For the first time since we teamed up two decades ago Jan and I are, only for a while, doing our own thing as summer turns to autumn. After three months at the summer shack it was time for her to return to her musical passions on the west coast and to Victoria’s myriad charms and attractions. A year ago health problems cost me the entire season at Bigador – I felt robbed – so I am hell-bent on making up the loss this year: I am intent on spending my full four-month entitlement here – and reveling in Cape Breton’s October allure for the next two weeks.
Yes, I miss my mate but I am determined to confound those – my dear old Mum in particular – who fear that left to my own devices I may starve or accidentally burn the cabin down or perhaps chainsaw off a leg. When I last glimpsed Jan beyond the security line at Sydney’s McCurdy airport I admit to having felt more than a little sentimental but I quickly decided that the best way to fend off lonesomeness is by maximizing busyness and productivity. I do the pre-breakfast Dalem walk just as I did in Jan’s company. I conduct selective tree-cutting, make firewood, enjoy small projects around the Bigador compound. I don’t waste time. If the rain stays away I spent almost all the daylight hours outdoors; after dark I produce a proper supper; CBC Radio is my constant companion.
One of my top blessings is that despite my advanced age and lack of personal charm, Lynn and Louise continue to allow me to join them on their expeditions into the untraveled Cape Breton hinterland. I describe my twin cousins – with no exaggeration or lazy bias – as the most formidable backcountry people Cape Breton has to offer.
Do you want to join us for an off-trail ramble in the hills above the Cheticamp River canyon, they asked. Absolutely, I answered. The collected me early Saturday morning and by mid-morning we were at the trailhead on Cape Breton`s opposite coast. ‘Trailhead’ is perhaps a misleading term: the twins don`t much like prepared trails. As soon as it can be arranged they like to get away from the road well traveled and head for places no one ever goes.
Saturday morning was a case in point. For a short time we followed a route that had been a formal national park trail until it was decommissioned at some point in the 1980s. Soon enough, as a steep hill loomed to our right Lynn spotted a grazing cow moose. I managed to get an excellent shot of its butt end before the cow realized our presence and skedaddled. We followed the big beast up the slope, through mature forest, over and around fallen logs.
Moose signs proliferated as we approached the summit: moose trails, moose-browsed trees, pressed-down spots marking places where cow or bull had chosen to bed down for the night, frequent piles of moose pellets. What there wasn’t was any sign of human presence: no beer cans, candy wrappers, or old campfire sites.
We climbed to the summit of the twins’ mountain, a mountain that has no name on topographical maps so I cannot tell you it. At a rocky promontory overlooking the Cheticamp River gorge and the village of Cheticamp on the distant horizon, I asked Lynn and Louise to make an educated guess: when was the last time a person other than themselves had been in this spot? They gave the question careful consideration before Lynn ventured this: perhaps the 1930s. How marvelous it was to imagine that she might be right, that we could briefly visit a spot sufficiently remote that no one else had trod in eighty years.
Which is not to say we were devoid of company. Selecting another promontory overlooking the deep Cheticamp Valley we settled in for a hawk watch. Only a few songbirds remained in this place on the first day of October, most of their kind having departed for points south but we did see birds, big ones: several bald eagles, a merlin, and two individuals of a species the twins could not remember ever having seen before in Cape Breton – peregrine falcon. Yahoo.
I am grateful to Doris Irene, my friend and mother, for bestowing upon me a constitution decent enough that I can still bushwhack up trackless mountains in my seventieth year – and of course a clear sense of how lucky I am that that is so.