Eastern Pas­sages

Who was there? Where did they go? Why leave an axe, a trac­tor, a set of four wheels with chromed hub­caps still in place?

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - Rus­sell Wanger­sky

Colum­nist Rus­sell Wanger­sky raises many ques­tions af­ter dis­cov­er­ing an old relic on a Cape Bre­ton back road.

I found it just off the side of a dirt road head­ing back into the Cape Bre­ton hills.

The front end of an old, rusted trac­tor — a McCormick- Deer­ing, judg­ing by the name­plate, with a long gash through the ra­di­a­tor. A trac­tor old enough that it had to be started with a crank — a trac­tor that, at one time, had been cared for well enough that there was still a tin can placed firmly on the ver­ti­cal ex­haust pipe to keep the wa­ter out. A trac­tor put up, parked, by some­one who clearly in­tended to come back — be­cause, if you don’t in­tend to come back, why bother?

Be­hind the trac­tor, back in the woods, there was a small col­lapsed house, the roof fallen down into the low rock­walled base­ment, the only thing left be­hind a chim­ney with a me­tal stove pipe pro­trud­ing from the top. Trees were grow­ing up through the rem­nants of the build­ing. Along the edges, it was sur­rounded by a fan of dis­carded me­tal items: pails, shov­el­blades, oil drums.

I love aban­doned build­ings, wher­ever they are, and in the At­lantic prov­inces, there are lots. Take a trip across the spine of Nova Sco­tia — Route 8 or Route 10 — and you’ll see a good num­ber. All ages: col­laps­ing mo­bile homes with flat new win­dows and in­su­la­tion burst­ing out in tufts through cracks in the wall, old homes with their shin­gles split along the breaks in the walls. Rose bushes in bloom with­out own­ers to see them, lilacs waft­ing their scent un­no­ticed.

Travel the edge of New­found­land and you’ll see more. On P. E. I., they’re on main roads as well as side roads, sud­den greyed and col­laps­ing struc­tures on the edges of farm­steads or even oc­ca­sional er­rat­ics in the mid­dle of fields.

And al­ways, I’m left with the same ques­tions: who was there? And: where did they go? And: why? Why leave an axe, a trac­tor, a set of four wheels with chromed hub­caps still in place? Why are things bro­ken in one room, and not in another?

In some places, it’s easy to see: find the right road in New Brunswick and you’ll find your­self next to a col­laps­ing barn in the mid­dle of nowhere, sur­rounded by still­bear­ing ap­ple trees where the deer some­times find their way un­der­neath for fallen fruit.

In­side the farm­houses there can be fur­ni­ture, some­times even things left out on coun­ters in a way that sug­gests the in­hab­i­tants, work­ing some barely mar­ginal land, sud­denly tossed it all in and de­cided to leave. But tied up in that, some­how, is a con­stant fear that they might choose the ex­act time when I hap­pen to be there to come back.

I know there aren’t enough history books — or enough in­ter­est to chron­i­cle ev­ery sin­gle per­son and ev­ery sin­gle thing. But I can’t help but won­der about the hand that left a par­tic­u­lar bot­tle on a par­tic­u­lar win­dow ledge — the way I might place a bot­tle some­where as well.

Be­cause we’re all packed full of in­for­ma­tion and mem­o­ries; many of the things we have carry their mem­ory track and serve to an­chor our own ex­pe­ri­ences. Even­tu­ally, we will all go — ei­ther we leave or we die, and the world will be left to try and fig­ure out what the or­der of our small, mag­pielike col­lec­tions of spoons and alu­minum foil is re­ally all about.

Some­where, there might be some­one left who knows why a rel­a­tive left a McCormick-Deer­ing trac­tor to rust away in the re­mains of a Cape Bre­ton homestead, whether it was death or dis­ease, bank­ruptcy or a new op­por­tu­nity some­where else.

It’s a story whose be­gin­ning, mid­dle and end are now un­likely to be found.


Re­mains of a trac­tor, east of Baddeck.

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