This is what happens when you get mugged in memory lane:
When I was nine years old, the summer of '89, my family drove out into the Maritimes to P.E.I for the Canadian Boy Scout Jamboree. My Father went on ahead with the local Sea Scout troop (as he was the Skipper) and Mom brought the minivan and the three of us munchkins (9, 6 and 3).
After CJ'89 finished, we spent the rest of the summer wandering around. First we explored P.E.I. and then New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. On a whim, we went to Cape Breton and I fell in love. The winding Cabot Trail that looks down on the Atlantic Ocean caught my heart and my eyes and the memories are so vivid I can still taste the sea air if I concentrate.
We drove into Cape Breton Highlands National Park, just to have a picnic lunch, and we ended up staying two weeks. The breathtaking scenery and the wonderful people made our more than memorable. I remember catching eels with my bare hands in a little lagoon, playing cards by the lantern in that enormous old tent we had (I swear, you could drive the minivan right into it if you really wanted to and it still went up in ten minutes with just my Brother and I helping Mom).
But the thing I remember most from that trip was the day we spent at the Fortress of Louisburg. I climbed up onto the parapet and looked out at the ocean and knew there was nothing solid between me and Europe. The history in that place was palpable, and I've felt it other places, the weight of years and lives and toil and joy and sorrow that permeates old stones shaped by hand.
I've been many beautiful places, even though I'm not widely travelled (through most of my life, family vacations were camping trips, going to a cottage or road trips to visit the grandparents down in Toronto). I have some incredible memories: a meteor shower one incredible night on the Dumoine river in Quebec, laying on a huge slab of Canadian Shield that was still warm from spending all day long soaking up sunlight, the waterfall roaring a hundred yards away; a sunset in Algonquin park that turned the sky to red, gold, pink and orange fire; the massed bands at the Glengarry Highland games when the music was so powerful you could feel it as a physical force sleeting right through your body; Peregrine Falcons nesting in a friend's backyard, their child taking its first awkward flight; a trio of otters playing on a riverbank where they'd made a mudslide, climbing up and slipping back down into the water as we passed...
But of all the places I've been and things I've seen, none ever moved me so powerfully as the view from Louisburg has.
I have never been back there. Part of me actually worries about going back and finding things changed, that the natural beauty I remember has been paved over or despoiled somehow. Part of me worries about going back and finding that I've changed, that I don't see the beauty in things so vividly now that I am grown.
But one of these days I do plan to go back. Because I still remember the sea breeze and the white breakers on an ocean of blue that I've never seen anywhere else since. That, and the green and stone of mountains that fall right to the sea, where once or twice we saw Humpbacks at play.
One of these days.