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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Skeleton forests

"McNutt's Island used to be so beautiful," a friend told me today.  I was startled.  I feel so enveloped by beauty here that at first I could not think what he was talking about. Then I realized. He meant the dead spruce trees.  They are everywhere. Along the island's western side there are huge swaths blown over by the fierce storms that hit the island several times a year. I think Hurricane Juan did the most damage, several years ago, and since then the remaining trees have been more vulnerable. Dead trees sprawl along the roads, their branches broken off at crazy angles. They teeter threateningly above the paths, only half-fallen,  sharp branches pointed at your eyes, dripping with Old Man's Beard. You pass beneath them, quaveringly.

Compared to deciduous trees, spruce grow up quickly and begin to die quickly.  And they have a shallow root system. There's not much that holds them to the earth.  So they become like dominoes -- one falls into the next, and together they take down a few more.  Add to their speeded-up life cycle the strong winds that rake the island, and you have the conditions we see all around us.   

Just beyond our northern stone wall there is a wide swath of devastation that extends from the shore all the way to the lower road. It is a skeleton forest of trees driven mad -- indeed driven to death -- by hurricane winds. Trunks white as bones lean against each other, starkly angled, austere.  The ground is an impenetrable mass of rotting trunks and branches.  

I understand what our friend was telling me.  When we first moved here I thought the dead forests were ugly, too. But I don't anymore. His comment helped me realize how greatly my own perspective has changed during the year and a half that we have lived on the island. 

Now I see the dead forests as an aspect of the island in its cycle of growth and decay. Out of the destruction something new emerges. Tiny spruce trees, no bigger than your hand, are everywhere. When you look closely you find a subtle world of mushrooms and fungi and lichen and moss colonizing the dead wood --  a world of colour even now in the dead of winter.   

McNutt's Island really is, at heart, a wild place. Storms blow, and patches of forest fall, and the island is always in the process of dying and being born.  It really is quite beautiful, on its own terms.  

It's New Year's Eve and silence has fallen on the island. Our friends have returned to the mainland. All day the lobster boats were back and forth in the harbour on calm waters, bringing in their traps before the big blizzard that will hit Nova Scotia tonight.   Tomorrow morning we'll wake up to an island transformed by snow, and everything will be new again.   


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter garden

The local gardening columnist, Carla Allen, wrote recently in The Shelburne County Coast Guard about the power of seaweed applied to garden soil.  Winter is seaweed-scavenging time, she wrote, since the late fall storms rip the seaweed from its beds and cast it upon the shore.  It's there for the taking. She encouraged southwest Nova Scotia gardeners to go out there and get it, and to apply it directly to the garden, now. It will break down by planting time, she promised, and make your soil very happy. 

On McNutt's Island the seaweed is mainly harvested by the wild sheep.  They spend most of winter eating kelp out along the island's rocky shores. That's what they live on until the new growth of spring broadens their menu options.  But there is enough seaweed to go around. So today I took Carla's advice and went harvesting, down at the cove.  I covered about half the vegetable beds with several inches of rich dark seaweed, and tomorrow, if the weather stays so nice, I will finish the task.  This winter gift from the sea will provide good things to our island garden soil. 



Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunset cruise

We returned from the mainland today in a tranquil sunset, loaded up with groceries, propane, gasoline and sharpened chain saw blades.  The herring gulls put on quite a show as we crossed, circling the boat, hoping we were lobstermen about to throw old bait overboard, swooping and diving and then coming to settle innocently on the surface of the waves, puffing out their feathers. 

The gulls are here all year, so we take their presence for granted. They do not elicit the thrill of a first sighting in spring or the vague melancholy that comes in October when we realize that a migratory bird has flown away.  A kind of silence settles gradually over the island.  But the gulls remain.   

And so in winter we see them differently. Sometimes we stop what we're doing to watch them float above the spruce trees near the shore.  And this evening they drifted over the harbour against a high pale blue Nova Scotia sky, lit by a golden sunset so that they themselves seemed touched by gold, as luminous as Renaissance angels.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shuttle in the wall

Sometime in the 1850s a fisherman built this house we live in, on McNutt's Island off the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia.  Only four families lived here over the next hundred and sixty years or so, and the house pretty much stayed the same all that time.  The living room walls were old plaster, but last summer we broke up the plaster and pulled out the lath.  Then we insulated and wired before we finished the walls again.  

When we tore out the plaster, we found a wooden shuttle hidden inside the wall directly above the front door.  It has the initials M.P. carved on it, so it must have belonged to Martha Perry, whose husband Jonathan and son William built the house.  Since the shuttle was inside the wall, it would have been forgotten after a while.   And then after that nobody even knew it was there, until we found it.

But long ago, in an ordinary act of daily life, a weaver sat at her loom and sent this very shuttle back and forth, weaving the horizontal weft threads through the vertical warp.  And so the hidden shuttle could have been Martha Perry’s way of bestowing a secret blessing on all who would pass through the front door. Maybe she hoped, as she tucked the shuttle inside the lath, that the lives threading in and out of this house over the decades would be somehow woven together.  

And it does seem that our lives have begun to weave into the lives of those who lived here before us: the long-ago toddler who died of scarlet fever in this house, and the young bride and her fisherman groom who were married near the door, and the boy who planted an oak tree for his mother in the front yard, and the woman who found a hard-fought peace here, whose ashes are spread in the apple grove. 

After we painted the living room we returned the shuttle to its place above the door. But now it hangs on the wall, a visible reminder that everything is connected, woven together: blessed, whether we know it or not. 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter walk

While walking in the complete silence of the main road today, we heard a tiny sound. Looking up we saw the yellow flash of a little bird that would have been invisible to us if it hadn't been moving around among the spruce branches. It is a yellow-rumped warbler, also called a myrtle warbler, that sometimes spends its winter in Nova Scotia's spruce forests.  Image in the public domain. 

McNutt's geography

Here's an 1883 map that shows how McNutt's sits in the open arms of outer Shelburne Harbour. 

In 1883 southwestern Nova Scotia was a region of almost non-existent roads and poor communication, and the coastal waters were the best way to travel from place to place. When this map was made, McNutt's Island had a small community of fishermen and their families and of course Cape Roseway Lighthouse. Each family kept a vegetable garden, pigs, chickens and oxen, and there were pastures and fields.  The sheep had the freedom of the island as they do today; each family owned a portion of the flock. 

In 1883 it was unremarkable to row back and forth from McNutt's Island to Gunning Cove or Carleton Village or Roseway, along the western side of Shelburne harbour, or into Shelburne itself, or around to the next harbour or some other town along the coast. In an odd way, McNutt's was not as physically isolated in 1883 as it is today.  

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chinese box Christmas

We found this print, by Murray Jackson Wentworth, hanging on the wall of our old house when we moved in.  Murray Wentworth was a New England watercolourist who died this past year at age eighty one.  He taught watercolour painting for many years, and he and his wife wrote a book, Watercolor for All Seasons (North Light Publishers, 1984).  As an artist and as a teacher he helped others recognize the world's subtle beauty. He was a jazz drummer, too. His was a life well lived. 

I would never have encountered Murray Wentworth had it not been for this print on our wall. The former owner of our house, Elizabeth Hyde, received it as a Christmas card one year and liked it so much she framed it and hung it there.  She framed it so thoroughly that I can't open up the card to discover who sent it to her, sometime between 1961 and 1993.  There's probably a story there, though.  

Its subject matter reminds us of McNutt's Island and Cape Roseway Lighthouse, though nobody would ever bring a Christmas tree onto this island filled with spruce.  The subject of the print is a small story about the larger event of Christmas, about which thousands of stories have swirled over the centuries. Come to think of it, for the gospel writers themselves the Christmas story was a small story set within the larger story of Easter. 

A Chinese box is a series of nested boxes of diminishing size, each contained within a larger box. So at Christmas we cast this little print out upon the great wide world, like a message in a bottle, as a way of remembering quiet lives well lived, lovers and teachers of beauty, connections we are mostly unaware of, stories told and untold, each one folding into another, and the mystery of God that covers us all like a broody hen's wing.    


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Greg's current column for The Shelburne County Coast Guard:

Winter is here and life on McNutt’s Island secures shelter for itself.

A walk into the woods reveals places where the dry brown ferns have been tamped down to form nests. I am not sure whether it is the sheep or deer who do this. Whoever it is, they are careful to choose locations surrounded by fallen spruce or clumps of bayberry against the cold and wind. I have taken a moment to sit in the middle of these. They are comfortable and well insulated.

The squirrels are settling down for the winter inside our apple trees. Recently as I was cutting up a pile of fallen apple branches, I heard echoes of sharp retort reverberating from within one of the orchard trees. I located the sound coming from a large limb. As I stood below it looking up with curiosity, a squirrel popped her head out of a hole in the limb, looking sternly down upon me, indignant to my eavesdropping. “Go away!” her stare told me. I went back to my pile of branches.

The grey, lichen-covered stone walls surrounding our property seem at first glance alone and abandoned, but upon closer inspection, are a bustle of activity. Moles and deer mice dart to and from them. Squirrels race along their pinnacles like cars teetering on a superhighway. Birds nestle in their nooks and crannies. One can only imagine what goes on deep inside.

Beyond the walls, the mink search out caverns beneath large spruce or within dense shrub. Once, when I let grow a pile of branches in my efforts to clear away overgrown spruce, a mink family took full advantage of my neglect and moved in.

Our house is equally attractive. It is the only dwelling on the island that is occupied year-round. It invites in all manner of living things as winter draws near. The area snakes have availed themselves of its dirt-floored crawl space, already slumbering peacefully until next spring. Knowing this, the mice and shrews tip-toe lightly around them, also happy to be warm and snug for the winter, even as they dare not venture upstairs where traps await.

There is no telling the diversity of critters that live beneath our floor boards, and I am happy not to pry.

The pursuit of shelter, it would seem, drives all living things. It is the thrust of our very own Christmas story, in which a young and very pregnant couple seeks shelter, having to settle for less desirable accommodations among the animals on the edge of town. We remember them as we place manger scenes on our front lawns and in our town squares. More than that, we remember the God who guided them, along with shepherds and kings, through that eventful night. Little did they know what that night would set into motion – a child born, a world of power turned on its head where the lowly are lifted up and the mighty brought low, God- with-us offering shelter against all odds.

Our scurrying and slithering friends on McNutt’s also belong to this story, as do all of us. They are trying to survive the impending winter days here. They accommodate each other in the task. True to the promise, God grants them shelter, a place in the order of things. And I live in their midst, humbled and inspired by their effort, grateful for this world in which, thanks be to God, all have a place to call home.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Upside down

This afternoon we read in the Halifax Chronicle Herald that our area had sustained one hundred twenty kilometer winds today -- hurricane force, they said.  Also that most of the Shelburne area was without power. Tonight we look across the harbour to the hamlets of Roseway and Carleton Village and Gunning Cove, and see nothing but darkness.  It seems so strange that here on the island we have plenty of electricity tonight, thanks to the wind turbine. It has been having a wild party of its own, dancing with the wind for the last twenty four hours.  Sometimes living off grid has a kind of upside-down quality to it.  

Wild things

Today is a wild day, after a wild night. The house is shaking from stem to stern as the wind forces her way through all the cracks and crevices. You don't want a house to be so sealed up by insulation that it can't breathe, the experts say. That's really not a problem for us. Our house breathes fine. And today it is gasping with all the excitement, inspired by the wildness that's swirling around it. The oak tree that Burnes Goulden planted for his mother seventy years ago, when he was just a lad, and which is now too big to be so close to the house, is waving its long thick branches right in our faces as we stare out the windows. The boat is dipping and leaping enthusiastically at the dock, straining its lines in the frothing crashing waves. Every island thing wants to go wild and break free and have a wild rumpus!

Yesterday in the midst of cold, strong winds we heard a pounding at the side door and opened it to greet Arnold d'Eon, who used to own the island's sheep. He finally sold the flock to LeRoy d'Entremont, and yesterday they both came up from Pubnico in an open skiff filled with eager rams. Somehow it worked out that LeRoy was out dropping off rams in the raw weather while Arnold was having tea and warming up in our house. Three or four rams are on the island now, fresh from several months of lock-up on one of the ram islands south of here. They've got quite the task: eighty or ninety ewes to impregnate a.s.a.p.

The shepherds bring on the rams at this particular time to insure that the lambs will not be born at random times, when it might be too harsh for them to survive. LeRoy and Arnold will take the rams off again next fall, back to the mythical ram island, an all-male world where they eat all the potato chips they want and watch football twenty four hours a day. "So," Arnold says, "today's the 21st. So five months minus five days -- May 16th, look for the first lambs."

Today the winds howl and the house shakes and the trees dance and the boat lunges and the waves crash and the clouds race across the sky and the sheep are having wild sex. It's a home-grown island Saturnalia. We ourselves are happy to be inside, baking cookies, keeping close to the woodstove.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter solstice

Soon will come the moment when the earth, like a spinning top, leans as far away from the sun as it can. But then, in that deepest of darkness, the world will begin again to wobble toward the light. It will be nothing but the tiniest of shifts. We won’t be able to observe its effects right away, except for an incremental lengthening of the days, each one by a minute or two. But already, at the very beginning of winter, the subtle mechanics of spring will have been laid down.

When we lived in the city the solstice passed without our notice. Light was everywhere, not just at home, but on the streets and in the buildings, and the lights of Christmas added color and sparkle to the ordinary nightly light – houses and streets and trees and shop windows glowing. But here we feel it when the light begins to fade at mid-afternoon. At night we look out the windows into a darkness broken only by scattered lights of solitary houses across the harbour, and the red gleam of a cell tower out on Route 103. When a late lobster boat comes in from the ocean, heading toward Gunning Cove, its strong floodlight cuts across the darkness, and we watch it go by.  

There were old kerosene lamps all over the house when we first arrived, the only source of light in those pre-electricity days. There were dozens of them, hanging on the walls and sitting on doilies on the tables and on top of the old pump organ. We cleaned up the best of them and ordered paraffin-based lamp oil from the hardware store, not wanting the soot and smell of kerosene.

Oil lamps come with intricate parts, but I have had a wonderful guide to them. When Greg was a little boy he collected old ones, and ordered necessary replacement parts from Old Sturbridge Village, one of his favourite boyhood haunts. He grew up in Northern California among the moderns but both sides of his family were New Englanders, and his heart was in another age, even then. So I have been in excellent hands when it comes to learning about the clever internal mechanism for drawing up the wick.  

We have electric lamps now, thanks to the mysterious conversion of wind and sun into energy. But oil lamps have provided light to this old house since it was built. So taking care of them has become a part of our lives, like chopping wood or baking bread or washing dishes or hanging clothes on the line. We are grateful that the oil lamps are not essential. Living here through the winter without electricity must have been one urgent chore after another, and uncomfortable, too. But they are a connection with the past, and they are beautiful. And so this first winter evening, as darkness falls, we will set the oil lamps aglow, and remember that we are wobbling toward light.

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.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Our simple life

Greg likes to point out how our simple life contains a great deal of complexity. A trip to the grocery store, for instance, involves a crotchety ATV, a muddy rocky road, a cranky boat, sudden winds and iffy harbour crossings. And our simple life is not particularly an easy life. It sometimes requires a kind of physical hardiness most Nova Scotians take for granted. So maybe you could call it, instead, the direct life.

Take our food. We don't grow our own coffee or tea, milk, butter, cheese or eggs (yet). We buy flour and molasses and sugar and salt and oil, pasta and rice and lentils and potatoes. But nearly everything else we have is stuff we've made or grown or collected ourselves. We have shelves of jellies and jams and applesauce and chutneys, and a freezer full of beans and peas and beets and chard and turnip greens and wild raspberries, soups made with rutabaga and turnip and squash and carrot and cabbage, borscht, zucchini casseroles, parsley and walnut pesto, carrot top pesto, zucchini bread, and our adopted pig from a farm near Truro. Two kinds of winter squash sit curing on the kitchen shelf and sauerkraut sits pickling in an antique crock. Herbs from the summer garden -- thyme, mint, parsley, sage -- hang from an old oar in the breezeway.

All the vegetables come from our garden. Greg makes our granola with walnuts and dried apples from our trees. We eat chanterelles we've gathered from the forest, mussels harvested from rocks in the cove, lobsters dropped off by kind lobstermen on their way home from the sea, and haddock provided in the same way.

The kindness of lobstermen.

We drink our own cider. We bake our own bread. None of this is particularly easy -- except the lobster, which just falls into our laps. But it isn't difficult, either, except for a few one-time efforts like creating the garden. It's direct, though, and so it feels more integrated, more whole, and in that sense, maybe, more simple. It's amazing to eat carrots you've grown from a package of seeds, incredible that a few sugar snap seeds can produce the profusion of peas we will enjoy all winter long, astonishing to have pancakes made with raspberries we picked near the old cellar last August, drizzled wih maple syrup a friend made, unbelievable how many steps are involved in getting walnuts. And so our meals are an experience of gratitude and delight, naturally.

This is all something our own grandparents would have taken for granted. Of course you grow a garden, or at least you know how. Of course you know who raised your pig and caught your fish. But in just one generation Greg and I had lost it. Instead, for most of our adult lives we played our bit parts in the elaborate differentiation of expertises and labours that comprised the late twentieth century American urban economy. We earned money by doing certain kinds of things for which we were specifically trained, and then we paid other specifically trained people to provide us with, say, food.

And now -- through a combination of luck, foolishness and choice -- we are learning those old skills, and that attitude that most people in the world have had since time began and we only recently forgot, and more than anything else this simple life feels like some kind of coming home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Weather report

Earlier this week the weather was quite cold, with snow blowing sideways across the windows and the first icicles of winter glittering from the roof's edge. Then it warmed up quickly. Last night the house trembled for hours beneath the wind's relentless power, until suddenly it relented and went away, to blow somewhere else I suppose.  At midnight the air outside was warm, quiet, sated, pungent with seaweed.  After such a storm the waters beyond the island continue to churn and curl and dash.  The ocean pounds the cape on the southern tip, and pours down the eastern and western sides. Huge waves march single file down the centre of the shallow western channel. On the island's northern end, closest to the inner harbour, the currents from the east and from the west meet in fierce underwater combat.  Then the air is still, but the ocean's deep rhythmic drum beats against the island, and its sound penetrates every living cell.   

We rely on three weather reports, all of them conflicting. Usually one is accurate, although we will not know for sure which one until afterward. We do not blame the weather reports.  The western cove on McNutt's Island is neither raw Atlantic Ocean nor protected inner harbour. The report from Environment Canada is taken from Baccaro Point, not far away down the southwestern coast toward Cape Sable. Baccaro Point sits exposed at the sea's edge.  We have been there, and seen the fenced-in field of small shining instruments ceaselessly spinning as they measure the elements. The other two reports are for the Town of Shelburne, in the harbour's deepest pocket, not for the island.    

He's giving wind, people say around here; he's giving sun; he's giving snow; he's giving rain.  I do not know who he is.  Maybe he is some Nova Scotian weather god, a dramatic sort, more Celtic or Acadian than stolid New Englander,  who gives magician-like, with sudden feints and flourishes, with surprises up his sleeve, who keeps us on the edges of our seats, and plays to our astonishment.    


Sunday, December 7, 2008


On Saturday Skipper and Radar came in to tell us there was a ship wrecked on the opposite side of the island. She was a lobster boat that had gotten caught in strong currents and was dashed into the gigantic tumble of boulders that crouch, partly submerged, beneath the waves of the eastern channel. We looked out upon the shallow western channel -- our view. The harbour on this side of the island was calm. But Radar and Skipper assured us that the weather was different on the eastern side. Over there, the currents and a strong easterly wind had conspired to create another climate entirely. They had heard the mayday signal and travelled around to view the boat, by then already abandoned by the rescued crew. "Oh, she'll be gone by tomorrow," they told us. "Those rocks will smash the whole thing overnight." They seemed quite cheerful about it.

This boat wrecked south of Northeast Bluff, at the base of a rocky cliff that makes the site hard to reach by land. Other boats have wrecked there in the past. You can still see ominous old wreckage out in the water and along the shore of a shallow cove.

Salvaging wreckage is a time-honoured practice along the southwest shore of Nova Scotia. Long ago, folks made a living of sorts this way. They lured boats into the rocks at night with bonfires on shore, tricking the sailors into thinking they were heading for safe harbour. Wreckers, they were called. But I imagine for most people a shipwreck, though not caused by them, was still an opportunity too good to pass up. Once a ship is wrecked she is legal and fair game. And who knows what might be there for the salvaging -- or, as Skipper says, scalvaging -- a combination of scavenging and salvaging.

He and his boys did go scalvaging after all -- I guess they couldn't resist the adventure. Skipper picked up his two older sons on the mainland and brought them back to the island. They boarded the wreck at low tide, in the dark of night, after cutting their way through dense forest to a point above the boat where they could make their way down a rocky cliff. They pulled all sorts of interesting stuff off the boat, then left her to her own devices. I heard their ATV going along the lower road, down to their camp, around midnight Saturday night.

They came by on Sunday morning after making a second foray to mop up. They stood in front of the woodstove steaming their pant legs, telling about their late night sortie aboard the broken boat clinging to the rocks amid crashing waves and darkness. They were all three quite cold and soaked and cheerful.

Greg had gone over to take some pictures of what was left of her. He, too, was quite cheerful when he came home. There must just be something about a shipwreck.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A visit to the yellow birch tree

Along the main road, near the place where the osprey nest, is a stand of old yellow birch trees. The biggest of them sits apart. Its thick scarred roots spread out and sink down into a moss covered hillock that gives softly beneath your feet, so that you come near with care, as if approaching an ancient sacred place. 

The trunk of this tree has been twisted by centuries of swirling wind and its bark is deeply creviced, almost black with age.  A whole branch, itself as big as a mature tree, has grown far out from the main trunk and rests its weight on the ground, slowly undulating away in the direction of the cove. The tree wears the calamities of age.  Yet as hollow and ravaged and scarred as it is, it is deeply alive even in winter, dappled and pied with lichen and moss, home to innumerable insects and small burrowing creatures. It is thought to be the largest and oldest yellow birch tree in Nova Scotia.  But no matter: it is a wonder just in itself.