Early morning in Aspey Bay was as good as the oysters. A little camp coffee, a quick clean up and we were off. Rather than hurtling south, we took a minute to swing out to the coast to see a beach overlooking the bay. Here on the Atlantic, at the back of a long bay, the beach was powder smooth, dark brown sand. The road to the beach was a rutted, rocky affair that stopped about 200 yards short of the beach in a deeply wooded area. We walked down and watched the sun gain little altitude over the bay, and it all felt like the proper way to start a day.
On the way back out we noticed a tiny little sign on the side of the road in that said “You find Heaven in the Most Unexpected Places.” It was next to a soft, narrow white path of crushed gypsum. We stepped into a towering grove of white birch to find a tiny graveyard, neatly kept but ungroomed, of about 6 or 7 gravestones. Two were a couple who each lived to over 90 years, and the rest were children. In this quiet, tiny place where birch trees probably 75 years old shaded the dead, I was struck at how there wasn’t a single tree, or sapling, or even bush growing amidst the headstones. Birch trees will grow in groves, and reproduce in any inch of available space, but here they respected the dead. Almost magically. Almost like a little piece of heaven in an unexpected place.
Further south, we finished the Cabot Trail and turned inland to the Bras d’Or region of southern central Cape Breton. The area was named a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 2011, and the ‘lake” is actually an estuary with open access to the ocean as well as copious inflows of fresh water from the highland streams. It covers over 424 square miles. Everything seems rounder here, less violent than the topography of the coastlines of Cape Breton. And that is fitting, as the Bras d’Or is a scar cleaved when all this area formed, but it is healed over — filed and sealed with a blue black epoxy of water that reaches almost 1000 feet deep, spangles light in a million different refractions, and greets the wind with countless synchronized winks of frosted white eyelashes. Coupled with the lush shoreline, of which there is some 600 plus miles, excluding islands, Bras d’Or lake soothes the landscape and reminds participants that recovery sometimes makes us better.
We wandered coves and bays of the loch-like estuary, and visited Cape Breton Island in its middle, where we tried a number of rutted logging roads across its central highland to bisect it. In each case, we ran out of road before we succeeded, but the effort was pleasant and the views excellent. We worked our way back north and east along Bras d’Or to arrive back on the southeastern coast of Cape Breton for the night. Tomorrow we will continue south to somewhere near the causeway where we first began our exploration. After that we will go south to the rest of Nova Scotia fully prepared to appreciate this coastal gem. Scarred some, just a little, by frustrations and challenges to get to and through this far, but healed over by having been here, and better than when we arrived.