PURSUING PHOTOS AND PROSE
With Kayaks, Mountain bikes, Backpacks, Daypacks, Walking Sticks, Fishing Poles—and an Airstream Travel Trailer
©Bert Gildart: Last night we accompanied Alan Melanson on his celebrated grave yard tour, acclaimed by the New York Times as one of Nova Scotia’s more interesting interpretive programs. To begin the tour, we all convened at the Fort Anne parking lot in Annapolis Royal, a small 1700s military bastion that was the focal point of many a military campaign.
The majority of those attending came from Dunromin Campground, located in nearby Granville Ferry. The campground provides a pleasant setting, and after setting up we realized we were flanked by people from Missouri, Colorado and Rhode Island, the later a couple in a 75th Anniversary Edition of an Airstream Travel Trailer. Though diverse in our geographic locations, what we apparently all shared in common was an interest in the macabre. Waiting for us was Historian Alan Melanson surrounded, as we approached, by lanterns. In the dark and still at some short distance, he appeared as member of the clergy, waiting to inform parishioners of their likely future.
Closer inspection revealed that Alan was dressed the part of a 1700s undertaker. He wore a black suit, set off by a white fringed shirt, and on his head was a tall beaver-skin hat, surrounded by a black-silk weeper scarf. Around his neck he wore a six-foot-long mourning scarf. Because Alan is a 10th generation Acadian, he spoke with a thick French accent that further served to add a touch of romantic mystery to the “undertaker.”
We were all given lanterns to light the way, and although a full moon provided some illumination, it remained the lanterns that guided our footfalls. The resulting image was that of about 20 lanterns swinging along an ancient fortification that soon lead to tombs of death.
Though there was a full moon, still, their carriers appeared only as inky shadows, creating a scene from an Edgar Allen Poe story, narrated, perhaps by Vincent Price. Though Price’s accent was different from that of Alan Melanson, the lugubrious and doleful mood Melanson created with the soft roll of his French words was similar—and eminently compelling.
During the tour, we learned about the nature of death common to those times. Some resulted from consumption and infant mortality, while other deaths resulted from improper care of wounds.
In the course of our walk, we also learned about the recent finding of an actual body. A doctor was present and identified the bone as a femur, or thigh bone. Exploration quickly followed and revealed a period shoe, which was still attached to the body, helping place the time.
The finding generated much local interest, and it was decided that the man deserved a proper burial and that it would coincide with an Annapolis Royal celebration. City fathers selected NATO Day, which in Canada is celebrated the first weekend of August.
Because of the nature of the celebration many of the town’s more notable people attended. All totaled, about 600 people paid their respects to this unknown soldier, a man once thought to have served at Fort Anne; a man who might even have distinguished himself. And, so, at the conclusion of the ceremony, all those in attendance departed with a sense of euphoria, for they had corrected an error from centuries past.
Time, of course, has a way of coloring the truth—and correcting the truth—and it remained for the probing eyes of researchers to add clarification. The following year, historians began to re-examine the evidence and some of the circumstances surrounding the soldier.
Originally, it was thought the solider had served at Fort Anne in the early 1700s, but a new look at the buttons on his coat placed him at a later time. And though the man’s arms were crossed, suggesting a proper burial, historians also realized that the soldier was buried along a shoreline and not in consecrated grounds, an important religious practice of the times. With an even further evaluation of the evidence, researchers realized the man might even have been a criminal, a fact Alan reflected on as we stood that cold October evening surrounded by gravestones illuminated by lantern light and moonlight.
“So here we have a funeral,” said Alan, reflecting on the irony of the ages beneath a moon now glinting off marble stones, “attended by dignitaries and other notables. In reality, they were paying their respects for a man that might have been little more then a common criminal.”
Alan said the oldest grave in the yard that could be confirmed dated back to 1720. Acadian graves, however, dated back further, but because their markers were wooden crosses, the dates evaporated long ago through the ether of time. But history tells us that some of markers may have been close to 400 years old.
By this time, the group was spellbound, and Alan said that at the height of his tour in August, close to 100 people attended. He said that his concluding message was always the same and that he wanted people to know that some thought all the graves should be obliterated and replaced by a modern upscale hotel. “But 400 years of history triumphed,” Alan said. “People thought they’d rather live with the past, even one that can at times be fickle, rather then investing in a future that is totally unknown.”
The thought meshed with my thinking, and because I, too, am interested in the presentation of accuracy, I should note that although the moon in my picture did exist the night of our walk–and that it did shine over us from the same general spot where it appears in my image—that the actual picture is a composite.
In reality the moon was much smaller, and it was washed out, so I enhanced this image by photographing that same moon with a telephoto lens and with an exposure that was correct for the moon. In PhotoShop, I then blended the two.
I make this confession, as I do not want time and reflection to suggest improprieties.
4th ed. Autographed by the Authors
Hiking Shenandoah National Park
Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.
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Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.
$16.95 + Autographed Copy
What makes Glacier, Glacier?
Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent
Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons
$16.95 + Autographed Copy