Monday, August 10, 2009


There is only one place where I have ever come close to understanding eternity. I don't mean understanding it as in rhyming off the definition.....I mean understanding eternity in a manner that goes beyond skin surface. It's was like a full body reckoning rather than a simple cerebral glance.

Those quick hit thoughts always leave me feeling like I've had a fearful shock to my system ... a realization of just how meaningless and miniscule I am and of just how unmanageably enormous eternity feels like. The full body sensation however, was more like having a warm shower touch my cold skin and sooth my tired muscles after bracing against tidal winds. You know those times when all you want to do is stand in the shower for an hour to feel its pulsing motion? It wakes you and soothes you at the same time that it cleanses.

I'll never forget the moment it happened. It was last year in July. I had found myself sitting by a campfire all alone, up on a cliff overlooking the Spencer's Island beach. It was dark and a bit foggy, but I was very familiar with my surroundings as I sat huddled in the chair leaning close to the blaze. 4 or 5 empty lawn chairs were my only company. Or so I thought. I could hear the waves roll in, lapping up onto the sand. The tide had turned again, ready to roll up the beach to cover the sandbars, the rocks and sand, the sealife it had left behind the time before. It would bring new gifts to the beach, ones we would comb for in the morning.........scallop shells, leathery dulse, intriguing stones with bits of gold in them, pieces of glass, frayed twists of rope in green and yellow, and driftwood bleached by the sun and salt and shaped like gnarly old men.

The tides are the highest and lowest in the world. Every single day they breathe in and out almost a mile. And every year when we return to the beach, we notice the subtle changes in the sandbar topography. The tides rule life in this small fishing and logging community, which now relies on tourists as much as the lobster and the woods.

Once a home to ship building, like most of the villages that dot this part of the Nova Scotia coastline from Advocate Harbour up to Parrsboro, Spencer's Island used to have a big lumber mill and a large wharf built in the nineteeth century where the famous Mary Celeste was launched from.....its hull and mast formed from the trees grown in the area. It had large working farms too, like the one my husband's grandfather worked (and then his Uncle Max and now his cousin Peter) and a very active general store that housed anything and everything from bolts to boots to butter. But, the focus was on the forests, the water, the tides, the wharf.......the boats,the fishing and the logging. It thrived during the period people call "The Age of Sail." Now, the population of Spencer's Island has dwindled down to a two digit number during the winter months. Wood is still a commodity but there are no mills and the crafted tall ships are saved for pomp and ceremonials sail pasts for people with clicking digital cameras.

In the summers the place reawakens with a different face. Cousins and family return for visits as well as the folks who have found the place. Though some have been returning to Spencer's Island for many many summers, they are still considered "come from aways...." Me? I straddle both groups because I married a "Spicer..." and have been introduced in the past as ..... " This is Isaac's daughter Mim's youngest son, James' wife...." Honest to God! My children are seventh generation Spicer's. They are the ancestors of one of the Sea Captain brothers who first settled in the area. But, I am still a bit of a "come from away...." an Upper Canadian no less! Horrors! It seems like every year, there are more and more unfamiliar come from away faces..... The place is changing, but the tides remain constant.

I love listening to the waves roll in and out. Nature's lullaby. Soothing in its tender sounding repetitive echoes. Mysterious too, especially when you're listening to it after night fall when most of the lights are extinguished. I sat engrossed, staring at the dancing flames of the fire, and listening to the unpredictable crackle pops which seemed to summon the lulling roll of the waves accompanying the wind up on the cliff. At one point, I lifted my head and looked at the empty chairs. I couldn't see anything besides the chairs, but I could feel a presence so strong and so comforting that I was left intrigued, not afraid. It was ancestral. All around me, this presence revealed itself, like it was attached to the ebb and flow of this beautiful little community. Then, I realized who it was..... and knew in a moment that eternity opens boundaries onto a limitless sense of belonging.

I used to wonder how my mother in law felt when she would arrive for the summer after being away from her childhood home during the wintertime and would walk through the back door of the old house for the first time. The house was filled with memories, all soaked into the fabric and the plaster. The property oozed past familial stories from the fields and gardens. The front porch held late night whispers and Saturday night laughter. All of the hidden coves, the tucked away beaches, the raspberry bushes and secret places where blackberries grew every year held late afternoon conversations and secrets in amongst the brambles. She was never alone in the house or anywhere in the village because she always had the generations before her tagging along. Sometimes it was a good thing, and sometimes I'm sure, it would've been nice to have left them tucked away in a closet for a day or two. Eternity can be haunting.

This past weekend, we visited Spencer's Island and once again I was filled with a sense of the eternal. I sat on the beach with my son and listened to the waves roll in and out knowing they do the same thing even when I'm not within hearing distance. We walked along the shoreline and climbed the newly shaped sandbar to chase the seagulls. We watched the small boats bobbing in the Minas Bay glittering in diamond ripples. We talked about his GrandMim and Grandpa Buzzie, his Great Uncle Max and his Great Aunt Patty.....all people who have since passed on, but have never left us, especially when we visit this beach. I watched my son stretch out on the hot sand and stones, relaxed and lost in the joy of being back in a place where he feels at home, a place where he connects to the clay and roots of his being.....the Spicer part.

The past is always within our grasp in Spencer's Island and when it touches down on the present, turning time away into the surf, eternity lingers like the breath of life all around. Eternity rests in Spencer's Island. It is measured by the tides.

It has a home there. It has a home there.... in every wave that touches the shore.


Gilly said...

A magical piece of writing! And we will never be anything but "comers in" in this town!!

Awareness said...

Gilly...Isn't it a funny thing? That's not the case where I grew up because everyone is a "comers in" I think it only happens when there is a strong tie to history and ancestry, which is the case in the Canadian Maritimes.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely nostalgic post Dana. I could almost see you sitting there in front of the roaring fire, hear the waves on the beach and smell the salt in the air. Just lovely.

Anonymous said...

The tides have a preternatural power. There is a vastness about them that kidnaps our very soul, that throws eternity right in front of us. Such a beautiful post!

kenju said...

A beautiful, special post, Dana.

Anonymous said...

Dana, I see/hear a book based on Spencer's Island
... hearing you reverently talk about this special retreat for many years now ... sensing the rich history asking to be told...

Awareness said...

Gypsy....Nostalgia hovers over the place. History is bred in the bone there.

Selma...I love how you've captured it. thank you for that. is a special place, one that I would like to write more on and will soon.

Joyce....A novel is simmering in my head and has been for years. I had thought about a TV script similar to Northern Exposure a while back (before Northern Exposure actually!) and I have written a few pieces on this place. Its very difficult to write with any linearity because there are so many layers of stories and inter-connective relationships both joyful and tragic that it sits in my head with many complications. The only way I can attempt it right now is to take it one nip at a time.
We have lost access to the house in Spencer's Island, just recently though we knew it was coming. It tears us all up, including the kids! Last weekend was the first time we had the guts to go down there this summer. There are many who have offered to let us stay with them which is so love affirming and wonderful. It's just that the old house is a sanctuary we have lost.

Once the estate stuff is fully completed, I will begin writing in earnest. For now, I have to bide my time. But, I will write the full story and all the machinations and complications will be included.

Marja said...

Time without blogging filled up quickly but your writing is one of the things I miss and you didn't dissappoint when I came here. What a beautiful serene piece. It brings back many memories to me too. The peaceful times we spent at the beach as a family and with scouting. The ties of town and the safety of its familiarity and also the feeling when you're from outside. Also the touch with eternity as you call it so nicely.
I will have to come back more often to here Dana. Please don't
you stop

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

What a Beautiful Post, Dana....I feel like I was there with you...So much History---especially for your Family....It sounds like a Beautiful place and one that holds ones Roots in such a strong and deep way!

Awareness said...

Marja... xx as much as I have this unrelenting pull to walk away from this crazy obsession, I have a stronger pull to keep writing... I don't think I'm going anywhere.