Giving thanks for the mercies of memory


We stood at the tree line, exhausted from our short, but brutal climb through the forest primeval, transfixed by the view of the lake.

I hadn’t been up here in almost 30 years, and the younger members of our party had never seen this part of the family property.

“Wooo-hooo!” hooted my grandson from behind his father’s leg, “We finally made it. I’m all wet.”

It had been an idyllic Thanksgiving weekend in Port Shoreham, on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore near Cape Breton, where several generations of Bruces, Thompsons  and Towses had gathered to feast on turkey, lamb and nutloaf.

My daughter and her husband and their two children had come down from Charlottetown to join her parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin for the all-too-fleeting duration, and it occurred to me that some of us might want to take a gander at what I’d always called “the north 40”, the plot that lay above the highway that bisects the roughly 80 acres of land that has been in my family since the late 18th century.

“Who’s up for a walk?” I crowed gamely.

In the mid 1980s, my father wrote these words to begin his book, Down Home: Notes of a Maritime Son: “I am writing this in longhand in the house where my father was born, and where, if he’d had had a choice, he’d have died. . .Port Shoreham is not a port, nor a town, nor a village. It is a shore. It is a handful of old farms scattered over the low hills as loosely as their own sheep. Some maps pretend there’s no such spot, and even its name is variable, like the wind. At time, the postal address of Port Shoreham has been Clam Harbour, Ragged Head, and Rural Route 1, Mulgrave.”

Undoubtedly, there are lovelier places in the world to behold. But memories tend to make besotted admirers of those of us who can remember what this place was like in the early 1970s.

I was there, down by the ocean, preparing to skinny dip in the frigid Atlantic as my father checked on the work crew that was building him a cottage with an ocean view.

I was there, on the shore, as a total eclipse of the sun (the one Carly Simon made famous in her ditty, “You’re so Vain”) blackened the sky at noon.

And I was there, huddling with some local 13-year-old buddies around a fire on the beach as one of them gazed toward the far shore of the bay, about five miles away, and said, “You know, my girlfriend lives over there in Queensport. . .I could probably swim and make it there by morning if I started now.”

When we were younger, my wife and I would spend long, happy nights at the cottage and, later, the main homestead, plotting and scheming about our own building plans, our own ambitions for living and working in what was one of the more remote backwaters the Maritimes had to offer.

Still, Port Shoreham had then, and does now, a sort of sturdy resilience. Over the decades, legions of young folk have left and never returned. Some have, but the trend has been to empty out the working population and leave the flat, grumbling shore to the geezers and gaffers who remain.

As a result, perhaps, the area has never quite dies. Indeed, up and down the main street of nearby Guysborough, the seat of the county, evidence of a civic renaissance is everywhere. Banners fly as locals mix with tourists at pretty cafes and shops, festooned with homemade goods and specialty fare. There, along the boulevard, the Rare Bird Pub & Eatery jostles the Skipping Stone Cafe and Store.

Not far away, the Full Steam Coffee Co. shakes hands with the Harbour Belle Bakery. Elsewhere, the Osprey Shores Golf Resort caters to those of a clubbier mindset and the DesBarres Manor Inn provides a year-round destination for romantic foodies of every inclination.

These thoughts flashed through my mind as I, holding my grandson’s hand, peered off across the lake wondering about the future of this typical Maritime, rural outpost that somehow manages to defy its stereotypes.

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