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Archive for April, 2021

(New) Scotland

Recently, I’ve spoken a lot about home and what that means. About missing places and things. But also, equally about exploration. The pull and push (both personal and circumstantial) of what moves us to move (or not). It seems reasonable in a time where our movement is restricted to consider what we did when we used to move and what we’ll do when we’re able to move around again. 

I often wonder about what my ancestors thought when they first moved to North America. With both Irish and Scottish ancestry, I can imagine (and have learned about) the pretty grim realities that faced some of them. That leaving was the only option. Although, I do wonder if they had other  individual reasons for leaving, or who was not coming with them. I wonder what their journeys were like, their first impressions as they got off the boat. After such an inconceivably long voyage to arrive on land that was almost interchangeable to what they had just left behind. Were they disappointed? Relieved? Or both? 

I knew little of their geographical similarities growing up. When hearing Nova Scotia, (nova meaning new), I understood my province’s namesake as a colonial claiming of ‘newly discovered’ land. Of marking their territory, so to speak. The inverted flags, the crests, the tartans, the family names, speaking of gaelic, the bagpipes. Bringing Scotland to the other side. However, when I visited the Hebrides in 2019, it occurred to me that the name Nova Scotia was not only a title, but was perhaps a way of identifying the remarkably identical similarity in landscape. Finding again what you thought you had left behind. 

When I was doing my teaching degree, one of my instructors spoke about taking a small boat to Grand Manan with a local fisherman to see the puffins there. He told us this story about being in that tiny boat in the vast Atlantic, his first time on the east coast. I sat listening, comforted as he told us about how they bobbed along the water, but then his voice had changed tone. There came a point where the fog had rolled in so thickly, the fisherman had to stop his boat because he could no longer see ahead. My instructor spoke of the deep, intense fear he had at this moment in contrast to the calm of this fisherman. Fear. Fear? It was here where I became utterly confused. It had never occurred to me until listening to his story that fog could be something to fear. I love fog. I know that probably sounds crazy, but I really, truly, utterly do. I love the dewy, all consuming, heavy air. The fog that consumed my community almost every morning. I, often in the passenger seat of my father’s car as we drove down the narrow, winding but oh so familiar routes in the thick grey air and never once did I worry. He knew those roads. Fear really is about the unknown.

Or sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, fear is about re-visiting places you have reasons to be afraid of, or worry about. I had bid (what I thought was) a permanent farewell to Nova Scotia in 2003 when I left for university. While many of my friends stayed with no plans of leaving, I left almost immediately after high school graduation. I was eager to live elsewhere, at that point it could have been anywhere. As mentioned in other posts, I lived in a few other places in Canada and never, ever was Nova Scotia a re-consideration. Even if there were economic opportunities, which there were not, to me, it was scorched earth. Until 2015. In July of that year, my living in the UK seemed to be in jeopardy because of clerical errors with my second visa application. My first visa had ended, I was no longer able to be in the country. I had to go home. At a minimum I was to be in Nova Scotia for a month and and at a maximum, indefinitely. This was not the plan. I was forced to go back. I was afraid. 

For a time that was truly terrifying in one way, it ended up being such an unbelievably beautiful homecoming in another. It’s funny how sometimes you can really come to appreciate something when you have to sit with it a while. For the first time, maybe ever, I had allowed myself the space to admit what I had loved and missed about Nova Scotia. I missed my mother, my dearest and oldest friends, the water (we’re spoiled for choice really, ocean, lakes, rivers), real autumn, the easy warmth of Bluenosers, having memories in each place you drive by and of course, the fog. I really could go on. My friend has recently moved to Halifax and hearing/watching his new discoveries of a place I know so well, I do admit that I miss Nova Scotia in a way I never knew I could admit to. That when my second visa was eventually sorted 4 months later, as I hugged my mother good-bye in the airport, I no longer wanted to run away from Nova Scotia. For the first time in my life, Nova Scotia seemed as golden an option as the UK. That loving one place didn’t have to diminish my love for another. Even though I still preferred the unfamiliar to the familiar, it was nice to know that the familiar existed should I ever want to return. 

Or sometimes as I’ve learned, the familiar is in the unfamiliar. As I mentioned earlier, we had ventured to the Hebrides, this very remote part of the UK that is quite an expedition, even by modern travel standards. From London to Glasgow to Stornoway, with each plane and each airport diminishing in size. After an overnight journey, we finally stepped off this tiny, tiny plane through the rain storm into the also tiny, tiny airport. As weary travellers we piled into our rental car to first visit the Isle of Lewis where with bleary, sleep deprived eyes we saw the Callanish Stone Circle, Bosta Iron Age Houses,and Highland cattle who meandered across the road, paying no mind to the drivers waiting behind them. We stopped to get groceries amongst the locals before we made the hour journey to our rural, rented house in the Isle of Harris. As we drove along the unfamiliar roads with Google Maps navigating our route, my head resting against the window, with the pounding rain and fog (along with my eyelids) getting heavier and heavier, it felt achingly familiar.

It baffles me how grey is so often associated with being muted. London grey really is extraordinarily different to ocean grey and it feels deeply misguided to confuse them. Anyone who has ever lived by the ocean knows that the colour grey is what appears when the sea and air are at their most alive. Where the wind and water slap you like a newborn. The movement that comes with the colour grey. We, winding our way through the Hebrides, the wet rain and wind whipping against us. The others hoped for better weather for the week. I prayed for the opposite. This was as good as it ever gets. When nature takes you by the shoulders and shakes you awake. 

I awoke as the car pulled into our interim home. I climbed out of the car, I climbed up one of the barnacled rocks, pulling my hood down so I could absorb the heavy, foggy air. I panned 360 degrees, over the bleak, treeless landscape, to the many coves that hugged the reluctantly smoothed down prehistoric rocks. I breathed in, deeply, the familiar air, the mirror image of Nova Scotia and its coastal communities. I was home again. (New) Scotland.

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