By Sher Maryn LeBay
The green door of the Gabarus Wilderness is a portal into a world of enchantment bound by the sea. There are lakes and ponds, barrens and hillocks, leafy trees and needled ones…but first you must find it.
Canadians, it seems to me, favor the oral tradition when it comes to signs and directions; I have stumbled into the arms of this island’s beauty far more often than having been pointed there. It is a good thing I am constitutionally unshaken when lost.
It is also good I discovered the true nature of the Cape Breton’s Canada Post, which is something akin to the modern day servers connecting humans to each other for every imaginable purpose.
“The post mistress will tell me the way to the green door at the edge of the wilderness,” I say to myself. And she does.
Gwen Wheaton runs the Gabarus Post Office from her home snuggled into a lagoon in the village harbor. “Are you going alone?” she inquires seeing no one next to me.
“Do you have water?”
“I did but I left it on the counter.”
“Let me make a phone call.” She rings Linda Besse, the president of the Gull Cove Trail Society who is making cookies. “She’ll be over in a few minutes” Gwen says. “I’ll get you a couple bottles of water.”
“One would be plenty” I say. I am a little embarrassed and I want to tell her how hard it is to remember everything when you are packing two cameras, batteries, pads and snacks. But I resist and accept her kindness instead.
Linda opens the door and steps into the tiny hub of life in Gabarus, smiles, looks me overand asks: “Are you going dressed like that?”
I am beginning to wonder what awaits me. I come from a land of thirteen different kinds of rattlesnakes and occasional mountain lion sightings. The only problem I ever had in the Sonoran desert was kneeling on the spine of a Teddy Bear cholla when composing a photograph. My scream pierced the Tucson mountains like a rabbit in a death grip.
Maybe I don’t look hardy enough.
Linda drives me down Gull Cove Road and the dust whips up between our cars. We park on the rim of the cemetery. Slinging my knapsack and camera over my shoulder, I follow her hand gesture toward an opening in the woods, almost cave-like.
“Let us know you got out alive.” She bids me well.
I thank her, descending the tiny hill into the woods. The damsel flies, painted with azure and black stripes and sky blue pin-prick eyes, lead me in. They sail from one leaf to the next. I reach for the arms of alders and maples as the watery earth grips my shoes.
Frogs with coal-colored eyes and golden rims peer inquisitively as I struggle to keep from joining them in their splash of mud and rain.
There isn’t a place in the world where the dance of life is more riotous and varied than a wilderness. We have tamed so much of our world, including ourselves, that nearly all of the foreign things repel or unsettle us, especially those with eight legs or four wings, or those that slip out oftheir shells or skins in order to grow.
I kneel down to capture a mushroom freshly born from the forest floor, waiting for the wind to part the canopy open. The caramel colored cap, dusted with crumbs, glows when the light spills through the rending of leaves. The world I care so much for and often take most seriously, disappears. And something like faith in the preposterous resilience of the natural world, rises.
It will live beyond our folly.
A few more steps and the path curls under the conifers toward the sea. I scramble down a cliff edge shaped by the glaciers in a time before human consciousness. Chocolate colored seaweed, fine as a mermaid’s mane drapes over large boulders while thousands of baby barnacles create an accidental etching on their new forever home. The wild worlds of earth are unruly and untethered and utterly self-reliant.
In the distance, two loons synchronize their diving. But there is something else, shore-bound, that pulls me in. I make my way over to an outcropping of rocks for a closer look.
It is a human made sculpture, an assemblage of tide-hewn stones in the shape of a triangle. They will tumble into the lap of the sea by nightfall. The artist knew this. It was part of the design— his bow to the impermanence of all things.
I smile. A day in the wilderness creates its own language, elementally shared.
I go to the wild to be surprised. I always am. I go to be shaken out of my skin. That happens, too. The jumble of thoughts in my head leaves me as softly as smoke slidingthrough a barely cracked window. Empty of clatter and jangles, Wonder rushes in and puts her feet up. It is astonishing how easily she finds her place in me and how I am once again magic-filled and humming.
The Gabarus Wilderness is a canticle to joy.
Come hear her sing.