The decision to move to the back woods of northern Main seemed plausible, romantic, and original. We stocked the green and beige VW van with the Whole Earth Catalog, Five Acres and Independence, Peterson’s Birds of North America and Mushrooms of North America, some rubber boots, and a few blankets.
The van had a jerry-built bed, a small heater, and Coleman stove. We lived on tinned tacos and eggs. A treat for the non-vegetarian of the couple was the occasional bacon and eggs breakfast at a roadside diner.
I don’t remember the decision to drive north to find a home, albeit one that would be desolate, derelict, and likely inhabited by rodents. With the Strout Realty catalog as our bible, we drove north, detouring as we went to check out anything that looked like we could buy it on the cheap and fix it up. Neither of us knew the first thing of either carpentry or farming or, as it turns out, in what makes a relationship work.
Midway in our journey, we abruptly changed plans. Two artists we had met in New York City were spending the summer in a place called Cape Breton, even further north. They were painters and the clouds up there were apparently worth the trip.
So there we were on the road to Canada to a place I had never even heard of. As we drove past Ellsworth, up Route 1 along the shore, we stopped often. At each stop, Bob jumps out of the van, pulls out his binoculars and trains them on whatever is floated by on the ocean. This time it is a raft of scoters. Where we stop, the ocean opens up its expanse on the right hand side while on the left is dense forest, mostly spruce. For two people fleeing the concrete of New York, the land opened up all kinds of possibilities. I ask, scoters, right? Yeah, says Bob and that is the extent of our conversation. There are big gaps between the two of us but something has been put in place that cannot be reversed and so we drive on.
Early in the morning we arrive at the ferry terminal in Bar Harbor. The parking lot is full of cars and people clutching coffee cups, looking bleary and expectant. The harbor is beautiful at this time of the day as we watch the sun rise. The boat looms into sight and then we board.
Huddled on the upper deck, wrapped in a sleeping bag, I try not to look at the horizon which moves up and down, side to side. If ever I even try to venture below, I immediately start feeling the beginnings of sea sickness. Since I have spent my life on the water, this is an embarrassment. The weather is not even that windy, but the Bay of Fundy is still choppy. Bob has his binoculars glued to his face and is rhythmically scanning the horizon. Every so often a seabird flies by, gets identified, and disappears in the boat’s wake. I look for whales.
We crossed the Bay in six hours and arrive early evening. We landed in Yarmouth, a town with one main street. Landing is like traveling back ten years in a time machine. The town appeared empty of people save for the steady stream of cars disembarking from the ferry.
A foggy rain enveloped the town as we moved through it on our way up the Annapolis Valley. We were dressed for the weather, vintage LLBean, jeans, flannel shirt, and rain gear. Shivering, starting to get a scratchy throat, hungry, a bit on the whiny side, me and Bob began our sojourn in Nova Scotia, expecting nothing but profoundly altering the course of our lives.