Inconveniences of first
Settlement.--Difficulty of obtaining Provisions and other
necessaries.--Snow-storm and Hurricane.--Indian Summer, and setting-in of
Winter.--Process of clearing the Land.
November the 20th, 1832.
OUR log-house is not yet finished, though it
is in a state of forwardness. We are still indebted to the hospitable
kindness of S------ and his wife for a home. This being their first
settlement on their land they have as yet many difficulties, in common with
all residents in the backwoods, to put up with this year. They have a fine
block of land, well situated; and S------ laughs at the present privations,
to which he opposes a spirit of cheerfulness and energy that is admirably
calculated to effect their conquest. They are now about to remove to a
larger and more commodious house that has been put up this fall, leaving us
the use of the old one till our own is ready.
We begin to get reconciled to our Robinson
Crusoe sort of life, and the consideration that the present evils are but
temporary, goes a great way towards reconciling us to them.
One of our greatest inconveniences arises from
the badness of our roads, and the distance at which we are placed from any
village or town where provisions are to be procured.
Till we raise our own grain and fatten our own
hogs, sheep, and poultry, we must be dependent upon the stores for food of
every kind. These supplies have to be brought up at considerable expense and
loss of time, through our beautiful bush roads; which, to use the words of a
poor Irish woman, "can't be no worser." "Och, darlint," she said, "but they
are just bad enough, and can't be no worser. Och, but they aren't like to
our iligant roads in Ireland."
You may send down a list of groceries to be
forwarded when a team comes up, and when we examine our stores, behold rice,
sugar, currants, pepper, and mustard all jumbled into one mess. What think
you of a rice- pudding seasoned plentifully with pepper, mustard, and, may
be, a little rappee or prince's mixture added by way of sauce. I think the
recipe would cut quite a figure in the Cook's Oracle or Mrs. Dalgairn's
Practice of Cookery, under the original title of a "bush pudding."
And then woe and destruction to the brittle
ware that may chance to travel through our roads. Lucky, indeed, are we if,
through the superior carefulness of the person who packs them, more than
one-half happens to arrive in safety. For such mishaps we have no redress.
The storekeeper lays the accident upon the teamster, and the teamster upon
the bad roads, wondering that he himself escapes with whole bones after a
journey through the bush.
This is now the worst season of the
year;--this, and just after the breaking up of the snow. Nothing hardly but
an ox-cart can travel along the roads, and even that with difficulty,
occupying two days to perform the journey; and the worst of the matters is,
that there are times when the most necessary articles of provisions are not
to be procured at any price. You see, then, that a settler in the bush
requires to hold himself pretty independent, not only of the luxuries and
delicacies of the table, but not unfrequently even of the very necessaries.
One time no pork is to be procured; another
time there is a scarcity of flour, owing to some accident that has happened
to the mill, or for the want of proper supplies of wheat for grinding; or
perhaps the weather and bad roads at the same time prevent a team coming up,
or people from going down. Then you must have recourse to a neighbour, if
you have the good fortune to be near one, or fare the best you can on
potatoes. The potatoe is indeed a great blessing here; new settlers would
otherwise be often greatly distressed, and the poor man and his family who
are without resources, without the potatoe must starve.
Once our stock of tea was exhausted, and we
were unable to procure more. In this dilemma milk would have been an
excellent substitute, or coffee, if we had possessed it; but we had neither
the one nor the other, so we agreed to try the Yankee tea--hemlock sprigs
boiled. This proved, to my taste, a vile decoction; though I recognized some
herb in the tea that was sold in London at five shillings a pound, which I
am certain was nothing better than dried hemlock leaves reduced to a coarse
S------ laughed at our wry faces, declaring
the potation was excellent; and he set us all an example by drinking six
cups of this truly sylvan beverage. His eloquence failed in gaining a single
convert; we could not believe it was only second to young hyson. To his
assurance that to its other good qualities it united medicinal virtues, we
replied that, like all other physic, it was very unpalatable.
"After all," said S------, with a thoughtful
air, "the blessings and the evils of this life owe their chief effect to the
force of contrast, and are to be estimated by that principally. We should
not appreciate the comforts we enjoy half so much did we not occasionally
feel the want of them. How we shall value the conveniences of a cleared farm
after a few years, when we can realize all the necessaries and many of the
luxuries of life."
"And how we shall enjoy green tea after this
odious decoction of hemlock," said I.
"Very true; and a comfortable frame-house, and
nice garden, and pleasant pastures, after these dark forests, log-houses,
and no garden at all."
"And the absence of horrid black stumps,"
rejoined I. "Yes, and the absence of horrid stumps. Depend upon it, my dear,
your Canadian farm will seem to you a perfect paradise by the time it is all
under cultivation; and you will look upon it with the more pleasure and
pride from the consciousness that it was once a forest wild, which, by the
effects of industry and well applied means, has changed to fruitful fields.
Every fresh comfort you realize around you will add to your happiness; every
improvement within-doors or without will raise a sensation of gratitude and
delight in your mind, to which those that revel in the habitual enjoyment of
luxury, and even of the commonest advantages of civilization, must in a
great degree be strangers. My pass-words are, 'Hope! Resolution! and
"This," said my husband, "is true philosophy;
and the more forcible, because you not only recommend the maxim but practise
I had reckoned much on the Indian summer, of
which I had read such delightful descriptions, but I must say it has fallen
far below my expectations. Just at the commencement of this month (November)
we experienced three or four warm hazy days, that proved rather close and
oppressive. The sun looked red through the misty atmosphere, tinging the
fantastic clouds that hung in smoky volumes, with saffron and pale crimson
light, much as I have seen the clouds above London look on a warm, sultry
Not a breeze ruffled the waters, not a leaf
(for the leaves had not entirely fallen) moved. This perfect stagnation of
the air was suddenly changed by a hurricane of wind and snow that came on
without any previous warning. I was standing near a group of tall pines that
had been left in the middle of the clearing, collecting some beautiful
crimson lichens, S------ not being many paces distant, with his oxen drawing
fire-wood. Suddenly we heard a distant hollow rushing sound that momentarily
increased, the air around us being yet perfectly calm. I looked up, and
beheld the clouds, hitherto so motionless, moving with amazing rapidity in
several different directions. A dense gloom overspread the heavens. S------,
who had been busily engaged with the cattle, had not noticed my being so
near, and now called to me to use all the speed I could to gain the house,
or an open part of the clearing, distant from the pine-trees. Instinctively
I turned towards the house, while the thundering shock of trees falling in
all directions at the edge of the forest, the rending of the branches from
the pines I had just quitted, and the rush of the whirlwind sweeping down
the lake, made me sensible of the danger with which I had been threatened.
The scattered boughs of the pines darkened the
air as they whirled above me; then came the blinding snow-storm: but I could
behold the progress of the tempest in safety, having gained the threshold of
our house. The driver of the oxen had thrown himself on the ground, while
the poor beasts held down their meek heads, patiently abiding "the pelting
of the pitiless storm." S------, my husband, and the rest of the household,
collected in a group, watched with anxiety the wild havoc of the warring
elements. Not a leaf remained on the trees when the hurricane was over; they
were bare and desolate. Thus ended the short reign of the Indian summer.
I think the notion entertained by some
travellers, that the Indian summer is caused by the annual conflagration of
forests by those Indians inhabiting the unexplored regions beyond the larger
lakes is absurd. Imagine for an instant what immense tracts of woods must be
yearly consumed to affect nearly the whole of the continent of North
America: besides, it takes place at that season of the year when the fire is
least likely to run freely, owing to the humidity of the ground from the
autumnal rains. I should rather attribute the peculiar warmth and hazy
appearance of the air that marks this season, to the fermentation going on
of so great a mass of vegetable matter that is undergoing a state of
decomposition during the latter part of October and beginning of November.
It has been supposed by some persons that a great alteration will be
effected in this season, as the process of clearing the land continues to
decrease the quantity of decaying vegetation. Nay, I have heard the
difference is already observable by those long acquainted with the American
Hitherto my experience of the climate is
favourable. The autumn has been very fine, though the frosts are felt early
in the month of September; at first slightly, of a morning, but towards
October more severely. Still, though the first part of the day is cold, the
middle of it is warm and cheerful.
We already see the stern advances of winter.
It commenced very decidedly from the breaking up of the Indian summer.
November is not at all like the same month at home. The early part was soft
and warm, the latter cold, with keen frosts and occasional falls of snow;
but it does not seem to possess the dark, gloomy, damp character of our
British Novembers. However, it is not one season's acquaintance with the
climate that enables a person to form any correct judgment of its general
character, but a close observance of its peculiarities and vicissitudes
during many years' residence in the country.
I must now tell you what my husband is doing
on our land. He has let out ten acres to some Irish choppers who have
established themselves in the shanty for the winter. They are to receive
fourteen dollars per acre for chopping, burning, and fencing in that
quantity. The ground is to be perfectly cleared of every thing but the
stumps: these will take from seven to nine or ten years to decay; the pine,
hemlock, and fir remain much longer. The process of clearing away the stumps
is too expensive for new beginners to venture upon, labour being so high
that it cannot be appropriated to any but indispensable work. The working
season is very short on account of the length of time the frost remains on
the ground. With the exception of chopping trees, very little can be done.
Those that understand the proper management of uncleared land, usually
underbrush (that is, cut down all the small timbers and brushwood), while
the leaf is yet on them; this is piled in heaps, and the windfallen trees
are chopped through in lengths, to be logged up in the spring with the
winter's chopping. The latter end of the summer and the autumn are the best
seasons for this work. The leaves then become quite dry and sear, and
greatly assist in the important business of burning off the heavy timbers.
Another reason is, that when the snow has fallen to some depth, the light
timbers cannot be cut close to the ground, or the dead branches and other
incumbrances collected and thrown in heaps.
We shall have about three acres ready for
spring-crops, provided we get a good burning of that which is already
chopped near the site of the house,--this will be sown with oats, pumpkins,
Indian corn, and potatoes: the other ten acres will be ready for putting in
a crop of wheat. So you see it will be a long time before we reap a harvest.
We could not even get in spring-wheat early enough to come to perfection
We shall try to get two cows in the spring, as
they are little expense during the spring, summer, and autumn; and by the
winter we shall have pumpkins and oat-straw for them.