Reclaimed and repossessed
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?