Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category
In the year 2000, after graduating from high school, the realization that there was no work around my rural Cape Breton home hit me hard. That summer was spent packing my bags and saying goodbye to family, friends, the country home I love and the land where I was born and raised. It took some time to get over the homesickness. I traveled home four times during the first year alone. The loneliness passed in time and I soon adjusted to my new home away from home. For the next few years, I lived the life of a young college student, passing through life without any thought as to where I was going, what I would do with my life or where I would end up. Like the average young person, I drank beer on the weekends with my friends, hung out in bars, went to concerts and slept until noon. But after a few years, my outlook on life changed and I started to want to focus on more important things like rekindling that love for the outdoors I acquired as a child from my father.
I only get to go home once a year for six weeks in the summer. This is the only time I get to spend outdoors and I make good use of it. In the city, I live in an apartment with no yard and I have a full-time job. All through the long Newfoundland winters, I look forward to the days ahead when I will be back on The Cape spending long, hot days walking miles of sandy beaches, attending barbecues with old friends, camping in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and going on fishing trips with my dad. It was the summer vacation of 2007 that got me back to my roots and rekindled my love for the outdoors. That was the summer my dad proposed a trip to his favorite fishing hole in Framboise, Nova Scotia. My bags were packed by July 25th and by the 27th, I was on a bus to Argentia to catch the fourteen-hour ferry ride that would take me home.
My dad has always hunted and fished. He never took me along when he went hunting but he often took me fishing. Usually, we went to a bridge along the highway and cast our rods into a shallow river or a lake in the woods, not far from the road. I really enjoyed these trips and enjoyed experiencing something I knew my dad enjoyed very much. However, as I got older, I knew that I wasn’t getting the true experience of dad’s trips when he went with the guys. For one, I never got to use the fly rod or wear the hip boots and secondly, the trek to the fishing hole always seemed too easy and we were never gone very long. I wasn’t around long enough to discover what it was that I was missing on these outings because I left home at the age of 19. Maybe if I had of stuck around a little longer, I would have had the chance.
I knew Framboise well as dad took me fishing there as a child and my family had a cabin there. I also knew that on this occasion, he wouldn’t be taking me to the place he frequented with his buddies and that’s where I wanted to go! The big fish were there and I had just purchased a new digital camera the month before and had exhausted my new-found photographic talents on the same old scenery. My backyard. The park across the street. The beach down the road. I needed new scenery and new subjects. I used this excuse when I proposed that we go somewhere different to fish this time. Somewhere more exciting. So he offered to take me to The Framboise Stillwaters, the fabled place he and his buddies fished. He warned me that it was an hour hike into the woods through thorn bushes, bogs and swamps both uphill and downhill. I was up for the adventure but he had some conditions first:
1) I had to get up very early…like 3 o’clock in the morning early!
2) I would need to wear hip waders.
3) We were going no matter what – rain or shine!
4) I would need to keep up with him so we would get there at a decent hour.
5) I was not to complain, whine or want to turn back part-way through the journey.
I got the impression that he thought I, being a girl and all, would not be able to keep up with him! I knew I would have no problem and besides, I wanted to prove I was tougher than my little sister who chickened out of going to the Stillwaters with my him the year before!
The day arrived. I have no problem getting up in the morning, but 3 o’clock in the morning is very early, so thankfully, one of the three alarm clocks I had set woke me up on time! I packed my lunch and my backpack and was ready to go before my dad even had his gear in the van. He was quite impressed. Maybe he thought I would have to put on my make-up and do my hair and get all dolled up or something. Proved him wrong! I looked everything the part of the avid outdoorsman!
Once everything was secured in the van, we pulled out of the driveway just as the sky was starting to turn light blue. It was going to be a nice day. The beautifully colored sky the night before was the first indication. “Pink sky at night, sailors delight” as the old saying goes. There are two ways to get to Framboise. One was the hour and a half “short way” along the beautiful shores of the scenic Bras D’or Lakes along route 4 through Sydney River, Ben Eoin, East Bay, Big Pond and the turn-off at Loch Lomond just before St. Peter’s. I had not traveled the other way since I was a kid and barely remembered it so I suggested we travel that way and travel route 4 on the way back so that we didn’t have to see the same scenery twice! So we turned off on the Highway towards Marion Bridge, the bridge made famous in Cape Breton’s unofficial national anthem “Song For The Mira”. The next half hour of the drive on this two-lane highway was nothing spectacular. Just trees, trees and more trees. Then we came to a fork in the road and made the turn off towards Gabarus and the drive became a lot more interesting! Small fishing outports dotted with multi-colored soap-box houses and huge Victorian-era mansions dropped in the middle of huge fields, cows and horses grazing in the backyards and rocky coastline dotted with beaches, fishing shacks and men getting ready for the morning catch.
We reached the town of Gabarus and stopped to stretch our legs. There was a beach there so dad took out his metal detector to try his luck at finding some treasure. It was a bit cool as the morning fog that is common to this coastline had not yet lifted. I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet in front of me and I imagined that this must have been what it was like when General Wolfe and his British troops landed in this area in 1758 to attack the French Fortress of Louisbourg, which lay a few miles South. We decided to walk just a bit and turn back so we wouldn’t get too far behind but soon dad’s metal detector started beeping wildly over a patch of sand and he started digging frantically. Twenty minutes later, he was still digging, until finally, he found an old rusty nail. When asked why he doesn’t have the setting set to filter out junk, he explained that the point was not to find something worthy but to have fun and enjoy the thrill of finding anything at all! Soon, I was combing the beach and beaming with excitement every time I heard that beeping only to come up with a few beer caps and rusty nails! We spent longer than we anticipated looking for buried treasure. About an hour longer to be exact! The sun was full and bright in the sky by the time we finished but we were not too far behind schedule.
We continued to drive towards our destination making a few stops here and there so I could take some pictures of the scenery. We were getting hungry so we made another stop to grab something to eat at the next town. We drove into the town of Fourchu in the late morning. This place always held an interest for me as a child. I recall an event that took place here in 1953. A Great White Shark attacked and capsized a fishing boat leaving a tooth in the hull for fast identification. The eighties was a hard time for this breed of shark because the movie “Jaws” was widely popular at the time. Going into the water was not. It was this movie, the first in the series that put Fourchu on the map. We were excited to see anything Cape Breton-related on the big screen but I’m sure no one else noticed it. During the scene where the sheriff is looking through old newspaper clippings involving great white shark attacks, he comes upon the one about the Fourchu incident! It’s on and off the screen again in the blink of an eye but there nonetheless! That day, my eye wandered out to sea to the area where the incident took place and I shuddered at the thought of being out there when one of those fierce creatures attacks!
We drove for another half an hour through wooded area, the sea behind us. I had hoped to catch a glimpse or even a snapshot of the elusive and scarce White Tail Deer but it’s rare nowadays to see them. Years ago when we came to this area, it was common to see several at once grazing in a field. Now, you may not see any during an entire season. Some speculate that the growing coyote population (which has even extended as far away as Newfoundland via the ice flows) on the island is to blame. Whatever it is, something is going on.
We soon approached an old store on the left. I remembered this store and I was not disoriented anymore. It was the only store in the area but it is now closed likely due to everyone moving to the city. My dad makes a turn onto a dirt road and immediately I get a sense of déjà vu. I soon realized where I was. It was the road where the family cabin used to be. I confirmed this with my dad and he informed me that it is no longer there, that it had collapsed from wear and tear. He asked me to try and pick out the place where it once stood. I knew it immediately. The rose bush and the gravel driveway were still there. Memories of fishing across the road at the lake, driving my bikes with my sisters on the maze of dirt roads and gold panning in the nearby river came flooding back to me. It’s funny how even time can’t erase the best of childhood memories! We got out and walked around the area, taking in all those good memories!
We were not far from the Framboise River now, but dad suggested I cast a few lines in some easier places first to practice. We stopped at a few roadside brooks and streams and I cast my rod until my dad was satisfied that I had enough practice and I was ready to go to that mystical place where few women have gone before, where the toughest of men go to seek the “big one”. It was a good time of year too. Salmon were running and trout were numerous that time of year!
Dad turned onto a road that, well, can’t even really be called a road. It wasn’t even gravel. It was just rocks with grass growing over them and trees and bushes spilling out so close they were scraping the side of the car and occasionally even brushing my face through the open window. We drove for quite a long time on this rickety old road, passing by a few lakes and a few abandoned, turn-of-the-century farm houses, boarded up and left to rot and fall apart by owners who most likely headed west for better work opportunities. We passed the road leading to the old sterling mine. It has been closed for decades now, but some people in the area claim to still hear the workings in the mine at night. The squealing and pounding of the equipment, sounds made by the ghosts of workers who had been killed and now spend the afterlife doing what they did in life.
The car slowed down a bit and we turned onto the shoulder of the road and dad put the car in park. We were there. At the entrance to the Framboise Stillwaters. Only thing was, I couldn’t tell exactly where the entrance was. All I could see was trees, bushes, and an old, grown in power line. It was the route along this power line that we needed to take to get there.
Dad opened the trunk of the car to get our supplies and again, for the umpteenth time, asked if I was up for the challenge. I wasn’t backing out than! I stepped into the hip boots, which were about ten sizes too big for me, stuffed my backpack with some food and an extra sweater, secured my camera and it’s equipment to the outside of the bag for easy access and away we went, father and daughter on an adventure, in search of some big fish to bring back home to mom to fry up for supper!
After the first few steps through a ditch filled with knee-deep mud and thorn bushes, it was smooth sailing until I took one step and there was no ground beneath me, at least not where I expected it to be. I was walking in a dark, murky swamp that was almost spilling over my waders and threatening my camera. My dad gave me that look again but I trudged on through more swamp and dead trees until the swamp water wasn’t dark anymore. We exited a thick of Evergreens and there it was; the Framboise Stillwaters. The water was so clear, you could see every rock, every plant and every little fish that swam by. It was quiet; all I could hear was the sound of the water rushing by and the rustle of the trees. There was no buzz from power lines. No traffic sounds. No voices. It was paradise! There was also no dry place to stand so we had to place our gear on the large rocks protruding from the water. Before I set my camera down, I snapped a few pictures and scanned the area for any signs of a White Tail Deer. Nothing, so my dad became my lenses target, much to his protest!
I secured my camera and began unpacking my fishing gear. My dad prepared his fly rod while I baited mine. I asked him if I could try a few casts with his, but of course, he said no. Fly fishing was a whole different game that required a lot of skill that I hadn’t acquired.
I found a place to cast from while dad wandered about forty feet downstream. I cast the first cast of the day. He was very optimistic that the fish would bite but time passed and all I caught was a big wad a grass. I had what I thought were nibbles but every time, my worm came back untouched.
Many more hours passed and the sun was starting to lower in the sky and still, the fish were not biting. Dad suggested we pack it up soon before the black flies came out. We decided to stay for one more hour. After all, it wasn’t about catching something, it was about enjoying the solitude and relaxing in nature and just enjoying the company.
The end of the hour approached when we decided on 3 more casts each. First cast, nothing. Second cast, again, nothing. Third cast, finally, a nibble. I jerked the rod, but whatever was there got away. We couldn’t leave if the fish were just starting to bite! We settled on five more casts each. On my first one, I caught the first fish of the day. Just a small perch, but it was something! My dad took a few pictures of me holding the fish and than I released it. I guess I must have graduated to some higher skill level because dad handed me the fly rod and after a quick lesson, I was allowed to try my hand at it. It was a bit awkward compared to the rod I was used to but it was something different and at least I got to try! Dad didn’t get a fish that day but I think he reveled just as much in the fact that I had caught something!
We packed up our gear and started back the way we came through the swamps and thorn bushes. It was the time of day when deer were most likely to make themselves visible but a rustle in the trees proved only to be a hawk. Coyotes were howling very nearby, which probably deterred deer from the area. When we reached the fork in the road where the path to the right led to the car and the other into the unknown, we decided that there was still enough light left so we embarked on another adventure and turned left, into the unknown.
We walked for about twenty minutes and soon realized that we were on someone’s property, at least that’s what it looked like. There were various items scattered around a field and we noticed the roof of a house peaking over the trees. This was strange since there was no driveway or entranceway and my dad had no previous knowledge of anyone living in the area as he knew the locals from years of fishing and hunting in the area. The house turned out to be abandoned. All the windows were broken and there was no sign of life and it looked like there hadn’t been for a long time. We walked the grounds in search of some interesting items but looters had already cleaned the place out, leaving only old furniture and scrap behind. It was pushing 7 O’clock by that time and we wanted to get on the road before dark, so we turned back towards the car.
We decided to have our supper, a couple of cans of cream corn and bread, at Morrison’s Beach. We sat on the cliff above the beach overlooking a couple of playful seals and some transplanted locals who have a reunion on the beach every summer. My dad told me the story of how he sat in this exact same place the year before and watched a young man drink a can of beer and throw a second can into the ocean below. When Dad asked him why he did that, he said the spot was his father’s favorite place and every year on his father’s birthday since he passed away, he has a beer and throws one into the ocean for him. A tribute to a man who appreciated the beauty surrounding him as much as dad and I did. After we finished eating, we made a quick sweep along a stretch of beach with the metal detector, again only finding old rusty nails and beer caps. It is always foggy along this coast, making the air cool and damp and this day was no exception. But that didn’t stop us from taking the fishing rods out again and casting a few lines off the small bridge on the gravel road leading back to the highway! Dusk was quickly approaching when we left. I got my camera ready. This was my last chance to spot a white tail deer. But all we saw was a huge Bald Eagle swoop out of the trees, narrowly missing our car! I didn’t have enough time to get a picture of that!
Before we reached the highway, having not seen even a trace of a deer, we decided to tour some back roads while there was still just enough light in the day. They were out there somewhere and we were determined to see one! We turned onto a road that can hardly be classified as a road. It was even more grown in than the one leading to the Stillwaters, but still passable. We thought the noise of the car might be scaring the deer away, so once we got far enough from the highway, we pulled over and entered the woods on foot quietly, camera ready. We hiked about a half a mile when we stumbled upon the oddest thing – a headstone. It was almost completely covered in moss, grass and weeds but visible enough to see the name. A. MacLeod. Born 1801. Died 1860. A search of the area turned up more headstones, all with Scottish surnames and dating to the early to mid 1800’s. We had stumbled upon an old graveyard, probably the graves of the first settlers in the area. Whatever the case, it was a very creepy experience, one that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end! We returned to the car and drove to the end of the road and turned back. Once on the highway, we agreed to try our luck on one more back road. This time we picked one that was at least gravel and maintained.
I saw it in the distance as we rounded a bend in the road. A huge, grey Victorian-style house on top of a hill. I was immediately drawn to it for some reason and when we were very close to it, I asked my dad to stop so I could take some pictures of it. It was obvious that the house had not been lived in for some years. The grounds were covered in weeds and very high grass. Being curious, I suggested we try to go inside. We probably should not have as it looked ready to collapse but curiosity got the better of us. Inside, although looters had already ransacked the place, there was still furniture and kitchen utensils and even some clothing left behind. We looked in every room and than carefully made our way to the second floor. There were still beds in each of the bedrooms and various items left behind. In one room, for some reason, there were newspapers spread across the floor. With flashlight in hand, I picked one up to see what year was on it and was shocked to see the year 1934! It was in perfect condition and I was able to read that days headlines. It was almost dark when we returned to the car so we drove to the end of the road, turned around and headed back towards the highway without seeing any white tail deer.
We reached route 4 just as the most beautiful sunset I had even seen started to quickly disappear over the Bras D’or Lakes. My dad pulled over to let me get a picture. To turn right onto this highway would have brought us home but neither of us wanted to pack it in yet so we turned left and ten minutes later, we reached the historic town of St. Peter’s, Gateway To The Bras D’or lakes and then made another left into a Tim Horton’s Coffee Shop. No better way to top a great day than to relax and sip on a hot cup of Tim’s coffee and a donut!
It was pitch dark when we turned onto route 4 and headed the other way towards home. We had just passed Rita Mac Neil’s Tea Room, when, in the blink of an eye, so fast that I had no chance in reaching for my camera, a white tail deer leaped across the road in front of us! A perfect ending to a perfect day!