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 30, 2010

monarch in lace

Maybe this monarch is preparing for an upcoming flight to central Mexico. Even though it has never been to central Mexico, it knows how to get there. I try to imagine what that journey is like from a butterfly's point of view. But I can't grasp it. It's beyond me in so many ways.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Reader reviews Island Year

The Halifax Public Libraries staff recommends books on their daily blog, The Reader, so it was a pleasure to read David Hansen's review of Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia here.
The Halifax Reader - Halifax Public Libraries

Saturday, August 28, 2010

unreciprocated attention

This lamb is curious about the hen, but the hen is focusing on what there is to eat. Asymmetrical regard makes the world go round.

Friday, August 27, 2010

the old Hyde place

Brian Race loaned me this photograph of our house, which was taken in 1985. You can see Brian at the left of the picture. He is making and installing the wood-framed storm windows that we still use. At the right is Elizabeth Hyde, who bought the house in the early 1960s and set about restoring it. As is the way of old houses, once it was restored it needed constant maintaining. It was a never-ending process for Elizabeth, who spent summers here for decades (as well as two winters) until her death in 1993.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

a visit to the ledges

You can see the rock ledges in the western channel when the tide is low. The rest of the time they are submerged, and no buoys mark their presence. These ledges, and the overall shallowness of the western channel, are the reasons it's named False Passage on the nautical charts. There is one particular ledge where the seals gather for choir practice, which they feel especially inspired to do on foggy days. The ledges belong to the shag and the terns, too. Terns are more camera-shy than shag, though.
The shag's other name is cormorant. In south shore Nova Scotia they are shag.
When the Atlantic is rough it sends strong waves into the channel. Then the waves crash over the ledges even when they are submerged, sending plumes of white spray into the air. But when the sea is calm I can even row out here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

orchard showdown

We have been bereft of sheep, mostly, since before the lambs were born at the end of May. Either they don't like us personally, or the grazing is good enough down where they prefer to hang out, in the southwest quadrant, where, really, nobody bothers them. They are wild, after all. Anyway, they have only been coming around in small groups, a couple of ewes with their lambs and their last year's lambs, which after a year are called hoggets, maybe half a dozen in all.

They came by once while the goats and chickens were visiting. They didn't seem to mind the goats, though they stared at them for a long time. But when Chevron the rooster defended his flock in his inimitable way, those sheep high-tailed it as fast as they could run, which is pretty fast, down the path toward the fish house. We didn't see them again after that for a long time.

By yesterday, though, they had clearly decided that there would be strength in numbers. They began arriving over the weekend, drawn by the fragrance of early fallen apples or newmown grass or the memory of how much they liked us. Once again they wandered around outside the house most of the night, the lambs losing track of their mommies over and over and bleating for them, and their mommies bleating back or ignoring them entirely. When they weren't looking for each other they nestled down against the stone walls and beneath the apple trees and slept.

By yesterday there were about twenty four sheep ensconced in the lower orchard. I say about since it's hard to count sheep. They keep moving around, and something you thought was a rock turns out to be a sheep, or vice versa, and generally speaking they slip seamlessly between invisibility and visibility whenever they feel like it.

Then they came up toward the back orchard. Usually they take a short cut from the side of the house into the back orchard by climbing over the stone wall. But yesterday two scary tablecloths were flapping on the clothesline. So they were forced to go around the long way, and come in at the proper entrance near the garden, and act like proper sheep for once instead of the hoydens they really are.

The lead ewe stopped at the entrance. Behind her, all the others, expecting to go forward, stacked up, bumping into the ones in front of them until they made a huge mob, all standing completely still, all staring fixedly across the orchard in the same direction. I couldn't imagine what had so arrested them, since they were actually ignoring the dangerous flapping tablecloths. Obviously it was something even stranger than that.

Then I saw the four hens. They were contently clucking about in the same back orchard, which they probably assume by now belongs to them. They didn't seem to notice the sheep, and began to wander across the grass, pecking and talking to each other about inconsequential things.
But now the sheep moved forward, all together, in little clumps of three or four or five, but all quite close together, in the direction of the hens. They moved shoulder to shoulder, the way you sometimes see rams move. I am used to seeing the sheep run away. But this time they were moving toward the object of their interest.

Three of the hens were wiser or perhaps merely conflict-avoidant. They just kept on walking until they went straight over the stone wall and into their favourite place, the compost pile.

But there was one brave or curious or friendly or foolish hen. She advanced toward the sheep. They advanced toward her. Eagerly, I might say. It was hard to interpret their behaviour. Was it aggression or curiosity? They circled around the hen, still in tight clusters, moving quickly, totally focused on her. It made me think of synchronized swimming, and I wondered how the lambs knew to do it.

I think the hen felt a bit threatened. She moved faster and flapped her wings. Finally she jumped up onto the stone wall, higher than the sheep and beyond the enclosure they had been creating around her. She faced them, flapping her wings and squawking, then hopped over the wall to the other side: out of sight out of mind.

After that the sheep controlled the back orchard, except for the clothesline.

The hens re-grouped along the service road where I have dumped a particularly tasty pile of weeds and acted like they hadn't ever been the least bit interested in the orchard anyway.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a young neighbour

Susannah is Margot's grand-daughter. She visits the island with Margot and Dave, who built the coziest camp last summer further along the Lower Road. Their place looks right out onto the cove.Susannah wrote a school report about McNutt's Island this year. I was glad that I had the chance to read it this weekend. It was lovely.
This weekend she built a bird house with her Uncle Skipper's help. It will be a lucky bird family that moves into that fine house.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

humming garden

There's not much reason to spend time in the garden these days but I do it anyway. Oh, I'm harvesting peas and bush beans and lettuce, collards and turnip greens and swiss chard and mustard greens. But mostly I'm just looking at things grow: squash, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, pole beans. It gives me an excuse to wander around surrounded by the sound of a hundred bees humming away.
They've been hard at work in the garden all summer long. Just because the season is turning slowly toward fall is no reason to change their ways as far as they are concerned. There's still lots for them to do.
When we first moved to the island we couldn't imagine how anything got pollinated, since there were no honey bees.
We've learned that's one thing we can cross off our worry list.
The wild bees take care of everything. They don't make honey so humans don't think they are just the end-all and be-all. But humans can be short-sighted that way.
There's a Grimms Brothers tale called The Queen Bee. The youngest of three brothers, who was dwarfish and insignificant, followed his two older brothers out into the world.
He may have been insignificant but he was kind. Maybe his own dwarfishness gave him empathy for other small creatures.
In three episodes of the story, he defended first ants, then ducks and finally bees against the cruelties of his brothers.
Then came the tests to break the spell on an enchanted castle and win the hand of the princess.
They were quite impossible tests.
But the grateful ants, ducks and bees came to the aid of the youngest brother and so he was able to accomplish them all, even though his older, stronger, and no doubt more handsome brothers failed.
I often think of this story.

Friday, August 20, 2010

why there will always be pasture thistle

A few random images from around the house this week...This year I barely noticed the grapes and did them not a single favour, yet they bountiful. In the next month they'll begin to ripen into purple.
The deer are once again enticed by late summer's fallen apples.
On the mainland the lupines have been over and done with for quite some time. The island is about a month behind on growing things, even though it's just across the water.
A caterpillar claims the best view from atop a red chair.
The downy seed clouds of the pasture thistle take off at the slightest breeze. Then off they float, hither and yon, to search for next year's home. They look like light-weights but they are not to be underestimated.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

neither a borrower nor a lender be

The red squirrel pursues the most conservative of investment strategies.He expects to get on his return precisely what he put in -- no more and no less.
Just now he is keeping his eye on walnut futures. Timing is all.

Monday, August 16, 2010

being at home in the world

I go out in my rowboat only when the water is calm, so there's no need to row to actually get somewhere, or to keep myself from being taken away from where I want to go. And besides, wherever I am in that boat is pretty much where I want to be. Any destination is fine, and sort of made up at the last minute, and bound to change again a few minutes after that. So I zig and zag and stop and start, not doing much and not going anywhere in particular.

Instead, I ship my oars and lean over the edge of the boat to watch the bottom of the harbour. I drift on the current while images stream past below me: rocks flecked with light and limpets or hidden beneath tangled golden piles of waving rockweed, schools of tiny silvery fish, white sand, underwater fields of bright green seagrass, whelks, clamshells, a lone laggardly jellyfish, and huge scary fingers of kelp like a monstrous bronze hand reaching out to grab the boat from below and drag it down to a watery grave. I'm away from each sight as soon as I arrive.

I have been looking for starfish this summer, but I have not seen a single one. Last summer they were plentiful, at least below the government wharf and out on the seal ledges. Maybe they'll return again next summer. The ways of starfish are mysterious.

But while searching for starfish I found sand dollars instead. I hardly recognized them at first since they looked so unlike the only sand dollars I've ever seen: dead ones, whitened skeletons piled in souvenir shop bins, with that silly, insulting Legend of the Sand Dollar attached to them so they'll sell better.
Here, though, I began to see, in particular places beneath the water, as if cast upon a soft bed of pale sand, what appeared to be perfectly round and flat black objects.
As I looked more closely I could see that these dark round objects bore the sand dollar's five petal pattern, but in reverse, like a wax resist technique using fine sand instead of wax to reveal the pattern. The sand dollar is an ocean filter, sucking in organic matter beneath it and releasing water through the tiny holes that form its petal pattern on top. What I could see was, I think, the residue of its filtering process.
Even at low tide they lie a couple of meters below the surface, beyond my reach. That's just as well. As it is I can only look but not touch, as if I am visiting a collection of rare masterpieces. I doubt they are rare. But who knows anymore what's rare or endangered? Things seem to slip away without our noticing, and then they are gone. For now these sand dollars remain where they belong, on the ocean floor, their dignity intact, doing whatever small obscure thing it is they do on behalf of the world.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

warbler in lace

There's a shimmering quality to this brief time of ripeness just before summer tips in the direction of autumn. From dawn until nightfall, the ever-changing light is exceptional. All day, no matter what I'm doing or where I turn, I swim through this light, and everywhere I look some astonishing sight brings me to a stop. It's a time when magical creatures decide to come by. One of them is this tiny warbler. At least, I guess it's a warbler of some sort. Maybe it's a fledgling.
Surely an adult would not be so naive and guileless, looking about, a bit slow to react.
It's a tightrope walker
and a fence-sitter,
and takes its ease beneath a lacy parasol.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

goodbye chickens and goats

Mary and Leroy d'Entremont have returned from their trip to Ontario, where Leroy was working as staff for several days of sheep dog trials in Kingston.
They came over to pick up the goats and the chickens. I thought I might run away into the woods with the chickens, but in the end I decided to do the right thing.
In no time, everybody was loaded onto the boat, along with all their paraphernalia. From left to right: Molly, several nameless hens, Chevron the rooster, more hens, Gaia, and Molly's kid Heidi.
Anna was glad to see them all again, and they were glad to see her.
Leroy cast off.
The goats --especially Molly -- missed Mary. Often we saw Molly standing quietly, gazing off in the direction of Pubnico with a mournful expression.
I think Mary missed her goats, too.
A floating farm.
But -- what's this? Four hens stayed behind. We think you should keep them for us, Mary and Leroy told us.
So we did. They seemed contented enough, and surprisingly able to manage on their own without Chevron to boss them around. He would be shocked if he knew.

Friday, August 13, 2010

island destination

We're having a string of glorious days here. Everybody who had been thinking of visiting McNutt's Island aboard Brown Eyed Girl decided that yesterday would be the perfect day to come. We kept getting emails and phone calls from various people arranging for a picnic lunch, or a ride to the lighthouse, or afternoon tea. We had never made so many lunches at one time, or had so many people for tea. I think it was a dozen picnic lunches and a dozen for tea. I only have six teacups with matching saucers, but nobody seemed too upset with mugs.

By the time they gathered back here for tea beneath the oak tree, they had explored the lighthouse grounds, admired the wild sheep, looked at birds, examined the old guns and discovered the ghost barracks at Fort McNutt. After tea they hiked off again to the government wharf to meet Brown Eyed Girl for the trip back to Shelburne.

Brian and Stephen won the prize for the most adventurous mode of transportation. They kayaked across the western channel from Carleton Village, then kayaked completely around the island before arriving at our dock for lunch. It took them about three hours to go all the way around the island.
It's funny to think about McNutt's Island becoming a bit of a tourist destination. It's so off the beaten track. Because of that, though, it does appeal to a certain kind of intrepid and cheerful soul.