In all the tricks played by the sun, here was a new one.
Laura Muise was with me. We had become fast friends. She knew my history of loss and intuitively felt it. Honesty, sometimes tearful, saturated my conversations with her as we talked about meaning and what a soul wants.
It wants a lot of this, I thought, looking out into the sun that marks ends and beginnings and the coming of darkness and its chill, when we seek comfort and search ourselves for what aches and the salves for it. At dusk on a July evening, my arms pinched from the fever of summer, a seaside heat that made you wish the wind would fan just a bit more, wicking off the fatigue with the sweat. As it set, though, the bright star of Earth surrendered to the cooling breeze and the pleasantness of a night-time climate where you could still wear short sleeves without a shiver. Fading into the night, the sun caught the window of a time-worn cabin boat moored on the shore near Meteghan, a tiny village not far from Yarmouth, the launching point for that day’s road trip. The sun bathed the unattended boat with a luminescent glare that dazzled as light peered through the vessel’s windscreen that was pressed into the tattered white wood frame and glared into portholes as if it were Evangeline’s lantern.
In the distance, the sun seared against the clear slate sky, which held space for the night, in a scene that could only happen there, I had to believe, where a few onlookers stood captivated and pigeons, somehow, stayed still and quiet as the wind galloped and the waves steadily climbed to remake the horizon as the eternal transformation of day filtering to night culminated. As what often happens, passages from the most famous poem of the region seemingly could be heard:
“In the twilight gloom of a window’s embrasure,
Sat the lovers, and whispered together, beholding the moon rise
Over the pallid sea and the silvery mist of the meadows.
Silently one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
We know the adjectives storytellers use to describe coastal areas: windswept, rugged, peaceful, charming, laidback, stark. All those apply to the Acadian Shores — but so does “wise”. Wisdom often seems like nature’s constant knock on humanity’s collective noggin, an unrelenting call from the planet, if not the universe, to get us to understand what it’s all about. Water, in its complexity and indispensability, feels deep with meaning, and in coastal communities it is the source of life. We’re drawn to the water and we’re wary of it too. Water keeps the human experience real — the mortality of it, the hope for serenity while living it, and the quest for deeper knowing that can keep us exploring into beyonds.
It is around this beyondness that Muise and I have connected in her part of the world where sunsets inveigle a sense of wonder and the seascape is a never-ending awe. For Muise, the journey into mindfulness and soul awakening is focused at Inner Oaks, a holistic centre that is run from her home teeming with trees and goodness. Not far away from where we stood staggered by the light of the sunset, water babbled from a creek that slips through her property in the small village of Quinan. We had met there hours earlier, when I pondered the brook and how its murmur felt reminiscent of breaths and other things lost while the rocks rose from the riverbed, shimmering with promise and offering gentle guidance to follow the flow until it turned a corner and evaded sight.
Inner Oaks provides meditation seminars, yoga workshops, and self-awakening exercises, along with culinary sessions (Muise has worked in the restaurant business for decades) and a herb-and-garden tour that explains some of the flora and fauna in Nova Scotia’s South Shore.
“I just feel a calling to do this,” she says about her passion for the spiritual healing facility. “I think the world is looking for more ways to connect and to find meaning, and allowing space for that is part of what Inner Oaks is about.”
A retreat for mindfulness may not be what you expect to find in a region known for fisheries and the physical exertion it takes to operate them. The South Shore has a reputation for brawn. It takes daily effort to tame coastal nature, cradle food from it, and steer clear of marine menaces. But the water also encourages us to commiserate and contemplate. It’s that energy that Muise has tapped into with her holistic centre. Inner Oaks is a new and new-age addition to a part of Nova Scotia that is noted for its historical significance. Muise celebrates the Acadian heritage of the Maritime province in her recipes and classes, and it’s a rich and diverse culture that is easily explored in the area.
Cultural centres, festivals, museums, and galleries abound along the Evangeline Trail, named after the fictional heroin in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic 19th-century poem. The stretch of about 295 kilometres (183 miles) has a northern point in Grand-Pré, the traditional Acadian home in the wine country of Annapolis Valley, and drifts south to communities east of Yarmouth, retracing the route of the Acadians who the British forced from their homes in 1755. Along with Yarmouth, smaller locales such as Weymouth and Clare and Baie Sainte-Marie feature excellent attractions that preserve history and heritage, including events related to the painful effects of the Acadian Expulsion and the hurtful actions perpetrated on the Indigenous communities by the French and English colonizers.
Wounds remain on the surface. A dispute over fishing rights between the Mi’kmaq and the non-Indigenous fishers exploded into ugly scenes in recent years that evoked the worst of Canadian history. It’s not the kind of attention that helps tourism nor is it indicative of the relationships of the different communities in the Acadian Shores. There’s a solid amount of harmony here and as Muise points out an environment that is conducive to synergizing with nature and the spirit world.
You can both easily lose yourself in the Acadian Shores and find your inner peace there too.
So while the food is exceptional — among the best shellfish in the world — and the wineries are enchanting (the first in Canada originated in the Acadian Shores), and the lighthouses are worth capturing and the history is riveting, the most enduring memories of a visit to southwest Nova Scotia may come from the stops that nature compels you to make. In each sunset that beguiles and every wave potent with power is the chance to slow down and ponder what more you know than when you arrived. What more you feel when the words of Longfellow find you, two centuries on, and remain impactful while you trod on his heroin’s same shores, pebbles grazing beneath your sandals while the scents of lupine and daisy gape your nostrils as they sweep for more.
“Softly the evening came. The sun from the western horizon
Like a magician extended his golden wand o’er the landscape;
Twinkling vapors arose; and sky and water and forest
Seemed all on fire at the touch, and melted and mingled together.
Hanging between two skies, a cloud with edges of silver,
Floated the boat, with its dripping oars, on the motionless water.
Filled was Evangeline’s heart with inexpressible sweetness.
Touched by the magic spell, the sacred fountains of feeling
Glowed with the light of love, as the skies and waters around her.”