Cathedrals of calm—Nova Scotia’s wilderness is worth the fight

A tiny stream slips down the mountain. It runs low and whisks waterfalls over mounds of moss. Veils of leaves drape its edges, turning adjacent rock walls into feathery tombs. It feels ancient. Enchanting. An emerald oasis on high.
I stopped there last August, on the Acadian Trail atop Cape Breton Highlands—sheltered then from what lay below. Resting, for a moment, in the glow.
In this province, we’ve seen worthy fights for these kinds of forests or smaller windows of wild. Many care deeply about our woods, our wildlife, our water—still threatened by those who don’t.
Last year, in an encouraging show of support, scores of outraged residents actively opposed development near a beloved Halifax sanctuary with a long name. Places like the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes wilderness (the proposed site of a regional park, just west of Halifax) area promise relaxation, adventure, fun.
They hold important ecosystems, sweeping views, memories. But why beloved?
Maybe it’s also about things less tangible, more personal. Places to go when there’s nothing else we can do. When my father and mother were sick, I sometimes walked in wilderness. When they died, last May and July, I went back to the woods.
Silence and scenery help when people you love can’t speak or understand. Watch swallows feed their babies on Cole Harbour Salt Marsh Trail and you can forget for a little while.
Climb hills over Musquodoboit Valley and the colour green quiets the mind.
Walk or canoe through Birch Cove and you can stop, and stay, in the middle of a moment.
That’s what people crave: places to think, or stop thinking, in times of loss or chaos, confusion, or constant conversation. That’s worth a fight.
I’ve found cathedrals of calm on granite cliffs, salty marshes, windswept mountains, where coyotes howl or moose come calling. On rocks in the middle of rapids. In alcoves. And oceans.
Other images sometimes intrude. Butterfly tubes and hospital rooms. Shallow breaths and goodbyes.
But I go to a yellow butterfly with a pastel eye. I saw it one day on a purple flower. I picture a broken tree in an empty field. I passed it one day on the way to Economy Falls.
I remember tie-dyed skies over Cape Breton cliffs. The smell of juniper along Gaff Point Trail. The way Ban Falls sweeps over giant, centuries-old trees with never-ending roots. And Long Island’s mysterious Balancing Rock, which tips out into the ocean, but hangs on.
Little pictures often rise up: irises shooting from rocks at Taylor Head Provincial Park, a hawk brushing Cape Split’s tip, a turtle swimming and crawling up Dartmouth lakes each spring to lay her eggs.
Fragments of moments stand still: a bee over honeysuckles at dusk, an eagle on ice.
And whole days linger. In the mountains by a stream, in Halifax by a lake, one of many winding through Birch Cove’s woods and islands and outcrops, a still, secluded place in the heart of Halifax.
I went back there a few weeks after my father died, which turned out to be a few weeks before my mother followed.
I remember heat and haze and lanes of lady slippers, veins alight under the summer sun. I remember mayflowers and giant mushrooms and parades of pine cones, painted brown against a baby blue sky. I remember a smiley face carved into a fallen tree. A woman by the water.
I sat on a platform of rock, looked down on a lake, smelled earth on the air. A mother, with her ducklings, sailed past. Then disappeared on wisps of wind.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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