I live on an island (Boularderie) within an island (Cape Breton). That’s a pretty unusual thing in itself. In fact, I seem to have a history of finding myself living on islands throughout my life. I was born in Montreal, situated largely on the island of the same name at the confluence of the Ottawa and Saint Lawrence Rivers. I’ve also lived on Campobello Island in New Brunswick just adjacent to Lubec, Maine. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Cape Cod – a spit of land separated from mainland Massachusetts by a canal.
A few weeks back I had an itch to do some longer walks so I decided, on a bit of a whim, to walk around the island I currently live on – Boularderie Island. I had heard that there are local folks who sometimes do this in the spring as a fundraiser, so it was not entirely an original idea! Judy and I made an initial drive to get a sense of the distance. The circumference of the island, as measured in our car, is about 90 km. I figured if I walked 10 km each morning I should make it in nine days. Turned out I walked a bit more each day so it only took eight. They didn’t happen all in a row as I chose not to walk if I woke up to pouring rain or had a morning appointment, so it took me about two weeks to find eight walking days. And what a lovely walkabout – there’s so much to see when moving at a human pace!
Day 1 – Judy drove me out to the junction of Kempt Head Road and Highway 105 to begin the trek so that I could walk back to our tiny house, as we already knew this was a bit more than 10 km. In doing so we would know approximately how long it would take me to walk the same distance on subsequent days and give Judy an idea of when to head out to pick me up. Unlike most other days, this part of the walk was quite familiar to me as it’s the way we head into town. The familiar landmarks along the way were comforting, and yet my slower pace also offered quite a different perspective on them. It was the first time, for example, that I stopped to look at a piped natural spring coming off the center of the island. Plus, I was able to notice all sorts of new sights that one would miss when traveling at the speed of a car. There are patches that are pretty thick with wild parsnip in the ditches. This is an invasive species native to Europe and Asia that outcompetes native plants and thus reduces diversity, impacts agricultural forage crops, and also contains chemicals that can cause a severe rash or burn when sap from broken plants contacts human skin.
As this was my first day I spent time pondering why I was doing this walk. Someone I had mentioned the idea to earlier in the week had said it would be great exercise. Funny, exercise was the last thing on my mind! So why was I doing it? Mostly it felt like I wasn’t doing anything, instead I was being – being in my body, being in my thoughts, and being with what lays beyond my thoughts.
Day 2 – Today’s journey began from Tiny’s front door (green on the map)! Judy and Shanti walked with me for the first half hour and then turned back, which allowed for Shanti’s regular hour-long morning walk. We all enjoyed this, and since Shanti really loves exploring new places, we continued to walk together for the first part of every walking day. About 12 kilometers later I was at the very end of the island – Kempt Head – a much less inhabited area (marked by quite a few signs about security systems on summer homes!) In fact, the last seven kilometers or so were on dirt roads which was a lovely change. The drizzling rain offered a mystical morning experience.
Day 3 – As the driving distance to drop me where I left off the day before was increasing, today marked the first day of eating my bowl of granola breakfast in the car. I walked around the head on about 12 km still on dirt roads. At one point the only other presence I noted were the deer flies! Amazing how something so little can be so distracting: a metaphor I pondered for several kilometers :). I passed a friend’s house on the walk and considered stopping in to say hi but then remembered that not everyone necessarily loves drop-ins and particularly not before nine in the morning! As it turned out, she passed me on her way to work a few minutes later anyway, so we got to say hi. Today was filled with the sounds of woodpeckers off in the distance and I encountered a second piped natural spring.
Day 4 – Though the entire walk today was along a paved road, somehow it felt much more isolated than any previous segment. I noticed quite a few “No Trespassing” signs along this piece of the walk. On the other hand, I didn’t see any invasive wild parsnip for the first nine km and then it seemed to come back with a vengeance! While walking with Judy and Shanti the first half hour we spotted a lovely bit of seemingly primeval forest deep down in a ravine with a stream running through it. I so love seeing the evening primroses that have dotted the sides of the roads each day – not something I had noticed at the speed of a drive. [Oh and by the way, the best way to wash quick dry clothing in a tiny house is to step right into the shower fully clothed!].
Day 5 – Initially, this felt like a seemingly innocuous and fairly banal portion of the walk until I came across a “Beware of Dragon” sign! I really enjoyed seeing how people have personalized their outdoor space today – beautiful birdhouses, some purple ground cover in ditches, and a fisherman scarecrow, were particularly noteworthy. I spotted quite a few “No Wind Turbines” signs as I neared the actual wind turbines. I wonder how the feelings around this have all panned out for those who live in this neighborhood. I also noticed a lot of apples on the way and some jewel weed (which reminded me of my time at Camp Ak-O-Mak as a kid and using it to help with the incessant itchiness of mosquito bites. Today’s walk ended about 2.5 km from the highway. The call of loons (my totem animal) accompanied me towards the end.
Day 6 – I made it to the highway, then across it and onto Point Aconi Road. Today’s walk was easily the most populated portion so far, which made it quite difficult to find places to pee! I stopped briefly at the Point Aconi wharf and looked across the water to see our old home on the edge of the ocean/cliff in Alder Point. We do so miss that area and the friends we met there. All along the way, when closest to the water, there have been the cries and dipping flight of kingfishers and also occasional bald eagles. Cormorants were standing on floats before I crossed the big highway and then there were some fishing in the tidal run between the two piers.
Day 7 – Such an interesting day with the contrast of windmill power and coal power within a half km of each other! I also took a little short cut (that would keep me as close to the edge of the island as possible rather than heading inland) on a road that was in fact no longer a road according to the “No Exit” sign. The dirt road led to an old bridge no longer capable of safely supporting cars (but did fine with little old me!) and then quickly turned into a path that was flowing with water. The marshy area around the bridge was delightfully quiet and just gorgeous. A great blue heron took off as I arrived and promptly let loose about a ½ gallon worth of poop on the fly! I did encounter one minor obstacle along the way – a long puddle deeper than my ankles. Some quick exploring revealed that beyond the alders that lined the path lay a marsh. Not walkable. So onward through the puddle I went :). Fortunately, I only had a couple kilometers left to walk in soggy shoes.
Day 8 – My last day of this walkabout took me back into another of our old neighborhoods– Big Bras d’Or. We have lived in such beautiful places over the past five years! I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the church that our Community Choir performed in earlier this summer, as it is just so beautiful. I also found a third piped spring today. The biggest surprise was revealed when I crossed the road to take a picture of a lovely view towards the channel. When I zoomed in I saw a giant peace symbol mowed into the field by the water! As I neared the end of today’s walk the Seal Island Bridge arose out of the mist – the bridge that crosses over an arm of Bras d’Or lake and joins Boularderie Island with mainland Cape Breton island. And there I was, back to where I had begun on Day 1 of this adventure.
My foot injury that I had been feeling quite a bit recently and was worried would reoccur during the walk, actually feels better than it has in a while. In fact, I’d say that in general my body much prefers to walk 10 km a day than to sit at my computer screen for as long as I usually do!
I had so many thoughts and so much space for breathing and being each morning. I was reminded of the Camino de Santiago journey in Spain that Judy and I made a couple of years ago where we walked between 20 and 30 kms each day. Clearly one doesn’t need to travel 4500 kilometers to take a walk! There were people we met on the Camino who had just walked out their front doors and began that same journey. I relished the feeling of just getting out and exploring our own area, connecting more deeply to my place, taking my time, being on my own schedule, with no sense of being in a rush or keeping up with anyone else. I’m so grateful that our tiny lifestyle allows for these kinds of adventures without feeling any kind of added pressure. I’m pretty sure that walking is both a gift and privilege. I really want to encourage others to try out walking from place to place and see what you see!