Give me of your roots, O Tamarack! Of your fibrous roots, O Larch-tree! My canoe to bind together That the water may not enter, That the river may not wet me!
One of our neighbors didn't answer the telephone for a few days back in early October, and when she did she explained that she and her husband had been ''leafin'.'' Motored over into New Hampshire and Vermont to see the fall foliage , a trip somewhat unnecessary, since the autumnal display along our road to Warren was sufficient. Vermont and New Hampshire do have an edge when it comes to enticing tourists, however, and it is fun to be with the crowd. Later in the month, coming up to Halloween, my wife and I went leafin', too, but with a difference. We went in the other direction, to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where the brilliance of the tamaracks has had little publicity as a leafin' opportunity.
First off, the tamarack of Hiawatha, which is an American larch, is known to us Mainers as the hackmatack. It is a useful tree, yielding a resinous lumber that is well-nigh impervious to weather, and will last a lifetime on a doorstep. The hack, which is the word the sawmills use, is a conifer, but unlike the spruce and fir that grow beside it, it is deciduous and turns a brilliant golden yellow just before the needles are shed. We have a dozen hacks in our dooryard, but in far-down Maine, in New Brunswick, and in Nova Scotia, the hack grows in thick woodland mileage and the landscape on either hand has the fall foliage color of the yellow traffic stripe down the middle of the highway. But the tamarack of the west, the hackmatack of Maine, becomes a ''juniper'' in the Provinces, in spite of the dictionary's insistence that a juniper is evergreen. To us, in Maine, a juniper is a ground-shrub looking like a yew. That it is.
The Indians did use the fibrous roots of the tamarack as thread to sew the joints in their birch canoes, and to bind the bark to the frame. These roots grow close to the surface, and often are on the surface of the ground, are easily taken, and are tough. Later, in the days of sail, down-east shipwrights used hackmatack ''knees'' to support the deck timbers of a wooden ship. The hack grows with a right-angle root, making a natural bracket. When a tree was felled for lumber, the stump and part of the root would be dug away and lifted, and usually two knees could be sawn from each root. Plenty of woodsmen in those times made good livings by digging hackmatack knees.
There are some few things to consider before attempting a leafin' trip to juniper country. First, there is a tendency in the Maritimes to close anything that might be useful to a tourist, and as the autumnal color spectacle approaches, every highway sign announcing something up ahead gets the addendum:
Closed - Ferme
Inns, restaurants, picnic tables are slaves to the summer season, even though October is pleasant. On the famous street in West St. John that is lined with motels, most were closed, and the one that took us in had no restaurant, so we had breakfast at the snack counter in Ted's Convenience Store up the street. We had one noon lunch on the steps of a Pentecostal church, looking over at two restaurants that were closed, happy with bread and cheese from a grocery. The big motel by the tidal bore in Truro is listed as ''open through October,'' but it didn't make it.
Another thing to think about is the proximity of the Grand Bank, and the prevalence of a burgoo one can shovel. For three beautiful days we had bright sunshine, making the golden vistas unbelievably magnificent. All along the eastern shore, which is Nova Scotia's look-off at Spain, we had clear, calm days , with the onshore 24-karat sheen interrupted only by places that were closed. We, from a Maine fishing village of importance, were surprised that this fabled fishing coast seemed in a decline. Few boats, few wharves, almost no buyers, and not too many packers. One packer said he got his fish from Newfoundland - except eels. Very few lobster traps; they said lobsters were few. Anyway, we came leafin' along in the beauty of the larches, and then awoke one morning in a fog. We felt around until we found our automobile, and then followed the yellow stripe down the middle of the highway until we were back in Maine.