Re­claimed and re­pos­sessed

The Pilot - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­ — Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

In North River, Cape Bre­ton, the maples are just start­ing to turn, but there’s al­ready oc­ca­sional curled maple leaves mak­ing their way down the river, spiky man-o’-wars head­ing over the rif­fles and falls.

It was warm there Satur­day, warm enough that it could have been a month ear­lier, the high­way guardrail ring­ing be­side me as it moved with the heat. The fugi­tive ap­ple trees on both sides of the road — ran­dom trees that look to have sprung up from things as sim­ple as a thrown core — are heavy with fruit, in yel­lows, light reds and oc­ca­sional rich reds dark enough to verge on pur­ple.

Hard­wood for­est so dif­fer­ent from spruce and fir, so open un­der­neath so that the big trees arch high above you, a true canopy in­stead of the walled fortress soft­woods pre­fer.

And down on the river side of the Cabot Trail, a sin­gle­storey house back un­der the trees, pas­tel- painted but aban­doned, the shin­gles eroded and bowed, glass bro­ken, floors set­tled to the ground and bro­ken away from the sills.

I am fas­ci­nated by aban­doned homes, aban­doned build­ings in gen­eral — they al­ways make me won­der: what hap­pened?

This house is guarded by the fat au­tumn spi­ders: strung be­tween the rasp­berry canes and the pop­u­lar shoots in what was the drive­way and front yard, the large webs are ev­ery­where. Out back, a roof­col­lapsed shed leans down into it­self, a few paint cans in a line along the re­mains of an in­side wall, a va­ri­ety of metal ob­jects tran­sit­ing into rust.

In­side, the flat enamel sink has been prised out of the re­mains of the coun­ter­top and then left be­hind, the sin­gle faucet – cold – still stick­ing out of the wall. The kitchen has the worst floor — just snapped strings and rot­ten floor­boards – and on one edge of what re­mains of the counter, there’s a pile of black feath­ers di­rectly be­low a canted- down ceil­ing board that lets you see into part of the at­tic.

In what must have been the liv­ing room, a cor­ner cab­i­net is bar­ri­cad­ing it­self in place, though all the doors have been taken. A front room on the left cor­ner has the re- mains of a bed, rot­ting fab­ric work­ing down through the wire bed­frame. The back room has a frag­ile wooden ladder to the at­tic; there, you can see where a ma­ture pop­u­lar, eas­ily 18 inches in di­am­e­ter, has come through the roof, splin­ter­ing its way in, the house still strong enough to hold its weight.

The at­tic is the part of the house that is most omi­nous: there are ran­dom cracked rafters through­out, the first real feel­ing that to­tal col­lapse could be im­mi­nent, and scat from some­thing large be­tween many of the rafters. While the house doesn’t feel like any per­son’s home any­more, the at­tic cer­tainly feels like some thing’s home. Some­thing big — some­thing big which I hoped wasn’t there at the mo­ment.

But it was a home: who were they? Where did they go? Why? I ask and ask, and get passed from per­son to per­son, un­til fi­nally some­one can of­fer the small­est slice of in­for­ma­tion about the peo­ple who sur­ren­dered and moved on.

The own­ers, I’m told, were from Wisconsin, though they haven’t been to Cape Bre­ton in years; I don’t know if it was a full-time home or a va­ca­tion prop­erty.

In the end, though, the an­swer is like the en­tropy we all live with – and well worth waiting for. “They just couldn’t keep up.” That is the best ex­pla­na­tion for van­ish­ing that I’ve heard in years – for on how many days do I feel ex­actly the same way? How many days do we all?

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