There was a kind of magic in the Nova Scotia trip– which was my idea, my invention. Nova Scotia is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And being with my cousins after so many years was so good for many reasons.
We went to Nova Scotia without the kind of research people now do about things to do in places they travel to. We went knowing it would be beautiful and without many set expectations about what we wanted to do. The weather was cool and overcast, drizzling intermittently and just plain raining a lot of the time. My cousins were not enjoying the rain and cool weather and said often that this had been one of the worst springs/summers in memory. To me it was beautiful–absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful, every day, foggy or clear, cool or when the sun shone through. There was that wonderful walk/ hike on Micou’s Island, and a second great walk, just my honey and me setting out from a great little place called Bike and Bean— on the beautifully groomed bike trail one day when we had set out to bike for a couple of hours, just the two of us, but all the bikes were rented. And there were other drives and adventures, and just the view of St. Margaret’s Bay from the dining room table of my cousins’ home. This isn’t actually the view from their house, but another view– nonetheless, it was something like this, though from high on a hill which is where their house is situated.
Just one beautiful view of clouds, sky, air, water; St. Margaret's Bay, Nova Scotia, August, 2011
But the one thing my dear girlfriend had wanted to do for sure was to go on a whale watch.
What seems like a long time ago, we used to go to Provincetown on Cape Cod for many vacations. It’s gorgeous there and very, very gay, lesbian, queer. Later I went to many writer’s workshops and fell in love with the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown which brought me back time after time in a different way.
Together in Provincetown, my honey and I have gone on many beautiful, inspiring and moving whale watches sponsored by the Center for Coastal Studies which is truly a research and education center– not a commercial enterprise. We set out many times with interesting naturalists teaching us and had the remarkable good fortune to see whales which are nothing less than awe-inspiring and other marine life close up. Although there must have been a time or two when the weather wasn’t great, it never mattered.
In Nova Scotia we deliberated between a whale watch which appeared to be a fairly commercial endeavor– leaving from Halifax which is about an hour’s drive east of where my cousins live and a smaller whale watch leaving from a smaller town about an hour west of where we were staying. The day before we flew back to the U.S. for part two of our vacation, we chose the westward drive to Lunenburg for the less commercial whale watch and now looking back I must admit there was a kind of tourist’s greed in operation– the Lunenburg trip said we might see humpbacks, while the Halifax trip only advertised “smaller” whales.
As we boarded the ship– well, boat, really– I realized just how uncommercial this was going to be– there were a total of 18 people on board, including an infant. And two crew members. There was no naturalist and as turned out to be important, there was no enclosed area and only one small bathroom which I think is called the bulkhead on a boat. I had worried some about my mother, soon to be 80– on this trip, but she said she was up for it. It was hazy and overcast as we drove to Lunenburg. Once on the boat we sped out to sea. I love to be on the ocean, the look of the water, the feel of the water moving, the sun on the water or the expanse of dark clouds. I am not a good swimmer and my feeling about being on the water is surely terror mixed with excitement, but somehow the effect of the mix is that I am someone who loves to be on water. From a boat I am reverent and very aware of the beauty of the world, the natural world and the people in the world.
As we sped further and further into the sea, the sky was dark, gray and covered in thick, dark clouds off to one side of the boat and the water in that direction was almost black. Looking out in the other direction, the sky was light, blue, clear, hot and sunny. And the sea shone blue and sparkly as the light bounced off each ripple. But the sea was choppy, rough and the boat began rocking side to side, like a wildly enthusiastic toddler on a rocking chair. Harder and harder with no end to the rocking in sight.
Then it began. We had both a very young man there with either his girlfriend or very new wife sitting across from us and an older man traveling from Germany with his wife sitting just two people over. Both had large cameras with big telescopic lenses and were poised to take beautiful close-ups of the whales we would see. They both became the vomiters of the trip. We watched helplessly as one then the other lurched toward the bathroom– either making it or grabbing a bucket on the way in. This went on for what became a very long time and there was nowhere to go to get a little break from these two bodily dramas. It was— well–awful. And comical. Sort of.
I have had motion sickness only once or twice in my life. It is hard for me to tell whether it was all that vomiting or the rocky sea– but after not too long a time I began to sweat and I felt sick and grew weak in the knees– literally. I was having trouble standing up. It was going to take all my concentration to hold it together. Also if I had needed a bathroom I’d have needed to take a number. I am not sure if my daughter was frightened by the violent tossing of the open boat on the sea or the two grown men who were so sick, but after a while she, who had been thrilled to get on the boat, came over to me, sat down and hid her head in my chest– started to shake and cried and pleaded to go home. She wept that she missed Oliver–the big, sweet, loud barking dog at my cousins’ house. My mother on the other hand, who often complains that some set of activities is too much for her, walked around looking out to sea from every angle, smiling, sniffing the sea air, feeling great and invigorated.
The ride went on and on and the small crew grew desperate to find whales for us to watch. Cutting the engines, sitting still in the choppy sea and watching, then spotting something and lurching and speeding off in another direction. We did finally catch the dorsal fins and arc of the backs of two whales, far off in the distance but by then I don’t think anyone cared too much.
When we returned to my cousins’ house they reported back to me what my daughter, in the door ahead of me, reported to them and I overheard the same simple and accurate report to my sister and family: that both a young man and an old man couldn’t stop throwing up. I was reminded that every once in a great while a little bigger and more organized could be better– and that my greed to see the biggest whales was just that, greed. In some sense it was a completely miserable and overpriced experience. Still, a day out on the water on vacation in Canada with my family is preferable to so many other ways I sometimes spend three hours.