Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nova Scotia

Many years ago, we had a family visiting Sandhill: a couple with a young boy, perhaps eight at the time. They were considering joining the community and their visit lasted a couple weeks.

One of the universal challenges of parenting, of course, is figuring out how to navigate adult topics with children present in the room. In the case of this particular family, they had worked out a rather unique solution, involving a code. Whenever the parents felt it was wiser to steer the conversation into less dangerous waters, one of them would say, “Let’s talk about Nova Scotia.”

While I don’t know the exact origin of this phrase, I suspect Nova Scotia represented something exotic, yet remote—and thus interesting, yet safe (or at least safer—are any topics completely safe?). As this peculiarity was already embedded in the family’s lexicon by the time of their visit, no one actually launched into an exploration of the Canadian maritime province, they only needed to offer the magic phrase, and everyone knew it was time to switch topics. It wasn't long before we Sandhillians knew that, too.

The funny thing about this was observing how well the child knew how to play the game. While the code was crafted to cleverly distract the innocent, more often than not it was the child who would speak up at an awkward moment in the conversation. While he may not have understood the content, the boy was sensitive to difficult energy and had learned that those were the times where it was appropriate to offer, “Let’s talk about Nova Scotia.”

While some adults were struggling to step back from the brink of awkwardness, others were struggling to not burst into laughter at the child’s precociously accurate reading of the dynamic. It was pretty amusing… unless it was your boat drifting into heavy seas.

• • •
I’m reminded about all this because today, I will actually be in Nova Scotia. I’m typing this chugging across New Brunswick on my way from Montreal to Halifax, traveling via Via (the Canadian counterpart to Amtrak). We’ll be picked up this afternoon by Jim, my wife Ma’ikwe’s father, who is hosting us for six days in the Atlantic Time Zone (where we’re four hours behind London and four hours ahead of Seattle), further east and north than Maine. Apparently the apple harvest is going full bore and I’m looking forward to brooding skies, wood fires, and walks along the beach.

While I don’t know yet whether Nova Scotia is “safe” (I will, after all, be visiting unknown in-laws for almost a week), it’s both exotic and evocative. The woods were traversing en route—where leafless birch commingle with yellow tamarack and green fir—are punctuated by small fields and single story white-trimmed cottages. This is terrain that knows winter, and reminds me strongly of northern Minnesota and western Ontario, geography familiar to me from my canoeing days. At the same time, we’re heading toward the Atlantic Coast, where the cold Labrador Current clashes with the upper outliers of the Gulf Stream, creating one of the richest fishing grounds on Earth.

Never having been here before, I’m looking forward to a week of fresh air, fresh fish, and fresh conversation.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow. I thought that was a Cecil-ism. Lovely to hear more of the history!