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Ross Mason
" The wind is continuously blowing....
There are millions of different-sized perfect circles in the sand from the wind whirling each blade of grass around, cutting the same circle."

"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.

Wild 'ponies' on Sable IslandThe horses have the run of the island and it is the humans that are kept in a pasture behind fences. The free lifestyle of these wild animals is not allowed to be tampered with by people. Humans are forbidden by law to molest them in any way or feed them.. A change in their diet could have disastrous results. For example, eating a hard cored apple could kill one of these animals. However, the horses are hardy in other ways and can withstand ten times the infestation of digestive tract worms that a mainland domesticated farm animal can.

The horses on the island total around 400 head, which is all the island's food supply will support. I believe that nature maintains a balance in natural population. They run in herds of three to nine members, usually one stallion and his mares of choice. The older stallions are often challenged by younger more spirited ones in their attempt to take over. Usually, it is the older stallion that settles the argument with a few kicks to the butt of the younger horse and some loud noises that send the youngster on his way, in search of less seasoned males. Like most of their domestic cousins, the foals are born in spring.

Seals on Sable IslandIt is usually windy and cool. It never goes below minus 10, so it stays very spring like all winter. I arise at 5:45 or 6:00 each day, very often to a beautiful sunrise which happens very quickly due to the fact that there is no obstruction on the horizon. Sable Island has no trees or rocks only towering sand dunes. It is sparsely vegetated with a variety of plants and flowers in summer. Some dunes rise to an altitude of 85 feet. On the island there is also a creation called the Bold Dune. It is a huge rounded mountain of sand continuously moving its massive granular form to the eastward. It may eventually disappear off the tip of the island. One has to see it to appreciate its uniqueness.

"There have been three pianos on the island and although I found no evidence of these pianos in 1996, on fine summer evenings when windows would likely be opened, I often heard strands of Mozart and Brahms echoing across the sand dunes." Ross Mason




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.

The Labrador current flows into the Atlantic Ocean and meets the Gulf Stream flowing from the Southeast. This forms what is believed to be an oceanic whirlpool. This whirlpool has lifted sand which sat on the edge of a tipped plate of the earth's crust. The evidence of this is very deep water on the one side. Further evidence of the whirlpool activity is the amount of debris continuously brought ashore on all sides. There is also the historic fact of the shipwrecks, ships were sucked in with no means of fighting the current while under sail.

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.

Sable Island Lloyds 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."

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More on Sable Island


This article has been adapted from an original 1997 interview by Elisabeth Schwartzer.
- G. Martin


Hatch Media.
Photos © Ross Mason
© 2001 Highway 7




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All contents © 1995 - 2017 Highway7.com unless otherwise attributed
Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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