Surprises on the South Shore

(To read about our Nova Scotia adventures from the beginning, click here.)

Our original travel plans included another very short trip, this one theoretically a ninety-minute drive from Lunenburg to Shelburne. We knew it would take longer since we wanted to peruse every nook and cranny—and there are a lot of them among the coves and harbors of Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

Shelburne interested me because it’s home to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre. I learned about Black Loyalists from watching the series TURN, available on Netflix. (If you haven’t seen it, you may want to. Not only is it riveting, but educational—and surprisingly true to historian Alexander Rose’s book, Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring.)

As the British were facing the loss of the Revolutionary War, its military leaders offered freedom and land to anyone who escaped slavery and came over to the British side. It was a big risk, but some 30,000 successfully made it to the British lines. As the war ended, about 2,000 Black Loyalists were evacuated to Nova Scotia, most of them landing in Shelburne, which became the largest settlement of free blacks outside the continent of Africa. Shelburne was home to other British Loyalists, moneyed ones, and many of those homes are still intact today.

However, a few weeks before our trip began, we got a phone call from the Nova Scotia area code. Our Shelburne Airbnb host told me the well had run dry so we’d have to find another place to stay. We decided our best bet was the ‘Lobster Bay Loft’ in Lower Argyle. (Don’t you just love that name?) It was on our route and only added another half-hour to our driving day. We figured we had plenty of time to take in Shelburne and all its sights and still arrive at our final destination by 3:00 pm, the earliest time we could check in. I was thoroughly exhausted and looked forward to a few relaxing afternoon hours in our Airbnb.

But . . . within minutes of leaving Lunenburg, we came upon a sign for The Ovens Natural Park, another place on our must-see list with its cliffside walking trail and sea caves, aka ovens.

We turned off our scenic highway route toward the park. The young woman who took our admission fee explained about the sea cave trail and said most people make the round trip hike in about forty-five minutes. She must not have had many photographers pass through. It was a good two hours later when we returned to the parking lot, chilly and windblown (it was so windy)—but exhilarated.

Can you see the wooden rail way up there where there’s a gap between the trees? That’s how close we were to the rocky cliff on most of our walk through the park.

Trailside view

I got a new spiky hairstyle thanks to the wind.

So far down

Beyond the platform (in that dark hole) is yet another set of steep, narrow steps into Tucker’s Tunnel, a natural cave that was extended during the gold rush era. The Gnome went down there; I didn’t.

View  from inside Tucker’s Tunnel

Looking into an oven, or sea cave, from above

I did venture down many, many steps into Cannon Cave. When waves enter this cavern, you can both hear and feel the resounding boom. Eerie!

After we returned to the parking lot, the Gnome was intrigued by the folks on the beach below searching for remnants of gold that may have been left from the 1861 gold rush. He climbed the ladder down to the rocky shoreline. I stayed up top and had a delightful chat with a couple of Scottish fellows.

I’m so glad we put The Ovens on our itinerary. In spite of the high winds, the sometimes frighteningly-close-to-the-cliff trail, and the zillions of steps to get to and from the astounding views, our time there was worth every moment. And when we saw some of the waters-edge campsites, we immediately began planning a return here with a tent— just so we can watch the sunrise over the ocean just outside our tent flap.

Now, the only thing that lay between us and Shelburne was the Kejimkujik National Park Seaside near Port Joli.

Every community in Nova Scotia, no matter how small, seems to have a community hall. Wish we’d timed it to make one of the cakewalk or bingo or fiddle-playing events. Oh, well–something for next time.

We didn’t realize quite how far off the main road we had to travel to get to Keji, how slow the going would be, nor that we’d still have a 3.2-kilometer hike (one-way) to the coast when we reached the park’s parking area.

Sometimes it was a challenge interpreting Canada’s highway signs. We found out soon enough that this one meant we were leaving the paved road for a far bumpier and much slower gravel road.

We really wanted to make that hike—after all, we might get to see seals at the end of it. But we would barely have time for a quick drive-through at Shelburne in order to get to meet our Airbnb host at five o’clock—two hours later than we’d originally told her.  Thank goodness for cell phones.

These Sherburne buildings date from 1785 or so. I love the doorways.

Sherburne, as well as virtually every other fishing village, has a monument to its fishermen and other seafarers who have been lost at sea, sometimes in only the last couple of years. It gives one pause.

Not only did we have to nix the Black Loyalist Centre, we regretfully left the scenic route in favor of the faster highway for the remainder of the day’s trip.

We had the whole place to ourselves in the loft of this former museum dedicated to all things nautical. Oh, how I looked forward to falling into this inviting bed after our busy day . . .

    but not before sitting on the deck with a glass of ginger wine and wrapped in quilts (there was a real brr factor that evening) to watch the sun set across the bay.

Next up: Yarmouth, the Annapolis Valley, and more. Come back next week, won’t you?

Along Nova Scotia’s South Shore

(For the next few weeks I’ll be recording our recent long-awaited return to Nova Scotia. To start at the beginning of this story, click here.)

It’s not every day the Gnome and I plan an overnight stop just an hour from the previous night’s lodging, but that’s just what we did on much of our Nova Scotia journey. It’s a good thing we did, because a one-hour drive anywhere else easily turns into an eight-hour adventure of the senses in this maritime province, especially when you decide to take the slowest, most scenic route, traveling out to this cove and that one, and stopping at every photographic opportunity you see. That’s approximately one per minute along the South Shore of Nova Scotia!

We had already made a sunrise visit to tiny, picturesque Peggy’s Cove on one of our Halifax days. Peggy’s Cove was one of our most delicious memories from our first visit forty-nine years ago, even though we were shrouded in fog. We could barely wait to see it again. It did not disappoint.

Our destination today was Lunenburg, stopping at the villages of Chester and Mahone Bay along the way. Chester’s waterfront is nothing less than stunning.  (Click on images for a larger view.)

The village sports a small park with a couple of stirring war memorials. One features a Nova Scotia Highlander atop a monument honoring the 54 area soldiers killed during World War I. The other is a thank you from Norway. During World War II, more than 1,000 Norwegian merchant ships were at sea when Nazi Germany invaded the country. The ships sailed to the nearest allied ports. Thus, Chester’s Hackmatrack Inn became a convalescent center for the sick and injured Norwegian seamen who headed for safe harbor in Nova Scotia.

We wanted to stop in Mahone Bay to see its photogenic ‘Three Churches.’ Though we never found the best spot to photograph them, we still enjoyed their beauty—along with three or four tour busloads of other folks. DSCF3596

Quite by accident, we happened upon other visual entertainment, as well. The village was preparing for its annual Scarecrow Festival, which was set to begin in five days. Everybody gets in on the act from families to churches to dentists. (Look closely—can you see the braces on the dentist’s patient, bottom right. These characters were, of course, in front of a dentist’s office.)

We discovered a small nearby beach for a picnic lunch where a couple of folks from the area recreation department had set up shop encouraging residents to visit this little-known treasure. (Nova Scotia has few sand beaches, but this is one of them—sort of.) 

They invited us to fill a jar with sand and shells as a memento of our trip. And here is where we found, as we did over and over, the very best thing about the province—its people. They asked where we were from, commiserated over Hurricane Florence (which was on every Nova Scotian’s mind), found out where we were headed, and filled our heads full of not-to-be-missed places to visit on our journey. It was great fun meeting them.

Next on our agenda was Blue Rocks, Lunenburg’s ‘answer to Peggy’s Cove,’ even tinier and just as much off the beaten path. 

Downtown Blue Rocks

And, finally, just around suppertime, we made it to Lunenburg, whose Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the best surviving example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America. In spite of its tourist appeal, this fishing village has managed to retain its authenticity since its founding more than 250 years ago. Quite a feat.

Lunenburg streetscape

Old Town Lunenburg’s buildings are not reproductions. These are the real deal.

Detail, detail, detail!

A 1870s shipbuilder’s home

Nova Scotians sometimes refer to themselves as Bluenosers and here’s their proud reason why, I’m told: the Bluenose schooner, launched in 1921, raced undefeated in international competitions for 17 years. The Bluenose II, a faithful replica, was born and lives in Lunenburg just like her predecessor.

Complete with passengers

Just as we expected, our ‘one-hour’ trip turned into a long and busy day, and we were definitely ready for an early bedtime before the next day’s activities. Stop by next week to see what we discovered next.

Touring Halifax

(To read about our Nova Scotia travels from the beginning, start here.)

Nova Scotia redux began for us in Halifax, a fitting first stop. The province’s capital and by far its largest city, Halifax is vibrant and cosmopolitan, but with a cozy feel. It never felt overcrowded—at least as the first stop on our provincial travels. After a couple of weeks touring the coastline and running into people in only twos and threes, even a city as welcoming as Halifax might have seemed jarring.

We were surprised at how easy it is to navigate Halifax. Though we were staying in an Airbnb condo in a residential area, a short one-block walk took us to a large grocery store (liquor store, too); we found numerous local restaurants in easy walking distance; and we were never more than a five-minute drive from anywhere we wanted to visit.

Our days in Halifax were by far the most ‘touristy’ part of our Nova Scotia visit. Our first stop was the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a star-shaped fortress first constructed in 1749 to protect the harbor. The Citadel was never engaged in battle. It didn’t need to be; its mere presence was deterrent enough to would-be invaders. We watched the hourly sentry change, as well as cannon and rifle-firing demonstrations, all performed in full military regalia of the era. With the national parks passes we purchased prior to our travels, this was a freebie.

As avid gardeners, we could hardly pass up the sixteen-acre, Victorian-era Public Gardens, occupying a large city block in the heart of downtown. We took our time exploring its fountains, bridges, statues, pond, and its massive floral displays including exhibits like these

and carpet beds like these.

They even have tropical plants on display. How do they do that?

Not every public library is a tourist destination, but Halifax’s new Central Library certainly is, with its five-story, 112,000 square foot award-winning architecture. It even boasts a green roof, a cafe where patrons can buy coffee or a meal, and a rooftop garden for enjoying their purchases. The library is even LEED-certified, a high-performance green building designation.

Among its many sustainable features are a green roof sustained by rainwater, electric vehicle charging stations, rainwater harvesting for flush features, solar heating, and use of recycled, local, and low-emission building materials. All that and stunning, too. So stunning that in 2014, CNN named it one of ten ‘eye-popping’ new buildings of the year. I wonder why.

Photo attribution: Citobun [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

While we knew we didn’t want to spend our precious time in Nova Scotia inside museum walls, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Canada’s last ocean immigration shed, was a notable exception. I was humbled to find myself in the presence of other visitors who were ‘veterans’ of Pier 21, people who themselves had come to Canada by boat via Pier 21. (I’ll be writing more about this phenomenal experience in a future blog post, so stay tuned.)

(Speaks for itself)

She doesn’t know it, but a primary reason Halifax was one of our destination points was folk artist Shelagh Duffett, whose brightly colored, playful prints (mostly of cats) adorn our walls. The weekend we were there, she was selling at the Maritime Makers’ Market. We were excited to meet her in person and to purchase even more of her smile-producing fanciful artwork.

Typical of Nova Scotians, Shelagh was genial and generous, giving us tips on vegetarian restaurants and an important site to visit, one we weren’t familiar with. We went straightaway to the historic Hydrostone District, a lovely neighborhood with a tragic history. (I’ll be writing more about that in a later blog, too.)

The tree-lined boulevards in Halifax’s historic Hydrostone District feature wide, grassy strips for community use.

But the best part of our stay in Halifax was strolling, whether through parks, neighborhoods filled with lovely Victorian homes, shopping districts, or the boardwalk at the harbor, a place we found ourselves every day of our visit, sometimes more than once. Day or night, it was safe, relaxing, and yet spirited, filled with people, public art, and a few surprises—like the hammocks just waiting to be used by anyone. What a delightful way to pass the time: swinging in a hammock while reading, watching seagulls, or gazing at sailboats on sparkling water.

Yes, Halifax was a good place to start our journey. Stay tuned for more about our Nova Scotia travels.

Return to Nova Scotia

Forty-nine years later, the Gnome and I have fuzzy but memorable impressions of our first visit to Canada. They go something like this—Ottawa: old-fashioned officialdom; Toronto: sleekly professional with more traffic lanes than we’d ever seen; Montreal: sophisticated, Euro-cosmopolitan; Quebec City: old-world charm; rural Quebec: rolling green farmland; New Brunswick: waves of amber; Prince Edward Island (PEI): verdant romanticism.

And then there was Nova Scotia, a place I’d seen in my dreams, a place where the mountains meet the sea, a place of blues and greens, a place that inspires the imagination, a place of calm and peacefulness.  I’d always imagined living someplace where I could open my front door to the ocean and my back one to the mountains. I assumed it was a mythical place, attainable only through my fanciful visions.

Yet, here it was, right before my awestruck eyes. But our trip was at its end. We only had a fraction of two days to soak in this magic. Still, Nova Scotia managed to grab a little piece of our hearts.

So, how come it took almost fifty years for us to return to this bewitching land? We’d managed to revisit some of the other provinces and explore them further, making a five-hour, 186-mile train trip to (what we thought was far north) Moosonee, Ontario, on the Polar Bear Express. (Rail is the only way to reach Moosonee by land.) And we camped on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, home of Forillon National Park and the Chic-Choc Mountains, a continuation of the Appalachian chain.

Maybe we stayed away so long out of an unconscious fear that reality couldn’t possibly measure up to our happy memories. Or maybe we instinctively knew the longer we yearned, the more phenomenal it would all be when our dreams finally turned to reality.

And so it was that in mid-September we made our way back for a long-planned and even longer-imagined visit to the place that had held on to our hearts for so long. A twenty-six-day road trip, eighteen of those in Canada’s second smallest and second most densely populated province (coming in after PEI in both cases).

Eighteen days, especially compared to the barely two of our previous visit, should be enough time to get to know a place so small that it’s a mere 360 miles from tip to tip, so small that nowhere in the province is more than 42 miles from the ocean, right? Hardly. That was clear after only a couple of days.

We weren’t so much interested in visiting museums and traditional tourist sites, though we did take in a few. Instead, this time around we wanted to get to know the real Nova Scotia—her people, places, and culture. We didn’t want to just see the place; we wanted to feel it. We thought we could accomplish that by visiting community after community. But each locale has its own unique story and demands more than a quick pass through. Before we knew it, we were busy planning our next trip, one that keeps us in fewer places, but for a longer period of time in each.

Was it all we’d imagined? Oh, yes! In the next few weeks, I’ll be writing about some of the special places we saw, people we met, and things we learned. In the meantime, to tantalize you, here are just a few of the 3500+ pictures we took along our journey.

Long-awaited welcome

So many colorful houses everywhere–you’re as likely to see red, purple, or orange as you are white.

Early morning in Peggy’s Cove

Beautiful Cape Breton

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We even got to see the beginning of Cape Breton’s fall colors.

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Looking out from a sea cave at Ovens Natural Park

 

DSCF4047

So many striking homes. So much detail.

Annapolis Valley

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Example of an 18th century  Acadian home

Oh, Canada!

The Landscape of Grand Pre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

 

And here are a couple of Nova Scotia factoids: The distance from Nova Scotia’s southernmost tip to its northernmost is 360 miles, almost two hundred miles less than the distance across my home state of North Carolina. In land area, it is closest to, though smaller than, West Virginia, which is ranked 41st among our 50 states.

To join me on my journeys stay tuned for more stories and pictures.

Despised Scent

Have you ever tried to describe a smell? Either a favorite one or one you detest? It’s hard. How do you describe a scent without mentioning the scent itself. That’s what you’d have to do to describe it to someone unfamiliar with it.

Because it’s such a hard thing to write about, writing instructors often require their students to do just that. Our Wednesday writing workshop leader has done it a couple of times. Most recently, I observed that the majority of us chose to write about a distasteful smell rather than one a favorite one, I guess because the power of a detestable smell evokes more powerful thoughts.

It’s what prompted me to write about a loathed aroma. At first, I tried to write about something sweet and beloved, but as I attempted to think of descriptors, I came up blank. Calling up bad smells, however, was visceral. I chose to write about—you guessed it—skunks.

* * * * *

I rather like the musky evidence of skunk—from a distance. It leaves a hint of citrusy lemon aroma in the air. A little fresher skunk scent is more that of burnt coffee—the same smell that makes me wrinkle my nose when I get to close to a coffee shop in the late afternoon. Even that doesn’t bother me too much.

But fresh skunk spray up close and personal—say on my deck—is another matter. My eyes are attacked by a burning sensation that makes them water uncontrollably. My nostrils close up from the stench. I can neither see nor breathe. I choke.

It is the smell of diesel fuel, cigarette smoke, burning meat, and cat urine all rolled into one, as if all those smells are simultaneously stuffed up my nose and down my throat.

Bottle it and that scent would make as powerful and effective a weapon of war as it is a protection from skunk dangers in the wild.

 

“Everything I Need”

Have I mentioned I have the most amazing mom? Really, I do. This woman, 95 today, has never ceased being my mentor and teacher. And I’ll bet she doesn’t even realize it. She’s no longer trying to mold me; that work is done. Yet, her daily, living example does influence me.

I recently came across a March 19, 2018, New York Times article by Jane E. Brody: “Finding Meaning and Happiness in Old Age.” She references several experts in the field of geriatrics with observations such as these:

  • Even when physical decline and losses restrict one’s options, there remains the capacity to appreciate and approach each day with a sense of purpose. It’s all about how you frame what you have.

  • Positive aging is “a state of mind that is positive, optimistic, courageous, and able to adapt and cope in flexible ways with life’s changes.”

  • older people, knowing they face a limited time in front of them, focus their energies on things that give them pleasure in the moment,” not on a future that may never be.

That sounds a lot like Mom, now classified as among ‘the oldest of the old.’

Five years ago, my mother lived in a six-room house filled with antiques and family heirlooms. She and my dad had already downsized once or twice. Today, widowed after sixty years of marriage, she lives in one room in an assisted living facility. She no longer drives. She shares her small room with all her possessions—a chest, a rocking chair, a couple of bedside tables and lamps, a small bookcase overflowing with books and word puzzles, a television set, and a few pictures and pieces of needlework adorning the walls. Aside from her clothing and a bed furnished by the facility, that’s about it. Talk about downsizing!

Having suffered a broken hip, a fractured pelvis, severe osteoarthritis, and several fractured vertebrae that shortened her height by at least five inches, she moves slowly, painfully, and infrequently—with an aluminum walker as her constant companion.

Some people would look at her circumstances and be overcome with sadness. Not Mom. Sometimes when we’re on the phone, she’ll randomly say something like, “Not many ninety-four-year-olds are as lucky as I am,” citing her long and happy marriage, her children, the mountain view from her room, the resident cats that come for daily visits.

On my most recent visit, I asked if there was anything I could pick up for her. She took a cursory glance around, looked me straight in the eyes with a tranquil smile, and said, “You know, I have everything I need.”

I’d say she’s mastered the art of finding meaning and happiness in old age. Now, if only I can be as good a pupil as she is a teacher.    

Mom through the years

 

One Life

What if someone were to curate a museum exhibit of your life? What objects would you want included? What would they say about who you are and what matters to you? How would the accompanying plaque interpret the exhibit?

Here are some vignettes I picture as part of my “One Life” exhibit:

A seed picture, a macramé wall hanging, and a handwoven basket depicting a childhood of craft-learning at my grandmother’s feet which morphed into my would-be-hippie-street-fair-vendor period and morphed again into a more nuanced appreciation of handiwork and an unending need to work with my hands;

A shelf filled with books by the likes of Annie Dillard, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, Robert Fulghum and more, some of which prompted me to read more while others influenced who I became and still others led me to become a writer myself;

A table holding a pencil, eraser, and notebook symbolizing my love of writing, an urge  that visited me randomly and infrequently until recently, when it became a near obsession;

A collection of LPs and CDs: classical—Mozart, Chopin, Mussorgsky, Beethoven (there was a time when I fantasized about becoming a concert pianist. That time was sandwiched between my Debbie Reynolds period and delusions of being a race car driver); folk—philosophical storysingers the likes of the Kingston Trio, Christine Lavin, John McCutcheon, and Carrie Newcomer who prick our consciences and prod us to action with thought-provoking messages, sometimes with some quirky humor thrown in; the Gaelic melodies of Enya and kin which, through their sheer ethereal beauty, transport my mind to the shores of my heritage;

A hammer, a saw, and a scattering of nails on a 2 x 4 piece of lumber portraying our once-in-a-lifetime homebuilding adventure;

A grouping of family heirlooms—perhaps a chair, a plate, a crocheted doily: items that tell the story of my attachment to family and family history;

A tent, a canoe, and a campfire all in the midst of a small square of outdoor space, testaments to my love of camping, water, and nature;

A collection of photo albums—more proof of my strong sense of family as well as my love of photography, nature, and wildlife;

A corner filled with bumper stickers, protest posters, sit-in images, and a couple of rabble-rousing speeches representing my passion for human rights, all sorts, and my years as an activist and leader in social change movements;

A few fruit- and vegetable-filled canning jars next to some colorful seed packets resting atop a small mound of well-composted garden soil—evidence of my gardening and food preservation heritage and interest.

All of this would, of course, be displayed against a backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains while the sounds of bird songs and a waterfall are piped into the exhibit space.

Looked at as a whole, such an exhibit speaks to me of eclecticism (or perhaps the inability to settle on any one thing). I like to think it also speaks of an enthusiasm for life, a certain joie de vivre. But I see what isn’t there, too—in some cases, things I wish I’d had a chance to experience or was passionate about, but in truth am not; in others, things that once mattered and have been cast aside. I see the absence of objects that are critically important to other people but don’t matter a whit to me.

(Conspicuously absent is anything about my family—other than the references to the photo album and family heirloom exhibits. Make no mistake: they are, every single one of them, central to my life. But with this kind of exercise, it’s all too tempting to focus on other people and to turn the whole thing into a cliché, so I resist the urge.)

Chances are, there are also things that have simply skipped my mind in the moment. If I were to write this piece next week or next year, an entirely different collection of objects might appear.

I wonder what my exhibit would say to the casual observer? What about yours?