the decency to tell us. After a 20 minute wait, we started out only to stop two if not three more times to wait out the police. There was much telephoning and further yelling from the other jeep drivers at each stop until finally our driver informed us with elaborate hand signals that we would be taking another route back to town. There went our opportunity to see the sunset which was to my mind no big deal. It wasn’t until the next day when I met up with a gal who had toured the dunes the day before with a group that actually paid a lower fine…a fine for doing nothing wrong as far as we could tell…that I realized what we had missed. The red dune at sunset is absolutely gorgeous!

I hope I haven’t painted too gloomy a picture of Mui Ne. What impression you come away with is purely a personal one. My eternal optimism sees it for what it is. It has its problems and isn’t perfect. However, I am happy with my time there even though I am not a surfer. Looking back I enjoyed my meals at the Mui Ne House Restaurant immensely, not only for their good food but for the warm greetings I received from the owners. The family who own and manage Diem Lein Hotel were also helpful and hard-working, especially the two sisters. I particularly enjoyed the garden, a little haven of flowers, trees and butterflies, which provided me with a peaceful place to have breakfast each morning. Furthermore, I was able to catch up on my sleep because the building was built like a motel and situated well away from the noisy street traffic. I doubt I’ll ever return to Mui Ne unless I were to use it as a short stopover on my way to HCMC or Dalat… or take up surfing!

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Love, Power, and Economic Justice

This is so well said and something good for all to read.

Deborah J. Brasket

Image result for images martin luther king jrCelebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King days before Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the Unites States could not seem more incongruous, nor be more timely. And needed.

When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he had begun to turn his attention away from the civil rights movement to what he considered to be an even more compelling problem: economic injustice.

“For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?”

He had discovered that the major divisive force in America was not color, but class. The rich and powerful, whether black or white, shared the same interest in keeping the races segregated, exploiting the poor and powerless, and maintaining the status quo.

He believed the…

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How Good Are We at Dealing With Change?

“The only people who really look forward to a change are babies.”

Change is a topic most of us even hate to talk about let alone deal with, and yet we are being bombarded with it every day in some way, shape or form. Seems like it’s occurring all around us as we are called upon to deal with it whether we want to or not. We can’t ignore it, especially those changes we have no control over. Do I need to give examples here? Okay, the one we hear most about, at least here in Canada, is climate change. Second to that one would be our aging population and what this means for all us Canadians, and the third might be the changes which are constantly occurring in the technology field. These are the big ones to my mind which then can be broken down into a myriad of smaller components such as, how our political system must change… possibly our concept of democracy… our social systems, our approach to immigration … the list can go forever. I sense that almost everything needs to be changed. We are becoming aware that we must replace all our old ways of thinking and acting for something new. The big question is how do we go about making the changes we know we must?

I should give credit for the quote about ‘babies’ to a workshop leader I met in the mid ’90’s. He got me thinking about change and how it can affect us in our lives for better or worse. At the time, I was working for a non-profit agency. Ontario’s economy had been dealt a huge blow putting them into a recession which was brought on by the change of an industrial based economy to the  ‘age of technology’ or computers. Jobs which people had worked at for years were being wiped out….never to come back. The thousands who witnessed their jobs disappearing faced the choice of either learning how to use these machines or end up serving coffee at Tim Horton’s for the rest of their work days.

At first, I was excited to be a part of Ontario’s launch to help these displaced workers to either get another job or some training for the new age besetting them. Here was an opportunity for me to help these unfortunate people with my teaching and counselling skills. This would be the perfect job for me, for hadn’t I recently been through the same ordeal after losing a lucrative position as a sales rep? Set adrift with no immediate prospects or outplacement help from my company, I happened upon Richard Boyle’s “What Colour is Your Parachute?” This book became my Bible in helping me make my career switch from sales into counselling. If I could do this on my own, then couldn’t these displaced workers do the same with a little help from me?

How naive of me to think I could save all those poor souls who were experiencing just what I had gone through. My agency was responsible for getting older, experienced workers either job ready or trained in something that could get them back into the work force…quickly! It didn’t take me long to realize that it was an impossible task to do this in just three weeks.

Upon reflection, I can honestly say my five years working with the unemployed offered me challenges I had never faced before. On the other hand, they handed me an incredible learning experience. You may think it strange that I say this, but didn’t some great sage…was it Plato or Socrates… reveal that we inevitably end up teaching what we need to learn the most? My greatest awakening was accepting that not all people will handle change in the same manner or time frame. In other words, the idea of a three week program was doomed to failure. Only a few breezed through the program with any kind of flying colours. Those who did manage to finish it either found a job or went on for some short-term training in computers. We also turned out many truck and fork lift drivers. Sadly, there were some who couldn’t overcome their job loss before their EI (employment insurance) ran out so ended up on welfare. Of those who did find employment, none got anywhere near the salary they earned at their old jobs. Most ended up working on contract or an hourly basis with little in the way of benefits or pensions. My guess is that some never worked again due to depression resulting from their loss. One of my clients even tried to take his life and ended up in the Clarke Institute, a mental hospital in Toronto.

Everyone handles change in a different way depending on their past experiences, their outlook on life’s challenges, and their emotional development. Change is mostly good as far as I am concerned, and I hope that some of my clients did get that message. Having the experience of working with them, I concluded that the more change we have in our lives, the better we get at handling it. Again I was judging from my own experience. I had to deal with many changes in my growing up years at home…moving around and living with various relatives because my parents weren’t up to the task. This could have had negative results, but instead I unknowingly developed some resilience. Although this helped me through my job loss, it took a toll on my confidence which I had to work hard at rebuilding. My work with older workers helped as did further internal work over the years.  Again, I prejudged my clients by thinking that if I could do it why couldn’t they? There was a difference. Many of them had grown up in stable homes, worked their entire work life at the same job, and were the sole bread winners. They had the toughest time dealing with their job loss for they had not only lost the only work they had ever known, they had lost their self-worth. Our programs didn’t give enough credence to their emotional states. To rebuild a man’s self-worth by probing into his past calls for an inward approach that most of these men were afraid to address. Our life skills classes only touched the surface of such a necessary journey and fell short of helping them to come back out on top to eagerly pursue new possibilities for the challenges ahead.

In the ’90’s we had the older workers who had their jobs disappear with the advent of new technology. Today we have the young workers trying to find jobs in our new economy who are discovering they are woefully lacking in the skills needed for today’s work world. Alvin Tofler, author of “Power Shift”, warned us that this would happen. Whenever, I told my clients that the future would require workers who would need more than a high school education, be willing to learn new skills all through their work life, and count on having several careers, I would be met with disbelief and laughter. They looked at me as some kind of Pollyanna who was not to be taken seriously. Thirty years have passed, and we are still figuring out how to deal with the fast pace of our technology. We haven’t planned for the future and are now scrambling to get people trained to do the jobs which are now here and will be coming. Just think about the jobs which will be required to deal with climate change!

But now back to the present. Every day the media is talking about the changes we must make in practically every facet of our life. Sometimes it seems we must change just about everything, and we must do it now.  This is frightening news for most people because it’s so overwhelming. However, there is a growing movement of young people who are products of the computer age and good parenting who will be the movers and shakers we’ll need. I meet some of them in my travels. They are the ‘digital nomads’ who don’t call any one place as home but travel this earth using their computers to conduct whatever business they are interested in. They teach English, they write, they sell, they do volunteer work, or they set up their own business. They are totally independent and know they’ll never work for some large company for any length of time. They are constantly learning, they’re creative, and they are open to helping this planet in any way they can. They are the hope for our future because they are resilient, and they aren’t afraid to take the challenge that comes with uncertainty and change. They have a totally different mind-set from our workers of the 90’s.

For those of us who are older and don’t have such an adventurous spirit as our ‘digital nomads’, what can we do to prepare ourselves for the changes which are so inevitably coming?  How do we prepare ourselves, our children, and grandchildren? How do we even get them to listen and get involved in being part of the solution for dealing with the changes we must make rather than be part of the problem? My work with the displaced workers of the ’90’s taught me that change imposed on us by outside forces can be devastating if we aren’t prepared. The best way we can prepare for external change is by changing ourselves. Then we can help others. This is the part that will take work and daring because we will be forced to take a long hard look at the truth about ourselves and the state of the world. This is the starting point. From there we can use our skills and knowledge to help our ailing world. What other choice do we have?

 

A Tribute to Leonard Cohen

My all time favourite poet, singer and song writer died last week.

Hard on the heels of  the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States came the announcement of Leonard Cohen’s death. Two shocking bits of news all in one day! Granted Trump’s win was of more interest because of its potentially devastating impact on the world, whereas Cohen’s death will be primarily missed because he leaves behind a legacy of love and humility. Such a contrast… yet two momentous events so close together.

There may be some who would not agree that Cohen’s main legacy would be about love if they were the ones who saw only the darker side of his lyrics. Yes, dark and depressive he could be, but there was always some light lurking around the corner. Nonetheless, I was both amazed and heartened by the reaction of his fans who came from not just Canada and the US where he made his home(s) but from the Western world in general. He was a musical icon to many and Canadians should be proud of him.

I know I’m not alone in confessing that Cohen somehow captured my heart from the day I first became aware of him in the late ’60’s. For it was then he began his journey to becoming Canada’s greatest poet, song writer and singer upon the release of “So Long Marianne” and “Suzanne”. Who could ever forget the description of his love relationship with a girl named Suzanne when he says:

“Suzanne takes your hand and leads you to the water where she will feed you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.”

No other song writers at that time could come near to expressing so clearly and reverently such a personal experience as this…Bob Dylan didn’t even come close!

I adored Cohen back then and still do today.  My adoration has grown stronger because he speaks to me on all levels: spiritual, intellectual and physical. Perhaps this is one of the reasons he appealed so strongly to so many women…and men. The love he wrote and sang about was not just about sex (as many Canadians claimed when they first heard him) but very much on an intellectual and spiritual level.

I am not ashamed to confess that some of his songs, such as “Hallelujah” and “Dance Me to the End of Love” have made me weep. I know I’m not alone in this. To evoke such emotion in people was his gift to us. When I reflect on this man and his ability to speak to so many, my greatest regret was not making the effort to see him when he came to Halifax in 2009 on his final world tour at the age of 77. I have heard and seen what I missed umpteen times by witnessing his London performance on U-Tube… and every time I am deeply stirred by his passion. For a man who had such difficulty facing his fans when he was younger and actually walked off stage a few times, he certainly surprised us all on that tour. He put his whole heart and soul into this performance engraving it in our memories forever.

When I heard about his latest recording “You Want It Darker” I knew I had to buy it. I was fortunate to get it just before he died. After listening to it a few times and reading the blurb he wrote on the cover, it was obvious he was singing… or I should say speaking because his voice had gone so low that singing was out of the question…about his approaching death. After all he was 82 and had been suffering health problems while making the recording with his son, Adam. The songs throughout the recording seem to speak of his readiness to “leave the table” with no regrets and to meet ‘his’ lord. As you probably know, Cohen was born into the Jewish faith, became a Buddhist monk after ten years of intensive study, and made numerous references to the Christian religion throughout his song writing. Here is a poignant verse from “You Want It Darker”:

Magnified and sanctified

Be Thy Holy Name

Vilified and crucified

In the human frame

A million candles burning

For the help that never came

You want it darker

We kill the flame.

This is true Cohen. The words here can be interpreted on many different levels but one thing is clear: he expresses feelings that we all can relate to… a yearning for peace and love, suffering and hate, regret and approaching death. Dark and often depressing it might be but don’t ignore his references to the light:  “a million candles burning” and “We kill the flame”. Moreover, there is no mistaking his honesty, humility, and ever-present passion in this CD. Here his true personality shines forth and for this we loved him.  He truly touched our very souls and will be greatly missed.

 

Cover of "You Want It Darker" album.

The cover of his last album “You Want It Darker”.

"Popular Problems" his previous album.

“Popular Problems” his previous album.

The Best of Leonard Cohen - a collection of his early recordings.

The Best of Leonard Cohen – a collection of his early recordings.

What is your favourite Cohen song?

 

 

“The People Have Spoken” – A Canadian’s View of the American 2016 Election

“The People Have Spoken” – A Canadian’s View of the American 2016 Election

For what it’s worth, I’m attempting to put down my thoughts on what happened on November 8th in the US. For like all you Americans, we here in Canada are still reeling and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Yes, I know some of you are probably wondering why I am writing about this because I should be writing about my travels as this is what my blog is all about. Well, truth be told, I haven’t been doing much travelling lately…that won’t begin until the latter part of December… so there hasn’t been much to write about in that department. Then you may ask, why should I be so concerned about what is happening in American politics? Firstly, like most Canadians I care about what happens to our neighbour to the south. Whatever happens there will undoubtedly affect us here. Secondly, I have American friends and blog readers from the US, and I know how disappointed and afraid they must be feeling right now.

Trump’s victory has certainly stirred me up as I expect it has for most of us up here in Canada and the rest of the world. This man may not know much about how the world of politics works… or the world for that matter…and, yes, he has shown a shocking narrow-mindedness and said some scary things, but he certainly has an uncanny genius for attracting publicity. Did he make all his nasty remarks about women and minorities and promises about cancelling the Paris Accord, re-writing NAFTA, etc. just for the publicity so he could get elected? Was he intelligent enough to think of such a ploy that he knew would grab America’s attention? Let’s hope so because this could be your only hope.

Now for a few more thoughts which have grabbed my mind regarding this historic election….

The reasons for Trump’s win and the aftermath for the for the next four years has to be looked at a strong ‘wake up call’ for all Americans…. and other countries, too. We are well aware that corporate greed, racial discrimination, selfishness, crime, climate change disasters, and lack of employment are all contributing to the feeling of helplessness that many people around the world are feeling. The gap between the rich and poor appears to be getting wider. For this reason it’s not been a huge surprise to me that he won since he seems to have struck a chord for those people who are feeling disenfranchised. They fear that what made America a great country is rapidly fading away.

I can certainly understand the sadness and despair that many Americans must be feeling, but I can’t help but think that there is a lesson to be learned here. The fact that he won is proof that the average American is not happy with the present status quo and wants change. They want to go back to the way it was, but you and I know that isn’t possible. You have to go forward, not backward. You need some real leadership to do this and it’s preposterous to think that Trump can do it. However, if he isn’t the answer, then maybe he is the catalyst to the much-needed change the people want?

This leads me  to Hillary’s brilliant concession speech. To assuage the people’s despair, she carefully crafted it to give Americans some hope. In spite of her painful defeat, she was able to graciously offer her help and promise to work with and not against Trump. Did I hear this or was I imagining it? And that was not all ….. she then made a plea for all Americans to do the same. She is such a fighter for the people as we all know, so my bet is that if anyone can have an effect on this loose cannon president, it will be Hillary’ speech.

Furthermore, I don’t think you should give up on “the Donald”… not yet anyway. He is a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality but if he wants to really help the little guy and if he wants to gain the respect of those Republicans he has to work with and the people who are counting on him, then maybe he will choose his words more carefully and change his behavior. Perhaps he will take Hillary’s parting words seriously out of the admiration he claims to have for her? You can only hope…

After listening to Hillary’s concession speech on You Tube, I quickly tuned into Trump’s and couldn’t help notice how different the two atmospheres were. Where the feeling at Hillary’s was filled with love and adoration, the one at the Donald’s was stilted and uncomfortable with little to no emotion. How peculiar! Wouldn’t you expect there to be some joy after his win? Instead, there was just fear. Perhaps he and those around him really are afraid of what he has got himself into, and if so, then could this not be a good thing? Maybe he will start to listen now that he realizes he doesn’t have the answers and will accept help from those who have more experience? You can only hope…

One thing which we probably can all agree on is that this man has a lot of growing up to do. If all those who will be working with him realize this and treat him with some respect and an “open mind” (Hillary’s words) then just maybe he could turn out to be a decent president. He loves attention so if those he works with can come together to help him instead of quarrelling amongst themselves, then they could leave him to keep on doing what he does best which seems to be connecting to the little guys and getting the media’s attention.

Such an idealistic picture, you say, and from a naive Canadian. Perhaps… but I believe you must try to see the positive by visualizing a positive rather than a negative outcome by remembering Hillary’s words to not give up the fight: “Fight for what is right” she said to all the young women of America. It is right is to honour what the majority of people voted for, get over your disappointment, pull together, and go forward bravely to show the rest of the world that all isn’t coming to an end and truth and reason will prevail. I would guess that all of this and more is said in your Declaration of Independence as drawn up by the Founders of your great country. Perhaps more attention could be paid to this by everyone who loves their country and wants it to continue as a respected world leader.

And finally, please remember that as your northern neighbour we are here to help if you want it. Our Prime Minister has already stated he will work closely with your new President. For those who won’t be able to take the heat and uncertainty that is bound to come in the next four years, you can always escape to Canada… if you have the patience to deal with the red tape of becoming a Canadian citizen. Somehow, I don’t think many will do it. Instead you will stay and tough it out because right now your country needs you more than ever.img_0412

An Afternoon Walk in Victoria Beach

An Afternoon Walk in Victoria Beach

Beneficial exercise is a common problem many of us are finding difficult to work into our daily living schedules. If this is so difficult then how about some form of meditation? I know few people in my life who are managing that one, including me. Walking is certainly more popular. By the way, did you know that walking can be a form of meditation? We seem to be aware of what we need to do for a healthy lifestyle, but actually doing it is another matter.

Walking has always been at the top of my list of pleasurable activities, with gentle yoga coming in second. However, I have not managed a passing grade on meditation.  Sadly, walking has not been high up on my ‘to do’ list this summer. Far too much of my time has been eaten up by those dratted weeds which I wrote about in my last post and, of course, the maintenance of our lawn, flower beds, and vegetable garden.

However about two weeks ago, after our lawn had just been mowed by Joe and our property was finally looking neat and tidy….my vegetables were growing leaps and bounds and the flowers were at their peak after some much-needed rain…. I suddenly developed an overwhelming urge to grab my camera and head out for a walk. I felt the water calling me so knew I had to head downhill towards our beach, known as Indian Beach.

Looking good.

Looking good, at last.

Black-eyed Susans in one of my flower beds.

Black-eyed Susans and Galardia in one of my flower beds.

Veggie garden.

Veggie garden.

Yes, we can claim we have a beach… of sorts. It’s rocky and the water is cold since it’s all part and parcel of the Bay of Fundy, but still a great place for exploring and hunting for coloured glass and driftwood. You might wonder, as I did, why our beach is so-called. Why not Victoria Beach our village name? A little delving into the history here reveals that the first inhabitants of Victoria Beach were the Mi’Kmaw so the name came from them. Then in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s immigrants from Ireland and England moved in to mainly fish for a living, so eventually the community was called Victoria Beach after Queen Victoria. I am not sure why the locals still refer to the beach as Indian Beach, whether it’s out of habit or to honour the fact the Mi’Kmaw who were here long before us.

Our Indian Beach

Our Indian Beach

Now back to my walk. The rain, which finally came the night before, had revived every living thing…especially my garden! As I started down the hill, it dawned on me that I had unfolding before me the perfect fodder for a much over-due post for my blog.

What made this walk truly memorable was to witness the battle the sun seemed to be having with the blanket of fog that hung around the surface of the water. Click, click went my camera trying to take in all that my eyes were seeing. It was magical! Not only did I have the antics of the fog and sun in their game of ‘hide and seek, to my right, but also the profusion of flowers and shrubbery to my left, vying for my attention.

Sun vs Fog

Sun vs. Fog

A profusion of flowers along the road.

A profusion of flowers along the road.

Victoria Beach is said to have a microclimate* which simply means that almost any native or non-native plant to Nova Scotia grows here. This includes wild flowers and perennials. The perennials were planted by homesteaders who once had houses here… both of them are now long gone. Isn’t it amazing that these flowers have outlived them! Of course, we also have to contend with those flowers and plants that aren’t natives and have invaded us, such as the dreaded Japanese knot weed that I wrote about in Insects a“My Battle With Weeds, and Other Garden Pests,” my last post. You can click on the title to read it.

That dreaded knotweed - again!

That dreaded knotweed – again!

On my walk, I discovered morning glories, red clover, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, purple vetch, and wild rose representing the wild flower group. There were others which I cannot give a name to. For the perennials, pretty pink rose bushes interspersed with saucy, orange day lilies lined the banks which were abandoned by the inhabitants that planted them, who knows when? The laden down branches of the blackberry bushes I observed indicated a bountiful year for them provided that we continue to receive more rain. As I write this, there has been none for almost two weeks so everything is beginning to turn brown….again!

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

This could be phlox - a perennial?

This could be phlox – a perennial?

Red or should I say purple clover.

Red or should I say purple clover.

Could this be a Tea Rose? Definitely a perennial growing wild where once there was a house.

Could this be a Tea Rose? Definitely a perennial growing wild where once there was a house.

This is the way it’s been here this summer. June was one of our driest in 70 years. A little rain here and there but not nearly enough. We are now into August with no rain forecast for this week. Such a grim weather outlook gives me even more reason to be grateful for listening to the little voice inside me that whispered, “Go down to the water.” Nature was calling me, and I am grateful she did. It’s amazing what she can provide for our eyes to see if we just keep them open.

On a more sombre note, I can’t help but wonder how much longer we will be able to enjoy all Mother Nature has given us in the past. We are becoming (even here in Victoria Beach) more and more aware of how stressed she is right now. Is it not up to us to at least take note of this and begin to see her in a different light…to live respectfully with her rather than to conquer her? How can we do this, is the question? Something to think about….

*Microclimate – usually a small area within a larger territory exhibiting a different climate.

For example, in Victoria Beach this phenomenon is most noticeable in the autumn when we will often escape the first frost while Annapolis Royal does not. Or in summer, our temperatures on a hot day are usually 10 degrees cooler than in town. Since VB is located at the tip of a narrow peninsula jutting into the Bay of Fundy, we are more moderated by the water.

Our road going downhill to the beach.

Our road going downhill to the beach.

My Battle With Weeds, Insects, and Other Garden Pests

The garden about a month ago.

My garden about a month ago.

“Strange looking weeds and insects have been cropping up in my garden this year. It’s a battle to keep on top of them, let alone to get anything to grow.”

These words recently spoken by a fellow gardener instantly resonated with me since I have also been noticing and wondering just why its become more difficult  to get good results from my vegetable garden.

Ten years ago, shortly after moving to Victoria Beach, I attempted to grow vegetables in its very rocky soil. I had gardened successfully for the first time in Moncton, NB in the ’70’s so looked forward to growing my own veggies once again. Despite the rocks and soil, I was happy with my harvest up until about three years ago. Since then I have found it increasingly more difficult to get the same results. In spite of rotating my crops, filtering out never-ending buckets of rocks, and using copious amounts of compost and manure to improve the soil, my yield is getting worse. My production is falling while my cost and effort are increasing. I can’t help but wonder what is happening?

Small garden with onion, lettuce, beets, and spinach.

Small garden with onion, lettuce, beets, and spinach.

Perhaps I could use better quality organic seeds instead of the usual ones I usually pick up at the local grocery store, or try a different fertilizer….I always use sheep’s manure and compost from my compost pile. These changes are within my control, but the ones which aren’t are the ones that are causing me the most problems … weeds, insects, and other critters who love gardens as much as I do. These I can’t control, but I can learn to deal with them… I hope.

Like my quoted friend, I have been waging a seemingly endless battle with the weeds overtaking my garden. I can pull them out one day only to have most of them appear the next. It’s frustrating for not only have they taken over the garden, but the driveway and the lawn. Next they will be in the house! I know I am getting carried away here but seriously, this could possibly happen. Have you ever heard of the Japanese Knotweed?  Last year I was listening to the CBC’s, The Current, when I learned some very scary things about this extremely invasive weed.

Let me give you a little bit of history on this so-called “King of the Invasives”. It’s also been called “The Terrorist of the Weed World” and “Godzilla”. Does this give you an idea of what I am writing about here? But again I digress. It has its origin in Japan and was introduced as far back as the mid 1800’s to Europe and North America as a plant for decoration and to prevent erosion. It has a thick bamboo like stem with heart – shaped leaves and a creamy white flower which blooms in the early autumn. It is really quite pretty, and it’s easy to see why it was chosen as a nice ornamental… but only in Japan, please!

A closer look at Godzilla.

A close up of  Godzilla. Note the bamboo like stem and heart-shaped leaves.

In any other part of the world, other than Japan, Korea or China, it’s presence has been a nightmare. Australia has deemed it illegal, and in England it has managed to reduce the value of many home owners’ properties. Because of its strength and tenacity, it can wreck roads, parking lots, bridges, and buildings. Yes, in England some home owners have had it grow right through their floors! The World Conservation Union has named it the world’s worst invasive. It can grow up to 7 meters with a root spread of up to 10 m from the parent root, which can go to 3 m deep. It can create havoc with whatever environment it chooses to live in if it’s not brought under control.

Ken MacQueen wrote this about it in the June 2015 edition of MacLean’s magazine:

“Japanese Knotweed is in nearly all of our provinces, and the threat is real: it can lower house prices, threaten our bridges, and drive men to madness.”

One can’t help but sit up and take notice of this particular weed problem… especially me. Why? Because we have it growing right here in Victoria Beach along our road and, unfortunately, in some yards where there is moisture. Our yard happens to be one of them! We have had it for several years but never really took it seriously until last year. Now we are taking it very seriously… even Hubby.

The Japanese Knotweed or "Godzilla" along side our road.

Godzilla growing right along side of our road.

Last fall before the snow started to fly, he threw bags of salt on “Godzilla’s” little forest at the foot of our driveway. The salt helped to stunt its growth but didn’t get rid of it. The more people we ask about how to deal with it, the more we learn about how difficult our battle is going to be. This year out of desperation, we tried using Roundup. However, I hesitate to get carried away with this as it’s not good for the surrounding environment or for ourselves.

A third method recommended by a knowledgeable neighbour who had it growing in her yard awhile back is to smother the darn things with a huge tarp or old carpet using something heavy with no seams as the roots will find any crevice and push their way through. This will be our next step.

Our neighbour verified all the information I’ve read about how to treat this weed, and what I learned is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of! The most important thing is to persist with the treatment of cutting back, using salt or Roundup, and smothering it for as long as it takes which could be years. No wonder some people have gone mad! I am now resigned to getting serious for an all out war with “Godzilla” and not give up until the battle is won.

Godzilla creeping into our lilac trees - before cutting back.

Godzilla creeping into our lilac trees – before cutting back.

It's cut but now how to dispose of it is the problem?

It’s cut but now how to dispose of it is the problem?

I sometimes wonder if I’m not becoming too obsessed with this weed and the many others that have cropped up this spring. However, I think not and am glad of the research I’ve done. I realise that if we here in VB and other parts of Nova Scotia don’t do something about “Godzilla” we could end up having the troubles that England has been having. What if our government deems it illegal should it get out of control? That is true of Australia. What if it causes much friction between neighbours who won’t do anything about it and let it spread to their neighbour’s property? This has happened in England. What if the value of our homes plummets if our yards are full of this obnoxious weed? This, too, has happened in England. I think we do have to look at this problem more seriously to prevent it from ever happening in our own communities.

Another invasive (the wild rose) which can get easily out of control if not cut back - constantly.

Another invasive (the wild rose) which can get easily out of control if not cut back – constantly.

Without a doubt, I see the proliferation of weeds as my biggest headache with insects coming in as a strong second. During spring and early summer when I am trying to get the garden ready for planting and the yard cleaned up from the havoc of winter, I don’t dare go out to do the work required without first dressing for the part, or at least attempt to. Lots of bug repellent, legs and arms covered, socks tucked into pant legs to keep the ticks out, and a bug net for my head, complete my necessary attire for surviving the invasion of insects which seems to get worse every year. If I don’t take the time to dress for battle, I have to pay the consequences. Tick bites, if you don’t catch the little critters before they latch onto you, can leave a nasty welt, and if it’s a deer tick then watch out for one bite from one of these can get you for life if you aren’t careful. Thankfully, I and no one else here has ever seen any of the latter, but wood ticks are here… in droves! Then there are the black flies which are always waiting for me especially in the spring and early summer. Hornets, wasps and other winged creatures I no can longer put a name to seem to appear out of nowhere the minute I step into my vegetable garden to hoe, dig, seed, or weed.

This purslane weed is taking over my garden. It is edible and quite delicious.

This purslane weed is taking over my garden. It is edible and quite delicious.

Those plants that do take seed and pop up are then sitting ducks for every insect around so must be protected with various kinds of repellents which aren’t harmful to the environment. I have found many helpful suggestions on the Internet using such things as liquid soaps, beer, cayenne and a myriad of other concoctions. It takes time and lots of effort to do this, but at least it’s healthy and will help keep the insects at bay. My lettuce is looking very holely right now, but it still tastes good. In fact, a fellow gardener told me just yesterday that the aphid responsible for leaving the holes also leaves additional antioxidants for us.

Finally, we have many little critters such as chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, rabbits, moles and deer …not so little…. which also can also be classified as nuisance factors when trying to grow things here in VB. It seems to vary from year to year. In Victoria Beach it started with the deer, but in the last several years skunks and rabbits have been joining the parade of pests. I quickly realised that a fence would be needed and since erecting the first one, I have been upgrading it ever since to make it harder for the critters to get in there for that lovely green lettuce. This year we are all noticing that our chipmunk population has exploded. So far they haven’t eaten any of my new growth, but they are leaving their calling cards… little holes in the flower and herb pots and dirt every where. Furthermore, there is something leaving much larger holes in the lawn. So far we can’t determine what or who is doing that …. skunks looking for grubs or even moles building their underground tunnels. Who knows?

Some of the many holes in my lawn.

Some of the many holes in my lawn.

Growing anything here is becoming more of a challenge every year. I have more weeds to pull, more insects to deal with, and more small critters to outwit. There is no doubt in my mind, that the changes in climate are the root cause of this, thus, creating even more challenges in the future. The question I ask myself is whether I am up to this? Perhaps I will be forced to rely on our local markets for our fresh summer veggies? However, if I am forced to give up this hobby, I know one thing: I will miss sitting down to the dinner table to eat the healthy and oh so tasty vegetables on my plate that I had the satisfaction of growing. For now this is a good enough reason for continuing my battle.

My garden as it is today. Hard to tell the vegetables from the weeds.

My garden as it is today. Can you find the plants amongst the weeds?