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.