RD Put Luck March 2018

It’s called enterprise

    Taking a walk with Tank yesterday, he chased rabbits while my mind chased ideas how this Sandy Bay Landings was only my lifetime ago. Change. The rabbits Tank chases are in fact Snowshoe hares that change from white to brown to white with the seasons. Now, as the days pick away at night, their coats are often mottled. This Sandy Bay is mottled in a cultural way. A once nearly self-sufficient farming and fishing community of five families is well on its way to becoming a summer enclave for families dependent entirely on a cash economy to keep their properties from reverting entirely to scrub forests early settlers struggled to clear.

A sizeable tree blew down over Christmas blocking the gated driveway to the house next door. The barn, converted to a multi-purpose gathering place for children’s games and grownup’s festivities, has a new metal roof and will stand for years. All around, however, brambles and alders accomplish a steady advance despite summer weekend counter-attacks with mowers, saws, and loppers.

    When I arrived here nearly 50 years ago, already the five farm and fishing families had pulled up stakes. One individual, Ed MacDonald, returned for a couple of months each year to fish for lobsters. His small farm was sitting empty. He accepted our offer to purchase.
    We wanted to farm here. It would not be big-time. Part-time would put the barns to work. What soil we could find between the rocks would grow vegetables, and winter feed for a cow and perhaps a few sheep. Chickens, and a summer pig or two would round out agronomic pursuits. 
    Fishing, the normal way among my neighbours to make ends meet, was never considered. Having none of the skills, and a strong aversion to seasickness, there would have to be another way. I would cast my line inland, the hook baited with an offer of a subscription to a monthly rag. 

Two doors over, the gated drive is clear for passage, the house is looking good, having been given a substantial upgrade a few years ago. Two barns, however, are on oblivion’s door. One larger than the other, they have the dark, sad appearance of an elephant and her calf collapsing under a hail of poachers’ machinegun fire.  

    Arriving here pre-farmers’ markets and the “buy local” movement, I still believed that small farming could and should forever be part of many people’s lives on this shore. There were at least two family cows within five miles; some excellent gardens, too. Men were taking to the woods harvesting pulp and firewood. Fishermen took to the woods and road cuts gathering spruce bows for lobster traps, flat rocks for trap ballast, tall poles for high-flyer buoy markers.  They took to the onshore waters for lobsters, ground fish, mackerel, and herring. There was, in short, a lot of living off the land and nearby waters. There was a lot of self-sufficiency, even then, although it was slipping away.
    At the time I was not aware of the extent of change in progress – an interesting pairing of words. I was under the false impression that whatever had been could, like the coat of a hare, be again. An economic forecast published about that time predicted Nova Scotia’s South Shore would become dependent upon tourism and recreation. Outrageous. Did the authors of this report ever leave the isolation of their downtown Halifax homes and offices? Had they no idea of the enterprise, the fishing, the pulp and paper industry, and yes, farming – if not as a business certainly as a vital and even essential part of life and livelihood?

Owner three has done a far better job beating back the shrubs and pasture spruce threatening to close in on his own gated lot. The house, too, looks okay but for need of a coat of paint. Honest effort has gone into kitchen gardens and nurturing fruit trees over the years as well. The barn exists only in memory. 

    I wish now that I could find that report, because the forecast that had me fuming has turned out to be just about bang-on. I’d be ready to read and consider seriously the rest of that document’s predictions and recommendations. They, too, may come to pass if they’ve not already become part of history.
    How far we have fallen and continue to fall from having control over our own lives. We had in this small community – now thinking beyond Sandy Bay to include East Port L’Hebert – our school and church. When we arrived, there was a post office. There was a general store and gas pumps at the first end of the Port L’Hebert road. Boats were powered by Chevy engines just about every fisherman could maintain or replace. There were three capable carpenters. The rest of our neighbours were no slouches when it came to basic construction.

That larger barn, two doors down, at one point needed new sills. It was post-and-beam constructed, and the posts, too, were beginning to decay from the sills up. They got together, jacked the barn up, cut two feet off the posts, and set the building down on fresh-hewn spruce sills. 

    Up until two years ago we had a shade-tree mechanic who kept cars and trucks running well beyond best-before dates. He has been under the weather of late, but even were that not so, everyone knows it is a matter of no great time before computerized systems interfere entirely with the ability of home-grown mechanics, fishermen, farmers, and just about anyone else with mechanical ability to look after their mechanical selves.
    Where am I headed with this Pot Luck? It is not good enough to wallow in nostalgia. There has been change, in my view not all for the better. But I take comfort in believing that, like the hare, we can change again; that even at this late stage of technological and cultural upheaval it is possible to foster self-sufficiency at the individual, family, community, provincial, and national level. 
    Recalling the old Moral Re-Armament saying, “Point your finger at your neighbour, and there are three fingers pointing back at you,” it would be best for me to get busy at home, bringing my own barn back from service as a storage shed and pastures back from growing moss. A plan is afoot to do that.
    At every level of society and government we need to foster enterprise. We need to shake the idea that an economy dependent on imported food, goods, and labour, and the export of raw materials – farmed, fished, clearcut, mined, or fracked – can pass the test of sustainability.
    (Fracking is in an evil place all its own, dependent upon pumping secret ingredients deep underground with no assurance whatsoever they will not rise over time to contaminate ground water.)
    Enough talk. Time to choose seeds to start in that south-facing kitchen window.  DvL