My guest today is Dick Lemon, organizer of the "Not Since Moses" Race that takes place every summer in Nova Scotia. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dick. Your event is extraordinary but I don't want the readers to just take my word for it. Can you tell us about it, please?
Dick at NY Marathon; photo credit: Marathon Photos
On Canada's east shore, between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is the Bay of Fundy, a hold of water pushing up from the Atlantic with nowhere to go. So, the tides rise and fall in extremes, up to 50 feet twice a day, disappearing completely most the day, under the sea. I felt transported to another world, or more than that, to something beyond worlds as we know it.
It made no sense that only I, owning an island giving me access to running on the sea's bottom, could do this. More than that, I how can I own an island? How can anyone own land of special beauty? I don't mean legally or politically. I mean really: I didn't create it, I can't move it elsewhere at my whim, I can only change it to its [detriment]. Am I a god, a property god as some people feel when they say it is my property and the government has no right to impair my rights? I own the home and other "improvements" I built on it. I created those. But I had nothing to do with creating the island.
Runners are a community. So my thought while first running the sea was that I must share this with other runners. We run in a pack. And fortunately I had the experience of organizing a big run, in the Napa Valley, for the schools. So organizing a benefit run for local schools didn't scare me as it should have. Turns out organizing and managing a big run on an ocean bottom is more difficult than most events.
I bought, oddly, an island in the midst of that. Being a runner, I ran from my island at low tide on the bottom of the ocean around spires like the US Southwest's, say, Sedona or Zion.
But it's worked. 180 runners the first year, 320 the next, 720 the third, 1180 last year. The descriptions, even accounting for Nova Scotian kindness and generosity, are extraordinary: life-changing, family-changing, new view of the world, new view of Nova Scotia.
Wow! So, hundreds of runners converge for a few days in your neck of the woods and what happens? What have you set up for them?
The event is on one day and most participants drive here for the day. There are so few lodgings in this quiet part of Nova Scotia that they fill long before the run. At the event, besides the 5k and 10k runs, we have local music, food afterwards, a poetry contest, a children's mud run and a beautiful setting looking out at the Five Islands which are surrounded by water most of the time.
Ocean floor - tide's out!
Some of the monies raised from the run go to something called Skill School. Can you tell us about that?
We humans, most of us, discount what we know. We imagine that there are people with real knowledge or skills to teach - those Others, the ones with apparent power because of their acknowledged expertise or their dominant ways. In fact, most of us have something we do, what we love mainly, which we can teach others about. Our love of it has brought a quiet expertise and that love also becomes a teaching force, something we want others to love as we do.
The Skill School is a virtual place in a geographic community where anyone can teach anything to anybody, anywhere, any time, so long as it is free of cost. Carpenters teach how to build a picnic table, and there is guitar repair, bicycle maintenance, oyster shucking, knitting, singing in the shower, story telling, eyebrow maintenance...
This is an idea I cobbed from a brilliant young woman in California who started a FreeSkol which does this type of school. In her rural area north of San Francisco (Point Reyes), with very few folk, she attracted 60 classes the first year.
Here in rural Nova Scotia, we are blessed with long-learned skills: chair caning, wood working, clam digging, story telling, fiddling, fishing, which unless renewed by teaching won't pass on. This school in rural Nova Scotia has special importance, not only being enjoyable for its learning and teaching but being a preserve of historic ways.
The students get obvious benefits. But I expect the teachers will benefit more. Teaching elevates, it causes deeper learning by the teacher. It places the teacher in the right role of being an honored person, here, in an area which passed from prosperous logging and shipping, with young people active, to an area filtered with the losses of those. To open long-time residents into the power which teaching feeds - pretty good stuff.
Agreed. Sounds great! Can we talk about the challenges of building on your island?
The island, when I bought it was inaccessible, hence cheap. A rope hung from the cliff and access was up the draw between cliffs, pulling by the rope. Not too many buyers showed up. I did because I ran a chamber music series in the Napa Valley of California and came to know that great, superb, musicians really didn't feel comfortable with writers or graphic artists so since 30 years or so ago, I had a dream of putting artists of different fields together on an island where they couldn't get off. To see what happened to them. An alchemy.
I was in Nova Scotia and found on a bulletin board of a realtor an island for sale: tall, beautiful, flat cheap. So I bought it, right there, without seeing it in person. This was destined.
When I first drove to see the island, coming over the top of Economy Mountain and down into Five Islands, I saw the islands and didn't know which one I had bought. I guessed then, it was the little one on the end. That turns out to a bird dumping place, of little use to humans. TRe one I bought was spectacular and so I didn't think it was mine. But it was. And is.
But from there, to build a home and sleeping places, up 200 feet from the shore, steep, was nearly impossible to imagine. Yet I got lucky, finding myself in a community of a few hundred people who wanted this to work. And they did. About 20 locals worked to create living places on the island, at first hanging from the cliffs to pound in support for the 194 steps they created up the cliff from the water, then the buildings with concrete and wood and steel. A miracle really, done little by little by this man and that, each sleeping on the island between work because they couldn't commute to work with the tides high and low and changing. They had a tent and camping gear and planted themselves next to the work they were creating.
They still are proud. Nearly the moon they were working on.
photo credit: Nova Scotia Tourism Council
An amazing story, Dick. Is the retreat in operation all year round? Only specific weekends? How many guests can be there at a time?
The retreat opens in April or May, depending on the weather, and closes in September or October. There are six bedrooms with queen size beds, full bedrooms. Of these, three are in the main house with two bathrooms and full kitchen and living room. The other three bedrooms are single cottages spread around the island, one an imitation of a lighthouse, one a river boat gambler and one a lover cottage set on the high western point of the island. All linens are provided. Internet and TV work fine.
Do the same artists/writers/musicians come back year after year? Have they forged cross-discipline friendships with one another? As you can see, I'm full of questions!
A couple of regular users, Argyle Gallery in Halifax and Mount Alison University in Sackville, New Brunswick have used the island well but I have been surprised by how difficult it is to convince good arts-oriented organizations to use a beautiful, free island. Typically, executive directors of non-profit organizations see it as too much work for themselves to set up and plan the stay. So, I am now looking to turn the island more into high-end tourism, groups such as families and boards of directors taking the whole island for a week or so.
The race is coming up in a few days and you're plenty busy with it. It doesn't seem fair to bother you with more questions right now (although I do have some, naturally). Good luck, Dick. And thanks so much for taking time out to talk with me. It's been fun.
After this piece went to press, Dick sent me the postmortem:
It is done.
Each year the highlight for me is holding a megaphone on the beach, a storm of runners in front of me, all either nervous or laughing or both, and me yelling out the old fashioned countdown 10 to 1, and then watching them run away, across sand and mud along the cliffs, a thread of life, together but each a one.
This was the most complicated run yet. Two start lines, separated by a mountain, which of course I called Sinai; fresh hot food; 2000 bottles of water delivered at dawn by boat and dropped to the ocean floor where the runners can pick them up; helicopter with press; band and bagpiper; poetry, of course.
The volunteers were great of course, all Nova Scotian, so what do you expect? But they got tired and left early, including the cleanup crew. So at two in the afternoon, after being up since the morning the day before, doing volunteer jobs that didn't get done like inputting entries from that day's signups, the last volunteer was driving out and rolled down the window and said, "Hey, there's lots of trash on the beach and up at the headquarters, might want to clean that up."
So, one guy, the guy in charge, gets the cleanup job. Three hours it took, I nearly cried once in a while during that. Food, paper plates, beer bottles etc, over an acre site of our headquarters and on the beach.
I decided then never again. I meant never would I produce this event again. But that moved with a night's sleep to never will I produce this event without qualified volunteers taking charge of each aspect: publicity, medical, operations, registration, entertainment, food, course support, sponsors, etc.
But I just got a mail from the owner of our start/finish/headquarters site suggesting he might not be able to host us next year, developing it for time shares.
So, like Moses, this run may be history.
Thank you to Larry Lauer for suggesting this interview.