During the holiday season, and throughout the year, the couple celebrates the wonders of wildlife and the natural world around them
Caricature by Colin Cook
Nestled in a hillside, on a 56-acre property in Pomquet, N.S. you can find Bob Bancroft and Alice Reed tucked in for the winter. Or any season. Their home is bermed in a slope of land, caressed by the earth, keeping it safe and energy conscious.
Bancroft wanted to be mindful of his home’s impact on the environment, keep it as energy neutral as possible, and allow the surrounding nature to continue to thrive despite his presence. Thoughtfully designed some 47 years ago, the house accomplishes this feat.
“The house faces south, supported by post and beam, with three sides of 15-foot-high concrete,” says Bancroft. “In cross-section, the concrete is sandwiched (inside and outside) by insulation. This makes those walls 18 to 21 inches thick. The power bill in 2016 was $2/day, using electricity produced by burning fossil fuels and forests. Now all the electrical and heating power needed is produced by solar panels to the west of the house. Wood heat is a backup.”
Surrounded by woods, with a stream running through to a nearby harbour, there is room for humans and non-humans alike. They dug a pond in 2003 and Bancroft continues to plant trees and other vegetation native to the region to secure the berm and attract wildlife. “For example, I planted apple trees many, many years ago throughout the woods, as well as in the orchard,” says Bancroft.
“Bears love apples,” adds Reed.
And sure enough, they were rewarded by seeing a bear and her cub had taken up residence.
“We have enough habitat around, and I’ve helped create that habitat, so everybody can find what they need in the woods,” says Bancroft.
Over the years, he has created a world where the animals feel safe to go about their business despite the human presence. He admits this is something that is getting harder to find these days, due to forest depletion and development.
“It’s a real honour to be ignored,” quips Bancroft, referring to the animals that thrive on his land. “We don’t have a dog or a cat. Nothing is pouncing on the wildlife… and they eventually learn there is no threat and go about their routines.”
It has taken many years to achieve this harmony and there is more to it than the absence of pets. There is awareness and appreciation for wildlife.
Bancroft is a wildlife biologist and advocate for species at risk throughout the region, a regular guest on CBC’s Maritime Noon, and has been a regular contributor to Saltscapes since the magazine’s beginning in 2000. Reed is an accomplished visual artist who spent her career painting landscapes that show her love of nature and encourages others to appreciate the world around them.
Wood, warmth & wildlife
Inside the couple’s home, the walls are adorned with carvings, paintings and taxidermy — all illustrating their connection with the natural world. Modest holiday decorations also speak to this affection.
The warmth of natural wood is everywhere. Sunlight shines through the front window filling the living room with light, allowing many house plants to flourish. The Christmas cactus is blooming right on schedule. There are a few fresh-cut flowers from the greenhouse, which also provides food year-round.
“We don’t have a lot of Christmas traditions, actually,” says Reed. “No hard and fast rules of what happens each year. We usually have a tree from our own property… It’s not lush and trimmed like on a Christmas tree lot, but we enjoy it, and you can see the ornaments.”
A balsam fir — cut from a section of their woods that needed thinning — shows off decorations of owls, rabbits, fox and skunks. They are from sets the couple has collected over the years.
“Some belonged to my great grandparents,” says Bancroft.
“Yes, some are very old,” adds Reed. “About a hundred years old. They’re pretty amazing.”
Reed admits holiday activities can vary, depending on the year and what’s going on, but they do make a point of catching up with people they haven’t spoken to in a while.
“Lots of long phone calls with friends and family,” she says. “One of the things I’ve done over the years is I’ve been saving cards that are my favourites, and they tend to be a wildlife theme. A bird full of trees, for example.”
She puts them out each season ahead of the new arrivals for the year, allowing time to enjoy the old images and to revisit, in thought, the people they’re from.
“It’s a small thing that doesn’t involve consuming,” says Reed.
Strings of these cards hang above the doorways, adding visual appeal and nostalgia during the winter.
They also like to put a few artificial candles in the windows during
“It makes a nice glowy light for the season,” says Reed.
And even though their house is set back from the road and not completely visual by passersby, it adds to a sense of community spirit. Their neighbours put up lights and they want to take part, too.
Views from inside and out
Safely tucked inside, they have seen countless creatures roam their land.
“Because the house is bermed in the side of a hill — with big windows facing south — it’s like you are in an observation blind,” says Bancroft.
A bear has sauntered by as if saying hello, and a bobcat has come to check out the feeder. A few nights in a row one spring they watched as a barred owl came and sat in a tree Bancroft had planted. It was watching the pond, probably to nab a fish, frog or even a muskrat.
The also enjoy walking and snowshoeing when there’s enough snow to see the shift in activities for the colder season. And while wintertime may slow the movement of some animals, it provides the opportunity for “snow stories.” These are indications of wildlife activity marked by the new fallen flakes.
“You can see where owls, for example, have caught mice that were under the snow,” says Bancroft. Their wingspan and talons leave impressions in the snow as they swoop down to grab a rodent. They also see signs of snowshoe hares, porcupines, skunks and coyotes.
Some winters the couple will host forest walks with neighbours or various groups. Both Reed and Bancroft are keen trackers and enjoy sharing the beauty of their wooded land.
“I’ve always been interested in tracks, even when I was a kid,” says Reed. “I was the one with her nose to the ground to see what was ahead and peering around. Tracking is one of the most enjoyable parts of walking in the woods for Bob and I during the winter. It’s fun to share that with people.”
“A lot of [our neighbours] don’t have much land and they come over here to go for a walk with their kids,” says Bancroft.
Bancroft keeps a nature chronology. It’s a perpetual calendar where he notes such things as animal sightings, when the pond ices over, and when the first hummingbird arrives in the spring.
“I’ve been doing that for 40-some years,” says Bancroft, who notices variations in behaviours. In early 2022, for example, he realized the chipmunks were still coming to the feeder and hadn’t decided to hibernate yet. He notes the many species and their habits.
Over the years, he’s observed things like skunks stretching after a winter’s nap and doing push-up like motions to increase circulation, and otters creating slides down embankments, tobogganing down the incline.
For decades, Bancroft and Reed have willingly shared their land with the animals. It has been a life-long appreciation for all living things and an opportunity to show others how to live amongst the animals, honouring their habitats, not destroying them. During the holiday season, and throughout the year, they celebrate the wonders of wildlife and the natural world around them.