It is 4:30am on the third day of this, my second expedition to Sable Island. Even though I lay in bed in the relative comfort of my second story room at the coast guard station, I have taken to wearing long johns under my pyjamas with a down sweater on top. A powerful “nor’easter” blew in last night and the moderately well- built sleeping quarters are no match for it. The doors rattle and no matter how high I push the thermostat, the north side of the house is cold. I can hear a thumping noise downstairs, and yesterday’s talk of the ghosts of thousands of shipwrecked sailors comes to mind, but I dismiss it. The banging persists, so I unzip my sleeping bag and go downstairs where I find the back door wide open and swinging wildly. It takes both hands for me to close it. As I look outside the first crack of light can be seen in the east, but mainly the sky is covered in heavy dark clouds that are moving fast across it.
The last two days on the island have been extraordinary. I have been out hiking the dunes from dawn until dusk and the weather has been mildly co-operative.
The horses still have their long winter coats and I am fascinated by the different textures. Some of them have long silky hair that, when parted by the wind, appears to be a different colour underneath. Others have a dense curly coat that reminds me of the Bashkir horses and I wonder about their genetics. The colour of the landscape is so beautiful that the only comparison I can make is the fall tundra in the Yukon. The ground cover that supports this array of colour is mostly dried maram grass, heather, juniper and cranberry in hues of tan, rust and burgundy. The pallet is completed by the chestnut, bay and dark brown horses grazing on it. Tiny shoots of the beach pea are beginning to show through the sand and the horses anxiously seek them out – a reprieve from winter foraging.
As expected winter has taken its toll. I have seen two carcasses so far, one young foal that died near the station has been tagged for research, the other lays at the bottom of a sandy depression and has not been disturbed. Most of the horses I have seen are thin but not weak and even though their ribs are visible beneath their heavy coats they appear healthy and full of vigor. Foals are being born, next years foals are being made. There has been mating behaviour all around me and the stallions are actively defending their ranges and covering mares.