In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The forest

Except for the harbour that lies below our house to the west, the forest surrounds us. It does not crowd against us anymore, though it did when we first came here. Now you can see east -- past the back orchard and the vegetable garden -- to the empty lower road. You can see the far stone wall to the south, where Greg cleared the trees last summer. But beyond these boundaries the island is a pointed vertical dark forest of spruce, and the ground beneath the forest is moss-covered bog and boulders, cross-hatched with fallen trees and branches and scrubby undergrowth.

The forest is the island's default position, and everywhere it is not something else -- our newly cleared places, an old field, a ruin, a summer camp, a road, a rocky shoreline -- it is forest.

Ten feet inside, you are clambering over dead logs that give to the touch, or treacherously collapse when you are half way over. Your feet get caught in mucky bog that emerges and disappears without warning, layered with twists of wicked dead branches, ingenious traps for trespassers.

The only paths are those made by the sheep and the deer and the ATVs. The paths of sheep and deer are narrow, and you must rely on what they had in mind when you travel there. They may not go where you think. The ATV paths are easier to follow, with their secret signals of a hanging buoy or a beer bottle stuck over the end of a branch. They lead to deer blinds deep within the forest: gnomish huts and treehouses, empty eleven and a half months each year. You stare, then retrace your steps.

Twenty feet inside, and when you look back you don't know where you are anymore. There are no landmarks to give you a sense of orientation or direction. Look back toward the main road you so foolishly left. It has disappeared. On its other side, the same forest blends into the one you are standing in, so there's no perspective, really, to grab hold of. Still, there are wonders to behold: silently trickling streams that eddy into tiny rock-edged pools, deep and mysterious, where nobody ever goes. The gothic verticality of thousands of narrow spruce spires, delicately draped with an airy gray-green lichen called Old Man's Beard. The weak winter light filtering through the forest. The silence.

Once, last summer, Greg and I unaccountably wandered apart, each going in slightly different directions a few yards off the main road. I felt an alluring pull that drew me deeper and deeper into the forest. It was irresistible, an ancient druidical enchantment. I walked further and further, until suddenly my boot sank down a good foot into a bog, followed by my other boot. I was being sucked into the bog, forcefully. I was only able to fall forward flat on my face and from that position slowly extricate my feet, then reach in to pull out my boots, then crawl backward until I returned to solid ground.

I laughed while I was lying there spread out flat against the bog, deep in the forest, beyond hearing or seeing. I laughed at first with surprise, but then with an inexplicable joy. I could have lain there, filled with such gladness, forever. I think the forest is somehow dangerous that way.

The forest is the stuff of fairy tales, of being lost and finding your way again. Strange things can happen there, just beyond the known world of stone walls and vegetable gardens and apple trees, and beyond the great wood pile that Greg has made by going into the forest day after day and felling the trees, and cutting them into logs, and splitting them, so that we can be cozy and warm all winter.