© 2020 Donna Hébert, all rights reserved.
The music for the slideshow is Québecois artist Michel Faubert’s composition “La valse des jouets.” I played it with pianist Keith Murphy on this track from my 1999 CD “Big Boned Beauty.” The island in the background is Margaree Island, inhabited until 1971, when the last resident lighthouse keeper, John MacLeod, left. In 1982, Canada established Margaree Island as Sea Wolf Island National Wildlife Area.
I’m born and raised in New England. Mountains, lakes, streams, and mixed forests have long been part of my landscapes, while beaches were less appealing. As an adult, I didn’t want to plant myself on a crowded strip of sand and listen to someone else’s boombox while getting a toxic sunburn.
Now, in my seventh decade, I live for half the year on a far-away island in the North Atlantic, perched at the top of Nova Scotia, itself largely an island. As someone who grew up here once told me, “Y’know, Canada’s so damn long and narrow and we’re at the arse end of ‘er.” He forgot to mention the wind, which can knock you down. Cape Breton sits where several weather patterns meet and do battle and the sky can change in a moment, as in “Hurry up and get the clothes in; it’s raining while the sun is shining!”
New England gets more full sun than we do here but unless you live near the ocean, you won’t get the kind of light that we see in Cape Breton. Silvery, shimmering with the movement of waves and wind, the light is hypnotic and a bit fey, as though a selkie might leave her skin on that empty shore or dolphins and mermaids emerge from the waves at any moment.
We walked the Inverness boardwalk yesterday in that shimmery afternoon light. In winter, I’ve seen kite-surfers playing games with the wind there but today it was largely empty. Kudos to the town association, which made both the boardwalk and beach accessible to wheelchairs. The boardwalk has railings on both sides, with sheltered places to stop and sit.
Walking over what were once coal mines, it’s difficult to imagine that gritty history amid the golf-course dunes and beach vegetation. The mines closed in the 1950s and decades later, Inverness went from a declining mining town to a world golfing destination. Facing the beach, there will soon be fancy vacation homes built over former mine tunnels. With my working class roots, it pleases me that the wealthy golfers from away who buy them will still have a public beach and boardwalk fronting their very expensive ocean view.
As for the rest of us, we are looking out to sea anyway, daydreaming about Margaree Island.