Snowflakes started falling around 2AM. We’d been lucky for the most part, keeping just ahead of the winter storm as my girlfriend, Osha, and I drove through New England and New Brunswick, Canada – even with a 30 minute delay at customs. But the storm caught up with us in Nova Scotia. Both of us thought it would be a good idea to fill up on gas and get a few groceries before we headed out to the cabin on the Bay of Fundy. We exited off Canada’s Highway 101 at the only gas station we’d seen in at least an hour. We thought we had plenty of time, for the cabin – Osha rented the place dirt cheap through AirBnB, an awesome website where people rent out cabins, or houses or apartments to travelers – was only about 15 miles away. Ok, ok, the cabin was only about 22 kilometers away.
With a full tank of gas and a full bag of junkfood and bananas, I steered the rental car toward the 101 on-ramp. I’d been behind the wheel for 15 plus hours. My previous record was 17 hours – a jag between Los Angeles and Fort Stockton, Texas. I thought I was quite alert, despite the hour, and had resigned to the assumed fact that I would not break my driving record this time around – unless Canada used a different unit of time measurement, too. But alas, that was not so. Canada is so much more like us than not, it turns out.
We motored onto the 101 and into a much different scenario than only minutes before. The highway was almost completely white. Solid white winds pushed our car toward the median. I could barely see the lines of the road. I leaned forward – shoulders incredibly tense, face poised like a hawk’s – tracking the road as if it was a snake in a field. I slowed to about 20 kilos an hour. Then 10. More tension, eyes unblinking. Osha was as still and silent as a statue. But what the hell, a warm bed was only a handful of kilos away. I was sure we’d make it.
We turned off the 101 into the little town of Berwick. The snow was a solid 6 inches deep, falling in less than a half-hour. We crept like a turtle through the town and onto the mountain pass that would take us up, over, then down to that warm bed. I wanted to speed up. Creeping along only got me pure, padded room nervous. But I couldn’t see the road anymore, so I inched the car along. We began to ascend the pass – our headlights flashed into space, but were cut off by the whiteness of the storm. The winds angrily rocked us. 10 kilo’s and hour. 8. 5. We took a sharp turn on a switchback and the car’s wheels spun on ice.Osha
“It’s time to turn around,” said.
Damn. 5 miles away. I think that is 9 kilo’s, maybe. Anyone?
We were both pretty rattled as we got back on the 101 and headed toward the nearest hotel, which by my calculations – providing my grasp of the conversion formula to reconcile metric to standard was accurate – would take us about forty-five minutes. We crept along the highway’s corridor, everything out the window was white, except for the very unsettling blackness of blizzard night beyond the mounting snow. A plow truck passed us on our side of the road. Shortly after, I could no longer tell if I was going straight. Osha thought we might be in the field. Then it happened. 0 KPH (0 MPH).
We gambled and turned around. The plow’s tracks were instantly snowed over but we could just make out its tail-lights. We followed the plow until it stopped and the driver told us he couldn’t go any further. He turned around and we followed him to the Berwick exit, then inched our way to a gas station there. There, we parked the car, pulled out the sleeping bag, and watched the snow cover the car. It was 4:30AM when I killed the engine. I’d been behind the wheel for 17 hours and 30 minutes. A new personal best.
We would run the car for 30 minutes, then kill it for 30 minutes. In those intervals I would move about in that incredible world between waking and dreaming. I couldn’t tell you at all what I dreamed about – the visions disappeared the moment I would shake awake – but I can say that I got really homesick in those dark early hours. Just a few days earlier I was in Texas with my mother and sisters for Christmas. I wore cut-offs and t-shirts down there. The lowest it got was 27 degrees, but it would warm up to 65 degrees or higher. During the day’s drive to Nova Scotia, it never got higher than 27 degrees – Fahrenheit, I don’t even want to attempt converting it to Celsius.
I couldn’t feel farther away from Texas than I did in that car. I’m finding I long for Texas more and more as I get older. I feel at ease there, more than I do anywhere else. It is where my feet first hit the ground and I accept, totally, my Texas-hood. I like telling people I’m from Texas. I believe I have accepted who I am. The snow had long since covered the windshield when I grew very unsettled over the fact that I can miss my home but not want to live there. It was just another of what I thought was a crippling amount of contradictions in my life. I grew up shy but desperate for attention. I loved to read but hated to sit still. I ate a lot, but never gained weight. I ate a lot but only ate a few different things. I stayed up late, and stayed on my feet all day. I drank but I didn’t want to. I loved country music and rock-n-roll equally, but would never listen to them at the same time. I honestly felt I was breaking some fundamental law of the Universe when I did. The latest contradiction was that I live a charmed life in New York City with all the comforts of home – a life filled with love and friends, where I thrive on my capabilities, day to day. But something just won’t let me call it home. Texas is home, will always be home, but if it is, then…then it all begins again. Round and round.
Contradictions made me crazy and immobile. I was never able to commit to anything or anyone. The snow-covered car was a cocoon and inside it all those contradictions incubated and grew into the old monsters I’m very used to. They don’t stalk me like they used to, but they get real hard to hide from in a rental car. And it doesn’t get any easier to tell the girl sitting next to you that the monsters are in the car, so I kept them to myself as the wind pushed us like waves battering a boat at sea.
Morning came and in its gray light the storm looked less formidable. The snow was pure, free of the night’s darkness, and the hope of the new day banished the monsters to the forgetting place. Osha called Kevin, the owner of the cabin, who insisted on coming to get us. When he got there, he told us we could stay with him and his wife at their home, but…
“I tell ya, if you we can get to the cabin, I really think you guys should stay there. It’s warm, and you’ll get a pretty good show.”
Kevin took us in his 4-wheel drive up and over the mountain, then down past the fishing village of Harbourville, then finally to his cabin, which stood 100 yards from a 50 foot drop off to the waterline. That is, the waterline at low tide.
“The tide’ll come in at around 1PM. Yeah, with the winds the way the are, you should really get good a show.”
Kevin built the cabin. He and his wife, Karen, are born and bred Nova Scotians and have never really desired to live anywhere else.
“I mean, there’s struggles everywhere, but we have a happy life here. Now that the kids are grown and we have this cabin, we get to meet and spend time with a lot of different people. Americans and people from all over come to the cabin. We got a lot of stories and have had some laughs, let me tell you. They way I see it, you live 70 years if your lucky. To live that long without laughin’ most of the time…well, it’s just not worth it.”
Kevin told us to make the cabin our home and that he’d come back to get us when we wanted him to. Osha and I were exhausted, but after rallying our energy we bundled up and went to the shoreline. The tide was coming into the Bay of Fundy, wildly. The seas were about 10 feet and waves pummeled the rocks, shot up into the sky, then sprayed us when they caught the wind. Salt and ice filled the air and forced its way into our lungs. But when we took a walk to the village, we were protected from the wind by a bluff, and that silence which always follows a heavy snowfall was palpable. If felt like we were the only two people on the planet. The only sound being our footsteps on the snow.
A couple of hours later, Osha and I watched – from inside the cabin – the Bay of Fundy writhe like an ocean in a Greek epic. The Bay of Fundy has the greatest tidal range on the planet – 53 feet in some areas. It was a 40 foot difference in front of the cabin. Earlier that morning, we could see several hundred yards out. That night, it looked like the waters would breach the cliff’s top. But Kevin said they wouldn’t, and he had earned our trust just after he hugged before even saying a word that morning. Anyway, the sun set and moments later the view out the cabin’s window was black – so black it’s hard to believe anything existed out the window. But tide’s roll in and out in the blackness just like early morning life crises – the only difference being that tide’s are necessary events upon which life as we know it is contingent – not wastes of time, like the latter.
The next morning – at low tide – Osha and I walked out among the rocks on the exposed floor of the Bay of Fundy. Leaning into the brutal wind, we walked about large granite boulders scattered about the bay’s bottom. The were gray – salt-cured – on the outside, but shone bright pink where pieces were recently broken off. In between the boulders was a fine layer of granite pebbles, produced by water and an inconceivable amount of time. Tide in, tide out. Boulders to pebbles. I looked out as far as I could see. The seas were choppy but I badly wanted to get into a boat and keep going. But then – out of nowhere – I felt homesick again. Why did I feel so homesick as I looked out at a part of the world I’d never seen before? But why did I also desire to hit the open sea and seek – forever if necessary – to find that one place the mapmaker’s haven’t found? Dammit. Am I the sailor or the homebody? Who do I want to be?
Osha and I split the driving on the way back to the States. I like to be on the road. Movement equals freedom, to me. But my homesickness and wanderlust tugged at each other for some time, as we motored through Canada and toward the USofA. I finally told Osha about it, and of a few other contradictions, while I was at it. I’ve always wanted a home. I’ve always wanted to roam as far away as I can. Maybe the answer is to find a place somwhere in the middle. Maybe that’s the trick. When I finally stopped talking, Osha looked toward me and said,
“Or maybe it’s to be both at the same time.”
A great insight, hombre. I needed to read this one. Thank you friend and travel safe.