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Backwoods of Canada
Letter 18

Busy Spring.--Increase of Society and Comfort.--Recollections of Home.--Aurora Borealis

THIS has been a busy spring with us. First, sugar-making on a larger scale than our first attempt was, and since that we had workmen making considerable addition to our house; we have built a large and convenient kitchen, taking the former one for a bedroom; the root-house and dairy are nearly completed. We have a well of excellent water close beside the door, and a fine frame-barn was finished this week, which includes a good granary and stable, with a place for my poultry, in which I take great delight.

Besides a fine brood of fowls, the produce of two hens and a cock, or rooster, as the Yankees term that bird, I have some ducks, and am to have turkeys and geese this summer. I lost several of my best fowls, not by the hawk but a horrid beast of the same nature as our polecat, called here a scunck; it is far more destructive in its nature than either fox or the hawk, for he comes like a thief in the night and invades the perch, leaving headless mementos of his barbarity and blood-thirsty propensities.

We are having the garden, which hitherto has been nothing but a square enclosure for vegetables, laid out in a prettier form; two half circular wings sweep off from the entrance to each side of the house; the fence is a sort of rude basket or hurdle-work, such as you see at home, called by the country folk wattled fence: this forms a much more picturesque fence than those usually put up of split timber.

Along this little enclosure I have begun planting a sort of flowery hedge with some of the native shrubs that abound in our woods and lake-shores.

Among those already introduced are two species of shrubby honeysuckle, white and rose-blossomed: these are called by the American botanists quilostium.

Then I have the white _Spiroeafrutex_, which grows profusely on the lake-shore; the Canadian wild rose; the red flowering raspberry (rubus spectabilis), leather-wood (dircas) called American mezereon, or moose-wood; this is a very pretty, and at the same time useful shrub, the bark being used by farmers as a substitute for cord in tying sacks, &c.; the Indians sew their birch-bark baskets with it occasionally.

Wild gooseberry, red and black currants, apple-trees, with here and there a standard hawthorn, the native tree bearing nice red fruit I named before, are all I have as yet been able to introduce.

The stoup is up, and I have just planted hops at the base of the pillars. I have got two bearing shoots of a purple wild grape from the island near us, which I long to see in fruit.

My husband is in good spirits; our darling boy is well, and runs about everywhere. We enjoy a pleasant and friendly society, which has increased so much within the last two years that we can hardly regret our absence from the more populous town.

My dear sister and her husband are comfortably settled in their new abode, and have a fine spot cleared and cropped. We often see them, and enjoy a chat of home--sweet, never-to-be-forgotten home; and cheat ourselves into the fond belief that, at no very distant time we may again retrace its fertile fields and flowery dales.

With what delight we should introduce our young Canadians to their grandmother and aunts; my little bushman shall early be taught to lisp the names of those unknown but dear friends, and to love the lands that gave birth to his parents, the bonny hills of the north and my own beloved England.

Not to regret my absence from my native land, and one so fair and lovely withal, would argue a heart of insensibility; yet I must say, for all its roughness, I love Canada, and am as happy in my humble log-house as if it were courtly hall or bower; habit reconciles us to many things that at first were distasteful. It has ever been my way to extract the sweet rather than the bitter in the cup of life, and surely it is best and wisest so to do. In a country where constant exertion is called for from all ages and degrees of settlers, it would be foolish to a degree to damp our energies by complaints, and cast a gloom over our homes by sitting dejectedly down to lament for all that was so dear to us in the old country. Since we are here, let us make the best of it, and bear with cheerfulness the lot we have chosen. I believe that one of the chief ingredients in human happiness is a capacity for enjoying the blessings we possess.

Though at our first outset we experienced many disappointments, many unlooked-for expenses, and many annoying delays, with some wants that to us seemed great privations, on the whole we have been fortunate, especially in the situation of our land, which has increased in value very considerably; our chief difficulties are now over, at least we hope so, and we trust soon to enjoy the comforts of a cleared farm.

My husband is becoming more reconciled to the country, and I daily feel my attachment to it strengthening. The very stumps that appeared so odious, through long custom, seem to lose some of their hideousness; the eye becomes familiarized even with objects the most displeasing till they cease to be observed. Some century hence how different will this spot appear! I can picture it to my imagination with fertile fields and groves of trees planted by the hand of taste;--all will be different; our present rude dwellings will have given place to others of a more elegant style of architecture, and comfort and grace will rule the scene which is now a forest wild.

You ask me if I like the climate of Upper Canada; to be candid I do not think it deserves all that travellers have said of it. The summer heat of last year was very oppressive; the drought was extreme, and in some respects proved rather injurious, especially to the potatoe crop. The frosts set in early, and so did the snows; as to the far-famed Indian summer it seems to have taken its farewell of the land, for little of it have we seen during three years' residence. Last year there was not a semblance of it, and this year one horrible dark gloomy day, that reminded me most forcibly of a London fog, and which was to the full as dismal and depressing, was declared by the old inhabitants to be the commencement of the Indian summer; the sun looked dim and red, and a yellow lurid mist darkened the atmosphere, so that it became almost necessary to light candles at noonday. If this be Indian summer, then might a succession of London fogs be termed the "London summer," thought I, as I groped about in a sort of bewildering dusky light all that day; and glad was I when, after a day or two's heavy rain, the frost and snow set in.

Very variable, as far as our experience goes, this climate has been; no two seasons have been at all alike, and it is supposed it will be still more variable as the work of clearing the forest goes on from year to year. Near the rivers and great lakes the climate is much milder and more equable; more inland, the snow seldom falls so as to allow of sleighing for weeks after it has become general; this, considering the state of our bush-roads, is rather a point in our favour, as travelling becomes less laborious, though still somewhat rough.

I have seen the aurora borealis several times; also a splendid meteoric phenomenon that surpassed every thing I had ever seen or even heard of before. I was very much amused by overhearing a young lad giving a gentleman a description of the appearance made by a cluster of the shooting-stars as they followed each other in quick succession athwart the sky. "Sir," said the boy, "I never saw such a sight before, and I can only liken the chain of stars to a logging-chain." Certainly a most natural and unique simile, quite in character with the occupation of the lad, whose business was often with the oxen and logging-chain, and after all not more rustic than the familiar names given to many of our most superb constellations,--Charle's wain, the plough, the sickle, &c.

Coming home one night last Christmas from the house of a friend, I was struck by a splendid pillar of pale greenish light in the west: it rose to some height above the dark line of pines that crowned the opposite shores of the Otanabee, and illumined the heavens on either side with a chaste pure light, such as the moon gives in her rise and setting; it was not quite pyramidical, though much broader at the base than at its highest point; it gradually faded, till a faint white glimmering light alone marked where its place had been, and even that disappeared after some half-hour's time. It was so fair and lovely a vision I was grieved when it vanished into thin air, and could have cheated fancy into the belief that it was the robe of some bright visitor from another and a better world;--imagination apart, could it be a phosphoric exhalation from some of our many swamps or inland lakes, or was it at all connected with the aurora that is so frequently seen in our skies?

I must now close this epistle; I have many letters to prepare for friends, to whom I can only write when I have the opportunity of free conveyance, the inland postage being very high; and you must not only pay for all you receive but all you send to and from New York.

Adieu, my kindest and best of friends.

Douro, May 1st, 1833.

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