nova scotia, part three: how to visit three gardens

 
Find yourself driving from the Halifax airport to the Annapolis Valley when you see a sign for Coffee. Decide to stop, stretch your legs. It doesn’t matter that you don’t drink coffee, maybe they have something else, which they do… because you are at The Tangled Garden, which has not only beautifully out of season, unruly paths (devoid of other humans) that lead to a labyrinth, but also jams and spicy jellies and chairs made specifically for fairies.

Spend a good half hour walking the labyrinth.

And be so happy it’s October when there’s less to see so you can see it all.    **

A few days later in Annapolis Royal find yourself at the Historic Gardens where once again you are the only souls wandering this 17 acre space that abuts a wetland complete with dykes.

Enjoy an impromptu starling ballet.

**

A few days later still, in Halifax, spend the better part of a grey morning at the Public Gardens and marvel at this splendid bit of greenery in the heart of downtown.

Notice the extraordinary number of garbage cans in almost every conceivable space. (Regret not counting them.) And the corresponding lack of litter. Realize that you have never seen such generosity displayed (of the waste receptacle variety). There is even an off-stage area for garbage-cans-in-waiting, presumably in case any of the regulars get injured in some way.

Stop for tea at an oasis staffed by delightful young people. Be reminded of what a joy it is to come across people of any age who enjoy their work.

Take your rooibos chai outside to the deck where no one else dares to venture in October and watch those who wander the garden paths and wonder how it is that so many people are able to drink tea/coffee while walking. You have never mastered this skill nor do you want to as it seems to deny maximum pleasure of both activities.

Notice a man in a trench coat, a fedora and a bow tie.

Notice him stopping and looking at you from the path just beyond the deck.

When he says “Are you with the cruise?”, answer that no you are most definitely not nor would you ever be. Offer that there are a number of people inside the tea house and perhaps they are with the cruise if he’s looking for people from the cruise. He says he is not, he was just curious.

Realize that you are now engaged in conversation and that it’s only a matter of time before he walks up onto the deck and sits down at your little table and proceeds to talk for at least forty minutes, most likely longer, during which time you learn a multitude of things about him, not the least of which is that he is 83 years old and was once Harbour Master at the Port of Halifax and that under his trench coat he is wearing a leather blazer that he bought at a thrift shop for $2.00. He tells you that he often comes to the gardens to dance with his wife on a summer night when a band is playing and that they’re even on YouTube he says. (You will google this later and find that it’s true and then you will never be able to find the video again., which will be annoying as you write this post. Nuts, you will say.)

The best you have to offer is a furtive snap of him walking away after exiting the gardens together and agreeing it was lovely to meet.

**

Nova Scotia, Part Two: Two Hammocks

 

 

 

nova scotia, part two: two hammocks

 

Hammock #1

Found on the Bay of Fundy shore beside an off-the-grid cottage in a tiny Annapolis Valley fishing village where we spend a week in the woods without running water, indoor plumbing, a flush toilet, electricity and other what-you-think-of-as-essentials-but-really-aren’t.

Though I can tell you I missed a flush toilet.

But let’s not dwell on that.

Let’s cut straight to the hammock, where I spend several happy minutes despite a chilly drizzle. (It’s amazing how not having a flush toilet will automatically lower the luxury bar. Cold, damp hammock lolling felt downright hedonistic.)

Note: this hammock break is taken while fetching logs for the wood stove, which has to be kept running around the clock as it’s the only source of heat. It’s also where we warm water (from huge jugs that are brought in) to wash our faces and/or have a sponge bath. No shower facilities inside. Although there IS a shower outside. And by outside I mean a sort of lean-to at the edge of the forest, with a hook from which you hang a ‘bladder’ (a large bag of water that has either been left in the sun to warm, or filled with water warmed in a pot on the wood stove). It’s about 7 degrees most days. I have one shower while there. And, surprisingly, it turns out to be quite brilliant, staring out at the tides as I soap up and rinse off, albeit, quickly.

**

Hammock #2

Halifax Boardwalk.

Glorious.

A few days later the wind picks up.

Do we care? No we do not. This town has heat AND indoor plumbing.

 

 

Nova Scotia, Part One: One Perfect Pot of Tea

 

nova scotia, part one: one perfect pot of tea

 
My favourite kind of travel is the kind that meanders me down side streets where there are no attractions, where the door of a tea shop invites me to sit at a sunny window and read the local paper while enjoying the perfect blend of leaves and ambience and ambient conversation.

Where there’s a table of older people and two tables of younger people and every single one of them strikes me as someone worth talking to. A woman comes in and gets a cup of tea to go, a few minutes later, a man arrives to pick up a large paper sack containing an order of various teas, his personal stock is running low he says. He chats with the owner, who explains that he’s leaving for India soon (I don’t catch the name of the place) to visit his tea farmers and attend the wedding of a farmer’s son.

Later, when I’ve finished reading and eavesdropping and sipping, I get up to pay and I ask the owner, Philip, about his upcoming Indian tea farm travels and… well… the conversation goes on for some exceedingly happy time about ethical practices and the choice to support small growers rather than large companies, the difference in quality, the science and pleasure of blending leaves, the art of using natural flavours rather than synthetics.

Philip tells me that last time he was in India he helped with the planting of tea bushes, that the farmer whose son is getting married is his mentor, that he’s learning everything he can and that he hopes one day he’ll be able to plant tea in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

He doesn’t have to tell me this is a lifestyle, that he doesn’t sell tea to get rich. In fact he nearly went bankrupt when the city closed his street for construction one summer.

By the time I leave I’ve had a fabulous mini tea course. (I thought I knew tea. Turns out I know next to nuthin’.)

As with everything, what I learn most is how much there is to learn.

At home a week later I brew a pot of the same blend and the smell of it, the taste, is as gorgeous as I remember and… presto!… just like that I’m right back in that sunny window on a side street in Halifax.

Which is my second favourite kind of travel.

 

 

 

human beans, as souvenirs

 
When I come back from the east coast it’s usually sand and shells that come with me, the memory of cormorants flying a thin line above the ocean at sunset, the embrace of solitude in all that surf and space and horizon, the pleasure of spending time on red dirt roads that lead sometimes to a new beach where (I once overheard someone say) there is nothing to see.

But this time it’s more than the tangible, the feathers and stones, that have stayed with me… it’s the two women at the shared lunch table at Point Prim who have not only heard of the obscure Ontario town where I live but who lived there too, twenty something years before moving to PEI.

The guy who works at the lighthouse (also from Ontario) who says the ferry crossing over to Nova Scotia should be okay but calls ahead to check and then gives me his card and says if it isn’t I can phone and yell at him.

It’s the young man and his guitar who sings about the girl he left behind in Moncton, and a chef on the same boat, making free blueberry crepes.

And the owners of our B&B who tell us they’ve had 1200 people stay in their not so very large home in the past year and then invite us for a glass of wine.

And the photographer at breakfast, on his way to the Cabot Trail, and next to him a slightly addled couple with almost no sense of direction who you wonder how they drove here from Alberta and you just pray they’ll find the lobster supper they’re heading for in New Glasgow, and next to them the American who says her favourite part of Canada is the gasp, which, after a few questions, we understand to be The Gaspé.

The woman who runs the local co-op art gallery.

And the woman who runs a magical world of love, laughter and literature for people of all sizes.

The person who takes time to show us a ‘hotel’ room in an old railway car at Tatamagoush and the guy behind me in line at the Charlottetown Dollar Store who’s talking to someone in front of me about the number of frogs dying in ponds and rivers because of pesticide run-off from farmers’ fields.

It’s the group of elderly tourists, German maybe?, who arrive at Brackley beach as I’m sitting on the wooden steps, hello, hello, hello, they all say in passing and then take pictures of each other… and how there’s always one in every group that tears away from the herd, seeking a moment of solitude. The way that one plays at the edge of the water and jumps backward with all the joy of a child when the waves roll in as he knew they would.

And the woman who works at the tourist place in St. Peters who tells me that most restaurants are closed at this time of year and when I ask So where do the locals eat?  she replies, Well, at home of course…

It’s the server who says that winter on PEI is so quiet the speed limit on certain streets changes from 50 to 70. It’s everyone on the beach, including the guy who asked if I was Nicole Picot, the Minister of something for New Brunswick. (I am not.)

The discovery of George S. Zimbel while waiting out a rainstorm after seeing the wonderfulness of an exhibition that included Montgomery’s manuscript for Anne of Green Gables.

Familiar faces wandering around Summerside farmers’ market and a woman who sells me bags of freshly picked dulse.

The seaweed fanciers at a seaweed workshop where seaweed is fondled and used to paint seaweedy scenes.

The couple who, on a dockside patio, check their phone for info on Acadian history and then one of them reads out loud… loud enough for us all to hear. Go ahead, ask me anything.

The woman who is almost my friend and the warmth of her welcome.

The young people who on this beach of red sand discuss having once been on a beach where the sand was black but can’t remember where that was…

The people from the south shore who come to the north shore and stand in line for fish. But only on weekends.

And lovely Arthur from Florida, originally from Boston, embarrassed about Trump… and the equally charming people he’s travelling with and how they meet up each night to play cribbage.

Barb and Barry from Milton who in not more than ten minutes not only introduce themselves but list everywhere they’ve been on this driving holiday (because they’re retired; he from the fire department, she from banking), everywhere they’ve played golf, hiked (they “did” four hikes in Fundy in one morning “plus saw the tide thing”), where they’ve spent every night (because every day and every night are laid out in advance), as well as how one daughter who has a new boyfriend is studying in Guelph to be a vet while the other is working as a teacher in the U.K. but her landlord is giving her a bit of a runaround at the moment because his email has been hacked. The daughter happens to text while Barb is sharing all this so Barb texts her back then reads me the text her daughter sends in return. The landlord problem seem to be resolving, albeit slowly.

(The next day Barb and Barry announce “they have done the entire shoreline” of PEI. They also “did” Greenwich but can’t remember much and sadly have terrible things to say about the lovely woman at the St. Peters tourist place. Felt she was holding out on them about there being few places open to eat.)

The wedding party who take photos on the dunes beside the signs saying don’t climb the dunes and the guy who parks his car almost on the dunes at the sweetest beach but only steps out for a second, long enough to take a shot of the lighthouse then drives off.

A woman who made a museum of the place LM Montgomery boarded while she taught school and the view from her window.

A guy who knits socks.

A guy and his food truck.

A cat named Charlie (because cats are people too).

And his not necessarily best friend.

The painter who tells me about the land she’s just bought where she wants to build a studio. I tell her I’d love to move here.

She says do it, buy the property next to mine, I’d like to have good neighbours.