I moved to Nova Scotia at the beginning of September, for school, and 10 years later – almost 10 years to the day – I moved back to Ontario.
When I think about those trips, the first thing I see is asphalt shimmering in the late-summer heat. The Trans-Canada Highway rolls and curves ahead, swelling on the uphill stretches to accommodate passing lanes, slimming down again as the road descends. The yellow line holds steady down the middle of the road; the white line breaks into dashes, solidifies, breaks up again.
I am on a bus, travelling to Antigonish, N.S. I have my forehead pressed against the cool glass. I'm looking out, watching fields roll by at first, but as we get closer to my destination trees take over, crowding up close to the side of the road. I read the exit signs and try to puzzle out the names of the places we're passing: Shubenacadie, Musquodoboit, Stewiacke, Merigomish. I roll them in my mouth like strange hard candy; the unfamiliar combinations of consonants and vowels have a flavour I'm not accustomed to. Just outside New Glasgow the bus crests a hill, and opened up in front of us, like arms held wide in anticipation of an embrace, is the ocean.
Those open arms will never cease to delight me. Each time I make this trip I look forward to that view. It's made more special, perhaps, by its fleeting nature; as quickly as it appears it disappears again as the bus crests the hill, for now I'm in the highlands of Nova Scotia and the hills rise up around me in their own kind of embrace.
Page 1 of 2 – Austen's homage to the East Coast continues on page 2.
I make this my home. I love the curves and twists in the roads; I love the hills and the trees and the outcroppings of rock. I love the open fields that roll right down to the ocean, displaying giant round bales of hay with a backdrop of two blues – ocean and sky. I love the beaches, the rocky shores, the sight of Cape Breton hazy in the distance.
And yet as much as I love it, it's not forever. Ten years later I'm in a car driving west and this time there is no ocean to greet me. We join the great pulsing artery that is Highway 401 and drive across the top of Toronto, and then we split and turn and split again, and soon enough the smog and the city are behind us and we're on the Burlington Skyway. The water is open beneath us – Lake Ontario and Hamilton Harbour – and this time the names on the exit signs are old familiars: Stoney Creek, Grimsby, Beamsville. Off in the distance the Niagara Escarpment rises.
And then the fields start. Rows of peach trees, apple trees, grapevines stutter and blur as we drive past. Niagara's greenhouses are pale bubbles floating in the fields. Sometimes I see the wink of a light from a freighter out on the lake. I am sad that I've left Nova Scotia; I am excited to be in Ontario. I am leaving home; I am going home. I am somewhere between beginning and ending. It finally occurs to me that as long as I'm in Canada, with a hill at my back and water at my feet, I'm where I need to be.
Austen Gilliland is the senior copy editor at Canadian Living Magazine. She lives in Toronto, but her heart resides in the highlands of Nova Scotia.
Page 2 of 2 – On page 1, discover what makes the journey to Antigonish, N.S. so beautiful and epic.