Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. What a fabulous place! Jim and I feel crazy lucky to have been able to have spent a week there with three other couples. We rented an AirBnB on Boularderie Island together, inspired by Celtic Colours, an island-wide celebration of music, and the sights and sounds of a truly multi-cultural place.
Sooo many highlights, but, for all my animal loving friends, here’s one of my favorites: We spent a half hour cruising beside a pod of pilot whales, a relatively small whale, related to Orcas and dolphins. They live in family groups, are toothed whales who feed on fish like herring, and are regrettably famous for tragic beaching incidents. In spite of that, their population is doing very well, and they are habituated and unbothered by small boats like ours, a Zodiak from Captain Mark’s in Pleasant Bay.
It was magical listening to them glide through the water, and exhaling from their 3-4 minutes under water. And cold. Whale watching tip: Don’t be so excited when staff comes to tell you that you can leave a half hour early that you run out of the car and forget your raincoat, warm flannel shirt, and hat. And then go out for an hour, unprotected from hard rain and wind. I was so enraptured I didn’t much care, but Jim, for some reason, seemed alarmed by my violent shivering. Hey, I was still shivering, so no hypothermia, right?
Another highlight was the Skyline Trail, north of Cheticamp and in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. My photographs don’t begin to do it justice, but it’s about a four mile round trip walk to the famous overlook of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
Regrettably, it is so popular that caretakers are constantly trying to decrease damage from hikers to the fragile highland forest and barrens, which has also been overgrazed by moose. I was momentarily frustrated when rangers told us we would have to wait to start hiking (to control the numbers of people on the trail), but then took a breath and were thankful that they are working hard to make the trail accessible without too much crowding. Besides the views, we loved hearing so many languages from fellow hikers, and going through a moose “exclosure” to give spruce and juniper seedlings a chance.
And, NEWS AT ELEVEN: Did you notice the “four-mile-trail” data point? Jim and I have planned how we would manage the trail for a long time, both knowing that there was no way I could make two miles out and two miles back. Except I did. For the last mile I might have looked like Dean Martin at 3 AM in Vegas (Sorry, old person reference. For the younger crowd: He pretended to drink a lot), and, frankly, I only made it because at that point I had no choice. Jim basically walked behind me with a hand ready to catch me if I started to fall, but I made it. Last March I walked twenty yards behind the house and lay down in ice and snow because I just couldn’t walk any farther. I don’t have the words to tell you what it felt like to make the four miles. Thankfully, it rained most of the next day so I recouped by lying in bed with a great mystery novel at the delightful Archie and Isidore Hotel in Cheticamp. Here’s me on the trail, still smiling.
Another highlight was the music. We went to two concerts, getting tickets months before, based on knowing very little, and lucked out. Our first concert began with The Indian Bay Singers, a local Mi’kmaq drumming circle group whose primal chanting and drumming of their tribe’s indigenous songs was hypnotic. We also were crazy lucky to see Le Vent du Nord at both concerts. I wish I had some visual record of them, phones of course were not allowed. All I can say is that their music, which included two amazing fiddlers, brought down the house. Our musician friend, Michael, said it was the best musical performance he’d seen in many a year. Imagine our surprise when we discovered, after returning home, that they are playing in Wisconsin and Illinois this week. Waaaa?!? If you are around, (Madison, Viroqua, Milwaukee, Chicago) go!!!
So much else was wonderful, from being with such smart, funny, and kind friends (that’s you Michael, Janet, Sally, John, Janelle, and Paul!), and including a big favorite of mine: Lobster rolls. This is me starting on my first (and best one) at Tom’s Lobster Shack in Peggy’s Cove, outside of Halifax. So big you had to start with a fork. (But tradition insists that you cram as much of the whole thing into your mouth as possible.)
And this is the worst, at Salty’s in Halifax, who should be embarrassed to serve a lobster roll on a croissant. A croissant? What are they thinking?
We took our first real hike to Uisge Ban Falls, a lovely walk along a burbling river. It included some remarkably determined trees:
On our Zodiak trip we were lucky to float alongside a basking shark, a massive animal, about 26 ft in length, while it was filter feeding. This is what we saw:
And here’s what was happening underwater (photo thanks to Wikipedia). Holy moly.
Being in the Highlands in mid October meant we were surrounded by gorgeous fall colors:
Now we’re home, and thrilled to see the dogs. We have a fabulous sitter, who the dogs adore, but Maggie still cry-whined hysterically when we got home, and I sort of did too. Huge thanks to our friends for making this adventure truly memorable. Here we are at farm-to-table restaurant Gra, having one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude, for the many things that allowed us to go on this trip. I will fess up to you for feeling guilty about the last two weeks of my life, given all the suffering in the world right now. But I am reminding myself that this emotion does nothing for others, that gratitude and compassion and doing something tangible to help to others is the only answer. I’ll work on that this week. I hope you have things to be grateful for this week, even if they don’t include lobster rolls.