Friday morning, and after a short sleep in Halifax it was time to catch the bus and head on out a little West into New Brunswick; destination Saint John, Canada’s oldest city.
The small queue of people politely waiting to board the Acadian Line buses to Moncton and “Points West”, or Moncton and “Points North” or Moncton and Saint John was like something one might easily see in Briatin, just on a smaller scale, and every Starbucks cup that would have been was of course a Tim Horton’s. I said my goodbyes to Janice, in French no less, and then before I knew it I was boarding the first bus on the left and settling down with my iPod to enjoy the Fall colours as Nova Scotia and then New Brunswick flew by my window.
I mentioned on this blog before that Canada is __big__. For those who have not read entries passim I will expand on this apparently obvious statement. New Brunswick is, for example, considered a fairly small Province in Canada, and yet if you were to chop Scotland off the map of the UK then you can lay England and Wales down on their side in the Province. So to cross Nova Scotia and then make it to Saint John across in New Brunswick is a seven hour bus journey if you include the hour lay-over in Moncton. Now in the UK a seven hour road journey would have me getting North of Glasgow from home, so one might expect a seven hour journey would be an irksome thing but to be quite honest with you, dear reader, the scale and grandeur of the land not to mention the new joy of the Fall Colours(tm) made the time just whip by.
On arrival in Saint John, where fourteen months before I had been met by Eric and Scott on the day before the wedding, I was met by Jim. Jim is my friend Sarah’s dad, but I have no doubt that I can say that he is my friend as well. Since I met him and Liz, Sarah’s mum, in the previous August we had not only enjoyed each other’s company back then, but we had stayed in touch through the auspices of this blog, the Internet and Facebook, and so it was that he and Liz had come to invite me to join their traditional celebration of Thanksgiving at their family camp down in the Musquash about thirty minutes from their home, on the West Side of Saint John. There he was, in the parking lot that doubles for the Saint John Bus Depot, in a balloon festival baseball cap and his welcoming smile. He ran me up to the house to spend the afternoon with Noel (Sarah’s brother) as he needed to finish his day at work, saying he would be back around five and we would then head down to the Camp.
Noel and I had definitely gotten on well at the wedding, and I was really pleased to see the guy. Filled with back and forth on his stories of the mountains (he has spent a few months out in Alberta working in the Rockies) and my recent adventures in cycling around London (specifically my collarbone issue) we passed an easy afternoon catching up on each other’s lives and refreshing our friendship. We made the time to wander up the hill to Saint John’s famous Martello Tower and take in the view of the harbour and the city; a view and a place that from talking to him I can tell is fundamental to his memories of this great old city throughout his childhood and early adulthood. Tales of learning to snowboard on the flanks of the Tower’s hill and watching the sun rise after High School parties, and I have to tell you that standing up there in the wind looking out across to Partridge Island I got some small sense of all of that personal history, not to mention a sense of becoming a part of its ongoing story in my own small way.
We retreated out of the cold and into the back sun porch of the Rogers family home to enjoy the wood burner and some excellent cold roast chicken sandwiches while we waited for Jim and then suddenly in a whirl he was back and we were off to Musquash…
We headed out of the city and down the Highway towards St Andrews; it is remarkable how quickly the urban disappears and the raw wilderness begins when you leave Saint John. We could only have been five minutes out of town before all I could see, apart from the highway, was trees and the odd lake. Pure, natural countryside all in beautiful autumnal shades, and no other sign of man. We turned off the highway, following signs for Musquash, and then turned off down a back road shortly thereafter by the Musquash hydro-electric power station. It was built in the twenties, and it is still going strong despite quite picturesque leaks on the banded wooden pipe that feeds the power station with a pressurised in-flow from the dammed Musquash River. Jim told me over the weekend that the leaks form spontaneous ice sculptures over the winter when the temperatures fall so low that the water freezes in part without actually stopping flowing. Anyway about half a mile from the power station the blacktop runs out and we were onto the gravel / dirt road up to the camp. The camp is actually on an island in the lake that was created by the damming of the river, but there is a small causeway out across the water at the end of the access road, so in deference to my injured state, Jim drove us over and parked the truck up at Judy’s camp to reduce the walk in. Judy, one of the Rogers’ neighbours on Musquash, was about and Jim introduced me the way I have come to realise I am often introduced when I’m away from home “Oli, our friend visiting from England”. We stopped for a few minutes and shot the breeze, and I met her dogs, Makita and Dakota, before we said our goodbyes and struck out into the woods in search of Maple Cove, Liz and Libby.
It was clear that Jim knows those woods so well that I have no doubt he could walk from Judy’s to the Rogers’ camp (the aforementioned Maple Cove) blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back. This was encouraging as two minutes from Judy’s I had no idea where I was… Still in the late evening light the colours were spectacular and the calm and quiet of the woods struck me at once. The camp was only about a five minute walk into the woods, and it really creeps up on you; I don’t think that I saw it until I was right on top of it. Essentially a small, green, wooden bungalow nestling in the trees, with the lake beyond; I had made it to Maple Cove. Libby, the Rogers’ gorgeous Springer Spaniel, came out to greet us. Her tail was oscillating almost faster than the human eye can detect! Then out came Liz, all smiles and welcome too. We said our hellos, I dumped my bags and then I was given a quick tour of the camp and its facilities. Liz showed obvious relief when I offered no dismay at the ‘outhouse’ and her explanations of how to use it – I have had extensive camping experiences in my life, in fact the last ‘long-drop’ I used was in South Africa and it held no fear for me at all. Then I was introduced to the cats, Pout and Dimitri, who I was not expecting to see at the camp and had hardly met at all at the wedding, and then we were into catching up while Jim grilled the dinner – fresh steak, mmmm…
There are no words to describe how utterly perfect and beautiful this place is, so here is a picture:
Nice, huh? The above is the view across the cove at the bottom of the camp property, and I am kinda cheating as I took this the next day, but it gives you some idea of how gorgeous it is…
I’m sure many of you will nod in agreement when I say that there is an incredible, almost ineffable, calming and tranquilising effect to be had from spending time isolated out in Nature without electric light or the TV. Once we had eaten our full of steak and salad, followed by a wonderful homemade apple crisp (read crumble) the sun had left the sky completely and there in the dark, for the first time in months, perhaps even years, I was ready to turn in before nine p.m. We said our goodnights and I headed off for the best sleep I can remember having this year.
Coming Next: “Getting There – Travelling to Canada, October 2009” & “Thanksgiving, Musquash Style”