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, February 25, 2010

A visit from sheep

We had the lovely surprise of a visit from a small flock of six sheep this afternoon. They came along the shore into the lower orchard, then walked up the path to the house.
The Major and another ram had a brief tussle over rights to the spilled bird seed around the bird feeder. I believe they agreed to share, actually. They head-butted and pushed each other around for a few seconds, but they didn't seem to have their hearts in it.

When I eased the side door open they ran off a little way. But then they thought better of their flight, and turned to take a stand. Bird seed is probably not beneath their dignity this time of year. It was terrific to see them again.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Home again

It was humbling to come home again after a two-month absence. We had never been away from the island for more than a week, before, and that only once. Now we returned to a freshly fallen foot or so of snow. After we docked we trudged through it up the hill to the house, lugging only a few grocery bags. The rest of the stuff would have to wait at the boat. We were relieved to find that the freezer, holding several months' worth of food, was still working. Before we left we had turned off the rest of the electricity and drained the pipes. It only took a little while to restore the house, now dormant for two months, to working order. I had imagined that it would take a long time to warm the living room, but by supper time it was cozy again.

The next day Skipper came by, saying that it was the first time he'd visited the island since we left. So nobody at all had been here while we were away. As soon as our boat steamed away from the dock in mid December, the old silence enveloped everything again until we returned.

I think a kind of enchantment falls upon McNutt's Island when its people go away. Maybe it has been like this since the beginning of time. I suspect that those who have claimed it as home over the centuries have known that in truth we are at most making a visit here. This is a place that nobody can possess, where nobody leaves much of a mark. It belongs instead to wave and wind and spruce and rock and gull. Left alone, it only takes a minute or two before the island sloughs off any memory of its human inhabitants and slips again into a deep quiet.

And now it receives us back with the indifference of a small primal wilderness. You may stay, the island seems to tell us, as long as you know your place.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reading locally: Bay of Fundy Blog

From deep within the Bay of Fundy, at Parrsboro, comes the blog called Bay of Fundy Blog. Here's what Terri writes in her profile:

So here I was on the Bay of Fundy, minding my own business, when I realized that normal people don't get to see 100 billion tonnes of seawater flowing back and forth in front of their kitchen windows every day. As someone who has grown up living and working here, I've taken it upon myself to blog my experiences with the highest tides on the planet.

My Photo

Really, you need to visit this blog. The photographs are amazing, the lay-out is lovely, and Terri's sparkly posts are fascinating takes on life in a very odd place indeed. You'll thank me for this.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Five shillings each for the black pilots' land on McNutt's

In the early 1930s the lightkeeper at Cape Roseway had showed Clara Dennis a bill-of-sale for McNutt's Island Lot No. 23. This lot of fifty acres was granted to four black pilots in 1785 as a reward for their service to the King during the American Revolution. But only four years later they sold the lot. In early December of 1789 each of the four (or, in James Jackson's case, his mother, who survived him) received five shillings as the price of the sale.

Five shillings each was not much. But times were hard in Shelburne and even harder in Birchtown. The Anglican priest in Shelburne at the time thought that by 1788 four-fifths of white Loyalists had left there and returned to the United States, walking away from their property in what they called Nova Scarcity. Land in and around Shelburne was worth hardly anything by then.

And 1789 was the year of famine. Boston King writes in his Memoirs:*

About this time the country was visited with a dreadful famine, which not only prevailed at Burchtown, but likewise at Chebucto, Annapolis, Digby, and other places. Many of the poor people were compelled to sell their best gowns for five pounds of flour, in order to support life. When they had parted with all their clothes, even their blankets, several of them fell down dead in the streets, thro’ hunger. Some killed and eat their dogs and cats; and poverty and distress prevailed on every side; so that to my great grief I was obliged to leave Burchtown, because I could get no employment. I traveled from place to place, to procure the necessaries of life, but in vain.
Painting: A Black Wood Cutter At Shelburne, Nova Scotia  / National Archives of Canada / C-040162
Five shillings each would not have gone far to protect London Jackson and James Robertson and Richard Leach and Jane Thompson and their families from starvation in that dreadful time, with another winter looming. But it may have done something.

*Boston King was a former slave whose memoirs are a compellingly immediate account of his experience in Shelburne and Birchtown, and then as a participant in the 1792 exodus to Sierra Leone. First published serially in London in 1798 in The Methodist Magazine, The Memoirs of Boston King are available online. For the effect of the 1789 famine in Shelburne and Birchtown, see also James W. St. G. Walker, The Black Loyalists: The Search for a Promised Land in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone, 1783-1870 (Dalhousie University, 1976; reprinted by The University of Toronto Press, 1999) 52-54.

Image," A Black Wood Cutter At Shelburne, Nova Scotia, 1788," by William Booth, courtesy of Archives of Canada.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Making room

The beams in our house are held together with wooden pegs instead of nails, even though the house was built around 1858 and nails would certainly have been available. But back then people didn't like to innovate when it came to building their houses. Besides, they were fishermen, and boats were built with pegs. William Perry and his father Jonathan built this house in the traditional way, which was tried and true.
The beams are notched so that they fit neatly together, and the whole weight provides stability and support.
The house that William and Jonathan Perry built has stood the test of gale force winds for a century and a half.

The house reminds me of Peter Rankin's beautiful illustrations in Joanne Taylor's story of a nineteenth century Cape Breton house, Making Room (McClelland, 2004).

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reading locally: Hodgepodge at Nova News Now

Crossing the province again we come to Digby, on the Bay of Fundy, where John DeMings writes under Hodgepodge for the NovaNewsNow blog. John is also the editor of The Digby Courier. But he seems to enjoy the freedom of posting a lovely or compelling photograph, or of writing a reflective piece about some aspect of the local neighbourhood when he feels inspired. And this man does feel inspired pretty often. With John, you get an insider's take on Digby: its politics, its economy, its people, its beauty, its stories.