Nassagaweya Township is where I live. Still mostly rural, it is dominated by rock and swamp and small fields, and was first settled in the early-to-mid 1800s. The lives and labour of those first settlers, who cleared huge tracts of hardwood and white pine, dragged enormous boulders to build boundary walls, and quarried limestone for rock and lime, were in part behind these two sonnets.
Nassagaweya 1: Winter Deer
Dividing wood and tangled swamp the road
Cuts survey-straight, a line drawn cleanly on
The map, unlike the trail that six deer followed
Through brush and cattail, three pairs of doe and fawn.
Their path ran crooked, keeping to high ground
Between the clumps of osier, brilliant red
Against the morning’s snow. A final bound
Brings the first doe to the road: the others, led
By her, follow, and in silent file cross
This barren space, alert, deliberate,
Unhurried; not admitting any loss
Of path or cover, valiance animate.
No survey stake or draftsman’s pen rules here:
Red osier, swamp, and wood belong to deer.
Nassagaweya 2: Rock and Water
Rock and water underlie this township,
But neither deeply; it’s rarely more than
A few feet to the rock, and every dip
Of land’s a swamp. A challenge to a man,
To try to farm this, but his chance to make
A life is here. So fields are cleared and streams
Diverted; roads are built. But rock can break
Both ploughshares and spirit: too many dreams
Of harvest awake to springtime flood
And summer drought; the skin of soil above
The limestone now like rock itself; now mud.
His sons say there’s not enough here, to love
Or prosper on: they answer other calls
As trees surround the crumbling boulder walls.