To the lighthouse — Elaine

“Today I just want to get in the car and go,” Archie says. It is the first day of our summer holiday at our cottage in Cocagne, NB, and already Miscou Island is beckoning. We always drive until we get to the very end, to the lighthouse. It is a pilgrimage to the northeastern-most point of New Brunswick, to remote a place of beauty. Even on a cloudy day everything is luminous: rocks, flecks of sand, old lobster traps, scrubby trees, sea birds and, of course, the surf. When we’re there, a shift takes place.

Getting to Miscou is a relief. The drive isn’t easy. You have to really want to get there but then, at the end, I see the tall, massive, octagonal shaped, red and white lighthouse held down with guy wires and even though the lighthouse is so huge, the restraining wires give the illusion that it could float away like a balloon.

Miscou lighthouse

The Lighthouse

I have to crane my neck way back to see the top against the blue, blue sky. This sky color can only be seen once you reach the ocean. You don’t get that color anywhere else, only here. Everything opens up inside. I can see and breathe and the amazingly good smelling air has a healing quality. The rhythm of the waves calms me, the whole journey is a metaphor for my life the past couple of years.

woman in beach chair on beach

It has been a struggle to work three jobs and travel back and forth between two locations, only seeing my much loved husband on weekends. Finances haven’t been easy, either. They rarely are during a time of transition. The grind wears me down but we are trying to start something new, but I do know where I want to go and the life that I want to have.

Anyone fifty-plus knows making big life changes isn’t easy but unless I take steps to reinvent and renew myself, life becomes rote and unconscious and is a kind of death. After a low emotional ebb, after soul searching and praying, something opens up in me, just like the sky at the end of Miscou Island. I have that feeling of freedom, I am dwelling in a place of magical beauty and can see the big picture of my life. That’s what pilgrimages are meant to do.

woman walking on beach on overcast day

Walking as mediation

I love to walk. I like to get a measure of a place through my stride, so down the beach we go sometimes looking far out across the water. I can see the deep, inky blue hills of the Gaspé from here, and they beckon. White cumulus clouds skirt the top of the hills, like icing on a cake. I like the feeling of connection to Quebec, a faraway kingdom, one that I’ll have to visit someday, too.

The sounds of the surf are fairly subdued today and the rhythm affects the way I breathe. They relax me. If I stop to listen, I can hear music and singing in the sound of the water. If I were a musician and could write down this musical score, it would be transcendent, brilliant, even. This place brings out the creative in me.

beach stones

Beach stones

One of the biggest treats of Miscou Island is discovering the rocks and stones. Note to self: I must look into the geology of this place, but for now, I cast my eyes downward and look for interesting specimens. Almost all of them are tumbled into smooth spheres or ovals. Some are striped in layers of black and white like Yin Yang symbols, some are splashed with a deep red like spatters from a careless artist’s brush, some are speckled like a bird’s egg. All are beautiful, especially when they’re glistening with water. They are all sculptural and I want to take them all home — Miscou, please come with me!—but I have to settle for just a few and put them in the pockets of my hoodie. The rocks make me look like I have a lumpy tummy and they clack in my pockets as I continue to walk along.

Miscou beach goes a long way around a snub-nosed tip of land with inland tidal ponds along the way, each one a slightly different ecosystem haven for gulls, terns, cormorants and ducks. These pools, surrounded by razor sharp beach grass and succulent beach peas are full of life, the water’s surface still and glassy, or faintly rippling from a kiss of the wind, counterpoint to the moving, frothy surf. The seabirds dive here, spearing small fish.

Another treasure that I love to find at Miscou is beach glass — broken shards from pop or beer bottles or old cosmetic jars. The surf here rolls the glass smooth and frosty-looking in fairly short order.

I know glass, I used to be a stained-glass craftsman. Glass is basically silica — sand heated to extremely high temperatures and rolled into sheets or blown into vessel shapes. I like the cycle and irony that beach glass represents. Sand is made into glass by people, glass is made back into sand by nature. 

The most common colors are clear white or brown. It’s always a treat to find green, blue or even sometimes purple or red. Into my pockets these jewels go, too. I’m going to continue the circle, another spiral higher and make these gems into some kind of art once I get enough of them. Then maybe I’ll bring it down to the beach and offer it up to the god of surf.

Ice cream stand at beach

Engine Trouble

All of my imaginings are interrupted by the sound of engines. Two four-wheelers speed toward us, rooster tails of sand thrown up behind them. Deep tracks are left in the impressionable sand. I try not to be annoyed or judgmental, but I say to Archie, “How can they think that’s fun?” He looks at me like, Don’t you understand the energy of boys? I’m on a pilgrimage, and I guess they’re on a noisy, destructive quest full of adventure, danger and daring.

Time to turn back, the lighthouse again in our view, the friendly giant. The walk back always goes faster than the walk out. In some places we retrace our own footprints. I lighten my load of a few rocks, quicken my step and soon we’re back at the parking lot by the lighthouse.

Last year when we were here, an ice cream stand had appeared when years before there was no hint of any commercial enterprise. Pretty good idea, though. Ice cream on a summer day after a long walk on the beach is pretty appealing. Nothing says summer more than that! But last year when we ordered up two cones of vanilla, they said, “Sorry, we’re out of ice cream.” We were really disappointed. But Miscou is remote and when you run out of ice cream, who knows how far you have to go to get more. All the way back to Lameque? Shippigan?

But this time, they were well stocked. We lick our generous cones fast before the ice cream melts while sitting in the parking lot. Eating ice cream makes me feel like a kid, or is it Miscou that has me feeling renewed and youthful? 

geese flying against blue sky


We finish and it’s time to go. The drive back, we know, is long. Just as we are leaving, the doors of a minivan open up and three men emerge, two with guitars in black cases and one with a double bass. They carry their instruments toward the beach. Are they going to test the acoustics in the lighthouse or just play on the beach in harmony with the sound of the waves? Again, a bit surreal. An Impressionist painting. Actually, I am thinking, this may really be a dream.