poetry and prose about place

Archive for the ‘the rock project’ Category

yard work – sundial

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Although I have no trouble spending endless hours at the computer writing, writing, writing, even editing, editing, editing, more physical types of work have always been hard for me to enthuse over!


And although I am a botanist, and interested in the environment, spending time out-of-doors has become harder with the years. I hate mosquitoes and black flies. Heat and humidity are no friend of mine. And, of course, there are the arthritic knees.  I do go out, on endless drives to find bridges, schools and various plants. We spend lots of time at our cabin, watching birds. And I sit on our deck each day to listen for bird songs and enjoy the evening breeze. But notice that most of this is sitting.


Last month I put myself on a reward system (like a child earning stickers) and have spent a little active time outside each day. Usually only about an hour. I have helped my husband cut wood, piled said wood, helped him cut down our dead apple tree, broken the dead branches of said apple tree into sticks for a future fire, picked up all the fallen tree branches in our back driveway, cut the bracken fern from my back garden in two sessions, and so on. I’m sure no one else would even notice the resulting yard improvements, but I do! And going outside each day is now a habit.


Today I tackled a long-planned project – the rebuilding of our sundial. I built the original sundial base with chunks of stone, but frost heaves and snowbanks have done their work and the old sundial base is now a pile of rubble.  I had saved the brick from the dismantling of our inside hearth this spring and had lots of material to work with. On Wednesday morning, I rolled a cement paving stone into place and used the brick to rebuild a base. Now the sundial is no longer a tumbled mess of rock.




No work of engineering but much neater than before. And if the clocks ever stop working, my sundial will still record the passing of time!


Copyright 2016 Jane Tims


Written by jane tims

September 9, 2016 at 7:00 am


with 4 comments

Our firepit has a roaming spirit.  It began its days in front of the house and we had many wonderful evening fires.  Then, as the years passed, the maple tree overhead grew until it was dangerous to have a fire under such a thick canopy.

To improve the safety of the firepit, I moved it, stone by stone to the back of the house, reassembling it exactly as it was.  We had a few fires and then, one day, our lives became busy.  We kept taking wood for the next fire and the next fire never happened.  Gradually the pile became so large, you could not see the firepit!

Last month, my husband put our tractor to use to move the firepit one more time.  I clawed my way into the pile of scrap wood and uncovered the stones.  Then we pushed them into the bucket of the tractor and away they went, to their new home across the yard.

Now they are in the driveway, waiting for their new home (see the plan in ‘plans for a rocky road’  November 13, 2011 under the category   ‘the rock project’).

The next step will be to fell four spruce trees in the area of the firepit, to make sure we can have our fires safely.  This next step may have to wait until spring since the stones are now in the frozen throes of winter!






 rattle of leaves

bark, twigs

and paper

as the air warms

finds its chimney

surges red life

into the tunnel of maple

the moment when breath

turned cloudy on cold air

becomes smoke

and lungs draw ash and fire

the summer night

when lightning strikes

when thunder

bold in its dreaming

turns beneath the earth

ions leap

and pine sap explodes

in a fistful of sparks

the warming by smiles

and clasping of hands

striking of sparks in the tinder

the flame leaps

from candle to candle

the sharp ache

at the corner of an eye

where cinders and smoke

have gathered

lungs drawing fire and ash

an effort to breathe

and fingers

warm with tremble


© Jane Tims   1995

Written by jane tims

December 28, 2011 at 8:32 am

Briar Island Rock #4

with 4 comments



jointed ruler

                (Wreck of the Trafalgar, 1817)


the ship is broken on rocks

and we leave in fog

I hold my brother’s hand

we stumble up the shore

in a yellow room of fog

it stumbles with us

they set the baggage down

together, folded

we wait


my step-father

pats my mother’s hand

leaves to talk with the Captain

                the ship is lost

I look up at my mother

she watches him go, her lips move

she says we will lie in green pastures


I look for grass but only see

black rock and grinning fog

lanterns and men calling

my brother sniffs a little

in my pocket I clutch my father’s jointed ruler

he was a carpenter, would have fixed the hole

                the mate says

                there’s no going back to her now

we stay where we are

folded in a yellow room

luggage at our feet


the walls move

the ruler opens

I see the ship

black hull held high

on dark and pointed rock

against the early morning sky

white waves beyond

the ruler closes


pink and yellow mix, and the room

is the color of pumpkin

the ruler opens and I know

the black shore has bristles

I heard the mate call it

Briar Island


the rock I stand on tips a bit

I step down

the rock is wet and grey

five sides

a funny-looking stone

fits with other stones

strange puzzle


I take my ruler

help it to unfold

I measure the rock

I make it jiggle and my brother smiles

a little smile

the ruler folds, unfolds, the room expands

I see my step-father’s uneven walk

across uneven stones



Copyright  2011, Jane Tims


Written by jane tims

December 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Briar Island Rock #3

with 6 comments

In my garden there is a black pentagonal rock set into the ground.  The rock is black basalt, and future people may wonder how such a rock ended up in a setting of glacial moraines, far from other volcanic surface formations. 

The rock comes from the rocky shore of Briar Island in Nova Scotia.  On this shore, in July, 1817, my great-great grandfather came to Canada by way of the wreck of the ship Trafalgar.

In August 1993, my Dad led our family on a pilgrimage to Briar Island, to see Gull Rock where the ship went aground.  Our troupe included my Mom and Dad, my two brothers, my sister and me, with our respective families.  There we could see the rugged rocks where William first set foot in Canada.  Among those on the shore were four Williams of other generations, my Dad, my older brother, my younger brother (whose name, my Dad pointed out is the French version of William) and my nephew.

The pilgrimage had an amusing side.  We all gazed out to sea and retold the story of the shipwreck.  We all turned and had our photograph taken in the dazzling sun.  And when we later talked about our trip, no one could agree on what we had seen.  Some saw a black rock in the distance.  Some saw a small island.  Some saw a low rocky shoal of rocks extending into the sea.  In any case, I know we saw more than seven year old William did in 1817 as he stumbled onto the shore in thick fog and in the small hours of the morning.

The shore there is a pavement of columnar basaltic rock, emerging from the earth in slim five-sided columns.  This pattern develops when thick lava cools, resulting in a fracture network and the creation of perpendicular columns. 

example of columnar basalt (from Wikipedia)

One of those rocks I pried loose and it now sits, embedded in my garden, a memorial to young William.

My next post will be a poem and drawing about the shipwreck.

this rock has endured the decades since the shipwreck of the Trafalgar... it was there when the ship was stranded on the rocks...there when William and his brother came ashore... a witness to my family history

©  Jane Tims 2011


Written by jane tims

December 4, 2011 at 6:12 am

Briar Island Rock #2 ‘the shipwreck’

with 13 comments

How did your family first come to the country where you now live?

In my last post, I introduced the story of my great-great grandfather, William, who arrived in Canada, when he was about seven years old, by shipwreck.

William and his mother, brother and step-father took the schooner Trafalger.  It was a 3-masted square-sterned ship with two decks, 96 feet long and 25 feet wide.  The family embarked from Hull, England for Canada on May 31, 1817.

The ship was headed for Saint John in New Brunswick, but became lost in thick fog and was shipwrecked off Brier Island, on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy.  In a letter reported in the Hull Advertiser, the Captain of the Trafalgar gave a detailed account of what happened:

 I am sorry to inform you of the loss of the Trafalgar, on the 25 July, about half-past eight o’clock in the evening, upon Brier’ s Island, in the Bay of Fundy, about 60 miles below St. John’ s [Saint John, New Brunswick].  I had been running up all the day, it being very thick could not see anything; at seven p.m. I hove the ship to, with her head to the Westward, thinking we were well over to the Westward, sounding in 40 fathoms; the tide running very strong, and before we could see the land, we heard the surf against the rocks; got sail upon the ship, but being too close the strong tide set us upon the rocks; it being high water when we got on, run out a kedge to heave her off, but all to no use.  At low water, the ship was dry all round, amongst the rugged rocks, which went through her in different parts; the ship having as much water in the inside as there was on the outside at high water.  The passengers were all safe landed that were brought out, and got all their baggage on shore.  We are saving all the stores that we can, but they must be taken up to St John’ s to be sold, as there are no people on Briers Island to purchase anything.

–          ‘Letter from Captain J. Welburn to H. Cochrane, July 30, 1817. Saint John, New Brunswick’, Hull Advertiser, September 27, 1817.

The shipwreck was also reported in the New Brunswick Courier:

Shipwreck! – On Friday evening last, about half-past eight o’clock, the ship Trafalgar, Capt. Welburn, went ashore on Briar Island in a very thick fog – the ship will be a total wreck; chief part of the materials saved – The Trafalgar was from Hull bound to this port, and from hence to Quebec, and had 159 passengers, which together with the crew were all saved.

–          ‘Shipwreck’, Marine Journal, New Brunswick Courier, Volume 7, No. 325, Saint John, New Brunswick, August 2,1817.

The ship’s passenger list is available at The Ships List (   It lists the heads of the various families on board.

One of the saved passengers was my great-great grandfather, William, a child of about seven years.  William’s father, also named William, had been a carpenter and was killed by lightning while working on a building.  His mother married for a second time, and sold her first husband’s tools to get her second husband out of the army. 

It would have been hard for them after the shipwreck, but there was a small community of people living on Briar Island – it had been inhabited by fishermen since 1769, and by Loyalists after 1783.  After the shipwreck, William’s family eventually settled in Digby County, Nova Scotia.    

Tomorrow, I will tell the story of my own family’s pilgrimage to Briar Island in 1993.

'luggage, landed on the shore' (detail of a larger drawing by Jane Tims, 2011)

© Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

December 3, 2011 at 8:26 am

Briar Island Rock #1

with 10 comments

One of the rock features already along the path in our front yard is a pentagonal chunk of black basalt.  Over the next three posts, I will tell you the story of what it represents and how it came to be in our yard.

The story begins with my study of our family history and genealogy.  Of course, being interested in genealogy means you will always have something to do.

As you go back in time, more and more people become part of your life story.  By the time you go back only three generations (your great-grandparents), you have 8 grandparents to research.  If you include your great-great grandparents, you have 16, and so on.  By the time you get to eight generations, you’ll have 256 people to call your own.  At 14 generations you have 16,384 grandparents!  Think of how many people had to meet and procreate just to make you!

The sad thing is, you will never know most of these people by name, let alone by their many stories.

One of my great-great grandparents would have quite a story to tell.  My great-great grandfather, William, came to Canada from England when he was about seven years old, with his mother, step-father, and brother.  The ship they travelled on, the Trafalgar, was shipwrecked off Briar Island, Nova Scotia on July 25, 1817.

In my next post, I will tell the story of the shipwreck.

©  Jane Tims  2011

Written by jane tims

December 2, 2011 at 7:11 am

monuments in stone

with 6 comments

inuksuk n. (plural inuksuit) a stone landmark or cairn used by Arctic and northern peoples to mark a point of reference or a place of significance; an Inuit cultural symbol.

inunnguaq n. (plural inunnguat) a stone cairn in the shape of a human figure, meant to represent a human figure, and distinguished from an inuksuk.


Our rock project is progressing slowly.  We are collecting rocks for a stone monument.  Since I want this to be a sculptural piece, I am sure the rocks we select will play a role in the final look of the monument.

One possibiity is to build an inuksuk.  These stone landmarks are a part of the culture of the north, but they have caught the general imagination and are now encountered throughout Canada.  On our trip out west, the inuksuk built along the Trans-Canada highway in Manitoba were particularly memorable.

For a few years, the inuksuk (plural inuksuit) and inunnguaq were common along the New Maryland highway in New Brunswick.  On the stretch of road between New Maryland and Fredericton, the highway is carved through rock and outcrops are part of the roadscape.  A women who walked along the road every morning for a few years was responsible for building many of the inuksuit.  The local newspaper did a story on her, explaining that she walked and built the monuments as exercise following by-pass surgery.  She wore a white jogging outfit with black splotches and was fondly referred to as the ‘Cow Lady’.  

The ‘Cow Lady’ no longer walks the road and her inuksuit and inunnguat have fallen into disrepair.  I remember her fondly and dedicate the poem below to her.


Inunnguaq 101


these are the hill people

sometimes without arms and legs

sometimes with other, alien parts

but proud

honor the woman who walks here


sometimes toppled

often reassembled

constructed one day at a time

optimism of increment

a community on the hillside


©  Jane Tims  2004

Written by jane tims

November 18, 2011 at 5:26 am

plans for a rocky road

with 9 comments

This fall, we have begun a new landscaping project, using rocks to embellish a length of road on our property. 

On our travels this summer, we were impressed by the many ways home landscapers use stone as a signature element.  Some of these ventures were as simple as a stone wall snaking through the woods.  Some had elaborate stone benches, stone sculptures, or carefully-built piles of stones. 

We have an offshoot to our driveway, intended some day to form half of a circular road.  Over the years, we have added some stone embellishments to this road and its associated path, so it seems to me to be the perfect place to develop our own rock project.  

To date, we have the following features in place, some in an advanced state of disrepair:

  • two stone pillars, about three feet in diameter – each is a page-wire cage filled with rock
  • an ‘old-fashioned’ rock wall constructed of granite stones, each about the size of a large honeydew melon
  • a lopsided (fallen-down) sundial built of small angular rocks in the shape of a cone 
  • a chunk of black basalt, a five-sided, columnar volcanic feature, harvested from the shore where my ancestors came to Canada via shipwreck
  • a stone ‘stream’ built years ago before we purchased more property and Fern Gully Brook entered our lives – this stream is a one foot wide course of small stones screened from a pile of pit-run gravel.  It ‘runs’ from a small artificial pond and is now completely overflowing with dry leaves.
existing rock and stone features on the road and path

Over the next months, we want to add some features to the road:

  • rebuild our formerly wonderful granite fire pit in a new location along the road
  • create two new lengths of stone wall to match the existing wall
  • build a stone statue or monument 
  • lay out a circle of stones to mark the one area where we can see the Milky Way from our property (star-gazing is difficult since we have so many trees) 
  • build a stone embankment-with-moss feature to emulate a lovely roadway we saw at my brother’s wedding last year.
rock and stone features we plan to add

Over the next year, it is my intention to report back on the progress made on our Rock Project.  If you never hear another word about this project, remember – I like to plan.


Copyright   Jane Tims 2011

Written by jane tims

November 13, 2011 at 7:27 am

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