Goodbye, K-man … (pg.2 of 4)   3 comments

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My 2nd-favorite campsite, it turned out, was where it all happened in 1755, the Grand Pre deportation site.

Grand Pre campsite, Horton's Landing, turned out to be the 1755 deportation site

Gaspereau River campsite at Horton’s Landing

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Gaspereau River – out in the red clay, almost like quicksand

The exact point where the British, after years of alternately trying to get the Acadians to swear allegiance to the British crown and trying to burn them out of house and home, finally put the settlers of Grand Pre on ships bound for, basically, the four winds, was thought to be a couple hundred yards up the railroad track, inland from my secluded riverside campsite.

I had found a site on the Gaspereau River on the east side of the Grand Pre peninsula, far from any neighboring farmhouses, at a point where a lone tree sitting atop an equally lone mound of rocks, overlooked the otherwise red clay marsh at the water’s edge.  Shards of coke-bottle glass and pottery pointed to the place’s popularity for campfires, and I thankfully took my turn under the tree for several days.

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The first time the tide went out, I began to see that the rocky patch of shoreline was actually the foot of a jetty, with logs laid flat and filled in with stones, that jutted out into the river.    When I put hipwaders on and ventured out into the red muck, I saw it was a decrepit cross-hatch of logs and rock fill, layers upon seaweed-draped layers that rose 15 ft off the bed of stones laid down on the mucky sea floor as its base… an old wharf  at some point.

Grand Pre campsite by an old wharf on the Gaspereau River

Grand Pre campsite by an old wharf on the Gaspereau River

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I walked inland up the railroad track that penetrated the golden fields of Grand Pre and found the black iron cross erected in the 1920s to mark the site of the 1755 expulsion.

K at night

K at night

In August of that year, the men of Grand Pre were tricked into gathering at the church, then arrested, and eventually forced onto disastrously overloaded ships, their women and children having no choice but to follow, while all the possessions they’d been told they could take with them ended up having to be thrown overboard or left ashore… furniture, clothing and linens, pottery and iron pots, women’s spindles and looms, men’s tools, children’s toys, family pets.   Of the 16,000 settlers who were expelled from Acadia during the years after 1755, around 4000 were deported from Grand Pre that September.

But not from where they put that 1920s monument.

Turns out, 5 years after my trip there, a young archaeologist I met at one of the universities in Halifax used aerial photography together with archaeology to establish that the actual site of the expulsion from Grand Pre was around the rocky remnants of that old wharf where I spent so many wonderful days pouring over new research materials and writing until late into the night, K’s doors open to the beautiful cool weather and sea breezes.

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.                                                                   Day . . . . . .  and night.

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Grand Pre workplace

Grand Pre workplace

 
 

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Grand Pre bonfire

Grand Pre bonfire.

Finding a spot right on the edge of a red clay salt marsh was conducive to imagining how everyday life in the 17th century would have been affected by the tides.   The tides are regular, with two tides in and out a day, each day 12 minutes later than the last.   The church at Cobequid served the entire Minas Basin which means the priest would have had to schedule his Sunday mass an hour and 24 minutes later each week, cycling back when the return tide was too late to get churchgoers home before nightfall.    You’d have to shift your whole mindset of time, from being centered on the sun to being centered on the tides.

From my campsite where the Gaspereau River opens out onto Cobequid Bay, I’d look out across the bay at low tide and I’d be looking at the bare sea floor for as far as the eye could see.  How did Pierre Thibodeau and his hardy sons manage the long trip from Port Royal all the way across the Fundy to Chipoudy and have enough water for the whole trip?  Or was it a regular occurrence for people to get stranded and simply ride out the cycle until the next tide carried you the rest of the way?

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During one of the long walks along the shore collecting the day’s firewood, as well as a plethora of ‘mermaid’s purses’ that have fascinated me since I was a child, I managed to haul a huge tree rootball over to the firesite.  It made for the best fire of my whole 4 months in Nova Scotia.  More like a bonfire, I couldn’t get near enough to it to cook on, but it made for a great photo to send back home as promised to the guys who did K’s RV conversion … especially the surly one who argued with me about my design every step of the way.  “You’ve got to be the stubbornest woman I’ve ever met; I just might have to marry you.”   

   Late that night, the night of the fire, I was startled awake by a horrendous hiss that sounded like it was directly below my head and got steadily louder until it was a roar.   I thought K was about to blow up and jumped out the door, only to see nothing but water almost up to my feet.  The tide had come in, and the rootball from the bonfire, still glowing red hot, was bobbing up against the edge of the bluff, sizzling and roaring like a bullhorn.

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Not everyplace I went was for its historical significance.

Cape Breton's Cabot Trail, lobster fishing country

Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail, lobster fishing country

Cape Breton, the Cabot Trail in particular, has been known since the 1930s as a thrilling driver’s destination.  It’s like riding a roller coaster with its wild ups and downs and hairpin turns, often overlooking cliffs that drop straight down into the frigid Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Making matters worse is the beauty of the valleys and creeks with elk and the occasional moose, the deep blue-green crystal-clear water, and the seals on the rocks far below, all of which lure your eyes away from the road at every turn.

At one point, the cliffside road swooped briefly down to sea level where a grassy hill slid onto a stone beach, and a mountain stream emptied out into the water.  I struck up a conversation with a lone canoer who was getting ready to put in, and when I asked about the seals, he invited me to join him for a turn out in the water which was freezing cold and a wonderful clear dark green.

No seals, but what I found there in that cove was so much better.

Canoeing around Cheticamp

Canoeing around Cheticamp

That night, I pitched camp there on the stones.  It was around midnight when I was done on the computer.  I knew the temperature was dropping but I was surprised by the cold that hit me when I opened the door.  It was near freezing.  I was also surprised by how clear and light everything was, though there was no moon, with every tree on the hill and contour on the trees, nearly every blade of grass crystal clear in rich luminous blues.

I put layers of sweatsuits on under a heavy coat, covered head and hands, and went out onto a stone surface that ordinarily would have sent me, after only a few steps in the dark, to the ground with a twisted ankle, except that tonight I could see every surface, every contour, every stone, in a light that somehow seemed computer-altered… as though I were on something good, and I mean something good.     But the sky…   The whole milky way was spread out over my head.  I brought out my folding lounger and feather comforter, set it up on a smooth patch near where the stream bed gave way to the open sea, and then stretched out flat.  There were more stars in the sky than I’d ever seen.  I saw them with more clarity and depth than I ever had, and lost myself for hours inside the shapes and patterns and constellations that poured out across the sky.  I must have fallen asleep, because I remember waking up with a burning sensation on the top of my head where my hat had fallen off, and little ice crystals covering the surface of the comforter and hanging in icicles from the corners by my feet.

Maybe those of you who don’t live under city lights or swamp vapors think I’m over-reacting, but to me it ranks right up there with a religious experience.

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As if K and I hadn’t communed with nature enough, as fate would have it, my next stop was Fort Louisbourg on the opposite side of Cape Breton, on the stark stone shelf that is the east coast up there.    That’s where I was when I heard news of the gale.  I headed for an unpopulated stretch of coastline and found a patch of stony shelf where I could back K up to the ocean.  Minus hills, trees, or even soil, and a good bit warmer, it couldn’t have been more opposite from my starry cove.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by the jolt of a wave slamming into the back door about 5 inches from my face, then after a few seconds’ delay, coming back down again with a thud on the roof.  At some point, I decided to strip down and go out into it with a bar of soap and bathe.  Not so easy.  I could have used 3 arms; one to hold the soap and one to hold onto the door handle, but also one to hold my nose each time a wave slammed into me.

Cape Breton

Cape Breton, Louisbourg lighthouse . . . . . . .

Cape Breton, Louisbourg lighthouse

. . . . . . .East coast gale coming . . . . .


Never felt anything like it.

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Lotta that goin’ around on this trip.

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Halifax and the Ceiligh internet cafe

Halifax and the Ceilidh internet cafe

And of course there was Halifax, with her universities, museums and research facilities that I was given great access to, thanks to a couple of fun tours and bar hops I took a few lecturers on a few years before, back when they were in New Orleans for an archaeology convention.   Never underestimate the value of a good Bourbon St. drunk in the time-honored system of social reciprocity.  Also, Halifax is the only place in Nova Scotia for computer equipment and repair, printer ink, etc

My first night there, I stayed outside the Ceilidh internet cafe.  Strange and wonderful, being naked and asleep in a comfy bed in the middle of downtown, in complete secret from people walking by just two feet away.

The next day, though, I discovered a spot above the 18th century Citadel and harbor, between Halifax’ Public Gardens, a lovely formal Victorian garden from the 1860s with ponds and gazebos and bridges and fountains, and the historic 1840s Camp Hill Cemetery with its manicured marble monuments amidst the trees..

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Halifax park and cemetery

Working by the park

Overlooking the duckpond

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Lochaber cabin in the mountains

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I discovered Lake Lochaber lake is a remote mountain lake that is 5 miles long, nearly 200 ft deep, much like the Scottish highlands, and looks like, well… this.

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The log cabin had a wood stove that looked like one of those Easter Island stone heads and a pair of loons that held court over this part of the lake.  Over several visits, as the summer progressed,  I got to see their baby grow from a tiny fuzz ball into a small mottled version of its parents.  Ah… and the sound of their cry, wafting across the lake.

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Lochaber cabin with 'Easter Island moa'  wood stove

Lochaber log cabin with ‘Easter Island’ wood stove 

I don’t know how happy K was about this place, but it had a small kitchen, and there are a few things I can’t do in K.  Once, my friend’s neighbor, who knew of New Orleans’ reputation for cooking, asked me if I would like a haunch of bear to cook (would I!).  I had a ball with it.    Actually, the same thing happened the following summer, only with moose instead of bear.

(Wanna know what I did?  Covered it completely in liquid, half red wine, half Campbell’s beef consomme, and simmered it for 4 hours.   The toughest meat will fall off the bone ‘like buttah’.  To be more explicit: – Sear the roast in a bit of vege oil thoroughly, then remove to the side.  Use a pot that’s only a little bit bigger than the roast. Add a half stick of butter and saute 3-4 cups chopped onions.  When well wilted, you can put the roast and the liquids back in, along with as many mushrooms as you can fit, and bring it all to a boil.  Then reduce the heat to a simmer for 4 hours.   )

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.  Now this is a place that could give K’s little nest of a workplace a run for its money, though I would never tell him that.

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Digby had scallops, and the largest scallop fleet in the world.

I first arrived at night with no campsite planned, so I parked in a parking lot overlooking a pier.  I found an honest-to-God bar with live music and enjoyed a bourbon and coke for a change, in the company of people for a change.  (There’s no Jack Daniels here, only Crown Royal.  One snooker club a friend introduced me to ordered a bottle of Jack especially for me, and when I returned the following summer, the bottle hadn’t been touched since I left.)

215-Digby pan

Annapolis Basin, Digby campsite at low tide    

Anyway, my last view before closing my eyes was of sailboats bobbing in the dark outside my window.   When I woke up, all I could see against the backdrop of the North Mountains was the very tops of their masts.  I got out and saw this.

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Digby pier steps at low tide

Digby pier steps at low tide

  The whole wharf floats up and down with the tides.  Each pier slides up and down poles set firmly into the sea floor, and the wide stairs have planks laid flat on one side for when they’re in horizontal position.  Turns out, I had not only found the Digby wharf, but I was parked at one end of a strip of retail seafood houses that extended from me to the far side of the harbor where I could see massive wooden scallop boats 3 times the size of what I would have expected.  A walk down the pier led mostly past modern sailboats of fiberglass, pleasure craft, but some of them were old; old-fashioned it seemed to me, heavy and hand-hewn and strange to me.  One of them had a guy in his 60s in it, puttering around with an outboard.  I asked him to tell me if the style were meant to serve something about the ecosystem here, but not knowing any other lifestyle, he looked at me blankly and could only tell me what kind of fish he caught.

Before leaving Digby, I stopped by one of the seafood places and bought fresh scallops enough to choke a horse, and then drove up the wooded hills to a restaurant for a delicious Coquilles St. Jacques, the only restaurant I went to in Nova Scotia that made me put my long velvet dress on for it.  K was duly impressed.  The restaurant was in a grand old 1929 resort, built in the style of a Norman Chateau on the outside, whose lobby on the inside looked for all the world like the hotel in the movie “The Shining”.  Red rum, red bourbon, red clay…  except that Digby and the Annapolis Basin is at the very beginning of the Fundy before it reaches those clay deposits, and the water is pristine green.

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And this, of course, leads me to the Annapolis Basin, the high point and raison d’etre of K’s and my sojourn.

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3 responses to “Goodbye, K-man … (pg.2 of 4)

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  1. Hi Laura,
    I am a “cousin” of yours Craig Thibado (that’s how we spell our name in Downville, Wisconsin anyway. My wife Lori and I just read your blog about finding Pierre’s gris mill millstone and the ancestory you discovered. Lori’s brother Tim is moving to Montreal to work for Bombardier sometime soon and we found ourselves searching Montreal info and then Nova Scotia and then Acadian history and one more click on a google search and we found your blog! Unlike your side of the family that apparently went for quite a boat ride all the way to New Orleans, my side of the family made their way cross country and ended up in Wisconsin. My daughter is relocating to Florida where her mother, my ex-wife lives in Panama City area. I would like to think that some day soon we could actually meet up. Lori is going to have me read Evangeline and I’m going to do some more ancestor fact checking with my mom Audrey. Meanwhile I’d love to talk with you and hear more about your family and the great trip you made to Nova Scotia.
    Craig Thibado

    Lori Smith and Craig Thibado
    • Hi, Craig and Lori – Yours is the first comment I’ve gotten on my blog, as I only made it public a few days ago! I’m not very experienced at how this works, but if you don’t want your address published in public like this, resend your comment without it and I’ll erase this one, and then we can continue.
      Also, did you read page 4 of Goodbye, K-man, because it has more of my findings on Pierre Thibodeau.
      If your family went the way that most New Brunswick Acadians escaped by, via Restigouche, they met up with several of my family members there. But mine joined a militia that went back, returning into the ‘hotseat’ and eventually got captured and put in Halifax prison, which is where the 3 lines of ancestors I was looking for got it together. When the war was over and they were released, they sailed together to St. Dominque, then New Orleans, and then settled adjoining Spanish land grants on Bayou Teche near St. Martinville, where my grandmother was born. Restigouche is probably where your line and mine said goodbye. Your family may have chosen not to stay in established French Quebec for the same reason as mine didn’t stay in New Orleans. Acadians were generally not welcome when they met up with other already-established French because it meant competition for crop prices and limited resources. In southeast Louisiana, there was a good bit of vigilanteeism that drove Acadians west of the Atchafalaya Basin, a swamp so vast and dangerous and uncivilized that their attackers pretty much figured they could have it. The movie Belizaire the Cajun focuses on that aspect of the Acadians’ settlement here. Read Evangeline if you want, but it’s tough going and really ‘over the top’ in many ways. But it is what put the Acadian story ‘on the radar’, as it were. And the Evangeline oak is real, and right there in St. Martinville, behind the church which is also very old, almost an Acadian Mecca.
      If you google ‘Pierre Thibodeau Acadian’ you’ll find lots of goodies. And just plain ‘Acadian history’ will put you in the thick of it. There were alot of ancestry-related things, some very moving, that I didn’t go into since I wanted the focus to be on what just the van and I experienced. Is there anything in particular you’d like to talk about?
      Tell me about where you live. Is there any French identity in the area? Or was your area settled by other nationalities?
      Thanks for your interest!
      Laura

      Laura Stella Sitges
  2. Laura, sounds like we are both rookies at this blog and comment thing, so I appreciate your willingness to remove my contact info. Your blog is pretty darn good for a first attempt. As I said before, we are apparently “cousins” of some sort as I know Pierre Thibodeau is the first ancestor with census records in America and I knew the family history was that he operated a grist mill. So my wife Lori and I were searching Acadian history and typed in a variation of the last name and two clicks later we found your blog. It was so interesting to read! I got really excited when you had a picture and story about the millstone. I need to talk to some of my older relatives about how we ended up in west-central Wisconsin. The French were the earliest European settlers in this area. While French names remain, as we currently live in Eau Galle and Eau Claire is near by, the later Scandinavian immigrants make up the overwhelming ethnicity of current residents. My parents looked for relatives in Thibadaux (sp?) LA about ten years ago while on a trip to New Orleans. While Thibado (that’s how our family now spells it) is my dad’s side of the family, it’s my mother who has the genealogy bug. Part of the challenge was all the variations in spelling. We were noticing even in the Acadian census records the variations of spellings. Your right about Evangeline. Lori read the first few pages to me and I was more than happy to listen to her cliff notes version. So have you found any other writings, fiction or memoirs, about the Acadians? I hope to meet you in person someday. It’s more likely with my daughter moving to Florida panhandle this summer. Since I’ve had two back surgeries I am not much of a traveler. Lori says I should just pack up the dog and see where I get in about 50 miles a day. Meanwhile I will check in on your blog now and then. You have Lori’s e-mail and our home phone. If you would be willing to share a phone number I’d very much like to talk. I am much more a talker and really not so much an e-mailer. Meanwhile, I have a renewed interest in our mutual ancestors and need to do some fact checking. It’s just incredible what you knew through through your family history and then (re)discovered on your trip. Lori and I were talking about how your Nova Scotia pilgrimage was somewhat akin to a Jewish person trying to uncover their ancestory in Poland or Germany, but instead of being one or two generations removed it’s some two hundred years before I was even born. Now I am going on to page 4. Take Care, Craig.

    Lori Smith and Craig Thibado

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