By Miriam Vaswani
We wait at Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick for the ferry. We are four adults and one dog. The dog is restless from the drive through the mainland and wants to dive into the water.
I stand on the rocks and watch the boat shudder in fog. I was sick when we left home, but now my nausea has cooled and I can balance on the black stone.
￼We huddle on the top deck. The evening sun is blinding, but the wind is cold, and strong enough to push me hard against a rail, and to leave a bruise. We talk about the island; dulce from Dark Harbour, and the day they burned down the drug dealer’s house.
The Bay of Fundy is illuminated. The islands are backlit like woodcut decorations of forests and villages, but the ocean smells wild and my hair is ragged with salt.
We camp beside the ocean in Anchorage Provincial Park. From boat to camp, I watch wooden houses click past the car window. They are like the ones I grew up in; square, painted white or blue. They stand with their backs to the water. I know their insides, which are built to survive winter and keep quiet about certain things.
On the road, someone has mounted a bull moose head on the front of their house. At the edge of the park, three deer skulls are nailed to a porch. In another window, there are curtains in a print that was mass-produced in the 1980s. It is pink with sexless, smooth-stemmed roses; the madonna of Fabricville.
There is a petrified tree on the beach. We find it at sunset, while the dog begs us to throw rocks into the ocean. Up close, it looks like the lungs of a tree, but it is cold enough to make my fingertips curl away.
Late at night, my sister hands me a headlamp from inside her blankets. Rabbits scatter in the wet grass, and dandelions shut their heads tight. Something larger bolts in the bushes. For a moment, I can’t remember if it’s best to make more noise, or less.
I remember another campground, on another island, with rose thorns and red-eyed hares. My sister was there, too; we were two immigrant children with inherited memory, small in our home of forest, ocean and snow.
Near the camp, there is an oval of hurt grass with black fabric at its perimeter, where the University of New Brunswick used to decompose beached whales.
Whales come to the Bay in late June. They will arrive in two or three weeks, and stay until October. I listen to the dark water at night and think of their language. They use the godless grammar of the Atlantic.
The Bay takes and returns 160 billion tonnes of sea water each day, exposing fossils and sculpting flower pots in sandstone. I grew up on the mainland of this province, and so I am a mainlander, but I have been gone for twenty years. I had to leave and come back to feel the weight of 160 billion tonnes of sea water.
￼We walk the southwest head of the island. A bald eagle flies from the cliff to the herring weir. She came from the forest behind us, and I wonder if she was eyeing the dog, who is oblivious to the dangers we see; rock edge, eagle claw. He wants to swim. I would like to swim with him.
￼The eagle circles the weir and vanishes, then returns. Her weight dips and rises. I remember a transatlantic flight when I was a child, suddenly knowing the calculation of science that kept us alive and moving.
We move inland from the cliff edge. A doe cuts the narrow forest path ahead of us. She moves so delicately that only one of us, the most experienced in the forest, sees her. The dog sniffs her tracks and moves on.
The path widens into a logging road. We speak more easily here, walking side by side with room between us, which opens and closes as we navigate spring melt and coyote shit.
The cliffs are Triassic lava. People made a home here for thousands of years. I’ve never said the island’s name aloud, although I am from this province.
￼I look for a spoken history and find stories that are not mine to tell. When I was a teenager, someone told me I shouldn’t hitchhike in case men on the road mistook me for an indigenous girl. I learned my neighbours’ history through the places in my skin that absorb terror, but didn’t learn the real names for the land until, too late, I thought to ask.
Privateers sheltered from storms in the Bay, and settlers disputed the island’s place in the world. That wasn’t so long ago.
￼We are four settlers and one dog. We keep the dog on his leash while we walk the steep coast, because he wants to swim the way birds want to fly and whales want to dive. When he gets to the beach, he runs for the low tide.
A coil of mooring rope washes up at Deep Cove, cluttered with dark shells, and the ghost of synthetic blue on its skin. The sun is low now, and our shadows are long. We vanish into the rocks.
Our campfire smokes, but we keep trying with kindling hacked from the bush. I want to remember this. I list the details; grey toque, green flannel, axe, earth on the dog’s paws, cigarette, beer can, an itch on my knee where a mosquito skewered my leggings. Ash in the pockets of my borrowed jacket. And later, the smell of smoke in beards, hair, blankets.
Early the next morning, I dream that we have smoked ourselves like herrings during the night.
With thanks to Josh Tompkins for research.
Miriam Vaswani is a Canadian writer and editor, currently based in London, previously in Glasgow, Delhi, Moscow, Tunis and Stuttgart. She’s the author of Frontier, a novella, and her short fiction has appeared in Gutter, Valve, untethered, Tin House, Retort, Newfound, Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine and the anthology Whereabouts: Stepping out of Place.