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, November 30, 2009

Dumping Day in LFA 33

It was still dark when we walked down to the shore to watch the lobster boats set off this morning.
They are officially allowed to go out at seven o'clock, and we could hear the motors humming down the western harbour about then. It must be quite the traffic challenge to launch so many boats all at the same time, filled with traps and gear and crew, off the wharves at Gunning Cove and Fort Point. And this same scene is being repeated at every wharf in southwestern Nova Scotia.
Lobster Fishing Area 33 begins just east of Halifax, and Shelburne is at its western end. LFA 34 -- the big kahuna -- begins to the west of Shelburne Harbour and runs all the way around the southern tip of Nova Scotia and up to Digby. Together, these two LFAs pull in more than sixty per cent of all the lobster taken in Nova Scotia. In 2007 that was just under 16,000 tonnes, worth over $218 million, according to the Department of Fisheries.
This morning the lobster boats will dump their traps. A license allows for 250 traps, which are stacked high on the decks of the boats as they go out to sea. By late morning the boats will be returning to the wharves. Then, as early as 12:01 a.m. on December 1st, they will go out again to begin hauling their traps. They will get most of the season's catch in the first week or two.
There are about 1,700 license holders in LFA 33 and 34, and we waved at fifteen or sixteen of them steaming off, their lights moving through the darkness, their colours emerging as the day lightened. Randy blew his horn in greeting. I always feel honoured when Randy blows his horn.
The weather forecast was calling for wind today. But the day dawned mild and clear and still. As good a morning as you could hope for.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We know where our sausage comes from

The d'Entremonts have turned some of their sheep island mutton into sausage, and last week we received a cooler filled with it. Some of the sausage is a hot spicy kind called Merguez.

They also sent us a non-spicy version which they have named Port Mutton. Its name is a play on the nearby town of Port Mouton (pronounced Port Mattoon), which got its name when a French expedition lost a sheep overboard in the harbour there four hundred or so years ago.

Vegetarians cover your eyes now. We omnivores are happy to know so much about our sausage, as you can plainly see.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Deer season

This evening the deer family is in the lower orchard. They aren't easy to see, since they are the colour of fog, or of wet bark of old apple trees, or of rain-darkened boulders. They blend in. I can see them, though, because their movement attracts my eye. In this I think my eye has become more discerning during the past two and half years. I notice movement better now, and maybe shape: the patterned flicker of grass where a snake is passing; the cupped curve of a nest. My eyesight is terrible, but experience has begun to compensate. I have learned that if I notice something I ought to pay attention. Maybe that's the whole difference, right there, between now and then.

The deer remain mysterious, but they have begun to come into focus for us. One of the books that came with the house was The World of the White-tailed Deer, by Leonard Lee Rue III (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1962.) The book belonged to Howard T.Walden 2nd, who was Elizabeth Hyde's father and a well-respected nature writer, especially about fly fishing. His penciled underlinings and notes are a conversation between the reader and the writer. Maybe, too, they are notes on an inner dialogue inspired by his reading the book and remembering the deer he has seen in his life. It's like catching a few words from a distant thought, or like the hint of a deer as it leaps away, some foggy evening sixty or seventy years ago.

Rue tells me that deer stay in a three-generation matriarchal family composed in its simplest form of the older doe, the younger doe and the younger doe's offspring. He also says that they inhabit a one-square mile area for their entire lives, and move outside that area only in extreme conditions. That explains why, all fall, we have only seen this one family, and another solitary deer as well. There are other deer on the island, other families, but they inhabit other places.

The hunters were here only for the first couple of weeks of deer season. After that, they turn their attention back to the final touches of getting ready for lobster season, and the island grows quiet again. We call them the hunters, but really they are our same friends who have camps on the island and come over now and then during the summer. Their interest in the deer gives them an intimate connection to the island. Once a year they cut deep into the forest where nobody else ever goes, and build their secret places, and watch and wait. Because they take the time and because they pay attention they see more than the rest of us, I think.

Some of their wives tell them,"Fine, go off to McNutt's and hunt. Just don't kill anything." They do, though, and I think it's probably a good thing. There's not much killing of deer that takes place, but what does probably helps the herd as a whole. If there are too many deer on the island they will starve over the winter. Already the hunters are concerned about what they saw during this hunting season: deer smaller and thinner than they have seen in years past. It makes sense. This summer was not abundant for growing things. For a few weeks the hunters host the deer at lavish feasts of apples and carrots. But even so, the deer may be going into the winter with little reserve.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A visit from MaManna

Neither Greg nor I is the technical type. We sometimes say how helpful it would be if one of us were. But alas.
So since we live completely off-grid, we are fortunate to have an integrated solar and wind turbine system that is reliable and low-maintenance.
But we have been worried that we didn't understand how to perform one of the essential maintenance tasks that has to do with keeping the batteries properly charged. In the meantime, the company that installed our system in summer of 2007 was folded into another Nova Scotia company called MaManna. And we worried that we might get lost in the transition and be stranded on an island with nobody we could call if things broke down.
So today Sandy Hines and Steve Arseneault from MaManna came by for a visit. They looked at the solar tracker and the wind turbine and the batteries and the generator, and then Sandy walked us through the maintenance tasks for the batteries. Basically he translated the battery maintenance manual into non-technical English for me while I took notes, in English. When we finished he told me to re-read the manual to reinforce what we had gone over. Now that Sandy has explained it to me, I believe I can correctly equalize the batteries all by myself like a big girl.
Here is the bank of switches and monitors that is the brains of our off-grid system. In order to live this so-called simple life I am on far more intimate terms with specific gravity, a crucial but not simple reality, than I would ever have imagined being. Actually I probably never thought once about the phrase "specific gravity" before coming here. And Greg now knows lots more about propane tanks and generators than he used to. Not to mention how to stare down this panel when necessary.
The visit from Sandy and Steve and tutorial from Sandy gave us the confidence boost we needed. I find the batteries quite intimidating, but the more I work with them the less fearful I become. Isn't that always the way, and not just with batteries.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's all about wood, continued ...*

Our relationship to firewood has continued to evolve since we first arrived in Nova Scotia. Back then, our most recent experience with actual fire -- as opposed to heat coming out of radiators --was a gas log fireplace. Which was pretty nice, really, with its remote control and all. Quite cozy. And nothing but icing on the cake, since back then the real heat was supplied by some mysterious furnace in the basement that we hardly ever even gave a thought to, even when we probably should have.

Here, we saw right away that by the end of April most people already had huge wide orderly walls of next winter's wood sitting in their yards, cords and cords of it, split and stacked and drying. It was a little intimidating to imagine the amount of labour involved in this one housekeeping item. But it was exciting, too. We had wanted to deal with life on a more elementary level. What could be more elementary than providing our own heat from start to finish instead of writing a monthly cheque to the anonymous purveyors of oil or gas or electricity?

As we observed our new environment more closely, we saw that many people kept their wood in an actual extra old house or shed. This is not the sort of thing you notice right away, stacked firewood peering out of the windows of old buildings. Instead it's a telling detail that reveals itself in due time.

The back room of this very house was an attached wood shed before it became a guest room in the 1960s. Keeping the firewood dry and getting to it easily was not a problem for the families that lived in this house before us. But it was for us, at least until now.
Now Greg has finished building our covered wood shed. He used spruce poles for the uprights and recycled local lumber for the rest.
He planned it with a big overhang in front to cut down on the effect of weather that blows in from the southwest, as it mostly does. And also so I will have cover while I'm getting wood off the pile.
This is a huge improvement over our first and second winters, when I tried to keep the woodpile dry with big pieces of heavy plastic sheeting, secured against the wind by random logs and stones. It worked okay, most of the time. But I have a feeling that this is going to be lots better.

Some firewood connoisseurs say it's best to allow the wind to blow through your wood stack so that drying continues all the time. That's the theory we have embraced for now. If it doesn't work we can always restore the guest room to its original purpose.

*I realized that firewood has been a recurring theme, so I made a new label -- firewood -- in case you'd like to read earlier posts on the subject.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weather report

The season has been so mild and beautiful that the Wild Mustard, Yarrow and Queen Anne's Lace are still blooming in the little wildflower garden next to the house.We keep waiting for the inevitable hard frost but so far we have only had a few light ones.
The days are sun-lit and the sunsets are golden.
Last night a crescent moon hung over the harbour in the west, and two nights ago we watched a meteor shower beneath the vast arc of the Milky Way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Totally famous

Someday people will visit McNutt's Island just to see the place where the famous Nova Scotia band, The Holdup, performed in its early years. Yes, their roots are here. They have actually walked along these very roads. Their music has been inspired by these very spruce trees, these very gulls.
Last week they triumphed in Yarmouth at Nova Scotia Music Week. And next week they leave on an all-expenses-paid trip to Prince Edward Island, where they will compete with bands from all over Canada.

And to think we can remember way back when they were just a few kids, a drum and a couple of guitars.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A walk to the northern end of the island

The other day I took a walk along the main road to the northern end of the island. It's an easy walk, about five kilometers round trip from our house. The island was so silent that I could hear the flutter of wings in the trees along the road.
Several chickadees were flitting and darting amongst the trees.
It seemed that some of them were watching me as I stood on the road watching them.
I came upon some of the elusive northern sheep. They were so silent that I only happened to glance over and see them in the woods, looking at me. They quickly disappeared.
A curious deer came out into the road to stare.
A red squirrel was not at all shy about making eye contact, and chattered at me behind my back after I walked on.
And across the marsh at the Horseshoe I watched Chopper returning from a trip to the mainland.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Colours of the season

Lobster season for this district will begin on November 30th. The first day is Dumping Day. That's when the lobstermen take their traps out to sea and dump them. Then, after midnight on the next day, they can go out to haul their traps.
There's plenty of activity right now at Fort Point and Gunning Cove wharfs, on the western shore of Shelburne Harbour. Everybody is getting ready for the season.
There's plenty of activity on McNutt's Island, too. Skipper keeps Sailor Boy's traps on his island dock from one season to the next. This is where he and Radar will load Sailor Boy with the equipment she will need for Dumping Day. Radar's son Allan is helping out today.
The traps are ingeniously designed inside, with an outer compartment and an inner one. A lobster can turn around and leave the outer compartment, if he changes his mind. But once he's gotten all the way into the inner one he's not likely to leave until the lobsterman hauls the trap and pulls him out.
Undersized lobsters have an escape hatch. And if a trap is lost at sea, the hinges on the hatch rust away after a period of time so that a bigger lobster can eventually get out, too.
Radar is checking the traps while Skipper cooks today's dinner.
Sailor Boy's equipment is ready to go. The buoys have all been repainted, and the trawl lines are coiled in stacked boxes. Behind the buoys and trawl lines is an old fish house, the only other one that's still standing on the island.
Some lobstermen use plastic tubs for trawl lines and some use the old wooden boxes.
It's important for buoys to be freshly painted and bright. You don't want to have to be searching for your buoys when you are hauling traps.
It all makes for a very colourful season.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Desperadoes apprehended!

Leroy had said he would come to get the two long-tailed lambs soon. Then, one day this week, here he was. And the lambs were here too. It was as if they all met here by prior arrangement.

Leroy sent the dogs around the flock, herding them down to the shore near the fish house.
He slowly and carefully pulled the long-tails out of the group without frightening the rest of the sheep. The flock was perched along the shore without any room to maneuver. If they panicked and bolted, they would go into the water and likely drown.
Leroy separated the long-tails by going down on all fours -- to make himself smaller from the flock's perspective, he said -- then slowly reaching out with one hand to firmly grasp the lamb by her leg and pulling her out.

He took a particularly undersized lamb, too, while he was at it.
He tied their feet together while admiring the good quality of their hoof pads. In the meantime, the flock stayed calm, under the watchful eyes of the dogs.

Leroy also brought along some protein blocks and a salt lick. The lambs have been smaller than they should be, and he thinks they may not be getting enough nutrition. The protein blocks and salt lick should help.
He thinks the current total here -- one hundred sheep -- may be more than the island can sustain. So he's going to reduce this flock to eighty. He'll put twenty McNutt's Island sheep on one of the other sheep islands where there is more room to graze. This will require another trip to McNutt's and another gather here, sometime soon.
Meanwhile, Greg will take protein blocks and a salt lick to the lighthouse where most of the sheep hang out. Again, he gets to be a shepherd! (Or an assistant shepherd.)
A dangerous character is booted off the island.
She had a wild time while it lasted.
Leroy brought along his daughter Anna and her friend Nathalie. It was Remembrance Day and they had no school. After they came by here, the group -- two border collies, two girls, one shepherd, and three tied-up lambs -- took the skiff down the cove to the sheep pen to drop off a protein block there. Then they went back across the harbour to Carleton Village and stopped by Bonnie and Skipper's for a visit, according to my sources, before heading home to Pubnico.
And the rest of the flock -- all proper short-tails -- went back to the business of eating.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cloud study

Yesterday ended with this cloud formation.It swooped up and up, to the left, far beyond the camera's frame.
I could have looked at it forever.
But of course that wasn't possible.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day

It was late October 2006 when we first came to look at McNutt's Island, before we made an offer on the house. Everyone we saw in Nova Scotia then, it seemed, was wearing a deep red poppy pin made of some velvety material. Eventually we learned that it was for Remembrance Day, November 11th. They are commonly worn for a couple of weeks before that date. I have never seen anything like this in the U.S.
See full size image
At first, Remembrance Day was for the vast losses suffered by Canadians in the First World War. Later its scope widened to include the deaths of Canadians in the wars and peace-keeping missions that Canada has committed itself to since.
David King Goulden was born in this house in 1919 and grew up on McNutt's Island. There's an account of his family here.

He attended the McNutt's Island School. We found his fourth grade graduation certificate in the house when we moved in.

David was a young fisherman, working out of Lockeport, when he enlisted in 1940. He arrived in England with the North Nova Scotia Highlanders in July 1941.

A year and a half later, he married Barbara Lynette Redding of Bournemouth.

He landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944 and received special mention when, during the fierce fighting, he mounted the hulls of two Sherman tanks to rescue the commanders. He was killed in action on October 9, 1944 during the Battle for the Belgian Channel Ports. He is buried in Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, Maldegem, Oost-Viaanderen, Belgium in Row E, Plot 1, Grave 11.

On Remembrance Day I think of this young fisherman with a gentle face and smile who grew up in this house and died so soon. Sometimes war becomes very abstract. Knowing a little about a particular person's story makes it less so.

For the account of David's military history I am quoting and summarizing from a wonderful virtual exhibit, Shelburne County Men: Second World War and the Korean War, assembled by Eleanor Robertson Smith for the Shelburne County Archives and Genealogical Society and included in the Virtual Museum of Canada. This is a remarkable exhibit of local history for the Shelburne area.

The poppy image is from the Canadian War Museum.