The glowing ember of that Nova Scotia trip did not die. Maybe it was fanned a little by another trip that my college roommate and I took to Alaska in the summer of 1970 in my PowerWagon. We were gone most of the summer. When we came back I was even more determined to find a spot away from the big cities of the East. In the spring of 1971, I wrote to the Longmire Real Estate agency of Bridgetown, Nova Scotia, about a farm and land on the shores of the Bay of Fundy. The property was advertised in the Sunday Boston Globe. At the time there was only a print version of the paper and reading the Sunday paper was something I really enjoyed. I was not alone.
Though the details took time to work out, I ended up the owner of 140 acres, a two hundred year old house, barn, and carriage house in Saint Croix Cove. That first piece of land and buildings cost around $7,000. The view of the Bay of Fundy was spectacular. Soon after with help from my mother, I ended up buying more property across the road. It actually went down to the shore.
That August after I finished my last class ( I had missed a semester from sickness), I followed in my Land Rover and the adventure really began for me. Two roommates and I had graduated from Harvard and now we were determined to get our hands dirty and let the land tell us what to do. A third adventurer had left Harvard as a sophomore and might have been even more lost than we three college roommates.
Just reworking the old house was a huge undertaking. It needed painting and complete reconstruction inside. By the time I got there, the plaster, old chimney and lathe had been ripped out. Much of the home was down to its hand-hewn beams. That was only the start of the work. We had to caulk the cracks on the inside of the walls. Then came wiring and insulation for the exterior walls. We had made the decision to go with electric baseboard heating because it was easy to install. We had one very good carpenter, another who loved to tear things apart and to do shingles. A third who was also good with hand tools. I became the electrician and plumber.
There were no beds, we slept in sleeping bags on the floors on four inch thick pieces of foam. Our few pieces of furniture had come from college dorm rooms. The decision to relocate the bathroom upstairs delayed having a functional shower for weeks, so we warmed water in a coffee pot for bathing. Sometimes we took advantage of the showers at a local campground. Eventually one of roommates’ new sweetheart came to stay with us, and she helped with some of the cooking. Cooking was pretty basic since there was no kitchen. We ate a lot of tuna fish sandwiches in the midst of our construction and more than a few fried clams at Alice’s Clam shack down in the village of Hampton a few miles away. We did learn how to cook smoked picnic hams and make baked beans. We also learned to make salt cod and potatoes. The salty dish was a particularly good excuse for some beer.
We celebrated an amazing first Thanksgiving in Canada with college friends who had decided they needed to see this place that had lured their friends north. There were lots of walks in the brisk Nova Scotia air and the housed now blessed by lots of college friends was soon ready for winter.
By the time winter rolled around, the roommates/helpers started to disappear.
Then there were only two of us left. In the next year, it became clear that I had moved to Canada and beyond working on the old house, I needed to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I bought a few cows and decided to try my hand at cattle and gardening. One of my original helpers had married a local school teacher, he and I began a tenuous partnership with those few cows.
There was a lot to learn and the biggest lesson was that partnerships are hard to sustain. By the next fall, I decided that I needed to move on and find a better place to farm. Between that thought and the reality of accomplishing it there would be a lot that needed to happen. Some things also were hidden in the cards. The decisions were about to get a lot more complicated. Just to keep things interesting, I decided to get my pilot’s license. It would be just a footnote in 1973 which by the time it was done would set me on a course for the next ten years of life.
Sobotta, David. A Taste for the Wild, Canada’s Maritimes