By Sher Maryn LeBay
There are places at the edge of the world that pull you up and out of your self by the hair. They reach in, unlatch your heart from the tendons of memory and want, and throw the crimson-colored center of you into the splash and thunder of the waves. Call it a cleansing or a rebirth. It is both.
To find such places requires an opening of the heart-door. The rest is cared for; you hop on a magic carpet ride summoned by desire alone.
This is how I found Baleine…
Most days start just the same. I set out with my forest green knapsack, a Cape Breton Island map, my Fuji camera, a back up iPhone camera and a small bag of roasted sunflower seeds. Sometimes I remember my tape recorder though I am pretty uneven in my ability to get it going to do what recorders do.
A pad and pen are part of the daily kit…Writers always travel with pads and I carry a tiny one with pink dots on the cover clipped with a purple pen. It is usually in my back pocket unless I am scaling rocks. At such times I think ahead and tuck the pad in a net sewn to the outside of my knapsack or zipper it up somewhere inside, never recalling which pocket it is stored in when I need it.
This is one of the hazards of the fine art of paying attention and being amazed: You lose complete account of the small things like hunger and time and where your pad is or how to turn your recorder on. Self improvement in these areas is futile. I tried, albeit half-heartedly, for years.
I gave up.
Giving up trying takes you into the world of peace and grace. Which is where I want to live. Which is why I am here in Cape Breton. Do you know how many Capers have said to me that what they love most about this island is its “peacefulness?”
So my belief about life is this: peace attracts more peace and the reverse is also true. This is the simplest way I can tell all of you who have asked me with your eyes, if not with your words, how I feel about what is happening in my own country.
It is not a calamity of one person but Fear seeing itself in every alley and in every face different than its own. My country is working day and night to build a world of guarantees that we shall all be safe. It will not succeed.
And it will cost us nearly everything that is sweet and generous and innocent. Nearly everything that is good, deeply good, about the American spirit.
And yes, thinking about this makes me sad. Very.
But it inspires the road to Baleine.
There are maybe three or four houses in Baleine, two set back and the others nearer to a cove and a pond that peers out over the sea. I make my way beyond the houses down the dirt road and spy two stone columns, maybe a couple of feet high with plaques on top. What could possibly be commemorated here in this watery green carpet at the end of the world?
Reading the text, I am stunned. The aviator, Beryl Markam nosedived her Vega Gull in a bog in Baleine after ice blocked an air line into her fuel tank. She was the first woman to successfully fly across the Atlantic from east to west.
But here is the remarkable part: I carry her book about Africa, West With the Night, when I travel because it is a jewel to read and re-read. The book is on the table near my bed, the back cover facing upward. The photograph on the back shows her little plane, completely intact, nose buried in the grass and the tail wing straight in the air. There is no cut line saying: “Aviator Beryl Markham crashed her plane in the tiny fishing village of Baleine, Cape Breton in September, 1936.”
And here I am. At the outskirts of an old story…Hers. And now mine.
The walk to Baleine Head is filled with small perils.
There is no path, just depressions in the earth filled with water and teeming with polliwogs. You choose the bog carpet (and all that is hidden beneath) or the six inch caliper rocks tumbled together. Either is an ankle break lying in wait. I move cautiously with no thought of turning back. The deep throated clack of an iron bell sounds over the water.
I make my way to the point where the sea simmers and roils and tumbles down against the rocks blacker than night. A mother duck sets out into the surf upon spotting me. Her three babies ride the tumult, disappearing into the waves and surfacing again to locate the feathered-periscope-mother who loves them in her daredevil sort of way. The hiss of spray reaches upward, every drop spilling over with liquid light.
The raw and wild power of Baleine pulls me up by the hair and unlatches the heart-door.
I am the salty spray, the thunder and the baby duck, diving. There are no notebooks or recorders or countries here; no sadness either. There is just the Cormorant lifting her wings to the coastal winds…
She is preparing to set out and fly into the one life, waiting.
Sher Maryn LeBay is an American writer and photographer who is enchanted by the wonders of the natural wold and inspired by the beauty of ordinary people. She is in Cape Breton exploring the land and its people. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org