Autumnal gales frequently beat North Atlantic and Great Lakes waters into deadly waves. Two storms 121 years apart demonstrated that too many perfect storms grow into killers in those deep and cold waters. The first, for this article, involved master mariner Charles Bruce, A-E’s great-great grandfather. A four-day storm rocked his tern schooner out of Shelburne, Nova Scotia with a hold stuffed full of huge granite slabs and pine poles. The pines were destined to become masts and yard arms for Portuguese shipbuilders.
On Nov. 11, 1854, his three-masted ship listed 10 degrees in riotous waves; Capt. Bruce decided to look below decks to assess damage. He had started into the hold to investigate the cargo when another giant breaker slammed into the schooner and pushed two giant slabs together, crushing out his life in an instant.
A-E cherishes the sextant that Capt. Bruce and his son, A-E’s great grandfather Capt. Israel Kelly Wilson Bruce, used to calculate locations on their far-flung trips across blue waters. Both of their portraits decorate the walls of A-E’s Canisteo den.
Another family artifact is the big 1824 chart with soundings around Trinity and Conception bays, Newfoundland, that hangs in A-E’s library. Family lore claims that both multiple "greats" used the chart when sailing to Newfoundland with coal from mines in Sydney, Nova Scotia, a day-sail away from the homes of Newfies and Blue Nosers, pejoratives for Newfoundlanders and Nova Scotians.
The other end of Nova Scotia is native heath for A-E’s family since his ancestors left the American colonies to pledge allegiance to George III shortly after the Yorktown scuffle.
On Nov. 10, 1975, a day less than 121 years after Charles Bruce was crushed in the North Atlantic, the big ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all 29 hands in a staggering Lake Superior storm. No bodies were recovered.
Another reminder, Gordon Lightfoot tells us, of what happens when storms sweep Superior, “the big lake they call ‘Gitche Gumee': The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.”
More than 15,000 people watched the ore carrier’s June 7, 1958 christening and launch, an event plagued with misfortunes: When Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Edmund’s wife, tried to christen the ship she needed three swings to break the champagne bottle over the bow. A delay of 36 minutes followed while the shipyard crew struggled to release the keel blocks. During the sideways launch, the ship crashed into a pier.
Newsweek magazine on Nov. 25, 1975 included a cover article that called November “The cruelest month.” A big piece of evidence for that meteorological claim was the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The El Faro and her 33 mostly-American crew disappeared in October 2015 after steaming into Hurricane Joaquin while en route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico in the worst cargo shipping disaster of a U.S.-flagged vessel since 1983. U.S. Navy sonar apparently located the ship three miles down in the briny deep.
A-E footnote: “Eternal Father… hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.” Navy hymn lyrics capture the majesty of treacherous waters. For those whose lives have been tied to vast oceans, the lure is irresistible, even in death.
Less gloomy botanical information
Frau may possess an immortal delphinium. Blossoms on one stalk of Frau’s delphiniums are still bright blue as Greater Jasper approaches Thanksgiving. Wanna know what she does to keep the hardy blossoms blooming? Nothing. The single plant survived seasonal Greater Jasper frost and amiably thrusts blue flowers skyward to capture fading sunshine. Frau also cut back about a dozen of ‘em to encourage delicate and showy growth next spring. Hurry, April.
A-E is obviously proud of his Canadian heritage but just as conceited about his role as the Bard of Greater Jasper and his weakly blather in The Evening Tribune