Drifting in the Maritimes and Highlands of Cape Breton

After leaving Ontario, and catching a ride right through Quebec and New Brunswick, my journey left me in Weymouth, Nova Scotia. Here I would be goat farming, an entire gangs worth, and working with three horses, and 20 chickens. Firstly though as I arrived early, I took time to explore the trails of the Keji’m’Kujik native forest. With my heavy pack, I did not traverse too far, but spent both a day and a night at the Mills falls section of the woodland. The first night, I foraged for Fly Agarics, Ghost Pipe Fungus, and the non-hallucinogenic edible Chanterelles, all of which grow quite prolificly in these lush forests. Spores are very sensitive to the air quality, and thus it is the cleanest forests that tend to yield the most mushrooms. Those with a high covered canopy, high groundwater, usually a falls, ravine, stream, or river running though it and preserved from asphalt pathways and logging. In other areas there are old Mik-Maw petroglyps, (pronounced like Mihk-bhaw) by the locals.

The second of my nights in Nova, and I had drifted north through the Anapolis Valley, and west to Digby, a quintessential maritimes town with seafood restaurants and pubs along the wharf. The eve I passed at the coves beside the Bay of Fundy, whence whales surfaced for air from time to time, and I observed a seal breach on a scallop covered rock, looming in the misty distance. I had an encounter with two coyotes, which I have only related in full to a few other folk outside myself, and tried to find sleep under an evergreen while mosquitoes buzzed around my night cocoon.

Back in Weymouth, I was staying at a farm the produced goat cheese, many different kinds, mixed with spices, peppers and chocolate, and drinking raw goats milk everyday to fuel a 6-9 hour work day on the land. Some menial tasks seemed to overcome my time, but I did acquire some potent wisdom about different breeds of goats, and their physical characteristics from the German brute that lived there. Knowing that the beards were a trait of natural selection and finding out the ‘waddles’ were of the same inclination, previously thinking they may have to do something with milking. I learned the methods of making feta, bree, and cream cheese from the milk, how to separate the whey from the curd. The herd of 120 was dispersed in four separate barns, both with indoor feeding areas, and outdoor raving areas. Controlling 60-70 of them at once and coercing them out of a barn was a skill well learned that I took upon myself. I hauled the storm trees, maple, and alder to feed the goats on occasion, first as the four harts of the world tree, they ate the leaves, then chewed on the bark, and finally wrestled their horns in the crossings of the branches and scratched them on the trunks. I spent little time with the horses, and was supposed to build an improved floor for the chicken coop, as the North Shore of NS has problems with mink digging under the ground to snatch poultry. Personally I don’t blame them, as millions of them are locked in fur farms along the North edge and have nearly forgotten their true hunting skills. Certain energies at the farmstead coerced me onwards to the south shore, and I tramped on through a late evening for a short stopover in Mahone Bay.

It was here I met the Hell’s Angel wife, who had given me such a personal story, I would not relate such here. In short, the woman who was travelling with me through the province had just married a member of the Hell’s Angels that day, she had a heartbreaking memory, and we ended up spending the night together, ironically away from her ‘safe’ house, sleeping in a bush beside the harbour, she gave me an array of useful items of which I have come to truly need, and plan to keep for some time. This was in Dartmouth, before I arrived in Mahone Bay. Whence there, I explored Masons beach in Lunenburg where a Rune stone is said to lie on the coast with a Sigurd motive carved into it. In Mahone, I slept outside most nights, and listened to the white tail at night, but I was dirt poor by now and had to move on…

Cape Breton was calling my name and I have always had a fondness for islands. The county of Whycocomagh, largely Native reserve had a place for me down the dirt roads, where I encamped for the next two weeks in a rustic log cabin. I stayed on the land of an old man who carved wooden spoons, and whom built the original cabin by hand when he was younger. He had his house while I had the bunker, which was chinked between the cracks with old Captain Morgan liqour bottles, containing now nothing but clay and moss, that used to act as windows. The loft felt like a father crow’s nest, and I had several animal visitors. The mice that would sneak around grabbing leftover morcels of my dinner (and biting on the wooden spoons I had around), spider who weaved their webs in the eye sockets of my bear skull, and one night a squirrel who climbed into the loft, and then jumped through a hole from the chimney rose from the woodstove below. The original plans were to clear some forest for firewood, dig out the stumps, and then plant a traditional labyrinth made of Lilac bushes. Unfortunately, the work did not get this far during my stay, but I was able to put my hands to work on other sacred deeds. Making fenceposts from raw logs for a chicken coop, partially curing and cleaning a sheep skin without chemical, harvesting and schucking corn, picking beans, and digging up spuds with my bare hands. The corn was of a special blend of the most hardy cold climate corns grown by the natives, called Painted Mountain Corn, and the potatoes were of the usual brown, but also purple and red varities. The use of heritage seeds was especially interesting to me. At night the dogs would bane, the coyotes would wail, and the coywolves would howl. These coywolves are a feral breed of the Eastern Wolf, and the Coyote which came from away. Algonquin Park, Ontario was their first territory in 1917 after logging and habitat loss, the coyotes and the wolves started to mate together, now they reside mostly in the Cape Breton highlands but also into the lowlands. I can not tell for sure if they were indeed coywolves who shared their howl back to me at night but one can believe it.

I snuck away for an escape into the Highlands one inspired weekend, and hitched right to one of the trailheads in the Cheticamp National Forest. I walked the Salmon Pool trail, taking heed to observe the tumultous flow of the river at said pools, while swimming upstream and letting the rapids carry me back down. After 4 hours of hiking I slept in the old Warden’s cabin to pass the night, while bats swarmed my temporary domain, and the moon loomed in white beam between valleys of mountaines. On the second occasion I went north, this time only to Baddeck, I did not end up so fateful. A night amongst company turned bitter, and I ended up walking in my bare moccasins down a highway through two native reserves for 15 km, sleeping in the cold embrace of wind and waves, until sun up, waiting for a ride back to my cozy loft. It was time to bid farewell to Cape Breton and New Glasgow (Nova Scotia), hitchin’ back over the northshore in a dash to get a ferry across the Gulf of Maine. From whence my next journey would seed.

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One thought on “Drifting in the Maritimes and Highlands of Cape Breton

  1. I enjoyed the observations on coywolves. I always find it interesting what traits survive hybridization and adaptation in animals. I was unaware that they howl. I imagine it still retains some of the qualities found in the coyote’s yipping.

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