Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lower Mill Road

When my parents packed up and left Surette's Island, they found a spot down Lower Mill Road, an old logging road where a small group of Ex-pat Americans had set up a bit of a community. I'm not very clear about the short history before we arrived, but most of the original settlers where already gone by the time we arrived, leaving a legend behind that I would slowly piece together throughout my life.

In the end, though, my experience growing up there was its own special place in time, added to by the faces that would occasionally come and go.

There had been an old mill by the river, burned down long before my time. You can probably still find old forged spikes and other relics at the bottom of the river. But the old farmhouse remained. We lived there while my father built our house on top of the hill, and when we moved, another family, like ours moved in. Cows and ducks still out numbered the people by a lot. The ducks were my favorite, "duck" would have been my first word if my grandmother hadn't taught me "hot", but the cows ended up having a more lasting affinity. On summer days, my sisters and I would shuck corn on the back porch, then carry it over to the cow field, where they would all gather to munch on the husk and silk. It was always an exciting morning in spring when the cows showed up, and a bit lonesome when they were taken back up the road in the fall.

Across from the farmhouse, the river continued, looping around the marsh, winding its way into the forest. The road followed it into the wood, turning into little more than a muddy trail after a couple of miles. My mom would carry water from the river, and boil it on the wood stove for us to bathe in.

Most of my earliest memories were made at this time, although some of them seem to be mixed with dreams and fantasy now. I remember riding my little wooden horse on wheels across the porch, then, suddenly believing I was actually on a real horse, I decided to ride him into the marsh. Instead, I flipped over the first big stone step and nearly split my forehead open! Another similar memory, my sister had just taken a turn around the yard on our pony, Ginger, and when it was my turn, my dad decided to tighten the saddle, but the leather strap broke and let the saddle slip down to the pony thigh, sending him into a bucking frenzy. I remember my dad grabbing me just before the pony leapt over the wall, then, from what I've heard, he took off into the marsh, bucking all the way.

We lived less than a mile from the main road, where there were a few neighbors, on the outskirts of a small village know for its pig farms. Then still a few more miles from the shore, where the majority of the the community is stretched along. To me, Lower Mill Road felt like its own little world. The rest of the community were Acadian French, but everyone on Lower Mill Road were English. My friends ate white bread and bologna, but we ate whole wheat bread and vegetables. When I was at school, or anywhere else, I felt like an outsider, but on Lower Mill Road, I was home.

Eventually, a few more lots were cleared, a few more houses were built, and the road was widened and paved. I was heartbroken when I came home from school one day and saw many of the trees that I loved so much were gone. What was once an intimate place was now someone else's private property. The worst moment was when I came home for the first time from university, and a huge section had been entirely clear-cut.

I've since been told that nothing is permanent (go figure!), but I still find myself, at times, longing for the place that mostly only ever existed in my mind.


  1. This is quite moving. Thank you.

  2. There was a actually a well that supplied the farmhouse with water via the hand pump in that little space between the kitchen and living room. I built up my biceps carrying big kettles of water to and from the wood stove. You were small enough to sit in a wash tub with rubber duckies and other floating toys to have your bath. You & Sara never wanted to get out even when the water became cold. Of course, much of it was splashed onto the old boards of the kitchen floor in the process.
    The summer we spent in the cabin across the river was the only time I drew water from the river for bathing and washing dishes. We always had safe and good drinking water. Long before bottled water was a fad, we'd go to the spring in Weymouth and fill large glass jars, but usually we carried it across the bridge from the farrnhouse.
    You didn't mention your sandbox, which was your pre-school haven and favourite place of reverie. I often wondered what I'd ever provide once you were too old to be amused there. I guess Legos became your next passion.
    We lived at the farrnhouse intermittently from Oct. 1979 to Jan. 2002--a little over three years. We moved into our new house the day before Sara's second birthday. One of my fondest memories of that time was sitting at the kitchen table with Dad listening to the winter wind blowing outside and laughing because the house was tight and warm and we didn't feel even a tiny draft. That said, there was something fundamentally valuable living on such intimate terms with the elements. And I'm gratified to know that you grew up with an enduring connection ot the natural world.