Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mainland Medley

We forsook Cape Breton for a five-day stint among the Nova Scotia mainlanders.

Truro beckoned first. There we reconnected with She-But-for-Whom-I-Wouldn’t-Be-Here. Cruising smoothly toward her 91st birthday, Doris remains a continuing joy. Having watched every CBC broadcast of the World Cup, she supplied me with well-considered views about the best and worst moments of the big event and informed commentary on my view that the great Lionel Messi deserved the Golden Boot he was awarded for being judged the World Cup’s best performer.

We went to Halifax to exploit the hospitality of Sheila and Stephen, my cultivated and long-serving Haligonian friends. I sought and received the benefit of Stephen’s expertise in monumental white bronze. A euphemism of choice among folks who thought there was a new way to make a buck from grief and loss, ‘white bronze’ is actually humble zinc. Back in the 1880s an American firm began manufacturing grave-markers from zinc, claiming they would outlast any other headstone medium, whether sandstone, marble or granite. The claim was not empty: close on a century and a half after they were first installed, white bronzes are as vivid, crisp and clear as the day they were installed—impervious to just about anything save and except vandalism. Walk into an 1880s-era cemetery having a white bronze or three and you will find they leap off the page.

At hoary Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax Stephen led me to some of the best and most elaborate white bronzes I have laid eyes on. Granted, yes, white bronze is a niche interest not likely to grab everyone’s eyeballs but I felt as gratified as a four-year-old on Christmas morning.

We moved on to Amherst Shore where, as usual, we were accorded a greeting as exultant as any we ever receive. There Garth and Carole preside much as Joe and Rose Kennedy once did over a compound rich with children and grandchildren. We hung out with most of their dozen descendants and a sprawling cast of siblings, nieces, nephews and who-knows-whom. I delighted in a pedagogical role: helping Garth convey the rudiments of the card game Hearts to grandsons Ty and Malcolm, aged 12 and 11. The lads were gratified beyond all reckoning with the tutelage: you might have imagined we’d handed them the keys to the Ottawa Mint.

Garth indulged my wish to take a look at the Amherst Cemetery on the off chance it might feature a white bronze or two. Holy cow! There were fully eight to study, photograph and ponder.

We crossed the New Brunswick line to take in the peep show at Dorchester Cape. No, not that sort of peep show. Birders know peeps as a genus of small sandpipers, including semi-palmated sandpiper. Every year in July masses of these sparrow-sized shorebirds gather to feed along the margins of the Bay of Fundy. The draw is the abundant refueling opportunities Fundy affords as the birds migrate to their faraway winter grounds. At Dorchester Cape the Nature Conservancy provides a viewing platform enabling birdoes to ogle the spectacle. We watched clouds of peeps, some I estimated at seven-thousand-strong wheeling to and fro along the shore of Shepody Bay. Such hordes attract birds with different feeding interests: peregrine falcon, American kestrel, northern harrier.

At Great Village a sad event generated an otherwise gratifying outcome. A crowd of relatives and friends gathered at the United Church to bid farewell to my sister Nancy’s mother-in-law, Donalda. I am among the legions who not only liked Donalda MacLachlan Nelson but also held her in high regard. Sadness was mitigated by other emotions. In her 99th year Donalda was ‘ready to go’ and did not depart this mortal coil kicking and screaming. After the upstairs formalities we gathered in the church basement among many familiar faces, sharing fond memories of the dearly departed.

We headed back to Cape Breton but not before making a detour. A hundred years ago this week the guns of August began barking along what would be called the Western Front of the Great War. The timing seemed right to take a short side trip to Westville, to see what I still consider the finest community war memorial in all of Canada: Emanuel Hahn’s grieving soldier, in bronze, beside the town post office. Do yourself a favour: the next time you’re headed to Cape Breton on Highway 104 take Exit 23 to Westville and behold Hahn’s masterwork. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

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