Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weekend Tancookers

Isaac had to leave a bit early to take Tristan to spend some time with his PEI grandparents, Tristan and Dobby were being dropped off there before Phelan and Isaac headed home to Toronto. They all left early Friday morning, and then I went into the Valley to do laundry and have lunch with my friend Lin. She suggested I call Mel in Halifax and invite myself out to her Tancook Island house, which I did. As it happened Mel was planning to go there anyway and was happy to have the company, but she did have to get some work done over the weekend. So I brought along books, laptop and knitting to self-entertain, but all of it was just extra baggage as there was never any time to "self-entertain".

The trip to Tancook Island was fabulous, from start to finish.

You get to Tancook Island by a walk-on ferry out of Chester. This weekend Chester was celebrating Heritage Days in honour of its 250th anniversary (1759-2009), so the Bluenose II was anchored in the harbour for the occasion. When our ferry left the dock at Chester it headed straight out toward the Bluenose, as if the ferry captain intended to ram it! At the last possible moment the ferry veered to port and gave out a great horn blast. The crew of the Bluenose waved at us, no doubt grinning in relief rather than greeting. All of us passengers with cameras got lots of close-up photos of the Bluenose.

I found out later that our first mate used to be the first mate of the Bluenose II, perhaps he put the captain up to that little stunt.

We also passed a schooner race, it was quite spectacular to see all these large two-masted schooners heeled over in the breeze speeding past us. More photos.

At the Tancook Island wharf we met some Island women that Mel knew who helped carry our bags to her house. Mel told me that she was expecting two more women friends to arrive on the evening ferry, they were attending the Lunenburg Folk Fest and would be spending the night on Tancook.

This particular weekend there was a two-day island-wide yard sale, so after unpacking all our food and personal effects, we set out with Mel's friend Mary to hit the yard sales. Mary lives in Portugal but spends summers on Tancook.

There are about 150 permanent residents on Tancook ("Tancookers") and many summer people. Some of the houses are well over a hundred years old. Mel's house appears to be built smack in the middle of the road, the road has to curl around it. It looks rectangular, but inside you can clearly see that it is shaped like a parallelogram!

They used to build schooners on Tancook, and the old boat-building family of Nova Scotia, the Stevens, has a branch of the family on Tancook. Mel's house used to be a Stevens house. The rest of the Stevens' live around Lunenburg. Both the original and the second Bluenose were built by Lunenburg Stevens'. That's the ship on the Canadian dime. Nowadays Tancook is famous for sauerkraut, although I saw no cabbages while I was there.

There are quite a few cars and trucks on Tancook, but none of them are licensed or insured, and hardly any have mufflers. Some residents drink and drive, so you have to be careful. One fellow came to a screeching halt when I was standing by the road, he yelled out to me "Hello sweetheart!" A few more words and it was very clear he was so drunk he could hardly speak, let alone drive.

Also met a young fellow, no more than 14 I'm sure, driving back and forth across the island in his new $450 Chevy S10. One of the women I was with flagged him down and admonished him to drive slower and not hit anybody.

When we were at a yard sale at the far end of the island, Mel suddenly remembered the beets she left boiling on the stove. She hurried off, hitching a ride home to save the beets, or at the very least, her house. Mary and I continued on, spotted a deer in the road, turned around and walked leisurely back to Mel's. We stopped at the Island Cafe for ice cream cones on the way.

Every car that passed us, you could hardly see the face of the driver but you could always see their waving hand. One driver said she always waved because she never knew if the person on the road was someone she knew or not. Another driver was an older gentleman with flowing white hair and no teeth in a bright red car. He played chicken with Mary and me on the road, and laughed as he passed us.

The beets turned out to be a lost cause, but the house was saved. We started preparing dinner and then at 8pm strolled down to the ferry dock to meet Mel's friends, Marilyn and Louise. Between the food we all contributed it was quite the feast. We also had several bottles of wine to go with. Jan dropped by and since she didn't drink I offered her my sweet apple cider from the Valley.

We had a marvelous dinner by candlelight, five sixty-ish women. Then Jan suggested that we go look for a dark place to view the Perseids meteor shower. A bit hard to do since the moon was still pretty full, but we set out in Jan's car to a beach on the far side of the island. Five sixty year old women cruising along at 15 kph in an unlicensed, uninsured old car with no muffler.

We passed the island graveyard twice, many of the gravestones had Christmas lights on them, so the graveyard looked quite gay.

Turns out there was a party going on at the beach, with a big bonfire. We hung out there for awhile and then headed off to the other end of the island in search of darkness. None to be had, and in any case it was a bit early for the meteor shower so there you are. Jan dropped us all off at Mel's house and then headed out again, I suspect back to that beach party.

On Sunday we thought we'd try to go swimming. We had heard that the water was warm, a bit unusual and not to be missed. I had left my camera in Jan's car the night before so we went to her house to get it and Jan said she'd join our expedition.

We had a map of the island trails and set out on foot to find a good swimming beach. The trails of course did not match the map, but we encountered lots of raspberries, gooseberries and chanterelles, so that was OK. I got a chance to chat with each of the women individually and they were all very interesting people. Jan is an "experimental" novelist and creative writing teacher from Manhattan, a sober alcoholic who likes to party. Marilyn is a Halifax doctor with hair dyed blond and red. She showed us all the things she could do with two-coloured hair, alternately a redhead or a blonde (or both simultaneously!) depending on how she arranged her hair. Louise is an English professor and a grandmother who owns a summer house in PEI but is very interested in finding a house on Tancook. We also met Gay, a retired English prof from Montreal who tried to live fulltime on Tancook but found the winters too depressing so now she winters "away".

We finally decided to go swimming off a dock on the far side of the island, but if that was warm water then I'm just way too hot-blooded to appreciate it. Marilyn loved it, the rest of us just made a quick in-and-out to say we did. We picked up Gay at her house and headed to the Cafe for more ice cream cones, then Louise and Marilyn packed up to go back on the Sunday evening ferry. I didn't have to be home for anything so I stayed over one more night with Mel. We took all our leftovers down to Jan's house and she made something called Pezzole? The basic ingredients were chicken and hominy, with added lime juice, salsa, hot pepper, and fresh tomatoes. Very interesting.

But before we ate we took Jan's canoe out for a paddle down the shore to a little cove where we landed for a while to poke around on the shore. As we were heading back one of the local men showed up in his motor boat to do a bit of handjigging. He said he saw fish jumping right by our canoe so he headed over to try his luck. It was amazing to watch, I've never seen anyone handjig before. It's kind of simple, just a fishing line with a hook on it that he "jigged" by hand. All the while keeping up a patter in a classic Tancooker accent about the fine art of handjigging and hook-removal, when you inadvertently hook yourself in the face. You don't want to know any more than that.

We ate Jan's Pezzole and then headed back to Mel's. Mel had not yet gotten any of the work done that she planned for the weekend, so I went to bed and she stayed up to work. We had to be up early in the morning to pack up and catch the 8am ferry back to Chester. The weather had turned and was grey and drizzly, but somehow a drizzly Monday morning is just fine after a lovely sunny weekend having fun. Gay was at the ferry dock, I guess heading to Chester for shopping.

I like this picture of the ferry boat and some fish boats; to me it looks like the ferry boat is the mother ship and the fish boats are all the baby boats...

The ferry has a small crane on it for lifting cargo onto the aft deck. It can carry one or two small cars, but you can't drive on, the car has to be lifted onboard.

This one was taken by Marilyn. Not only is she a doctor but she also has a degree in cinematography; she didn't have a camera with her but she loved taking pictures with mine...

We all piled onto the early morning ferry and it began to leave, just as a young man on a bike came tearing up to the end of the dock, looking all pathetic and soaked. He was the lone camper on the island that weekend. News travels fast there, while none of us had seen him, we all knew of his presence. Anyway, the ferry captain saw him and put the ferry into reverse and backed up to the dock again. Mel and Gay joined a crew man in helping to get the young man's bike and bags onto the ferry and then invited him to sit with us for the ferry ride. He was from Knoxville Tennessee, cycling around parts of Quebec and Nova Scotia on holiday.

He told us some interesting stories. He drove to Albany NY in his car and then cycled up to the border, through the Adirondacks. At the border, US Customs wouldn't let him cross on a bike! Apparently there is a rule forbidding bike crossings! So he tried to get the Customs guy to drive him across, and that didn't work, so he waited five hours before he found a cardriver willing to take him and his bike across the border. Unbelievable. Anyway, he cycled up to Ottawa and then through the province of Quebec to Quebec City, where he caught the train to Halifax. The province of Quebec has marvelous dedicated bike routes all over the province, making cycling there a joy.

Once in Nova Scotia he began cycling down the South Shore. He told someone that he had a fantasy of becoming a hermit on an island, and they told him about the Tancook Island ferry so he had to check it out. He came across and asked at the Cafe where he could camp, and the proprietor told him he could camp on Lee's land on the far side of the island. So that he did. He said he had a great slate beach all to himself for the three days that he was there. He was a three-day hermit.

On the weekend the ferry leaves at 9am, but on weekdays it leaves at 8am so kids can get to the high school in Chester (little kids go to school on the island, right now there are four kids in the island school). The young man from Knoxville didn't know that, so he thought he was early when he arrived at the dock at 8.30am.

Good thing the ferry captain doesn't ram schooners or leave late passengers behind!

I found out later that the Gulf Stream came further north than usual this August, so the water on the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia was unusually warm. But on Saturday night a northwest wind blew all the warm water in Mahone Bay out to sea, so that's why everyone told us how warm it was, and why when we went swimming on Sunday it was frigid.

When I got home there were lots of messages on my answering machine: Sheila wondering if I was going walking, Ruth offering me some of her surplus beans, and Nancy enquiring as to whether I was available to house-sit. So here I am, eating Ruth's beans in Nancy's house, and going walking with Sheila in the morning!


Barbara Anne said...

What a marvelous storyteller and photographer you are! I so enjoyed this morning reading adventure with you and your friends and their friends - and the ice cream cones! Ta!!

Please tell me about the small rug someone is holding.


Annie said...

Hi Barbara Anne

That's Marilyn with the rug. It's called a suttle rug, suttles are more textured than hooked rugs but it must be a very similar technique to make them. They are kind of like shag rugs made with rags.

That rug was part of the yard sale, at this particular site there were several very brightly coloured suttles. Marilyn eventually bought one of two cardinals, since she has a "thing" for cardinals.

Wisewebwoman said...

Oh annie, I felt i was right there, what a wonderful time with these wonderful women!!
Great pics too. you are enormously talented both pictorially and as a

Steven said...

What a great read! I enjoyed every word.

'Pezzole' sounds almost like Mexican Posole.

Annie said...

Thank you WWW, I appreciate your kind words. Now if only I could make money doing this... ;-)

And thanks Steven, you are exactly right. I looked at that website and the picture looks like what we were eating. Jan did mention that the only thing we were missing was a tonne of cilantro! I never asked Jan how you spell that name, so now I know: Posole! Jan told us that hominy was basically soggy popcorn, not an appetizing description but kind of apt.

Anonymous said...

Loved reading your story. I live in Chester, Nova Scotia and love visiting Tancook. My friends and I often go over for the day, have a picnic on the beach or just hike around the Island. There is always something new to see and do or just sit there and enjoy the beauty all around us. This summer we visited a wood carver who told us to go up to the top of the hill behind his house to have our picnic. The view from up there was amazing. A panoramic view of the whole Island and surrounding mainlands and other Islands. And of course one has to stop for ice cream on the way back to the Ferry. I just learned to hook a suttle rug and should have it finished by next week.