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, June 2, 2009


We had been concerned about the possibility of lambs and sheep falling into some of the old wells.  So in the past few days Greg has built new frames and covers for three of them.  He is slowly using up all the old lumber that was still around the property. When we completed the restoration of the house we had a big pile of old lumber for various future projects. There's hardly any of it left now. He used old hardware and, obviously, left-over paint, too. The wells match the house! 

As far as we know there are five wells. Four of them were probably dug in the latter half of the nineteenth century by the Perry family. They are traditionally-built spring wells lined with rocks. Elizabeth Hyde, the former owner, knew the location of every well and tried to restore them and keep them usable. Like everyone who had lived here before her, Elizabeth did not have running water. For her daily use she drew water from the well in front of the house. The other wells were near the garden, along the path to the fish house, and in the bog near the lower orchard.  Elizabeth -- and probably the Perrys, the Gouldens and the DeMings before her --used the well near the garden for watering. It has an old but still-sturdy frame around it, even though the cover has rotted away.  This one is on the to-do list.
We used the front yard well as soon as we arrived two years ago. Greg replaced the frame and built a new cover right away, and it was our water source for washing dishes and clothes and ourselves that first summer, until our new well was dug. 
We drew the water up with a pail. I learned how to clear the water's surface by tapping it with the bottom of the pail before dipping the pail beneath the water.  I had never drawn water from a well before that summer. We heated the water on the Coleman camp stove which was all we had at the time. I washed clothes and dishes at a table in the front yard beneath the apple tree. We hung Elizabeth's shower bucket from a branch of the oak tree for our indescribably wonderful showers.   
We rediscovered the well in the bog, in a place that had been impenetrable before Greg began clearing. We just caught the reflection of water off the bog path one day, and then found the well, hidden by dead trees and bayberry scrub, surrounded by ferns and squishy sphagnum moss.  
It was the same with the well along the path to the fish house. It was hidden in scrub. It had some sort of wooden cover, but it had rotted through. Elizabeth had written that one side of this well was a huge boulder. You can see it here.
Greg used the floor grate from Elizabeth's old shower to make this cover. 

Elizabeth writes about another well, in the lower orchard. We haven't found this one yet. But Greg thinks he knows where to look. A well down there would have been near the house that Jonathan Perry built in the 1830s, and of course they would have needed a well. 
This last well is the one that was dug for us.  It is located near the garden well and the Old Fellers' Bog. It consists of a stack of concrete rings set on top of pebble and cobble filtration. The water is pumped through pipe laid underground to the cellar, and then into the house. The pump is electric, and runs on the energy we get from sun and wind. So we have running water in the kitchen and bathroom sinks, the shower and the washing machine, and we have a toilet that flushes.  These were all firsts for the house, though Elizabeth had a wondrous in-door shower that you can read about here

We don't have a practical use for the old wells. But they are valuable for gazing into and admiring the stone work and thinking that beneath any surface there could be mysterious hidden depths. 


Brian Stewart said...

Hello, I have been reading your blogs here and was wondering if you have written a book on your experiences and the education you have gained here. What you have written here has been both interesting and an education for me as I may (when I retire) be living as you have here. Also how deep are these wells Greg has recovered? or are they shallow, simply the depth of a stream? I do understand if you don't reply. You must get a lot of folks commenting here. brian_marilyn@sympatico .ca

Anne Yarbrough said...

Hi Brian, Thanks for writing! Greg & I actually have each written a book about our experiences on McNutt's. You can find out how to order them on the home page, I think. I also have a ms on the history of the island and the lighthouse under consideration at a couple of publishers. As for the wells, there are springs all over the island, as I understand it. Easy access to water there. The new well that was dug for the house in 2007 is probably 10' down.