© greg hannan| hannangregory@gmail.com 902 825 3534 | Nova Scotia | Canada
Hannan Greg
Another mile and the abandoned Morine farmstead looms beside its orchard on the rise. I don't know the extent of the story about the Morines (other than being 'intra familial'), but I had really bad feelings about this place. Another mile was my camp on the right, and then the woods and road continue two more miles to meet Morganvale road. At the T to the road in the closest house a man murdered his wife with an axe twenty years before. People don't go on Parker Road. Things' definitely do go bump in the night and at times walking the road in the dark, the hair would stand right up on my neck and times, I would find myself running to the camp like a little boy. I saw things as well in the woods. On the last full moon before Winter I was trudging up the rise alongside the Kempton orchard when I stopped. There was a bear lying on his back among fallen fermented apples, piss drunk and ripping up chunks of sod with his paws, until he caught my scent. I had sat on a log to watch him but he got up and moved towards me, a big male. I hollered and flailed my arms but he kept shambling toward me and I took off. On a few other occasions I almost collided with bears on the road with them rearing up on their hind legs (to see better) then both of us running in opposite directions; the bears crashing through alders like a bulldozer. I learned not to go in that direction on the road at night. Out the Morganvale end five of the expats I'd met lived, either four or six miles away, either South or East, and every few days to break my solitude I would visit, coming home late into the night. There were no bears out this end. The sky at night was astonishing for the stars, particularly mid Winter with The Milky Way literally descending on my head, and less so, The Northern Light's veils pulsing green then red with such brilliance it lit up the road and trees more than the moon did. There are few times in my life when I've felt so present in my body as those night walks, and actually, no time when I now consider that terror and adrenaline have 'historically' complimented that same state. The sense that I had then is unrequited now, even in Nova Scotia, given what I've experienced in life since then. When the snow came it never stopped coming—Every few days there would be a full sun then the arctic current would crank another foot or more of snow. And of course, the clear days would be coldest, below zero, but half of each day, or night I would have to be outside. I never really had enough wood to spend days on end in warmth. I would be travelling further to find deadfalls and alders of sufficient size to burn. By February I was working in snow up to my crotch and literally busting out on Parker road to the village for grub as an all too real exercise in survival. The cats tunnelled for mice. There was a span of a week when I'd become ill from food poisoning and feverishly moved only to open the door to wretch on the threshold. Easily two weeks when I hopped around inside, in the sleeping bag when ice crystals on the windows didn't melt away despite the fire in the stove, as the wind howled. I broke the ice in the basin bowl to wash my face in the morning. How far below zero is that? I obsessed for a time about the twin I never knew, Timothy, just short of conjuring because I ended up not even being to imagine that. At night I would be jolted awake by a baby screaming in the woods, so unnerving in that silence. Years later I realized that I had been hearing the cries of a bobcat or a cougar. It was just Winter, there, now. I had brought with me a small library of intentional reading: Meister Eckhart, Martin Buber, Thomas Merton, Krishnamurti, Carl Jung, and I say now I don't remember a thing I read. I brought several spiral notebooks that I filled with a journal that I've kept for almost fifty years and haven't read since. I had brought 22x30 sheets of heavy paper and paints, and I did several paintings, always at night illuminated by the yellow glow of surrounding kerosene lamps while listening to an overnight jazz station out of Buffalo, New York. They did resonate, but later, in 1975, I had my first gallery exhibit with them alongside Leonard Baskin at Jane Haslem Gallery. When the white track lights came on they washed out, then fell apart for me in that glare. In the ensuing years, there were occasions when someone would ask me what that experience was like, and my 'pat' answer was, "I didn't learn enough." Ed Giault's son, Gary, was one of three people who would visit. All teenagers. The other two, Greg McKuen and Alan Harlow, were First Nation Mik Mag from the Bear River reserve whose borders came up against West Branch, who told me tales I have yet to commit to paper and who took me into the bush, despite the snow to follow trails lodged in their ancestral memories. I learned to move in deep snow and follow 'signs' in the woods. Gary always stopped by after checking his trap lines stemmed in the ravines along Morganvale Brook, which he described in some detail though I never accompanied him. That March, Gary took ill for a time and I wondered about that untended trap line. The snow was so compressed by then it could be walked on despite still being deep, and moving through the woods was fairly easy. The days had grown longer, and when the sun was high in that irridescent blue sky, that pitched the trees' shadows to even deeper blue, I could sense Spring, and despite being well below freezing, I had lost the feeling of cold that makes bones brittle. The day I went out to find and check his lines was overcast grey, but the air was still warmer yet, near or above freezing. The snow gave way, making the going hard but I didn't mind. I was intent, on scanning for the signs of an overhung branch with a wire attached or a makeshift funnel. At one point the ravine dropped to a span of flat ground just feet above and alongside the brook when I saw/sensed a 'fog' that belied the frigid temperature. I was alongside a stand of dense blackberry stalks as tall as I, and a brace of trees had crashed down into them from successive rains having uprooted them over the years. And the source of that fog was here in front of me. The snow was such that it still stacked atop the errant branches of these trees, yet in the center of that tangle, the branches glistened bare and wet, and a distinct plume of steam rose out from what appeared as a cavity. I knew then I had discovered a bear, asleep, perhaps with cubs as well. I may well have stayed there for hours, but the encounter was so entire in itself that I logged it in my brain. That was enough. Over the next month the cats began to disappear for days on their hunts as the snowpack melted. Then it was a week of thaw when grasses reappeared, and they didn't come back. I was stressed that I could not so disconnect from them as they had from me, but they were essentially wild even with me, and now as adults, this would be their test. They knew I had to leave as well. Forty years later my Canadian partner Teresa and I moved permanently onto my land, now in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia . I had been commuting from D.C. for decades to Nova Scotia, but in the last years I'd been constructing a large studio residence on property I bought in the late 80's.. Immigration Canada determined just when I had to move when they granted me Permanent Residency status, with a deadline to register at the border. While I had signed a future sales agreement on my property in D.C., the building in Nova Scotia was still unfinished when we moved in, and we spent that first Winter camped out in the painting studio cooking atop the woodstove and washing our clothes and sponge bathing from a slop sink. We had a toilet installed, but I was still finishing our living quarters, floors, kitchen, bedrooms and bathroom as well as the sculpture studio and all that remained unheated. It was pretty tough. During the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2014, I moved us into the rest of the house. Teresa holds advanced degrees in both elementary and special education as well as French proficiency certification, but in 2013 she was relegated to being a 'supply' teacher in the region's schools, working part-time. She applied for a full-time slot and was denied. Again in the 2014-2015 academic year, she applied, then was denied once again having to teach 'supply' during a Winter that rivalled the one I knew in 1972 and nearly as hard to negotiate, us living some distance off the road. Despite her being able to paint in the studio that Winter while I continued to work on the building, she grew depressed. She was deeply in school debt. She realized during the Winter that she had to leave and seek work in Ontario, where she is from. But she waited until Spring 2015 to tell me, just before she actually did leave, and that proved to be the end of a relationship of nearly nine years. This devastated me..for years. The last painting I did before leaving Washington was "re: BIOFILM #1 (beaver) in 2013. In the Autumn/Winter of 2015, in a complete state of grief with the knowledge that at the age of 65, I faced the spectre of probably living out the remainder of my life — alone, I began "re: BIOFILM #2 (bear). The painting is made using only ash from the woodstove, matte medium and gesso.
re: BIOFILM # 2 (Bear) 2016 wood ash, gesso, medium on paper 42” x 57” Private collection