Our coming here was an event that in the world’s terms was sheer inadvertence. But the world’s inadvertence may be one of the masks of divine providence. Or it may not. Much that has been claimed for providence is simply self-will decked out in fancy clothing so as to deceive even the claimant. “Look before you leap” may be folk wisdom but it is wisdom still. “Time will tell” likewise carries a warning to be ignored at one’s peril. In our case I claim no wisdom, no entitlement, no sense of inevitability, before the event. More than 30 years after the event, though, all I have to account for our good fortune is - providence.
We buy a small farm, not knowing the consequences
"All that piece or parcel of land situate in the Parish of ______, County of _____ and Province of New Brunswick, described and bounded as follows, viz.: Beginning at the southwest angle of lot No. five granted to Isaac Bunnell and running northeasterly fifteen chains to a stake, ...the same containing sixty four acres more or less." So runs "Schedule A" of what the lawyers call an Indenture, "made this 15th day of October in the year One Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Five" by means of which and "in consideration of a sum of lawful money of Canada well and truly paid" my wife and I became the owners of this small farm we had first seen two months before on the evening of what was only our second day ever in the Province.
We were on our way to a local dump when we drove past with friends from Ontario who now lived nearby. Hardly the beginning one would pick for momentous events. But momentous events choose their own beginnings, which we can see only after the fact - or else we would know in advance how every story was going to turn out.
We had come down from Upper Canada to find out why our friends, who otherwise seemed sensible people, had come down for a visit to friends of theirs the summer before and had bought a farm.
As we drove past this place, a beautiful sunset backlit house and barn and the whole hillside, as well as a 'For Sale' sign. We slowed to look at the house nestled into the shoulder of the hill, with its poplars in front, and the small but sturdy barn, its ridge steady and straight, with no hint of the sway back that seemed to afflict so many of the small barns we had seen.
We looked away down the valley, past the small garage which sat close to the road at the bottom of the driveway, across tidy fields and the dark greens of the woods. It was a beautiful time of day, the view was beautiful, but I think we must have been like explorers who come over a ridge and look out on country as yet unsung. It is only much later that this expanse, great or small, takes on known contours, acquires history and meaning, fits into the fabric of the life around it, with its sorrows and its joys.
My wife and I had driven down to New Brunswick from Toronto, where we had lived for more than a dozen years. We had never intended to live in the city. Neither of us was a city person, but the fact of the matter was, we had lived in Toronto almost all of our married life and all our children had grown up there.
The next day we went to have a closer look at what was still just a piece of property. By noon the day after that, the "property" had become a real place which spoke to us, even though we could not yet hear the words clearly. We had made an offer and it had been accepted. That was a Thursday. Saturday morning we climbed back into the car for the thousand mile journey back to Toronto, hardly realising that this mad escapade had altered the tenor of our life entirely.
We had not just acquired a house without indoor plumbing except for running cold water to the kitchen sink, rudimentary electrical service, and no heating but a wood stove. We had also acquired a barn, a granary, a drive shed and attached chicken coops, and two dug wells. But there was much more to it than that. Without knowing it, we had found our home.
Friends in Toronto were generally polite but mostly uncomprehending. The wife of a colleague, whose family owned a farm near Gagetown, helped to put the whole thing in focus, at least as far as Toronto was concerned: "It's a pity you bought on the wrong side of the Saint John River," she said.
Now, when our ground shakes even at this distance and we hear a rumble as of distant thunder from the cannon fire at C.F.B. Gagetown, on the "right" side of the river, I reflect that wrong and right, short of the heavenly kingdom, may be subject to interpretation.
There are people who have a great gift for being certain about things. My colleague's wife was certain about which was the wrong and which was the right side of the river. Other friends have been certain about all kinds of other things, from the right way to bring up children to where truth was to be found. We bought this place, not knowing for sure what we were setting in train. Only by degrees have we discovered meaning in what seemed only an impulse.
Somehow, I like it better that way. A good story always has some mystery in it.
20 November 1990