of paradise and outhouses: an #essay by Thea Atkinson

a view from the wharf

I press the shutter release to capture what is probably the 30th picture of a dilapidated two-seater outhouse crouching quietly at the head of a wharf. My husband, a lobster fishermen by trade and heritage wanders past, side-stepping another fresh heap of sheep pebbles left by an animal with free roam of the tiny island.

“Don’t you have enough pictures of that thing?” he asks me, eyeing the yellow moss creeping up the door to the rubber handle.

Perhaps. To him the narrow building is just the source of bitter winter winds and a sheer layer of frost assaulting tender areas best exposed to the sanctity of modern plumbing. For me, it holds a strange fascination, a link to a piece of Canada I didn’t know existed until he brought me here twenty years ago.

Back then, Deep Cove Island crept into my view after a 20 minute troll through Atlantic waters. From the forty foot lobster boat, I could see how barren of trees it was, how many rocks peppered the surface. A dozen wharves and an equal amount of equally rustic shanties filled my vision; a few straggling sheep munched on kelp on flats exposed by low tide.

We spend many summer weekends here, sequestered from the mainland, phones, and yes, indoor plumbing. I bring my notebook and a camera and I write stories of people that filled those shanties that used to house professional fishermen. Those shanties that now provide shelter for the occasional 10-year-old who during the day will hold a line off the end of the wharf waiting patiently for a fish to tug it. The island is rustic and time-capsuled, but when that August Moon clings to a cloudless sky and casts its light on the dozen wharves falling into the water, I believe I’m standing in a postcard.

Hubby has spent long hours here, weeks, seasons of time waiting for the alarm to ring at 4 AM. He has spent his mornings in the sardine-tin kitchen frying lobster and eggs before he heads out to his grounds to make his living. Now our daughter and I follow him, but it’s only for the weekend.  I spend countless hours roaming the rock-riddled surface, capturing lambs in my viewfinder, and the first-in-Deep-Cove history black sheep. Still, I’m drawn again and again to the outhouse and the weathered shingles.

I realize this piece of history is even now evolving. There’s little need for fishermen to stay the season in a shanty insulated by eelgrass just because it’s closer to grounds than the mainland; the boats are faster now.  The island’s lobster canneries are long gone, the pool hall all but forgotten; still the island lures its prey.

Every year, we bring a group of writers over from the mainland for the day so they can picnic and write and wander. They ask every year for a return invitation, and because I understand the compulsion of the ocean breeze, I beg my husband to acquiesce.

On this day, my sister-in-law and I watch from the porch as a couple from an American yacht picks their way up one of the ladders and wanders down the crag of hill to take a peek at the land. As they near, they ask for permission to cross the property; a strange request for any Nova Scotian to hear. In answer, we invite them to an evening bonfire on the beach.

After the sun dips behind the ocean’s horizon, we set old lobster traps ablaze and roast hot dogs and marshmallows. The children cram sticky white into their mouths, and adults sip wine–all within easy sight of the outhouse’s farseeing crescent eye.

The next morning, the Americans are gone, and we sit on the porch watching the sheep reclaim the flats and listen to the barn swallows scold each other. Next weekend it will be another group who stumbles upon this piece of history–perhaps a flock of kayakers–and the weekend after, it will be another. I may not be here, but I’m certain someone will be, and they’ll extend a hospitable hand, the same as was reached out to me those years ago.

I’m part of the new clan now. Folks who have a connection to the place, no matter how small. I pack coolers and duffels and climb aboard a 40 foot lobster boat to troll to the island. I wander; I eat, write, drink, and enjoy the allure of a place far removed from fax machines and Internet. And yes, I take countless pictures of derelict outhouses from every angle.


Formed of Clay by Thea Atkinson

Sample for free on Amazon

BTW: I’m a huge history buff so it’s no secret to my friends why Deep Cove and its outhouse speaks to me. My imagination is always on overtime. Just takes a word or an image and off I go. History is like that for me. I start to wonder about the people inhabiting the times. there have been  moments when my husband has complained about the amount of Egyptian documentaries I watch. Formed of Clay is the result of my love for all things history, Egyptian, and mythology.


Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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