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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Unwinding the spruce

But what does Greg do all day? That lazy fellow. You mean aside from the baking and cooking, the trips to town, the hard cider making, the propane tank replacing, the snow shovelling, the pumping out of Chopper's innards after a big storm, that sort of thing? It's an easy answer. He cuts wood.

Early in the morning he leaves the house, whistling, with his axe upon his shoulder. He goes to the woods where he begins to cut. And there he remains until lunch time -- dinner, they call it around here. And there he remains until supper. And now that the light is longer, there he remains again in the evening. Now and then, I imagine, he rests with his back against a tree and talks to the friendly forest creatures who gather around him, their shyness overcome by his growing familiarity.

In between felling trees and carrying off tree rubbish to an undisclosed place where it becomes a valuable ecological habitat for small mammals, he splits logs. So you see Greg's life is truly simple. He might sometimes wish that it were more varied, but for now it is not.

He has carved out his wood cutter's role entirely by himself. And by adhering faithfully to his vision and purpose he has accomplished great things. When we first saw this property -- uninhabited for more than decade -- it was overrun with spruce. A few spruce -- even a spruce forest in its proper place -- can be a beautiful thing. Spruce growing up randomly and impulsively and even you could say compulsively out of every nook and cranny is not. We did not know, for example, that there were two unbroken parallel boundaries of old stone walls along the outer edges of the property. Nor that apple trees hid near those walls. We did not know about the old farm's springs and wells and bogs. They were all obscured by spruce, standing, or lying, where they ought not.

Michaelangelo was said to have viewed his sculpting as a process of revealing the essence of the raw stone he carved. Greg is a forest Michaelangelo. As he topples the spruce trees he reveals the essence of the place. His most recent project has been to disentangle a crowded patch of trees and so make space for a grove of hackmatack, a noble tree.

We did not know the potential hackmatack grove was there, in a bog near the lower road, until Greg began to cut down the spruce that crowded that corner. We didn't know the bog was there either, beneath criss-crossed logs and fallen branches. Bogs have a wonderfully mysterious quality, with their hidden watery places and their soft mossy ground which you must tred upon with care. Hackmatack have an affinity for bogs and so do we.

Greg labouriously cut the spruce and pulled out the litter. One dead spruce had fallen so that it was caught in the high branches of a gigantic hackmatack. He hoisted it on his shoulders and walked around and around the hackmatack, unwinding the spruce until he could pull it away. His life is simple, but not without its challenges.

Early every morning the wood cutter leaves the house, whistling, his axe upon his shoulder. And now we can see the hackmatack, and the stone wall that runs all the way down to the shore.

No comments: