This side of Paradise, Nova Scotia (home is were you hang your heart)

Ernest Buckler September 1 1973

This side of Paradise, Nova Scotia (home is were you hang your heart)

Ernest Buckler September 1 1973

This side of Paradise, Nova Scotia (home is were you hang your heart)

Ernest Buckler was born at Dalhousie West, Nova Scotia, in 1908. His The Mountain And The Valley (1952) survived the first test of a classic. It passed among adults of the community like a hot remedy while suppressed from children and uninitiated in cold whispers. Any who had an acquaintance, friend orfamily in the sights of the novelist swore the fiction was a biblical record of their people. For me it was 1960 before this parochialism coincided with my first reading of his book, in the confines of a university.

After the flesh first sets on us, each begins to design his own prison. Buckler’s is only a few country miles from where he was born. And in each man’s cell, as Buckler helps us to understand in The Cruelest Month (1963), there is

limited joy and less freedom without dedication to a people, a place and a way of life. This is confirmed by the sorrowful but reassuring sound of \ox bells” and the joys insight, like “freies,” that are equally haunting in his third book, Ox Bells And Fireflies (1968). “Nova Scotia as seen by a lover” might well be the subtitle of his newest book, Window On The Sea, a photographic essay in which he provides the prose documentary and anecdote of a passionate observer. By reading his prose you risk the dizzying perspective at the mountain’s height, share his valley’s river-depth of loneliness, feel the cemetery’s sigh-end of death, and know the homely freedom of things, like the kitchen stove. Ernest Buckler wrote this description of his private world espe-

for Maclean’s. — GREG COOK

Sinbads all, each of us carries some “Old Man of the Sea” on his back. To shift from the figurative to the actual, this burden can be anything from the stubborn litany of traitorous body pain that will listen to no argument — to the stabbing remembrance of the times when (each of us a traitor too) you denied a friend. From the sudden onslaught of recognition that you’ve never been (nor now will ever be) the crowning figure you’d been sure you’d one day become — to the grapeshot of indecisions (though it matters so little to anyone else how you decide) that pockmark the heart. From the pewter grey of inertia — to the smart of hopes slapped in the face. From the soot and blindfolds of simple dailiness, ingrained as powder burns, that burgle the soul like a north wind — to the loneliness of all lonelinesses when, someone loved gone from you forever, the frozen

sky of a January dusk bums colder than ice with savage light. From the wound to the scar . . . Yes, on whatever drawing board the human being was first conjectured, it’s for damn sure that architectural provision was made for every conceivable kind of sigh.

So I suppose the places one loves best are those that, by some unaccountable spell, give one a saving recess from all the fishhooked questions and all the gnat-swarm of uncertain answers.

When I need such respite, I walk up the log road that threads its leisured way along the South Mountain which rises behind my back pasture. This mountain is not high enough to be awesome, but just

Ernest Buckler

enough higher than hills to partake of the final knowledges. At the very top is a giant pine, older than any man alive, making its own triumphant breeze (whether there’s a breeze or not) that redeems the silence from deafness. I stand beneath it; and gazing (though not staring as one stares at oneself) at the pure light that silvers the silver birches gentler than blessings, and at the sterner hemlocks that speak as gently of permanence, I feel suddenly and exultantly exempt from the rat’s tooth of Time and liberated from all its gnawings into a peace that has no match. For what the trees (honest as water and more oracular than academies) say is: “It doesn’t really matter who or how you are. Just to be is enough.”

Or sometimes, in that hour of fixity when the day stands still, before it turns its path toward evening and before the setting sun makes omens of the clouds, I walk across my clover field and across the stretching marshland to the Annapolis River. Here everything is flat and wide; but there is a very levelness of peace here that in its own way is as deep as the mountain’s is soaring. And the mesmeric movement of the river (with gold bracelets of the sun at every bend, and without a single hurried wave) seems to send a current of consentfulness through all the land and make the world itself territorial to the eye. I watch it from a green bank, all din of thought suspended, and all my senses seem washed as clean of silt as if they’re bathed in some purer Jordan.

Harder to explain (because it has nothing to do with either morbidness or religiosity) is why I find a like release in a certain churchyard; the old settlers’ churchyard four miles from my childhood home. No Thomas Gray, I can write no Elegy there. Nor would if I could. For it is no echo chamber for thoughts or words or melancholy (however exquisite) to reverberate in. Far from the madding crowd it is — on an elm-bordered hillside by a scarce-traveled road, facing an ageless lake which it seems to companion. Yet, paradoxically, it breathes a kind of eternal “presentness,” and intimately bestows on the solitary man who wanders among its graves so much of its own serenity that tne last thing he thinks of is Death.

Nearer than all these is my country kitchen. No parlored splendors here or vaulting epiphanies of any kind; only the loyalty of homely

things long lived with and more trustworthy than passions. How often the comradely hum of the wood fire has redeemed me from desperation. How often the tick of the mantel clock (elsewhere the hollowest of sounds) has restored me from a feeling of hollowness, with the assurance that it takes me as I am. And the door and the window sashes admit me as a partner to that most harmonious of conversations they’re constantly engaged in, the moment they hear my step. Letterless, and in a language much quieter than that of tongues or books, the voice of my country kitchen yet rings with easefulness to the last syllable of — yes, freedom. ■