A place in time

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Down from the lake, the bay becomes the horizon

We stood at the tree line, exhausted from our short, brutal climb through the forest primeval, transfixed by the view of MacPherson 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 weekend in Port Shoreham, Guysborough County, on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, where several generations of Bruces, Thompsons and Towses had gathered, 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, which bisects the roughly 90 acres of land that has been in my family since the late 18th century.

“Who’s up for a good walk?” I had 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 yonder, and said, “You know, my girlfriend lives over in Queensport.. I could swim now and make it there by morning.”

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 today, a sort of sturdy resilience. Over the decades, legions of young folk have left and never returned. The 2016 census reports that Guysborough County recorded a population of 7,625 people living in 3,549 private dwellings, down 6.4 per cent from 2011.

But the area doesn’t quit. Up and down the main street of the county seat banners fly, a coffee shop shakes hands with a bakery, and locals and tourists mix at pretty cafes. Elsewhere, a boat launch and marina cater to those whose arteries are made for saltwater, while the DesBarres Manor Inn provides a year-round destination for romantic foodies of every inclination.

Then, of course, there are my young kin – standing at the tree line exhausted and wet – transfixed by the view of the lake.

“Maybe, we should head back,” I say.

“Sure,” my grandson replies. “But not yet.”

I know exactly what he means.

(Recently published in The Guysborough Journal)

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