A Tidy Little Corner of the World

I live on the banks of the St. John River, between Grand Falls, where there is a deep gorge through which the river falls, and the broad expanse of the same river at Perth-Andover, two villages joined by a bridge older than I am. The next nearest community is New Denmark, across the wooden decked one lane bridge across the river, and up steep slopes.

View downriver from Brooks Bridge

I was priest in the Anglican Parish of Denmark (New Denmark, Lake Edward, Medford and Limestone Siding). We go to church at St. Ansgars, New Denmark. While my side of the river is wild and wooded, with tiny upland or river side farms carved out of wilderness, New Denmark is neat and well-kept, a microcosm of its original.

West view from St. Ansgars Rectory

It was a peaceful place to live. The two churches, Anglican and Lutheran, face each other across the main road. The Anglicans came first, but the bishop had to find a Danish speaking priest. They had the only Danish language Anglican service in the world. A very few original Danish prayer books remain. I occasionally had bilingual Danish-English services.

The neat farms and their hundred year old farmhouses remind me of Amish farms, except that occasionally some householder will break with the usual pattern of white house and black trim to have red trim and shutters. Few houses within the parish limits are painted anything but white or the shades common to red or yellow ochre.


Potato fields in summer

Most of the land along the main roads is cleared in fields, with hedgerows between. When the Danes first arrived, they had expected cleared land as they had farmed in Denmark, where all the woodland was owned by nobility, and many of them had farmed as tenants rather than as landowners. They were not prepared to clear land, but over the last 140 years, they have opened the forests and maintained good farm land when in other parts of the province the fields were neglected and have returned to forest.

Like the Amish, the Danish farmers have a reputation for being frugal. After I was appointed to New Denmark, I visited back in Maine, attending church at New Sweden. “Well, now,” said one friend there, “so you are in New Denmark. I remember when the Danes all came here to buy our old farming equipment!” “And who is still farming?” I asked. “Oh, they are,” he agreed. Frugality does pay.


St. Ansgars Cemetery, New Denmark

When I lived in the rectory, I had quiet neighbours. There was the Lutheran pastor’s family across the street, and a retired widow next door to her. Behind me were neighbours who never made a sound.

I didn’t mind living right over the cemetery. I had the most beautiful view from a rectory anywhere in the diocese – and my first rectory had been directly on the Bay of Chaleur. There is nothing more magnificent than the ever-changing light and shadow in this spur of the Appalachians.

Across the fields of New Denmark


Crofting: First Day

It was a warm and sunny day. I decided to let goats lounge in the barn today rather than shift them around to shady spots every couple of hours. I went to church. Nicholas was still exhausted from a long trip to Fredericton yesterday to see Matthew, Sarah and Ava. They have a new kitten, and Nicholas either had the baby or the cat in his lap most of the time, and sometimes both. Ava is a little bit afraid of the big white beard, but she is amused by his hat, so she got over the pouty face pretty quickly. I had made little jumpers for her, and although they are bit big, she is tall and plump for her ten months. If I didn’t know better, I would say she looks to be fourteen months or so. She can take a few steps, but can chase the kitten a lot faster on her hands and knees.

I love living here in northern New Brunswick, on the banks of the St. John River. The winters can be long and harsh, but we rarely have unbearable summer weather. The drive to and from church, up and down the mountain, and across the river, was fantastic today.

The St. John River, from Brooks Bridge

The potato fields are in blossom. Potatoes have interesting little blossoms, a bit like miniature morning glories. Some varieties are white, some a light pink and my favourites are these lavender ones. If you weren’t told that this is a potato field, you might think it is a field of lavender.

Jensen farm, New Denmark

Three weeks ago, most of the potato fields looked like African violets had been planted. Then we had good rain and warm days, and they remembered what they are supposed to do.

I know some people, especially if they live in true alpine zones, must find it amusing that I call this area mountainous. But this is what I see when I cross the St. John River, and turn toward New Denmark.

east of the St. John River

That is a field is an alluvial plain, with the sharp slope of the rising land into New Denmark behind it. The bishop calls it “the parish at the top of the world.” There is a narrow road along the base of that hill, with a cliff on the other side for most of the stretch between Brooks Bridge and the Salmon River. The shoulders wash out, and shale washes down the mountain side in heavy rains. The quickest route up to New Denmark is a paved mountain goat path called “Lucy’s Gulch Road.” There is a gulch that crosses under the road. It is deep. One of the priests who had the parish down river said that when he first covered services at St. Ansgar’s in New Denmark, he usually came up Lucy’s Gulch in the winter and wondered why it was called that. Then the snow melted and he realized that one bad icy patch, and a whole car could easily disappear into Lucy’s Gulch. A few decades ago, a ministry student did put a parishioner’s new pickup truck in the gulch. He survived, but the truck was totalled. Lucy’s is not the only dangerous mountain road here. There is also Klokkledahl Hill, which is a toboggan run of a road in the winter – I ploughed the left ditch with the corresponding wheels of my old truck for a good fifty feet one horrible winter night – and Cote Mill, or Mill Hill. A retired priest was fatally injured in a car accident there a number of years ago, when he skidded into the gully beside the road.

An artist friend of mine once defined art as “the horror of the sublime.” Living in a wild hilly part of Canada is like that, too.

But we appreciate the work the great Artist has created.

Crofting – Finally, A Dry Day

Landscape with Man and Goats

Sunshine, finally! Weeks of rain and cool temperatures, and finally a day over 20C. The hsuband took the tiller for a spin as the garden had drained off enough by afternoon to run through it. the goats – two here – were out for a nibble. Tara, who is dark brown, got herself into the vapours quickly and had to be returned to a shady barn. She resented it a lot, and stood in the stall, calling her head off. Vanilla would snicker at her now and then, but the grass and leaves were so lovely…She soon forgot Tara’s problems.

Starting to look like a garden plot!

The first plot has been tilled three times now – I will rake it tomorrow and start adding some amendments, ash and manure. Then work it over again, and start planting.

Clean and dry clothes!

My work today – lots of laundry. It was blowing a gale at times. Taking in wash was like furling sails on a squarerigger rounding the Horn. It certainly dried fast, except for the aprons and shirts that blew into odd nooks of the lawn.

Selfportrait in prairie bonnet

I am not actually as red as I look here!


Crofting – The Rainy Days

The croft in the rain, looking east

We have had plenty of rain this spring. The grass is greening finally, the birch trees have shed the pink bud cover and are now leafing out in a mild, light, celery green. The raspberry canes growing wild in the East field are covered with minute crinkled leaves. I saw the first dandelion blossom. It is tightly furled, but there it is.

The goats do not go out in the rain. Please do not bother asking; they will not go, thank you all the same. So they spent the day in the barn, crunching hay and vaguely annoying each other about who was in whose favourite spot, and who really knocked the salt block on the floor. We had installed new feed troughs, made from a section of old eavestrough (rain gutter), and they no longer have to argue over the grain pan, but they still try to hog the whole trough. The feed trough made like this, out of old PVC guttering or half sections of pipe, screwed to a wall about head height, means less spoiled feed and less wasted feed. I washed them out yesterday with a mild bleach solution. We have one hay manger in, for Vanilla, and will get the other one in soon. Vanilla’s manger is affixed temporarily, because we are experimenting with the right angle. Goats like to pull their feed down from above, like browsing trees rather than picking it up, like grazing grass. They waste less if it is overhead, as they won’t eat it if it is even merely stepped on by some other goat. They get all offended about “dirty hooves.” To a goat, stepping on the hay is as bad as double dipping a chip.

I wonder when we will be able to get a plow in the West field. Our landlord is willing to lend us a tiller, which is all right for the places that have been tilled before, but it is impossible to break a thatchy field with one. I was thinking I was too late with starting some seeds, but it doesn’t look like we will have a dry field and warm enough soil for at least three weeks, anyway.

The snow gone, I can get to the river embankment. There is one place where I could get down the bank, but I wouldn’t try it unless I was wearing good boots with a treaded sole. I still might take a line down, secured at the top, in order to assist the climb back. I once made the mistake of trying to follow a neighbour’s runaway cows up a steep slope, under pine trees, and thus on a litter of pine needles. I was wearing cowboy boots. I slipped back six inches for every foot I gained.

The river is high, dark, and moving very fast. It is always a swift river.

St. John River, 14 May 2011

I spent most of the day filling various containers with starting mixture, planting seeds, and watering same, then finding spots to put them. I really think a greenhouse is going to be needed next year.

Tomorrow I hope I can finish some sunbonnets I have promised to friends.

Crofting – Seed Starting

Tomorrow's project

We have such a short growing season here that many plants must be started indoors. We have both late spring and early autumn frost, so the garden needs a good headstart in order to produce. I have collected all kinds of recyclable growing containers, but with both of us feeling ill and tired, I gave us a bit of a break by picking up a few premade planting items. The trays have coir pots in them – coconut fibre – replacing the previously common peat pots. I bought vermiculite and soil rather than peat moss, which is not really available anymore. And a good thing – in my view. Peat bogs are part of our ecosystem here in New Brunswick and an important factor in wildlife habitat and water renewal. We really don’t need to be cutting them up as we have a limited supply! That may be hard on the peat producers, but better all round for our environment. Peat does renew itself eventually, but in our climate it takes a long time. The coconut fibre would just go to waste after the processing of the fruit, so it is of great benefit to find a good, biodegradable use for it. I realize that coconut plantations are also a problem, but since these are already harvested, I guess I will settle for it as the lesser of evils.

Our kitchen has two big west-facing windows and is the warmest room in the house. The tables I salvaged to use for the seedlings are right over heat ducts. I guess I won’t need heated mats under them. Once they have their little heads out of the soil, I will get grow lights since our days are still so short. I was coveting some lovely grow stands from Vesey’s, the venerable Prince Edward Island nursery, but they were a bit spendy for our budget. I found an old typing table out in the shed, and there was an ancient and battered handmade table in the basement which just seemed to want to be useful again. The carpenters had used it as workbench. If I need an additional table, there are a couple of old potato barrels and some boards. It all looks very rustic and is rather pleasing, especially because it costs so much less than the elegant light table!

So I am sorting out and grouping which seeds need to be started first – and I don’t anticipate that anything tender can go in the ground until the end of May! We will get the field plowed and manured, and the hardy seeds in before that, but I am mindful that one year, I lost half my seed starts to a bottlefed lamb who found she could pull the plant pots off the table, and then the rest in a cold frame when we had a frost in June. I lived farther north than I do now, and although the Bay of Chaleur is supposed to be “warm” we still had some really “cold” nights that spring!

there is something so satisfying and primal in getting some seeds into some dirt. Horticulture has been an art for at least 10,000 years. I grew up in a gardening family, and my parents were always excited every year about what would go in the garden, what new things to try, when to start seedlings for transplanting. My father did build an big grow table in the basement, with suspended lights over it. Before that, the seedlings were in the dining room on improvised tables. We were a big family, without a lot of money coming in, and the garden was necessary for our good nutrition. Both sets of grandparents had gardens, tended diligently and with great love. Canning was a never-forgotten practice in my family, and I am grateful that I grew up with that experience.