This past weekend, I was invited for an away trip to a place, two hours up Nova Scotia’s eastern shore, called Sherbrooke. It’s a small village, the kind where a stranger out for a morning run causes a stir and a lonely, outdoor phone booth seems stranded and without purpose.
The village sits on a river, about eleven kilometers in from where it delivers itself to the sea. It’s tidal, meaning when the Atlantic waters swell toward shore, the ocean pushes itself up into the river, mixing salt water with fresh water and reversing the current, albeit temporarily, before retreat.
A post office, bank, and general store provide the basics should the village be snowed in or a trip to the city put off an extra day or two. And at its most easterly end, an outdoor, historical scenic village, dormant for the winter, is a lovely backdrop for an afternoon stroll.
A finite list of first and last names dominates the town, recycled and reused generation upon generation. Such tethers tie the residents in webs of connectedness, and between the threads of who is related to whom and how, are tales of intrigue, love, tragedy, heartache, joy and all the overarching minutia entailed when living life from start to finish.
Barely a night into the visit, I downshifted, leaving thoughts of all the writing I’d intended to do in my knapsack, along with my computer. Though my phone sat tucked in my back pocket, I didn’t pull it out. I sensed my thoughts changing texture and colour, like a chameleon morphing its hues to adapt and blend into its surroundings.
Feeling unabashedly welcomed, I willfully sunk into rural Nova Scotia.
The day before my trip to Sherbrooke, I spent the morning with yet another new acquaintance, Linda. We were both readers in an Atlantic writing competition, and we’d agreed to meet at The Nook to discuss our thoughts on the entries.
Though I’d no idea what she looked like, it was easy to pick her out when she arrived—lone woman with searching eyes, scanning the room in search of other lone woman. Me.
“Hello,” I called out to her, and she came over to the booth I’d claimed, bookending my hello with her own, delivered with a big smile.
I’ve come to expect an absence of awkwardness in new meetings, homage, perhaps, to the unofficial East Coast propensity to make others feel comfortable, no matter what. And we were soon tucked into the booth, mugs of steaming hot coffee in front of us, exchanging a barrage of getting acquainted questions before we delved into competition entries.
Chatter was easy.
Linda hails from Antigonish, which is not all that far from Sherbrooke. She’d moved there from New Brunswick, and before that, she’d grown up in Hanover, Ontario, not all that far from Waterloo. Small world, yes. But even more coincidental, was that I was not only making acquaintance with another woman from away, I was making acquaintence with a woman who’d also fallen hard for Nova Scotia.
What an unexpected treat—sharing notes with the like-minded. For the next half an hour and giddy as schoolgirls, each of us spilled every last detail of the moment we became smitten with the East Coast.
I gushed to Linda.
“And then… when I came to visit my son for Thanksgiving, I fell in love!! All I could think of when I got back to Waterloo was how I could get back to Halifax.”
She had her own confessional; her fall was much earlier, in her late teens, during travels with Katimavuk. In PEI one summer, Linda met and then later married an East Coast fellow, from Rogersville, New Brunswick. She left Ontario for good and raised three children as Easteners. Later, when life opened up post-children, as it tends to do in the 50s, Linda found her way back to Nova Scotia, her first love. She’s been back going on three years now.
Living here, we both agreed, you see just how deep roots can go, stretching back hundreds of years to Scottish, Irish, Jamaican Maroon or French beginnings. Many Easterners marry within their culture of origin, retaining an authenticity and, and I suppose, a sort of purity of bloodline.
I’ve had more than enough talking to’s about Mac versus Mc, how to tell a Scotsman from an Irishman, and who stole the kilt from whom (Irish from the Scots) from those with ancestors who arrived hundreds of years ago. So really, it’s not so strange that people who move here are considered from away for generations. It’s sort of a Mayflower approach to belongingness, I suppose.
Our conversation shifted from mere love of place to pragmatic possibilities that might provide us each with our own connection. Perchance, could anyone in either of our bloodlines be traced to this place?
Being from away, I rest on the surface, and only through others am I privy to history that plunges deep into the core of this place. With little in my life to compare to it to, I am awed. My Waterloo roots are not much more than a lonely stone skip, before the pebble sinks down to the far away Caribbean waters from whence I came. Having never actually lived there, I am in constant catch up mode from afar. But Jamaica, at least, was a good starting place considering Halifax’s history with Maroons. Perhaps someone in my line had fled to Nova Scotia hundreds of years ago, leaving a trail I might trace.
So, I rhymed off the names of my Jamaican and even some Aruban ancestors to Linda: Clerk, Braham, Butler, Chapman, Henrique, Perrinotz, Bridge, Campbell, Ottaway, Lemonius… Surely, one of these might provide a link if I just looked hard enough.
The clock tripped onward on the day, and eventually, we had to move from our East Coast lovefest and get to work.
But Sunday, on the way to Sherbrooke, our conversation kept knocking about in my head.
Seven months in, and I still can’t fully explain how this place got under my skin or why it took hold of me with such vigor.
Maybe it’s the rugged beauty of the ocean or the realness required to contend with weather systems that call for rain boots and raincoats one minute, mittens the next. Maybe it’s the people or the stories or how it all connects together.
I think I need more time to figure it out. A one-year sojourn is not near long enough to find any answers. So I’m staying another year. And after that, I’ll take it one year at a time.
One of my favourite movies of all time is Local Hero. In the movie, an American businessman, Mac, goes to a small village in Scotland to buy up land for an offshore refinery. While there, he falls in love with the town and the eccentricities that are part and parcel to life lived at a slower pace, off the beaten track.
In the final scene, Mac returns to resume his life in Texas. Missing the village, he looks at a handful of stones and shells he’d brought home with him. The scene cuts back to the Scottish village, to a long shot of a lonely phone box, ringing out into the night.
I bawl my eyes out at the end. Every time.
I am from away and always will be. Perhaps, if someday I leave this place, I might call that very lonely phone booth in Sherbrooke, and let the ring in my ear bring me back to how it feels to be right here, right now.
Things just seem to find purpose in this place, Nova Scotia, whether a phone booth in the middle of a tiny village or a woman from away, trying to figure out home.
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Music: Mark Knopfler, Going Home
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