By Sher Maryn LeBay

In so many ways, the journey was inconceivable: a woman with two older dogs setting out with every crevice of her car filled, maneuvering the jam-packed American highways en-route to a place she had never been.

It wasn’t a vacation or even anything as exotic sounding as adventure travel that prompted her to dare the journey of 3,500 miles from Arizona’s Sonoran Desert to the watery world of Cape Breton.

Nor was it a protest against a country she barely recognized anymore as the place that once welcomed the tired and weary and hope-filled souls sailing from the clutch of hunger or fear or any other lack you can name.

(The torch light, stretched heavenward on the verdigris arm of the lady in the New York Harbor, barely flickers anymore. Something dear in us as Americans is going out. The woman, driving north, north-east with her two sweet dogs, does not know why this is so, only that it is true).

But she was not driving away from something, rather toward. Every true-blooded-pioneer knows the difference, deep as instinct.

In Moncton, I scramble out of bed at 5 a.m., two insistent paws pressing on my right shoulder. Snapping on the leashes, I pull open the door to mist and rain. “You asked for this” I say out loud. All those months without a drop of rain in the Tucson skies and the repetitive scorch light of the sun, fingered the longing in you for water in its varied forms. “Here you are.”

We drive the 104 highway through sheets of rain, dipping in and out of pockets of fog. My Pomeranians are snoring. It takes all day to get to Marion Bridge. There is a reason for this, besides weather.

The woman at the Welcome Center suggested I get off the highway and head for Pictou. “Even though it’s raining” she says “it’s a prettier drive along the coast. There are lots of little places to eat and besides, you’ll get there just as fast.” I doubt ambling the coast is as swift as the highway, but I didn’t come here for “swift.”

I take her advice.

Anne and Mike Foster, the people whose home I am renting for six months, are there to greet me when i finally arrive to Marion Bridge. They have driven up from Halifax. Their home is perched on a hill overlooking the Mira River. I get out of the car, shake the kinks from my arms and back and spy a snow shoe hare in her spring coffee coat looking at me with one eye. It’s the first one I have ever seen.

On Sunday morning, after a night of very little sleep, I eat Pinkie’s Pancakes at Missy’s Diner in Albert Bridge. Afterward, Mike and Anne take me over to meet Colleen and Gary Hussey, people they describe as friends for life. Mike looks at me and says “They will be there for you no matter the time of day or night.”

He has no idea what that means to me. Or maybe he does.

Standing in the heat of the kitchen, Colleen tells me she has an extra ticket for a concert that night to raise money for the people fleeing the fire in Fort McMurray. “Do you want to come?” she asks. I say yes, not knowing how I can pull up the juice after seven days of driving.

Just hours later, I am thumping my thigh and tapping my foot. Tears stream down my cheeks I am laughing so hard. I look around at the 5,500 people filling the seats. Together, they tip the cup with a quarter million. It is strangely intimate for such a crowd and sweetly generous. Something inside of me, moves.

I do not have a speckle of Caper blood in me, which is to say I have no kin here. Not even a ribbon of friendship awaited me. It is like that with pioneers. They envision new worlds and leap into invisible arms. Trust is requisite for the journey.

I came to Cape Breton for heart. That’s the world I am capable of creating. That’s the world I want. With the willful insistence of a woman who knows deep down she can have much more in life, I set out.

Heart always recognizes itself. And I have.

First Published in the Cape Breton Post on June 11,2016