A Cultural Life
by Joseph Sherman
By the time we docked at North Head, we were nearly four hours off schedule, but hey, Blacks Harbour was part of this getaway. Slipping a compact mobile home aboard the Grand Manan V (I wasn’t the driver) is about as slick a procedure as it might have been with the old Holiday Island, the sailing itself holding out a promise unique to the Bay of Fundy —that of potential whale and porpoise sightings. (There’s also a nifty J swing the ferry takes as it rounds GMI to the dock.) Some of us saw some spouts at a distance and we all accepted the blue sky and blazing sun as our due, particularly as we’d left PEI in a downpour.
Why did people settle here, one wonders, and on White Head Island, an additional short ferry ride away, where they are less than receptive to rambling visitors marooned in ATV country until a return sailing. Loyalists did settle, however, with mainland New Brunswick insufficiently appealing, or perhaps already full. Grand Manan’s a handsome island, forested and marshy, but not beautiful. One might say it has character. (Character’s what defines an individual when outer beauty’s in short supply.)
One in our party remarked on the seeming prosperity and propriety (at least ten churches) marbling the cultivated mien of Grand Manan. Most of the homes and commercial buildings seem to be in fine repair. The one main road is in decent shape by regional standards. Even the hardy herring seiners, scallop draggers, and doughty dulse dories appear spruce and sturdy.
On Labour Day weekend, at least, all seemed jewel-like, set upon a proverbial silver sea, atop and beneath which boats and mammals and fish could be witnessed working at what they do best; they just happen to look pretty. The black heads of harbour seals bobbed here and there. On one of the dories down at Dark Harbour, “Unhook the Stars” is painted on its port side, “Gotta Pay the Man” on the starboard.
Castalia Marsh, with its monopoly on contemplative transitory godwits, was hosting a number of seriously equipped birders from the south, but as an amalgam of lowland and ingressing fish-full waters, the marsh speaks to any visitor, even those who haven’t done their wildlife homework.
The morning and evening vista of North Head Harbour as seen from our designated B&B rated better than bought and paid for.
Top of my bill was the view from Swallowtail Light on such an eve—our last— as extended the horizon. Several hundred feet below, that silver sea served up blue ripples, sinuous porpoise shadows haunting the visibly submarine, moving in concert.
Our last overnight on GMI brought a reality check to demi-paradise: police sirens in the wee hours (we hadn’t seen a single cruiser on the road). On the boat ride back to Blacks Harbour, a kitchen worker on her smoke break told me that the population of around 2,600 is plagued by ongoing break-ins. I also learned that our blue-sky weekend was the exception to summer there, fog and damp comprising the usual plat du jour.
South of our thoughts, Hurricane Francis was mutilating landscapes. No world news had reached us for over two days. In a distant town called Beslan, their recently slaughtered, numberless yet named, were being noisily buried and pledged.
Grand Manan is a piece of work on a wall with no corners.