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, April 29, 2009


Daffodils grow along the stone walls and next to almost every apple tree. There's an old border of daffodils that marks the place where the vegetable garden used to be.
I thought maybe they had been planted by Elizabeth Hyde, who lived here before us. But her daughter Joanna told me that the daffodils were already here when her mother bought the place, in the early 1960s. Elizabeth thought they had been planted by the early settlers.  She called those first settlers The Old Fellers. The Old Fellers were an inspiration to Elizabeth, and they are to us, too.   
The Perrys planted these apple trees and built these stone walls, and probably had a vegetable garden in this very same place between 1860 and the early 1900s.  After that, the Gouldens owned the property until the early 1950s.  So the daffodils that are blooming today have been coming up each spring for many decades, maybe for more than a century. 

I'm grateful to Maria Perry and to Bertha Goulden. One of them planted these daffodils, I think, or got their children to do it. I imagine Maria telling William one fall day, "Don't forget to get some daffodil bulbs when you're in town." Or Bertha down on her knees digging the holes and putting in the bulbs. Whether it was Maria or Bertha, I wonder if she thought about how many years of pleasure these daffodils would give to people she would never know, far beyond her own life.    

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Worm sanctuary

The garden is now a designated worm sanctuary. My deal with the robins is: you can eat all the worms you want, anywhere you please, except inside the vegetable garden. I haven't bothered to put this deal into writing since I doubt they would take the time to read it, much less sign it. But so far, at least, they seem to be leaving the garden worms alone. 

It could be my fluttering anti-robin cloth strips that are actually doing the trick, rather than our little inter-species social contract. I have added the fluttering cloth strips to my defence repertoire, which started with the fluttering deer reminder cloth strips that hang along the outside.  The go-away-you-robins strips of cloth hang on twine stretched across the inside of the garden. The twine has gotten a bit saggy since I first tied it up there. Normal-sized people can still walk under it, but it might garrot a really tall person. Greg very kindly says that from the house the whole thing looks like a Greek wedding. I say more a used car lot.  It's a very fluttery garden now.   

This is the first full year for the vegetable garden. Last summer we got in on the middle of the growing season.  I was rather devil-may-care about it back then, figuring that, since it was my first, I had plenty of latitude for error.  It's not like I had any standard to live up to. 

This year the stakes are higher. Greg has been saying that there's no need for us to buy any vegetables -- ever-- from the grocery store.  I think he believes  -- touchingly -- that I actually learned something from my experience last summer. This great confidence in my ability makes me feel a little fluttery.

But at least I have begun earlier.  I double dug the beds, meeting countless worms in the process and getting a fabulous early harvest of stones. Which were definitely not in those beds last summer. We have built better trellises for the peas and beans and cucumbers, and we took some of the windows we scavenged from Roseway Hall and made temporary cold frames. I've been using the windows over the seeds, so that the seed-eating birds can't get them. Another line of defence.   

So far I've planted peas, turnips, beets, mesclun, chard, spinach, parsnips, fennel, carrots, mustard, shallots, cilantro, zinnias, and a little bit of garlic, to see if you can grow it in the spring. Also sweet peas and that honeysuckle I got last December from the field next door and a Casa Blanca Lily that I got as a surprise today. 

It's early by the calendar and by the average last frost date, which is about three weeks from now, I think. So all this planting could turn out to be pure-dee foolishness. But it's practically spring and out in their sanctuary those really safe worms are doing the boogie-woogie all night long. When I hear that party going on I just can't resist.     

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Forest bog

The island's main road begins at the government wharf and ends at the Atlantic. It was first carved out of the forest in the 1780s, when Cape Roseway Lighthouse was built. When Fort McNutt was a defence post during the Second World War, the military engineers rebuilt the road and added drainage pipes.  So as you are walking from the wharf to the lighthouse you can see rust-red streams running from the eastern side beneath the road to the western side, then on down the forested slope toward the shore. 
But really the waters are more like rivulets than streams.  They meander through mosses and boulders and spruces and sometimes eddy into pools, but mostly they just saturate the moss and make a very soft spongy ground. 

Occasionally you can see a glinting through the trees and undergrowth further in, and know that the water coalesces there, where you see it reflecting the sunlight. It's very difficult to walk into the forested bog without getting lost.  But you can stand on the road and peer into it, and imagine yourself walking deeper and deeper into the woods, your boots squishing and sinking in all that soaked moss.   

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More tiny spring: island ferns and mosses

Now is the time to observe the emergence of ferns and mosses that cover the island in bewildering array. Identification will be a multi-year project. The first spring they overwhelmed me and I could only look at them out of the corner of my eye. The second spring I was recovering from my swoon and started to sit up and take notice, but still couldn't figure out how to make any order out of such profligacy, such variety. Now, after two years here, I have settled myself enough to recall that I have a camera and can at least make some record of what I see, so that later -- next winter, say --I can work on identifying them.  
Why should I want to make any order, you may wonder. Why not just wander around and enjoy the sights? I think knowledge helps in recognition. And recognition -- some sense of who this particular Other is, in all its particularity -- helps me be more empathic.  Some knowledge -- even a little --helps me see each creature and plant and rock and cloud and star more clearly, appreciate it more for what it is. 
Sedges and rushes, for instance. They are everywhere in the bog below our house and along the path to the shore. I didn't especially notice or like them until I learned something about them. And now I have realized that they are beautiful in their own way. 

I did not understand how narrow and rigid was my approach to beauty until I came to the island. Here it is constantly confronted and softened and expanded. It's a little like the process of giving birth: maybe -- I hope -- the birth of a wider, more sympathetic view.  
So as I try to learn about them, learn their names and their characteristics, even if it's only a sketchy amount of knowledge, it's a way of entering into a relationship, a way of honouring them. And a way of touching the holy, however slightly. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

first snake sighting

Today I met one of the island's snakes along the main road. It was my first snake of the spring, so it was an auspicious meeting. He or she was enjoying the warm gravelly road, reasonably not expecting anybody to come along. The snake graciously allowed me a photo opportunity before it flowed off the road and disappeared completely in the forest as snakes are so good at doing.

According to the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History the snake I met today was a Maritime Garter Snake. We also have the Smooth Green Snake here; I'm sure it will turn up soon. In 1915 the students of McNutt's Island School recorded their first snake sighting of the year on April 4th.

In Buddhist tradition the snake is a symbol of wisdom. I find them beautiful and strange, peaceful (though not to their dinners) and graceful. Almost always when I meet a snake I am surprised. It wakes me up to the here and now, and I'm grateful for that.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Most amazing news ever

An Indigo Bunting has arrived on McNutt's Island. According to Robie Tuft's Birds of Nova Scotia, Indigo Buntings have been reported in Nova Scotia regularly through most of the past century, especially in the southwestern counties. Their average date of appearance has been April 19th. It used to be thought that they had been blown off course, but as Tuft remarks, storms do not occur that regularly.

Tuft calls their presence here "enigmatical," since they arrive in April and early May, but are not much seen after that. Tuft suggests that they arrive here by mistake, re-orient themselves, and then return south, to their breeding grounds in Maine, where they arrive in mid-May.

According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Indigo Bunting "migrates at night, using the stars for guidance. It learns its orientation to the night sky from its experience as a young bird observing the stars."

Maybe if the Indigo Bunting requires clear skies for its night migration it could become disoriented by cloud cover. We have had two days and nights of strong wind and rain. Could there be some connection?

Here are some pictures of the Indigo Bunting eating seed in the side yard, just beyond the picket fence. Juncos and a Mourning Dove are sharing his well-earned meal.

I do so love the notion of a young Indigo Bunting sitting quietly somewhere in Cuba on winter nights, watching the sky, learning the stars.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Give me the hyperlocal news

I’ve been trying to come up with a word for reporting the news of a small place. Fortunately somebody else has. I read an article recently about the new trend toward hyperlocal web sites and blogs. Apparently it's catching on.

But hyperlocal reporting isn’t new. Local newspapers used to devote columns to the daily comings and goings of its readership, no matter how seemingly trivial. For example, Allison Mitcham records these snippets from the Shelburne Gazette and Coastguard in 1913: “Mrs. Martha Snow returned home (to Gunning Cove) after a pleasant visit with friends at McNutt’s Island,” and “Mr. George H. Rapp of McNutt’s Island was successful in killing five ducks at one shot and wounding two or three more one day last week,” and “A party of young folks from McNutt’s Island called on friends here (Gunning Cove) on Sunday afternoon.”

This level of local reporting gradually went away as newspapers filled up with syndicated column inches, and then as local newspapers themselves began to disappear. Nowadays, even if they appear to be local, we know that the papers are often owned by vast media conglomerates. Interest in the intensely local inevitably wanes beside more compelling needs like the bottom line.

What is new – though somehow it seems kind of ho-hum already, such is the speed with which we adjust to revolutionary events – is how far such old-style hyperlocal reportage can now reach: as far as the internet can travel. So that a cast-off approach to message is now being resurrected and transformed by its new medium, the cloud.

Here on the island we have plenty of access to national and international news and we are saving all kinds of trees in the process. Though funnily enough, now that we heat entirely with wood we actually need newspapers to start our fire in the morning. And here’s where it gets complicated, since saving trees means that we are also contributing to the current painful retrenchment of local pulp mills and to the decline of the very newspapers that we can read so conveniently online. This is one of many instances in which The Simple Life crashes into The Law of Unintended Consequences.

But increasingly I realize that the news I read in other sources doesn’t get to the important stuff. It doesn’t tell me who visited the lighthouse last weekend, or how Lyndon is recuperating from his accident. It doesn’t track the hummingbirds’ northward migration, so I’ll know when I can begin looking out for them, or report on how the rhubarb is doing in various competitive patches across the harbour. It’s like being able to zoom into the highest level of magnification on Google Earth. I want to know as much as I can about this small place which is so insignificant when seen from a larger perspective yet up close teems with interest and meaning, like every other small place in the big wide world.

Many years ago a few young Van Buskirk cousins created a newspaper just for McNutt’s Island, which they distributed throughout the summer into their extended family’s various camp mailboxes. I have not seen any copies of this newspaper, but from what I hear it covered the local news with enthusiasm and attention to detail. Its legend lives on, and so I hope to keep alive its spirit of reporting from a hyperlocal perspective. And of course I'm very glad to be part of an exciting new trend.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lazy potato beds

I kept hearing about growing potatoes in lazy beds. This was a practice developed by poor crofters in Scotland. It was used where the ground was too boggy for cultivation. It wasn't actually lazy, but it was a way to grow food on marginal land. The technique came over to the boggy Maritimes with those immigrants from the old boggy places. (You can read more about it in an excellent article here.)

You lay the potato seed on a bed of seaweed straight on the ground, dig trenches down either side of the bed, and then cover the seed with the peaty sod dug from the trenches. It sounded good, especially since so many people around here swore by it. But I didn't think I would have room for potato beds inside the vegetable garden.

Then Margot told me about using old fish bait boxes. Here's her recipe: fill an old fish bait box about half-way with a mixture of soil and seaweed. Put the potato seed in, about six or eight seeds to a box. Cover them up with more seaweed. And there you go.

Even though we are not lobstermen, we inherited a few old fish bait boxes, and I had found more washed up along the shore. So I gathered seaweed from the cove to fill them. I went to the store to buy seed potatoes. But then somebody told me that any old potato would do, as long as you let its eyes sprout. Having to be reminded how to sprout potato seed can make you feel stupid. Like yesterday when I asked Greg whether he thought I could actually fish from my rowboat. It sounded like an exotic proposition at the time: a great conceptual leap. And I suppose it is, in a way, for me at least.

Once again I am reminded of how quickly and easily all sorts of knowledge is lost, from one generation to the next. Neither of us grew up in a teaching family. No useful skills were handed on to us. ( And I believe we have passed no useful skills to our own children: maintaining the tradition, as it were, though they are absolutely terrific human beings.) I think our grandparents might have taught us things, but both our famillies had moved far away from our grandparents, searching for new horizons, new worlds, happily leaving the old behind. embracing the new wonders of frozen food and time-saver meals and all the rest.

I do know that my grandparents grabbled for potatoes, because once my grandmother used the word and then had to explain it to me: it's when you go out to the potato field and dig up a few at a time with your hands, and you must do that carefully lest you destroy the rest. But me, personally? I have never in my life gotten closer to the life cycle of a potato than those childhood experiences of setting one in a jar of water to grow the vines, for no real reason that I can recall.

This is about to change.

Yesterday while we were on the mainland we dropped by Uncle Sid's Market and got a few potatoes each of an early red, Yukon Gold, Kennebec, Red Pontiac, and Green Mountain. (Too bad there weren't any blue potatoes at Uncle Sid's. I want some.) I added to this collection a few Russets that had helpfully sprouted already, at home. After they've all sprouted I'll plant them in the fish bait boxes and sometime in late summer we will begin to harvest our very own potatoes.

For anybody who has done this before -- and that includes most people we are connected with now, it turns out -- I guess it's no big deal. But for me it's very satisfying. I am continually surprised that you don't have to be an expert to actually get your own food. Slowly we are recovering enough confidence and knowledge to be as competent as the average American before the 1950s.

And with luck eventually we will be able to hold up our heads among the vegetable gardeners and fruit preservers and rabbit snarers and fishermen and deer hunters who live along the shore of Shelburne Harbour, whose parents and grandparents taught them how to do these things, who take all this practical knowledge for granted and maybe don't always realize how truly wonderful a gift they have been given, and who are passing it on their children and grandchildren, because that's what you do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Namaste, White Throated Sparrow

I heard the song of this bird soon after we first came to McNutt’s Island in early May of 2007. I had heard its song before. But working outside on the island that spring, I heard it for the first time, not as background, but as if I were somehow being drawn into the heart of the world. Be here now, it sang. Be here now.

It left in the fall, and the island stilled in its absence. I longed for it, this bird whose name I didn’t yet know. I listened to recorded bird songs, looking for a needle in a haystack. Then somewhere I saw an odd remark about a particular bird whose song was similar to the opening notes of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. It was the White Throated Sparrow. 

Then a year ago we heard it sing again, on April 22nd. I could sometimes catch it, perched on a high bough of a spruce tree, singing, but I couldn’t see more than its profile. One day it came into the yard and began eating seed. He turned and gazed in my direction while I focused the binoculars and studied him from a few feet away. It had been a holy thing to learn the singer’s name, but it felt like entering upon the mystery of mysteries finally to know his face. I was shocked that this perky-looking creature was the tiny portal into such vast beauty. (You might think I would have gotten the idea of The Least Of These by now, but apparently not. Yet. Totally.)

His song begins with three notes, the second and third in descending intervals, followed by several notes identical to the final introductory note. Sometimes the song ascends rather than descends, and sometimes the preliminary notes are two rather than three. I have also heard a descending three notes, then two triads of quarter notes followed by two eighth notes.

Whatever the variation, the song of the White Throated Sparrow holds the essence of the world’s soul, and calls you to a place of deepest joy. Greg thought he heard him yesterday, and this morning we watched him masquerading as a commoner and eating seed among the Juncos and Song Sparrows in the side yard. So now we welcome back this most amazing creature. Namaste, I tell him. I bow to that which is holy in you. 

Image from Birds of Nova Scotia, courtesy of the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tiny spring

Many varieties of mosses and ferns cover McNutt's Island. This morning you can see fern shoots as they begin to unfold, and two kinds of moss spore cases emerging from their bed of moss.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Extreme recycling

It was the day we had been waiting for: sunny skies, warm-enough, little wind. It was the day we were going to get the windows from Roseway Community Hall and bring them back to the island. Eventually Greg will use these windows to build a greenhouse.

Roseway is an old village opposite McNutt's Island on the western shore of Shelburne Harbour. The community hall there was built a long time ago. It was a two story shingled building with beautiful big windows all around and a steeply angled roof. Instead of demolishing it, Skipper and Radar and Dave are deconstructing it. Various parts of the old hall -- moulding, flooring, some tongue and groove panelling -- will be used for various people's various projects. We asked for the windows. Not very much is going to waste from that old building, not even the outhouse.
When we got back to the boat with the windows, we discovered that the Easter Bunny had been on board in our absence. The Easter Bunny is very clever to have known our boat was at Fort Point today. The Easter Bunny gave us work gloves, pansies, and lots of chocolate. And when we arrived home, the Great Blue Heron was standing on the shore of the cove. All in all, it was an excellent day.

Roseway Hall, half-way deconstructed.

Skipper uses a complicated technique to take the flooring off the second story.

Skipper explains to me how I can remove the windows with a dinner knife.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

McNutt's geography: Captain Holland's navigational chart of 1798

Here is a particularly beautiful old navigational chart showing Roseneath Island and its location in Port Roseway Harbour. 

Descriptive text gives crucial information to the sailor entering Port Roseway. It says: "Cape Roseway is a High Cliff of white Rocks the Top of which is partly without wood; the West side of Roseneath Island is Low." It gives the descriptions and locations of the Jigg, "a Rocky Reef with no more than 6 feet water" lying south of Cape Roseway, and the Bell,  "a Rock always visible and bold," located between Sundridge Point and Cape Roseway. It describes the eastern channel as "clear within a Cables length of both shores, up to the Anchoring Ground, in good water, and Mud Bottom. It adds that "Between Roseneath Island and the Western shore, is quite shoal." Consistently with the 1776 Des Barres map it shows the western channel as a False Passage.

The island's coastline is fairly accurately delineated. The upper arm of the island's western cove is labelled Carolina Beach, as Des Barres did earlier. Today it is known as the Horseshoe. The lower arm (now called the Point) is not named on this map. The shallow area between the island and the western shore that is labelled as a depth of 6 feet lies a bit to the north of the current Seal Ledge.  A small island appears in the western cove; if it ever was an island, today that body joins the main part of the McNutt's as Indian Point, creating two coves where there may have been only one in former times. Buildings indicate "Nutt's Settlement" in the vicinity of the remaining old cellar. 

The mapping of McNutt's was not current when it was published in 1798, since it does not show Cape Roseway Lighthouse, first lit in 1792. But it does render the rocks below the lighthouse, along the island's Atlantic coast.
The map also details the communities and place names of Port Roseway Harbour, though the harbour had been renamed in honour of the Earl of Shelburne in 1783.  Of particular interest are Gunning Cove and the Pilots Settlement there, Carleton Point (now Fort Point), Burch Town (Birchtown) and Black Town. By 1798 many of the area's black refugees had sailed to Sierra Leone. The Town of Shelburne itself had quickly declined as well, to a small coastal outpost. Alexander McNutt had left his brother Benjamin's home on the island and returned to Virginia, where he died around 1811. 

"Plan of Port Roseway Harbour" from  A New Chart of the Coast of Nova Scotia with the South Coast of New Brunswick," by Capt. Holland, 1798, courtesy of NSARM

Monday, April 13, 2009

Island bird report

April on McNutt's Island has been for the most part cold, windy, rainy and raw. Still, the migratory birds have been arriving and the over-wintering birds have become more active. The Mourning Doves, Song Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos spend some time each day checking out the side yard for the bird seed Greg has been throwing out there. They have arrived after a long journey from who-knows-where, and we are happy to supply a King's Bounty until they get on their feet again.

The Song Sparrows and the Juncos -- little, feisty birds -- run about on the ground with their heads thrust forward, using up lots of calories searching for seed or insects. 

We noticed the three Mourning Doves about a week ago, a few days after the Song Sparrows and the Juncos.  Actually, I saw a Mourning Dove in the oak tree one day in February, and thought I heard its call once, earlier. So perhaps these three have been here all along, but now are attracted to the free food. They are not as frenetic as those smaller birds, and can spend time standing very still. One of them has been running after another, flying up about a foot into the air behind it, spreading its wings in the air, then coming back to ground.  I can't tell whether this is intended to be intimidation or flirting. The object of this behaviour runs away.   

The other day Greg watched the Bald Eagle pair flying together, one almost perching on top of the other in mid-air.  I suppose this behaviour means that love is in the air, even though the air is still raw and wet and windy -- not very romantic. 

Our old friends the Robins have been especially busy around the yard for the past few days, finding worms in the soil, thawed and wet with so much rain. They are easy pickings, I'll bet. I hate to lose worms, but the Robins have worked hard all winter to survive on whatever they could scrounge. They deserve a little fatness. 

This week we watched a pair of Downy Woodpeckers busy in one of our most pitiful little apple trees. Though this particular tree doesn't look like much, evidently it is home to luscious insects.  We have glimpsed the Downy during the winter months, mostly in the forest.

On April 11th we saw the male Yellow Shafted Northern Flicker in the front yard. On April 12th, 2008, we hosted a pair of them, only for the day as I recall.  Could this be one of the very same birds? If so, he's on schedule, and I hope his mate is with him. He is such a beautifully and precisely marked bird. Too bad for us that we are only a way-station for them.  

The Common Loons in the cove have been calling out more clearly than they did during the colder months.  Then their calls were faint and tremulous. Now they call with greater confidence. 

Yesterday afternoon -- Easter -- we watched one Great Blue Heron slowly wafting across the shore below the apple orchard, moving from from south to north.  It was our first sighting for the year.

Images from Birds of Nova Scotia, courtesy of the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Opening hymn, church of the island

Praise the God of ephemera:
ice on wood pile and shadow on snow
clouds that quicken across the day
tracks of Dark-eyed Junco
whitecaps on slate grey
harbour seals' slick shimmer.

Praise the God of containers and all they hold:
gull eggs and whelks and wasp nests
wells, and apples which keep the seed
the secret place where the faun rests
tidal pool and cattail reed
the fishing net, the pail, the sheepfold.

Praise the God of empty things:
low tide, abandoned field, turtle shell
dead tree broken off and hollowed
beached rowboat, old stone cellar
snake's shed skin, ditch along the road
the inner structure of the eagle's wings.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday

We spent Good Friday redeeming more of the old farm.  Greg continued clearing. He has worked his way down the path toward the lower orchard. Yesterday he got as far as an old well. This well was covered over with dead spruce trunks and brush, and we only happened to glimpse it last summer, a few feet off the path.  If they are open, the old wells are dangerous for the sheep. I would not like to have to rescue a sheep who has fallen into one. Soon, Greg will build a wooden frame with a hinged cover.  It's on his list. In the meantime we will trust the sheep to keep to the safety of their familiar path and not go wandering off in search of anything new and exciting.  

The old wells themselves are not very useful to us, at least not yet. But they were essential to the settlers who built them, who first redeemed this land. Now, no longer practical, they are good for the soul. Their dark glimmer hints of hidden depths beyond the familiar paths.     

While Greg worked near the lower path, I continued to clear the field behind the vegetable garden. It was its hundred year clean up, I think. Last year it was covered with spruce trees and its outlines were vague. It was only the memory of a field.  Now, the spruce cleared away, you can see the stone wall along the lower road and the two old apple trees that border it. As I raked my way down the wall I found clumps of emerging daffodils near each apple tree. They have been hidden for years, their glory unseen and forgotten, like the wells, and as good for the soul.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I have been watching the skeleton forest north of our property since we moved here. You can read posts about it under the forest label.  Greg has taken down the spruce that used to hide the stone wall boundary and to some extent the forest beyond the wall. Now it is possible to see the slow regeneration taking place within the forest.

Bright green patches of young spruce have established themselves in the midst of all the dead wood.  Now, in early spring, you can see the faint pink of small hackmatack and alder, a medium sized maple or two, and the distinguished structure of a tall birch before it has leafed out.  The maple and the birch survived the wind storm that toppled their less deeply rooted neighbours, the spruce, several years ago. The hackmatack and alder are among the first deciduous trees to establish themselves after such a destruction. 

The land in this forest is one big bog, though it's hard to tell that because of the dense tangle of uprooted trees, old trunks and fallen branches. It's almost impossible to walk through this area. You can do it, but it involves inching your way from fallen log to fallen log, holding onto dead branches that you hope are not going to break off in your hand, and never knowing whether what's beneath your feet will suddenly give way. Beneath the forest are springs and streams and a layer of moss-covered humus, and everywhere a great variety of lichen and fungus.  

Though the forest still looks dead, I guess, to someone just glancing at it, I no longer see it that way. I see it as deeply alive and a source of endless admiration.  

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Elusive rabbits, or hares

I have seen a rabbit -- or a hare, but more likely a rabbit -- exactly twice on the island in the past two years. But I have seen rabbit -- or hare -- prints in the snow, lots of them.  I think there may be a warren beneath the older pear tree. There are three entrances at the roots of the pear tree, and a fourth about six feet away from it.  Each time I looked, after a fresh snow, I found rabbit -- or hare --prints going to and from the entrances.  And then there were those mysterious and eerie sounds that came from beneath the pear tree last spring. If it is a warren, then we have rabbits instead of hares. Because hares don't go underground like that.

There seems to be a great deal that is not well understood about rabbits and hares, which are two very distinct animals, even though they look so much alike. They are mysterious and elusive, both of them.  Maybe that's why they are the object of so much fascination in myth and story and art.  They are certainly an ancient sign of fertility and spring. 

I am slowly settling on the rabbit theory because of my ongoing conversation with Amy-Lynn Bell, who posts at Flandrum Hill. She has hares in her yard, beneath her rose bushes, and they are so nonchalantly at home there that she is able to take beautiful photographs of them, which you can see on her blog.  On McNutt's Island we don't have any little furry hopping animal with long ears that behaves like the hares at Flandrum Hill.  As far as I know. It's a big island, and I imagine there's a lot that goes on here that I have no idea of. 

Today Amy-Lynn and I agreed that in honour of the mysteries of spring we would both use Albrecht Durer's A Young Hare as our blog illustration. Perhaps we are also both honouring this artist who looked so closely at the world four hundred years ago. The clarity and immediacy of his hare portrait hints of the perspective of a late medieval mystic. And maybe it inspires us to look around us as carefully and intensely as he once did.          

Albrecht Durer, A Young Hare, 1502.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Island engineering

There's a lot of ingenuity involved when anything gets built or repaired on the island. You want to use what you already have on hand, and avoid having to get materials from the mainland. This approach cuts down on time and effort not to mention the cost of the project. 

When Skipper and Radar restored our old wharf two summers ago they used logs from the forest and lumber they milled on the island. The dock sits on four huge rock-filled log cribs.  The cribs are connected by joists that run along the top of them and are bolted together and supported by log pilons from beneath. It's a really old way to build a dock, and it's as good as it ever was:

Our dock is not very protected from the waves and chop of the harbour. We have had several big storms since the dock was built, and last fall it began to lose some pilons on the outer side. The planking of the dock began to sag. I sidled along the far inner side to keep away from the sagging place. 

It isn't completely repaired yet. That will take some very low tide when Skipper and Radar can get down beneath it and replace the missing supports. But until then Skipper has come up with an ingenious solution. He put two big stumps on either end of the damaged part. Then he laid a very long log  from one stump to the other, making a timber bridge that rests on the stumps. 

In the middle of the dock's sag he drilled a hole through the planking. On top of the timber bridge he placed a car jack. Then he ran a chain down through the hole around the support timber up over the timber bridge and over the car jack, and joined the chain back to itself, like clasping a necklace. Then he took the car jack crank and cranked, until the planking was pulled up level.  In essence he created a mini-suspension bridge. And there it sits until they can come back to rebuild the underneath support.  What clever island engineering!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sheep behaving oddly

For the past couple of days we have observed two sheep wandering about without the rest of the flock. This is unusual behaviour.  This morning one of them is resting alone beside the lower road. The other is standing about fifty metres away.  When sheep are about to give birth they spend more time lying down, and they separate themselves from the rest of the flock.  So we may be about to have an early lamb or two. I don't know why the two sheep are together. Maybe they are mother and daughter. 

Last year we first heard lambs bleating in early April. The sounds came from the woods between the road and Indian Point. On April 11th the mother and her two lambs appeared in the yard. They were born six or seven weeks before the rest of the lambs. And they survived and did quite well. We could distinguish them until the others caught up to their weight and size, late in the summer. 

Since there are three or four flocks throughout the island I imagine this same thing has happened in the other flocks too. The rams were taken off the island at the end of October last year, but not before they managed to impregnant a few ewes for a second time in their happy sojourn here. What fond memories they must have. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rare sighting of a moose on the island

It is an extremely rare occurrence when a moose is sighted on the island. For one thing, there are very few moose in western Nova Scotia at all, and those are, for the most part, within the vast forested wilderness interior.

The moose must have swum to the island at a low tide. It is well known that moose can and do swim. And there's really no other way it could have gotten here. We heard it crashing through the dead forest north of the house very early this morning, before the sun was up. It sounded like, well, a moose. But we couldn't imagine that it actually was. We peered out the window and saw an enormous creature behind the shed where we keep the rotor-tiller and the extra chairs.

We waited anxiously until it was light enough to take a picture of this amazing event. The moose may have been tired from the exertion of its swim across the harbour, because it remained quietly near the house, where finally we were able to take a picture. It did not seem particularly pleased to have its picture taken, and later wandered off to some other part of the island.