Emily Taylor Smith grew up in Salisbury, New Brunswick, taking her first wooded hikes in the southeastern part of the province and learning about nature from her father, an avid writer, gardener and trapper. She developed a love of long-distance coastal hiking as a young woman and has now walked the coastal roads of all three Maritime provinces: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, as well as the Gaspé peninsula. She raised money for the Diabetes Association by walking 100 kilometres in 19 hours from Halifax to Truro. Emily moved to Nova Scotia to attend university at Acadia and performed on stage with the Atlantic Theatre Festival for four seasons. She wrote three short plays which were produced in Halifax. Later, she founded Local Tasting Tours, a culinary walking tour in the HRM, and wrote briefly for the Local Connections Halifax magazine. Her book Around the Province in 88 Days was published by Pottersfield Press in 2019. Emily lives in Dartmouth Nova Scotia with her husband Darren and their three pets, Woody, Weslie and Wilson.
MR: Tell us about some of the books or authors or other people (such as teachers) that may have influenced you to become a writer.
I remember being intrigued by Dennis Lee’s rhyming poetry as a child, and I was fascinated with every one of L.M. Montgomery’s characters. My fifth grade teacher, Arthur Crooks, gave us short writing assignments and showered me with encouragement about my poetry especially.
MR: Your first book, Around the Province in 88 Days was, as our reviewer put it, “the kind of adventure I feel we all want and need. Connections and connectivity.” Can you comment on that? What was the reaction to your book?
When I mapped and planned my hike around Nova Scotia I needed places to stay and also wanted to get people involved, so I arranged billets and invited walkers to join me along the route. As I was writing the book I realized the theme was really about the connection I had made with so many supportive Nova Scotians whom I met and learned about on the trip. After I got home, it became very clear that the connection I had made with those people and with nature had truly changed me. The most common reaction I had to the book was people telling me it had inspired them to take trips and explore their province.
MR: Now let’s move on to your newest book, No Thanks, I Want to Walk: Two Months on Foot Around New Brunswick and the Gaspé which is about your travels around New Brunswick and the beautiful Gaspé region of Quebec. Tell us, what do you see as the differences and similarities between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick? (I’m thinking of landscapes, the people, the roads, etc.)
I planned this second journey as a completely different type of excursion because I knew how solitary it would be, camping alone. To avoid trespassing, I asked permission to set up my tent on private land each night and had the same warm and helpful interactions as I had in Nova Scotia. I underestimated how much more challenging it would be to carry more weight and walk farther each day on this trip, and my pace had slowed since my Nova Scotia walk. Rediscovering familiar locations in New Brunswick which I had visited as a child was a moving experience, and walking through the Gaspé was like being on a different continent. I recommend that everyone take the time to explore that extraordinary, mountainous coastal route.
MR: So much of Northern and Central NB is all forests, with no access other than logging roads, which I imagine you avoided. What was the loneliest part of your journeys around those areas?
I walked the length of Kouchibouguac Park in one day, doing a sort of zig-zag out to Kelly Beach; for the last several hours I saw nothing but forest and was exhausted and even frightened by dusk. There were hours at a time on the north shore of the Gaspé when I followed a narrow road with sheer cliffs to my left and the ocean to my right (and nowhere to use the washroom). One of the things I love about following the secondary coastal roads in the Maritimes is coming upon small communities perched along the water. I never walked too far before finding a cheerfully painted house or some folk art.
MR: Do you have a favorite book, one that you like to revisit from time to time?
Every few years I pick up one of the L.M.Montgomery books which I have read so many times before and thoroughly enjoy it all over again. I am a great fan of Eckhart Tolle and often re-read his books and get something new each time. Otherwise, I feel there is not enough time on this earth to read all the books I want to read, and I’m always finding new ones.
MR: If you could write a biography of any person, living or dead, who would that be and why?
I find myself fascinated by people who have had solitary and spiritual experiences in nature like John Muir, Peace Pilgrim, Henry David Thoreau. I recently read Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell and would love to talk to him and learn more about his isolated life with otters in Northern Scotland. I want to know what it felt like and what went through his head as he spent months alone with the wildlife on the desolate coast.
MR: What are you working on now? Walking around PEI? Newfoundland and Labrador?
I have my eye on a series of well-developed coastal hiking trails in Wales. I read an article about them years ago in a travel magazine and had an immediate emotional response to the photographs. I would also love to explore the coastal roadways in a circular route around the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, and I understand there are a number of popular trails there as well. My husband is not keen on my taking another long hike all by myself so I plan to bring my cousin Janet along, who walked a full day with me near Chester when I hiked Nova Scotia.
MR: For all that walking, what type (brand) of shoe do you prefer?
For me, a good, light running sneaker is ideal for long hikes. I have used New Balance and Asics and found them both fine. SmartWool socks are also key for breathability.
MR: What do you like to do when you are not writing?
You should have asked, “What do you like to do when you are not writing or walking?” I am definitely at my happiest when I find time for those. I enjoy cooking for others, watching really good films and theatre, and I love studying languages and literature and hope to do more of it one day. I’m a people person too, and love discussing life, art, love and spirituality with good friends.
MR: Finally, tell us an interesting fact about yourself!
I studied classical piano for ten years. I also think it’s interesting that the people in my family had children relatively late, and my grandfather was actually born in 1895!
Photo credit of Emily Taylor Smith: Michelle Doucette