Arcadia

In The Spring Madness of Mr Sermon, by R.F. Delderfield, there is a chapter entitled, “Mr Sermon Crosses Into Arcady.”  The titular character comes over the brow of a hill and sees the land of his dreams, his Avalon, his Arcady, and as he walks down the hill into the town he feels as if he is coming home to rest and be healed of his weariness, as Arthur in Avalon.

My sister came to spend the weekend — she’s been debating between the law schools of McGill and Dalhousie universities, and took the opportunity of making an informed decision to come see me — and, being a most excellent sister, agreed to spend a day driving around Nova Scotia looking for the Annapolis Valley.

I shouldn’t put it that way; it’s not actually very difficult to find the Annapolis Valley.  There are plenty of signs to it, and, although the highway exit is a bit confusing, once on the right road, it’s not all that far; an hour, perhaps, on the fast road.  We didn’t take the fast road: I was curious what lay outside the valley proper, in one of the farther reaches of Hants County, as well as in the valley of which I’d heard enough to make me wonder if it were my Arcady.

We drove through the exurbs of Halifax along the Beaver Bank road, wound our way through lengthy kilometres of spruce, birch, alder, swamp, barrens, and logging — what large portions of Canada look like, familiar to me from numerous drives across rural Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, northern Ontario, eastern Manitoba, northern Saskatchewan, northern Alberta, and, with the addition of mountains, western Alberta and British Columbia.  This is familiar country to me, speaking something of home; but it isn’t my Arcady, isn’t where I want to put down roots, isn’t homely in the right way.

After the large empty space on the map (large, anyway, for Nova Scotia), we came to a series of small towns — Kennetcook and then, up on the coast, Noel, are the two I remember the names of — which made us wonder what people do there.  A few farm, Christmas trees and pastures; presumably some might fish in the Bay of Fundy; some work in the villages, some work logging, I guess; and the rest?  But it always makes me wonder, small towns far from anywhere, how they survive.

We turned down along the coast, wound our way through progressively more clement and prosperous-looking lands towards Windsor, where we had lunch and I told Kate I would be pleased to live near.  Then along the back roads to Wolfville, and up to the town, and the reality, of Look Off, high on a tall steep hill above the northeastern end of the Valley, with a view of apple orchards and fields and dykes and the sea, on woods and fresh water and villages and towns spread out under the thin sun of a fine March day.

I’ve found my Arcady.

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8 thoughts on “Arcadia

  1. So glad you loved it. It is a sight! If you ever need a place to rent my dear friend has a cottage (winterized) that would be an amazing writer’s retreat.
    It is in Delhaven on the road to Blomidon, next to the fishermen wharf and overlooks the whole Minas Basin. It is very quaint and rustic and comes with a little vegetable plot. I’ll take you there sometime. Kingsport is also very beautiful. Hope Kate had a good time.
    Best and stay warm thinking of Spring,
    Jennifer

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  2. This sounds like a lovely, lovely day, and a lovely hope for the future! I’ve finally decided that after I speak at Leeds this summer, I’m not going to rush off to try to squeeze in some manuscript research, in spite of the time constraints that will send me back to North America all too soon. Instead, I’m going to do some walking and exploring, which I very much enjoy. I suppose that is not exactly the same sort of thing you write about in this post, and yet, it’s not dissimilar. I remember completing a book report in fourth grade on _Out of the Silent Planet_, and I was stymied when the teacher wanted to hear more from me than just how magical I always found that opening image of the Pedestrian stepping back onto the road with a glorious landscape spread out in front of him. I was even harder put to explain why I found this so affecting when you consider that the book (indeed, the Pedestrian himself) does not linger on this view. Now, I suppose I would say that it’s simply the fact that I cannot remember a time in my life, including my earliest childhood, when I didn’t teeter between heartbreak and joy at the sight of a new vista. So, that opening image, all too swiftly shunted aside, has always dominated my memories of that book.

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  3. I’m also trying to sort out what my own Arcadia would be. I don’t think, for all my gratitude at the reality of a steady job with congenial colleagues and the freedom (even encouragement) to work on and teach virtually whatever I wish to, that it coincides with the just-easing-into-suburbia area on the east side of Cleveland where I currently live. I love seeing trees and deer everywhere, and there are some things that are very pleasant about being in this kind of environment, but I don’t feel any strong pull to be here. I think I could live more delightedly in either a big city or a quiet, more rural area than I do here; this is just not my ideal setting, even while I am relishing the chance to feel more connected to some kind of community here, helping to coach a kids’ soccer team, looking out for the kinds of musical opportunities I enjoyed in Toronto, and while I am working harder to make my apartment more an abode to my liking and my routine a lifestyle that I could prolong. The problem with a big city, of course, is that you have to work much harder to place yourself in a landscape, but I do love to take advantage of ethnic restaurants, the museums and arts organizations, and the ability to get around on foot or by public transit. Here, I feel that everything is already a compromise (or already compromised?): we are not really out in the country, but there is more greenery than there would be downtown; I can walk to work, but there is no way to stop for a delicious, inexpensive treat for dinner on the way home (as I could enjoy Thai, Lebanese, Indian, and other treats close to home in Toronto); city buses run on some major roads, but they only do so once an hour and without any kind of coordination or sticking to their schedule; there is a reasonable acceptance of the idea of local, fresh food, but we have to get into cars to get to the (relatively) nearby farmers’ market. And so on, although I will say that I am fortunate enough to live practically next to a grocery store that’s part of a local chain that makes a point of spotlighting local farms and dairies, as does the Whole Foods down the road. In any case, I am trying to balance a sense of happiness and contentment in the present with the longings that won’t be ignored. After all, how do you arrive at your destinations (geographical, professional, personal) if you don’t at least occasionally ponder how to make your way there?

    I was thinking today of how much I have loved various places I have lived (or at least traveled) in the world, but I was also thinking of how badly I would like to live out west again. The problem with California is that you have to live in very particular parts of it in order to have either the kind of culture or the kind of landscape that I’d love to enjoy, but whenever I’m there, all the bones in my body cry out that this is home, this is where I come from. I have a similar feeling whenever I’m in Tucson. I love the desert, and I’m unendingly grateful that when we moved there, my parents bought a house that practically buts up against the boundary of the National Forest that covers that particular mountain range. So, my running and virtually any family walk was always in the canyons that wind their way up into the mountains. Tucson would be a city where I could, I think, make my own kind of compromise, with the academic and artistic possibilities there balanced by the embrace of the desert. I also feel strongly about the financial and political challenges the state is facing, and now that I’m living in the States again, I’m having a hard time adjusting to the need to give my attention to the political and cultural realities of a very different place. This has probably been harder for me because I continued to vote in Arizona by absentee ballots while I was living in Canada and because I hadn’t been in Cleveland very long when Gabrielle Giffords was shot, giving me another very personal thread of Arizona life to follow over the last fifteen months or so. I bit the bullet on Friday, when I needed a change of pace in my office, and sent off my form to register to vote in Ohio. For now, I am going to keep my eyes and my mind open.

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  4. I think we do need occasionally to ponder. Of course, we are constrained with practical necessities, but I’m not sure if it’s always quite as much as we think. (Though one has to be flexible one way or another — if not geographically, then perhaps in expectations of type or quantity or the like.)

    For me, these sorts of decisions are juddering and halting — you say “yes!” then back up, then step forward hesitantly, then back again, then look at the side of the road, then get distracted by old dreams, and then by the possibility of new ones, and then perhaps we take a detour into someone else’s dreams by accident . . . and then we remember to look up, take a deep breath, and look at our places again. Or look for them.

    I didn’t read “Out of the Silent Planet” until quite recently, but I had exactly that memory with the Tolkien books, and especially the character of Bilbo. ‘The road goes ever on . . .’ — but he starts at his front door.

    If you haven’t read “The Spring Madness of Mr. Sermon,” I recommend it. It’s about finding Arcady — and also dealing with the fallout from the decision.

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  5. For me, these sorts of decisions are juddering and halting
    Yes, I find this, too.

    I also had that reaction with Bilbo and his travels. Thanks for the Mr. Sermon recommendation. I’ll have to give it a try!

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  6. Pingback: Blomidon « The Rose and Phoenix Inn

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