Remembering Sable Island – Susan Crowe, 2009

Arriving

Skirted by a turquoise perimeter of ocean, Sable appears tropical. But for the lack of trees, I could almost believe this crescent shape was home to talking birds and tiny pied fish.

As the plane descends—a Britten-Norman Islander—I can see dark shapes twisting and turning in the turquoise. Seals, thousands. I don’t think I’d ever seen so large a gathering of one species, with the notable exception of honey bees. Moving my gaze toward the inland (if one can call it that – it seems more an interruption in the pale sand) I see other moving shapes: horses.

On the ground, it’s pale sand and beyond this the green dunes and their sandy step banks, “scarps”. These scarps run up and down the island in a loose, irregular scalloping. Blowouts and washovers carve and re-carve them out of the dunes.

At the camp

I sit here alone outside my friend’s field camp, a grimy little building no bigger than a large travel trailer. It’s dusk and I can see bad weather approaching. I suspect weather is taken very seriously here. Tropical storms are not unusual here or the tail end thereof. Above the horizon, the sky is a pale blue stripe and above is a strip of pink-white. Above that is a gauzy charcoal grey cloud cover billowing downward. I hear thunder in the distance. I suspect that tomorrow will be a wet day.

In the cabin

The smell. Not a dirty nor a rotting smell but a musty odour that I can’t identify. It occurs to me that this smell comes from the dozens and dozens of specimens that my friend keeps for research and for interest’s sake, presumably. Dolphin skulls, bones and driftwood fashioned into beautiful mobiles. The jaws of bull seals, and horse bones, too.

Plywood floors are dusted with a thin skim of sand. The sparse furniture is decrepit, beyond repair or even fluffing up. The kitchen is a Coleman two-burner camp stove, a sink, a cooler and a couple of water containers. A table, a few chairs, some cabinets, too.

On the land

It’s beautiful, this island with one tree. It’s so much more than horses, although they seem to reign. They’re only mildly interested in humans.

I’m filthy by my second day. What a relief, not having to be clean.

Image above: Whale vertebrae with lichens, photo Susan Crowe, 2009.

Susan Crowe
prepared for the Sable Island Institute, 2017

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