Out for a walk the other day, we came across something that I’d not seen before. A Nova Scotian artist named Angie Arsenault has created a little artists box of foraged inks made from natural ingredients – things like acorns and goldenrod and mountain ash roots – and put it on the trail beside the Lehave River in Bridgewater.
It’s called the Little Library of Foraged Inks, and it’s a fantastic find. We stopped and read her notes inside on how to use it
and came away smiling at the idea. It’s clever, it’s environmentally aware and awareness-raising, and most of all it’s fun. It’s a classic example of spreading joy through little acts of kindness.
It also reminded me of why I like to go for walks. I love to find these little things, sometimes man-made and sometimes natural, but either way always fascinating.
I like walking around town here in Lunenburg, now that we’re a bit settled in. Several times a week I’ll do a bit of a wander, like a dog visiting his patch (though I promise I don’t mark my territory on lamp posts). If I go up the hill behind our house and then east along Lincoln Street,
I can wander past the art galleries and on towards King, and see if there’s a sale on a Stan’s Dad and Lad clothing store, or maybe some interesting specials at the Lincoln Street Diner, and the aroma of roasting coffee will tell me if the Laughing Whale is making a new batch.
And if I keep going past King and Prince and Hopson and Kempt and climb the hill on Lincoln towards Blockhouse Hill, I’ll go past a house that some folks are building that will be spectacular when it’s done, and sometimes they’ll be sitting out taking a break on their harbour-view deck. “Coming along”, I’ll shout, and we’ll wave to each other.
And then round the corner and up to Blockhouse Hill and round the park and up along Kempt a bit and then back west along say Townsend, past a few of the churches
and up and down the hills and along to Kaulbach, where I can swing right and walk up past the Hillcrest Cemetery entrance and take a turn past the wonderful Academy building,
and then swing back west along Lawrence and walk back to Kempt, and then go downhill past the Ironworks Distillery (yummm, smells like a new batch of rum is in the works) and left onto Montague Street.
And so back along Montague heading west a bit and then cut down onto Bluenose Drive and wander east along past public wharves and the dory boats and the Fisheries Museum, just mingling with the tourists.
And say, did I just hear a bit of German, and Farsi, and Hindi, and French, and Spanish. Plus those Yankee accents – oh yeah, must be that car with the New York license plates.
And speaking of license plates, is that car from Iowa? Haven’t see one of those all summer – COVID-19 is finally fading (fingers crossed) and the tourists are really back from all over.
And then keep going up into the Pioneer park and along the Harbour Walk – but look at that, someone has hung red dresses in the trees next to the historic plaques near the “pioneer” cemetery as a reminder that those early settlers didn’t arrive to an empty country and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are still missing and still missed and even a small town like Lunenburg cannot turn its back on history and social wrongs.
And then past that over to Falkland and left towards the park by the tennis courts where some older players are getting in a game, and then on past the arena and the curling club where the ice is now in and hockey and curling seasons are about to begin.
And past that around to the east through the basketball courts where some teenagers are having a game (yeah, the Raptor’s season starts soon!) and past the new Bluenose Academy and then down to Tannery Row and around back along Falkland and then up the Harbour Walk and then Montague towards home. A wave to John in the pizza shop, and a shout up to Robert our neighbour to the north who’s puttering about in the garden.
I like our little town. And I’m very grateful to be able to live here.
“Make your own path”; “pathfinder”; “trailblazer”; “path-breaking”; “the road less travelled” …
Our language has many words and phrases for the notion of navigation, and in particular for the notion of following an existing path or trying a new path, exploring and marking and creating a way to do things.
And often, as I’m walking, that notion is buried in a romantic corner of my brain – the idea that the path I’m walking is new in some way, that I’m the first person that day, that month, that year, or even, ever, who’s walked in that particular place.
It’s naive of course. Over more than 10,000 years of North American habitation, it’s very low odds that I’m the only person who’s stood in a given spot. But I feel it sometimes, that sense of specialness or uniqueness. I want to believe that I’m unique in my connection to a path or a place.
And yet I know that people have been here long before me. Walking about, I see signs of history and settlement. The very path I’m on is often the surest sign – the street or road or old railway line trail is man-made, so clearly I’m just another visitor that place.
Walking in a forest, “off the beaten path” as the saying goes, is perhaps less travelled but is still unlikely to be untravelled. A given scenic view or water course or hill or beach or meadow has probably attracted someone else’s attention at some point – if I think it’s a lovely spot then more than likely someone else has too.
It’s deeply moving for me, however, to imagine myself in the figurative shoes of that person who’s gone before. When, how long ago? What was the weather like? What did this spot look like then? What did the air smell like, what bird song did they hear, was there a tang of woodsmoke or a whiff of wild berries?
My education and upbringing put a far greater emphasis upon the recorded history of habitation – and who wrote the records but the Europeans who came to Canada a few hundred years ago? My schooling had nary a word written by or reflecting the stories and lives of the First Nations who were here thousands of years previously. Today I walk paths named, for the most part, by the late-comers – Cornwallis Street in Lunenburg, the Gaff Point Trail, the Harbour Walk, and sometimes in an aside to the previous inhabitants, names that echo that earlier existence more than acknowledge it.
But I wonder about the users of these paths, this land, before late-comers like me. In who’s footsteps do I walk? What would they say about the world I see now? What would they say about me?
I was thinking of that Gershwin tune the other day, as I looked out the window. It was a foggy day in Lunenburg – I could barely see the near shore of the harbour let alone the other side. The air was heavy with mist, moisture clinging to your clothes. Not a particularly inspiring day for a walk.
And yet … the grey soft light brings out the softness of the colours of the houses. The heavy air dampens sound. It’s charming, in its way, and I like it as long as it doesn’t last for days.
So I headed out to the beach for a walk in the fog. There was a steady surge of small swells breaking, and the gulls would swoop out of the dimmed sky like wraiths. Plovers darted in the shallows and danced their way along the beach just keeping ahead of me as I walked. Clumps of seaweed marked the tide-line. I couldn’t see the headlands at either end of the beach from the car park, and they slowly loomed out of the mist as I walked the full length of the beach.
Fog can be lovely. And fog can be frustrating. You want clarity, to see what’s in front of you. Fog can be chilling and bite through to your bones – you want sunshine and warmth.
And fog can be mental and physical as well as meteorological. Sometimes we have that heaviness of spirit that we think of as being mentally fogged. And sometimes, there’s the longer term mental fog that comes with age or illness, the dimming of the light as our brain functions slow down.
But burning through, even then, there are still days when the sun shines in, the fog lifts. Those are the days to cherish.
“For suddenly, I saw you there, and through foggy London town, the sun was shining, everywhere” …
Before we moved to Lunenburg, we’d visit every couple of years, and most times we were here I’d go for a stroll by the harbour. Now that we’ve moved in, I’ve come to appreciate that walk even more. Rain or shine, it’s a lovely spot.
We live just a block up from the harbour front, so I like to meander east along Montague Street past the shops and restaurants, to where Bluenose Drive curves up to meet Montague. Then I follow it down and head back west along Bluenose Drive, past the fishery buildings and then the piers and the Fisheries Museum.
I’ll keep going further west and where Bluenose Drive curves back up to meet Montague, I’ll turn left and follow the Harbour Walk path along the edge of the west end of the harbour.
The end of the trail leads up to Falkland Street, and if you turn left here and follow it past the shops and the Foundry, past the tennis courts and Nellie’s Takeout, you’ll come to Tannery Road. Follow that south and east and past some houses and businesses, and you’ll come to a little picnic area the town has built along the south side of the harbour.
And here you get that gorgeous view of the town that has tourists making a beeline for this spot so that they can take another of what must be a million photos a year, and yet in all weathers this view never gets tiresome.
If I want to stretch out a little more, I’ll keep going along Tannery Road towards Mason Beach Road and the entrance to the golf course. Here, if you look up, you’ll see the nest that a pair of osprey’s have made and return to year after year. They are surprisingly chatty birds, screeching and cawing and sometimes circling over your head, as they keep an eye on you. Their view back over the harbour must be fantastic.
And then the stroll back home, retracing my steps, and sometimes popping into the newly-added Barn coffeeshop that’s been joined with the Lightship Brewery pub and PJs Snacks in a building on a little point that juts into the harbour. It’s one of the best places in town to enjoy the view and now I’ve let the secret out that the locals like to keep to themselves.
It’s not a long walk, maybe 45 minutes if you stroll at a leisurely pace, but a great walk is about more than how much distance you cover.
The barnacle is an admirable creature, if you value tenaciousness. It’s evolved to cling tightly to a surface, be it a rock or a ship’s hull, so that it can filter feed on the micro-organisms that float by. There are species of barnacles that even cling to a whale’s skin, forcing those creatures to scrape their hides against passing boats in an effort to dislodge the unwelcome passengers.
But barnacles cling on, and we should admire that strength of purpose. If you’re a barnacle, clinging power is a good thing.
And yet, on the other hand, to the whale or the ship owner the barnacle is a pest and an impediment. It slows them down and over time can accumulate to the point where they can only move with great effort, and even when they scrape them off the barnacles just keep coming back in a never-ending battle. Eventually, they must be tempted just to give up and let them collect and weigh them down to sink into the sea.
We all have our barnacles in life, those little things that weight us and slow us. For me it’s nagging injuries. When I was about 7 I was walking along a lake shore and stepped on a piece of glass. The cut didn’t seem serious at the time, but it was deep enough that it damaged the muscles and ligaments in the arch of my right foot, so that now I have one flat foot and one normally arched foot. That effectively makes my right leg shorter than my left, which causes my pelvis to tilt, which puts my back out of whack, and leads to bouts of sciatica. That barnacle has clung on stubbornly for more than 50 years now.
And there are others. A legacy of heavy work on a farm when I was in my teens, my achy knees warn me a day or two ahead of any change in the weather. And the jammed big toe on my left foot, which I did slipping on an (ironically) barnacle-covered rock on a beach in New Zealand, makes the joint of the toe and the ball of my left foot burn with pain sometimes. Or the broken big toe on my right foot, which I did tripping on some stairs, replays the original sharp pain when I’m walking in hiking boots. Or the torn calf muscle on my right leg, which I did playing catch with some of the players on the pee wee baseball team I coached, flares up once in awhile as a general soreness in the calf and achilles tendon.
All of these old barnacles mean that the first 15-30 minutes of a walk are a shakedown of little niggles, as I get warmed up and used to the nags and my brain tells them all to go away for awhile. At least that’s what often happens, but not always. Sometimes the barnacles are just too nagging that day, there’s too much resistance for the energy level that I have. They slow me down to the point where I just pack it in, a planned 2 hour walk cut down to 30 minutes.
I know we all have our barnacles, some physical, some emotional, and some spiritual. I tell myself that it’s a privilege to have lived long enough to feel them, and I know that they’re minor, relatively speaking – many people have far worse issues to deal with than my little pains.
But it’s human nature to focus on yourself and your problems. So for me, it’s better to admire the barnacle’s staying power and tenacity. Don’t give in to the barnacles, imitate them. Getting out for a walk and ignoring my barnacles is a way of blowing a raspberry at Father Time. After all, would you rather be the barnacle, or the whale?
I’ve always had an eye for patterns, the repetition of a colour or shape or the reflection of movement in a pond or a stream. I look for them all around me, consciously and unconsciously. As I walk my eye will pick out a pattern, and sometimes I see that I am myself part of that pattern – the trail of footprints I leave on a beach or the flicker of my shadow along a sidewalk.
I love the structure and order that I can see around me – in rocks and lichens and tree bark and roof tiles and fences and waves and ripples and flocks of birds.
Years ago, just after we were married, I took up my wife’s 35mm camera and spent years happily snapping patterns. And over time, I gradually found that I could leave the camera behind but still look for those patterns as I pass, and that the thrill of capturing that pattern in a photo has been replaced by an appreciation of the transitory nature of what I see.
I’m not Buddhist, but I think I can understand – imperfectly I’m sure – some of the Zen of a moment when I see something that is, at that particular time and place, the essence of a perfect pattern. It’s fleeting and I may only capture it in my mind’s eye for a split second. But I see it and I try to feel it and lock it away as a memory.
And yes, occasionally, I still get out my camera and try to record a pattern, if only to be able to share it with someone else. But that search for patterns is what keeps me walking, keeps me moving, keeps me engaged and interacting with the world around me.
Learning is in many ways the search for patterns in facts and figures, to organize them and arrange them in ways that explain what we see around us. I can remember being 7 or 8 years old and saying to a teacher, when she asked me how I was able to learn something so quickly – probably multiplication tables or some such – and replying that I just looked for the pattern in the subject and filed that away in my memory, and then seeing in her face a look of surprise. I suppose that 7 or 8 year olds seldom can articulate what they’re doing when they’re learning.
But for me that search for patterns to explain what I was seeing was natural then and it’s still natural now. The world is full of patterns, and patterns of patterns, in infinite complexity and loops and whorls. That’s what makes it interesting. Even straight lines can have depth.
Earlier in the year, I posted about the idea of making a game of your walks as a way to keep things interesting. A friend of mine read it and took it to heart, and quickly did a series of alphabetical walks that covered street names in Toronto for every letter of the alphabet except I think X (there is no Toronto street starting with X) and Z (only a handful).
Having moved to Lunenburg, I took a look a the map and realized that it wouldn’t take long to cover the alphabet here.
Having walked the length of Yonge St in Toronto, it took me much less time to walk Young here in Lunenburg, to cover off the Y. But there are no streets that I can find in town that start with E, I, Q, R, U, X, or Z. I was somewhat surprised to realize that there’s a King but not a Queen street in town, since most towns in English-speaking Canada seem to have both, and the lack of a street starting with an R was a bit of a surprise too. I’m giving myself the letter O, by the way, as Old Blue Rocks Road, so if you don’t think that counts then there’s no O either.
But nevertheless, in under 2 hours I had pretty much covered all the other letters of the alphabet, and had learned a bit about the town as I went. The UNESCO-designated heritage area of the Old Town, with its colourful houses and well-preserved wooden churches, is always delightful to wander through.
More surprising to me, perhaps, was wondering through the New Town area to the west of the harbour, up near the hospital, where I went to catch the W’s (Wolff Ave and Whynacht St). Visiting the town as a tourist, I hadn’t wandered up here before. The lower part of the New Town has some stately Victorian-era homes turned into B&Bs, and as you continue up the hill the homes get progressively more modern until up by Wolff they are just a few years old.
It’s good to see the growth in town that way. There’s more to Lunenburg than just the chocolate-box cheer and the colours of the Old Town. There’s more to it than just tourism, for that matter – there are factories and shops and services along with the restaurants and museums and galleries. There’s a school and good coffee shops and a pub where the locals go, and a hospital, and groceries, and a library, and playgrounds. The harbour is a working fishing port as well as a picturesque background, and the hills rising above the harbour have more than pretty views.
I like that it’s a complete place, self-sufficient and year-round. I like that we welcome people from round the world and share our place with them. And I like that come the autumn, it’s going to be our place, where a close-knit community keeps a steady beat until the next cycle of tourists come round.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve started to go for longer walks around Lunenburg. I feel like I’m getting to know the place.
It’s helped that we’ve had some lovely summer days. Heading off for a few hours when the sun is shining just feels good, and knowing that come winter I’ll be missing that sun puts a little zest into taking advantage of it now.
So I won’t complain about it being too hot, and truth be told there’s usually a breeze that refreshes as you walk. And it’s also been the case that a hot day here is 5-6 degrees cooler than in Toronto, and that’s another aspect of settling in.
There are some nice walking trails nearby, like the Back Harbour Trail, and the Bay to Bay Trail. I’ve done those, and I’ve walked some of the back roads out to Blue Rocks, Mader’s Cove, and the 2nd Penninsula too, plus wandered around old town Lunenburg and the new town too.
It’s been fun getting to know the place better, the way you do on foot instead of in a car. You notice the houses, and the little touches in the way gardens and kids toys and flowers and yard tools are scattered about, that let you guess at the lives of those who live there. I’ve also noticed the wildlife – I’ve seen ospreys, gulls, herons, ducks, deer, and snakes all within a few km of our home.
I can’t help comparing things to Toronto. There are way fewer fancy cars, and more bikes and pickups, and less traffic. There are lots of lawn chairs and fire pits for sitting about at night. There are fewer people out walking dogs, and no apparent nannies taking kids for a stroll. There’s money about evidenced by toys but these are outdoor toys like boats and ATVs.
The biggest thing you realize is that the cultural mosaic of Toronto is very muted here. Instead you notice a smaller number of surnames attached to roads and bays and coves and houses – the local families that have been here for 200+ years.
So I’m liking it, as I settling in. There are more walks to do and more to learn and see. I’m looking forward to it.
It’s human nature, I think, to look for the edges and test the boundaries of something. Or maybe that’s just my nature.
I was thinking this the other day, walking the pier near the Lehave Bakery, testing the edges by walking out along the wharf. Walk to the edge, and follow it round.
That notion of following the edge has been in my head, because now that we’re here in Lunenburg I’ve been thinking about some of the walks I’d like to do within the province, adding them to my bucket list, and those walks are themed by the edges I’d follow.
Nova Scotia is predominately a coastal province. By that I mean that most of the population lives near the sea shore. The larger cities and towns are mostly on the coasts – Halifax, Yarmouth, Sydney, and not least Lunenburg. The population has always faced the sea and looked to it for their livelihood. It means there are lots of roads and now trails that follow those coasts, so that makes walking a coastline activity.
Thinking about that got me thinking about boundaries and edges and limits. There are limits of geography, like the coast lines, and I’ll follow those. There are limits of endurance and strength, and while I don’t think I need those in exceptional quantities, walking several hundred km around the coasts will certainly call for some gusting towards those limits, at least for me.
And then there are limits we set for ourselves, limits of ambition I’ll call them. What do we want to achieve? How far do we push ourselves? Where will we take ourselves? Those limits are different for everyone of course, and I think they are also different at different points in our lives. The limits I set myself in my teens and 20’s are not those of my 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Do I want to walk these walks now because I want to push back on the shrinking of those physical limits? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just that now that I am retired and have a more or less grown child and fewer responsibilities, I feel like I can stretch my limits in ways that would have seemed imprudent or impractical when I was younger and paying mortgages and climbing corporate ladders.
The Olympics are on as I write this, and that is the spectacle of human limits writ large. What are competitive athletics if not tests of the limits of human strength and endurance and ambition? My walks are not my Olympics by any means, but deep down they come from the same source. Find the edge, and explore it.