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 30, 2009

Reading locally: Flandrum Hill

Amy-Lynn Bell is the creator of the blog Flandrum Hill. Her neck of the Nova Scotia woods is the region called Cow Bay, along the Atlantic coast, just east of Halifax and Dartmouth. It is salt marsh and sea and sky, and so much more. Flandrum Hill focuses on the natural world experienced at the scale of your own backyard. Since this backyard's in Nova Scotia, it can be pretty spectacular.
Looking out my front door

Amy-Lynn discovers the wonder of the tiniest thing and shares it with her readers. She is a wonderful writer. She is a well-informed naturalist. Her photography is breath-taking. She has the eye of an artist, which she also is. She has a deep sense of the spiritual dimension that informs all living things. And she's funny.

I always learn something new from Flandrum Hill. This is a blog that helps me see the world more clearly, by looking closely at a small corner of it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Early season lobstering

Shelley Van Buskirk Spears is one of our island neighbours. Shelley's grandfather was one of the last lightkeepers on the island, and she is part of a big extended web of family and friends whose McNutt Island connections go back many decades. When lobster season arrives members of this extended network jump in to provide extra help during the crucial first days, when there is so much work to do.
Shelley went on Lyndon Crowell's boat, Maybe Tomorrow, as a bander. Her job was to put rubber bands on the lobsters' claws so they couldn't damage each other after they had been caught. She and her crew-mate Josh took these photos, and she graciously let me use them here.

Josh is emptying a trap. He'll put fresh bait (seen in the foreground) into the trap before he slides it back into the sea.

A banded lobster.
Lyndon Crowell, captain of Maybe Tomorrow. Lyndon grew up on McNutt's Island as the son of one of the last lightkeepers.
Shelley's uncle Cliff's boat, Bar Tender.
One of her dad's boats, Ocean Motion.
Her brother's boat, Au Cobra.
Her uncle Mark's boat, Butt Buster.
A fashion statement. The crews have fun and work hard. On freezing mornings we shiver in our cozy house when we hear them steam by in the darkness, long before dawn. It is dangerous and difficult work.
Lyndon says he loves it and looks forward to every new season.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Behold, I bring you good tidings"

Here's a grapevine crown trimmed with some of the island's blessings: the hanging lichen called old man's beard that festoons dead trees, eel grass from the shore, sheep's rovings caught in branches, dried grasses, rosehips, spruce cones, and crab shells dropped by sea gulls after they had sucked out their insides. The heavenly host -- that flock of angels Luke talks about --used to wear crowns made out of things like this before the Renaissance artists took over the visuals department. These treasures remind me of Thomas More's Utopia, where money was thought to be worthless and beautiful shells were highly valued. Whether we bother to notice or not, we are always encircled with the most precious and unexpected sorts of blessing, wherever we go. And you never know when an angel will bring you good tidings in curious ways.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lightkeeper's house at Cape Roseway

200500613....1973-56 vol. 1 / 101
This undated Department of Transportation photograph shows a lightkeeper's house at Cape Roseway at some time between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You can see more wonderful photographs like this at NSARM's Virtual Exhibit on Lighthouses of Nova Scotia.

Image courtesy of NSARM.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reading locally: Life With Yourgogirl

How amazing it is, really, that anybody with access to a computer and the internet can now write for the world. It's easy to forget that it hasn't always been this way. And how easily we seem to adapt, so that what is still quite astonishing we now treat as ordinary. The world of print continues to shrink and fold as the era of Gutenberg sputters to a close. But don't be sad. Online the world of news and information expands and unfolds like one of those magic flowers dropped into a glass of water, revealing unimaginably crinkly surface areas filled with curious nooks and quirks and crannies that never would have made it into print, back in the old days.

Now dedicated authors can write for a loyal audience of a couple of hundred or so. Not everybody in the world will ever care about the remote places of Nova Scotia, for instance. But what extravagant riches are strewn at the feet of those who do!

I'm certain I haven't discovered every terrific Nova Scotia blog that's reporting out from the watery wind-blown crevices, the cloud-swept skies, the placid marshes and inlets of the province. But I have come across a few. So let's begin a tour of them.
My Photo
Life With Yourgogirl is Carla Allen's Yarmouth-and-south-west-Nova-Scotia-based blog. Carla is a reporter for The Yarmouth Vanguard and she writes a syndicated gardening column, too. But Carla is so much more than the sum of her professional writing. She truly will do anything, I believe, for the adventure of it. At the beginning of lobster season, that meant working as the bander on her cousin's lobster boat The Scalded Witch. Last summer it meant a visit to Seal Island, a hard-to-get-to place. Then there are the unexpected detours down never-traveled roads, and who knows what you will find along the way? She has her reporter's instinct for what makes a good story. Plus she's a terrific writer. Hitch a ride with Carla's blog and you will discover life in Nova Scotia that's really real.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A visit from the sheep

The sheep don't come by as often now. I guess our offerings -- frozen wisps of dried grass -- are not very appealing.
Yesterday they came to visit and maybe to wish us well on our trip, although by the time they arrived they had forgotten that part of it.
They seemed to find something worth eating in the back orchard and along the rock walls. A few of them clambered up on the tops of the outer rock walls that run along the edge of the forest. From that height they reached for the tender tips of the spruce trees that hang over the walls.
In the next week or so Leroy will drop off the rams, and the flock will begin its next cycle of breeding -- new life beginning in the midst of winter.
The effects of the newly-introduced Scottish Blackface genes can be seen in the lambs that were born this past spring: they are hardier in general, and their longer coats are better suited for this tough environment.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Greens from the greenhouse

I didn't think we could grow anything in our unheated greenhouse this winter. But just to see what would happen, I planted a few seeds in late September: some chard, and mustard, and mesclun. I kept them watered when I remembered.
Now, it's nothing to brag about if some seeds you planted turn into teeny tiny greens after nearly three months. But, anyway, they did. Even though lately we have have very cold days and nights, with lots of icy wind -- the kind that cuts through anything. So my conclusion is that this little greenhouse will stand up to a lot more bad weather than I had thought.
Beginning tomorrow we will be away for a while. So I went ahead and harvested our baby greens. A whole small bowlful for our supper tonight.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

West wind

A few times each winter low temperatures and westerly winds converge upon this house. Then we remember that for all its bright paint and fresh shingles the house is a leaky old thing, and that there are gaps around the doors and odd corners where a cold imp lurks, and huffs and puffs at our ankles as we walk past. We wear eccentric get-ups, including clothes more likely to be worn outdoors. I have discovered the charming wool cap an old friend knitted for our daughter twenty five years ago: it covers my ears and ties beneath my chin and I have taken to wearing it night and day.

But Greg got us a pile of good books at the library last week, just in time for this. Best of all was Sarah Water's fantastically creepy The Little Stranger (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2009). I pulled my chair close to the wood stove and covered myself with a quilt and read about down-on-their-fortunes English gentry huddled around a fireplace in their ancient dilapidated mansion.

It is the west wind that makes the difference for us between comfort and discomfort. No matter how cold it is outside, the wood stove keeps the living room perfectly warm unless that particular wind is blowing. But the west wind also sets the turbine spinning, so that adage about an ill wind that blows nobody any good comes to life. Anyway, today the wind has finally stopped, and we will go on about our business, both indoors and out.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter garden

We were lucky to have a few extra weeks of nice weather in November and early December to finish up work in the vegetable garden. Greg attached the orange flounder net over the teal herring net all the way around the garden. So now we have two layers of resistance -- the ultimate deer fence.
Greg made raised beds for the whole garden, too. I brought up seaweed from the shoreline and put about three inches of it into each raised bed.
Some beds have mostly eelgrass, others mostly rockweed.
So now the garden is ready for its winter sleep.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Homeward bound

Sea Arrow makes her way down the western channel toward Fort Point. She is coming home from her workday -- filled, we hope, with lots of lobster. In this first week of the season the price for lobster has been quite low. Demand is down in a bad economy. Many lobstermen will hold their catch in lobster pounds until the price rises, instead of selling it right away. This gives them a bit more flexibility in dealing with the ups and downs of the market. But it extends their risk as well.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

End of wildness

It was a wild day around here, with lots of wind and rain. The few lobster boats that went out in the early morning came home again before too long. But then at the end of the day, the gift of this sky.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lobster, apple orchard, sheep

A lobster boat was checking its pots for lobster this morning.Most boats go a bit further out than this at the beginning of the season.
But a few set their traps along the island's shore. I watched this boat through the branches of the lower orchard.
The sheep are watching, too, while they graze kelp out on the point. We're all quite interested. This really, truly, is how lobster is harvested.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

McNutt's geography: Lobster Fishing Areas map

This map from the Department of Fisheries gives you the scope of Lobster Fishing Areas 33 and 34. The seasons are different for various LFAs. Some are in the summer. Some LFAs are only open for a month or so. LFAs 33 and 34 have the toughest season since it begins now and runs through May. The boats don't go out, though, when the weather is too rough. This business of catching lobsters is dangerous enough even on calm days.

By sighting the boundary between LFA 34 and LFA 33, then looking to the right a tad to the longest inlet, you will have located Shelburne Harbour. McNutt's Island sits on the outermost edge of it.

For more information you can go to the DFO web site.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dumping Day in LFA 33

It was still dark when we walked down to the shore to watch the lobster boats set off this morning.
They are officially allowed to go out at seven o'clock, and we could hear the motors humming down the western harbour about then. It must be quite the traffic challenge to launch so many boats all at the same time, filled with traps and gear and crew, off the wharves at Gunning Cove and Fort Point. And this same scene is being repeated at every wharf in southwestern Nova Scotia.
Lobster Fishing Area 33 begins just east of Halifax, and Shelburne is at its western end. LFA 34 -- the big kahuna -- begins to the west of Shelburne Harbour and runs all the way around the southern tip of Nova Scotia and up to Digby. Together, these two LFAs pull in more than sixty per cent of all the lobster taken in Nova Scotia. In 2007 that was just under 16,000 tonnes, worth over $218 million, according to the Department of Fisheries.
This morning the lobster boats will dump their traps. A license allows for 250 traps, which are stacked high on the decks of the boats as they go out to sea. By late morning the boats will be returning to the wharves. Then, as early as 12:01 a.m. on December 1st, they will go out again to begin hauling their traps. They will get most of the season's catch in the first week or two.
There are about 1,700 license holders in LFA 33 and 34, and we waved at fifteen or sixteen of them steaming off, their lights moving through the darkness, their colours emerging as the day lightened. Randy blew his horn in greeting. I always feel honoured when Randy blows his horn.
The weather forecast was calling for wind today. But the day dawned mild and clear and still. As good a morning as you could hope for.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We know where our sausage comes from

The d'Entremonts have turned some of their sheep island mutton into sausage, and last week we received a cooler filled with it. Some of the sausage is a hot spicy kind called Merguez.

They also sent us a non-spicy version which they have named Port Mutton. Its name is a play on the nearby town of Port Mouton (pronounced Port Mattoon), which got its name when a French expedition lost a sheep overboard in the harbour there four hundred or so years ago.

Vegetarians cover your eyes now. We omnivores are happy to know so much about our sausage, as you can plainly see.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Deer season

This evening the deer family is in the lower orchard. They aren't easy to see, since they are the colour of fog, or of wet bark of old apple trees, or of rain-darkened boulders. They blend in. I can see them, though, because their movement attracts my eye. In this I think my eye has become more discerning during the past two and half years. I notice movement better now, and maybe shape: the patterned flicker of grass where a snake is passing; the cupped curve of a nest. My eyesight is terrible, but experience has begun to compensate. I have learned that if I notice something I ought to pay attention. Maybe that's the whole difference, right there, between now and then.

The deer remain mysterious, but they have begun to come into focus for us. One of the books that came with the house was The World of the White-tailed Deer, by Leonard Lee Rue III (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1962.) The book belonged to Howard T.Walden 2nd, who was Elizabeth Hyde's father and a well-respected nature writer, especially about fly fishing. His penciled underlinings and notes are a conversation between the reader and the writer. Maybe, too, they are notes on an inner dialogue inspired by his reading the book and remembering the deer he has seen in his life. It's like catching a few words from a distant thought, or like the hint of a deer as it leaps away, some foggy evening sixty or seventy years ago.

Rue tells me that deer stay in a three-generation matriarchal family composed in its simplest form of the older doe, the younger doe and the younger doe's offspring. He also says that they inhabit a one-square mile area for their entire lives, and move outside that area only in extreme conditions. That explains why, all fall, we have only seen this one family, and another solitary deer as well. There are other deer on the island, other families, but they inhabit other places.

The hunters were here only for the first couple of weeks of deer season. After that, they turn their attention back to the final touches of getting ready for lobster season, and the island grows quiet again. We call them the hunters, but really they are our same friends who have camps on the island and come over now and then during the summer. Their interest in the deer gives them an intimate connection to the island. Once a year they cut deep into the forest where nobody else ever goes, and build their secret places, and watch and wait. Because they take the time and because they pay attention they see more than the rest of us, I think.

Some of their wives tell them,"Fine, go off to McNutt's and hunt. Just don't kill anything." They do, though, and I think it's probably a good thing. There's not much killing of deer that takes place, but what does probably helps the herd as a whole. If there are too many deer on the island they will starve over the winter. Already the hunters are concerned about what they saw during this hunting season: deer smaller and thinner than they have seen in years past. It makes sense. This summer was not abundant for growing things. For a few weeks the hunters host the deer at lavish feasts of apples and carrots. But even so, the deer may be going into the winter with little reserve.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A visit from MaManna

Neither Greg nor I is the technical type. We sometimes say how helpful it would be if one of us were. But alas.
So since we live completely off-grid, we are fortunate to have an integrated solar and wind turbine system that is reliable and low-maintenance.
But we have been worried that we didn't understand how to perform one of the essential maintenance tasks that has to do with keeping the batteries properly charged. In the meantime, the company that installed our system in summer of 2007 was folded into another Nova Scotia company called MaManna. And we worried that we might get lost in the transition and be stranded on an island with nobody we could call if things broke down.
So today Sandy Hines and Steve Arseneault from MaManna came by for a visit. They looked at the solar tracker and the wind turbine and the batteries and the generator, and then Sandy walked us through the maintenance tasks for the batteries. Basically he translated the battery maintenance manual into non-technical English for me while I took notes, in English. When we finished he told me to re-read the manual to reinforce what we had gone over. Now that Sandy has explained it to me, I believe I can correctly equalize the batteries all by myself like a big girl.
Here is the bank of switches and monitors that is the brains of our off-grid system. In order to live this so-called simple life I am on far more intimate terms with specific gravity, a crucial but not simple reality, than I would ever have imagined being. Actually I probably never thought once about the phrase "specific gravity" before coming here. And Greg now knows lots more about propane tanks and generators than he used to. Not to mention how to stare down this panel when necessary.
The visit from Sandy and Steve and tutorial from Sandy gave us the confidence boost we needed. I find the batteries quite intimidating, but the more I work with them the less fearful I become. Isn't that always the way, and not just with batteries.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's all about wood, continued ...*

Our relationship to firewood has continued to evolve since we first arrived in Nova Scotia. Back then, our most recent experience with actual fire -- as opposed to heat coming out of radiators --was a gas log fireplace. Which was pretty nice, really, with its remote control and all. Quite cozy. And nothing but icing on the cake, since back then the real heat was supplied by some mysterious furnace in the basement that we hardly ever even gave a thought to, even when we probably should have.

Here, we saw right away that by the end of April most people already had huge wide orderly walls of next winter's wood sitting in their yards, cords and cords of it, split and stacked and drying. It was a little intimidating to imagine the amount of labour involved in this one housekeeping item. But it was exciting, too. We had wanted to deal with life on a more elementary level. What could be more elementary than providing our own heat from start to finish instead of writing a monthly cheque to the anonymous purveyors of oil or gas or electricity?

As we observed our new environment more closely, we saw that many people kept their wood in an actual extra old house or shed. This is not the sort of thing you notice right away, stacked firewood peering out of the windows of old buildings. Instead it's a telling detail that reveals itself in due time.

The back room of this very house was an attached wood shed before it became a guest room in the 1960s. Keeping the firewood dry and getting to it easily was not a problem for the families that lived in this house before us. But it was for us, at least until now.
Now Greg has finished building our covered wood shed. He used spruce poles for the uprights and recycled local lumber for the rest.
He planned it with a big overhang in front to cut down on the effect of weather that blows in from the southwest, as it mostly does. And also so I will have cover while I'm getting wood off the pile.
This is a huge improvement over our first and second winters, when I tried to keep the woodpile dry with big pieces of heavy plastic sheeting, secured against the wind by random logs and stones. It worked okay, most of the time. But I have a feeling that this is going to be lots better.

Some firewood connoisseurs say it's best to allow the wind to blow through your wood stack so that drying continues all the time. That's the theory we have embraced for now. If it doesn't work we can always restore the guest room to its original purpose.

*I realized that firewood has been a recurring theme, so I made a new label -- firewood -- in case you'd like to read earlier posts on the subject.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weather report

The season has been so mild and beautiful that the Wild Mustard, Yarrow and Queen Anne's Lace are still blooming in the little wildflower garden next to the house.We keep waiting for the inevitable hard frost but so far we have only had a few light ones.
The days are sun-lit and the sunsets are golden.
Last night a crescent moon hung over the harbour in the west, and two nights ago we watched a meteor shower beneath the vast arc of the Milky Way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Totally famous

Someday people will visit McNutt's Island just to see the place where the famous Nova Scotia band, The Holdup, performed in its early years. Yes, their roots are here. They have actually walked along these very roads. Their music has been inspired by these very spruce trees, these very gulls.
Last week they triumphed in Yarmouth at Nova Scotia Music Week. And next week they leave on an all-expenses-paid trip to Prince Edward Island, where they will compete with bands from all over Canada.

And to think we can remember way back when they were just a few kids, a drum and a couple of guitars.