How do you feel about reading a real person’s journal? I felt a bit like a fly on the wooden cabin wall. McNutt’s Island Journal by Elizabeth Walden Hyde takes its reader on a journey to “a wilderness island off Shelburne, Nova Scotia, from September 1984 to May 1985.” This is the author’s choice: To live on a remote island and see if existence can be carved out without plumbing, electricity, amenities or conveniences. She chose to leave behind the benefits of modern life, and venture out, into this wilderness adventure. Did you notice those dates? It will put Elizabeth Walden Hyde on McNutt’s Island over the winter months, with the unforgiving weather of a tiny island on Canada’s East Coast! In her journal, she recounts the hardship and beauty of this rugged place, in both scenery and wildlife. We learn about the author and her challenging experience through this captivating and very honest accounting. We get acquainted with her from the beginning because the book is edited and introduced by her daughter, Joanna Gilman Hyde, and published by Pottersfield Press in an easy-to-read journal-entry style.
Elizabeth Walden Hyde was from New York and summered in Nova Scotia with her family. Falling in love with the area around the southwest shore, the family bought a place near Shelburne Harbour. McNutt’s Island, Nova Scotia, is a small island located, according to Canada’s Historic Places website, “approximately thirty minutes by boat form Shelburne.” While the family would regularly sail around the area, Elizabeth Walden Hyde decided that McNutt’s Island sparked a huge interest for her. As an adult, she purchased a piece of property on McNutt’s Island, at a tax sale. This purchase was completed without first looking at the property. But to her “delight and surprise, (it)included an abandoned farmhouse which has since become the only original structure left standing from when the island was once populated by about forty families over one hundred years ago.” With only a few people making McNutt’s Island their home year-round, Elizabeth decided to spend the time during 1984/1985 on this island, caring for her dear sheep and learning to survive.
The hardship which this brave and incredible woman endured is captured within the pages of her journal. I can only imagine what it must have been like for her as she filled her days with fence building, gathering firewood, splitting wood, growing vegetables, picking berries, and maintaining her small boat and stove. She had to seek out water, fish and shellfish to eat, plant and harvest food for winter, and keep the cabin warm enough for herself and her pets. The work seemed endless!
“November 19. …moved big boulders and banged away at the center post, managing to lower it only a little and split it to pulp on top. Then banked the house with eelgrass and need ten more wheelbarrow loads to finish… Patched connection shed holes with chair foam that had washed up at the landing, nailed a piece of wood to the shed door frame to close a gap and cleaned out the shingle barrel. Stuffed old seat foam in the kitchen drain hole, filled the shower floor with insulation – washed the new storm windows…went to bed at 9 (Margin Note: spectacular stars).”
When I began reading McNutt’s Island Journal, I started by thinking: Why is this woman leaving behind what she knows to head off to somewhere remote, with no conveniences to rely upon? By the book’s end, I was in complete awe of Elizabeth Walden Hyde. This remarkable woman chose months of hardship – just her and her beloved animals against the harsh weather and wilderness. Because the author decided to live this life during modern times, with another life, an easier life, waiting for her in Nova Scotia, she is even more remarkable.
I picked up this book not having a clue about this woman or her story. I feel after reading McNutt’s Island Journal that I have a close personal connection to Elizabeth Walden Hyde. I admire her, her determination and her strength. Her self-awareness comes out in her detailed writing, as she makes parallel discoveries- what it takes to live on the remote island and what she is truly capable of doing. She is fascinating and a real-life, modern pioneer. I won’t be forgetting this woman and the time I spent with her. Pick up a copy and find out at which point you would have called it quits. Or, like Elizabeth Walden Hyde, would you have been able to make it on this journey of survival and discovery?
About the Author
Elizabeth Walden Hyde was born in Palisades, New York, on November 26, 1933. She grew up to become a writer, actress, and teacher of English and French and later became a sheep farmer on McNutt’s Island, Shelburne, Nova Scotia. She had two children, Joanna and Howard, and died at the age of 59 in 1993.
- Publisher : Pottersfield Press (May 6 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 180 pages
- ISBN-10 : 198972583X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1989725832
Carrie Stanton has a BA in Political Science from the University of Calgary. She is the author of The Jewel and Beast Bot, and picture books, Emmie and the Fierce Dragon and The Gardener. Carrie loves to write stories that grow wings and transport readers everywhere. She reads and enjoys stories from every genre.