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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How to keep warm

It has been cold here -- way, way below freezing -- for the past couple of days. This season, which for purposes of accuracy we will not actually call Spring, swings back and forth between extremes. One day last week I was outside raking up dead ferns in a short-sleeved tee shirt. Today that wouldn't work out so well.

There are two basic ways for us to keep warm when it's this cold. There's the day-time way: plenty of logs in the wood stove that sits in the middle of the living room and heats this one room pretty nicely, as long as there's no cold wind blowing in from the west, through all the tiny cracks in the house.

Then there's the night-time way: piling on the blankets in our unheated bedroom over the living room. We use a combination of an old wool blanket that came with the house, two quilts, ditto, one on top of the other, and then, on top of everything else, a fat layer of cotton comforter we brought with us when we moved here. I think the layering itself has some effect, since with each successive layer you are trapping pockets of air that effectively create more insulation. Of course one decent goose-down comforter would do the trick. But we don't own one, and we do own this other assemblage, and it works.

The first summer we lived here, Anne Barclay Priest emailed us to say that she wanted to come and visit. She would come over in her outboard motor boat, she told us. Anne is the author of Trafficking in Sheep, her memoir of buying a summer place at Green Harbour in the early 1970s, and later buying Blue Island and becoming an owner of sheep. During that time she became a good friend of Elizabeth Hyde, who owned our place for over thirty years, and died in 1993.

Anne laid out her route for us: she would cross the mouth of Jordan Bay, then round Cape Roseway, at the southern end of McNutt's Island, enter the Western Passage, pass along The Point, and come into Hagar's Cove. It's the way she used to come when she visited Elizabeth, she told us.

On the day of our meeting we watched from the shore as Anne steered her skiff along the Western Passage and headed into the cove. She moored in the cove, untied the dinghy that trailed behind her skiff, and rowed ashore, up to the remnants of the haul-up Elizabeth had built and used long before. After she tied up, she clambered over the old haul-up and we forged our way along the over-grown path from the cove to the house. Anne was already in her eighties that summer and still a force of nature.

Before she arrived, I worried that Anne might not approve of the changes we had made. But she enjoyed the wind turbine and the solar tracker and the idea of having electricity in the old house. She admired the washing machine and the indoor plumbing and told us Elizabeth would have loved it.

In the bedroom she spied one of the quilts and burst into laughter. "These two quilts!" she said. "Elizabeth and I had quite a spat over them. I had found this wonderful quilt maker in Jordan Bay. And I had ordered two quilts for myself. Then I made the mistake of telling Elizabeth about my find. When I went to ask about the progress of my quilts several months later, the quilt maker told me that Elizabeth had already come and bought them, out from under my nose. I was mad at the quilt-maker for selling them to Elizabeth and I was mad at Elizabeth for buying them. But I got over it, and Elizabeth just thought it was funny."

I think of the three women whose stories intertwine like a design in a quilt: the quilt-maker herself, and the two friends, each with such an adventurous life. We have the quilts by the quirk of a trick, and then later by the kindness of Elizabeth's daughter who left them here for us to keep. They remind me every day of how all the various bits and pieces of our lives are somehow patched together.

And of how, the more you look at anything, the more beautiful and intricate and surprising, really, you see that it is.
On these cold nights they keep us warm.

Yesterday I had a lovely back and forth with Janet Gordon, a quilt-maker who lives in Hall's Harbour, over on the Bay of Fundy. It's cold over there, too. Janet got me thinking about these quilts we inherited. She has a blog about the quilts she makes and sells, and about life in Hall's Harbour. If you want to learn how to quilt, she has a teaching blog, too.


Anonymous said...

Got a call from my good friend Nat today, who said his mom hadn't answered his recent phone calls, so he went to see her.

Anne Barclay Priest passed away sometime yesterday in Port Jervis NY, out in the fields with her Blue Faced Leisters.
Very sad. A huge loss for all of us.

She was one in a million, for sure.

Piecefulafternoon said...

So sorry to hear of your friend's passing. What fabulous memories and quilts you have though - memories can keep us warm on the coldest night.