Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scenes Seen and Unseen

Cabot Trail

June 29-30, 2010

The Cabot Trail on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in the country, the continent, or the world, depending on who you ask. Just don't ask us, since we spent the past two days exploring the trail in a mix of rain, mist, fog, and overcast skies, with just a few brief hopeful hours of sunshine to give us a taste of what we might be missing.

The trail begins in Baddeck, where we stayed overnight in a luxurious beach vacation resort. It had nice looking, though flooded, tennis courts, and it rained the whole time we were there, so our tennis racquets remained in the car.

The rain was often a fine mist that seemed to float in the air, reminiscent of the ubiquitous precipitation we have experienced in our rain forest adventures, but colder. Fog rolled in from Bras d'Or Lake, and as we ascended the mountainous roads of the Cabot Trail, we often found ourselves, and/or our scenic views, in the clouds.

We refused to be defeated by weather, and got out of the car to hike to two different waterfalls—Mary Ann Falls and Beulach Bann Falls. This is Mary Ann—although she is not large or dramatic, her tannin-tinged water flowing over reddish rocks has a chromatic quality that makes her memorable. Beulach Bann is a classic tall fall, with water that falls crystal clear.

The Trail gave us an appreciation for the many ethnic groups that proudly maintain their heritage on Cape Breton. We began in an area with strong Scottish heritage, and noted that road signs were in both English and Gaelic. North America's only Gaelic College lies along the trail in St. Anns. Then, further up the Atlantic coast we passed into areas settled by Acadians, and signs were in English and French. Inland, Scottish immigrants from the Isle of Skye settled in the largest virgin hardwood forest in the Maritimes early in the 1800s, and the Lone Sheiling, a replica of a Highland sheep herder's hut, lies along the route to honor their heritage. Shortly after we explored the hut and hardwoods trail, we were once again in Acadian country.

At Green Cove, the views of waves crashing against the craggy shoreline were soft focus misty, and although interpretive signs encouraged us to look for whales, our opportunities were limited by the lingering fog. As Jim said, "I told Jan this morning that our views would be Monet today, not Ansel Adams."

The lack of long views focused our attention on wonders close by. The rocks of the point we stood on were a marbled mixture of dark gneiss and pink and white granite, shot through with strikingly straight veins of white quartz and light granite. An amazing array of flowers grew in their cracks and hollows. My favorites looked like dwarf irises.

At White Point, we looked down on a dozen colorful fishing boats moored in a sheltered cove, and we found our way down to the wharf to get a closer look. We took pictures of them, and of their colorful wooden tenders tied up to the docks (some badly in need of bailing, we might add).

We saw several cars stopped beside the road, and of course we stopped to find out why. A moose was grazing on ferns in a boggy area very close to the road, and Dick and Jim were able to get great pictures, while Jan and I stayed a safer distance away and gazed at the moose through our binoculars.

Even though several activities we planned were rained out, we still couldn't finish the 186 mile drive in one day. We stayed overnight in the small Acadian village of Cheticamp, in the Acadian Motel. The town has a monument honoring Governor McCormick for granting the Acadians 7,000 acres of land in Cheticamp to 14 Acadians who settled here in 1790, "ending their long years of exile." This cheery decorative lighthouse painted in Acadian colors stands on waterfront as a patriotic landmark, while its church steeple is visible from every point in town.

Our final highlight of the trail was a roadside attraction—Joe's Scarecrows. Back in 1984, Joe Delaney decided to plant a garden on a plot of land next to the Cabot Trail. He put up three colorful scarecrows to drive away animals, but instead they attracted tourists, who stopped to photograph him and his scarecrows. They suggested he drop the garden and just make more scarecrows, which is what he did. His scarecrows now number 100. Some wear uniforms—miner, security guard, EMT; others wear celebrity masks—including several American Presidents. Lots of them are just plain wacky and colorful. Each one wears a tag telling its name and a comment or philosophical insight from that scarecrow's unique perspective. My favorites:

"Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open."

"What a great place to work. Nobody talks."

As we neared the end of the Trail, Jan and Jim headed west to Prince Edward Island, and we headed east to Sydney. We have been convivial traveling companions, sharing good food, good times and great adventures over the past six days. What grand serendipity that our paths could cross so far from home!

We end with a picture from one of those moments when the skies cleared to reveal the glorious vistas of the Cabot Trail, and we recall the words from a particularly apt Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

May the warm rays of the sun fall upon you,

And may the hand of a friend always be near.

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