All Roads Lead to Cape Breton.
Monday the 31st brought some improvisations to our plans. After all, we went to Antigonish. Leaving the Arisaig Cliffs behind, we passed by remnants of small scale lobster trappings that, by now, have mostly been replaced by large ocean vessels and companies.
A small fishing and farming community on the shore:
A Celtic music Piper’s Pub in Antigonish:
And a monument to a Scot:
We walked around the campus of St. Francis Xavier University. It’s architecture, reminiscent of the Gothic style of American colleges and universities, prompted Ljuba to exclaim: “not bad at all! Makes me think of Bryn Mawr College. I wonder if their psychology department is just as good and whether they have dance and theatre”.
In the bathroom, we bumped into a psychology professor who inspired Ljuba with the research conducted at her lab and assured her that the psychology department was simply one of the best. This day proved to be serendipitous altogether.
We, then, headed towards the tourist information bureau where we acquired more maps and info. We couldn’t send the message, however, because the internet was down. The young man at the info desk said that “there is a great internet connection at the tourist bureau in Cape Breton. Surely, you planned to go there. What? Having come this far in the Maritimes, if you don’t go to Cape Breton, consider you haven’t come here at all. You should at least check out the great tourist bureau at the entry in Port Hastings. Look, it’s a mere half an hour away”.
O.k., we thought, we won’t have the time to visit Cape Breton, but we’ll check out the info to plan a real visit in the future, plus the Northumberland coast was so beautiful, I wasn’t in a hurry to leave yet.
Upon crossing into Cape Breton, a monstrous quarry greeted us. Quarries are a big part of the local economy, but these open-pit mines cause major devastation of the local environment as they destruct irreplaceable plant communities, which in turn, affect the other communities that depend on them. Also, the extraction of the stone often involves explosives and that adds to the air, water, and noise pollution in the area. Local economy, also, depends on coal mining, petroleum and the harbour in Sydney. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is located in the northern part of the island. We turned left to the Port Hastings tourist bureau.
I walk into the tourist office still in my zen state of spirit induced by the storm. I see about 7 workers conversing. “One of them has the information for me,” goes through my head. At this moment, one of the women turns around and says, “yes, what type of information would you like?”
I ask her for maps, for general things to see in the future, and if we could use the internet. As Sasha proceeded to send a message to our friends, Susan tells me that her son is planning to move back and settle down in Cape Breton, because he wants to be close to the land and help restore the forest. “Most of it has been messed up by chemical farming and other industries, but here in Cape Breton, he says, there is a lot of ecological initiatives and great people who try to preserve forests and wildlife. You look like you should really meet these people,” Susan tells me. “There are two things to see in Cape Breton. If you go to the northernmost point, you can get one of those boats to take you to see the whales. On the way there, you should stop at Mabou and visit Neal Livingston. He’s one of our environmentalists who bought some forest a couple of decades ago and has various ecological things going on there. He travels a lot, but you should still go and see if you might be in luck to see him”. She draws me a map with directions and I take route 19 north towards Mabou.
Ljuba got immersed in Elijah, a book by her beloved author, Christopher Paul Curtis, and didn’t care which way I turned. Sasha said that it was a good idea to sea the coast a bit, but barging onto someone whom we didn’t know and who wasn’t expecting strangers did not appeal to him. “The guy is probably tired of wackos like us storming into his home because the women at the tourist bureau keep sending them there” he reasoned.
I suddenly realised that we’ve forgotten the map and the paper on which Susan marked Neal’s coordinates and turned back to the tourist info office.
Susan was gone for lunch and no-one else knew who we were talking about. Finally, I saw the map with the directions next to the computer, and we got back on the road – the point appeared to be that Susan was there at that moment to give me the info to go visit Neal and no-one else had that information but her. I was laughing and in a good mood, Sasha brumbles even when in a good mood, and Ljuba – read on quietly in her good mood.
A forest elf, crunching wild apples in a field of flowers, comes out of the wood and then walks back into it.
All the road signs are written in, both, English and Gaelic.
Driving up the hill to Neal’s place, we saw him come out and wave at us inviting us to come in.
“Travellers! Welcome! Would you like some coffee? Please, do come in and tell what brings you to this part of the world”. Ljuba, at first, didn’t want to get out of the car as she was snuggling with her book, all wrapped up in the sleeping bag. But Neal convinced her and she was pleased as she found out that he was an environmentalist documentary film maker and she was working on her documentary series on Life in North America.
It was wonderful to spend time with Neal and his partner Peggy Cameron, an environmentalist. After coffee we hiked together through the forest. Magical. Trees stand tall here, unlike the bonsai versions we see elsewhere in eastern Canada – with the exception for the old woods around lake Magog in Eastern Townships of Quebec. Spruce, birches, maple, red oak, and white ash, among others, live here in an ecosystem that has blended a boreal vegetation with the more temperate and variegated Acadian forest.
Ljuba spotted a vacant hornet’s nest that Peggy later took home. Neal and Peggy told us about the wild-life that managed to survive in this part of Canada: the Canada lynx, the red fox, the snowshoe hare, the black bear, the white-tailed deer, as well as, moose, woodland jumping mouse, and masked shrew, among others. Raccoons, bobcats and coyotes hitched rides in trucks or crossed over from the mainland when the Canso Causeway was built in 1956. We also heard about the passionate environmentalists and the vibrant artists and musicians who lived in the area. Before departing, we joined Peggy and Neal at the Red Shoe Pub to take a peek at local Celtic musicians.
Another little funny thing happened before we left for Halifax. To help us with directions, Peggy asked which part of Halifax we’d be visiting. When we told her, she said, “don’t tell me you’re staying with Kathleen and Roback?”
The events of the day made me think about John Zerzan’s proposition that telepathic communication might have been the more effective mode for connection between people and other living beings before we got corrupted by language and symbolic thought.
But, in spite of our human linguistic drawbacks, I thought, we did fairly well connecting with the world in one single day, which appeared to be as timeless as the Cape Breton sky. Yes, I suddenly knew what it was like to be a speechless hattifattener from the Moomin Valley, forever wandering with the wind, energised by lightening, yearning to be out in the open sea, staring silently into the abysmal horizons, at one with gentle waves and the storm.
Leaving the immense skies over Cape Breton, we headed south, to the city lights of Halifax.
Continued in part 9