MEET YOUR NEIGHBOUR: Sandra Phinney retains discovering pleasure in ‘our personal yard’ | Native-Existence | Existence
YARMOUTH, NS –
Sandra Phinney was around a couple of times. She taught school, was a social worker, cut fish, ran a government agency, and ran a farm.
Twenty years ago she reinvented herself as a writer, and at 75 (76 on Nov. 9), she is still working full time trying to figure things out. In addition to writing hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, Phinney has authored four books, including Waking Up In My Own Backyard – Explorations of Southwest Nova Scotia. Although the book was published two years ago, it is about the joys of traveling in our own backyards, which seems more topical than ever.
Besides writing, Phinney loves teaching. She gives workshops on narrative writing, travel writing and memoirs. She is also thrilled and honored to have been selected as Artist In Residence at Joggins Fossil Cliffs for six weeks in 2021. This means that she will work on special writing projects related to nature and the environment in Joggins, as well as giving workshops and workshops and running community outreach programs.
In her free time, she takes photos and paddles in the wild.
We invited Phinney to answer a few questions about herself as part of our weekly Southwest Wire Meet Your Neighbor feature.
Q: What community do you live in today?
A: Canaan, Yarmouth County
Q: What is your favorite place in the world and why?
A: It happens to be where I live in Canaan. We are in the middle of the forest on the Tusket River. The beauty and serenity is immeasurable. We don’t have a TV, so the view outside offers a lot of entertainment and is never the same for two days in a row. It’s a place where I can also indulge my passion for canoeing.
Q: What would surprise people if they found out about you?
A: I know I come across an extroverted, very confident person. It’s a mask. I am an introvert. Sometimes my confidence swirls on the floor of the toilet. I’d rather be alone in the forest than in public. It is also very tedious to face a blank page and write a story. Scares me.
Q: They promote backyard travel. Why is it important for people to explore their own surroundings?
A: We often think that the “exotic” is in places far away. I’ve found that there is a lot of “exotic” under our noses when we take the time to explore. We don’t have to travel far to find new and exciting things and meet interesting people. It also has to do with my belief in the importance of supporting all things local.
Q: What are some of your favorite spots in your “back yard”?
A: So many! Le Petit Bois (an outdoor maze) behind the church at Church Point. Birchdale (an old hunting / fishing lodge behind North Kemptville). Tusket Islands (there’s a cute Air BNB on Big Tusket). Bartlett’s Beach in Port Maitland (rarely anyone there). The hiking trails next to the wind farm in Pubnico (nice view of the coast). Mountain View Cemetery (The Tales of the Dead).
Q: Can you describe an experience that influenced your life?
A: After Donna Cain and I sold Music Village (a music store in Yarmouth) in 1981, I took an evening school class on home gardening. One night there were slides from raspberry fields. The next day I ordered 2,000 sticks and told my husband Barrie that I was going to be a farmer. I had no idea what pH was or how to operate a tractor. Eventually we had a big raspberry u-pick and over time added eight acres of vegetables that we sold to local shops and restaurants, and Barrie started at the Farmers’ Market in Yarmouth. I learned a lot about myself. I also learned to respect the country and know where our food comes from. Although I’ve had many careers, what I appreciate most is being a farmer.
Q: What is your favorite movie and / or book?
A: I enjoyed the Searching For Sugarman film / document so much that I ordered a copy and watched it multiple times. It’s about a 1970s musician named Rodrigues who lives in Detroit and has recorded two albums. Although they flop in the US, it becomes a huge hit in South Africa. However, Rodrigues doesn’t know about it until years later two fans find out what happened and why. It’s both a heartbreaking and a heartwarming story.
Q: What three people would you join for your dream dinner party?
A: singer Rodrigez (mentioned above); Poet Alden Nowlan; and environmentalist Richard St. Barbe Baker.
Q: What is your most valuable possession?
A: It is a small pine branch that is approximately 1 inch by 8 inches. It usually sits on my desk or is carried in my computer backpack when I’m on the go. It has the most unusual traces of pine beetles – a work of art. The beetles are called “engravers” and they create “galleries”. I am obsessed with finding these and have several branches of different sizes. For me, they represent the hidden gems of life that can be found not only in nature, but also in friendships, memories, history, culture, traditions – as you call them. These pieces of beetle art remind me of what the poet Mary Oliver calls the “heavenly invisible ones found in the heavenly visible ones”. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it!
Q: What is one of the happiest moments of your life?
A: For our 40th wedding anniversary, Barrie and I and nine other couples renewed our vows at White Point Lodge two years ago. It was a great time. I even got a wedding ring (for the first time). A special dance was arranged for the group later that night, and at one point the DJ played the song ‘If’ Barrie’s brother sang at our wedding in 1978. Dancing to this song 40 years later was pure bliss.
Q: Can you name something on your bucket list that you hope you will one day?
A: Attend a concert by the tenors.
Q: What’s your best quality and what’s your worst?
A: I think I have a big heart and a hugging nature. Worst quality? I’m not sure I want to try this out in public. But one of my mistakes is procrastination. Instead of starting a story, sending bills or cleaning my office, I have been known to make jam, clean closets, even iron (which I detest).
Q: What do you like most about life in this part of the province?
A: I love the rural aspect of living here. I think people go about their own business (mostly) but if you need help people come from the woodworks. I love the fact that we have rivers, lakes and the sea on our doorstep, along with wooded areas. I am also always in awe of volunteers who work tirelessly behind the scenes of all kinds of community endeavors, offering programs, services, and activities that keep our villages and towns going.
Q: How do you like to relax?
A: Paddling. Whenever I can put my bum in a canoe, I instantly relax. Lonely walks in the forest also work for me.