DAYS TWENTY AND TWENTY-ONE
We took an excursion to Cape Breton Island which required spending a night away from the cottage. Cape Breton Island is the northernmost part of Nova Scotia and since we are staying almost at the southern end of it then we had to drive about six hours to reach the area where we would spend the night. Cape Breton Island is the Celtic center of Nova Scotia where the Scots and Irish settled when they came to Nova Scotia in the 1700s. It is an island so there is a causeway that connects it to the rest of Nova Scotia.
So, on Friday morning we had breakfast and got ready and packed a few things for an overnight stay and began our drive. Nova Scotia has a series of major roads that we Americans may think of as “freeways” but they are not freeways in the same sense as the roads for which we use this term. There are stretches where the roads are four lane roads with higher speeds of 60-70 mph but suddenly those lanes will end and you will be driving on a two lane road with a top speed of 55 mph or less. In addition, these major roads do not go everywhere around the province so to get across the mid-section of Nova Scotia one either has to get off on two lane slower traveled roads that are generally not in top condition or one has to stay on the freeway roads and go south nearly to Halifax and then double back and go north again ending up straight across from where the road went south that one just left. We did both things on this trip and neither were satisfying, travel wise.
Anyway, we drove from about 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., taking times for gas stops, lunch, and other necessary stops and reached our motel in Whycocomagh (which is a First Nation word- people that we call Native Americans are called First Nation in Canada) to check in. The clerk at the motel was very friendly and when she heard we planned on going to the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou that night to hear Celtic Music, she guided us into going instead to the town of Baddeck, just north of there to attend a Ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee) that would begin at 7:30 instead of driving to Mabou in the rain around curvy roads for the music that would begin at 9 pm. We thought that sounded better as we do not like to be up to midnight when the 9 pm show ended and we did not want to drive over the curvy road s in the rain and in the dark.
So, we changed our plans and had dinner at a local café called Charlene’s which could have the best seafood chowder anywhere, at least that is what we thought. Then, we drove to Baddeck and found the parish hall of St. Michael’s Church where the ceilidh would take place. The hall was beginning to fill up already so we found our seats inside and waited for it to begin.
Just prior to beginning time, a younger petite woman came in carrying a case that contained a fiddle and took it out to begin warming up. Another woman about the same age came in and began to open up the top and front of an upright piano and sat down on a swivel stool and began to warm up also. At the time to start, the woman who had seated us came forward and introduced the musicians and they began the program that would last for two hours.
A “Ceilidh” is a traditional Celtic musical party that features fiddle and piano playing tunes that have been created, shared, and handed down from one generation to the next for at least two centuries. The tunes, many of which came from the British Isles, have been preserved by musicians and taught to one another. The fiddler named Jennifer has been studying this type of music for at least 20 years. The pianist named Susan began playing when she was a youth and has continued learning throughout her life.
Much of the music was lively—reels and jigs---to which volunteers danced. The musicians and the audience tapped their feet to the music to keep time. Some of the music was slow and soulful, achingly beautiful, with a haunting melody. Susan played a tune she made up in honor of her grandmother named Rose and it was very beautiful but it has never been recorded or written down for publication. When we heard it, she was playing it from memory as her hands moved across the piano.
The concert was educational as well as beautiful to hear. The pair explained much about the Celtic Music of Cape Breton Island and how it has been preserved free from many of the outside influences that shaped similar music that originates in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA. There the music received additions from others living in their area that made the music what it is today while the Cape Breton Celtic Music is much more similar to music that originated in Scotland and Ireland, some of which is still played in those countries today.
The presenters answered questions from the audience and performed some step dancing, each dancing while the other played their instrument. Both were very adept at dancing in the manner that we have seen in programs such as Riverdance. They were very entertaining as well as informative.
The evening was very meaningful to Doris and me because we each have family connections to the British Isles. My Carpenters and Cogswells (my grandmother’s maiden name) have their roots in England. The Conways (another line) have connections to Ireland. Doris has at least one line of her genealogy that has roots in the British Isles also. I connect with the music on a level that speaks to me when I hear the slow melancholy tunes such as were performed last night. It is as if I can hear the ancestors calling to me through the notes that compose the tunes.
We returned to our motel and had a good night’s sleep and then drove to Mabou over those curvy, hilly roads that we did not drive the night before. The countryside is beautiful with hills looking over lakes and rivers. At one point we spotted two bald eagles near a river we passed. One was flying down toward the water with his claws extended as if he was going to catch something that was in or near the water. The green hills rose up from the roadside to form the mountains around us and I told Doris that the pioneers who came here from Ireland and Scotland probably felt at home as it must resemble some place there.
We had breakfast at the Shining Waters Eatery in Mabou, delicious food that included porridge bread, a specialty of the house. Sipping some great coffee as we waited for our food, I looked around the room at all of the people who bore some resemblance to the Irish and Scottish people who settled this area. I observed a few people with red hair, many with light colored hair, facial features that remind me of people I have seen while traveling in the UK, having conversations about modern things but with a lilt or intonation in the voice that made me think that their ancestry is still alive in this generation.
As I looked around and listened to them talk, I felt a connection in this place too. In this ordinary moment in life, something spoke to me that was spiritual in nature as well as sentimental in consideration of the past. I felt as if I belonged, even though I live in a different country. A connection existed that extends beyond time and place.
St. Paul sensed that there is a spiritual connection between many of us and that the Spirit unites us in ways that are mysterious and not fully understood. We share something in common in the same way that we share genetics with others with whom we have an ancestral connection. He wrote to Timothy and reminded him of the connection he had through his familial line.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (II Timothy 1:5-7)