My life, until I was 18 years of age, was happily tied to the Eastern Shore and specifically to the community of Port Bickerton, with all that it had to offer us. Growing up as a fisherman’s son, and living in a fishing village, so much of my youth revolved around the seashore and the myriad of opportunities that it afforded my friends and I. There was swimming in its cold, refreshing waters, beachcombing along the shoreline and discovering what the next high tide would offer us to forage. We caught a variety of fish off the wharf or the side of our father’s Cape Islanders and smelt on the spring spawning run in mid-June. It was always a priority struggle between doing that in the evening or studying for our final exams. Smelting often won out. There were vain attempts at hand-catching larger eels from under flipped over rocks and opening mussels to search for tiny, imperfect pearls…all of these free activities which nature afforded us kept us occupied and entertained for hours at a time.
Wherever a person grows up it is the center of the earth to them, and our little world seemed to offer us a lot, as I recall. To look out our island-laced harbour toward the open Atlantic, we could see the Port Bickerton Lighthouse to the left and hear its piercing foghorn all too regularly, it seemed.
Those scattered islands in the harbour were dominated by the Big Island at the mouth of the harbour, with the wave swept rock outcroppings, the Pollock and the Caster, seen off in the distance just beyond, to the left and the right respectively. On some days they were more visibly pronounced that others, depending on the fog and the roughness of the sea. Off to the extreme right, as we looked out the harbour, was the ever-present smallish island, slowly jutting upward, called the Fiddler. We never knew how or why it got that particular name, but to us it was simply the Fiddler!
For us younger folk growing up in the 60s and 70s, it was a fairly barren, treeless, mysterious little island, so close, but then also in another way, quite far away. It was highly visible from the shores of Port Bickerton, solitary, stark, vivid and visually compelling to me, with a bluff that seemed from our vantage point to be perhaps 15-20 meters up from sea level. It was always there, kind of like the way the Big Island was...or our Lighthouse, and the Smelt Brook at the head of the harbour.
The Fiddler seemed to rise upward and outward into the open ocean, building up from sea level on the right end of it, slowly rising to a higher cliff on the left as you looked out toward it. Somehow, it was not quite within reach to us adventurous, day-dreaming young souls, but it was oh so tantalizingly close at the same time.
I suspected it could easily be accessed from Reid’s Island in Holland Harbour (where I had been for picnics many times as a young boy), as it was once connected to that 200-acre island, and then no doubt to the Fiddler. Just as the passage of time, strong tides and tropical storms washed out the seawall between the mainland and Reid's Island, so those same storms, tides and time’s eroding waves took out the land bridge between Reid's Island and the Fiddler. Oh yes, it could be walked to on low tide in the 70s, and I fully intended to do that back then, but it just never seemed to happen.
That seed of desire to get to the Fiddler was planted in my mind since my childhood, and visiting the Fiddler was unconsciously added to my bucket list before I knew there was such a thing as a bucket list, made popular by the movie of that name, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman back in 2007.
Eventually I moved away for post high school study in ’79 and began my various types of ministry work, but with every trip home over the years, it brought this desire back to my mind, especially as I would visit the lighthouse and observe the Fiddler on my short drive there and back. Yes, someday, one day, I would do it.
A number of years ago, on one of my twice-yearly visits to my home village from my present home in Lunenburg, I asked a friend and former fisherman out of Wine Harbour if you could still walk out to the Fiddler on a low tide from Reid’s Island. “Not anymore,” came his stark reply. I was surprised by his answer, as I’d looked through binoculars a few times and it seemed to be very doable.
I had previously discovered a few years before that, that even the high and wide seawall between the mainland at Holland Harbour and Reid’s Island had been washed away completely in a major storm. I can vividly remember the stunned feeling I had when I discovered this on a drive down memory lane to Holland Harbour on one of my trips back to the County. I had walked on that seawall a good number of times as a teenager and had been on Reid’s Island for clam digging along her shores, and duck hunting in her pond.
Still, one day...someday, somehow, I was going to get out to the Fiddler.
In the late winter and early spring of this year, as I was planning a short sabbatical from my Pastoral Ministry in Lunenburg, I decided that someday was going to happen this summer. Having had small kayaks for the past 12 years, and feeling reasonably comfortable going shorter distances along the ocean’s shoreline back home in Lunenburg and the nearby coastal villages of Blue Rocks and Stonehurst, we decided we’d bring them with us and finally attempt to paddle out to the Fiddler once and for all. I had hoped to finally see up close and in real time this mysterious, barren land, shared by the adjoining harbours of Port Bickerton and Holland Harbour, just off the mouth of Indian River.
I had been looking at this area on Google Earth off and on for a couple of years, and I knew it was about 3.5 km off shore as the crow flies--or the seagull, cormorant or eider; you can take your pick!
On this little bucket list adventure, I was joined by my wife, Sharon, and my sister-in-law, Rosemary Hiltz, who, bless her trusting soul, had the entirety of a half hour’s kayak lesson for newbies just two days before. I had also learned recently that she had also desired to go to the Fiddler since she moved to Port Bickerton back in the early 80s.
We had looked at the weather forecast for the week and decided on Thursday, July 4, as it was a beautiful sunny day, with very little wind. We packed our lunches, snacks, drinking water and sunscreen and left from the shoreline of Holland Harbour around 8:30 a.m., not really knowing how long it would take us to paddle over. I had not said much to the other two with me, but if it was to be any ways rough once we got out from the shelter of Reid’s Island, we’d turn around for safety’s sake.
We paddled along with bright sun lighting our way and gentle winds keeping flies at bay and we stayed in the lee of Reid’s Island for about two-thirds of the distance before we encountered a bit rougher waters, perhaps half meter or so waves caused by the waters coming over the shallow areas on either side of the long rock wall, halfway between Reid’s and the Fiddler.
As we approached the Fiddler, we realized getting ashore might be a bit more of a challenge, as there was no real gentle sloping beach area, but rather just an area with 15-20 cm beach rocks which greeted us, and with the small waves habitually repeating themselves, and convincingly edging us forward for our eventual landing on the shore. Thankfully we timed our landing just right and all made it ashore safely without more than one good, wet backside, as an ill-timed landing between waves and the slower exit from the kayak allowed one “rogue” wave to partially immerse the lower posterior of one rookie participant!
Indeed, it was a great feeling of accomplishment and happy fulfillment finally arriving where I had only imagined I might be one day.
When I had first stepped out of my kayak and went over the short seawall to get my land legs about me, there to greet me was a small and much calmer inlet. I was greeted by the squawking of a flock of approximately 200 Common Eiders that were resting from the rougher seas. They promptly made short work of a swim sprint out to safer seas, away from these odd ducks who had unceremoniously invaded their space!
But then it struck me, we did it. I did it. I got there. I walked it. I walked around it. I sat down on it. I ate lunch on it. I observed it up close and personal. On this short stay on the mysterious little Island in the harbour, I tried to take in its unique personality and savor the place it has had in my heart and imagination over the years. I breathed it in. I had finally made it.
Now, I realize it is no great feat in the annals of world conquering and adventure, but to me it certainly was.
I marveled at how this fairly barren spot is really a wonderful home to seagulls and a haven for eiders and a breeding ground for both, having observed so many fledgling gulls and also young eiders, and even an eider’s nest with four eggs still waiting to discover this little island and her waters as well.
We quickly and with wonder, discovered that deer have been here, as we found a partial skeleton of one, and the seals were also swimming just off shore. A startled goose flew off as we rounded the head of the Fiddler as we began to walk the perimeter of the island and explore. A small flock of Northern Gannets flew by the island. We discovered raspberries and strawberries grow there, spiders scurry there and a pair of Song Sparrows call this land home. Various buoys and lobster traps have found a resting place here on these shores.
After walking the island and exploring for almost an hour, we sat down and had our lunch, being in wonder of all we’d experienced and accomplished. I looked around and back at the mainland and spotted familiar landmarks from such a different but beautiful perspective, taking it all in on this bright and sunny day, being able to see from Wine Harbour to our left, all the way to Port Bickerton on our right.
Soon it was time to head back to the mainland, and as the tide was falling once again, we observed the large pond on Reid’s Island draining with the falling tide; a deer ran from a clearing on the island and a flock of Eiders gave us a wide berth as we headed back toward home.
Later at home, after we sat back and reveled in our day’s glad venture, there was a sense of satisfaction and joy, and my sister-in-law asked the enticing question, “What is next on our bucket list?”
Yes, indeed, what is next?
(Steven Hiltz of Lunenburg, NS is formerly from Port Bickerton)