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.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The names of things

You lack the names of things when you go to a new place.  I have been like a toddler the past two years, asking over and over, what's that? Or like a sneaky toddler, not asking outright but listening hard to add to my store of island words.   

There is a word that Robin taught me the first summer we were on the island. The tufts of wool that are caught in the branches when the sheep brush against them on their endless circuit around the island: rovings.  Rovings are not just useless remnants hanging randomly on island brambles, like you might think. There's a great deal you can do with rovings. You can collect them, which would be wool-gathering. You can card, spin, weave or knit them, or if you are lazy and skill-less like me and not actually needing to make clothes since there is such a thing as Frenchy's, you could put the rovings in a basket and look at them fondly now and then. 

We inherited many amazing and wonderful things with our island house: three chipped and crazed china plates with rabbits running in an endless circle around the edge; a daguerreotype of two young women; an ancient padlock. But of all the treasures we inherited, the very most wonderful is an anchor made of wood and weighted with a stone. And this kind of old  home-made anchor is called a killick. Peter gave us this word.

The standing dead trees we see everywhere are called snags. This is a word I found by reading Ode to Dead Wood, from The Canadian Wildlife Federation website. Here you can learn just how valuable our snags are -- and we have so many! Like rovings, snag is a word that fits snugly with the object itself.   

Then there are the fragrant white flowers that bloom all around the house in early summer. I thought they were narcissus, but Skipper called them June lilies, a more apt name for them. Lucy Maude Montgomery writes about June lilies on Prince Edward Island, so they must be June lilies throughout the maritime provinces.   

Another name I learned from Skipper was conspicuous boulder. It's a navigational term that refers to, well, conspicuous boulders, like the huge ice age rock that teeters at Fort Point, or like The Sloop, which is the name of the conspicuous sloop-like boulder that defines the southwest corner of McNutt's.  

Wherever we go, necessary and useful words are waiting there for us. So vast is our ignorance that we don't even know they exist until we need them.  Then they come out of nowhere, where they have been waiting,  and light on our palms like butterflies, slowly opening and closing their wings.

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