Snow Geese in Wool

After sighting a flock of Snow Geese in March 2017, I have been thinking about how to capture the migration of Snow Geese in wool. Last week, I finally sat down and knit up a hat in the species’ honor.

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The simple triangle motif based on quilters’ flying geese is knit in black, gray, and white to resemble Snow Geese flight feathers, and the three repeats form subtle V shapes to imply movement.

This hat is now winging its way to my uncle in Pennsylvania in time for winter.

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Sister’s Lake

Back in September, G and I spent a warm weekend in the Adirondacks. I was desperate for the smell of spruce forests and the feel of cool water. We packed our car, loaded the canoe, and headed east after work on Friday September 22. It is a long drive from Buffalo to the Adirondack State Park, so it was well into the night by the time we pulled over at a trailhead and lay down across the trunk and back seats in our small hatchback. Gazing through the back windshield, the wide canoe on our roof cut a black gash across the starry sky.


On Saturday, we took our time reaching our final destination. We first bought cider doughnuts and coffee in Old Forge, then drove Uncas Road to the trail for Black Bear Mountain. It was a perfect blue-skied day, warm enough for mid-summer though technically autumn had arrived. The maple trees were burning red and orange across the landscape, with the birch just beginning to glow yellow.

When we first arrived, G and I were the only people at the summit, but we were soon joined by an extended family with young children. They reached the peak, and immediately began to search for something. When we inquired, the father explained that one of his sons had passed away a few years ago and he, the father, had carved his son’s initials into the rock as a memorial. Now they were back a year later and could not find the carving. They looked for at least an hour, with no success. Perhaps they were on the wrong mountain. At the risk of sounded insensitive, I must say that we were glad that they did not find their carving. Engraving the Adirondack granite is leaving a trace to say the least. It implies a sense of self-importance and a disregard for the value of a natural area. It affects other people’s experiences. Fellow hikers, please follow Leave No Trace ethics and keep your penknives away.

In the afternoon, we drove to Big Moose Lake, where we parked our car at the public boat launch and headed out for the night. Our destination was a lean-to that lies three miles past the far end of the lake and is only accessible through a combination of boating and walking. This lean-to is perched on the edge of Sister’s Lake, with a natural rock outcrop serving as a swimmer’s ideal entry. We shared the location with three men who were also out for the weekend.

I had brought my Acadian hat with me as the weekend’s knitting project, which I had first knit as a memory piece from our honeymoon to Nova Scotia. The hat is made with Quince and Co. Lark yarn in calming blue-greens that remind me of early twilight. The original was in need of brim modifications. One of the men who was staying at the lean-to saw me knitting and liked my Acadian hat so much, he requested that I sell one to him. And so, I did. Last week, PH received his own Acadian hat, with just a few modification. I hope it keeps his cozy and warm all this winter long.

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Connections

The first thing that drew me to Nova Scotia as a honeymoon destination was it’s clear cultural ties to Scotland, especially cultural ties expressed in wool. M and I made a trip to Scotland in 2015, and I had since been interested in the historic and present ties to New Scotland.

In the 1800’s, the infamous Highland Clearances took place across northern Scotland. Landlords forced thousands of peasants from their homes in favor of sheep. These people were forced to settle in Scotland’s less arable lands and many risked emmigration rather than eek out meager livings on the plots allowed to them in Scotland. Scots arrived at the harbors of Cape Breton and made new lives for themselves as fisherman, subsitence farmers, and, later, coal miners. (I suspect that these people included my maternal grandmother’s Murray ancestors, though my great great grandfather ended up in Montreal rather than Cape Breton.) Commercial fishing, farming, and mining have all declined, but Nova Scotia’s Scottish heritage continues to thrive in the language, music, and dance of Scotland, which have evolved into endemic styles.

Less attention is given to the geological ties between these lands. The Aspy Fault slices through the Cape Breton Highlands just as the Great Glen Fault cleaves the Scottish Highlands. Two faults are in fact one in the same. They are both part of the 300 km fissure known as the Great Glen Fault formed millenia ago when Newfoundland, Cape Breton, and Northern Scotland were all part of the Avalonian subcontinent.

Travelling the Cabot Trail brings you to a number of Aspy Fault viewpoints. If you are moving by pedal bicycle, these points are good places to rest after climbing the steep road.DSC_0419DSC_0413DSC_0410

The vegetation makes for a different looking landscape, but standing at a Cabot Trail overlook of the Aspy Fault, I also saw the view from Conic Hill in my mind’s eye. I like to think that the ancient geological connection between Scotland and New Scotland is part of what drew thousands of Scots to settle the northwestern Atlantic Coast. True, these people were low on options, but perhaps the Canadian land felt surprisingly familiar to its new residents and allowed for the flourishing of Celtic-Canadian culture that continues to this day.

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Smokey Mountain

Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail boasts four significant climbs. This is true whether cyclists travel clockwise or counter-clockwise, but the counter-clockwise route involves slightly steeper slopes on the uphill sides of Smokey, North, MacKenzie, and French Mountains. G and I spent a long time considering which direction to take. In Goudsborough, we made up our mind to travel counter-clockwise, so that we would go up the steeper slopes. We made this choice because our tandem is equipped with V-brakes. Tandems that are built for touring should have disc brakes, which are more powerful, and some even have an extra brake that is operated by the stoker (that’s me in the back). Without these features, we were nervous about the steep declines. G would have to be careful to pump our brakes regularly and we would surely reach speeds that make me uncomfortable.

For us, the climbs began on our second day. We prepared ourselved with too much breakfast at the Wreck Cove General Store. Eating at a picnic table on the lawn, we were blessed by a luna moth siting. This one was a little worse for wear, but still beautiful.DSC_0310DSC_0312DSC_0318

We would have left Wreck Cove sooner if not for other friendly visitors who each talked to us for a long time, not sensing our eagerness to depart before the coming rain.

Smokey Mountain boasts the steepest slope of all the Cabot Trail grinds, but it is also relatively short. We reached the base as misty fog crept in, blocking any views of the ocean to our right. We were fortunate not to have any strongs winds – we didn’t realize just how fortunate at the time – and were able to make steady progress up the hill one stroke at a time. We reached the top, cornily declaring “We smoked it!” and feeling rather smug.DSC_0319DSC_0323

From the peak of Smokey Mountain and Cape Smokey Provincial Park, it is mostly downhill to Ingonish and then Cape Breton National Park.DSC_0326DSC_0332We stopped in the Visitors’ Center there to look at maps, ask about camping, and buy a few souveniers. Then we were off to find a swimming spot. Our first opportunity came at Broad Cove campground. The Parks staff told that there was a beach with frigid water, and we were welcome to swim but probably wouldn’t last long. They were right, of course, the water was freezing, but the sun was warm and it felt wonderful to be outside in the sun with warm breezse blowing on our skins. I only managed to wade in up to my knees, but G was brave enough to take a quick plunge.DSC_0339.JPGDSC_0387DSC_0392

We left the beach feeling refreshed and happy, and still confident from our ride up Smokey. It is fair to say that this was the last time that we felt proud on the Cabot Trail. Our inflated egos travelled with us until the turn-off to Neil’s Harbour and Aspy Bay, at which point we left them lying limply at the bottom of the rolling hills of White Point Road. White Point Road is a detour that was recommended to us by the cashier at Wreck Cove General Store. He told that this detour was beautiful and that there was ice cream to be found in the base of the light house there, but forgot to mention that this road is obnoxiously hilly and there would be strong winds off the coast. We agree that this detour is beautiful, but we cannot recommend it to fellow cyclists, not least because the ice cream shop appears to be no more.DSC_0398.JPG

Bicycling the Cabot Trail

Cape Breton is, perhaps, the most famous region of Nova Scotia. It is known for dramatic vistas, for Celtic music and dance, for Cheticamp rug hooking, and for the Cabot Trail that links it all together. It is also known for its hills, which Nova Scotians had been warning us about since our arrival in the province. G was confident that we could climb any hill, but I was uncertain, especially due to a deep and unignorable pain that had developed in my left hamstring. Still, there was no way to know until we tried, and really no alternative anyway after we had already come so far to ride The Cabot Trail.

We left Port Hastings on Highway 104, which is a true highway with plenty of trucks, tourists, and resident islanders travelling north. 104 does have a large shoulder, but riding a pedal bicycle on a highway is never pleasant. The pain in my hamstring became unbearable as we climbed the rolling hills toward the Cape Breton highlands. It seemed to take over my mind and all I could think of was the sensation. We were on a tight schedule to reach Cape Smokey Provincial Park for the night, but we were forced to pull over repeatedly for me to take breaks. This was the way of things until we reached Baddeck, the first town of our route on The Cabot Trail. Baddeck is home to Baadeck, a yarn shop of course, so we took the time to peak at the yarns before buying thick, pasty all-natural sunscreen at the drug store and chatting with a M’kmaw man in the parking lot. In the heat of late afternoon, we were in desperate need of ice cream, but there was none to be found. This ended up being the first of several ice cream hunts that ended in disappointment.

The rest of our afternoon was uneventful but for a very short ride on the Englishtown cable ferry.DSC_0300.JPG

Many of the craft shops were closed by the time that we reached them in the early evening. This was disappointing, but we had nowhere to store woodwork or pottery anyway. It was getting toward civil twilight when we started to look for a place to stealth camp rather than continue to Cape Smokey. We came across several places that I thought would do just fine, but G felt that they were too exposed, too visible, too this or too that. We had made up our minds that we would continue to Cape Smoke Provincial Park in the dark after all, which meant climbing Mount Smokey first, when we stopped for a hamstring break in the parking lot of Wreck Cove General Store. The store was closed for the night, but the owner was outside packing a trailer for a trip to Halifax. It only took a few moments of chatting with pathetically tired me for this man to realize that I truly did not want to continue on and climb the steepest hill of Cape Breton after dark, and he offered us a place to camp by the woodline behind the store. There were thousands of mosquitoes back there, he said, but no one would bother us. Not only this, but he brought us each a cold beer to have with our dinners. G and I have been both treated well by many strangers while we are travelling – Appalachian Trail angels and magicians, Warm Showers hosts, drivers giving hitches, the list goes on – and we never take it for granted. We are always more grateful than we can express and can only hope that we are able to pay kindness forward.
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Lochiel to Port Hastings

Our third day spent reaching Cape Breton began at Lochiel Provincial Park where we had spent the night. We followed paved, but quiet, route 276 east. The road was lined by the Acadian Forest, with delicate bog laurel growing just a few feet from the pavement.DSC_0267
There were no true towns between Lochliel and Guysoborough on the coast, but we did pass by a number of isolated houses and then the well-named hamlet of Erinville.DSC_0268

Guysborough is one of the oldest European ports in North America. It is a quiet town set on a beautiful cove with a surprisingly informative community museum. We arrived in the late morning, and stopped at the museum first thing. The steward generously shared his local knowledge, inlcuding where do get elevensies (also known as “second breakfast”).

I will take a moment here to say how important elevensies were to both of us on this trip. Each morning, we ate a simple meal of oatmeal or yogurt and granola at our campsite or hotel room. We also planned out, before even beginning, where we might get a more satisfying breakfast. No matter how beautiful the morning riding was, this upcoming meal was always a bit on on minds. If we did not find a place to satisfy ourselves before too many hours had gone by, G could think of nothing else. We judged the quality of elevensies the potatoes. The potatoes at Days Gone By Bakery in Guysborough were top notch. The had never been frozen. They were cut in large pieces but managed to be crispy and moist. And the meals came with baked beans, which I love. Delightful. Despite efforts for delicious breakfasts later in our trip, this meal remained our favorite.

We left Guysborough via Route 16, which hugs the harbor. The water was clear and all I wanted was to go for a swim, but we were well behind schedule and kept on, hot and uncomfortable. In the early afternoon, we were relieved to turn onto Middletown Road and then Pirate Harbour Road. These are dirt roads that cuts across the land where Route 334 goes around. I was suspicious of our map’s snowmobile symbols along Pirate Harbour Road, but Google maps and Map my Ride were in agreement that this was a drivable road.
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And this was true at the start. We were able to relax and cruise along, passing by small farms and enjoy the absence of traffic. Every now and then, G would declare, “This road is chill!” DSC_0284.JPGEven a rusty broken culvert and our second flat tire couldn’t ruin our good mood. DSC_0291.JPG

But it was soon after this that the road petered out at a log landing. We confirmed with our GPS that we were in the right location and then heading to the right where we found a deeply gouged four-wheeler route with standing water and a soft mucky bottom. I thought about leeches.DSC_0293DSC_0285DSC_0296

From here, G was forced to walk Leonid through the deep muck, keeping his feet to one side of the “road” whenever possible.20170611_15345320170611_153931 We imagined that it would keep on like this for a while and then we would reach a drier stretch again and be able to ride the rest of the way to Auld’s Cove and Port Hastings. Instead, we came to an open swamp replete with cat tail and calla lily (a “life plant” for me). Staying on the four-wheeler/snow mobile route would have required swimming, so we opted to ford the sphagnum mats. We squelched our way through the knee-deep, sometimes thigh deep-muck,  letting out cries of surprise when the earth dropped suddenly from beneath our feet.20170611_15422920170611_15463620170611_15464220170611_155211At the tree line on the far side, there was an unexpectedly bikable dirt road running parallel to our planned route. I declared, “I think we have to take this road somewhere,” and so we did. We followed it and a few others all the way to Mulgrave and then took route 344 to the crowded and stressful Canso Causeway. We don’t have any positive things to say about cycling through Port Hastings, Port Hawkesbury, or the Skye Lodge where we spent the night, but we probably won’t remember much about these places either. Instead our memories of this day will focus on our silly and unexpected adventure on Pirate Harbour Road. If either of us had been alone it might have been frightening, and I certainly would have turned around and spent an extra day reaching Cape Breton via paved roads. Instead, because we were together for safety and for fun, we both admit that this was one of the highlights of our trip.


I cannot share videos here, so check my instagram account @walkinginwool for more views of Pirate Harbour swamp.

Inland

There are not many options for cyclists travelling from Halifax to Cape Breton Island. We studied our maps before and during our trip and had decided that the best way to go was Route 7 along the coast, and then turning inland for a mix of paved and dirt roads. It took us three days to reach the Island. The first of these three was spent getting out of Dartmouth in the rain. This was mostly done on busy parkway and highways, with one short spell on a rough rail trail that resulted in our first flat tire.DSC_0257We planned to ride one hundred miles, but the wind, water, and traffic ate away our ambition and at one o’clock in the afternoon, with only 36 miles under our wheels, we found ourselves dripping dirty water onto the lobby floor of Jeddore Lodge and Cabins. We booked ourselves a one room cabin, cranked up the heat, hung our wet clothes in every possible place, ate dinner in bed, and watched an X-men marathon.DSC_0260


The stormy weather cleared overnight and we hit the road dry and refreshed on June 10th. We followed route 7 along the coast until Sheet Harbour, where we turned north on route 374 and stopped at a Lochaber Mines Provincial Boat Launch for a meal, bike maintenance, and a good cool foot soak.
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In the afternoon, we turned east on Cameron Settlement Road. This was clearly an active logging road, the type of which I had stated we would not ride on, but fortunately, it was a Saturday and there were no logging trucks about.20170610_153354.jpg
In fact, it seemed that we had these roads all to ourselves until, suddenly, several miles from anywhere, there were two older men sitting by the side of the road. They got up when they heard us coming, hoping, as it turned out, that we were a car. The two men had been fishing on a small lake off of a side road for four days. When they went to drive home, they found their car battery dead. With no cell phone signal and several hour’s walk to the nearest town road, they were feeling a bit down on their luck. Of course, we could do nothing for their car, but we chatted for a few minutes – swatting at a sudden abundance of black flies the whole time – and promised to try and send help as soon as we came across a vehicle. Then off we went down the road. Half an hour later, we came to a paved street, and were able to flag down the driver of an SUV. The couple in the car were on their way to a meeting in town, but they directed us to a white and red house just down the way, and told us that the man there knew all the trout fishing lakes and he would know where the stranded fellows were and be able to help them out. There are many places in the world where it would be difficult to convince a stranger to drive miles on a dirt road to possibly find other strangers and jump their car. But in this isolated section of Nova Scotia, we never doubted that the folks in this white and red house would help. And help they did. We knocked on the door, and a man answered right away. He invited us in without even knowing our business. We told him our story and he got out a detailed, annotated map of all the lakes in the area. His wife offered us cold drinks, and the fisherman showed us his fishing diary. He had caught 88 trout in May. Then he and his hound were off in their truck to find the two men and help them get home to their own families. We thanked him, and he said simply. “Well, you never know when it might be you that needs help out there.”