Monday, October 8, 2018

The King is dead, long live the Queen

It was only a matter of time. In my August 30 post I regaled loyal readers with accounts and descriptions of the feverish fun generated in the 2018 Cape Breton summer season once table hockey took over as the cabin's prime entertainment mode. Faithful readers will recall that I crowed about the success I have enjoyed as a player lo these many years. But having played a few games with my unconscionably competitive cousins Lynn and Louise, I also predicted that my long-standing unbeaten record stood on thin ice.

Perhaps an update is in order. The cabin's 'sunroom', normally the scene of Bananagrams bloodbaths in which Lynn demolishes all challengers was transformed into a kind of hockey rink. The twins—Lynn and her 40-minute-younger doppelganger—decided that table hockey promised an arena-full of far better fun: Bananagrams was cast aside like last week's wilted lettuce.

I acquired my first table hockey game, oh, about a hundred thousand years ago. I managed to get neighbourhood friends to play but they never brought the sort of intensity I felt the game warranted and deserved. I was the only brother in a family of four and though two of my sisters are, like Lynn and Louise, identical twins, none of my sisters delivered the sort of frenzy that truly exhibits what a terrific game table hockey is. Starved at home for worthy competition, I decided it was just not in the nature of girls to want to destroy a table hockey foe. It turned out I was wrong, but it took decades for my error to be revealed.

Lynn and Louise are monozygotes of an entirely different stripe. They took to the game like a murder of crows to freshly cast-out bread crusts. We decided the way to make the most of table hockey was to organize an honest-to-goodness tournament, complete with a round-robin component followed by a playoff round culminating in a 'gold medal' game. So that's what happened. In each game the first player to three goals wins. Over the course of the last three weeks six tournaments unfolded. In most of the first five—some involving three players, some with four—I lost a single round-robin game before bearing down in the playoffs. I qualified for the gold-medal game in all five tournaments and—fortune favouring the bold—managed to bully my way to the gold medal in every one.

Perhaps it is not strange that in every single game I played those who stood and watched invariably cheered for my opponent. Any goal scored against me delivered unrestrained joy and euphoria not just on the part of the scorer but from everyone watching. I began to feel distinctly unloved.

Last Thursday evening, my third last of the 2018 Cape Breton season, delivered Tournament Number 6. This one was a four-way contest, pal Kevin Squires taking the fourth spot. That Kevin has table-hockey experience was immediately obvious in our round-robin game but because he had not played in years I was confident that I would prevail in our opening game. My confidence was entirely misplaced: Kevin won, 3-2. The round-robin results determined seeding for the playoffs. The second and third seeds—Kevin and Lynn­—squared off first. Lynn won. I exulted in a 3-0 shutout of Louise in the 1-4 matchup. Beware exultation. Fiercely competitive, the final game between Lynn and myself went on and on and on. Eventually the score stood 2-2. Then disaster. Lynn's right defenseman beat my goaltender cleanly on a vicious shot from behind her blue line. The game was over, the gold medal Lynn's. I managed not to cry.

Defeat was bad enough but what's worse is that redemption—or possible redemption—is a long way off. I have a wealth of time to lick my wounds: I will have to wait 'til next year to seek vengeance in another table-hockey slugfest. Until then Lynn can boast—and she most certainly will—that she is the defending gold-medal winner in the famed, ferociously antagonistic Bigadore table-hockey league.

What can I do? Perhaps it was the great Vince Lombardi who said, Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser. Yes, I am a loser but I don't intend to be a good one. I have another table hockey game, in Victoria. I will dust it off and over the winter get ready to deliver vengeance in the summer of 2019.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Not to Mention Sandra Bullock Too

Any time I manage to organize a ramble with pal Peter Goodale I can expect that in addition to all the predictable rewards there will be payoffs of the offbeat, unpredictable variety. Such was the case on Tuesday. Motivated by the disclosure that Peter had never been there, I proposed we do the hike from storied Gabarus—a short gull flight across Gabarus Bay from historic Louisbourg—to the ghost village of Gull Cove, then on to Gabarus Cape and its commanding views over Cape Breton’s east coast and the open Atlantic. Take my word for it: Gull Cove and Gabarus Cape are worthy destinations, particularly on a day like the one we savoured yesterday--sunny, not-too-cool, entirely blithe. Best of all, we had it to ourselves; no other humans crossed our path.

One of the rewards of any outing with Peter—what should I call it, the sidebar attraction—is an almost guaranteed bonus. In Gabarus we took a short road to a construction site where Bud, the sibling of someone married into the Goodale clan, has been busily engaged in moving and underpinning a 150-year house with a fancy new foundation. Peter and I enjoyed excellent conversation with Bud and also had a tour of the old house interior. In the kitchen I tried but was unable to count all the layers of wallpaper that had their years in the sun over the past fifteen decades and are now exposed by Bud’s renovations.

For me the highlight of this particular sidebar was having Bud tell us that Sandra Bullock once sat here in conversation with the elderly matriarch who ruled the roost at the time. Now as it happens I am one among the millions of men who have taken quite the shine to Ms. Bullock and her movie appearances over the years. It seems that a few years back Miss Congeniality was in the midst of a film shoot in Cape Breton when someone told her about the charms of Gabarus. She went there and in the course of events found herself in the old lady’s kitchen. What must have been especially delightful for Ms. B was discovering that the senior citizen seated across the kitchen table had no idea who she was—didn’t recognize her, didn’t know her name, didn’t have the foggiest clue that she was in the presence of a beloved, world-famous actress. What a relief it must have been for someone who hardly ever gets to be anonymous.

We tore ourselves away from the scene of Sandra Bullock’s Gabarus kitchen moment to our trailhead. There, an old cemetery affords a final resting place for some of the folks who lived at Gull Cove a century and more ago. Nowadays no one at all lives at Gull Cove, no one, that is, of our own species. All that remains of the once thriving village are old house foundations. Whenever I see such a place I default to contemplating the transience of human affairs, the ephemerality of life. Such was the case yesterday.

Gull Cove is evocative but to put no fine point on it, the place is also beautiful, a landscape of open fields, sea cliffs and rocky headlands. Even without a binocular you can make out the buildings of the national historic site at Louisbourg. We crossed an expanse of cranberry barrens to Cape Gabarus, an excellent place to stop for a picnic of sardines, cheese and crackers. I felt septuagenarian gratitude that I am still able to walk that far under my own steam without having to rely on supplemental oxygen or require air ambulance evacuation.

While taking on replenishment at the Cape one can contemplate lovely little Green Island where a gull my gentle reader may never have heard of—the black-legged kittiwake—nests in greater numbers than anywhere else in the Maritime Provinces. If that is insufficiently alluring there is intriguing geology to contemplate and something else: the power of nature. Yesterday was quiet and calm but the beached lobster traps pitched inland far from shore and the occasional skeleton of a seabird wrecked by Atlantic storm demonstrate that some days at Cape Gabarus are anything but quiet and calm.

I can make no promise that an expedition to Gabarus and the trail to its eponymous cape will deliver the opportunity to hang out in a place redolent of Sandra Bullock but I can promise that the hike to Gull Cove and splendid Cape Gabarus is plenty enough reward all by itself.

Monday, September 10, 2018

All That—and Solomon Gundy Too

It is always serendipitous when a guy operating a blog dubbed Peregrinations has a worthy peregrination to tell his handful of readers about. We went to the mainland to join good pals Carole and Garth in seeing how much trouble we might get into at the opposite end of Nova Scotia. A principal target was Shelburne County where in the immediate aftermath of the American Revolutionary War thousands of Americans who had sided with the mother country against their tea-partying American fellows decided to relocate to Nova Scotia, still a loyal part of the Empire.

Among the loyalist throng were some three thousand black people, virtually all of them slaves or descendants of slaves, whose support of Britain in the conflict against the folks led by Washington and Jefferson was rewarded with the promise of a better life in Nova Scotia. At Birchtown, main destination of the black loyalists, we visited the Black Loyalist Interpretation Centre and learned the extent to which the promise turned out to be a hollow one. Within just a few years, after enduring great hardship, many of the blacks accepted another dubious proposition—another relocation—this time to Sierra Leone in Africa.

On a sunny Wednesday we went to Cape Sable Island—as far removed-from-Cape-Breton part of Nova Scotia as you will find—to look for birds. The Hawk, perhaps the premier birding destination in all of Nova Scotia, afforded a few turnstones, whimbrels and ‘peeps’—even a rare Caspian tern—but the principal rewards of the Cape Sable junket had nothing to do birds. Garth and I both like to initiate conversation with total strangers. At the Hawk we relished an impromptu chat with a local lobsterman who edified us in spades about the particulars of lobstering in this corner of our fair province. In Clark’s Harbour I was amazed to find a bronze soldier atop the community war memorial. If you’d asked me if I knew all the bronze and soldiers of Nova Scotia I’d have said Yes, absolutely. I’d have been wrong.

History abounds in this part of Nova Scotia. At Barrington we connived to visit not just one museum but four, including the 1765 Barrington Meeting House, built in the aftermath of the Acadian expulsion by transplanted American Quakers and Planters. In the adjacent graveyard the visitor gets to contemplate death’s-head headstones dating back to the same period.

Having learned about one story of man’s inhumanity at Birchtown we headed to Pubnico to immerse in another. We spent an edifying half-day at La Village historique acadien, Lower West Pubnico. The village represents the life that the Acadiens had managed to rebuild for themselves more than a century after the infamous expulsion—Le Grand Dérangement—of the mid-18th Century. Our interpreters, all dressed in period costume, were uniformly terrific: Harry the Blacksmith, Sherman the Boatbuilder, Marcel the Fisherman, et al.  What’s more they all seemed to share the same name—d’Entremont—tenth-generation descendants of the original main man among the pioneers of Pubnico.

Something impressive met the eye in Lower West Pubnico: the great fishing fleet moored at Dennis Point. The lobster boats are nothing like the pipsqueaks tied up at the Big Bras d’Or wharf near the summer cabin. The Pubnico boats—ship might be the better term—are huge, 28’ wide, more than 60’ long. As if that were not enough, Dennis Point also afforded an opportunity to spend a half hour aboard Bluenose II, which just happened to have dropped in for the day.

On Friday we forsook Shelburne County for its Lunenburg counterpart. Lunenburg town, one of Canada’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, offers plenty to impress the eye and engage the grey matter of someone keen on history. And something to please the palate too. Niece Naomi gave us a hot tip: Saturday happened to be the day the annual blueberry festival unfolded at Parkdale in the northern reaches of the county. We went there, and for a lousy fifteen bucks a head got to pig out on an array of down-home Lunenburg County cuisine: Sausage and Sauerkraut, Pudding & Cheese, Hodge Podge, Smeltz Potatoes, Solomon Gundy—and more. Dessert was blueberry pie or blueberry grunt, take your pick. One of our quartet managed to inveigle our young attendant into delivering three desserts. Holy doodle!

The Parkdale feast was the capper of a trip festooned with great grub. I fear when I step on the scale back at the cabin I will not like the number staring me in the face. But what the heck, austerity, restraint and responsibility are not the sorts of attitudes to take into a September road trip with Garth and Carole. A year ago Gaspe was great; Shelburne-Lunenburg was superb this past week. What do we do next year? I know: let’s board a coastal supply vessel for a journey among the southern outports of Newfoundland. Who can say what seafood specialties await?