In The Shadow Of North Mountain:
Rambles of a Canadian Immigrant
Let people see in what I borrow whether I know how to choose what would enhance my theme. For I make others say what I cannot say so well... Michel de Montaigne, “Of Books”
Mary Lou, my wife, and I have lived in the shadow of North Mountain since the spring of 2003. We have a year-round house and a cottage. The house sits at the base of the southern slope of that part of the miles long basaltic dyke that is North Mountain known as Young’s Mountain. It is in the hamlet of Belleisle. Our cottage is part way up the western slope of Young’s Mountain in the adjacent hamlet of Young’s Cove.
We purchased the cottage first, in January of 2003. At the time we were living in Wolfville. The cottage was to provide a respite from the heat of summer. It took us less than a month of cottage life that spring to decide we wanted our permanent home somewhere nearby.
The Young’s Mountain Road traverses Young’s Mountain in a northwesterly direction. It is a dirt road. It was begun just after 1800 to connect the fertile Annapolis Valley- known locally simply as the Valley- and the Annapolis River and the Bay of Fundy. It runs along the east side of our Belleisle property. The cottage is on the northwest side of the Milbury Lake Road on Milbury Lake about a kilometer due west of the Young’s Mountain Road.
Young’s Mountain is just shy of the 45th parallel, the midway point between the equator and the north pole. This means that Young’s Mountain is a bit to the south of 45th parallel cities like Eastport, Maine and Belgrade, Montana. It is just to the south of Belgrade, Serbia on the Danube.
The Young’s Mountain Road connects two paved roads. Both run east to west. The paved road in Belleisle, which was the most important road in the Annapolis Valley until 101 was constructed and more the major thoroughfare, is variously known as Old Route #1 and the Evangeline Trail. Belleisle is midway between Bridgetown and the causeway joining Granville Ferry and Annapolis Royal, the shire town of Annapolis County. The causeway is the site of the only tidal power plant in North America. The plant was built to harness the great Bay of Fundy tides. The paved road in Young’s Cove is the Shore Road. In one form or another it runs all the way from Digby Gut and Victoria Beach almost all the way to Cape Blomidon, the mythical home of Glooscap, on the Minas Basin. Young’s Cove is midway between the working fishing communities of Parker’s Cove and Hampton.
Thomas H. Raddall visited this area in August of 1922. He was nineteen and had just completed a year as a wireless operator on Sable Island. He stayed with friends in Bridgetown and spent his days exploring by bicycle. In In My Time: A Memoir, Raddall says “The weather was marvelous, and after a year in an atmosphere of salt and sand the rich green fields and orchards were paradise.”
Belleisle lies at the very heart of the “Heartland of Acadia”. It is just up the Annapolis River from the old French regime settlement of Port Royal. Belleisle is the only Acadian settlement to have retained its name throughout its existence, or almost. The original spelling was Bellisle. The Province changed the spelling sometime around 1880.
The Mi’kmaq were here before the French. Then, they were a semi-agricultural people who also hunted and fished. Because they fished- at times venturing far out to sea to hunt porpoise and even whales- they are sometimes described as a maritime culture.
The first inhabitants of the region, big game hunters, lived here during the Palaeo-Indian Period, possibly as long as 10,000 years ago. The Palaeo-Indians began arriving as the remnants of the last Ice Age disappeared. They were culturally modern thinkers who used sophisticated tools like bone harpoons, ocher as a cosmetic and burned geophytes or root vegetables to stimulate seasonal growth.
There is an archaeological dig in Bellisle where artifacts from the Ceramic Period have been unearthed. The Ceramic Period dates back some 2500 to 500 years before the present. It takes its name from the clay pottery that was produced then and is also referred to as the Woodland-Maritime Period.
The New England Planters were the first English speaking settlers to arrive here in any great numbers. One of them, Job Young, had a grant running over that section of North Mountain that today bears his family name. Young’s grant ran from the Annapolis River to the Bay of Fundy. Young almost immediately sold the land on the south side of the mountain. His descendants settled the north side, Young’s Cove. There they fished, cut timber and built ships.
A section of the land that Job Young sold once belonged to Rene Martin, an Acadian. Eventually some of it passed into the hands of Lawrence Willett, the son of Walter Willett, a Loyalist from Flushing, New York. Our house was built by Lawrence Willett’s son William Lawrence in 1880. It stayed in the Willett family- except for a few short breaks- for five generations. Then we bought it.
A Sense of Place
One of the most striking photographs I have ever seen shows the image of our planet from space. It is a night image. The initial impression one has is of no discernible pattern. Then one begins to pick out a few features: major cities give off light, there is a conflagration that must come from a forest fire and lesser glows indicative of man’s natural earthbound activities. The underlying patterns of continents, ocean and coastline emerge from these additional impressions. But most things on earth do not shine and were this the only picture we have of the planet, it would be next to impossible to pick out Nova Scotia, much less the Annapolis Valley. Halifax and St. John, New Brunswick are the tiniest pinpricks of light and the Bay of Fundy doesn’t register on the eye.
The older I get the more aware of how important familiar reference points are: the things that make life workable as one passes through its stages. Just as a body without bones would be a mess, so too is a day when one does not visit or revisit those comfortable places and activities which create a sense of order.
Our living room front window provides an expansive view of the Valley, the river and South Mountain. My reference points are outdoors: the Valley, the river, North and South mountains and the Bay of Fundy.
I am an inveterate walker. Almost everyday, I trawl Young’s Mountain and the surrounding area: the Valley, the marsh along the Annapolis River or the shore of the Bay of Fundy. I have trekked old woods roads, ATV trails and game trails. I have come across old cellar holes, lilac bushes, where none should be but indicative of a now overgrown door yard, and the remains of a sawmill with rusted machinery perhaps a hundred years old. I have seen a deep woods camp filled with mildewing books where a would-be poet once sought inspiration.
My walkabouts give me an ever deepening appreciation and intimate knowledge of the geology, flora and fauna of the area. I am forever surprised by the myriad of wild animals that exist so close to human habitation. I have learned to pause behind trees and brush or sit quietly in the open to watch them.
There are beaver in abundance in the streams on the marsh but I can find no evidence that they are nothing but a recent addition to local wildlife. Their natural predators are either gone or, in the case of man, no longer really interested in trapping them. At the turn of the twentieth century there were no deer in Nova Scotia. They had been hunted to exhaustion. Now it is nothing to see fifteen or more in our yard. There are bear, too. They appear with regularity on Young’s Mountain. They have an established travel pattern along the crest of North Mountain and hibernate in caves near Victoria Beach. While the Canada Red Wolf is a thing of the past in Nova Scotia, there are coyotes. In all likelihood they are really “coydogs”, descendants of coyotes that came east and mated with wild dogs. Their most likely point of origin seems to be central Maine. They traversed New Brunswick and the narrow Chignecto Peninsula to get here. They form packs in the winter. I have seen tracks in the snow of groups of a dozen or more. In the summer they are more solitary.
The Valley and adjacent Fundy shore bear a striking resemblance to that region of northwest England known as the Lake District. Both are known for their quaint villages, mountains, crystal clear fresh water lakes and ponds and coast line. Both are a walkers’ and hikers’ paradise. If either Wordsworth or Coleridge, the two most famous Lake District poets, had visited North Mountain and the Valley, they might have found it as much an inspiration as the region they made famous.
In 1798 Wordsworth, Coleridge and Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy shared a house, Alfoxden House. Behind Alfoxden House a brook offered itself to Coleridge’s muse. He saw it as a metaphor for an epic poem he tentatively named The Brook. “I sought for a subject”, he later said, “that should give equal room and freedom for description, incident and impassioned reflections on men, nature and society.... Such a subject I conceived to have found in a stream, traced from its source in the hills among the yellow-red moss... to the lonely hamlet, the villages... and the sea-port. My walks therefore were almost daily on the top of the Quantocks, and among its sloping combs.” Coleridge never wrote The Brook. Had he visited Nova Scotia, however, he might just have taken that region of North Mountain known as Young’s Mountain, with its little lakes feeding streams running to the Annapolis River or Fundy Shore as his muse and written his epic.
* * *
North Mountain does not have the fertility of South Mountain. The chief reason for this is the distinctive and differing composition of the two. North Mountain is one long black basaltic dyke. This means that it is extruded lava and extremely hard. The chief components of North Mountain besides basalt are red sandstone, limestone, conglomerate and slate. The basaltic component does not break down easily to form topsoil. South Mountain is a granite batholith with a good deal of sandstone and shale. Granite breaks down more easily than basalt to form topsoil.
North Mountain is younger than South Mountain. This means that South Mountain has had longer to acquire or build up topsoil. North Mountain was formed during the Jurassic and South Mountain during the Triassic.
The first characteristic of North Mountain that catches the eye is forest. Most of the mountain is too steep for farming. A walk up Young’s Mountain Road reveals the basic tree pattern of the entire mountain. Hardwoods, maple and birch, dominate the base. The slope is softwood: spruce, fir and pine. The top is mixed: white pine, red spruce, maple, beech and birch, both yellow and white. Where there has been cutting in recent years, white spruce is the first to fill in, except in stream nourished soils where alder and black spruce are the first to appear.
The Genius of History
There are places that resonate with meaning. By this I mean there are places that embody a particular genius loci, an inherent atmosphere. I do not mean the genius loci of popular usage that suggests some sort of protective spirit connected to place but rather a relationship between man and place that requires a knowledge of history. It is as if a particular setting is a repository of human consciousness which to be understood requires a knowledge of what went on there decades and even centuries past.
North Mountain has a particular genius loci, or rather there a pockets in the landscape of North Mountain where not even the passage of time has obliterated what has gone on there in the past. That is, it has not been obliterated to one who takes the time to explore and correlate natural history, the written record and geology and archaeology.
I have sat at a particular spot on the Fundy shore, gazing out at the waves and listening to the sea surge tumble the rounded stones of the berm. This exact same process has been going on in this exact same location for at least 3000 years. At least that is the length of time geologists tell us that the coast lines of Fundy have remained relatively unchanged. And because changes in sea level have been so moderate since man has been on the peninsula that is Nova Scotia, the process would have been the same at almost this same spot 10,000 or so years ago when the first Palaeo-Indian sat where I do watching the evening sun dwindle in the west.
Today from most any vantage point where the Fundy tides meet the land there is little if any evidence of what life was like here for the ancestors of the Mi’kmaq. Therefore it is relatively easy to cast oneself back to contemplate the first dwellers in the shadow of North Mountain and those who followed them.
Burnished by the sun and salt air the Palaeo-Indian survived on a diet of seafood, produce of the soil and game, their actions a prototypic blueprint of our own. Perhaps one of their pottery making descendants looked out in 1604 to see the small ship bearing the explorer-pilot Champlain, De Mons, the seigneur of Acadia, and Poutrincourt, the first governor of Port Royal, on their way to the basin they would name Le Bassin des Mines. Perhaps he or she even saw the ship that went before, the one whose captain left the iron cross Champlain found at Partridge Island in 1607.
* * *
Mary Lou and I began our acquaintance with North Mountain in the spring of 2003. We had just purchased the cottage at Milbury Lake and still lived in Wolfville. As the days warmed, I spent more and more time exploring the northwest slope of Young’s Mountain and roaming the Young’s Cove shoreline.
One of my first discoveries that first spring was the old abandoned Young’s Cove fish house. It sits on a dollop of land owned by the province and is one of the last vestiges of the days when Young’s Cove was a working fishing community. The little clapboard structure still has some of the old fish barrels and other detritus of the days when Young’s Cove fishermen made a living in the small boats that were the norm before being replaced by the larger inboard fishing boats of today. There is an old fifteen or so foot open lapstreak boat near the fish house. It is the size boat that would have been propelled by a small outboard. Now it sits slowly rotting away in the trees just above the shoreline. It is the type of small boat Nova Scotia was once famous for. The kind where the planks lap over each other a distance of one-half to one inch.
Those first weeks wondering the Fundy shore I learned that whales were a regular sight out in the bay.
Fundy is known for whales. In fact it is sometimes referred to as the last refuge of the right whale. Beside the right, humpbacks, minke and fins frequent Fundy. The whales come for the herring. The herring feed on krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. You can usually tell when the herring are schooling. The water turns a kind of silver as the little fish flip out of it after the krill. There will be a flock of gulls hovering overhead in attendance.
In the past I have seen a whale from the shore, though not the Fundy shore. Watching this most massive of living creatures as it slowly progresses, rising and lowering at the surface of the sea is one of the most unique of sights, perhaps the most unique.
I have spent hours on the Fundy shore- most at the Young’s Cove fish house- in hopes of seeing a Fundy whale. While I have heard them blowing during my vigils, I have not seen one. They always seem to approach the shore when the Fundy fog is thickest. I have seen one blow in the distance off Young’s Cove but I was driving along the Shore Road at the time. In 2006 a dead whale washed up at Phinney’s Cove, the cove between Young’s Cove and Hampton Beach. I did not go to see it.
Et in Arcadia ego
This narrative is a sort of history of the natural history of North Mountain, of much that lies within its shadow and something of that which once did. It is a narrative of relationship, of living things and natural objects, of tradition and of written record.
Our Belleisle home sits on land that was once farmed by Rene’ Martin, the last Acadian of record to reside on it. Rene’ Martin’s father, Barnabe, farmed it before him. Rene’ Martin’s ancestors came from St. Germain de Bourgueil, Anjou, France. At the time of the Grand Derangement of 1755, Rene’ Martin fled across Fundy and up the St. John River. Some of his descendants settled St. Basile, Madawaska, New Brunswick, others Eagle Lake, Maine.
Barnabe Martin came to Bellisle in 1679 or shortly thereafter. Historians call the period of Nova Scotia history between 1605 and 1755 the Acadian Period. The Zaltieri Map (c. 1566) denotes Lacardia as in the general area of present day Nova Scotia. The explorer Verrazano, with the spelling L’Arcadie, denoted a location more specific to Nova Scotia. L’Arcadie evokes mythical Arcadia and the bucolic and rustic images of the seventeenth century painter Nicolas Poussin’s Et in Arcadia ego. The painting’s title translates as “I am also in Arcadia” or “I am even in Arcadia.” Pastoral in context, the painting has shepherds as its subject.
Poussin’s painting is also known as Les Bergers d’ Arcadie, the Shepherds of Arcadia. The reference is classical Greek. Arcadians of the classical period are viewed as simple peasants living primitive, unsophisticated, yet happy lives. Some see Poussin’s masterpiece as a symbol for the Acadians of the Valley. Many of these do not understand that the “I” of Et in Arcadia ego is death.
Tradition has it that in the fall of 1755 some 300 Acadians of the Bellisle region fled up the Valley to avoid deportation at the hands of the British. They took with them only what they could carry on their backs, with their hands and in their arms: babes, food, a tool or two, perhaps a valued family trinket. Their trek led through woods. They avoided well-traveled paths and the river out of fear of pursuit. Crossing North Mountain in the area that is now Aylesford, the fugitives wintered on the Fundy Shore. Estimates of the attrition rate vary. Ninety may have survived or sixty. The French Cross at Morden stands as mute testimony to the suffering and death they encountered.
The place name Bellisle comes from Emmanuel Le Borgne, the Sieur de Bellisle. Le Borgne a merchant-banker of La Rochelle, France, was the principal financial backer of the Port Royal settlement. Le Borgne came to the Valley in 1653 to look out for his investments. The next year the English took Acadia. Le Borgne and after him his son Alexander seem to have maintained a presence here until Acadia was returned to the French in 1670.
* * * *
Surprisingly Belleisle Marsh, which is readily accessible, attracts few visitors. It is surprising because there are a variety of hiking trails and a visitor’s parking lot. The marsh itself is home to a fascinating variety of flora and fauna and a stopover for thousands of migrating birds. Moreover, the marsh provides spectacular views of North Mountain both east towards Bridgetown and west towards Annapolis Royal. In certain light every tree on the mountain- even those in the distance- seems distinct. There is an archaeological dig on the marsh that has unearthed an Acadian home site and a myriad of artifacts.
The Acadians settled Bellisle and the immediate area to farm the fertile soil of the marsh. They built their homes on the marsh’s verge where they had views of the meandering Annapolis River and South Mountain to the fore and North Mountain to the rear. They built dykes to protect their land from flooding. In recent times dykes have been built to create man made ponds that attract waterfowl.
The river forms an oxbow which we see from our house. The “bow” directly across from us, on the far bank of the river, is Pea Round. The name is said to be a derivation of the Acadian Pre’ Ronde, round meadow. Much of that section of the “bow” to the east of Pea Round on the North Mountain side of the river was purchased by the Province around 1990. When people refer to Belleisle Marsh today it is this section of the marsh they most likely have in mind. It has a system of roads and trails. It is where I walk when I am not trawling the mountain.
One afternoon of a remarkably frost and snow free January Mary Lou and I went looking for the dig on Belleisle Marsh. Mary Lou had polio as a child and because of this finds walking on unstable and rough surfaces somewhat difficult. I had walked the marsh that morning and finding the ground firm underfoot- even on the dykes enclosing the ponds- decided it was a good time for both of us to go exploring.
Archaeologists have identified the locations of three pre-deportation Acadian homes on Belleisle Marsh. Actually what has been located are three cellar holes. The dig, an ongoing project, is currently being conducted by Dr. Marc Lavoie of Universite Sainte-Anne, the Acadian college at Church Point on the French Shore. In 2004 Lavoie and his team were funded by a donation from Jean-Claude Savoie of Le Groupe Savoie in New Brunswick. The funding was to continue work begun in 1983. Besides excavating the three cellar holes, some 500 artifacts have been recovered.
On the occasion of the 3rd Congre’s Mondial in 2004 Le Groupe Savoie funded an information center at Belleisle Hall on the Little Brook Road. The information center was operated by The Savoie Acadian and Cultural and Historical Society (SACHS).
Two of the home sites that have been excavated have been identified s belonging to the Savoie family, specifically a father and son, Francoise and Germaine, respectively. The 1671 census shows Francoise owning four head of cattle and working ten arpents of land. Ten arpents is the equivalent of just over two hectares or five acres.
Mary Lou and I started our exploration from the visitor’s parking area and proceeded in what I thought to be the general direction of the dig. The dig is bounded by remnants of early dykes, probably built by the Savoies. There are also old stone walls, now lined with hawthorn. The old dykes and overgrown stone walls seem to speak of abandonment but not the abandonment of some 400 years. Rather it is as if the farmers who once worked here left perhaps twenty years past.
Although we did find the site, we were unable to explore it. The area immediately around it was a morass from January thaw and recent rain. Regardless, we would not have seen much. For purposes of protecting the site from animal as well as human depredation, the cellar holes have been filled in.
My journal entry for February 18, 2006 begins: “The Westerlies have continued blowing, bringing blasts of Arctic air.”
Given that the Valley and Fundy are dominated by the Westerlies, it is little wonder that the climate patterns here combine the continental of the interior with the marine. In winter we get air masses straight from the interior mainland. This doesn’t mean that are consistent weather patterns though. Often the bay, North Mountain and South Mountain and the Valley are a spectacle of competing weather systems, a theater of the ever changing. Often as not, in the words of Coleridge, the master poet of light and its effects, “A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud”- from the west can be seen flowing eastward while another, a few hundred feet higher or lower, is flowing westward.
Looking out over Fundy from the top of Young’s Mountain towards New Brunswick I have seen spectacles of seeming colour-coded clouds. Banks of clouds forming layers of angry black and red. Those closest to the mountain and out over the near bay look like something from the cover of an old science fiction pulp magazine, an Amazing or Fantastic. Like something an illustrator might use in picturing the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter. Yet further out, almost to New Brunswick, the cloud cover changes to a shades that look as if they came from a bottle of gunmetal bluing. These in turn fade to pale, washed-out blues over mainland hills of green and white. I suppose we owe the more exotic colours, the ones where the clouds look like an oil slick on the water, to hydrocarbons borne our way by the Westerlies. Perhaps it was this sort of vision that led Coleridge to find “ A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear...” when he recorded his skyward thoughts in “Dejection: An Ode”.
The sky as seen from the mountain or through our living room window is a kaleidoscope, ever shifting, revolving and changing. A Latin liber primus of lyric poetry in which anything and everything may be revealed to the watching eye, if only one takes the time to observe long enough. It doesn’t matter whether the Jet Stream is sitting well to the east beyond Sable Island so that the northwest winds are buffeting the house or tightening the skin and muscles of my face as I stand at the summit of Young’s Mountain or if that arbiter of our weather is to the west over the St. Lawrence allowing warm air masses from the Caribbean into the Valley. It is simply another way of knowing we live on a peninsula thrusting into the Atlantic and not mainland, something many who live here seem to forget.
* * * *
Current wisdom has it that the Annapolis Valley has the mildest weather and warmest temperatures in Nova Scotia. It is wisdom I choose to debunk.
The climate and temperatures of Nova Scotia’s south shore, the west shore along Fundy and the interior of Nova Scotia between the two are dominated by four imperatives: the Jet Stream, the Westerlies, the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream.
In the summer the Westerlies bring warm air from the mainland. In winter they bring cold air from the Gulf of Maine. The Labrador Current, lying between Nova Scotia and the Gulf Stream carries Arctic air southward. The Gulf Stream brings masses of tropical air northward. Our summers are delayed while the Gulf of Maine warms in summer’s sun. Our falls are extended summers made mild by tidal surges. In the winter, cold dry Arctic air collects moisture from Fundy and the Westerlies carry it over North Mountain and the Valley. The Jet Stream is the master puppeteer pulling the strings that control the three. The mountains, North and South, protect the Valley from the more potent vagaries of all, creating the mildest climate and temperatures in Nova Scotia. At least that is the prevailing thinking.
Most every week I walk up the Young’s Mountain Road from our Valley home, cross the crest of the mountain and continue part way down towards Fundy to Milbury Lake and our cottage. Most weeks- except when I spend time at the cottage- I make this trek two or more times, year round. July, August and September, Milbury is cooler than the Valley. Fundy waters cool the west side of the mountain. The other months Milbury is warmer, even in the late fall, the depths of winter and spring.
There is no exception to this pattern. Except for the months of high summer, the temperature at our Milbury cottage is always some two to four degrees Celsius- and sometimes even more- above that at our house at the bottom of Young’s Mountain. There has never been a time I walked to Milbury Lake from the Valley and found it otherwise.
Tracks in the Snow
One darkening, cold day in January of 2006 I saw moose tracks halfway up the south slope of Young’s Mountain. At least I think I did. While a northeast wind, moaning and weeping through leafless maples, birches and fir, blew light snow from the centimeter or two that had fallen the night before over them, the tracks did look like the big splayed prints that the largest animal found in the northeast makes.
Current wisdom has it there aren’t any moose to be found on the western reaches of North Mountain. The last one anywhere around Young’s Mountain is said to have been shot well before Mary Lou and I moved to Belleisle. At least that is what those who know this section of the mountain say. However, I have seen one. I saw it shortly after I saw moose sign the spring of 2005 about the same place that I saw the tracks that January morning of 2006.
The poet Wallace Stevens knew nature and winter in a way the Transcendentalists and Romantics never did- even though in “theory, by wallace stevens” he says “I am what is around me”. Stevens was the poet for whom nature and reality were one, not a manifestation of divine spark. In “The Snow Man” Stevens says “One must have a mind of winter”. He speaks of January sun and January wind, of trees and bushes “crusted” with snow. He speaks of listening to “the sound of the land” on a January day. Only when one “listens” will he or she begin to see what is there. And what is there shapes imagination.
There is a game trail some two-thirds of the way up Young’s Mountain on the Valley side. I don’t know how far it goes but I suspect it keeps its same general position part way up North Mountain as it meanders along. I have seen deer sign as well as deer on the section I am familiar with. I also know there are game trails leading off this one that seems to parallel the Valley. The deer use one that comes out in back of our house. There is another that leads to Belleisle Marsh.
For some reason deer don’t seem to follow the Young’s Mountain Road. There are always deer tracks crossing it but never following it. I have followed coyote tracks up the road though. I have followed some from our property in the Valley and right up Young’s Mountain Road, over the crest, past tiny Young’s Lake and all the way to Milbury Lake Road. From that point, which is as far as I ever go on Young’s Mountain Road in the winter, they continued on.
I was reticent about telling anyone of the moose I saw. I was afraid if the story got around someone might decide to shoot the great beast. I understand the last moose in the Young’s Mountain area was shot simply because it was the last one. I was told it was picked off while munching lily pads in Young’s Lake. There is that which is ugly and sad in the shadow of North Mountain.
* * * *
I have stood beside Young’s Lake on a bitterly cold, snowy winter day, the kind of day when every step brings a crunch, and listened to something just out of sight in the trees. If I moved, it was silent. When I stood still, it moved. It was good size. It’s crunches were louder than mine.
Sometimes when I walk the mountain or the marsh I think I feel the pressure of living things waiting. There seems to be concentrated life all around, holding itself impatiently in check. Perhaps it is tired of us and waiting for our passage. Perhaps it is on the verge of something new.
Once I saw a Great Horned Owl in a tree beside Young’s Lake. I was making a return passage of the little body of water when I saw it. It sat there watching me barely meters from where I stood. I had passed it just minutes before and it had gone invisible. I stood looking at it for long moments, then moved. As I stepped beyond it, it’s head followed me.
Once, when I was making a circuit of Belleisle Marsh, I came across a woman and her dog standing over a mother partridge. She sat her nest, quivering. There she was, her two worst enemies over her, man and dog, refusing to move, to abandon her nest.
Perhaps these creatures hold our real secret. Perhaps we are going away.
* * * *
Young’s Lake is not a lake but a very small pond. It is not natural. It was created by the hand of man. Maps dating from the late nineteenth century do not show it. There was once a sawmill here. The sawdust from the mill covers the bottom of the pond. The machinery that once provided a livelihood for the mill’s owners and workers now sits abandoned in the woods, rusting. The butt ends of three our four old logs break the surface of the pond.
There was at least one other sawmill on Young’s Mountain. It was close to the shore in Young’s Cove on Hogan’s Brook. William Hogan, a farmer, operated it in the mid 1800’s. A good deal of the timber cut there went to Young’s Cove shipyards run by descendants of Job Young. Hogan’s Mill was just above the mouth of the brook, where it empties into Fundy.
In 2005-06 Irving logged to the east of Young’s Lake. The Irving operation was a relatively large one. The company or its subcontractors brought in backhoes, skidders and other heavy equipment, put in a gravel road and even had trailers for loggers to live in during the week. However, most of the logging on Young’s Mountain is done by small woodlot owners, who drive up in their pickups and cut a few cords of firewood.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, two big Maine firms, Hollingsworth & Whitney and Lincoln Pulp, were a presence in the area. Later Mersey, Isaac Walton Killam’s great paper company, logged here. One old road connecting Milbury Lake and the Shore Road is sometimes referred to as the Mersey Road. Mersey bought out Lincoln Pulp, which operated out of Bear River. In turn Bowater bought out Mersey. But that happened well after Mersey logged the Young’s Mountain area.
The mills at Young’s Lake and Hogan’s Brook were typical of this area in a time now largely but a memory preserved in old photo albums. The logs that still show themselves in little Young’s Lake would have been “twitched” there behind horses or oxen in winter. They too left tracks in the snow. Before the trees were twitched they were cut from the mountain with axes and saws, the once everyday tool of the lumberjack. All are now but a footnote in logging history.
The Lure of Open Spaces
When Mary Lou and I came to the mountain and the valley, we did not know what we would find. Perhaps we both came as teachers. I suspect we both carried more than a little of what we had done for the majority of our adult lives with us. I did, I know. What I carried with me was a sense of open-endedness. Open-endedness as an education construct. Its implications arise in starting a process where the outcome is unknown, open to whatever evolves.
Most of humanity live in cities. Before we lived in Wolfville, a town, we lived in Halifax, a small city. When we were in Halifax we- like many others- drove to the shore or the country often. Perhaps the best way to say it is the openness of both had psychological value, provided experience we needed. When we went to the shore, Mary Lou painted. Since we came to the mountain and the valley, Mary Lou paints more, much more. Her subjects are what is here, in the open.
Neither Mary Lou nor I have ties to Belleisle. Her ancestors settled the other end of the Valley, Cornwallis Township. My great grandfather spent a short period around Middleton before heading for California.
Mary Lou is of Planter descent. Jonathan Rockwell, her first ancestor in Nova Scotia, came from the Windsor area of Connecticut. That was in the early 1760’s. He and a partner owned a store in Horton. The partner ran the store. Rockwell brought the goods for the store from Connecticut. He owned a ship and a warehouse or warehouses in the Hartford area. Although he had a Planter land grant, he gave it up early on in favor of his ship. His descendants settled communities around the Minas Basin. Jonathan Rockwell is buried in Cornwallis.
George Howe, my great grandfather, came to Nova Scotia from Medford, Massachusetts in the late 1840’s. He worked for postal system. His cousin John Howe got him the job. John Howe was Postmaster General for all the Maritime Provinces. George Howe left Nova Scotia when he was twenty-four. The lure of California drew him. He sailed around Cape Horn in 1849. He didn’t find any gold and he didn’t return to Nova Scotia. Eventually he settled in the hills of western Massachusetts.
Belleisle is in the narrowest part of the Valley. Even though North Mountain and South Mountain are at their closest here, the Valley is open space, expansive. The view from the top of Young’s Mountain is even more open.
Most people leave the city to come to places like the one in which we choose to live for a vacation or a day trip at the least. We are here year round. When we came here, the mountain and the valley were what we were not. Now they are what we are.
To Forget One’s Ancestors
Is To Be A Brook Without A Source
A Tree Without A Root
Many of those who settled Belleisle were wanderers. They came and then moved on or back to where ever they came from. Wanderers don’t put down roots. Without roots, they slip out of the picture. They lack context. Or if they have context, it is applied, peripheral.
Our house is Colonial Revival. It was built in 1880. The house next door is Colonial. It was built in 1786 or shortly thereafter. Both houses were homes to generations of the Willett family, though others lived in them for a time.
Originally the Colonial was symmetrical, a square. The front-centered door opens onto the hall. There are four rooms on the first floor, two either side of the hall. One of the front rooms was the sitting room- a family room if you wish- the other a formal parlour, for viewings of the deceased or entertaining the minister. One of those to the back was the kitchen, the other the pantry. The upstairs follows the same basic pattern of four rooms and a hall. The floor plan of the house is traditional colonial. At some point an ell was added, the sitting room expanded outward and bathrooms installed. As the changes reflect the needs of various owners, the house can also be described as of the Vernacular style.
Our house is a variation on the basic Colonial Revival style. Instead of being symmetrical with the same traditional floor plan of the Colonial next door, it is asymmetrical. The front door is to the side, the west. It opens to a curving staircase and the living room. The living room and stair take up the entire front of the house. Originally there was both a dining room and a kitchen to the rear. The upstairs has two bedrooms. As with the Colonial next door, an ell was added later. Our house can also be described as of the Vernacular.
William Seaman may have built the Colonial. He lived there until 1796. He was a Loyalist from Staten Island. He went back to New York. The next owner was William Young. Young was a grandson of the Job Young who had the original Planter grant that ran from the Annapolis River to the Bay of Fundy. William Young owned the house until 1800. Timothy Ruggles Jr. owned it from 1800 to 1808. He was the son of General Timothy Ruggles. Father and son both came from Massachusetts. The General fought in the French and Indian War under Lord Jeffrey Amherst. Because the General remained a loyal subject of the King, Massachusetts confiscated his considerable holdings in that colony. In recompense, the crown granted Ruggles 10,000 acres in Wilmot. General Ruggles first settled in Belleisle. For a time he was known as the Squire of Belleisle. That part of North Mountain just to the east of Young’s Mountain was once known as Ruggles Mountain. William Covert followed the younger Ruggles as owner of the Colonial. Covert, another New York Loyalist, sold the property to Lawrence Willett. Lawrence Willett was the son of a Loyalist from Flushing, New York, Walter Willett. Lawrence Willett was a militia captain. In 1803, with Napoleon again threatening all of Britain and possibly her colonies, Captain Willett marched his company across the Province for the protection of Halifax. The French never showed up.
The two houses, the Colonial and the Colonial Revival, are reflective. They and their immediate surroundings, the yards, the gardens, the fields, recall the old neighborhood. To see them, to really look- look quietly- is to discover that old neighborhoods.
Lawrence Willett gave the land where our house is to his son William Lawrence. The Colonial passed on to Lawrence’s son James Alfred, a major in the Canadian Army, and other family members. William Lawrence was a farmer. The last Willett to own our house was Frances. She was the wife of Lawrence Willett, a nephew of Josephine (Willett) Woodworth, daughter of the first Lawrence. Josephine was also one of the owners of the Colonial. Lawrence and Frances were childless. When Frances died in 1999, our house passed out of the hands of those bearing the Willett name. The last Willetts to own the Colonial sold it in 2004. There is much of Frances Willett in our house and grounds.
For Coleridge, the sublime Romantic and naturalist, The Brook behind Alfoxden House was a linear metaphor for the nineteenth century. The epic poem Coleridge envisioned was to begin at his subject’s source and follow it to the first indication of civilization, a cleared plot of ground. This linear progression would continue on: an isolated habitation, a hamlet, a village, a marketplace, a manufacturing center. Each would have its owe tale, endemic to its own peculiar environmental niche, the individual tales linked by the metaphor of The Brook. The past and the present North Mountain casts its shadow on and over are to be viewed in another manner.
North Mountain encompasses something random, it is a macrocosm of movement as described by Robert Brown with his microcosmic studies of pollen particles floating on a bead of water as seen through the lens of the microscope. It is Brownian movement write large. It is interaction, the action and reaction of chaos theory some meteorologists suggest as an appropriate model to explain their inability to make long-range weather forecasts.
* * * *
Our cottage on the Fundy side of North Mountain at Milbury Lake is in Young’s Cove. The crest of Young’s Mountain is the dividing line between Belleisle and Young’s Cove. There is no sign marking the exact point where one hamlet begins and the other ends.
In the 1800’s four industries flourished on the mountain, in the Valley and at Young’s Cove. The mountain was logged. The Valley was farmed. And life at Young’s Cove centered on Fundy, on shipbuilding and fishing.
Today Milbury Lake is a cottage colony. Seasonal. Few live there year round. In the mid 1800’s there were several small farms there. The farmers also worked in the woods, in the two Young’s Cove ship yards and fished.
Milbury Lake, like tiny Young’s Lake, is a pond. It is bigger than Young’s Lake and unlike Young’s Lake natural. Or at least as natural as a lake two-thirds up a mountain can be. Like most of the small lakes and ponds on North Mountain it is a product of the last Ice Age, it was scooped out of the side of the mountain by the glacier.
Milbury Lake takes its name from the Milbury family. Thomas and Elizabeth Milbury had ten children. Several of their sons, notably Thomas , Benjamin, James, Henry, Samuel and Richard, owned farms and lots on the north side of the mountain. At least three of them had farms abutting the lake.
The mid 1880’s was the heyday of Belleisle and Young’s Cove. The 1881 census records a population of 1005 for Ward 5 of Granville Township. Ward 5 encompassed both Belleisle and Young’s Cove. Twenty years earlier there were even more people living in Ward 5, 1155.
Once, a century and much longer ago, there were homes all up and down the Young’s Mountain Road, from the area around what is now Young’s Lake to the shore. Roads to the east and west of Young’s Mountain Road had homes. Descendants of Black Loyalists lived here. Youngs and Hogans lived here. Many are now buried in graves- some without markers- in Young’s Cove Cemetery near the bottom of the Young’s Mountain Road.
* * * *
There were two shipyards in Young’s Cove in the area between Hogan’s Brook and Joe Brook. They were centered where Young’s Cove fishermen would have their fish house in the decades around 1950. One was just to the west of the fish house the other somewhat further east. Abraham Young, a son of Job Young operated one. His son Hiram the other. Abraham and another of his sons, Isaac, owned the Bridgetown Shipbuilding Company.
The Youngs built deep water vessels. They build ships that sailed to England and to Australia. They built vessels for the famed Troop Fleet and vessels for Gilbert Bent and Sons.
Gleason Hogan, who lives at the foot of the Young’s Mountain Road, just above the Young’s Cove Cemetery, remembers when pilings of the wharf from the shipyard to the east, Hiram Young’s yard, were still in evidence. Gleason’s father, Ralph Hogan, was the last seaman from Young’s Cove with master’s papers. Ralph Hogan sailed around the world. He was the last of the Young’s Cove master mariners.
Maybe falling in love, the piercing knowledge that we ourselves will someday die, and the love of snow are in reality not some sudden events; maybe they are always present.
(Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg)
* * * *
There is a Winslow Homer woodcut titled “A Winter Morning- Shoveling Out.” It shows two boys, brothers, shoveling a narrow path through snow piled shoulder high. Behind the boys, a woman, likely their mother, scatters feed to a flock of small birds. The woodcut projects an Arcadian innocence.
Snow is fun. Who hasn’t stuck out their tongue to catch a snowflake? Bent down for a handful of snow to round into a snowball? Built a snowman or snow fort? Snow is sport: children sledding, a quiet glide through the woods on cross-country skies.
Snow must be moved from walks and drives. This too can be fun, sport. It is a matter of temperament, approach.
Homer’s woodcut was done in 1871. The boys have flat wooden shovels. They are crude by today’s standards. No one would think of using a shovel like these now.
Every fall hardware stores get in a new crop of shovels. There are plastic shovels, fibreglass shovels, aluminum shovels, shovels with steel edges and even expensive Teflon coated shovels. The shovels take on a military posture lined up like soldiers along the store front. Sometimes there are other implements for moving snow by hand on display. Implements like roof rakes with telescoping handles. And sometimes there are snow scoops, those 30 X 30 or so contraptions that are supposed to lessen stress on the back, being pushed rather than lifted.
No one has written a history of the snow shovel. However, the U. S. Patent Office has data on all the snow shovels it has ever received information on. One of the earliest patents dates back to 1870. The patent application describes a wooden shovel with a metal cutting edge held on by rivets.
While no one has ever written a history of the show shovel, reams of paper have been covered with the paeans or the praises and, of course, the agonies of shoveling snow.
I am a snow shoveler. I am proud of it. I would never stoop to using a snowblower. I have used a roof rake and I would use one again should circumstances arise for one’s use. I have used a snow scoop but consider an investment in one a waste of money.
I take pride in clearing our some 400 or 500 feet of drive with a shovel. I want to do it all myself. When Mary Lou volunteers to help, my first inclination is to say no. Then I think it is selfish of me to deprive her of the pleasure of creating the artistic juxtaposition of black drive and white banks of snow. Plus shoveling snow is good exercise. I love my wife.
I have been shoveling snow for better than sixty years. At my present age, shoveling is first and foremost aerobic exercise. It strengthens the heart. I had a heart attack- it came when I was running marathons and doctors attributed my survival to my conditioning- I consider shoveling out a form of cross-trainng. A means of life extension.
Because I have been shoveling snow for a good long time, I consider myself something of an expert on the subject of snow shovels and snow. The hardest of all snow to shovel is fine dry snow that has been packed into drifts by hard driving wind. This is the kind of snow that must be sectioned out. I use a light plastic or fibreglass shovel for this type of work. Shoveling this kind of snow taxes the shoulders, especially the deltoids and trapezoids. The next hardest snow fall to shovel is the kind that mixes with freezing rain. The kind that freezes to the drive and walks. I use a metal-edged shovel for scraping this particular mix. This type of shoveling strengthens the forearms. If I was to make a concession to modern technology it would be to spray silicon on the shovel for use with that type of wet snow that adheres to everything.
Snow scoops are most useful on raised walks. The type of circumstance where snow can be dumped off or down to the side. They are useless once you have begun to create snow banks. You run out of room to push the snow.
The best snows are those that come overnight. This means shoveling out is done in the morning. If it is clear, the sun is coming up over South Mountain, casting its rays on the drive which blackens with each cleared section. This is when shoveling is truly pleasurable.
One sun-drenched day, a blue jay flew up in front of me. I had not seen it. The jay was perfectly camouflaged by the ever-changing shadows on the white expanse of open snow turned blue by bright blue sky. The colours of the jay, blue and white and gray, made it almost invisible to my eye.
Snow ounces colour in all directions intensifying everything terrifically. Paradoxically snow cover on the brightest of sunny days deadens and eliminates the most vibrant and brilliant of colours. What the snow cover does is highlight colours overshadowed by the lushness of spring and summer: browns and violets, blacks and darker greens and pale yellows. Winter is a celebration of colour.
There have been snows that have taken me three days to shovel out from. These are the snows that fall as a result of nor’easters. There is as much pleasure gained from shoveling out from a nor’easter as from lesser snows. The only difference between the deeper and the lesser is effort.
I suppose I will give up shoveling and resort to hiring someone to plow when the ratio of effort to pleasure no longer holds its own. That will be a good many years hence. I hope.
Of Canada Geese and Other Sometime Valley Denizens
High through the drenched and hollow night their wings beat northward hard on winter’s tail. (The Flight of the Wild Geese, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts)
* * * *
By the end of March or the beginning of April there are thousands of geese landing and taking off from the ponds and fields of Belleisle Marsh. Once a large flock took off from a point just meters from where I was walking. They passed directly overhead- so near the rush of wind from their wings came close to taking my breath away. Their passage left me feeling diminished, more than a bit afraid. Part of this was do to their in mass uplifting as one. It had occurred for no apparent reason- unless it was my presence- seeming without cognition. The in mass jump to flight- and jump it was- seemed leaderless, an act of unconscious group cooperative that no human grouping could even replicate. It was an action devoid of higher intellectual activity, therefore threatening.
The fields of Belleisle Marsh are routinely seeded to clover. Canada geese feed on clover roots. That is what draws them in the spring. Few come to stay, mate and lay eggs. Belleisle is a way station, a temporary feeding stopover before continuing on northward. The first to leave are the older breeders. After some two or so weeks most continue on their way.
Geese resent intrusion. Venture too close and they become agitated. They have been known to attack on occasion. A nesting goose will attack humans that venture to close. Males have been seen to call in reinforcements when their nesting mate was approached by the curious. One overzealous do-gooder who thought he was going to the aid of a wounded goose which was in reality a nesting female had the creature fly directly at his face. Most ground nesting fowl are the direct opposite, however.
I once encountered a man and his dog on the marsh. They were standing still, a bit off a section of the road that runs through an area of tall grass and low brush. When the man motioned me over I saw a gray partridge shivering on her nest.
There set the mother partridge confronted by two of her worst enemies, dog and man. Yet, she wouldn’t move from her nest. Her agitation was clear in the rapid beating of her heart in her just visible breast and in her overall quivering.
Gray partridge are not native to Nova Scotia. They were introduced from England in the 1920’s for hunting. John Piggott of Bridgetown released a number of pairs in 1928. The one I saw could been a descendant of one of those.
* * * *
Bald eagles seem drawn to Belleisle. I suspect it has something to do with the fact the Young’s Mountain section of North Mountain is so precipitous. The direct sun hitting the north side of Young’s Mountain generates powerful thermals. The great birds rise and fall effortlessly on these columns of warm air.
One day I was on the steepest part of my descent of Young’s Mountain when I heard a rushing above me. Looking up I saw a pair of eagles less than twenty meters above my head. They were so close their wing tips almost brushed together.
The fierce appearance of the great white-headed eagle belies its hunting tactics. Bald eagles are eaters of carrion. Almost never do they attack live prey. The top of the feathered food chain here is the red-tailed hawk.
The red-tailed hawk frequents the same Young’s Mountain thermals as the bald eagle. Sometimes it takes a few moments to decide which of the two one is observing as both can ascend to heights where they are mere specs against clouds or sky. A red-tail is large, some two meters, accounting for a momentary confusion as to whether one is seeing hawk or eagle.
The red-tail hunts live prey, everything from field mice to other birds. I once saw a red-tail land with a blue jay in its talons. The jay was still alive. The hawk had its talons sunk in the belly of its captive. The smaller bird attempted to fight back by jabbing with its beak at the breast of the raptor. It was a vain effort. With one downward stab the red-tail sunk its beak into the jay’s neck.
While smaller birds will share the same tree as the red-tail, it will always be on equal plane or a higher one. I have seen crows harass eagles but never red-tails. It can’t be a matter of size because crows will go after great horned owls.
I was finishing a ramble on Belleisle Marsh one day when I had a close-up experience with a great horned owl. I was heading out the access road to the marsh, midway between the parking lot and the highway, when something started from the ditch just to my right. At first I thought it a groundhog or possibly a very large muskrat. Then I realized it was a monster owl.
The owl struggled up the bank of the ditch on its talons then took off to fly some twenty or so meters eastward into a stand of trees. There I lost sight of it. Other eyes had not, however.
In less than a minute after I had lost sight of the owl, a flock of crows descended on the trees where it had disappeared. I now have a clear understanding why a group of crows are called a “murder”. They were shrieking “bloody murder” and they didn’t let up.
* * * *
My favorites among the feathered denizens of Belleisle are those you come upon in winter, even though some are here year-round like the pileated woodpecker. Coming upon one of the latter with its red head brings back thoughts of childhood. Of Woody Woodpecker with his raucous
laugh. It is like having “The William Tell Overture” call up memories of the Long Ranger.
Our yard with his variety of evergreens with their seeds and cones attracts some of the more colorful winter birds, that strutting peacock of North America the ring-necked pheasant and the cardinal. My favorite of all, however, is the dark-eyed junco, not for its color but for its antics.
One winter afternoon I returned home from a walk up the mountain to find a flock of dark-feathered birds, each a bit smaller than robins, flitting back and forth between one of our big spreading evergreens and the roof of the house. They seemed to be eating. I could understand them finding something on the evergreen, berries or seeds, but wondered about the roof.
After a bit of work (the Audubon bird book was no help), I finally determined the birds were dark-eyed juncos. According to the Museum of Nova Scotia website “Backyard Birds of Nova Scotia,” dark-eyed juncos like evergreens. The little write-up made a point of saying the birds open and close their tail feathers while flying. In doing so they reveal flashes of white, something I observed. The supposition is that the tail movement is a survival mechanism to put off predators. I could find nothing as to why they might have been drawn to our roof. Perhaps seeds had blown there.
A Rocket Launcher on the Beach
There was a young fellow named Tom
Who ran screaming home to his Mom.
The fear of the Bomb
Scared him back to the womb-
The Bastard, he wasn’t so dumb!
(A limerick in the oral tradition)
* * * *
It might have been more intriguing if we had found an old World War I or II bomb at the end one of the little old byways leading to the Young’s Cove shore but we didn’t. What we found was a portion of an up-to-date, modern, hand held surface-to-air missile. It was that portion of the high tech weapon which contains the propellant that drives the missile towards its intended target. As far as I was able to determine later the missile would have been of a type designed to pierce heavy metal, perhaps tank armor or the protective covering of an airplane.
The device was a cylinder, green with white lettering. While we didn’t touch or try to move the device, we did see enough to read some of the directions on it. What we saw indicated that plugs at the base were to be turned to release the projectile. The plugs were missing. There were also directions telling anyone who found the cylinder to contact the nearest police or military. The cylinder had CCC for Canadian Commercial Corporation prominently displayed on it.
We knew exactly where we found the cylinder. We had the GPS coordinates: N. 44 degrees, 50 minutes, 144 seconds; W. 65 degrees, 29 minutes, 586 seconds. The fact that we had the coordinates didn’t help the bomb squad which came from the air base at Greenwood to check out our find, however. The GPS tracking device the Greenwood squad would have used to locate the device was either broken or else otherwise unavailable. Fortunately though we had also taken down the nearest address: 5234 Shore Road West. Nevertheless, it required several calls to us from Sergeant MacNeil of the Bridgetown RCMP, who was in radio contact with the Greenwood squad, to locate the device.
We found the rocket launcher on the shore of peaceful Young’s Cove when Mary Lou and I and our Milbury Lake cottage neighbors George and Diane Shugrue had taken a ride to watch the sun set over Fundy on May 21, 2007. George happened to have a GPS tracking device. The place we chose for viewing was reached by a steep gravel road some 300 meters long.
The location was a small headland. Dark basalt abutted by boulder and cobble strewn shore stretched into the bay. To the east there was a small storm beach where wave action had thrown up a pebbly berm.
The environment where North Mountain meets the bay supports a myriad of life. Tidal pools are home to dog welks, periwinkles and green crabs. There is lichen, seaweed and cord grass. Sea birds swirl above and the heads of seals can be seen bobbing offshore in the waves. As the sun sets over New Brunswick and Maine to the west the colour of water and sky changes constantly, almost by the half minute.
At the edge of the rock, where the green grass meets basaltic gray, there is a bench of weathered driftwood. This is where we spied the rocket launcher. How it got to that particular spot is conjecture. Perhaps someone found it floating or on the rocks, picked it up and then dropped it there. How the launcher came to the Young’s Cove shore is an even greater mystery.
The rocket launcher was clearly of Canadian origin. The Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) identification confirmed that. The CCC is a crown corporation which serves as Canada’s export contracting agency. Canada is a major arms and military technology producer. 70% of the CCC’s business is in weapons and military related goods and services. The Canadian defense industry sells about $5 billion dollars worth of goods and services abroad each year. The fact that the rocket launcher bore the CCC’s warning to report its finding to authorities indicates that the crown corporation was concerned that the device might be lost or otherwise end up in unwitting hands.
We called in our discovery to the Bridgetown RCMP when we returned to the cottage that evening. A day or so later Sergeant MacNeil called us to say thank you for our report.
There is an addendum to this tale. The police reports in the next week’s Annapolis County Spectator did not list our call.
Hunter and Prey
One midsummer's day Mary Lou and I watched a dance of death from our Belleisle porch. It was a dance of two spiders. One was a jumping spider, the other a common cobweb spider. Even though the jumping spider was the smaller, it was the aggressor. All the action took place just the other side of the porch screen from where we sat.
The big-bodied cobweb spider had its home where the screen meets the porch roof. She- as there was an egg sac, I assume it was a she- had a safe refuge in the ‘V’ of the vinyl ceiling. I have no idea where the interloper jumping spider made its home.
The jumping spider moved with grace and aplomb. Lighter and more nimble than its adversary, it appeared a tactician, a master of the hit-and-run. The cobweb spider with its bulging lower body appeared indomitable, immovable. An apt comparison would be that of light infantry to tank corps. The Light Brigade of 600 riding into “the valley of death.”
The strangest aspect of this macabre dance was that the cobweb spider seemed to be setting herself up for slow annihilation. She left her refuge to hang motionless, legs curled against her ample body, allowing the aggressor to repeatedly bite her abdomen. While she hung there on her web the jumping spider would slowly approach and then pause seeming to size up the situation. Then it would lunge forward apparently inflicting a bite, the cobweb spider never moving. The first time Mary Lou and I observed this scene it lasted some twenty minutes. Then, one of us moving resulted in the jumping spider disappearing. Then the cobweb spider, too, vanished. She retreated to her refuge in the ‘V’.
I witnessed the confrontation between the two spiders for extended periods twice more that morning. The later dances replicated the first. Never once did the cobweb spider take the offensive. I estimate the jumping spider made over 100 successful, undefended attacks.
I finally gave up watching the spidery dance of death. I left expecting to find a dead cobweb spider on my return. Instead what I found was the seeming victim comfortably entrenched in her refuge. There was no sign of the jumping spider. Had he been vanquished? Did he give up? I don’t know.
* * * *
Belleisle has been visited by the vicissitudes of war just once. This was in 1711. The combatants were New England militia and a combined force of French and Indians. The militia were a continent under the command of Colonel Samuel Vetch, the Boston appointed governor of Port Royal. The French were some the forces of the former French governor Daniel Auger, Sieur de Subercase. The Indians were Mi’maq and Penobscot. And with the latter group there lies a tale.
The Penobscot leaders were two, the twenty-one year old half-Penobscot, half-French Bernard-Anseleme d’Abbadie Saint Castin, the fourth Baron Saint Castin, and his mother, the Penobscot princess Matilde, famous in song and lore as “Madockawanda’s Daughter”.
The romance of the Penobscot princess Matilde and Jean Vincent d’Abbadie Saint Castin, the third baron Saint Castin, gives the two a love-at-first-sight, watery meeting. The young Saint Castin- the tale has him not yet twenty- with several warriors is traveling by canoe. The party come upon a beautiful maiden and her friends swimming in the ocean not far from shore. The maiden- the story compares her glossy, wet, dark head to that of a seal- hides behind a nearby rock. The French nobleman is smitten. Eventually the couple marry. Matilde gives her husband ten children. The second and first born male child is Bernard-Anseleme.
In 1711, besides being a French noble and Penobscot chief, Bernard-Anseleme holds a commission in the French army. He is also a flibustier, a privateer. He utilizes the same guerrilla tactics he learned from the Penobscots for fighting on land at sea. One count credits Saint Castin and two of his confederates with more than thirty-five captures of hapless New England fishing vessels.
Saint Castin’s goal in 1711 was the ouster of the New Englanders from Port Royal. He first planned to attack Vetch’s stronghold at Fort Anne but lacked the cannon to do so. He then chose to harass isolated contingents of the interlopers. The climax of the conflict was the Battle of Bloody Ridge.
1711 was not the first time the young Saint Castin and his mother brought Penobscots from their home at the mouth of the Maine river bearing that tribe’s name. He and his mother led Penobscots to fight alongside the forces of Governor Subercase in the summer of 1707. That was the year Saint Castin had succeeded his father as Baron Saint Castin and as a Penobscot chief. The young baron’s accession to Penobscot chief was based in part on his descent from Madockawanda, the passing of his father, who had himself been made a chief upon his marriage to Madockawanda’s daughter, and his natural leadership skills and mastery of Penobscot ways. In 1707, however, Saint Castin had been successful in helping defeat the New Englanders commanded by Colonel John March. It had been a short-lived victory though. In 1710 Colonel Vetch defeated Subercase and the French.
In 1711 the New England militiamen were clearly in the position of the Biblical Goliath. Saint Castin, his mother and their followers were as descendants of David using, in this instance, the guerilla tactics of the Penobscots and Mi’maq rather than a sling .
The Battle of Bloody Ridge took place barely a stone’s throw from the Riviere Dauphine, as the Annapolis River was then known, towards what now is Bridgetown. The struggle pitted a contingent of eighty well armed militia against some thirty-five Penobscots, Mi’maq and French led by Saint Castin and his mother.
In the encounter the young Saint Castin is said to have killed ten with his own hands. His mother fought at his side. Matilde’s death tally is unknown.
In 1707, while recovering from wounds suffered in battle defending Port Royal, St. Castin married a local girl, Marie Charlotte Damour. They had two children, one born in Quebec, the other in France. When Saint Castin died in France in 1720, he was just thirty-one. Marie Charlotte died there fourteen years later.
A Rage For Dipping
Milbury Lake is not old as lakes go. It has been in existence for some 10,000 or a bit more years. It is a product of the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age. The glaciers left behind the large boulders or drumlins that litter the slopes of the mountains and the Valley as well as the pockets of till in the form of gravel and clay that are a characteristic of the otherwise fertile soil of the region bounded by the mountains. The tremendous weight of the glacier- in some locations it was a kilometer and a half or more thick- left its mark in creating Milbury, Wade and other small ponds on the western slope of North Mountain. This does not mean that the water of Milbury is glacial in temperature. In fact, in summer nothing could be further from the case.
In July and August, Milbury waters routinely reach 20 to 22 and more degrees. The lake is as tepid as a warm bath. This may, in part, explain why, towards the end of each July, one can find a number of fully clothed individuals standing in it. They are there for Believer's Baptism, mayhap succumbing to a decades old, if not several centuries old, rage for dipping, a term applied to the practice by historian George Rawlyk. By “rage” Rawlyk meant popularity.
Milbury Lake is home to the Full Gospel Bible Camp. Its sponsor is the Fundy Fellowship of Baptist Churches. The camp provides supervised sylvan experiences in a Christian context for teenagers and younger children each summer. The camp has a main hall, which at times is used for services, and cabins for campers. It also has a small beach. Some years ago gravel was trucked in to make the bottom of Milbury a more pleasing experience for camp bathers than the clayey gumbo left by the glacier. It was trucked in back in the days before environmental constraints made the practice illegal. To get to the beach campers parade by our cottage every afternoon that camp is in session. The same is true for a good number of the adults who attend the annual summer Believer’s Baptism.
The Milbury Lake Believer’s Baptism is total immersion baptism. The minister is the first to enter the water. He does so up to the depth of his waist. Then a candidate for baptism joins him. The candidate is an adult or perhaps an older teenager. Both minister and candidate face the onlookers on shore. The candidate folds his hands in prayer. The minister takes the individual’s hands with his left, placing his right on their neck. Then in a voice loud enough to be heard by all he intones, “I baptize you,” giving the person’s name, “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The last step is to push the candidate completely under water. After the immersion, the minister guides the candidate back to a standing position.
Sometimes there is final act to this Milbury Lake summer ritual of Believer’s Baptism. The minister may take some lake water in his hand and, letting it trickle through his fingers, address the onlookers, quoting from Acts 8, “See, here is the water. What hinders you from being baptized?” And, likely as not, there would be those in attendance who would feel a rage for dipping.
Believer’s Baptism is nothing new to North Mountain or the Valley or Fundy shore. It was more than a seasonal happenstance as long ago as the early 1800s and possibly even in the late 1700s. It was introduced to this region and further afield in the first part of the nineteenth century by such divines as Asa MacGray, Joseph Crandall and Thomas Handley Chipman. It was a direct outgrowth of the evangelicalism of Henry Alline, Nova Scotia’s first great disciple of the Great Awakening. Thomas Handley Chipman, who held the church in Upper Granville in the early 1800s, was one of the few close followers of Alline who answered the call to minister. After the death of Alline, men like MacGray, Crandall and Chipman looked to the practices of the Free Will Baptists further to the south in New England for their inspiration.
Benjamin Randall of New Durham, New Hampshire, the founder of the Free Will Baptists, based a good deal of his teachings on those of Alline. He had come to accept the idea of baptism by immersion after listening to the New Light evangelist George Whitefield. However, in 1780 after listening to Alline, he broke with the New Light Congregationalists over the precept of eternal damnation and formed the first Free Will Baptist church in New Durham.
To a certain degree then it is possible to say that the Free Will Baptist movement can trace its origins to Nova Scotia. And not just Nova Scotia in general but to the Annapolis Valley in particular as Henry Alline accepted his mission as an itinerant preacher at the behest of the Cornwallis Township congregation.
The early itinerant preachers who came to perform Believer’s Baptism were not adverse to performing the ritual whenever possible regardless of conditions. In winter, ice would be broken on the Annapolis River. Thomas Handley Chipman would have found the shore at Hebb’s Landing just over the line from Belleisle a likely setting as the river is easily accessible there. It is an unknown as to whether or not the same thing happened at Milbury Lake. It is possible though as there was a Baptist congregation at Chute’s Cove (now Hampton) as early as 1820.
One of the great appeals to Believer's Baptism was that it was a purification ritual which helped to both create and consolidate a sense of community, a sense of community which could only be brought about by intense public experience.
Believer’s Baptism is based on Paul’s letter to Galatians in which he says, “In being baptized into Christ, you put on Christ, there can be neither Jew nor Greek, neither bound nor free, neither male nor female, for you are one in Jesus Christ.”
MacGray, Crandall, Chipman and their disciples found fertile ground in the shadow of North Mountain. The rage for dipping reached is high point there in the decades before and after 1850. On one occasion some fifty converts were baptized in the Annapolis River. There is the tale of an eighty year old woman who was baptized in winter. She was afraid she might not have another opportunity.
It can be said that the Fundy Fellowship of Baptist churches that operates the Full Gospel Bible Camp at Milbury Lake traces its roots in part to the rage for dipping which captivated converts in the Valley and elsewhere in Nova Scotia and the northeast long ago at the turn of the nineteenth century.
...we soon saw that evening was the time for song. Evening, when the day’s work is done and the hour for relaxation has come. Evening, when the workaday world is at rest and all people feel a kindly sense of companionship towards one another. Helen Creighton, 1932
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The central location of our cottage on Milbury Lake Road provides us a unique vantage for viewing much of the seasonal comings and goings of lake dwellers and visitors alike. In a sense we are attuned to both the weekly and monthly calendar by the arrival and departure of the lake’s cottage dwellers and their regular visitors. This is especially so the evenings presaging the long weekends of summer.
On the Friday evening before Canada Day weekend, Natal Day weekend and Labour Day weekend, the RVs and campers roll by us on their way to Gert and Ralph Bent’s Jamboree. While popular country music is the chief feature of the Jamboree, of a evening we may hear the strains of New Orleans blues as well as gospel favorites as we sit on our porch watching fireflies flit about the yard and the stars glitter above.
The RVs and campers that we watch pass by bring in friends and relatives of the Bents. Some of the musicians that come to play just drive in for the evening. A few like Sonny Chute, who lives on the Shore Road in Young’s Cove, just travel up the mountain. Others, like Alfie Bright of Weymouth, come from further away.
The guitar is the chief instrument of choice for Jamboree musicians. However, the notes of the fiddle, mandolin and banjo are heard there too.
In one respect the musicians of the Jamboree are traditional. Few if any have formal music training. They learned to play by ear and from other musicians. In this their playing reaches back to the traditions of the early settlers. Only occasionally, however, does one hear what would be considered a traditional piece played. At least traditional in the sense that it has been passed down the generations from times past.
The Jamboree musicians play music that they have heard mainstream country and western performers play. This includes Canadian icons of the immediate past like Don Messer and Wilf Carter or more recent additions to the local firmament of country and western performers like fiddler Keith Ross of Ste. Croix in Hants County, a 2007 inductee of Nova Scotia’s Country Music Hall of Fame.
What the musicians who play at the Jamboree have done is to reverse the time honored process of looking to one’s roots for inspiration. Where some mainstream country and western singers look to traditional music for the inspiration for their popular songs, the Jamboree musicians look to popular venues and then treat what they find with- what is for them- traditional styling. Sonny Chute, the most accomplished of the local “guitar pickers” plays standard country and western fair. He clearly models his styling and musical demeanor on how he interprets the styling and mannerisms of professionals of the popular genre. Alfie Bright is much the same. A Black musician, Bright’s country and western model is Charley Pride. Occasionally, however, Bright will play some New Orleans blues. Of this, Sonny Chute says “It is good to hear something other than country and western.”
Some of the long summer weekend visitors of the Bents seem totally uninterested in the evening’s music. When I walk down the road to the carefully mowed field where the Jamboree is held- Mary Lou with her background as a university trained vocalist and devotee of traditional musicians like the Rankins of Cape Breton Celtic music fame has no interest in giving a close up listen to what is going on- I find small clusters of middle aged people standing around or sitting by their RVs. None appear caught up by the music.
Alcohol does not seem to be an important jamboree component. While a good many of the long weekend visitors have a drink in hand- mostly beer- the raucous atmosphere associated with drinking and outdoor concerts is missing. I am offered a drink but when I decline, it is not viewed as antisocial. I encounter one individual- he is in his early twenties- who has had one-too-many. He has no interest in the music at all but is more than a little garrulous. He wants to talk about his daily routine and work related problems. I quickly extricate myself from his loquacious presence and head for the performers.
Not until I reach the outskirts of the performing area do I find the Jamboree’s music devotees. They make up about a third of those at the Bents. Some seem mesmerized by what they hear and see. They sit quietly, their attention, especially their gaze, fixed on the performers. There is appreciative but contained applause at the end of each number.
The musicians are seated in folding chairs under a large tarpaulin strung between two RVs. They trade off singing and playing as if by some mutually agreed upon or else established by long-standing practiced routine. They are very relaxed, low-key. They remain seated to play and sing. One or more may join in as a backup once another has begun a number. All numbers seem subdued. It is as if volume and accompanying enthusiasm is expected to be at a reduced level.
I find the Jamboree a unique sort of musical experience. It is a time for quiet conversation for friends and acquaintances or equally quiet attention by lovers of country and western styling to music and musicians.
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Helen Creighton, Nova Scotia’s great folklorist and folk song collector, visited the Annapolis Valley. So too did Clara Dennis, the author who most complements Creighton with her stated resolve and “resolution to seek and find Nova Scotia”. Both passed within the shadow of Young’s Mountain. Neither recorded time spent either in Belleisle or in Young’s Cove. It seems a shame they lived what is now decades ago. One wishes they might have added their thoughts on the Jamboree at Milbury Lake to their writings.
Live free, child of the mist,- and with respect to knowledge we are all children of the mist. (“Walking”, Henry David Thoreau)
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The Fundy shore along Young’s Cove does not attract sightseers, visitors. Those who would spend time gazing out over the bay’s waters, watching sunsets, lobster boats, trawlers and the like, gravitate to the trails at Delaps Cove or else take their ease at Hampton Beach. Even in summer, the Young’s Cove cobblestone beaches and rocky outcrops are lonely places, birds seeming the most familiar recurring visitors.
I wile a good many summer half hours and longer perched on a rock or sun and salt whitened beached log looking out from the Young’s Cove shore. Often as not I sit shrouded in silencing fog. Sometimes there is a muted boat engine. Once in a great while I think I hear a whale blow. It is a time for imaging. It is said that within the memory of some still living there were visible at low tide the masts and spars of a sailing ship. The skeletal remains were a bit to the south of the mouth of Hogan Brook. Did the vessel flounder on rocks after a lookout suddenly sighted land through fog and mist? Perhaps someone on shore saw the ship materialize ghostlike before it went down.
The fog plays tricks on the senses. Sight, hearing, touch and taste are all affected, altered. A piece of driftwood seems lifelike, almost animated. When a boat appears, it comes from a direction unaligned to the dull rumble of its engine. My fingertips are slippery with moisture. My tongue finds my lips salt-tinged, briny.
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Back in the early 1950s there was a flurry of interest over the alleged sighting of a sea serpent by two area fishermen one misty Fundy day. The report, which made a local paper, was made by James Longmire and Harry Gregory.
Longmire and Gregory, both of whom have since passed away, were in separate boats. The boats were not the large inboard-engine lobster boats we are familiar with today but rather the smaller outboard driven craft commonly used by fishermen of an earlier generation. The size of the boats provided Longmire and Gregory with a water’s line view of whatever it was they encountered.
Longmire and Gregory reported seeing a snakelike creature some thirty feet long. It moved through the water in a manner reminiscent of a land bound snake’s undulations. Both fishermen said the creature came so close that they feared it would overturn their small craft.
There are still people in the communities of Parker’s Cove and Young’s Cove who remember the incident and who knew Longmire and Gregory. One is Milbury Lake summer resident Cecil Clayton, who grew up in Parker’s Cove. As a young man Cecil knew James Longmire. Another, Kinsman Gregory, grew up on the Young’s Mountain Road. Kinsman and Harry were cousins. Cecil Clayton and Kinsman Gregory speak to the veracity of the two fishermen. However, Kinsman says that the strange creature that was brought into Parker’s Cove in 2002 and identified as a species of shark seldom found in Fundy waters was probably what Longmire and his cousin saw back in the early 1950’s. Backing up the idea that the sea serpent Longmire and Gregory saw was nothing more that a species of shark seldom found in local waters is the fact that the decomposed remains of creatures first thought to be sea serpents and later identified as the remains of basking sharks have been found along Fundy shores.
Aboriginal lore has it that the Fundy region was long the home of a great sea serpent or possibly sea serpents. Mi’maq, Malecite and Passamaquoddy folk myth describes the creature as possessing a huge mouth and a set of extremely intimidating teeth. Back in the days of early English settlement of the Fundy shores, the creature acquired the name Old Ned, another name for the Devil. Then, around 1868, Professor Spencer Fullerton Baird, second secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and a noted scientist verified the existence of a giant Fundy sea creature of unknown taxonomic classification.
The creature Professor Baird applied his expertise to was over thirty feet long and measured just over twenty feet at the mid section. It had a dorsal fin, stabilizing medial fins and a flat tail like a shark. Its skin was loose like that of an elephant. It was boneless so its movements would have been snakelike, undulant. Its mouth was almost five feet wide. The estimated weight was eleven tonnes. (The figures are those recorded by Professor Baird.) Incredibly, the creature had sturdy webbed feet, suggesting to Professor Baird that it could move about on land as well as in water. Its teeth resembled popcorn. If that was the case, it means the creature was a plant eating herbivore. The professor was unable to place the creature within any known taxonomy.
At the time of the discovery of the giant sea creature, Professor Baird was studying the fisheries of the Gulf of Maine in general and of the mouth of the Bay of Fundy in particular. The creature had been discovered and dispatched on the shore of Treat Island in Passamaquoddy Bay. Witnesses described it as still trying to get to the water after being struck with over seventy musket balls. Some of the witnesses were sure the monster was Old Ned. Others, that it might be the fabled serpent of Lake Utopia in St. George, New Brunswick.
Stories of Professor Baird and the monster appeared in local papers. Harper’s Weekly of October, 24, 1868 carried the story. The creature's remains went on tour. Stops included Boston and New York.
The sea creature Professor Baird was unable to place in any taxonomic schema has since been lumped in along with the other sea serpents identified as basking sharks. However, Professor Baird was a noted authority on ichthyology, the branch of zoology concerned with marine life, particularly fishes. Baird’s Beaked Whale bears his name. The professor would have been able to identify a shark. His descriptions indicate the creature was something other than a shark. His observations briefly raise the fog shrouding one of the tales of Fundy sea serpents only to raise more. They also provide support for the tale told by fishermen James Longmire and Harry Gregory at the mid point of the twentieth century.
And the Cat Came Back
You can’t spoil a cat. Maybe that’s why we try and so much enjoy ourselves in the process. It is something we can do without feeling the least bit of guilt.
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Cats are the only untamed- if untamed is the right word- pets we have. They were the last animals to be domesticated. Something like 4000 years ago, farmers began using cats to control the mice and rat population.
We have two cats, Dick and Blackie. Dick is named for Dickon, the familiar of Hawthorne’s witch Mother Rigby in the short story “Feathertop”. Blackie is named for the ubiquitous detective of the ‘40s and ‘50s, Boston Blackie. Dick is an orange male, a tiger; Blackie, a tuxedo, almost all black but for an infinitesimal white spot on her chest. Neither Dick or Blackie in the least resemble Mother Rigby’s Dickon who responds with alacrity to every request of the witch for a coal to light her pipe. Mother Rigby’s Dickon is not at all catlike.
Dick and Blackie are indoor cats. Dick is the more demanding, restive. Blackie, on the other hand, never seems particularly catlike- meaning nocturnal. She spends the bulk of her time on our bed. Maybe their respective natures have something to do with their sex. Dick has other side of the door syndrome. He will insist on being let onto the porch. Then, after a bit, he will want back in. Shortly after that he will want back out again. Blackie, on the other hand, seems to want nothing so much as to sleep on my stomach or back. Like the fictional detective she is named for, she is always there. Whenever I sit or lie down, she is ready to join me, especially at night. When I go to bed- I sleep on my stomach- she settles comfortably on my back.
Dick seems to have a purpose or two in life. Mary Lou never had a pet. Dick has taken it upon himself to make her his person, to educate her to the simple joys of furry companionship. He is her reading companion, often rubbing his broad orange head against her book. If she is feeling unwell, he will be there curled up against her.
Both Dick and Blackie began life as strays.
Dick’s pregnant mother came to me ready to give birth. Dick had a brother. I used to let the three outdoors. Dick’s mother was hit and killed on the road. Dick’s brother simply disappeared. Having lost two members what I once thought as ‘the cat family’ I now keep Dick and Blackie indoors.
Blackie was a kitten when she showed up on my doorstep. Dick- at that point without family of feline nature- immediately took it as his responsibility to groom the foundling, a practice he continues to this day.
Dick and Blackie have moved three times with Mary Lou and I. Both seem to know their home is with us, that location is inconsequential.
Dick and Blackie speak to the axiom you can never really tame a cat. There’s no point in punishing them for misdeeds like clawing furniture. They don’t seem to have a sense of guilt. We have spray bottles filled with water for them when they claw something- and if we get there fast enough. When we do manage to spray them during the process of clawing, they never seem to hold it against us. They just come purring back when they feel like it.
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One bright sunny January morning I was walking south towards the Valley from the cottage on snow-covered Young’s Mountain Road. Midway between the turn for Milbury Lake and Young’s Lake, enjoying my ramble by musing on the unseasonably mild weather and quiet of the mountain top, I was pulled from my reverie by someone calling out in what I took to be extreme distress.
As I continued on, the calls became appreciably louder, tinged with what I took to be real agony. Then, almost within view of the iced-over pond, I saw a truck parked a bit into the woods on an old logging road. Standing in the middle of the logging road, in front of the truck, was the man I had heard bellowing and yelling for the last eight to ten minutes.
Thinking him a woodcutter or trapper who had injured himself, I asked “Are you all right?’
The answer was “I’m looking for my cat.”
The man responsible for this somewhat surprising statement was Andrew Gray of Parker’s Cove. Gray, who works on the scallop dragger Voyager, had been driving up the mountain from the Shore Road with his cat. Suddenly the cat, which mustn't have been enjoying what could only have been its first ride, had taken it into his head to jump through the back window of the cab and run off into the woods.
Later I learned that the cat, which Gray simply called ‘Kitty’ and sometimes went by the name of Fudd, wasn’t exactly his cat. Fudd, a tiger with double paws and one chewed-up, lopsided ear, had showed up as a stray and adopted three neighboring Parker’s Cove houses as his communal home. He was a favorite of all, especially Gray’s neighbor Valerie Turner.
I joined Andrew Gray for a half hour or so tramping through the snowy woods searching for Fudd’s paw prints before giving up to head back down the mountain. Before I left the hunt, Gray said that Valerie Turner would be devastated with Fudd’s loss.
Three mornings later, at 9:30, I was back at the cottage. I was sitting on the porch in a sunny 11 degrees when Andrew Gray drove by.
It seems Valerie Turner had alerted Milbury Lake’s permanent residents to be on the lookout for Fudd. However, Fudd hadn’t taken refuge at Milbury but rather headed straight back to his Parker’s Cove homes, a distance of some ten coyote infested kilometers. Gray had driven to Milbury to let people there know Fudd was safe and sound.
We dance along Death’s icy brink, but is the dance less full of fun? (Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, The Kasidah)
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A few years ago I ripped muscles in my lower abdomen. The result was a hernia. I believe I injured myself as I stretched to my utmost pruning the crown of an ornamental cedar with some long-handled, hand clippers. Most likely the tear occurred when I was at the very top of the ladder, reaching for a last errant sprig. It was four months before a doctor was able to schedule me for the operation to repair the tear. For that time period I walked around with my hand in my pocket pushing my intestines back where they belonged. Most likely the muscle tear was related to thinning abdominal muscle wall, a common condition associated with aging.
I celebrated my sixty-fifth birthday some time ago. Sixty-five is the traditional age of retirement, the beginning of the senior years. Sixty-five is a respectable age, as they once said before science began spinning out the days allotted man.
When I was a youngster, men and women who had reached sixty-five were bent and brittle. They seemed done with anything important, a parody of life. It was almost as though they belonged to another race, another species even.
When I was ten or so, my grandmother lived with us. She spent a good deal of time reading the Bible. It was her preoccupation. She did little else. I once asked her if she were cramming for a final exam. She slapped my face.
I am more active than my parents were when they were ten and even fifteen years what would be my junior. At my age my divorced parents talked as if life had passed on leaving them behind. My father sometimes spoke of the business he had once hoped to establish, Francis & Son, Marine. All he had to show for this dream was a sign. My mother spoke of the house she wished she owned but did not because she was a woman alone.
To me life is exciting, challenging and most definitely stimulating. At an age when my parents had geared down, I find myself continually amazed by the myriad of meaningful intellectual and physical pursuits I have to chose among. That is not to say that I am unaware of limitations brought about because of my aging body. Ripping muscles in my lower abdomen brought that point home to me with a vengeance. Therefore I am more than somewhat reticent to follow up on inclinations like taking off into the woods on an exploratory hike. I am more than a bit aware of the possibility of falling and being unable to negotiate my way back out. This is not to say that I consider my aging body and everything that goes along with that aging limiting. In fact I
consider aging liberating.
Every one suffers from arteriosclerosis as they age. Combined with hypertension the prognostication is invariably early demise, perhaps by aortic aneurysm. I suffer from hypertension. I had a heart attack at forty-five. It was caused by a blood clot. Told I was a high risk candidate for more attacks, I experienced a sense of freedom.
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According to the Nova Scotia Task Force on Aging this province has the highest proportion of residents attaining and passing the century mark. This is not just for Canada but North America as a whole and possibly even in the world. In describing Canada’s current aging population Canadian Geographic identifies southwestern Nova Scotia as “one of the best places in the world to live if you aspire to reach the mythical century mark.” In saying this the magazine was probably unaware that the man who just may be the most remarkable Canadian centenarian of all time made his home in the shadow of North Mountain, not all that far from where Mary Lou and I live in Belleisle. This particular centenarian was the Mi’kmaq Chief Membertou.
If the records of the first explorers and missionaries of what would become the Maritime Provinces and New England are correct, Chief Membertou lived to be more than 100. These records indicate that Membertou encountered Jacques Cartier on the shores of the St. Lawrence in 1534. He also met de Mons and Champlain when they sailed into the Annapolis Basin in 1604.
While there is some conflicting data about Membertou’s place in the Mi’kmaq hierarchy all accounts of the chief have certain things in common. He was a tall dignified figure. Even as an old man he was considered exceptionally strong.
The descriptions of Membertou come from his latter life when he was 100 or almost 100, when he should have been bent with the weight of his years and relishing the warmth of his hearth. He is described as a tall, white-haired figure of a man and such a great warrior that he was able to instill dread in anyone who was foolish enough to oppose him. Intriguingly, he is sometimes described as wearing a beard much like that of any European. The image that the dominant description of Membertou brings to mind is that of Old Testament prophet.
In 1605, Membertou, in his nonagenarian years, led an attack on enemies in southern Maine. The retaliatory expedition was in response to an attack on de Mons and Champlain by a subgroup of the Armouchiquois who made their home in the general area of the Saco River. Membertou had provided the French explorers with guides, one of whom, a chief named Pennoniac, was killed. The Armouchiquois attack was a direct affront to Membertou as he had granted what was essentially a safe passage to De Mons and Champlain.
Membertou’s revenge was bloody. Some 500 Mi’kmaq warriors answered his call. Under Membertou’s leadership the 500 odd paddled their canoes across Fundy to what is now St. John. There they were joined by a contingent of Maliseets. From here, the white-haired, bearded chief led the flotilla down the coast to the Saco River. There, like an avenging Old Testament warrior, Membertou wrecked havoc on those who had transgressed upon him, killing, among others it is said, the Armouchiquois Chief Bessabez in personal combat.
In 1610, Membertou converted to Christianity. 1610 may have been the year he turned 100. He died the next year. Many believe Membertou’s example in converting one of the great seminal moments in Mi’kmaq history as hundreds if not thousands followed in his footsteps in the years immediately succeeding his death.
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One is forced by life, always, to pay a price for existence. That price is usually learning to live with pain and loss, even death. But, in the process of learning one is free to laugh at the price and even at our self for caring about it. The reward of this frivolity is freedom.
The Glamour of Grammar
The things are three of which thou art composed, a little body, a little breath (life), intelligence. Of these the first two are thine, so far as it is thy duty to take care of them: but the third alone is properly thine.
...and if thou shalt strive what is really thy life, that is the present- then thou wilt be able to pass that portion of life which remaining for thee up to the time of thy death, free from perturbations, nobly... (Marcus Aurelius, “Book XII” Meditations)
* * * *
Some neuroscientists suggest that there is a link between language usage and Alzheimer’s. Individuals with poor language skills are more likely to succumb to the dread condition than those possessing more complex verbal skills. Those physiologists subscribing to the hypothesis point out that particular portions of the brain deal with specific parts of speech, one section of the brain handling adverbs another nouns and so on. To keep these sections of the brain active one uses grammar. This does not mean using simple grammatical constructions like “Pick up the ball” but rather complex sentence structures, structures that incorporate subordination and coordination, structures possessing idea density. “Pick up the ball before Grandpa comes down.” suggests a number of things involving Grandpa’s physical condition as well as potential situations involving the ball. The latter example not only abounds with idea density, it is more grammatically complex than the first. The implied relationship between language usage and Alzheimer’s is that if you read, if you write, if you speak well, in short, if you exercise higher level language skills all your life, you just may have developed protections against developing this old age bugaboo. Neuroscience also suggests that mathematics and music as well as painting are language and as such offer the same mental protections as complex grammar usage.
What neuroscientists are saying is that how we express ourselves is more important that what we express. The more complex our expression, whether that expression be grammatical construction, artistic creation or mathematical construct, the more we utilize the paths of the brain.
The words glamour and grammar are related linguistically. The Scots word glamour as an alteration of grammar suggests a magic spell. Is good grammar then a sort of magic potion for mental health? Is neuroscience just discovering something that ancient Scots knew centuries ago and that our grade school teachers who corrected our diction in the classroom whenever we misspoke realized all along?
Mary Lou grew up on the same street in Wolfeville that Rosamund Archibald lived on. Archibald was a professor of English at Acadia. Following Archibald’s death in 1953, Mary Lou, who was eight at the time, helped her mother clean out Archibald’s house. Archibald never married. Distant relatives inherited her property and asked a local service club, of which Mary Lou’s mother was a member, to clean out the house. Proceeds from the project went to the local hospital. Besides the- to be expected- wide ranging assortment of books, there was a collection of Japanese kimonos, oriental shawls and miscellaneous bric a brac from around the world, mementos of Archibald’s travels. Mary Lou got to keep some of the kimonos and often dressed up in them.
Rosamund Archibald did a good deal more than influence the students that sat in her Acadia classroom. For much of the first half of the twentieth century and beyond, students in Nova Scotia and a good deal of the rest of Canada were taught proper language usage with Archibald’s The King’s English Drill: A Practical Aid to Spoken English in Everyday Use and Better English Games: A Laboratory Manual of Better English. The King’s English Drill, a book whose tan cover many Canadians of a certain age well remember, was so popular that it went through six editions, the first three being published in the second decade of the twentieth century, the sixth in 1948.
For Rosamund Archibald, proper word usage, proper syntax construction, in short, proper use of the King’s English was tantamount to leading a life of exemplary character and rectitude. This was Archibald’s motivation for writing her books for public school, adolescent scholars. Neuroscientists of today, however, would say that when students followed the exercises in The King’s English Drill they were exercising the brain in a healthy manner. They were familiarizing themselves with ways of using language that would serve as a protection against Alzheimer’s later in life.
* * * *
One summer morning Gleason Hogan and I walked down the Young’s Mountain Road to the bay. I had been heading for the shore from our Milbury Lake cottage and had seen Gleason out in his yard. I asked him to join me on my rambles in hopes that he would give me something of a walking tour of the area he and his ancestors for generations back have known since the late 1700s. We walked from Gleason’s modern, ranch-style house down the hill to the old clapboard and shingle, two-story house he lived in as a boy. Back when Gleason was growing up there, the Gregorys and their son Kinsman lived almost directly across the road. Kinsman’s summer cottage has replaced the house he knew as a youngster and adolescent. It gets little use now since his wife of some fifty years passed away. She used it for hosting an annual potluck to raise funds for the Young’s Cove Cemetery. The last to stay at the cottage, Kinsman’s grandchildren, did so some summers ago.
Continuing on down the road, we passed the Young’s Cove Cemetery. There are markers there for Gleason’s parents and other Hogans. There is a stone for Kinsman Gregory and his wife. Kinsman’s dates are incomplete. As we left the dusty dirt road and turned right onto pavement, Gleason pointed out where he spent his days as a school boy.
With a bit of imagining I am able to take myself back to the era of Gleason Hogan’s and Kinsman Gregory’s Young’s Cove childhood and adolescence, the 1920’s and ‘30’s, and picture the area as it was then. It was a time when there were few trees and the slope from the Shore Road to the water was pasture where the Hogan’s cows grazed the summer through. The Shore Road was dirt back then, dusty in hot weather, muddy when it rained. Horses and horse drawn wagons were almost as common as automobiles. The shore was a busy place then as most families supported themselves by fishing.
Young’s Cove and Belleisle were once served by that now almost mythical icon of education, the one room school. The Belleisle school still stands. It is on Highway 1 some two kilometers west of the Young’s Mountain Road. It is a wood frame structure, white with black trim. The Young’s Cove school that Gleason Hogan and Kinsman Gregory attended is long gone, all that remains is the foundation, which can be glimpsed from the road through trees and undergrowth, and an old gnarled apple tree that once graced the school yard. The foundation, a reminder of days past, lies crumbling on the east side of the Young’s Mountain Road where it meets the Shore Road.
The Belleisle school served students with names like Cranton, Parker, Woodworth and Willett. In addition to Hogan and Gregory, Young’s Cove school students had names like Guest and Covert. Youngs and Bents could be found sitting at desks of both.
Both the Belleisle school and the Young’s Cove school were primitive by today’s standards. There was no indoor plumbing or running water. Belleisle students took turns carrying water from a neighbor’s well. Young’s Cove students got water from the roadside spring that is now the water source for Kinsman’s Gregory’s cottage. Wood stoves provided heat at both.
Kinsman Gregory and Gleason Hogan are somewhat unique for their generation in that they attended school all the way through to grade twelve. For many Depression era students, dropping out to work was expected and accepted. For twelve years Gleason and Kinsman walked the short distance from their homes on the Young’s Mountain Road down the hill past the Young’s Cove Cemetery to the little building where they learned as much of the world and the skills necessary for success in that world as the local school board and the Province of Nova Scotia deemed appropriate. For much of the time the two attended the school, they had but five classmates.
The one room schools serving the two communities abutting the Young’s Mountain Road started at Beginners or Primary and went to grade twelve. There was no kindergarten or grade thirteen. Many students stopped their education at grade eight. The use of terms such as Beginner, grade eight and grade twelve does not mean that classes were graded or graduated. They weren’t. It was largely a matter of teaching to strength, whether that strength be the students’ or the teacher’s.
Both the Belleisle school and the Young’s Cove schools were served by a succession of teachers who boarded locally. Records indicate some earned a princely $250 a year, plus room and board. Teaching responsibilities included arriving at school early enough to get the fire in the wood stove going.
In the early decades of the twentieth century, Nova Scotia teachers had a heavy, two inch thick, seven by nine inch curriculum guide, the Nova Scotia Course of Study. One Valley teacher described the hefty tome as “anything but definite and concise”. In short, the Nova Scotia Course of Study was short on goals, objectives and activities. It emphasized rote work such as copying examples of arithmetic and factoring from the blackboard and “mental exercises”, a euphemism for memorization. The teaching of reading and comprehension stopped at grade four. That was as far as Nova Scotia Readers went.
There was one teaching aid teachers back then had which was definite and concise, however, an aid which was designed with specific outcomes in mind. This aid was Rosamund Archibald’s The King’s English Drill. Those familiar with Archibald’s text can almost always tell if someone profited by being exposed to it. Gleason Hogan and Kinsman Gregory ‘speak’ to the success of Archibald’s system for learning proper grammar and syntax. Both speak well. Neither use slang or colloquialisms. They use the King’s English.
The Province sold Young’s Cove school shortly after the end of World War II. A carpenter who made lathes bought it. When that business failed, the building was gutted of anything of value, including the hardwood floor that had felt the footsteps of generations of Young’s Cove youngsters. What remained ended as scrap or simply rotted away.
Today only the one room Belleisle school stands a reminder of the Nova Scotia pioneer school systems that once served the two Young’s Mountain communities. The post war years saw an end to the pioneer systems with the start of a more modern era of education. The King’s English Drill was one of the casualties of this modernization. One can but wonder how much of the glamour that is grammar fell by the wayside as Archibald’s text was replaced by more modern methods of teaching English.
The Garden of Good and Evil
Our Belleisle property was a working farm until the early 1960s. Horses were stabled in the small barn which is now our garage. The big barn, of which all that remains is foundation, was a cow barn. There was a pigsty. The west lawn was under cultivation. Barb wire still outlines some of what was once pasture.
When Lawrence and Frances Willett moved in after inheriting the property 1967, they proceeded to turn the working farm into a model of middle class respectability. A west lawn was created. Some dozen or more trees were purchased from a nursery. These included a Japanese Walnut, Blue Spruce, White and Laurel Willow, Sandcherry, Jack Pine, Lace Bark Pine and others not indigenous to the Maritimes. Shrubs and flowering bushes were put in around the house and throughout the yards. Flower gardens became a prominent landscaping feature. It was an ambitious project. Unfortunately it was not that well-conceived, especially in terms of spacing. For example, the Lace Bark Pine, which achieved a spread close to thirty feet was planted much too close to other spreading trees. Then, too, there was neglect. Lawrence died. A number of years later, Frances became ill. There was no one to continue the process of pruning, thinning and weeding. All the last owner before us did in the way of landscape and garden maintenance was to hire a teenager to mow the grass.
Prior to taking possession of our Belleisle home, when we were waiting for the previous owner to vacate and were still between the cottage and our Wolfville home, Mary Lou announced she would garden. My response was that I would be responsible for pruning trees and shrubs and mowing our soon to be some two acres of lawn. It hasn’t worked out that way. I am the groundskeeper, in toto.
Gardening and landscaping at the foot of Young’s Mountain has been a trial and error process, one that is by necessity forward-looking and by nature an art, an art that is four dimensional as it is constantly evolving, never static.
I seldom buy plants. I prefer to rescue those that are in need of a new home due to overcrowding, overshadowing or abandonment. I do accept those offered me by other gardeners and I transplant direct from the wild.
Nature itself is a wonderful resource for plants, shrubs and trees. It is also a source of inspiration. I have scavenged the ditch in front of our house for fireweed. Now, in July and August swaths of that oft times maligned plant glories the once drab, weed infested former barnyard that marks the dividing line between what I view as formal grounds and the natural landscape of the gradually sloping foot of North Mountain. In like manner, ferns from the deep woods now add their leafy textures to the barky base of blue spruce and pine. With transplants from the wild, the formal landscape of our property acquires a natural texture.
If gardening and landscaping are viewed as an art form, the only visual form of expression that encompasses the passage of time, then nature itself is the ultimate model of that artistic genre. Just as nature mixes plants, trees and shrubs so that they complement, so I have tried to complete our formal landscape by mixing the cultivated with the wild.
A walk through the woods of North Mountain reveals a pool of dry shade where a box turtle trundles its way along. Elsewhere dark wet places take on new importance as home to mosses, ferns and lichen. These particular habitats serve as inspiration for making the abstract concrete.
The gardens around our Belleisle home were left untended for more than five years prior to our taking possession in the late summer of 2002. Given that the barn was a repository of bags of fertilizers, as well as a variety of herbicide and pesticide containers, I concluded that the previous gardeners had relied heavily on chemicals for their particular brand of landscaping. The five year-plus hiatus working the chemically dependent gardens was indicative of what happens when plants and seedings in this sort of environment are left untended. A less that natural landscape devoid of natural habitats evolved. In like manner, much the same has occurred on the slopes of North Mountain where clear-cutting has been the established practice for decades if not longer.
As steep as the south sloping watershed of North Mountain is, it has been logged, clear-cut. The logging in the general area of Young’s Mountain has been done by small woodlot owners. There has been no attempt at reforestation.
With clear-cutting there are no seed trees to begin again the natural process reforestation, there is no natural regeneration This is especially true of those slopes which have been sprayed in order to kill hardwoods.
Forested watersheds make their greatest contribution to the general health of people and the environment as a whole when they are a source of clean water. When they are sprayed and logged in a none-selective manner, meaning clear-cut, it is for the economic benefit of the few, with erosion, lowered or threatened water quality and eyesores for the rest of us.
Our Belleisle lawns boast two large gardens which I slowly came to believe as having been liberally dosed with chemicals. The chemicals killed the beneficial microscopic creatures that inhabit the soil. The soil of the gardens was no longer soft and crumbly like that of the lawn but hard and difficult to work with. It was home to a variety of noxious, unsightly weeds. In short, chemicals reduced the rich Annapolis Valley soil of the gardens to a rocklike hardpan.
In addition to the two large gardens there was evidence that sometime in the past attempts had been made to create flower gardens around the foundation of the old cow barn and in the area of the old pigsty. In the Spring, flowers would begin to poke their heads up into sunlight only to be choked out as weeds and grasses took over as May turned into June.
I found it next to impossible to get anything to grow in the largest of the two gardens of the lawns. What I found myself doing was constantly weeding or in the dry months of July and August, watching the ground bake and crack.
My solution to they above problem was to begin transferring topsoil and humus from around the old pigsty and from under the almost countless wild, white rose bushes that have filled in the edges of what were once truck gardens. I transplanted lupin, which- despite its wolfen name- is one of the best nitrogen fixing plants, from the ditch in front of the house to areas that seemed the most caliche-like. I dug up Vinca minor from a field gone back to the wild where it has flourished for who knows how long to serve as a binder for the topsoil I transferred. In addition, I transplanted flowers from the abandoned gardens around the old barn foundation and former pigsty. In short, I looked right around me, to North Mountain, to work at creating a landscape inspired by nature itself. Landscaping with nature is an ongoing process, one that is much more rewarding than running to a nursery or garden center for ideas.
The Land of Canaan
“ Bring yourself out of your birthplace,” Yahweh said to Abram, “out of your father’s house, your homeland- to a land I will bring you to see.” The Book of J translated by David Rosenberg
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No writer has sought to memorialize Young’s Mountain, Belleisle or Young’s Cove in words. No poet has sought to capture any or all of the three in verse. No novelist has set a work here. There are no biographies detailing the lives of any who lived here. There are no histories or studies of the vicissitudes endured by those who lived here in the days of the earliest settlers or those who live here now. There even seems a lack of folk tales, of oral tradition here. To find any sense of how the communities to either side of Young’s Mountain have been viewed by those who have a facility with words one must look those who wrote of the greater region which surrounds the communities joined by the dirt road which winds up and over Young’s Mountain.
The two writers who best describe the greater region of which the Young’s Mountain communities are a part are William A. Calnek and Ernest Buckler. Calnek wrote History of the County of Annapolis. Buckler, a novelist and short story writer, is best known for The Mountain and the Valley.
William Calnek was neither historian nor scholar. He was a compiler. His chief resource was government records. History of the County of Annapolis- its title notwithstanding- is not a history. Its genre is best described as genealogy. Those who look upon genealogy as a less than proper academic discipline might call Calnek’s work a “mug book”. Mug books have as their particular area of interest the history and genealogy of local families. Typically they begin with a bit of local history. A town history written by someone most likely associated with the local historical society is common. It will be followed by family histories.
Ernest Buckler was a regionalist. His novels and short stories are set in Nova Scotia, in the Annapolis Valley, specifically that part of the Valley bordering the Annapolis River and bounded by North and South mountains. The setting of The Mountain and the Valley is the fictional community of Entremont. Entremont lies at the foot of South Mountain, just outside, one supposes or assumes, of Annapolis Royal. The Valley, as Buckler describes it, is broad but “completely... shut in”. Egress is represented by the highway not the river. This is where David Canaan, the central character of The Mountain and the Valley, lives out his thirty years.
One of the pivotal moments in The Mountain and the Valley occurs when a young David Canaan falls from a beam in the barn. In climbing out over the beam, the boy David was testing his limits. The price he pays is painful- almost blindingly painful- headaches. He suffers from them for the rest of his life.
David Canaan’s thirty years are spent on the family farm at the foot of South Mountain. The
farm’s acreage extends to the mountain’s crest. That crest epitomizes and limits David’s imaginative horizons. When David was a child his greatest adventure was accompanying his father and older brother up the woods road to the top of South Mountain. The last time he takes that road, when he has just had one of his headaches, he dies.
Nietzsche tells us that the use of figurative language, of fiction arises from a desire to be different, a desire to be other than where one is.
David Canaan wants to be a writer of fiction. This means he needs an education, education that cannot be obtained in the Valley. He must leave the Valley to attend college if he is to become a writer. Instead he becomes a farmer. He inherits the family farm and the care of the last family member living on it, his grandmother. David’s older brother had gotten a girl pregnant. He has married the girl and gone to live in her home. David’s sister married and moved with her husband to Halifax.
David Canaan has a gift, the potential to become a writer. But rather than learning how to develop his gift, David finds himself constrained by moral limits. He must stay on the farm with his grandmother. David, whose only limits should be his mortality, finds his limits set in terms of the Valley.
Ernest Buckler was a master of metaphor, of allusion. David Canaan’s name is an obvious case in point. So is Buckler’s method of killing off his protagonist. It is an allusion to Moses and the warning he is to deliver to his people from Yahweh. As David Rosenberg writes in The Book of J “The people will be a boundary, warn them to watch themselves, approach but not climb up, not touch the mountain. For those who overstep boundaries, death touches them, steps over their graves”. One should also remember that Canaan was the youngest of Noah’s sons. When Noah learns that Canaan saw him naked he says “A bitter curse on Canaan”. The erring Canaan is to become “A servant to his brothers’ servants”.
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In the summer of 1970, Mary Lou, who was just graduated from college, attended a dinner at Ernest Buckler’s home. By 1970 Buckler’s career as a writer was over: his final, effort would come in providing commentary for Hans Weber’s 1973 collection of photographs, Nova Scotia: Window on the Sea. The events of the dinner and Mary Lou’s perspective vis a vie Buckler provide a number of insights into a variety of peccadilloes imbuing the life of the author of The Mountain and the Valley.
Ernest Buckler spent a good portion of his life living in an unassuming clapboard and frame house with a spreading chestnut tree in the front yard. The house is on the main road running along the foot of South Mountain between Bridgetown and Annapolis Royal in the hamlet of Centerlea.
That the kitchen of the Buckler home in Centerlea had a wood cook stove in 1970 conjures up images of the opening passage of The Mountain and the Valley. That comparison aside, it was
the cook stove in Buckler’s home that played a significant role in the dinner attended by Mary Lou when it became the source of a chimney fire. In fact, the fire brought out the Bridgetown Volunteer Fire Department.
The dinner of that now long ago summer evening was held at the behest of Evelyn Garbary, drama director at Acadia University and one of Buckler’s closest friends. Garbary wanted to introduce her former student, Mary Lou, a budding actress, to her and Buckler’s mutual friend, accomplished Broadway and Hollywood actor Arthur Kennedy. Earlier that day, at Garbary’s request, Kennedy attended a presentation of the Garbary directed Acadia Child Drama and Puppet Theatre to see Mary Lou perform. Garbary’s intent was that Kennedy might pave Mary Lou’s way to the Broadway stage. Mary Lou, an Acadia University trained vocalist and Garbary protégé, would go on to a seven year career on stage with Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia as the company’s lead actress.
The fact that Ernest Buckler would have friends like Evelyn Garbary and Arthur Kennedy says something about Buckler’s particular sensitivities. To begin with, it would not be inaccurate to say that Buckler ingratiated himself upon the two.
Evelyn Garbary’s theatre credentials were of the highest order stemming as they did from studies at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, an apprenticeship with London’s Old Vic and tenure at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. She played opposite John Gielgud and Edith Evans. She was also a friend of Irish short story Frank O’Connor and of Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Garbary’s having known Yeats was but one of the things that impressed Buckler about her. He also aspired to something more intimate than simple friendship with her.
In 1970 Arthur Kennedy and his wife Mary had a home in Annapolis Royal. Ernest Buckler especially valued their friendship as Kennedy- besides being a major Hollywood personage having been nominated for several Oscars- had garnered a Tony for his performance as Biff in Arthur Miller’s great tragedy Death of a Salesman. Kennedy also appeared in Miller’s All My Sons directed by Elia Kazan and was a close friend of Kazan. In addition, Kennedy and Laurence Olivier had alternated nights playing the parts of Becket and Henry II in the Broadway version of Becket.
While Ernest Buckler was the nominal host of the evening’s festivities, the evening was really under Garbary’s control. Garbary provided the dinner’s entree, duck, and had the members of the puppet theatre, excluding Mary Lou, as cooks and waiters. Garbary’s idea was that Mary Lou would impress upon Kennedy her aspirations for a stage career.
The evening’s festivities were just the sort that Buckler relished. While reclusive in nature, Buckler very much enjoyed discussions of a literary and theatrical nature. He also enjoyed the company of young people. That is, he enjoyed these things and people if there was alcohol in abundance, as there was this particular evening.
On this occasion Buckler was drinking gin. He was also using medication for headaches and depression. The medications included a prescribed pain killer and a muscle relaxant. Both Garbary and Kennedy were aware of Buckler’s medication regimen and his proclivity for mixing alcohol with it. And they were quite used to overlooking the practice. In fact, they were quite used to shielding Buckler from anything that might distress him, which was a good thing as his house caught fire. Specifically, the roasting of Garbary’s duck resulted in a chimney fire.
When the members of the theatre troop responsible for preparing dinner realized the chimney was on fire, they called Garbary into the kitchen. She immediately took charge of the situation. After calling the fire department, she had Kennedy, Tom Miller, the troop’s set designer, and Mary Lou unobtrusively close the blinds on the driveway side of the house so that Buckler would not see the fire trucks arrive. She also had the three keep Buckler occupied with conversation as a diversion. While the host was so occupied Garbary had several male troop members climb to the roof with a tarpaulin. The tarpaulin smothered the fire. Ernest Buckler never knew of the fire or when the Bridgetown Volunteer Fire Department arrived.
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William Calnek’s History of the County of Annapolis was first published in 1897, some five years after Calnek’s death. In 1913, A. W. Savary compiled a supplement to Calnek’s work, Supplement to the History of the County of Annapolis. Savary, a lawyer by vocation and a family historian by avocation, had discovered a number of errors in Calnek’s work. Savary would eventually conclude that the work Calnek left behind him was a rough draft not intended for publication.
The work of Calnek and Savory references a number of Bellisle and Young’s Cove families. Among them one name stands out as having made appearances in standard history texts. It is the name of Timothy Ruggles.
Timothy Ruggles was a Loyalist. As a Loyalist he first made his home in Belleisle, where he was deferred to as Squire Ruggles. The house he built stands opposite St. Mary’s Anglican Church. That section of North Mountain behind Ruggles’s house was once known as Ruggles Mountain. It abuts Young’s Mountain on the west and Phinney Mountain on the east. Today, what was once Ruggles Mountain is nameless.
Timothy Ruggles has a number of claims to fame. However, during the American Revolution, it is as the second most hated man in America.
Born in Massachusetts, Timothy Ruggles was a lawyer, politician, judge and soldier. During the French and Indian War he commanded a regiment and later a brigade. He rose to the rank of general, serving directly under Lord Jeffery Amherst.
In 1765, Ruggles, a member of the Massachusetts General Court, was elected president of the first colonial congress called to protest perceived British injustices vis a vie the colonies. This was the so-called Stamp Act Congress. The purpose of the congress was to draw up a list of grievances with England. Ruggles refused to sign the final document. He was censured by the Massachusetts General Court for his actions.
General Ruggles was one of the earliest Loyalists to settle in Nova Scotia. He arrived here in 1775 with Lord Howe at the time of the evacuation of Staten Island. Even though his properties in the rebelling colonies were confiscated, Ruggles was well to do. The latter circumstance explains why he was able to acquire his Belleisle property and build a substantial home on it.
In 1779, the Crown granted Ruggles 10,000 acres in Wilmot. Squire Ruggles died there in 1795. A number of Ruggles’s descendants made their home in Bridgetown. One of them, Elizabeth Ruggles Coward, wrote Bridgetown, Nova Scotia: Its History to 1900.
In 1800, Timothy Ruggles’s son, who also bore the name Timothy, purchased the land where our home now sits. The younger Timothy Ruggles kept the property until 1808. There is no evidence that he ever built on it or did anything more that cut timber on it. The land was just another piece in the vast holdings of the Ruggles family in the Valley. The younger Timothy Ruggles sold the property to William Covert. Covert built the house that Lawrence Willett bought in 1853, beginning the Willett family’s tenure on the property.
[There are] norms that engross literate men and women, common readers, as Virginia Wolfe followed Samuel Johnson in calling them. Harold Bloom, Where Shall Reason Be Found?
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On January 24, 2002, I became a permanent resident of Canada. It was a remarkably simple and very short process, beginning with a mandatory border crossing.
A cold, early morning wind portending snow blew an Arctic welcome as Mary Lou and I crossed the international bridge linking Calais, Maine and St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Rolling to a stop at the custom’s booth, I flashed my Record of Landing at the on-duty officer and informed him I was immigrating. The officer told us where to park and to ask for the immigration officer at the information desk of the custom’s building. That official authenticated my Record of Landing with his signature. He gave me a little Canadian flag pin that I affixed to my jacket lapel. Mary Lou gave me a kiss. All told the act of immigrating took less than ten minutes. Then we were off to Wolfville, which we then called home. I could now live in Canada for as long as I wished. Essentially, I had all the rights and responsibilities of any Canadian except for being able to vote. In January of 2003, we purchased our Milbury Lake cottage. By the end of summer of that year we had our Belleisle home.
As the gull flies, Young’s Mountain lies some 200 kilometers east of where I spent most of my adult life, the Penobscot region of Maine. I was born in Portland, Maine. Portland is the tiniest fraction of a degree of latitude north of Halifax.
I was born a Downeaster and I continue to live a Downeaster. Nova Scotia, like the rest of the Maritimes, is “Down East”. Down East is more than a state of mind. It is more than simply down east as the wind blows from the Boston States. It is a distinct region, a region with a British flavor.
The streets and byways of Down East towns and cities are graced with flower boxes, garden plots, shrubs, and ornamental trees. The same is true of many businesses. The model for this pleasant state of affairs was and to a certain extent still is the British Isles. One need but consider the influence of the English garden on the Down East region (and much of Canada as a whole for that matter) to appreciate this. The Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens are an example, so too are the flower boxes hanging on the street lights of Down East communities from southern Maine to Cape Breton Island.
The authentication of my Record of Landing was the culmination of an unending, obstacle-strewn process. At least that is how it seemed to me at the time. With Mary Lou’s help, I filled out seeming endless series of forms. Fingerprinting was part of the process. I had four physical examinations: two relating to having had a heart attack, a sonogram and a stress test.
The all-consuming nature of the immigration process had been such that I spent little time contemplating the import of the actual act beyond the fact that in some vague intellectualized sort of way its outcome would be ongoing and opened-ended. When I thought at all about what lay beyond becoming a permanent resident of Canada, it was in terms of being exposed to and immersing myself in Canadian tradition: culture, history, literature and a myriad of other intellectual pursuits that were uniquely Canadian as opposed to American. Immigrating was a movement from a past to a new condition of being in a culture I had previously experienced primarily through reading.
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In The Long Road Back: The Conservative Journey, 1993-2006, Hugh Segal writes passionately on Magna Carta, how that touchstone of the liberties of English speaking people everywhere gave Parliament and the individual rights above and beyond those of the monarch. Segal, a political conservative, sees the patriation of the Canadian Constitution and the incorporation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms into the Constitution in 1982 as a direct outgrowth of the principles of Magna Carta. Segal also sees the recent spending practices of the ministry of whatever party happens to be in power in Ottawa as abrogating the spirit of Magna Carta, as contravening a tradition dating back to the thirteenth century. His criticism is based on the practice of allocating funds without prior Parliamentary approval.
Sir Wilfred Laurier, the liberal Prime Minister who deserves consideration as “the” greatest Canadian, looked to British models in much the same way as Hugh Segal. Laurier saw the nineteenth century classical liberalism of John Stuart Mill with its emphasis on the right of the individual to act as he pleases so long as those actions do not harm others and British reform policies that made the situation of British Catholics more equitable and generally extended the franchise as reference points in promoting the process of creating a country where all Canadians regardless of ancestry could live together amicably. Laurier spoke to these principles of British liberalism in his struggles with those Quebec clerics who equated liberalism with the French Revolution.
The conservatism of Segal and the liberalism of Laurier is not that of the political extremist. Political extremists view the current condition as an intermediate stage of evolution. Left-of-center and right-of-center politics seems enamored with a belief in superior race. Hard-core liberals and hard-core conservatives think they are that race. Their faith is that of the true believer, that they are more intelligent than the common run of people. They believe they are better suited to manage the little people’s lives. They believe they have the one true vision, the ability to solve all the moral dilemmas besetting society.
These days the political landscape is by and large a dubious struggle led by modern-day descendants of Plato’s Academy- those enlightened few who envisioned a society governed by a professional elite- and religionists. To say it in another way, the secularized opponents of majority rule take one route and the proponents of spiritual life another. The struggle engages over issues like gay marriage, stem cell research and spending for social programs verses
spending for the military. Issues like these will not go away. Politics, however, is unimportant. What is important is one’s personal power, freedom.
It was because of personal power, freedom, that I immigrated.
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I am not the first Downeaster from Maine with a penchant for books, learning and tradition to find a home in the shadow of North Mountain, nor, I suspect, will I be the last. Well over 200 years ago, Jacob Bailey left Maine’s Kennebec Valley for the Annapolis Valley.
Jacob Bailey chose to leave Maine because of power. The power that led Bailey to move was not personal power but the power of violence, the power of the mob, the roughneck, the soldier and the pirate. Jacob Bailey left Maine because of law. That law was not law that can be traced to Magna Carta but rather lynch law.
Jacob Bailey was a mover and shaker, both before and after his removal to Nova Scotia. Bailey was an educated man, a Harvard graduate. He was an Anglican minister and missionary. He was so devoted an Anglican that rather than be ordained in Massachusetts, he sailed across the Atlantic to be ordained in England.
Because of his education and position, Jacob Bailey was someone of influence. People listened to him and some feared him. Those that feared Jacob Bailey were the American Patriots. Before leaving the Kennebec region, Bailey served as a focal point for those opposed to the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. In Nova Scotia, particularly in the Annapolis Valley, Bailey used his position to work for the betterment of those exiles who now made the province that some called Nova Scarcity their home.
For some three years in Maine, beginning in 1773, Jacob Bailey was reviled and threatened. He was the object of potential mob violence. At one point he barely escaped tarring and feathering. Bailey’s home, pulpit and personal belongings were repeatedly vandalized. In 1776, Jacob Bailey wisely removed himself to Nova Scotia.
Jacob Bailey was literate. He wrote of his experiences during the first years of the American Revolution and later of the experiences of the Loyalists in Nova Scotia. Bailey saw the American Patriots as breaking an oath to the King. It did not matter that the Declaration of Independence was based on the King breaking his oath to the people he ruled.
Bailey’s descriptions of the condition of Loyalists during their first years in Nova Scotia are poignant. They give a picture of privation and suffering on the part of all too many. They portray poor and homeless unable to find shelter, not wealthy with shiploads of goods and slaves as many today envision the Loyalists as possessing.
Jacob Bailey was particularly concerned with the growing influence of sectarian nonconformists like the itinerant preacher Henry Alline. He saw the Baptist Alline and nonconformists like him as uneducated and untrained proselytizers perverting the true message of the Bible. Bailey traveled much of Nova Scotia in an effort to offset the influence of Alline and nonconformists like him. He saw nonconformity as a danger to the social and political stability of the province. His Jack Ramble: the Methodist Preacher, a poetic satire of prodigious length, speaks to this concern. In a political vein Bailey wrote “The Tory Dog Thou Shalt Not Kill”.
Jacob Bailey settled in Cornwallis on the Minas Basin before moving to Annapolis Royal, where he served as rector of St. Luke’s Church. Bailey’s St. Luke’s parish included the settlements at the foot of Young’s Mountain, Young’s Cove and Belleisle. Here he performed baptisms, marriages and last rites. Here the descendants of those Jacob Bailey ministered to built Anglican churches, St. Peter’s By The Sea in Young’s Cove and St. Mary’s in Belleisle.
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Reading may be viewed as an effort to find an anecdote to solitude. Yet, the more we read the more solitary we are. It is a conundrum but not one which is self-defeating if it results in wisdom, in an understanding of wise tradition.
There are a few that take to the political stage not to protect their own bit of turf in the manner of the urban gang member but to instruct. Wilfred Laurier may be viewed as such a teacher. Hugh Segal may be viewed in like manner. Perhaps the same may be said of Jacob Bailey. One cannot imagine any of these three voicing Lear’s lament:
When we are born, we cry that we are come
To this great stage of fools.