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by D. E. Steward

In Nova Scotia tracking the locale

In the realm of a then lying here profound and broad

Peering past and through the knowns of now here on ancestral ground

Hiking in off the road on a trail that an uncle told me he helped cut  

A moose cow and calf among windfalls along Benjies Lake

Nearby alongside a beaver lodge another cow shoulder-deep, water-weed grazing

Blackwater boggy deadhead firs flat perfectly silent boreal sky

The nearest cow lifts her head, freshwater wrack, lily pads hanging off her moosehead jaws

Alert ungulate stilt-legged brown magnificence

Hiking back out, five spruce grouse appear trailside from the brush 

The males with their black throats and breasts, high-style elegant

Matter-of-fact confidence in their peck and search, peck and peer and scratch, search and mince ahead

The gallinaceous manner of quail, partridges, grouse, turkeys, jungle chickens, tinamou, pheasants, Guinea fowl is satisfying to encounter, anywhere

In their ur-domesticated chicken ways as self-contained, and as amazing, as moose and their intelligence  

Back toward town three hundred meters away across French Lake, a huge solitary bull with the stolid dignity of a full rack

When a big bull moose goes into its lofty trot across a pasture or woodlot opening it has a riveting command

Down from French Lake into Chéticamp along the Gulf, the wharves and fish houses, the harbor itself once cod-rich now mostly a port for whale-watch tours

The Governor-General, Chinese born, will arrive soon for an Acadian lunch, community tour, schmoozing in French and English

Acadians deal with bilingualism well, taking it in the natural order of things, not as a cause like nationalistic Québecois

North of its cities Canada becomes tunicate degrees of isolation

Into outports and gravel roads with the bush straight ahead and on both sides

Nova Scotia is an outlying province, Cape Breton the province’s outback, and Cape Breton’s gulf side its farther realm with Newfoundland and Labrador beyond

A grandfather of a great-grandfather, Pierre Aucoin, an original Cheticamper, settled from the fishery of Prince Edward Island

Returned to Nova Scotia by way of the Isle of Jersey, St. Malo, dockside concentration camps in England for the duration of the Seven Years War following a winter on a British prison ship in Virginia’s Hampton Roads

All after a Cobequid boyhood up the Acadian shore from Port Royal

His son was a great-great-grandfather, with one eye blue, one eye brown

Another forebear died lost on drift ice far outside in the Gulf.  His bones were found with a note that read in translation, “My name was Placide Aucoin.  Anyone who finds my remains, please bury them”

Occasionally there a bald eagle wheels overhead, somewhat as distant but friendly ancestral ghosts seem to follow occipital on Chéticamp’s main street

Like Borges’s unseeable companion

Mud rooms, steep roofs, double-sash windows, stacks of stove wood at the snug houses up and down the Chéticamp littoral

Usually there’s not a lot of snow because of the Gulf and the ocean nearby

But winter is relentlessness from the first cold-rain September squalls to the April frosts

Down East, far, far Down East

Poking around Chéticamp, the harbor front and the island, the Cabot Trail’s overlooks, imagining Mamère’s early-century girlhood

Looking out to sea 

Aunt Jo, in Middle River down the line living with one of her daughters, “Nobody knew your mother, nobody.  She was always apart”

On the way out find photographs of Uncles Joe and Alex in the Margaree Salmon Museum that lies on the Margaree, the famous salmon river

They were notable mid-twentieth-century fishing guides

Farther south, Maitland on the Minas Basin, Cobequid Bay near Truro, the Acadian eagre, the highest tides of all.  On the bluff under midnight moon, the tide was out

The tidal bore arrived in the morning an hour after sunup

The French who sailed from La Rochelle to Nouvelle-Écosse had been in Canada for three generations when the British, many up from Massachusetts for the spoils, occupied the rich Acadian polder lands by force 

When Truro was named Cobequid and the Salmon River that runs through it was called the Aucoin

Pierre, the grandfather of my mother’s Grandfather Aucoin, and six thousand others were taken off their farms and deported on those British prison ships

Such are the ways of disfranchisement, exile, and return

Bluer and paler than myrtle.  Bluer, lighter, stronger, than laurel green

Sea green

Seawater green

Spruce green

Back south and west from Halifax, back from way Down East toward home

Where peridot is woodbine green

Down the line in lowering sun late-summer afternoon, watch a bald eagle over Cash Lake in Pautuxent National Wildlife Refuge

Cape Breton bald eagles, Chesapeake bald eagles the same

The same coast, inlets, bays, river mouths, and estuaries

In the time of now, the time of then

The same place, on the coastal course of Pierre Aucoin’s prison ship bound for its Hampton Roads typhoid winter


D. E. Steward is finishing his twenty-second year of months in the mode of “Agosti.”  Written serially from month to month, many have autobiographical references, but the project is not an extended Jahrbuch. Other months in this project have appeared in Conjunctions, The Massachusetts Review, AGNI Online, and elsewhere. (7/2008)

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AGNI Magazine :: published at Boston University ©2008 AGNI