Time may be linear or time may be cyclical, but, for many in Nova Scotia, time is divided into six-month increments. In summer, when the tourists come, you work. You run your business, you man a visitor center, you sell your handicrafts, you operate boat tours. The rest of the year — when the air is cold, the days are short, the skies are gray, and you sometimes walk out of front doors several feet off the ground to account for the snow — you do something else.
I remember one summer night about a decade-and-a-half ago, one of those endless twilights you find only when you get far enough away from the Equator. We were at a lobster pound on the Minas Basin, off the Bay of Fundy. The restaurant itself was a wooden shack surrounded by scattered picnic tables in patches of grass along a gravelly beach. We sat there, bibbed, cracking lobsters open and dipping their meat in drawn butter, watching the reddish waters of the Basin drop and rise with the greatest tides on Earth. It was summer but with a slight chill. It was paradise.
The owners of the lobster pound were a middle-aged, married couple who, each night, sat with their customers on the picnic tables, surrounded by merry vacationers. They talked with them and laughed with them. They sat there well into the night, telling time only by the comings and goings of the tides. It was a perfect life, except that, come winter, there was no money along the Minas Basin and he, an agricultural specialist, headed south to sunny Cuba, and she, a nurse, headed north to frozen Nunavut. Every spring, they reunited at their lobster pound in Nova Scotia and began their life together. Every fall, they bade farewell and left for opposite ends of the continent.
Nova Scotia is a lobster, its body the mainland, its tail curving south toward Yarmouth. Up north, its claws, Cape Breton Island, jut out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, towards Newfoundland, cradling an inland sea. The Bras d’Or Lake, really a series of lakes, is one of the world’s more breathtaking places. Velveteen hills ring calm, blue waters. English, Scottish, Acadian, and Native Mi’kmaq villages cling to its shores.
The view from Baddeck, halfway across the northern shore, is one of boats and white sails, of a red-and-white lighthouse, of conifers piercing low, gray clouds. Alexander Graham Bell first visited Baddeck in 1885, eventually building a home at Beinn Bhreagh. Bell, too, lived in six-month cycles, spending winters in Washington and summers flying and sailing on Cape Breton.
The Bras d’or Lake is famous for its sailing, and Baddeck boasts one of its oldest sailing clubs. When visiting the town, it’s only natural to the take to the water. I remember one summer night about a decade-and-a-half ago, a few days after the lobster pound on the Minas Basin, when the air was chill and the light a thousand shades of pink and blue. We were on a boat tour of the lake around Baddeck, floating for a while some ways off shore.
“This must be paradise,” we said, envying the young captain’s life.
“It is,” he responded. “Two months of the year.”
“What do you do the rest of the time?” we asked.
“I’m an artist for the government,” he boasted. “I draw unemployment.”