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, July 30, 2009

Backyard visitor

The island is veiled in fog today. In the morning a young heron, the colour of fog, stood on the back wall. Maybe he was looking around for fish.
He flew off across the orchard to settle briefly in an apple tree. His vast wingspan made a poor fit with its dense branches and homely leaves. He seemed incongruous there among robins' nests, like some ancient pagan god visiting a simple peasant's hut.
Then he flew south, across the lower orchard, toward the cove. The shore is the usual feeding place of the heron, not our back yard. His visit was a reminder of how closely the familiar and the wild dwell together here. It's something I forget. Then a glimpse of that strange otherness and grace illuminates everything, and I remember again for a little while.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Building a greenhouse

Greg saw a little greenhouse in a backyard in Ingomar. He came home and drew a picture of it.
"I think I can make something like that," he said.
He started with the windows we had taken out of Roseway Hall last spring. He repaired and sanded each frame. He replaced broken panes, and glazed all of them. He primed and painted all the frames.
There are twenty two windows, and a door-like window that he will make taller and turn into a door.

He went down to the shore and got gravel for the floor and flat rocks for the foundation.
He got the 2x4s and some very nice other lumber from someplace on the island. They were in buildings that were abandoned a quarter century ago. This reminds me of the dissolution of the monasteries in sixteenth century England. After the monasteries were left empty and useless, local villagers scavenged their stones and wooden beams for their own building projects.

Greg's greenhouse is in the same tradition: let nothing go to waste! Come to think of it, some of those scavenging English villagers were probably Greg's ancestors. It's in his DNA.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Goulden House on McNutt's Island, circa 1911

It is a summer day almost a century ago. Someone is standing in the side yard with a camera. He, or she, steps back to show the entire house in the frame, not completely successfully. This is our house now, and for the first time I am looking at it as it once was long ago.

A woman stands in the doorway. A man stands next to her, outside. He's reading the newspaper. There is a clothesline strung from the breezeway out into the yard, and a bit of laundry drying there. Maybe this is a Sunday, since the man is dressed in a well-ironed shirt and trousers.

To the right of the doorway is the dairy-keeping room and the woodshed. This is a household economy that creates what it consumes: fells trees and splits logs for heat, milks its cow and churns its butter, preserves its vegetables and fruit and fish, hunts or raises and slaughters meat.

Between the camera and its subjects there is a tall flowering hedge, maybe of roses. It's a practical way to define the space of the house, but it's also a thing of beauty. There is more than necessity in this world.

The woman and the man are likely Bertha Snow Goulden and her husband James Andrew Goulden. They married in 1906, across the harbour in Gunning Cove. She was seventeen on her wedding day, and her fisherman husband was thirty eight -- more than twice her age.

Bertha had grown up on McNutt's Island. When the census taker came around to the island in 1901 it was duly noted that Bertha was then eleven years old, the oldest of five children, and that she lived with her parents Arthur and Melinda Snow and her brothers and sisters. Her father was a fisherman, too, like nearly every man she knew.

James and Bertha bought the house in 1911 from its builder and first owner, old man William Perry. Bertha knew this house well, from her childhood. It was a part of her deeply familiar world. And she would live here, and go in and out of this door, until the last two days of her life. She died in July 1952, not at home on the island, but at Roseway Hospital across the harbour in Sandy Point.

If the picture was taken soon after the Gouldens moved into the house, then it captures Bertha in her early twenties and James in his early forties. By the time they moved across the harbour to the island she and James already had three young children. She will bear seven others in this house, and she and James will raise all of them here.

It is a photograph of an ordinary moment in an ordinary day. "I've brought my camera," the photographer announces. "Come out so I can take your picture." James doesn't mind; he seems to enjoy it, and even poses a bit. Bertha is shyer, or maybe just in the middle of doing something else. She won't come outside, but stands and looks into the summer light.

Many thanks to Dan Goulden for his kind permission to use this family photograph. Vital statistics and census records are available at NSARM.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Island chanterelles

Before we moved to McNutt's Island the closest we got to our food was an occasional trip to a farmers' market. But things have changed for us. We had our first foraging experience two summers ago, with the island's wild raspberries. Last summer, emboldened by that first easy success, we branched out to chanterelles.
Chanterelles are particularly beautiful mushrooms. They are the colour of apricots and fluted, almost like a lily. Our friend Lothar, who is experienced in these things, introduced us to them and showed us how to recognize them so we wouldn't pick something else by mistake. They are easy to find once you know where to look. This cool and rainy summer has been good for them, and in the past few days we have collected twelve pounds.

We cleaned them, then Greg chopped them up and dry-sauteed them and now they are mostly in the freezer for future use. Also, we have been eating them: in an omelet, in a quiche, as tempura, in a Thai shrimp dish, as cream of chanterelle soup, and in a few other ways. Here's one:

Chanterelle and potato chowder

1/2 c. chopped onion
1/4 c. butter or margarine
2 tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 c. water
1 pound chanterelles, sliced
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. diced peeled potatoes
1/2 c. chopped carrots
1 c. light cream
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, saute onion in butter until tender. Add flour, then salt and pepper. Stir to make a roux. Gradually add water, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir 1 minute. Add chanterelles, celery, potatoes and carrots. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add cream and Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shearing day

The d'Entremonts spent two days on the island last week, gathering and shearing the sheep. Mary and LeRoy d'Entremont have bought the flock from Arnold d'Eon. LeRoy has worked with Arnold's flocks for years, but now that he is the owner he has begun to institute his own practices for managing the flocks. LeRoy and Mary have also bought Anne Priest's smaller flock on Blue Island.*

The d'Entremonts are from Pubnico, near the southwestern edge of Nova Scotia. When the Acadians returned to Nova Scotia after their expulsion in 1755, one large community settled the villages of Pubnico, on the eastern and western sides of Pubnico Harbour: there are East Pubnico, West Pubnico, Lower West Pubnico, Middle East Pubnico, Upper West Pubnico, Middle West Pubnico, Centre East Pubnico and Lower East Pubnico. Maybe I have overlooked a few. All those Pubnicos remain a vibrant Acadian community today. Acadians seem to have been involved with Nova Scotia's sheep islands -- many of which are off shore around Yarmouth and Pubnico -- for quite a while.

Mary and LeRoy's crew last week consisted of themselves, their daughters Miranda and Anna, Miranda's friends Nic and Isabella, and LeRoy's Border Collies. They spent two days on McNutt's instead of trying to rush through all the work in one day. They wanted to have a good time even though the work is quite hard.

On the day they arrived they gathered most of the sheep into the corral. This first gathering requires walking the flock for several hours along the rocky shore from the lighthouse to the corral, then going after strays in other parts of the island.

That night the younger folks slept in tents and Mary and LeRoy stayed in the fish house. Greg made their meals so they did not have to bring food or think about cooking or cleaning up. In return we'll get a box of lamb cuts, which makes us very happy.
As the sun rose on the second day LeRoy and Mary came past our house, gathering the remnants of the flock. It gave Greg a chance to take some photos through the window without disturbing the process.

For the most part, the gathering is gentle and patient. The ewes and rams remember the drill and are cooperative. The lambs follow their mothers' cues. The dogs -- who are amazingly trained -- do not overplay their hand. Sheep are very frightened of untrained dogs. They will panic if they are chased by one and they can die from the shock without even being attacked.

So shepherding requires wisdom, which to a casual observer can look like just standing around.
Sometimes a stray ewe or small group needs to be rounded up. Then everybody waits until the late-comers arrive.
After that, the dogs swing into action again and the flock moves toward the lower road, heading toward the corral to join the rest. Then the shepherds stop for breakfast: Quiche Lorraine, homemade strawberry streusel with fresh strawberries, Acadian bacon, orange juice and coffee. Just a sample of the meals they had while they were on the island. I think I may have mentioned that Greg likes to cook.
Later in the the morning, at the corral, the newly re-built shearing platform is the centre of action.
LeRoy is shearing ewes the old way, with hand clippers.
Meanwhile daughter Miranda, who is seventeen, is shearing with electric clippers. The shepherds must pack a portable generator for shearing days, since there is no electricity on the sheep islands.
The shorn ewes are marked with red for those who will be culled in the fall and blue for those who have been wormed and will remain on the island.
LeRoy is a competion-winning trainer of Border Collies. His dogs are a joy to watch. Their joy is watching sheep. This is Dakota, LeRoy's two year old Border Collie. On this trip Dakota is learning the ways of McNutt's Island.
Miranda's friend Isabella is the data keeper for the gathering. Isabella records each ewe's tag number, body condition, and whether or not she had a lamb this season. In addition to being sheared and wormed, the ewes have their feet trimmed.
Miranda and her friend Nic share a quiet moment at the shearing platform, while Mary stuffs wool into huge bags. The wool will go off to MacAusland's Woollen Mills in Prince Edward Island where it will be woven into blankets.
It's a hot and muggy day, and sheep shearing is hard, greasy work that goes on for hours. Shepherds get thirsty.
LeRoy is teaching daughter Anna, who is eight, how to shear. Here she is holding down the ewe while LeRoy shears...
and now she is shearing. What an apprenticeship. I have noticed that parents in Nova Scotia teach their children useful skills as a matter of course.
A lamb wonders what's going on...
An unshorn ewe keeps her eye on Greg and his camera...
Here is the big holding pen, where ewes mill about comparing their haircuts while lambs continue to wonder what's going on.

At the end of the second day the d'Entremonts took eight ewes and the rams off the island. Bye, Major! Bye, Bertie! Bye, Balzac! We'll miss you! They left eighty-seven ewes and eighty-six lambs on the island to have an idyllic time until culling day, in October.

The wild island sheep of southwest Nova Scotia are a unique part of the province's landscape and cultural heritage. We are so lucky to have them here on McNutt's Island.

*Blue Island and her sheep there are a major theme in Anne Barclay Priest's memoir, Trafficking in Sheep (The Countryman Press, 2006). For more background on McNutt's Island sheep and shepherds, you can go to the label wild island sheep in the column on the right of the blog, and catch up on the various past posts. There's also a chapter about the sheep islands and McNutt's Island in particular in Harry Thurston's The Sea Among the Rocks: Travels in Atlantic Canada (Pottersfield Press, 2002).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Wow - Tiny House Blog hearts Nova Scotia Island Journal!

I've been a fan of Tiny House Blog for years. The whole small house movement is quite an inspiration to me. It always gets me thinking about how the pared-down life is truly the abundant life -- a paradoxical, head-spinning thought when you live in an over-stuffed world. Tiny House Blog has a way of opening small doors into a kind of spaciousness that is in inverse proportion to square footage.

So I was thrilled when Kent Griswold wrote the other day to ask if he could put the fish house on the blog. And it is the featured house today!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Inside the fish house

I began describing Greg's restoration of the old fish house yesterday. Today I'll give you a tour of the interior. It's an easy tour since the fish house is eight feet by twelve feet. All you have to do is stand in one place and look around.
Here's what the interior looked liked before the renovation.
We discovered many interesting things stored here -- lobster buoys, tools, doors, frames, furniture, oars, fishing poles, old lanterns, things like that.
Some of these things have returned to the fish house. Now they are objects of art, or at least objects of interest.
Greg took up all the floor boards and sanded and polyurethaned them. He put down a sub-flooring of plywood before he re-installed the wood floor. He built a tiny french screen door. This door is so little that even I have to duck to get inside. So far our guests have all been quite tall (except for a new baby), but they have not complained. Greg took out the old peeled spruce pole rafters so there's no need to spend all your time ducking while you are inside.
The four new windows along the cove side give the house an open feeling in spite of its tiny size.
Speaking of ducking, we found these old silhouette decoys stored in the fish house when we moved here. They were originally black, of course. No ducks would be fooled by them now.
I wrote about the desk in an earlier post. It was in the main house when we moved here. It may have once been the desk for the island post office. The desk top looks exactly like one that is in The Ross-Thomson House in Shelburne. It could well be an eighteenth century desk top. The stand is not as old as that. So Greg painted the stand and left the top the way we found it.
There's plenty of room for a queen-sized bed. Greg built a new window high on the north wall, above the bed. It opens and closes very cleverly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The fish house

The house we live in is the last old fisherman's house left on McNutt's Island. But there are two old fish houses that still stand. In the old days the fishermen used these sheds to repair their nets and their other fishing gear, and for storage. These structures would have been all along the western shore of the island, where the fishermen kept their boats.

The fish house that's on our property probably dates to the late nineteenth century or the turn of the twentieth century. It would have belonged to William Perry. William was born on McNutt's back in the 1830s. He grew up on the island, part of the large family of Jonathan and Martha Perry. They lived in a house near the shore that was not too far from where the fish house stands. You can still see the foundation of that house. William's father Jonathan Perry was a fisherman, and so was William. So the fish house has an honest past.
Elizabeth Hyde's daughter Joanna gave us this photograph of the fish house when we moved in. It was probably taken in the 1970s or 1980s.

When we arrived in 2007 the fish house looked like this.

This is the way it looked before Greg restored it.
Here it is after. First he removed two encroaching spruce. Then he levelled and stabilized the house, which rests on a rock foundation. He used Skipper's car jack to jack up each corner of the house and check for level. He moved the single original window from the cove side to the east side. He installed four new windows along the cove side. Using an old frame that had been in the shed, he built a window in the north side, up high.

After that he re-shingled the sides and replaced the roofing. He built the deck, using both salvaged and new wood. For the railing of the deck he used a section of old fencing he found lying on the ground at the lighthouse. The entire lower part was rotten, but he could cut it off and use the top part. It was the perfect height for the deck railing. He painted everything on the outside and I painted the inside. And now it is a tiny guest house, eight feet by twelve feet.

Here's the view from the deck. Our guests can sit out there and watch the terns diving for fish -- or if that's too strenuous they can watch the rockweed waving in the water.
The inside of the door was all these beautiful colours, so we left it like that. Soon after we moved here Greg found the little wooden lobster boat wedged along the shore. He painted it red and white, just like our boat, Chopper 1.
We left Elizabeth's haulup and old skiff just where they were. Some things you really can't improve upon.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Island signs

McNutt's Island is a place of many signs. Some signs are quite useful, such as this:

...and this:
Others are less useful ...
Some signs have a mysterious air...
Some explain to you where you are in the world:
...or where you are at this exact moment. With signs like these, you can just throw away that silly GPS.
Some signs are new:
And some have been here since the days of the Loyalists: