On a chilly, damp October morning we head out like we have every year since living here to the Annapolis Valley. An hour’s drive from Halifax along the Harvest Highway, you will get you into the heart of the province’s farmland and its story of blossom and yield. At exit 11 we take the turnoff to Wolfville, on the shores of the Minas Basin, the only town in Canada declared a fair trade one. A quaint town, it has found a comfortable and familiar place in our lives. Wolfville reminds me strongly of Grahamstown, a small town situated in the eastern Cape in South Africa.
Perhaps it’s the fact that they are both university towns – Wolfville with the presence of Acadia and Grahamstown with Rhodes University. Both places have their culture and history strongly tied to the universities. Towns filled with students have an air of youthful optimism about them. My favorite author, Andre Brink, once lived in Grahamstown and lectured at Rhodes University. Brink had a definitive impact on my life as a young white South African trying to make sense of the complicated apartheid society in which I lived. He was the first Afrikaans writer to be banned by the South African government and his novel “Looking on Darkness” made him a traitor in the eyes of the Nationalist government. A friend gave me a copy of his novel “A Dry White Season” when I was about eighteen years old, the cover wrapped in brown paper so that it could not be spotted by the ever-lurking South African secret police. The book marked a turning point in my life and opened my eyes to the country I was living in. In part, giving me the inspiration and courage as a young student to stand up for change.
The painter whose work I loved as an art student, Alex Coleville, lived in Woflville. Once the Chancellor of Acadia University, he was a giant in the world of art. Coleville eschewed big city, celebrity life for relative anonymity in Wolfville.
Creator of some of the most hauntingly beautiful paintings to grace gallery wall’s all over the world, he was tempted by many to leave the small Nova Scotia town, but he once said he was able to “shut things out more easily” in Wolfville.
When I first moved to Halifax, Coleville had an exhibition at the Nova Scotia Art Gallery in which his painting Horse & Train was on exhibit. I knew that the painting was inspired by South African writer Roy Campbell’s poem, Dedication to Mary Campbell - specifically two lines from it…”Against a regiment I oppose a brain, and a dark horse against an armored train.” I remember standing up close to the painting hanging on the gallery wall, tempted to touch it as if to capture something of its magic. As we drive up Main Street Wolfville, passing by what used to be his house, I am reminded of how two great artists discovered something captivating and inspiring about small towns in beautiful places that helped shape their work. Quickly jolted back into reality by my son asking how much longer it will take to get to the apples.
We pass roadside stands displaying squashes of every conceivable kind. Yellow and green spaghetti squash, acorn, sweet dumpling, buttercup, butternut, hubbard, and tiny perfectly formed cream ones. Bright gourds and Indian corn are laid out on display. The route is lined with apple and pear orchards and we are on a mission, geared up in rain boots, down jackets and gloves, to pick apples. Pulling up outside of the U-pick there are a dozen large wooden crates with the names of the apples scribbled on the front of each…Cortland, McIntosh, Jonagold and Honeycrisp. We are given large plastic bags and instructions that Honeycrisp’s are to be picked separately from others because they are more expensive. We spend the afternoon gorging on apples and filling our 10-pound bag. Back in the warmth of the small wooden shack the smell of freshly baked bread, apple pie and warm cider is all too much and we buy one of each. Across the road we choose three different sized pumpkins from the pumpkin patch, all will be carved on Old Hallows Eve.
A short drive across the bridge and over the Bay of Fundy through the little town of Port Williams we pass farmlands with happy cows, I imagine, grazing on bright green fields. We are heading for Foxhill cheese house, a sixth generation family farm. Jalapeno laced Gouda, chive and dill Havarti and 6-month-old Cheddar are lunch, with our apple farm baguette, followed by licorice gelato for dessert.
On the way back home, we stop in at a small rustic antique store. We are on a constant search for vintage cocktail glasses to add to the eclectic collection we have assembled over the years. We end up buying six cut glass vintage tumblers for our apple cider that we'll make from our productive apple picking excursion.
The car on the way home is filled with the sweet scent of apples and baked bread. Of all the days of the year, this racks up as one of my favorite. My son has learned that there is in fact a growing season and that apples taste better picked straight from a tree; that pumpkins grow on the ground in a pumpkin patch; and that happy cows produce the best liquorice gelato. I see why Coleville and Brink, would choose this life.