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Life in isolation

Busiest winter yet for Pictou Island's only snowplow operator charged with keeping clear the island's only road

Pictou Island resident Corinne Cameron enjoys cross-country skiing near the shore taking in a breathtaking view of the mainland. Submitted photo

PICTOU ISLAND - A winter solace on secluded Pictou Island is like relaxation therapy for some long-time residents.
Without the distraction of the outside world it's a "whatever happens, happens" carefree atmosphere.
"I've got to tell you, I really like winter on Pictou Island," said Nancy MacDonald. "Every season has a bonus and winter is a time for rejuvenation."
MacDonald and her husband Alan have been island residents for 26 years and raised two children there, who have since moved to the mainland.
Alan works for the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department, responsible for maintaining and clearing snow from the single roadway that spans the length of the island and doubles as an airplane landing strip.
"This has been his busiest winter in many years," said MacDonald.
Erosion on the island's east side is cause for concern, so when Alan isn't clearing snow he is clearing a section of wood land to reroute the road away from the deteriorating shoreline.
The province has committed to regraveling the road, giving residents something to look forward to after the spring thaw.
MacDonald said for her, island life has evolved over the years. She home-schooled her children and once they left the nest she discovered new ways to pass the time on the secluded island.
"Everybody has their own little projects in the winter," she said.
"You're kept busy just looking after yourself."
When the island is at rest, people cut their wood for next winter, snowshoe, cross-country ski, play cards or work at their homes at a pace uninfluenced by the pressures of the bustling mainland.
A group of women are in the process of making a commemorative quilt to mark the 200th anniversary of island settlement.
"Every block is someone's idea of a representation of some part of the island," said MacDonald. "
A special event is also being organized to celebrate the landmark occasion on Aug. 14.
One of the oldest island residents, Lorraine MacMillan, was born there in 1927 and has remained there her entire life, experiencing many winters in the quite solitude offered there.
"We got a little more snow this year than other years," said MacMillan.
She said in the fall, residents stock up on bulky items and grocery staples but during the winter they rely on Trenton-based Eastern Air Services to deliver fresh food supplies and the post.
Pilot Daniel Wallace makes the flight twice a week to deliver that precious cargo.
"The air aspect during the winter is really the lifeline to the island," said Wallace.
With a simple phone call he picks up groceries, and any other adhoc supplies residents need such as chainsaws, replacement parts for machinery, or batteries.
"Anything that they need for their daily life we do from here during the winter," said Wallace.
He said the plane remained on the ground a few times this season, delaying scheduled flights because of dangerous high winds, as well as to give the plow operator time to clear the 2,000-foot long runway.
"What we've run into is the ice having to be chiseled off the road," said Wallace.
When MacMillan was a young girl there were 48 families living there including about 200 people. Now-a-days there are only about a dozen souls who brave the windy island winters.
"There are a few of us here and we get together often," said MacMillan.
Maureen Hull has lived on the island since 1976, and said she is very comfortable there, happy to wander around on her own.
One of the places she likes to visit often is the island's community centre which offers high-speed Internet service at a Community Access Program site. However, even though she lives near by, it is sometimes a challenge to get there in snowy weather.
There are no commercial businesses and homes are powered by solar and wind, completely unaffected by outages caused by bad weather on the mainland.
Hull enjoys the solitude of winter on the island when tourist traffic is rare.
"I think we're very much connected to the natural world," said Hull. "Whatever we do is dictated by the weather.
"There is a freedom here. The beauty of the place, the peace and quiet, the lack of stress that comes from not being surrounded by constant noise."

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