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Lunenburg and Mahone Bay: enduring beauty!

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

My late husband, Jim, and I were so captivated by the bucolic beauty, and laid-back lifestyle of Nova Scotia, specifically the South Shore, where there are the famous three churches of Mahone Bay, and the UNESCO heritage city of Lunenburg, that in 1999, we sold our beloved Victorian red brick semi in Toronto's east end, and headed-out to Canada's East Coast for a new adventure!

After Jim passed, I felt the urge to return to my origins, in Toronto. But, the bracing sea air, briny salt water, and indelible natural and historic beauty of Nova Scotia never leaves me, and continues to inspire...it's where I became a writer.

Scenes set in Nova Scotia, from Time Will Tell, chapter: the Neptune effect

"Today, the itinerary was taking them along the south shore to the historic UNESCO Heritage town of Lunenburg, home of the famous fishing and racing schooner, The Bluenose, fastest clipper ship of the twentieth century and pride of Canadian maritime heritage; Lunenburgers boasting the nickname, ‘Bluenosers’.

But before they hit the town, they stopped at a winery specializing in fruit wines and cordials; something neither of them usually drank, but thought interesting to cover nonetheless, this province being known for the quality of its fruits and berries. They sampled a variety of products, which were overall quite palatable, the apple and blueberry wine even delightfully refreshing. Lidia bought a few bottles of elderberry cordial, thinking that Nick could make some culinary use of them in reductions, granitas, and trifles.

Then on to Lunenburg, and its ‘painted ladies’; the brightly colored and whimsically gabled eighteenth and nineteenth century wooden houses that boasted the confidence and prosperity of its merchant ships’ captains, traders and privateers. Their beacon colors lit-up each side of the steep streets rolling down to the busy harbor, where long ago the men and boys of the town set sail to plunder the bounty of Newfoundland’s treacherous Grand Banks, trawl the deep waters of the Bay of Fundy or trade in exotic goods from the Caribbean.

Neptune gave forth his gold, but exacted a terrible tithe, as the widows left behind knew too well. It was for them that the iron lace-cap ‘widow’s walk’ topped the loftiest outlooks; their vigils were not for their men long-lost, but for the scrying moon upon which the faces of those not returning were illuminated, knowledge they were never to utter, their lips screwed down tightly as coffin lids, only their moon-struck eyes might betray its dire portend.

Past these ancient, storied facades, they drove along the shore to the Old Town where Shelton insisted they visit a boutique distillery run from what was once an iron smith’s forge. The little distillery produced some very clean, smooth, warming vodkas, a deep luscious amber rum fermented in old French brandy barrels and a lovely cranberry liqueur, made with berries from a local bog; its beautifully clear, vibrant garnet color, and tart, mouthwatering taste made it a perfect gift for the annual ‘turkey fests’ of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Lidia and Shelton decided to buy a case each and have them shipped back home.

After the late morning’s samplings, Lidia found herself in something of a boozy haze, despite Shelton’s admonition to, “take it easy,” and only try a sip of each offering, her surge of wanton enthusiasm had led her to imprudence, so Tylenol and a stiff espresso at the local coffee roastery was in order. This restorative was just what Lidia needed to head off the thumping headache she sensed was developing.

When they were both refreshed, Shelton stood, returning his wallet to his back pocket, and asked, “Are we ready for a brisk walk-about and then a good gut-bashing lunch?”

“Sure, that’s sounds grand, I’d love to get a closer look at the facades of these wonderful historic houses,” Lidia said, as Shelton helped her with her chair.

“I think we may do better than that, many of them are inns now, so we can at least get a look- in to the front parlors, perhaps some of the unoccupied rooms. There’s one place nearby, reputed to have excellent displays of eighteenth-century Delft story tiles surrounding each of its twelve original fireplaces.”

“Sounds interesting; I’m familiar with the classic blue and white Delft ceramics, but tell me, what are story tiles?” Lidia asked as they crossed the street in the direction of an imposing dark green, mustard, and maroon three-story bed and breakfast, bearing a heritage plaque dating the building to1787.

“Story tiles are pretty much what they’re called, tiles which have a narrative function, often a sequence of images depicting morally instructive tales from Aesop, folklore or the bible.” You mean something like a comic strip?” asked Lidia.

“Exactly, each tile depicted a scene from the story, remember, not everyone was literate then or could afford books, and tiles were a cheaper commodity. I fancy they would’ve also been a way to amuse children on long winter nights.”

“How interesting, let’s get some photos of those. I might use them later,” Lidia said, admiring Shelton’s erudition. She found his interests and knowledge so diverse, it seemed there was little worthy of interest that he hadn’t plumbed the depths of to some degree. Yet, unlike so many erudite people, he did not show-off or pretend to be clever, he simply offered what he knew for what it was worth to anyone who took an interest; he never made his interlocutor feel stupid, although he could easily, given his very sharp wit.

***

Scene from Mahone Bay: tiny bubbles

They by-passed the new four lane highway to cruise along the old road which wound its way around the undulating shoreline of Mahone Bay, where past each blind curve there opened-up a scenic vista. The sky was a clear blue, strands of ethereal white clouds streaked across the horizon, the open waters of the bay rippled and sparkled as a procession of silent sailboats glided effortlessly around and between the many small islands within the bay’s azure expanse.

Finally, they came to the three iconic old wooden churches, their tall, elegant spires rising to pierce the heavens, releasing the promise of salvation.


They left the car to poke around each church and take several pictures. When they had done admiring the architecture, Shelton drove to a mussel and scallop farm on the bay which sold oysters as well. He bought a dozen oysters, they were small and inexpensive, so any they didn’t consume could be discarded without remorse.

He concluded their purchase and pulled the door open for Lidia to exit before him, when she hesitated, “Aren’t you going to ask where we might find a beach nearby?”

“No need, I know exactly where to go,” Shelton smiled enigmatically.

“Well, you must’ve done a lot of homework planning for this trip,” Lidia observed, as she secured her seatbelt and smoothed back her hair.

“Yes, you could say that.” Shelton turned the key in the ignition, heading to a pretty sweep of crescent beach, unmarked, and known mainly to locals.

***

tiny bubbles

It was three-thirty, the grannies were bundling-up their infant charges to head for home, and the preparation of the evening meal. Their vacancy quickly filled with teenagers staking out their territories, planning the late-shift entertainment. Shelton and Lidia ditched their shoes, grabbed the cooler bag, and headed for a promising outcrop of large, flat rocks at the farthest end of the beach from the swarm of teenagers.

Their trek was rewarded by the presence of two rocks, conveniently eroded by time and tide into the crude suggestion of a bench and table. They stationed themselves there and listened silently for several minutes to the crashing of the high tide against the outcrop, swirling its cooling briny foam around their grateful feet, encroaching further into their sphere, surging into their weary spirits. They leaned back on extended arms, soaking in the liberating sensations of this liminal world, a place between land and sea, not belonging entirely to either, yet holding the beautiful promise of both.

When they’d drunk their fill of the ocean, Shelton unzipped the cooler bag and began to work on opening the petite mollusks, expertly prizing-open the narrow end with a sharp jab and quick twist of his pen knife, then swiftly gliding the blade around the black-rimmed crescent of their chalky-white shells, he deftly severed the abductor muscle liberating the soft grey delicacy, awash in its briny liqueur, then slurped it into his upturned mouth.

“Mmm...a taste of the sea!”

After taking a few shots of the oysters and sea, Lidia offered to open the sparkling wine, twisting, then pulling-up the pressurized cork with confidence. Shelton set out two plastic goblets for her to fill and handed an opened oyster to Lidia.

“Well, Miss Mew, the crystal may not be up to our usual standard, but there’s nothing finer, than supping off Neptune’s china...down the hatch.”

They slurped their tasty treasure appreciatively, then turned their attention to the bubbly.

After a thoughtful pause, Lidia asked, “Why are these oysters so small Shelton, barely more than three inches long, are they immature?”

“No, that’s the breed, Beausoleil, from the Miramichi Bay in New Brunswick. Because of the way they’re raised, they form nearly perfect, uniform shells, just right for a cocktail size. Their taste is subtle, slightly briny, with a hint of baked bread, don’t you find?”

“Yes, they pair very well with the champagne,” Lidia observed, ready to consume her third oyster.

“Yep, lovely name, ‘beautiful sun’, with a nice deep cup for slurping too. Did you know that male oysters acquire a tiny parasite which eventually castrates them, so they stop putting energy into reproduction and focus instead on growing nice and plump?” asked Shelton.

“How ironic! What an unsexy life for a renowned aphrodisiac,” Lidia exclaimed.

“Yes, too bad for them, but so good for us,” Shelton concluded as he pitched the empty shells into the sea. "

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