Friday, September 17, 2010


The green green Ontario countryside is unrolling outside the window as this train I'm on speeds toward Toronto in the golden late-afternoon light. The half-full moon is up and there are wispy trails of cloud gauzily draped across the blue sky, catching the late light.

I've been on the island of Grand Manan this week, a completely transporting trip to another world, it felt like. The drive across small roads in Quebec's Eastern Townships, huge swoops of hills, was great, and a reliving of drives I took as a kid with my parents, though now those roads are paved, not dirt. Northern Maine is as pine tree-lined and dark as ever, with beautiful salt-box houses and outbuildings, sparely elegant. But it was Grand Manan, with its steep sandstone cliffs on the west coast, and curving small harbours on the other side that was the new pleasure.

My friend Lianne and her husband have a small house just near Castalia Marsh, on the north end of the island, with a view due east across the water, Nova Scotia out of sight across the blue of the Bay of Fundy. The tides weren't as huge as usual this week, because the moon is not full, though they were still remarkable compared to the tides in most places. The weather was changeable, so skies were dramatic.

On the food front, we went each day to the terrifically good (we have nothing near this quality in Toronto) artisanal bakery, North Head Bakery, not far from Lianne's house. The St John's River breads, multigrain, au levain, with a wonderful crust, were stunning, and so was the Old French Raisin bread (even though I don't usually love raisins in bread). The bakery alone is worth the trek to Grand Manan, seriously. (It's open from May until Canadian Thanksgiving, in October, five days a week.)

We had other luck too: there were fresh scallops at the Kwik-Way one evening, so we bought a pound of them and cooked them lightly and quickly in a little oil with some fresh local garlic. We ate them over fresh rice, with tender salad greens and yellow cherry tomatoes from a wonderful local garden in Whale's Cove. Instead of salt, I sprinkled my rice and tomatoes with dulse flakes - a great condiment from Grand Manan. Lianne and I are hoping to do a three day immersethrough session at this time next year on Grand Manan, probably the week after Labour Day. Now I've seen for myself how much food and culture there will be to explore with people. ANd then there's the whale-watching too....

We stopped in at a dulse-selling place and learned a little about how dulsing works, and about the other seaweeds/algaes that are gathered in Grand Manan. Talk turned to the perils of fishing: a few days ago a scallop boat with four aboard went down in the Bay of Fundy. There's no explanation for it, but the boat has gone. The men at the dulse shop talked about another boat that went down suddenly recently: something important (I don't remember what, the rudder? or?) broke or popped, making a large hole, but in that case the men were luckier, there was a lifeboat and they realised in time to get it launched and save themselves. I had thought that weather was the big risk, but really, it was a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted when you depend on the sea.

My small bag of clothes from the trip is impregnated with sea-aroma, the taste of the wild deeps, for I've brought bags of dulse back with me to Toronto. That haunting iodine-iron-salt-and more scent brings with it the reminder of our fragility in the face of mother nature's power. And it also reminds me of our ongoing debt to those who fish and grow and gather food for us.

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