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.

Friday, March 4, 2011

island life continues, and we resume our place within it

We have been home for a week or so. At first it seemed as if we never left, though I'm almost certain we did, a few days before Christmas. Here sits the house, there the stone walls, the apple trees, the stacked wood, all pretty much where we left them.

But there have been changes. The mice came out to play. Three of them were killed in the traps we had cunningly, murderously set along the kitchen baseboards. So, traps sprang shut. On the window sills, flies expired of old age or despair, their tiny legs sticking up in the air. One small shrew fell down the stairs and died on the bottom step. The shrews do that now and then, and always in the same way, dropping from some unknown place and landing on the last stair, a fatal lack of attentiveness or memory that they make over and over, from generation to generation. We came home to this assortment of small corpses, evidence that time had passed.

Each autumn as the weather turns cold again, the deer mice come back into the innards of the house. They arrive through their secret passages, the ones that we will never close up, no matter how alert or ingenious or dedicated we are. And from there, their safe places, at night, while we are asleep upstairs, they enter the kitchen. Where we have set out mouse traps, baited with cheese. They take the bait, or some of them do. And then in the morning we find them dead.

While we were away the house was cold, but still, for the island's most permanent inhabitants, a nice enough place to spend the winter. Now that we have returned, the sad but inevitable dance -- dance of cheese or death --resumes, exactly where it left off.

We do not hate the mice. They are beautiful and charming animals. If only they didn't want to live inside the house, but of course they do want to live here in this warmly crumby place. And there's no co-existing, no compromise that would suit both parties. So, with regret, we kill them off, one by one. And with determination or hopefulness or filial piety, their children and their grandchildren keep coming back to this fabled paradise, the place they hold dear in their collective memory, our kitchen.

It was about this time a couple of years ago, in the dregs of winter, when there's hardly anything left out there to eat, that we began an understanding with the ravens. It was they who thought of it first, swooping closer to the house than we'd ever seen them do before, stalking and preening around in the side yard. Before, they had mostly perched in the spruce trees south of the house, or in the lower orchard apple trees, or flapped in threes and sevens into the dead forest along the shore where the owl lives. They are birds of great size and dignity, and we were surprised to see them coming so close.
On the nights when we ate meat --lamb or venison or mutton, all from the island --we were then in the habit of putting the bones and scraps outside on a bench until the next day, when I would carry them down to the wharf and drop them into the water, for the gulls. One morning Greg saw a raven fly up off the bench. He had torn open the plastic bag and taken the scraps. Then we began to lay the left-overs on the cement platform of the solar tracker: an offering to the ravens. And soon we added the morning's mouse corpse to the collection. The ravens took it all, lifting into flight with their claws firmly holding these gifts.

Now we are home again. Outside, snows have come and gone, fallen and lain and melted. Rain. Ice. Wind. Winter in its relentless power. Of all that I can only guess, like someone with amnesia trying to puzzle this gap back together again in my mind. I get the general picture but I have missed all the detail.

A raven has noticed that we are home, and walks, gravely, like an old man, along the picket fence near the house. It is he who is the keeper of seasons past. He remembers how long ago, before Christmas, we set out meat scraps for him, and the delectable fresh corpses of mice. He hopes to remind us of our old charitable impulses, to reawaken our consciences and stir our memories, to patch December to March, and move on.


Janet said...

Hi Anne: How nice to come by this evening and find that your light is on! All winter I have come by once a week or so - to check out whether you had written to us. So welcome home and welcome back to the continual struggle to keep the mouse population in an old house's kitchen at a reasonable level. I seem to have gotten the knack , or could my weasel family have taken up residence in the cellar again? They left after a long departed cat managed to kill off two of them!
I'll be back for fresh tales from McNutt's now that your light is back on.

HARRISON H said...

Good day, Anna, Yes it is great to have you back,writing, &c.
I too, have an warm feeling for the little gray mice, and the ants. After all, they do a good job of cleaning up the crumbs I let drop on the floor and shelf. I hate taking their lives but that is the way of life here. A good idea, that is drop them out side for the black birds, Ravens you say. We had what a lot of residents said was a harsh winter, cold, snow, &c. Having spent some winters during my career working in Wisconsin and Minnesota, I am able to endure them, but elder age is a handicap. Your friend in Lewes, Delaware, Harry.

Anonymous said...

Glad to have you back. My husband and I enjoy your blog and missed it during those cold months. I hope you got go somewhere more charitable with the weather! We live on a working sheep farm (we heard about your island through Sheep Canada magazine) and shepherding gets a little tough during those bitter winter times. I always tell myself that the cold weather helps us to enjoy the spring. Your blog is showing signs of spring so it is nice to be able to visit and dream a bit. We have always dreamed of shepherding on an island and your blog is the closest we have come to it yet! Sarah