Drive…

Any dreams you have, or plans, or hopes for your future… I think you’re going to have to put that on hold.

It has been over a month since I got back to the cabin and I still have not been able to write. It feels like a disservice to the Atlantic Ocean next to me if I open my laptop for anything that isn’t strictly essential. As howling seals and Ospreys that demand my attention occupy my horizon, I am trying to put down my thoughts about about my week of travelling to make it across the country to a place that is kind of like home. If home is where all my comfortable clothes are, then this strange partly off-grid cabin in Nova Scotia is one of two places I could call home (The other one is my Amma’s place in Chennai).

Over the past while, we first planned for and then executed a drive across 7 days, 5000 kilometres, 6 provinces, 5 time zones, and 3 great lakes. It was not what I would call fun. We were driving almost the same route the water bodies take to empty into the Atlantic Ocean. But to start, we first needed to get out of the Palliser’s Triangle.

Palliser’s Triangle — denotes the triangle of semi arid land that is made up of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta that was deemed to have no potential for settlement

  1. Saskatchewan → Manitoba

This backyard in Regina where we were trying to wake ourselves up with heat and coffee looked like a toddler had been through it (which she had). Asynchronous cacophonous honking did what the coffee was having a hard time doing. We heard the Canada Geese long before we saw them covering the entire sky and flying lower than the tree line. We left Saskatchewan well into that morning. The sun had been out for many hours and had warmed the place up considerably.
Our drive took us about 6 hours. This was the last full day of flatland. The scene barely changed. Huge fields of wheat changing colour through the year — green, golden, brown. Cylindrical bales of hay mechanically packed together spotted the expanse like a strange game of tic-tac-toe. Large vestigial grain elevators stood out like massive totems marking villages and towns along the highway.

The railways in Canada are almost entirely used for the transport of food and material. In the late nineties massive concrete cylinders were put in place along the rail line to serve as grain terminals where the wheat are gathered and transported slowly put out of commission its smaller wooden cousin — the grain elevator

The flatland was also interrupted in part by windmills. They stood out many hundred feet in the air. Once in a while you could see massive trucks which carry those windmill propellers on the road and usually surrounded by an entourage of smaller trucks in front and behind them signalling the heavy load.

We crossed into Manitoba at around one in the afternoon. The terrain didn’t change much but the signs changed almost imperceptibly. The fonts in Manitoba looked different — more block-y and old school but they all said the same thing — keep the place clean, deer ahead, moose-night danger.
As we drove further into Manitoba, you could see a lot less of the horizon as frail, skinny Aspen slowly crowded your eye line.
We reached Winnipeg at around 6 PM. Winnipeg has always been the city in my dreams — literally. When I was in my teens, the thiruttu DVD uncle next door who was a real connoisseur of film and sparked in me the same joy — introduced me to Guy Maddin and through that — My Winnipeg. A strange, unearthly film that flits between reality and dreamscape. That film has been fodder for my own dreams for over a decade now and it is always strange to re-enter it in colour.

2) Manitoba → Ontario

We left Winnipeg the next morning making our way toward Ontario. We were in Ontario before noon and were slightly cautioned by the poster welcoming us with the tagline — open for business. Almost immediately the landscape suddenly burst into Jagged Rock and amoeboid lakes that looked like some much bigger, messier god had splashed some water carelessly around the land.

The Ontario fires made the first few hours of the drive a smokey haze after which the sun came out lighting the rolling hills filled with pink Fireweed and Daisies with a gentle light and the clear sky with puffy cumulus clouds making it look all very Heidi like.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is one of the first plants to grow on land devastated by forest fires.

Since, we couldn't get camp sites at Pukaskwa National park we were going drive 11 hours and stop at White River just after the park (getting campsites in Canada is like tickets for music festivals in the rest of the world, you need to get on it and fast). We stopped at the Kakabeka falls for our supper and spent some time watching a bald eagle on the other side of the falls eyeing his prey. The water here fell around 40 m into a gorge carved out of the 3.9 billion year old igneous bedrock that makes up most of Central and Eastern Canada (a.k.a the Canadian Shield). Our stop at the waterfalls and bad planning pushed the drive to almost 15 hours and we reached our destination at midnight, our eyes peeled on the dark road for any terrifying Moose sightings of which there was one. I was falsely under the impression that Moose were about the same size as those in the larger deer family — the elks, the reindeer but they are much, much bigger. They are bigger than cows and can cause serious harm if threatened. At around midnight in the last stretch of this drive we saw a vehicle in front of us had braked and so we also came to a halt and watched a Moose staring threateningly back. After that silent scare, we rushed into our our motel in White River at midnight.

3) Ontario -> More Ontario

White River is best known for being home to a black bear named Winnie who would go on to inspire A.A Milne to write Winnie the Pooh.

After a night of tired sleep, we left White River at around 10 AM the next morning. The roads got thicker with conifers and fingers of water bodies protruding into the Rocky landmass. There were warnings of Moose for hundreds of kilometres as we passed on our right two Great Lakes — Lake Superior and Lake Huron. These great lakes are stretched across the land through till the horizon. Formed from glacial erosion many thousands of years ago, I mistook them for oceans. On the other side of the great lakes were smaller remnants of the same phenomenon. There were at least a 1000 small lakes. Almost like they binary fission-ed over a million years.
We stopped by one of the smaller lakes that had no one in it. It was quiet. The sounds of the road not penetrating through the trees. The stillness palpable. Small Lilies on the water, water gliders doing their names bidding and small water birds chirping occasionally. After that little bit of necessary silence, we got back on the road and headed toward Toronto. Even before entering the city at around 10:30 PM, the anxious energy of the place was substantial. After almost a year of not seeing anybody I could taste the city and its fears. People waiting to get to places and do things. I was bug-eyed for most of the day we spent there with friends walking through mammoth infrastructure feeling a little alien and a little insignificant. I felt like a hobbit passing through the gates of Argonath.

4) Ontario → Quebec → New Brunswick →Nova Scotia

We were on the road again after a day of wandering around Toronto. Slightly more worn out and slightly sicker than when we started out. Another 11 hour day, another couple of provinces, another timezone. Quebec had the most inviting spots for travellers to stop and rest. Picnic areas at regular intervals with enough signage and loos surrounded by quaking aspen and maple. But as these days were driving into one another so were all my memories and energy for this trip. We stopped at a quaint B&B in New Brunswick. There is something strange and special about entering Atlantic Canada. Something I cant quite put my finger on. The sea, the salt, the people. The next morning, we packed up early and drove five hours into Halifax. Suddenly everything felt familiar. It is strange that of all the places in Canada, I feel most comfortable in Nova Scotia — I have spent much of my time here. But Nova Scotia in the pandemic had shut itself down to people. So I can feel a small distance in the people- they are a little more wary and distant. Nevertheless, as I walked on the the rocky shore resplendent with rock weed and humidity, it finally felt like I was coming home.

I have been here a month now and I might write again soon about my adventures in Nova Scotia. Until then, here is a sunset.

Books read this past month

Apierogon — Column McCann

Strange Weather in Tokyo — Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Allison Markin Powell)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine — Gail Honeyman

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller — Italo Calvino (translated by William Weaver)