Tuesday, July 31, 2012


{I’ve been in Cape Breton for a week, away from internet access, staying with friends. I’ve written two blogposts while there, this is the first, posted from Halifax airport on my way home.}

I’m on a different coast this week, the west coast of Cape Breton, where the early morning sun has come up over the low hills to the east, the small birds are twittering, and the crows are giving an occasional caw-caw. The wind is coming up now, so the poplars are rustling in crescendo.

There was no hint of wind an hour ago, sometime before seven, when I walked across dew-silvery grass chilly to my bed-warm feet, down to the edge of the small tidal river below the house. The river is narrow here, about eight metres wide, with tuffted green banks. On the far side of the opposite bank is more water, sea water in the inlet. 

The river’s surface was smooth but moving, flowing gently out to the sea, drawn out by the receding tide. Looking east upstream where the river curves away in the distance, a soft mist flowed and drifted above the water’s surface, lit by the young sun, like a romantic Impressionist dreamscape.  I left my clothes and towel on the bank and stepped into the water, then pushed off, heading upstream toward the sun.  The top inches of water were soft and warm, and below that was the chilliness of the salt water. As I swam upstream with long breast strokes I disturbed the still water so that before me, like an announcement, the ripples headed upstream in parallel straight lines into the bright mist.

Do otters and muskrats feels the same pleasure as they slide through river water, leaving beautiful rippling wakes?

Swimming upstream against the outgoing flow, I made slow progress. I had time to look at the details of the long grasses on the banks, to notice the occasional darting bird, to glance up at the hills beyond. Eventually I got farther upstream, around a curve of river, and almost to the small wooden bridge that carries the coastal path across the water. It was time to turn around, for by now the water was shallow, not past my waist, the bottom firm-packed when I stood up.

The trip back was less beautiful - no sunlit mist - and much faster of course.  I zipped along  with the flow of the water, feeling like a strong powerful swimmer for once.  As I climbed out onto the grassy bank the crows in the big tree complained in loud caws, then went on to something more interesting.

This morning’s swim is just another in a series of delights since I landed in Halifax airport yesterday late morning. The three hour drive up with my friend C (she did all the driving, leaving me to gaze at the landscapes we passed through) was filled with layers of talk. When we got here to this welcoming wood house, the interior painted in wonderful colour combinations, the outside soft grey wood shingles, it felt like a coming home. In late afternoon we drove a short way to the Fish Co-op to buy fresh haddock and there in the lobster tank was a one in two million (they say) amazing sight: a cobalt-blue lobster, startling and beautiful, too beautiful for someone’s pot. 

Later, after eating grilled haddock with coriander chutney, and grilled kale, and basmati rice, we drove to a small hall nearby to hear the fiddling of Andrea Beaton, a young woman whose music flows from her in the great tradition of Cape Breton fiddlers. She’s a first cousin of Nathalie MacMaster, but that’s not the important thing about her; her fluid, supple, marvellous music is all. People danced as she played, sometime step-dancing, but to most tunes the wonderfully practised form of Cape Breton group dancing that has its own patterns and order. What a treat.

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