His blacksmith shop was as big as all outdoors

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow says there were hemlock trees in the forest primeval at Grand-Pré. I have been to the village of Grand-Pré in Nova Scotia, and there wasn't a hemlock tree in many a mile.

So, too, did Longfellow cause Hiawatha to sing for yellow birch bark, and I've wondered if the poet ever tried to skin out a yellow birch. It can be done, but speaking in dactylics, did he mean white?

Such poetic moments may amuse, but are arboreal rather than prosodic, and Hank is still in the Poets' Corner and I am not.

How about the village smithy, that stood "under a spreading chestnut tree"? Did they have chestnuts in Longfellow's lost youth? In my town, 25 miles from his, we had horse chestnuts, and if edible they are unpalatable and do not scan with roasting. I liked horse chestnuts for ammunition in my David sling but ceased to favor them when I miscued and punched out the dining-room window. My dear daddy persuaded me. The whole matter rises like a gorge to remind me to tell about Blacksmith Lajeunesse and his shop down the road.

M'sieur Lajeunesse was the blacksmith at Grand-Pré, if you recall your "Evangeline." He was called Basil, and was the father of Gabriel, who was the boyfriend of Evangeline, who was then 17 years of age and had many hexameters to go. We now need to consider the location and the existing accessibility of it at a time before Evangeline was born:

History consists only of what somebody has set down, and it often skips important details. We tend, accordingly, to suppose the Acadian history of Nova Scotia is the way things were. The facts are different. Acadia was the land of the Micmac Indians, and to them the word meant "homeland."

Their territory was our New England and the present Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland and some of the North Shore of the St. Lawrence, as far as les montagnes.

To the west and south they had the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abnakis families, or tribes, and there was a long-standing understanding about common access to the sea. Inland people passed seasonably to the ocean and contributed to the shell middens found alongshore.

There was actually a recognized roadway, called the long trail, that knew only the tread of moccasins and ran from the Bay of Fundy as far down as you cared to walk. In places, canoes were kept buried in beach sand so they wouldn't dry and crack and were carefully reburied on the other side for folks going the other way. Some of the long trail has been scouted out and is hiking sport for the paleface.

There are smooth places in rough rock, where native American feet traveled since time began.

So Jacques Cartier came in his big canoe, and the Old World found the New, and the Sieur de Monts sent settlers, and then England and France had a war about what was whose. The Grand Dispersal moved thousands of French out of Nova Scotia, and many went to Louisiana, but not by the long trail.

Instead, they took the route of the coureurs de bois, or fur traders, down the Mississippi. But long before that, Grand-Pré needed a blacksmith. We read in the generations of Adam that Tubalcain was the first worker in metals, the man who brought us from stone to bronze.

Now, long in the age of iron, we can't imagine how important the ironworker was in his beginning. Grand-Pré found its blacksmith and he came to set up his forge and go to work. He had no smithy yet, but he was busy all day and at night he doused his fire and covered his anvil with sailcloth.

The townsfolk turned out to build him a smithy, but it would take a little time. All day you could hear the forgeron strike his marteau, then evening came, and silence prevailed.

Under the stars, and not under any spreading tree, the village of Grand-Pré had its blacksmith. Now, up the ancient long trail came a land agent of the King of France, carefully guiding his horse as he rode, marveling at the beauty about him, and his horse cast a shoe.

There was nothing he could do but walk. He had no tools, he wouldn't know how. His horse went instantly lame, and could not bear any weight. The poor man took the horse's bridle and led the way to Grand-Pré, goodness knows how far that might be.

He walked, as he recalled, two days before he met a man coming toward him. The man assured him there was a farrier just up ahead. And the foot-sore traveler said thank you and asked how far it was to the shop.

"Well," the man said, "you're in the shop this minute, but the forge is about 17 miles."

Note to John Gould readers

We are delighted to announce that Saturday, Aug. 17, has been proclaimed 'John Gould Day' in the state of Maine by order of Maine Gov. Angus S. King Jr. (For information on the 'John Gould Day' celebration in Rockland, Maine, e-mail: homeforum@csmonitor.com. Or fax: 617-450-7401.)

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