At a swingdance in Victoria a few weeks ago, I happened to run into friends who happen to spend their summers in Nova Scotia and happened to generously insist I visit them during my tour.
So a few days ago, as I crested the mid-point of my itinerary, I drove to the Northern Shore that faces New Brunswick across the Northumberland Strait, and found their cottage on a beach that boasts some of the warmest water north of the Carolinas.
My hosts welcomed me energetically, and hosted me with enthusiasm. They fed me: grand meals, drinks on the beach, lattes. They took me to a music night at a winery across the border in New Brunswick. They filled me with stories of local history, and showed me an old cottage that has hardly changed since the 1930’s. They welcomed me into the late night project of making wildflower bouquets to sell at market and raise money for the community hall, and tolerated my amateur efforts. (In my defense, I have to say I do not know flowers, and it was hard to concentrate with the cloud of mosquitoes who persisted despite the egg cartons that burned at our feet to smoke them out.)
With too many bugs for me to spend the night out in the open, my hosts let me sleep on the floor of the screened veranda. In fact, they let me sleep pretty much anywhere, any time: on the grass in the afternoon when the bugs weren’t so thick; on the sand at mid-day with the tide at my toes; on the couch while they concocted meals.
Then, this morning, with a soft rain falling, we said goodbye and I re-entered tour mode: drive to Amherst for the morning show; drive some more to the afternoon show in Tatamagouche (which I now know rhymes with “push”).
Audiences are enthusiastic and we have fun. In Tatamagouche (recipient of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Community Spirit), adults stick around for the show and laugh at the jokes the kids don’t get. A Francophone family chats with me after, surprised and delighted by the French in the show. It’s a sweet afternoon. A couple of hours later I meet with two of the librarians for supper; they are still buzzing about the show and the turnout. A friend of theirs stops by and joins us for a few minutes. He directs the annual outdoor community Shakespeare production which this year includes some teenagers and will begin with a musical number. Community spirit, you say? Yes, I do think so.
My lodgings tonight are a B&B in an older house where tiny windows allow some air into the bedroom. Before dark I explore the neighbourhood. Nearby, behind the weary school, is a remarkable row of 18 swings. It is a startling sight in this era of danger-proofed playgrounds. I choose one, kick off my shoes, settle in, lean back. The swing creaks and thunks with each sweep, but the movement always makes me smile. I believe my mother when she says that as a toddler I used to get on the swing and let go at the peak, to go flying off in the air.
But once I was on swings not far from here. I was 20 and had just hitchhiked around the Gaspé Peninsula. I ended up in a town in New Brunswick with time to spare before catching the train to Toronto, where I would begin my studies in languages and linguistics. I found a park and I stayed on one swing for two full hours of constant motion: pushing, pulling, soaring.
Tonight, I feel like I’ve come full circle: I’m back in a part of the country where French and English are intertwined, and I marvel that a career of telling stories – something I had no concept of back then – is what brought me all the way back east, to a humble playground where the rusted chains squeal as my toes reach into the evening sky.