Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

The Tides of Time: StFX English professor publishes book celebrating rural Nova Scotia

December 12th, 2018
Dr. Suzanne Stewart

Dr. Suzanne Stewart, a StFX English professor, has long been fascinated with nature, rural life and the changing seasons. Now, she’s ably parlayed those interests into a new book that celebrates life in rural Nova Scotia. 

The Tides of Time: A Nova Scotia Book of Seasons, published by Pottersfield Press in November 2018, is set in northeastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton and presents portraits of contemporary labourers whose harvests mark the rhythms of the seasonal year. 

Each of its 12 chapters are monthly essays that tell the story of a labour unique to that month, including jobs like tuna fishing, cranberry farming, maple syrup production, sheep farming, beekeeping, lobster fishing, and foraging for wild mushrooms. 

“It’s a book in part about nature. I’m quite attracted to the beauty of nature,” says Dr. Stewart who holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction from the University of King’s College, as well as a PhD in English literature with a specialization in the poetry of the Romantic period.

More specifically, she says, The Tides of Time is a book about rural life. 

“It’s meant to be a book that celebrates what people are doing. I want to show the deep knowledge, the attachment and integrity, and their devotion to what they do.”

Dr. Stewart says she was inspired to write the book in part from reading the Labours of the Month Calendar she discovered in the medieval The Book of Hours, a widely popular book of its time. 

She says every month of the year in the calendar had a particular task set out, depicting rural activities that commonly took place during that month. 

“What I liked about it was it was so determined by seasonal change and the rhythm of time.” 

It’s an area to which she’s particularly drawn. She in fact received a bursary to attend the Wordsworth Summer Conference, in Grasmere, England, in August, 2018, where she presented the paper "'Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee': Dorothy Wordsworth and the Months of the Year."

Both the concept of time and rural life peaked her interest.

Romantic literature, her area of specialization, is known to elevate and celebrate a rural way of life. 

She says she was also intrigued by the concept of time and the crisis of time facing today’s society where many lives have become so accelerated and busy, with some losing the natural rhythms of time. 

Dr. Stewart says she wanted to see if she could construct her own Nova Scotia labour of the month calendar, bringing a literary lens to her observations of rural life. She set out to see if she could tie each month of the year to a monthly labour or harvest. 

She started by talking with vendors at the Antigonish Farmers’ Market and expanded from there, travelling across the region to meet with farmers and fishers and producers. She turned each visit into a story. Each story, she says, details both the actual labour and the personality of the labourer. She also drew on years and years of notes and attentiveness to the seasons, to the details and delicacy of nature, to vividly paint the descriptive elements of each season. 

In The Tides of Time, “Stewart revitalizes an older, contemplative view of the sacredness of time,” reads the book’s jacket description. 

“In keeping with the genre of nature writing, her book offers a meticulous way of looking at the world as she blends first-hand observations of seasonal change with stories of the labourers. The Tides of Time offers a refuge from the rush of urban life. It turns to the seasons, rural life and literature for an alternative mode of time, which is fluid, rhythmic, and gentle.”

“Nova Scotia suits this tradition so nicely because our seasons are so distinct,” she says. “We’re able to witness the seasonal changes so nicely here and to see how rural life is tied to those changes.”

The Tides of Time is Dr. Stewart’s first book. It is available online through Indigo and locally at Coles in the Antigonish Market Square mall, the Five to a Dollar, and the Antigonish Heritage Museum. 

She is already at work on a second book. 

 

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