Tradition and stewardship are sometimes synonyms. Tradition means doing something more or less unchanged for generations, while stewardship refers to looking after something carefully, which again implies over time.
In both Restoring the Acadian Forest by Jamie Simpson (Four East Publications, Tantallon, N.S., distributed by Nimbus, $20) and The Master’s Wife: The Book and the Place edited by John Flood (Penumbra press, $19.95) tradition, stewardship and even culture meet. The result is two books of high quality on unusual subjects.
The Master’s Wife, in our opinion, is the best book ever published by an Island writer. It was first published in 1939 when the author, Sir Andrew Macphail was 75, and it is quite different from his other writing. After working as a journalist while studying medicine, he founded two magazines and “achieved an international reputation as an essayist.”
The Master’s Wife is a somewhat autobiographical work which focuses on his mother, Catherine Elizabeth Smith, but includes “the Master” himself, their 10 children, their animals, the farm and the house and their community of Orwell. It is a vivid picture of an old Scottish way of life, some of which, such as the feeling that to express emotion is rather indecent, endures to this day.
Most of the chapters of the book edited by Flood are based on papers given at a symposium on the same subject in 2011 by such well-known Islanders as Wayne Mackinnon, Gary Schneider, Marian Bruce, and Brent Maclaine.
This guarantees a high degree of literacy for a small book which should interest many readers, even those who have not read The Master’s Wife.Simpson’s Restoring the Acadian Forest should be in every woodlot owner’s home and should be read thoroughly and thereafter consulted frequently.
The forest referred to once covered much of the area of the Maritime provinces, parts of Northern New England and the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec. Now it’s largely cut up into woodlots of various sizes and has suffered much from pests, over-cutting, and inept attempts at restoration, such as planting blocks of short-lived species of little commercial value.
The author is no “ordinary” woodlot owner; he has degrees in forestry and biology and stewards a woodlot of his own in New Brunswick.
One chapter entitled Ten Woodlot Owner Profiles introduces us to several people from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as Gary Schneider, who’s in charge of the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project in Prince Edward Island, once the property of the author of The Master’s Wife, Sir Andrew Macphail.
Now the project “operates a native plant nursery, offers nature tours and carries out forest restoration on the MacPhail homestead.”
This restoration and educational work is a success in the community and with its children; woodworkers such as musical instrument makers are also getting involved, as are people interested in harvesting ground hemlock for cancer research.
Another little-known fact about healthy woodlots is that they include a good proportion of fallen and standing dead trees, which shelter wildlife and enrich the soil with humus.
Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at 111 Sydney St., Apt. 17, Saint John, N.B., E2L 2L8, or call her at 506-693-5498.