GENERAL ARTICLES

Grand Manan

HELEN E. WILLIAMS June 15 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

Grand Manan

HELEN E. WILLIAMS June 15 1935

Grand Manan

HELEN E. WILLIAMS

THERE ARE dreams go down the harbor with the tall ships of Saint John,” sang Bliss Carman.

And a long-cherished dream began to come true a few hours after we, too, had sailed past lighthouse and bell-buoy and saw ahead, rising out of briny seas that leaped and swirled—Bishop Rock. For years we had wanted to visit Grand Manan, thirty miles from St. Andrews-bythe-Sea. It was wonderful actually to see the Island of Romance set amid the pageantry of Fundy’s turbulent tides. Waves of the twenty-eight riptide swept through the jaws of the Bay, chasing, dodging, doubling back on themselves, building pinnacles and scooping valleys in the green, rampant water. They were more than usually boisterous from a storm out at sea, so we were over four hours late. It was dusk as the little steamer, Grand Manan, skirted Whale Cove and swung past Swallowtail Light on North Head into the haven of tong Island Bay.

The same expectant throng such as tourists see at landings along the tower St. Lawrence surged forward to welcome the queue leaving the gangplank. There was an optimistic scramble for vehicles of diverse descriptions, and we were off—bumping through the dark to a rambling hotel perched on a hill. Through some miscalculation, there was no accommodation for many of us, so after a substantial supper we were scattered for lodging among the neighbors. Our lot fell in a goodly place, a quaint little cottage among gnarled apple trees, just across the road from the Bay.

Inside there was a blending of the old and the new. Hooked rugs, kerosene lamps—and a radio broadcasting a concert from Montreal. From the bedroom window came in, presently, another concert, broadcast by the Cricket Orchestra. Except for that it was very quiet. Very peaceful. Sweet with the scent of new-cut hay. Beyond the sloping field loomed the shadow of woods. A Brushwood Boy sort of place, easy to drift away from to the City of Sleep... ,,

It was to these woods we went bright and early after breakfast at the hotel, for the trail through them led to cliffs we had seen coming in. There was a bench at their entrance, where one could sit down and look back over the meadow and village of North Head clustering along tong Island Bay. The trail aisled through spruces and balsams beautifully shaped, deliciously resinous. A little clearing showed a far-off vista of very blue bay and very precipitous rock. Then the symmetrical evergreens closed in round the trail again. Closer now. One could just see that the narrow path was plunging downward; could recall Clovelly; wonder how much longer the descent would be. Like so many things in life, it ended abruptly. We came out on the rocky cliff called Fish Head, fairly bombarded by a storm of beauty. To the left, across the turquoise of Whale Cove, towered Bishop Rock. Not grey and ominous as it was yesterday, but violet-tinted, mystic, germane to those mountain capes that rise from Maggiore’s shores. The dim outline along the horizon nine miles away was Maine. Somewhere to the right lay Nova Scotia. Far, far below, Fundy’s tides played musically on the shingle.

And one was as much alone with all this beauty as if the years had rolled backward

to 1694, when Montcalm and De Monts first saw these mighty headlines as they coasted past to Acadia. They anchored. according to tradition, off the southern end of the Island, where what had once been a 1,400-pound anchor was retrieved, in 1842, to verify history. Passamaquoddy Indians occupied Manan for over a hundred years afterward; then white settlers from the mainland pitched tentative tents at Grand Harbor. Were ousted and followed by more adhesive spirits.

lime was when Eastporters, twenty miles away in Maine, toasted that they had never been to Manan. Steamers have changed that, however. Now Americans at large congregate here, and hark back sadly to the Ashburton Treaty when, they hint darkly, international confabulations were mellowed by ancient vintage, so that the St. Croix River boundary became as foggy as a Stein play—and grim, grand Manan was allotted to Canada.

Picturesque Fishermen

TDETURNING from a walk on tong Island Beach one afternoon, we noticed that the fishing boats were in, and wandered down a sandy road for a nearer view. At the entrance to the fish wharf a covered booth was packed from floor to ceiling with flat sides of salted, drying fish. We had never seen so many until, walking farther, we came to great, square barrels or tanks where thousands of fish lay pickling in brine. Going inside the sheds, there stretched thirty or more tanks about the size of stalls in cattle stables—all filled with fish. Between the aisles of these stalls were heaped miniature mountains of salt. In a recess, a tall man was employed cutting up small fish for baiting trawls. They were hake, he vouchsafed. The pickling fish in tanks were both cod and hake. They shipped them all over the world. Yes, it was a big industry.

We loitered on, peering, fascinated, into the vast tanks, each the replica of the other. Out on the platform there were long stretches of more stacked hake and cod drying in the sun. At Digby, the passing tourist sees by the roadside near fish houses long picket tables covered with a harvest of fishcocks, and behind them leaning towers of fishstacks. But nothing like these. Their very number and multitude wove a glamor about them. One walked and looked and marvelled, and so came at last to the fishing fleet rocking with the incoming tide.

A freshening breeze full of ozone blew strong in our faces. The air w'as white with wheeling gulls crying their lonely cry. Here a fisherman bent over some belated task in his skiff; another passed holding two sizable cod by their tails. The green-swathed lengths of the wharf beam grew momentarily shorter as the tide rolled higher. Orchestral notes of sunset played all down the color arpeggio. The fishing fleet began to blend, to darken. Behind, lights winked out in the village.

After this we took more interest in the fishermen we met swinging empty dinner pails and fiat cod, as they trudged home at dusk through the village and along tong Island Bay Beach. Always they touched their caps with a courteous “Good day.” Olten, on the beach, they stopped and exchanged amenities about the weather, explained the inner workings of weirs—which, like so many things in life, are easier to get into than out of—and answered queries about bygone wrecks. For first and always they are fishermen, and their best tales are of the sea and its adventures and misadventures. They will tell how a co-toiler of the deep once saw a score or more impassive-faced Chinamen hiding in a cave, awaiting the psychological moment when their sponsors could safely smuggle them into the States. Or how certain unscrupulous Indians of the Passamaquoddy tribe, not content with shooting porpoises—for which the State of Maine paid generous bounties—manufactured hide-tone seal faces under these beetling cliffs, earning thousands of dollars until the inevitable moment when their deception was discovered.

But it is stories like the wreck of the Stormy Jane that these old tars resurrect with most gusto.

That able brig—so the legend runs—was carrying too much canvas load for heavy seas, when the merry old skipper, Clubfoot John, up and, as they pictorially expressed it, took his sights through a “kag of rum.”

“So down she went with every man Battered to slivers on Grand Manan.”

And still, when a storm is raging on Fundy Bay, fisher folk insist they hear clankings of an endless chain. And they believe it is old Clubfoot John, on his phantom Stormy Jane, come back to warn them that:

“There’s a duty to our fellowman.

Better be kind and better be square.

And remember that rum is the devil’s snare Set for the man who forgets that he Needs all his wits when he fights the sea.”

The Southern Cross

f ANY AND alluring are the drives about Grand Manan.

One can go to Little Lake or Eel Lake and try Fisherman’s Luck; or to Dark Harbor, where the cliffs are 400 feet high and the Dark Harbor Hermits entertain visitors by

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exhibiting their carved handicraft and reciting stories in verse about each; or, best of all, motor along the main thoroughfare, running the twenty-one mile length of the Island, to the South West Lighthouse and to that curious rock chisellation known as the Southern ¡ Cross.

It is a delightful drive. One passes through the fishing villages ol Castalia, Woodward’s Cove. Grand Harbor and Seal Cove. Every harbor boasts its weir. Every village has its duster of houses on the waterfront, where the chief industry of preparing fish for exi portation is carried on. Through open doors of the long buildings can be glimpsed rows upon rows of herrings being smoked. Along platforms the familiar shapes of square tanks proclaim that cod and hake are being pickled. Farther back against walls, covered whitish stacks carry on the piscatorial story, finished by exporting ships. Beyond boats and weirs, Long Island, High Duck Island, Low Duck Island, Nantucket Island, Gull Island dot the blue. Still farther out is Gannet Rock, of lighthouse fame.

Leaving the shore, the road plunges into wooded stretches. Emerging presently, we see ahead the red and white roof of the South West Lighthouse, where we get out. Passing through a neat, modern living room with a bookcase full of current fiction, we climb spiral stairs to a round, windowed room with just enough space to move about the great revolving light, mounted on a mechanical device which, set in motion, flashes a beacon of rescue for ships at sea. The lighthouse dominates the cliffs of South West Head, and, walking along the indentations of that rocky coast, one realizes how imperative its presence there must be and how advantageously it is situated for its purpose. Such cliffs! Perpendicular. Cruel-looking. The buoy clangs unceasingly—a voice of constant warning.

It is a goodish walk over the clifTway, where wind-blown grass is crisped brown by the long drought before we come to the Southern Cross. One has time to become enamored of the succession of colossal cliffs, each sheltering its wee beach reached only by cable, each misted with a more opalescent haze than the last. They are lost to view lor a few minutes while we Indian-file through a strange, cemeterial wood of dead trees, twisted and bent by fierce winds into almost human shapes. Then the path, issuing into the open again, brings us right down the slippery dry grass to the Southern Cross. It stands out. down there below, in many ways like other rocks along the shore. The same —but more so. It has that infinitesimal, I indescribable something, which, in rock or in j man, makes all the difference between the ! mediocre and the great.

The others are just rocks; it is the Southern Cross.

Enchanting Views

PERHAPS the favorite walk in Grand Manan is to Swallowtail at North Head. One passes the bird museum, whose entrance j is decorated by a bleached arch made of the lower jawbone of a whale, and whose collecI tion includes not only a fine assortment of birds, but also Indian relics and shellfish of every description. Turning into Main Street with its general store, ice-cream parlor, sandy roads branching off to the wharves and cottages smothered in a tangle of sweetpeas, mignonette, nasturtiums and larkspur, we round a curve and come to a crescent of beach. Fundy’s horses are charging in, navy-blue flecked with foam. Nature plagiarizing Art again. High up on the stones, men are forking last tide’s harvest of rockweed into two long wagons for farm purposes. Children are gathering dulse—considered by the natives a great delicacy when dried. Beyond, an evergreened cliff climbs to j the sky. And at the end of the cliff is perched j the Swallowtail Lighthouse.

From a distance the scene looks like the [

backdrop on the stage. But all that changes as one walks nearer.

Leaving the level with the stony beach, we crossed a meadow where a farmer was tossing hay, and soon found ourselves on one of the most charming paths in the world. It climbs as it winds through the evergreens, and every now and then it runs out to the sheer edge of the cliff to look back at a view suggestive of Como from Bellagio’s height. Where the colors of the outspread panorama are most exotic, an easel partially blocks the way and an artist, lost to the world, is painting like mad. A few minutes and through the tunnel of spruces the lighthouse is silhouetted against the robin’s-egg-blue sky. But it is some time before it is actually reached, for every step brings enchanting views and sequestered nooks in which to enjoy them. At last, however, one goes down the steep flight of a hundred or more steps, along a railed-in board sidewalk, past the lighthouse-keeper’s lodge—and so on to the point, where the lighthouse reigns supreme. To a strange world of color and sound and great white thoughts for which there are no words. For ages—or minutes—we are rooted there, sensing only a gull’s eye view of the universe. . . Something moves far out by Fish Head. The Grand Manan, scheduled to return to Saint John early in the morning, is steaming toward North Head. Our sojourn in this Island of Romance is nearly over. Already the westering sun is spilling its paint-box of colors athwart the sky. Already the steamer has disappeared behind the Point.

The plaintive notes of the bell-buoy, rocking below, come up like a parting peal.

It is time to go.

Lingering, looking, loath to leave, you realize that grandeur like this cannot be left behind but will for ever picture memory’s sanctum sanctorum.