New Brunswick, Canada: A land where time stands still. Sculpted by nature, the unspoiled landscape is rough around the edges, like an unpolished stone and not in any hurry to progress. Inland, its rolling hills hopscotch between forests of coniferous trees – balsam fir, red and black spruce, pine, sugar and red maple – and acres of blueberry and cranberry fields, a church spire tucked in between here and there. Lakes and rivers travel through the land and ferries carry its passengers from one town to the next. Hugging the Bay of Fundy to the east, New Brunswick’s pebbled pristine beaches greet well-maintained storybook lighthouses that perch on rocky cliffs. It almost doesn’t look real. There’s much more to this beautiful land than meets the eye.
So, where do I fit in here? Last autumn, I planned a trip to once again visit my dad’s extended family in New Brunswick just in time for the unleashing of fall colors. What wasn’t planned was how much my Canadian roots would unlock my heart and the emotions this trip carried.
Ever since my dad’s death in 2013, I was determined to memorialize his life somehow. Because his entire family on his father’s side is from New Brunswick, I thought it appropriate to place a plaque in the country cemetery in White’s Cove, that houses centuries of the Knight ancestors. A bittersweet trip, indeed.
I started my journey in beautiful Portland, Maine visiting dear friends, then made my way north through nature’s color palette of Canada. Because this was a personal journey, I drove alone. I needed time to gather my emotions for the catharsis soon to take place. Two simultaneous experiences were about to occur: one interior and one exterior. I would balance the anticipation of coming face-to-face with a ceremony of closure of my father’s death, with the spectacle of fall colors that left me breathless. Every twist and curve of the northbound road led me through tunnels of kaleidoscope color. The further north I drove, the more intense, deeper, and richer the crimson and mustard. This “E” ticket experience was all mine to drink in and all I had to do was watch for darting deer and moose!
In St. John, I am lucky to have two of the most kind and loving cousins, Maureen and Sandra as my hostesses. Born and raised in New Brunswick, they know the family history dating back to the 900’s in England (really!). Fortunately, they are always are eager to play my tour guide through the past.
Maureen shared her favorite rural and artsy destinations, while Sandra, the family historian and genealogist, introduced me to long-lost relatives and their stories. One of my favorite stories told how our grandfathers, along with the entire community and their horses, moved a small house from Mill Cove to White’s Cove via a frozen lake! Such power and grit these people showed.
My grandfather, James, was born in a farmhouse on Knight Road in Mill Cove. His family loved the land and were proud farmers. James made his way to Arizona at the tender age of 18 in 1892 to seek his fortune. He was the only sibling of many brothers to leave his Canadian home and venture west. Hence, his disappearance from the family tree until Sandra’s research tracked my dad down!
My dad, it seems was the missing link Sandra had been searching for. He was a cousin to her dad and uncles. This discovery in 2001 brought our families together in a bond that changed my life, giving me insight into my roots. How grateful I am to know that adventure runs in our blood!
On a blustery, blue-skied day, Sandra and Maureen graciously accompanied me to the small White’s Cove cemetery so I could add my dad’s timeline to his family’s. Deeply emotional, with a cool breeze signaling the changing season, I also felt a shift in myself occurring. My dad’s spirit was watching over me and I was pleased he had this peaceful place to now call home.
To liven things up, Maureen introduced me to the lonely, rural and hearty way of life on Deer Island. Accessed only by a ferry-boat, the thickly forested island with its rocky, craggy shoreline is inhabited year-round by only the brave-hearted. Our Ferry Master, Dana, a Deer Island native, introduced himself and we quickly became friends. So rugged is this lifestyle that if you were ready to give birth in the depth of winter, you called the Ferry Master, who was on call, to transport you through choppy, winter winds and seas, to solid land and a warm hospital. Dana had been born and raised on the island and elected to continue his life journey there, with many jaunts to Europe and America and even San Diego. We shared a common bond and I admired his spirit.
Driving the island roads, we spotted a cottage with lime green shutters, sporting a mosaic, life-size pig on the veranda. Lured in by the display of fall decor, we pulled over to take a peek. Inside, we were greeted by hutches filled with a variety of homemade jams, pickles and sauces, along with baskets filled with just-picked apples and late-harvest vegetables.
With no shop keeper present, a chalkboard sign instructed you where to leave your money for items purchased. I lit up and felt happy inside, knowing that there are places alive that trust in people and that the honor system still holds true somewhere. Maureen and I each bought an apple – one of the sweetest and crunchiest I have ever eaten – and a few jars of freshly made preserves. These were my kind of people. I wondered if my grandfather’s family openly shared their bounty like this. I’ll bet they did.
This fall journey brought into focus my past as well as my present. My father’s plaque in the White’s Cove Cemetery now stands as a link between my two worlds just as my spirit will forever be linked to my Eastern Canadian roots. There is a peacefulness and a serenity, that I’ve not found elsewhere. I’ve also witnessed within its people, a comforting contentedness in spite of life’s hardships. The display of stunning autumn colors turned me inward to declare gratitude to Mother Nature for her last expression of brilliance before winter, and lightened my spirit for the tough tasks in life. The future? Well, it’s a mystery and a gift.
Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.”
Ciao for now,