In my relatively short time on this planet, I have come across few places where structured time seems to disappear. Of course, the atomic clock ticks on, responding faithfully to the oscillations of cesium 133 and, scientifically speaking, the process of time is wholly separate from a sense of place or location. Despite this overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I have found places where time seems to slow to a crawl. To name a few: Bayfield, WI, Conway, NH, Wind River Range, WY, Durgan, UK… Now, I can add Front Cove, Nova Scotia (and its environs) to the list.
For those of you with a solid grasp of geography, you may recognize a common thread among these places: relative isolation. They are all off the beaten track. The influences and stressors of modern life have not fully taken hold of these places. They still offer an opportunity for tranquility. They serve as reminders of days when people spoke to one another face-to-face, enjoyed simplicity, took solace in the happiness of those around them, and committed themselves to fully experiencing each moment. Yes, that is an entirely revisionist view of “the good old days”, but I can’t help it. Take some time to leave behind your tech-riddled routines and set off for somewhere that barely makes it on the map. You’ll soon understand what I am talking about.
For me, spending two days outside of Lunenberg, Nova Scotia was a true gift. Considering that I have spent most of my time so far hopping from destination to destination, down time is a rarity. A few years ago, my aunts had decided to buy property on a small inlet called Front Cove. Ever since, I had always dreamed of visiting them. What appeal did Nova Scotia hold for me? To be honest, I wasn’t really sure. The mystery excited me. There were no mountains that I had heard of, only a wonderfully intricate coastline beset by some of the most massive tides in the world. Paired with the promise of family, I had no doubt that Nova Scotia would not disappoint.
But first, I had to get there, which took longer than I thought it would… After spending a wonderful evening with Lucas in the Carrabassett Valley, I headed south the Portland Jetport. After a quick detour for some cliff jumping, I grabbed some food and picked my mom up. We’d seen each other a week earlier, even spent two whole weeks working together. But, as you all know, a lot had happened in the interceding ten days. I had made it from Wisconsin to Maine, quite an achievement (if I do say so myself).
From the airport, we marched north towards Calais, ME crossing into New Brunswick and making our way towards Saint John. There, we tucked in for a few hours in the local Walmart. Before the sun rose, we headed off to the Rose of Fundy, which would carry us smoothly across the Bay of Fundy, leading me to realize that thirty foot tides still take six hours to materialize and are not necessarily a hazard on a two hour crossing. We had left New Brunswick behind and had entered Nova Scotia.
Along with a host of motorcyclists headed for a rally, we unloaded from our ferry and sped off towards Lunenberg, clear across the peninsula. Following our maps and stellar directions, we bounced our way into Front Cove a few hours later. After a round of hugs (and belly rubs for Mayday), we got the grand tour. Not surprisingly, I felt right at home in the cottage. It was filled with objects, memories, and images that I had long associated with my aunts. It felt like their place in Madison and the house they had lived in before that. They had simply substituted their landlocked Midwestern abode for ocean front property with endless possibilities. It was perfect.
Before we turned in for the night, we explored the neighboring coves and inlets in their boat Polaris, reveled in the Atlantic’s surprisingly moderate temperature, swapped stories from the previous two years, cooked up a feast of sautéed zucchini, avocado salad, and many other delicacies. It was a full day, but it felt truly effortless and utterly relaxing.
Day two was slightly bolder in the scope of its exploration. We wandered the colorful streets of Lunenberg in the morning, admiring its beautiful harbor filled with classic wood-hulled boats, before sampling its culinary arts for lunch. Our search for a replacement spiralizer for me came up dry, but not before we had seen a wonderful variety of classic maritime stores. We even toured the Ironworks Distillery, which produces the best rum in the world. It was a far cry from the Malibus and Sailor Jerrys of my younger days… Only later did we learn that Lunenberg’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is due to its classic British urban planning.
A lazy jaunt through Mahone Bay filled the early afternoon with groceries, a fascinating pewter workshop, and more stunning views of harbor life in Nova Scotia. The combination of maritime utilitarianism and simple elegance was invitingly wonderful. Tiny houseboats and old-fashioned tugs punctuated the harbors plentiful crowd of diverse sailboats. Even though Mahone Bay felt slightly more crowded and developed than Lunenberg, it clearly still maintained its coastal charm.
The main event for that day, however, was dinner. In my planning for this trip, I had checked in with dozens of old friends that time had scattered around the world. Luckily, many still lived in the United States. A few were in Africa, some in Europe, and a couple in China. Those friends would have to wait. One international friend, however, would be relatively close to my route. Tracking Hansen Johnson post-college has been quite a roller coaster, so you can imagine my surprise when I realized that our paths would be unavoidably close during my travels through Nova Scotia. In the end, he came down for dinner in Front Cove. We spent the evening troubleshooting the decisions we had made to live in transient residences (he lives on a boat, I live in a car), discussing medical mishaps, and sharing plans for the future. I wasn’t sure when I would see Hansen again when I left Bates, but I never would’ve guessed that Nova Scotia would have been the backdrop. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time.
In the morning, we said our goodbyes and loaded back into Sam. We tracked the coast north to Halifax, taking three times longer than we had expected. The reason for our winding route had been the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse. A journey that should’ve taken a little over an hour ended up taking three hours. If nothing else, that drive serves as an example of the complexity of the Nova Scotian coast. Straight lines don’t really exist. The coastal road winds along at varying speeds, but is full of open vistas and ocean views. In the end, I think it was worth the extra time.
After Peggy’s Cove, we set our sights on Halifax. Unsure of what exactly we should do there, we wandered around until we saw a Patagonia store. With the exchange rate in our favor, we eyed sale items greedily and I scored a Black Hole duffel at deep discount. In the end though, our trip to Patagonia served a dual purpose. I walked out with a duffel, but also with dinner recommendations. En Vie, just north of the university, was a truly amazing restaurant with a limited, but delicious menu. It was there that I enjoyed the most amazing vegan Mac & Cheese and a totally amazing vegan poutine (Canada’s favorite gut bomb). Right next door, we picked up supplies for the next day’s hike at a decidedly local grocery store. The corner that housed these two wonderfully progressive eateries was called “Creative Corner”. It was definitely a good spot for us.
After fueling up in Halifax, we hit the road once more, far behind schedule. I set up Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane for the drive and we immersed ourselves in a fantastical world of simple creativity and mystical adventure. Neither of us had any idea what to expect, but we were quickly sucked into his world that pitted good against evil, adulthood against childhood. Gaiman’s seamless narration and engaging reading style kept us awake until we finally passed out in a rest stop outside of Millinocket. We couldn’t see it in the night sky, but Katahdin loomed ominously in the distance.