An Interview with Emily Taylor Smith
Early on a May morning, Emily Taylor Smith straps on a small backpack and leaves the Halifax Common to start her journey along the coastal roads of Nova Scotia. Planning to cover almost a marathon a day, she will walk the perimeter of the entire province in just under three months to raise awareness for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Brigadoon Children’s Camp Society. She billets with locals each night and meets countless Nova Scotians who come out to walk with her, support her project, and tell their stories.
Along the way, fellow walkers share family folklore, tales of buried gold, lost fingers, and detailed instructions on how to catch a beaver by the tail. Struggling with blisters, fatigue, and an encounter with a bear cub, Emily walks on, overwhelmed by the generosity of her hosts in each community and by the stunning coastal views at every turn. Around the Province in 88 Days details Emily’s beautiful and quirky experiences on the road as she develops an intimate connection with the province and its people, unsuspecting of the vast changes the trip will eventually set in motion in her own life.
Why did you choose to write a book about your experience?
The journey was such a rich, exciting experience - a dream fulfilled, really - I wanted to capture and remember as much of it as possible. A few times a day on the road and also before I went to sleep each night, I would pull out my digital voice recorder and relate as much as I could remember into the microphone: recent conversations with people I met, and thoughts I had about what I saw as I walked along.
You didn’t set out to write a book. Rather, this began as a way of raising money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Brigadoon Children’s Camp Society. With that in mind, can you tell me what your writing process was like?
In fact, I did set out to write a book. I actually applied for a grant from the department of Communities, Culture and Heritage before I left, hoping for funding to write about my experience as soon as I finished the hike (the application was not successful). I actually chose to involve the Heart and Stroke Foundation and Brigadoon when I was first planning and mapping out the walk, because I couldn’t imagine how I was going to make this dream of mine happen at all in the beginning. Raising money for a good cause gave my venture a focus and a purpose, and the moral support I received from the organizations was very helpful. Because I let so much time pass between the walk and the writing of the book, I began in 2016 by slowly working my way through the digital voice journals and photographs in order to start the writing process. It was truly a joy to relive and remember all the experiences as I wrote.
Is there any experience or moment that you weren’t able to include in the book, but wish you had been able to?
My first draft was very, very long, simply because I wrote about each of the 88 days I spent on the road and nearly every person I met along the way. One experience I was unable to include in full was the night I spent with a local family in Joggins. Mark and Edna were artists and travellers and they treated me like a daughter. They spent a lot of time encouraging me to move forward with my artistic pursuits. I was so moved by my time with them that part of me wanted to document every detail of the kitchen, every expression, every travel story they told me, and every piece of art they had in that big old house.
Do you have a favourite moment from your journey, one that you particularly want readers to pay attention to in your book?
I will never forget walking into Spencer’s Island and suddenly feeling as if I had entered a magical realm. I don’t know if it is true that the Parrsboro shore has a unique energy which is unmatched in the country, or if I was simply in a very open, emotionally vulnerable place that day. It affected me deeply. The couple I stayed with that night, Laurie and Cindy, were very special people. I tried my best to capture Laurie’s explanation as to why he loves every season in Spencer’s Island. I found his perspective on what it’s like to live there truly magical as well.
You’ve now walked the coastlines of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Are there plans for more provincial walkabouts in the future?
I actually completed what I like to call my “Maritime Triune” in 2016, by walking the coastline of New Brunswick and around the Gaspe peninsula to Quebec City. In many ways it was more strenuous than my Nova Scotia walkabout because I walked eleven hours each day for 60 days and carried all my camping gear on my back. It was a more solitary experience, as I wasn’t billeting with families each night or joining other walkers on the road, but I still met plenty of interesting people and learned a great deal. I have hopes to hike parts of Newfoundland, and try out some of their renowned trails.
Other than your own book, what is one book that you recommend that everyone read?
Since walking Nova Scotia, I have become very interested in spirituality and how our thinking affects our lives; A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle is a life-changing book for me. I am also a huge fan of Anthony Doerr and highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See.