Where a rainbow shines, it finds it’s source…
Little did this light bound nomad realize how a summertime pilgrimage to the Gaelic highlands of Cape Breton to rejoin the rainbow tribe could turn into much more than a conscious gathering and become a rite of passage in the raw heart of nature.
Setting forth from the hub of Fredericton, New Brunswick with sister Anicka, a rainbow virgin though well inclined to world travel and native to the paradise of Tobago. We were joined by our two k9’s, an Alaskan husky, and a miniature pincher, who made amiable mates after twelve straight hours of driving. A specially made dog hammock for the car provided suitable chill space for our friends as we migrated further east
As road signs turned to Gaelic, it signaled a transfer into new territory. This was the Nova Scotia my ancestors knew, a new Scotland. Wheeling through fisherman villages on the Cabot trail this was Cèilidh country, and around every dell and bray in the land unfurled an expanse of turf and surf. Growing up from the rusticated heathlands were the wooden, salt cured, pastel colored houses, and their denizens. The fellows of the country, as weathered as the stuff that builds their homes. Passing through Lake Ainslie and its associative village, a welcome sign read a population of 23. The numbers on their own plaques washed out by the sun and weather. I mischievously alternated the numbers on their hooks to read 32, then imagined how many times such an act had already been committed. Then I wondered instead if the population referred instead to coyotes, and moose, rather than the bipedal sapiens type.
The route through Scotia was long and flat, and necessitated a spontaneous highway pullover for a swim and cool down beneath one of the many river bridges. In New Glasgow, we found an Indian food truck and shared a spicy butter masala dinner before loading up again.For several hours puttering up the Cabot trail highlands road, the cars disappeared and we ventured alone in the darkness of a new moon night, stopping only to refill water for the dogs.
We reached Cape North at the tender hours of 2am, and started up a dirt path with only a number for a name. These kind of roads were always rough, and from my experience in commercial silviculture could carry on for hours, even days. Numbered roads now triggered an avoidant flight response in me, and I tried to stay away from the rabbit trails leading eons into the bush. The one in question eventually poured onto a junction called money point road, and from here it would peter out into nothingness. Reaching the point of no continuance on this money point trail, where a beaver pond arrested our progress of vehicle travel, we turned the car around in nothing less then a six point turn, drawing out geometric patterns in muddy tire tracks, and sat in silence contemplating our par for the course. We had made it to the inevitable welcome home camp of the gathering well enough, but were first to claim the terrain and were isolated in our celebration of the long foray over. Still yet we had four and a half kilometers to cover by foot, a tuft of moose hair on the trail and the absence of foot prints or tire tracks led me to think it would not be easy geography to traverse. Our canvas wagon was sacked up with the pyramid tent, down sleeping bag and heavy blankets, and a cork sleeping mat, rucksacks on our back and two dogs yanking us over the dark terrain and down a treacherous boulder slope, with sea level somewhere down in the dark void.
The scene and the grueling trek turned comical when we met with a troupe of East Indians on the trail. From a hoisted shoulder, a large speaker amplified a track of Hindi rap, while others slung wood, and gear over their backs, or otherwise great packs of what one could assume were tenting materials. We later saw them sun napping into the mid hours of a beaming hot day, with an entire grills worth of meat on their charcoal fireplace. It was a classic sight, and they reminded just like the younger Indian crowd in Kerala; the excessive meat grilling over bbq, the loud music carried in the arms from place to place, the brand name gear and fashion, and the perplexing will to house nearly ten people into a four man tent.
Grateful for a plot of flat meadow to lay down our tired skeletons among the night irises, we slumbered long and deep, only the breaking of the waves and the balmy ambient temperatures rising inside the canvas pyramid tent ushered us out into the light of a very good day. A flagoon of seals dipped in the brisk waters below the sea cliffs, and sporadically dissapeared from sight. Our secret meadow was bedecked in summer flowers of pearly everlasting, hawkweed, strawberry, and long grasses resembling spider plants, and sage. There is almost nothing that sweetens the soul with more sublimity than emerging from one’s tent in a new place of the world, and taking the first breath of fresh air that wafts into your lungs as the rays of sun embrace your newly woken self.
Faintly in the distance we could see an island, which we later learned is called St. Paul’s, while in the immediate threshold of our environment sharp shaley rocks sliced up the salty seawater, and splashed it onto the pebble beach. We partook in a naked swim, and I am reminded of a scene from Into the Wild as I recall it, at will with the wrestling waves, absolutely free, on the edge of the continent and with nothing to do but be. The sea is a magical place, especially the shore, in that when one stands with their feet in the water of the lapping wave, behind them is every known reality of one’s life, while in front lies the behemoth of an infinite sea, unstructured, non willed and free of our species. All domestic routines, politics, schooling, relationships, wars, dramas, work, business, etc. happens on this land. It is bound with the expectations of a people to provide, to proffer, support, produce, progress, and preside a way of life that seems to make sense. At the sea’s edge, all of this is stripped away and scaled down. The sense that I am a visitor here, and do not need to be conditioned by the world but rather informed by them. On the shoreline, we get to decide how to continue, or perhaps how we start over again, as we turn and walk out of the sea, and onto dry land. We evolve in these edge spaces.
Letting the k9’s loose for a free ranging morning, we pulled the pyramid tent closer to the edge of the cliff, and built a fireplace with antique red bricks pilfered from the foundation of a dilapidated and ruined house. Before long I had the moka pot steaming up over an open flame, and some Jamaican robusta coffee beans brewing, and sat for a blissful caffeination overlooking the deep blue. The myriads of morning seals were the finest company in such a setting. After a breakfast munch, Anicka and I trailed the dogs through the meadow, pausing to see wildflowers, whimsical windswept conifer trees, and collect driftwood for our fire. On rising to a knoll in the land, my husky charged off and did not recall, but another furry mammal did emerge on the top of the bray. A panic driven white tail deer hurtled over the meadow at breakneck speed, and launched itself off the cliff onto the rocks below. Then as suave and swiftly as any deer I have seen, he pounced into the sea with a full body landing in the oncoming tide and began to swim out from shore, without looking back. We were stunned in situ and could barely believe the scene to not be something from a movie, yet we had witnessed it there in front of us in plain sober reality. Through all manner of hails, hollers, wails and welcome backs, the deer did not err on its seabound voyage to nowhere in particular but far from where any dog was dare swim in pursuit. After several minutes the deer was but a speck on the horizon, smaller than a buoy drifting aimlessly on the swell. The only thing to believe was that the deer would drown, or be caught by a seal, and then pulled down into its watery tomb. St. Pauls island was too far abreast and would take an hour to sail there under fair weather. Even the reindeer of Norway who annualy swim across the fjord to new pasture grounds I believe would brush up against their physical boundary here. For the rest of the day, the whitetail was strong on my mind, simply wondering if I would see it back on shore, drenched and exhausted but alive. Or imagining how strange it would be for the aquatic life to see a mammal swimming among them so far from land, and if it died what would become of it on the ocean floor.
When we slumbered that night, indifferent to the exspirited driftwood lying on the shore, a raging noreaster broke over the cape. Thunderous storms reigned with Viking winds pummeling our tent, threatening to shake loose our only tether to this final edge of land. We must have been only heavy enough with to keep such a catastrophe from happening. Even my brave warrior of a dog was keen to come inside to shelter with his human. The morning left no marks of the tumult, only the permanently twists stalks of the evergreens shaped by past storms, and a few rogue pieces of our belongings that had tumbled away which were easily reclaimed.
None of the other Rainbow family had comes down from the mount of Cape North, and we started to wonder if we were in the wrong meadow, the idea was preposterous because of our idyllic setting but stranger things have happened. We naievely brough little in the way of food preserves thinking others would come soon with the bulk, so we rationed a tin of food to break our fast and foraged the mini wild strawberries for a sweet supplement to boost our energy for the climb outwards and upwards. I would leave camp behind and just take what was needed for the night and go for a scouting mission to find the rest of the family. Anicka was slated to teach online the next morning, but we wanted to share some fish and chips before parting. The elevational ascent was on par with any of Anickas tropical mountain hikes, and there was something in the coastal foliage that also reminded me of mesic American rainforests, albeit somewhat imaginatively. We wanted to celebrate with a fresh coconut at the top of the hill which I broke over a stone, sadly the palm fruit had fermented in the summer heat and was not fit for eating. I tossed it into a beaver dam, and instead we salivated at the thought of deep fried haddock and a quaint bayside village to sup idly as happy, go lucky tourists in our own country.
We did find what we yearned for, in the village of Saint Margarets which boasted 400 humans in residence, a food bank and coop, a community cafe, a fishmonger, and classic motel lodging. The wharf patiently hosted the crab fishing boats and whale charters of all piers everywhere. Our battered haddock was the much desire protein and caloric boost we needed to feel the life seep back into our muscles after the intensity of our mountain levitation. Anicka had the idea to inquire about internet activity in the motel, to which these modern acoutrements could be meted out indubitably. So with this, we decided to move in to Saint Margarets Sunset Oasis for two more nights, at least this was what we thought.
Upon yoking the dogs for a morning jog to the cliffs after they spent the night in the car, I absent mindedly forgot to return the car key to my companion in travel, and brought them with me on the trail. During the saunter through the tall grasses to the plateau of the cliff, I lost the key in a place that would seem impossible to reclaim in. I had to break the news to my friend, and we suddenly found ourselves stranded in this village until we could muster a spare. By sheer luck, the manager of the motel had access to a metal detector which was promptly brought for the treasure hunt to which I combed and pried through every blade of grass retracing my steps in seekance of the prize. Unfortunately after two hours of tireless search, the only metal that the detector picked up were rich deposits of mineral in the earth itself.
Considering we all had weathered two years of lockdowns and shelter in place orders, our situation was not nearly so dire in perspective to the domestic struggles of the pandemic. Our horizon spread out in multicolored waves as sunset tucked in another village microcosm, and we managed handsome fare with a limited kitchen setup in the motel, after a local fisherman gifted us several pounds of fresh Halibut from his own hook. We made New York style bagels and cream cheese with our fresh fish and drank a local stout with our furry friends at our feet outside on the grass, giving our goodnights the the port town that held us at her own for a few more nights. We took walks to the pier, and picked mallows and wild roses from the ditches, and recieved a tour of the town by the old Lighthouse keeper.
The more remarkable truth unfurled when we were stopped by a local crab fisherman while out with the dogs. He had recognized our camp at Money Point near the lighthouse, where he checked his traps daily, and asked if we had walked down all the way. He seemed keenly interested in how we came to be here and what kept us, then commented about the coyotes and whether we had seen any day. It was this interjection in the conversation where I told him about our sea swimming deer. To which without a breath of incredulity told the rest of the story of this marine driven mammal, and how it ended up in the hull of a crab fishing boat after being spotted by two of his friends. Out there in the deeps, they yanked the antlered being out of the water, bedraggled and exhausted, far from land. This is how myths get started I thought. So the deer was jetted back to shore and heaved back onto terra firma, in less a vigorous state than before but very much alive and well with a story no other deer of Cape Breton could tell.
After three days, a new key came from Fredericton and another storm was brewing. By now some of my Quebecois kin had made it to the lighthouse to seed the gathering with a basic camp and tent village, so I was heading back to sea level for the next few weeks, while Anicka would segway back home. While this seemed like a swell idea at the time, the ensuing 24 hours was beyond anything I have experienced from mother nature in all my travels. In terms of her ferocity, she was a Lioness, in manner of archetype she was the Tempest, her mood was wicked and the spirits did not seem happy. The overcast and passive gloom quickly transformed into the violent doom of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was in the span of hiking down from the welcome home camp to sea level where my canvas pyramid stood as a beacon for the intrepid hill walker, that the weather morphed into something I only recognized from the Scottish highlands. The chaos was already in tow, and I saw bodies cloaked in wetsuits frantically staking their tents in winds that threated to whip the sea itself into foam. Others turtled under bushes for shelter inside their flooding shelters, a mother with two kids, another woman pregant of six months with a stoicity no less than that of a Norse Goddess. Prerogatives shifted in the madness of the unforgiving weather, as Elsa and I retreated down the coast to find any solid structure tha may shelter us all from the extreme winds and rain. The sea churned with such primal violence, only the seals and the whales could navigate such waters. Even the birds were having a hard time, launching up for their take off flight only to be forced out of the sky like a magnet and sent hurtling back down to earth. We found no adequate shelter, only the ruins of the lightkeeper house, and an open frame iron tower where the tower once stood.
Now this lighthouse was not just any lighthouse, but in fact the very one that broadcast its final signals to the Titanic just before it sunk. The original lighthouse was in Newfoundland in “Cape Race”. It got moved to the tip of Cape Breton island, then it got moved to Ottawa for Canadian history.
So, to scion a story into a story, an interesting tale must be told. Late in the evening of April 14, 1912, just minutes before striking the fateful iceberg, the Titanic had been relaying passengers’ messages to Cape Race, but the nature of the wireless transmissions soon changed when the Titanic broadcast: “CQD CQD SOS Titanic Position 41.44 N 50.24 W. Require immediate assistance. Come at once. We struck an iceberg. Sinking.” Over the next several hours, Cape Race Marconi Station sent and received numerous messages as it helped coordinate the rescue operation and disseminated news of the tragedy. A marine radio station was active at Cape Race until 1965.” The iron tower was dismantled after a couple of years of disuse and shipped to Cape North, where it was used until 1978.
One of the Rainbow sisters slept far worse than I did. I heard her rummaging around later at night after reaching the summit, and caught the odd beam of a headlamp as she wrestled with rippling tarps. Her voice pierced the sounds of the blowing gale, as she repeated she had found a suitable place to sleep. In the morning I found her under one of the collapsed tarps, lying on bags of lentils and flour as a mattress. Without dry socks, she wound covid masks around her feet to keep them warm, and yet her humor and nonchalant attitude about the whole experience was still in tact. I had half a pack of Marley coffee left which I brewed for three of us in the welcome home camp. Shukrey was a spiritually inclined gentleman with a proclivity for the Muslim ways and a love of Allah. In his heart, a generous brethren of the Rainbow tribe and a tower of strength in tough times. We bonded over our bitter dark brew, on an equally dark and biiter day. I made my resolution to scale back down to sea level one final time to collect the remaining gear, and help those at the bottom rise out of their suffering too.
The winds had not abated, and the troupe of those who were still on the meadow were packing up their tender belongings and leaving the coast to the seals. Together in a mule train of five people, one of them the 6-months pregnant woman carrying a backpack of food, we prodded slowly back to the peak, taking multiple breaks on the way. At one knoll of the trail I came to my knees and settled into a crouching rest until a sister from below reached my location. A conversation ensued that to me represents exactly what Rainbow gatherings stand for and the synchronistic connections that align from the right people in the right place.
She was a woman of her fifties, a seasoned moon dancer of over 20 years, and a sistren of Pacha Mama in her second home of Colombia. There she lived many a year, and communed with the plantas sagradas among her latin American kinship circle. Her hair was graying, and she was well evolved into her wise cronedom, and yet carried a youthful aura and innocent gaze. She told tales of her time in South America, how the people were, the language of the herbs and the heart, the nature of the Amazon forest life. Her medicine pouch was tied to her pack which she untied to showed me a clay vessel bearing her image, that was made for her by the community she knew in Colombia. Inside was Mambe, a tobacco paste made in much the same way syrup is brewed. It was thick and dark and she told me I could use some for good energy. First by smearing the pure tobacco paste over my back gums, and then packing in a spoonful of powdered coca leaf mixed with other energizing herbs which would carry through the bloodstream and stream through my limbs, offering me renewed vigor. I packed the bright green powder that resembled matcha in texture and scent, into the lower corner of my mouth and let my natural salivating actions dissolved the wad slowly into the mucosal membrane of my cheeks. The rest was swallowed, and tasted like a pu-erh green tea, or a bit like kratom. I felt immense graciousness to be with her in this moment, to have the plants on my side, to have made a connection with someone so experienced that could guide my efforts for a future south American pilgrimage. The remaining steps up the mountain did not feel so heavy or gravitational, and the skies lost their dark clouds to the power of the sun. Within minutes, blue skies filled the atmosphere and golden light poured down onto us with a freshening breeze filtering through the dwarf trees. Those who remained at the top applauded our final steps to the camp while my whole soul felt relieved of the endeavor, and happy to cast off a burden. The daughter of Papillon made rice cake sandwhiches stuffed with nut butter, and these were better than any royal feast.
The prospects were good for finding a lift as far as Moncton, and I was happy to be in a moving car again as we wound down out of the snakey roads of Cape North, en route to New Brunswick. The long drive was an opportunity to integrate and decide how this story would be told. To absorb the immersive experience with a full heart, and an open mind. As we passed each crenulated bay and fjord in the Cabot trail, I looked out at people living their lives, eating their picnic, living their lifes in fleeting glimpses from a stranger, and wondered what stories they were holding on to, where they were going, and what motivated them to do the things they do. I hoped it was worth telling, and somehow that seemed important.