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 – 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 – the Goats

Tara, and the nether half of Vanilla

Isn’t that a sweet face? (Disregard the tail, it isn’t Vanilla’s best feature.) Tara came to us as “Sara”, but in a family that is overbalanced with Sarahs/Saras, we had to quickly find a sound-alike name for the goat. So, Sarahs/Saras, no she is not named for any of you beautiful ladies. I like the name Tara, too.

Vanilla is all-white, round in the belly, with the possibility of a kidding in the next couple of weeks. She has black spotted ears and nose, and she is dishy in the hips, like a good goat-mama. She is shedding winter white goat hair on everything – spring. We both needed an immediate change of clothes upon reaching home, and our wool jackets are hanging in the shed as too goaty.

We had a good trip north, up by Mount Carleton, across the Road to Resources, the one of the connecting roads across the mountains from western to eastern New Brunswick. We filled up on petrol – $65 – before leaving, and refilled on the other end – $35. We met the seller, went back to his farm, and had a good look at the girls. Vanilla, is tall and lean and even gaunt in the shins, but she has an alert attitude, a smart look in her eye, and is curious and friendly. Tara is smaller, marked like a dark little deer, and has the sweetest curving horns. She is expressive and has a bit of her own mind, but knows how to walk along like a good goat. Her half grown buck kid was with her, but she is dry now. Vanilla has been milked until lately, and is quite good about the milking stand. We took her down the aisle of the barn, and she went right to the stand.

And then there is Randy. (Yes, Randy Buck! My friend Betsey thinks this is hilarious, and that it sounds like a Monty Python joke. Betsey used to have goats, so she finds this as funny as things get.) I didn’t intend to buy a buck, but the seller explained that this boy had been with the two girls right from when they were kids, raised together on their farm, and is very close to Tara. He is the last of their mixed breed goats. They are all about three years old; and it did seem hard on the boy to leave him. So I agreed to take all three, with just a shrug from the husband, as long as I thought I could handle the buck.

I went into the pen to get him, and all he gave me was a look over the shoulder – he was busy eating. He allowed me to pet and move him, and even walk him out to the truck without any fuss. He rode back imperturbably, a happy goat.

All three were very good about going into a strange barn and stall, and very happy to see hay and water. They settled down quickly. We will get hayricks and the second stall finished later this week, but Nicholas says he needs a bit of rest first.

We had a bit of an incident on the way back. The Road to Resources is mountainy – beautiful, wild, isolated. It is fairly well travelled, though, despite its potholes and soft shoulders. There is no garage or telephone between St. Quentin and Bathurst, about 140 kilometres, except for the sugar camp more than half way across, where in season one might find a phone. I had a cell phone and these seem to make more and more sense as we travel the wild distances, although there are lots of dead spots where there are no cell towers.

The red gauge warning light came on, and I could see that the engine temperature had risen. I pulled over, waited a bit, and started out again. Nicholas turned on the heater and opened the window, venting some of the heat through the cab. The temp dropped, but climbed again. I pulled off, and noted that we seemed to be out of coolant. Nicholas pointed out a snowbank close by (not unusual at that altitude this time of year – the roads were mostly still banked with snow) and I found a spot just beyond where there was a clear-running brook. I had an almost empty washer fluid jug in the cab, so we emptied that, I rinsed it in the mountain stream, and scooched down on the crumbly bank of ice, using a plastic soft drink tumbler as a bucket. I filled the jug and conveyed it to the radiator, which was indeed dry. (Coolant will get used up – evaporated – in winter driving here, especially when we must do much of it in four wheel drive.) A couple of trips to the stream, which was cold and still bearing minute chips of ice, and we had a full radiator. There were no burst or loose hoses, and we had an uneventful trip down to Plaster Rock and across to home. My husband was impressed with my McGyver like inventiveness. As Bernadette says, country girl practicality.

We saw dozens of deer, out feeding on tiny herbs in the fields and meadows; we saw three moose in conference, consulting across either side of the road, and it took several loud taps on the horn to move them out of the way. The journey we took today takes us from our St. John River Valley, across a ridge to another long river valley, the Tobique, and up the glens and passes of the fingers of the Appalachians. My ancestors came from country like that several generations ago, and it is like home to me. The trees are just budding, the stands of birch and maple clouded  with pink and scarlet among the black green pines and spruces. Snow lies thick on the hillsides, and on the mountain meadows. The farm we visited was till snow covered in the shaded areas, the goats all barned until fence posts can be reset in thawing ground.

It is a little farm of about fifty acres, on the outskirts of a small industrial city. The owners are a young couple, looking to provide for their family and make a little money on raising meat goats. Their barn is a a growing concern, with a new wing thrown out each year. It is sturdy, well-appointed, and seems like a palace compared to our converted garage and workshop. No matter, as goats don’t read Architectural Digest and set their standards by the quality of hay and the freshness of the water. I hope they were impressed with their shiny new pails.