"The first day I arrived on Sable, my emotions were a mixture
of excitement, amazement and curiosity.
I first sighted the horses from the air as we approached the island.
The horses have lived there several hundred years completely self maintained
and not bothered by humans. They are called ponies although they aren't
really -- they are small, densely haired horses that evolved over decades
of adaptation to the harsh climate of Sable. They survive on beach grass
and the several species of wild grains that grow on the island.
The wind is continuously blowing. There is very seldom a calm day. Storms can pick up quickly and gain intensity very rapidly, but since Sable Island is a weather station , we are always aware of their coming. We have storm control . We check all the windows and batten down the hatches. In one storm, the roof was completely blown off one of the garages. The sand blows wildly and would blind someone without protection. During a bad storm at sea, the sea is so fierce that you can feel the whole island shaking. This again made me think about my theory that the fragile island must be resting on a tipped plate of earth's crust on the edge of the continental shelf.
There are millions of different-sized perfect circles in the sand from
the wind whirling each blade of grass around cutting the same circle.
In approximately the centre of the south side of the island, lies a brackish
inland lake called Wallace Lake. This lake floods and recedes continuously
from the sea breaking over the beach head and pressuring the lake to burst
a river through the sand draining the water back to the ocean. Oftentimes,
this action will leave a perfect runway for a fixed wing aircraft to transport
service freight and personnel to the island.
Whales today pay the same price. They are beached on the sand and remain there forever. It is not uncommon to see several of them stranded on the beach. If beasts from the ocean in their element can be fooled by the current surrounding Sable Island, it is indication that there is a strong current that disrupts their sonar and natural ocean knowledge.
of London records tell us of over 500 shipwrecks of ocean vessels that
have tried to navigate the treacherous ocean currents around Sable Island.
Many more wrecks are unrecorded. Remains from ships of all sizes and from
all countries rest in the sand, blown at by the wind until they are sandblasted
into eternity. It is not uncommon to find steel sailing ship masts forty
to fifty feet long or the odd cannon and the wheel it traveled on. Timbers,
all hand hewn are still there with oak planking attached. It is common
to find tools, coins and bottles. The bottles have been so sandblasted
that they have a ghostly frosted appearance.
Due to technology the human population is smaller than in years past. I have been told by my predecessors about the hard times, the good times, the loneliness and the compassion expressed for one other by fellow residents. At one time whole families- wives and children and dogs lived on the island. I have seen the remains of old barns where farms flourished. The house would be maintained by the woman who would cook while the men would work at the life saving stations and be busy maintaining the equipment pertaining to lifesaving and light housekeeping.
One of the early superintendents, who was not a preacher would hold a
church service every Sunday morning at his residence. He had an old ship's
bell that he would ring and he insisted that everyone on the island attend.
After a while, people stopped coming to church and he got very angry and
smashed the bell with a hammer.
Now, only three men and one woman live on the island, and have for twenty-five
years. They are biologists who have been studying the horses, the seals
and the conservation of the island with complete dedication. The woman's
name is Zoe Lucas and she is also a famous author and photographer of
horses. The three men are the officers in charge of the rotating weathermen
and rotating handyman."
This article has been adapted from an original 1997 interview by Elisabeth Schwartzer.
- G. Martin
Photos © Ross Mason
© 2001 Highway 7
"The best time
to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now".
home · about · contact · linkup · advertise · forum