Monday, August 1, 2011

getting near Big Death in the bay of fundy

my wild summer adventure took a quieter, more awe-inspired turn sunday with a kayaking trip on the bay of fundy tides. it's one of my favourite places in nova scotia - a deep, ancient 'thin' place, as the celtic christians used to call it - even for an atheist such as myself.

this was less about 'near death' as in adrenaline-pumping on the edge of a violent end, and nearer to big death - the vastness of time and the smallness of our individual non-dead period.

Fundy tide, ancient cliffs inspire thanks

Near Death In Nova Scotia

Sun, Jul 31 - 4:54 AM

Floating on the heaving Bay of Fundy tide at the foot of the ancient cliffs, human vanities melt away.

Eventually, you and I and everyone we’ve ever known will be reduced to a speckle of bones folded into the billion-year-old scrapbook of life contained under Cape Chignecto Provincial Park.

The abundance of Earth and puniness of people overwhelms me as I paddle along the Fundy’s open-air cathedral in a tiny kayak on the immense saltwater river. The bay is exhaling, pushing 100 billion tonnes of water back into the Atlantic Ocean. Our band of seven kayakers set out from Advocate Harbour two hours ago and we’re slipping along the edge of the park.

From the back of our two-person boat, Else Marie Ostermann interprets the geological history painted on the rocks. Her Danish accent hints at another story and I ask her how she came to operate NovaShores Adventures.

She says she left Europe for a vacation in Canada 10 years ago. At the Parrsboro shore, she decided to go kayaking in the bay and found a man from British Columbia who had just started leading tours. Werner Ostermann agreed to rent her a boat, but he insisted she hire him as her guide — for safety reasons. Whether Werner meant the safety of the boat or of the woman was never established.

In any event, the weeklong adventure blossomed into a lifelong love as she moved to Nova Scotia and married Werner. Perhaps it’s the beauty of the cliffs that inspires such romantic leaps.

The Fundy is placid and the silence nearly complete this morning. You can spin your kayak in circles and humanity may as well have vanished. It could be 2011 or 2,011 years ago.

As we paddle through an arch by the Three Sisters, Else Marie points to an observation deck up in the trees of the park. Most people hike for hours just to get a glimpse of the famous sculpted sea stacks, but we take our time circling the trio — one a bony outcrop in profile, the second a voluptuous wicked stepsister and the third an elegant woman setting her chin to the far shore.

Werner points up near the deck to what is possibly the highest beach in Nova Scotia. He explains that during the last ice age, the weight of the glaciers bent the land down to the bay. As the ice melted, the coast sprang into the air like a diving board.

We pull ashore in Eatonville Harbour and the Ostermanns whip up a delicious lunch while the rest of us walk along the rocky beach. Not so long ago, this was a busy logging town complete with a mill, houses, a school and even a post office, but all that’s left are a few nails and the battered remnants of a bridge’s base. One hundred years ago, business here meant exploiting nature for resources. Today, it means guiding visitors along the bay to admire those same resources.

After lunch, we meander back down the coastline, poking our kayak into sea caves and stopping amid the newly high-and-dry rocks as Werner tells us about the secret sex lives of barnacles and the strange array of plants that call the coast home.

Five hours after we set out, we pull ashore back near Advocate Harbour. I’m exhausted, but as rested as if I’d just slept for a few millennia. I take in a deep breath and stretch my arms skyward. It’s always prayer time in Nova Scotia’s open-air cathedral.


Jon Tattrie is a journalist and the author of two books, The Hermit of Africville and Black Snow.


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