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.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sheep savers: a love story

"There's a good mother," Greg said. The ewe had positioned herself on a rock in the yard, the better to face in the direction of her distant lamb. We could hear the lamb's answering cry each time the ewe bleated, which was constantly. We thought the lamb was down at the fish house. They were calling back and forth, so we thought a reunion would be happening soon. It didn't seem like anything extraordinary.

I went on down to the dock to bail out my rowboat, Roseneath. She had taken a lot of water in the latest rainstorm and it was past time for me to dry her out. As I approached the dock I could hear the lamb more clearly. It wasn't at the fish house after all. At first I thought it might be caught somewhere near the dock, but soon I realized that it was way over on the point. Now I could see it wandering disconsolately back and forth, answering its mother. The point is a long way around the cove from the fish house and I wondered how they would find each other.

But I remembered what LeRoy told me: don't try to help. They will find each other in the end.So I climbed down into the rowboat and got on with bailing.

I watched a speedboat coming across the channel from the direction of Gunning Cove. It went on around the outside of the point, in the direction of the lighthouse. The lamb and the ewe continued calling to each other across the cove. By now the ewe and a couple of her ewe friends had walked down the path to the fish house. She was standing on the shore, looking out over the water in the direction of the point.

Some time later I began to hear the lamb making a different sound. Written on the page, it could look like: glub, glub, baaa -- glub, glub, baaa. The baaas were growing weaker, too. In its determination to find its mother, the lamb had decided to take the shortest route. It had plunged into the cove waters and was trying to swim across. It would never make it, though. The waters were placid but the distance from shore to shore is about two hundred yards. It would tire and drown.

Then I heard the speedboat coming slowly into the cove. Evidently the boaters -- an older man, a younger man, and a couple of kids and dogs -- had noticed the lamb on their way out, then seen it in the water as they were coming back. They had decided to help. They cut the motor and rowed, I guess, to the lamb. I had climbed up onto our dock, but I couldn't really see what was happening just then. They reached over the side and held the lamb's head, then slowly motored across the cove, toward the fish house. I heard one of them say, "I can't believe we are sheep savers!" Which they were.

When they approached the fish house and the rocky shore there, they let the lamb go. But instead of heading toward the shore, it swam in a circle around the boat and tried to stay with it. Then the boaters held its head again and using their oars they rowed among the underwater rocks, closer to the shore. They let the lamb go again and this time it swam to shore and slowly clambered up rockweed-covered rocks.

All this time the mother had been watching, standing next to the fish house. Now she began calling out again. I thought the lamb would be exhausted but since it had a free ride, it wasn't. It trotted through the woods and met up with its mother and her two ewe friends. There was much wiggling and greeting and then the four of them pranced merrily up the path together. The sheep savers went on their way, having done a very good deed which I was lucky to observe.

I had bailed out Roseneath by now, so I rowed out to check the gillnet. When I came back the little group had moved into the lower orchard. The lamb looked especially clean after its bath in the cove, and it was keeping close to its mother.

When I was rowing in the cove I saw the larger part of the flock out on the point. The smaller group -- the group at our house --must have gotten separated after the great ingathering last Thursday. The flock on the point was eating kelp and lying about peacefully. One lamb was off by itself though, standing on the ridge and crying for its mother. I'm pretty sure they will find each other in the end.

This story is illustrated with a map. But the map does not show everything there is to see around the cove. It only shows the places and characters that are mentioned in the story. As always, you can click on the image if you want to enlarge it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A lighthouse artist

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are names and initials carved in the stones around the lighthouse. Here is an interesting depiction of what appear to be two lighthouses. Beneath them is carved the name of the man who is the likely artist. But most of his name has been worn away by wind and rain. All that's left are the initial J and the first letter of a last name -- M.According to the census records in 1901 and 1911, the light keeper during that decade was John McKenna. He was 53 years old in 1901, and his wife Catherine was 56. A decade later John was still the light keeper and his wife Catherine was still alive. In 1911 their son Robert was listed as the assistant light keeper, and the head of a household that included his wife Lillian and their four young children. John McKenna kept the light at Cape Roseway from 1899 to 1920.*

Even though it's impossible to read the name carved below the lighthouses, it seems likely that it is John McKenna's. And this may not be a carving of two different lighthouses, but two views of Cape Roseway Light: front and back.

* Thanks to Kim Walker, Archivist at the Shelburne County Archives and Genealogical Society, for writing to tell me how long John McKenna was lightkeeper.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shepherding day

The shepherds came on the island again this week. They wanted to de-worm the sheep for a second time to increase their chances of staying healthy and strong. We asked if they needed any help gathering the sheep from the lighthouse. "Sure," they said. So we set off from the lighthouse with about forty ewes and lambs.
At first the sheep tried to run off into the woods. But once they had been gathered, we walked behind them and beside them to prevent them from leaving the rocky shoreline.
Their other option was the deep blue sea.
The border collies did most of the work, and the d'Entremonts, Mary
and LeRoy. Greg and Blake walked behind the flock. The rest of us walked beside them. Mostly the whole walk was calm. We stopped to rest a few times.
The rests were for the sheep. They were working hard to walk along the rocks for so long, in the bright sun. The shepherds enjoyed the rests too. The sheep were quite sneaky. Every once in a while a ewe and her lamb would quietly attempt to run for it.
But the dogs were on top of the situation.
Mary and LeRoy's daughter Anna is a terrific shepherd.
Anna took this picture of Mike Andre and Amanda Huron, two shepherds visiting from Washington DC.
Anna took Blake's picture, too. Blake's grandfather owned sheep on the island back when he was the lighthouse keeper. So Blake is following a family tradition.
Even when the dogs are resting they never take their attention from the sheep.
The flock is almost to the corral now.
The tide was quite high when we finally arrived at the corral. The flock did not want to cross through that water. They hemmed and they hawed. They looked for alternative routes, and one feisty lamb made a serious break for freedom. Finally one or two of the ewes set off through the water, with LeRoy's encouragement. Then the others followed.
They seemed relieved to join the rest of the flock inside the corral after their long journey.
Us too.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Peaceful deer

The deer who visit the back orchard these days let me come quite close before they decide it's time to run away. They are alert but not afraid.They remind me of the deer that were said to surround the Buddha as he sat beneath his tree. Those Buddhist deer are called Listening Deer, because they were so peaceful and attentive to the presence of the Buddha.
But this deer is searching for windfall apples instead of wisdom, as far as I can tell.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hurricane aftermath at Cape Roseway

We went up to the lighthouse yesterday afternoon, after the not-really-a-hurricane passed by.I think if a storm loses its hurricane status it loses its name, too, and slips back toward anonymity. It was a wild and beautiful afternoon at Cape Roseway.
The smashing surf was breath-taking. This view looks southwest, toward Yarmouth.
Cape Roseway is more stunning than Peggy's Cove. But unlike Peggy's Cove there is no parking for tour buses and no restaurant here.
Just as I took this picture Greg yelled for me to get away from the rocks.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hurricane leftovers

It's not much of a hurricane that's passing by McNutt's Island right now. It's out at sea, still moving along the coast of Nova Scotia toward Newfoundand. But its winds are now of the tropical storm sort. When there's a storm out at sea we get these huge waves marching in single file down the center of the western channel. They crash against the ledges and shoals that make the western channel too shallow for big boats: a False Passage on the old maps.
Since the winds are coming from the north east, the island blocks most of the force and the effect here on the western side is actually gentle. The water whooshes away from the cove in broad flat sheets instead of pounding the dock with crashing waves. The house doesn't shake and moan the way it does when the winds are hitting it broadside from the west. The oak tree is waving its branches in our faces, but the air is mild and we have the front door open since the rain isn't coming from that direction.
The storm is passing by at one of the year's highest tides. It's a high tide on a new moon instead of a full moon, which is sort of curious.

This is our third season of hurricanes and tropical storms. It seems that mostly they lose strength by the time they arrive here on Nova Scotia's southwest coast. So we get the leftovers: strong wind and rain. Sometimes the wind has been frighteningly strong. But not this time.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Days of grace

Nova Scotians would have a few days of grace before the hurricane's arrival, a weather forecaster said earlier this week.

One night Greg made a list of everything we needed to do before the storm. He has been crossing items off the list since then. This morning he went into town, while the harbour is still calm. When he comes home we will intensify our preparations to secure everything.

But some things can't be secured. There's the oak tree just in front of the house. Myrtle Goulden, who was born in this house and grew up here, told us that her brother Burns planted that tree as a gift to his mother. Bertha had wanted an oak tree. He may have planted an acorn, or maybe a sapling. Myrtle wasn't sure which. Burns was born in this house in 1914 and Myrtle said he planted the tree when he was about twelve. So it's around eighty years old now. It's the only oak tree on McNutt's.

The tree is very close to the house. Over the years it has been pruned so that its branches do not actually hang above the roof. But still, it is very close. In summer it harbours the birds and gives us shade. In autumn it protects us from the westerly winds. In winter its bare branches give us beauty. It is home to lichen and mosses. And this time of year it is full of leaves and wind resistance. It could blow over in the coming storm.
These days of grace have given us time to prepare. But they also give us a chance to touch the oak tree's branches, to admire the curve of its wide embrace. For all that we can't make secure, we can somehow tell our gratitude now, just in case.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Still hopeful garden

It's hard to believe on this calm and sparkly day that Hurricane Bill is lumbering around south of here, checking out the late summer options. He'll just come on in if he feels like it. But we won't know for another couple of days what his plans actually are. Bill is a spontaneous kind of guy. In the meantime, the Kentucky Wonder wax beans have climbed up their teepee poles just like the seed packet promised.
The chard and the mustard greens have been the garden heroes this summer. I pick and pick and they keep on flourishing. I've planted more of both, to freeze for winter.
The eight fish bait boxes filled with lazy bed potatoes are coming along. The leaves in most of the boxes are turning yellow and brown, which is the sign that I can go ahead and pull out the potatoes. This one with its still-green leaves is a late variety. I forgot to write down which variety I planted in which box, so I'll never really know which ones did well and which ones didn't. I think I can leave them in the boxes for a while after they are ready to pull.
Since the summer got off to such a slow, wet start, I have replanted snow peas and more beans. Here you can see the snow peas coming up among the pea sticks, and the beans beyond them, where there used to be sugar snaps. Our frost date is late October, so I am hopeful that I will get another crop of snow peas or beans, or maybe, if I'm lucky, both.

Or Hurricane Bill may decide to visit McNutt's Island next Monday. If he does the garden will look a lot different in a few days.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Quiet time for birds

The song birds are quiet these days. Once in a while, during the day, a thin and sketchy version of the white-throated sparrow's song floats across the air. Its volume has been turned down, and the song stops and begins again at random. It is as if a bored dj is idly lifting the needle from a spinning record and replacing it further down the groove. The summer dance party is winding down. The white-throated sparrow does not need to announce his presence or defend his tree any longer. His babies have hatched and passed the first dangerous hurdles of life -- crows, gulls, et cetera -- or not. But in any event he is preparing to move on, which does not require much in the way of singing.

The matter of babies can be confusing for somebody like me who does not know what to look for. By the time the young are out and about they are nearly as big as their parents. The other day I watched a yard full of robins searching for insects and worms. Looking, I realized that it was a sight I had not seen for some time. The robins had disappeared in July, when they were nesting. Except for that hypervigilant father who guarded the nest in the grape arbour and loudly scolded me every time I came into the garden. Now I saw that many of the dozen or so robins in the yard had the speckled breasts of juveniles, though they all seemed pretty much the same size. If I had not looked at them more carefully I would not have known I was seeing babies.

It was the same with the great blue herons. For a couple of weeks in July the sky seemed filled with them, flying back and forth in their diagonal flight pattern from the eastern side of the island toward the cove. I did not understand what I was seeing. Where did they all come from? I wondered then. It did not occur to me that the babies would by then be as big as their parents, even though I had seen that one tentative young heron in the backyard, enormous and gawky. Then the sky emptied of herons and they were gone.

This silence and emptiness will continue to settle slowly on the island over the next month or so. It's a via negativa that gives clarity to the summer's jumbled intensity, like a developing photograph emerges from the emulsion bath of the darkroom. But secretive little birds will continue to flit silently through the spruce forests, and many of the robins will remain over the winter, along with the gulls and the crows, who will party on.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The completed greenhouse

The greenhouse is finished.Its door was originally a large window in Roseway Hall.
The shingles and the four big gable-end pieces of glass were the biggest expense. Altogether the cost was a little under two hundred dollars.
There are three work counters inside. With shelves beneath the two side ones.
And plenty of work space. This won't be a heated greenhouse, so it will be useful primarily for starting seeds in the spring, growing seedlings to transplant into the garden when the time is right. It feels very luxurious to have such a place.
Greg made a sign for the greenhouse, to remind us of its connections with other places: Roseway Community Hall, across the harbour in the village of Roseway, and Cape Roseway Lighthouse here on the island.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Weather report, August 13th 1789

A Philadelphia newspaper called The Pennsylvania Mercury contained this item from a correspondent in Shelburne in its issue of September 19th 1789:

August 13, 1789
The week past has been the hottest weather experienced here since the settlement of Shelburne. On Tuesday and yesterday the thermometer, hanging in an open passage, in the shade, was up to 85 at three o'clock in the afternoon.

Today the thermometer, hanging in an open passage, in the shade, hovered around 68 at three o'clock in the afternoon. That's about 19 degrees in Canadian.

The Town of Shelburne is hotter than McNutt's Island in the summer. The island's summer is foggier and cooler, moderated by the Atlantic. Shelburne is deep inside the inner harbour; the island is on the outer edge of the outer harbour. I would bet that if The Pennsylvania Mercury's correspondent had been reporting from McNutt's instead of from Shelburne he (or she) would have given a high temperature of somewhere in the seventies that day.

But this summer has been cool and wet both on the island and in town. And there's word in town that Environment Canada is forecasting a string of summers like this one for the region, an effect of the continued melting of polar ice. I haven't been able to find this in writing anywhere; maybe it's an urban legend. It makes sense, though, that huge expanses of ice melting into the northern seas would keep everything cool and foggy for a while.

Those Loyalist settlers of Shelburne were probably delighted with a temperature of 85, and went around town 220 years ago fanning themselves, shirtsleeves rolled up, grinning at their good fortune: a hot spell in August and the hottest day since they'd set foot on this stony land.

Thanks to Harrison Howeth in Delaware, who is magically able to find ancient newspaper items about any topic, and happy to share.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Schooner Amistad in Shelburne Harbour

Amistad arrived at the town dock in Shelburne today. She's a powerful symbol of courage and resistance to injustice.
Amistad is a replica of the ship which was carrying enslaved Africans out of Havana in 1839. The Africans rose up and took over the ship.
If you don't know the story, Steven Spielburg's movie Amistad is a great way to learn about it. They are showing it in town this afternoon. And there are several other excellent events surrounding the Amistad's arrival. In case you are near Shelburne, you can find out about the week's activities here.
Amistad will be travelling to Cuba later this month, then replicating her historic voyage from Havana to Long Island. There's lots of information about the trip at Amistad's web site.
Today in Shelburne the townspeople marched out to greet her. These are the Third New Jersey Volunteers. That's our solicitor, second shako from the left.
It's always a bit head-spinning for us Yanks, since we think of New Jersey as being on the American side in the Revolution. But in Nova Scotia when we refer to the Third New Jersey Volunteers we mean a regiment of British Loyalists, or as they would have been referred to in the newly independent American colonies, traitors. Head-spinning. But we are on the Nova Scotian side of things now.
Actually, people in Shelburne dress like this a lot. If you are going to live in Shelburne you might as well go ahead and invest in some eighteenth century clothes. You will need them.
There is an organic connection between Amistad and Nova Scotia, and particularly with Birchtown, here in Shelburne Harbour. In 1792 a large group of former American slaves, who had won their freedom and a Nova Scotia refuge by actively supporting the British cause in the Revolution, left Nova Scotia and sailed to Sierra Leone, which was then also the site of a British slave-trading outpost. There they established Freetown and a new community of freedom in the midst of an active slave trade. Over half of those new settlers to Sierre Leone came from Birchtown.
Nearly fifty years later, the Africans aboard the Amistad were enslaved near Sierra Leone and taken to Cuba to be sold.
If you imagine a skein of connection between the American colonies (later the new United States), Nova Scotia, England, Sierra Leone and the slave embarkation points along Africa's west coast, and Cuba and the West Indies where slaves were needed for the sugar plantations, then back to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for cheap salt fish to feed the slaves, you have the bare outlines of a vast global economy based on slavery. Both the Nova Scotian settlers of Sierra Leone and the enslaved Africans who took control of Amistad were courageous people whose personal actions furthered the end of a system so deeply entrenched that many thought it would be impossible to eradicate.

A wonderful book on the end of slavery is Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005). Hochschild is a great story teller, worthy of his huge subject.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lover of thistle

This thistle grows abundantly on the island. Most people agree that it is a troublesome and invasive weed. Butterflies do not share this opinion.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A walk around the garden

Even with its slow start in this cool, wet summer, the garden is making progress.
The squash are blossoming, which makes the squash blossom bee quite happy. He is a specialized sort of wild bee. Amazing how he knows when to show up.
This is my first year to grow bush beans. You have to search carefully beneath the broad leaves to find the beans.
Jalapeno peppers! They sat around for the longest time before deciding that yes, they would consent to grow after all.
Fennel. I hope Greg has lots of plans that include fennel.
I have cut six of the dozen cabbages for cole slaw and sauerkraut. Last year the cut plants grew a second cabbage, so I'm hoping for the same results this year. I can't remember why I was so worried about the cabbage earlier in the summer. Or anything else, for that matter.
The peas are about finished, I think, though they are still producing nicely. I started a couple more rows. Because if summer is going to be cool and wet, then the peas will be happy even in August and September. That's my thinking, anyway.
Scarlet runner beans are the prettiest. I am beginning to see tiny beans forming.
I was sitting beneath the grape arbour admiring the garden when who should I hear but a pair of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds. They zoomed all about, even up into the apple trees, their wings sounding like tiny powerful motors. I also could hear their chirp, which I don't remember ever hearing before yesterday. My bird book describes the sound as "rapid, squeaky chipping." I have seen them around a few times but yesterday was my closest encounter. If you look at the rock on the left side of the photograph you can discern the hummingbird (female or immature male) in the foreground, drinking from a red zinnia blossom. I planted the zinnia seeds in early May, specifically choosing red flowers, hoping for hummingbirds. So this is a photograph of a modest dream come true.