Absorption, thick as fog.
The fog in question was as thick as can be seen, on old Highway 7, along the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. It was 2000, and I was lucky it still hadn’t rained considering I was into my third day of rambling and had no tent.
I was on my way up to my ancestral home in Newfoundland, by land for the first time. I had left Ottawa several days before, and availed of a jump-seat in a small courier flight for a company that I had worked for earlier in the spring, which had taken me from Montreal to Halifax. And when faced with a choice of where to go from there I chose to take the longer, older route between Halifax and Antigonish.
Highway 7 was not busy. Locals usually only travelled a few miles down the road at a time, and drivers of the odd recreational vehicles weren’t inclined to pick me up. The eastern shore highway has a distinctively haunted feel.
I had no tent so was at the mercy of the elements, though they treated me well. At any rate, day two out of Halifax found me on the part of the eastern shore near Ecum Secum, in another little village called Necum Teuch, pronounced “Nah-cum Taw”. As I said, the fog was thick, the highway was deserted, and I was alone with just a walking stick, my travelling hat, and an old mariner’s sweater: striped black and navy, with a button up side collar, the buttons emblazoned with anchors.
And out of the fog a farmhouse loomed. I sensed a strange familiarity, then saw a sign by the roadside that said “Free Scarecrow Tours”. The familiarity thickened, to the consistency of the pea-soup fog that enshrouded me. I thought to myself, “Where have I seen this before?” And so I approached the farmhouse, hoping for a tour of the scarecrows.
I saw several: they were dilapidated, yet maintained; playful, yet eerie. And then a surprise. Like a gnome springing up from a hidden gnome-hole, a small, bright eyed woman pupped up from behind a shrub, took at look at me and smiled: “You’re my Hobo!” She pointed over to a scarecrow in the bushes which looked just like me: a hobo carrying a staff and wearing an old, weather-worn hat.
Suddenly I knew where I had seen this before. It had been featured on a CBC Television program that I had watched with my parents about a year before, in Ottawa. Absorption, story. I had walked in 3-D (or was it 4-D?) into a 2-D television memory!
The woman introduced herself as Angella Geddes, and she invited me in for tea and cinnamon rolls. I obliged, and she told me her tale. She was an author of a series of children’s books, and her father had had a tradition of making scarecrows for harvest time. She had picked up the tradition and populated her entire property with these creatures, a property that on one side led down to a pebbled, rocky beach into the Atlantic, and on the other side into a forest. The place was woven through and through with her tales, and her books all were filled with scenarios and stories that had a material body somewhere in her magical home and garden. Her stories lived, physically, in the world she had made on the property of her home.
I met, amongst a wide swathe of strange beings, one who stood out most eerily: the “Swamp Soggon”, a hunched over ghoulish monster that was all the more creepy for being a 15-odd year old scarecrow in a decaying rubber mask. One of my travel’s treasures was a polaroid shot of this unsettling character, which I sadly have lost. But even the Swamp Soggon was a redeemable soul: He just wanted to be loved!
Geddes (in the spirit of magical play) considered that I was “her hobo”, and she told me that as she created this world-in-a-yard, its characters would come to visit her in real life. She took a photograph of me to show folks the latest magical surprise, and off I went on my journey.
About a year later I was given a few of her books. In reading them I learned about a magical object that I had not had the chance to see on that first trip. In the scarecrow village at Necum Teuch, just far enough off the beach to be subject to “access by tide”, was an unusual rock shaped like a chair. ‘The Wishing Chair’, it was called, and whoever sat on it and made a wish – that wish would come true.
Nine years later my wife Evelyn and I were driving from St. John’s (where I moved three years after my rambling trip) to my Grandparents’ place at Abel’s Cape on Prince Edward Island (another magical, haunted space, and a story for another day). We decided, on a whim, to take the long route from Cape Breton to revisit Necum Teuch, and get a chance to sit on the Wishing Chair.
So we made the journey, but arrived to sad news: Angella Geddes had passed on, and so the land of Scarecrows, though still there, no longer had their mistress. They were for the most part decaying into the ground and grown over with weeds. We got a chance to talk with her husband, though, and he showed us where the Wishing Chair was. We made our wishes and then continued on our journey. Life is strange, but the Wishing Chair is still there, forgotten, but not lost. You can visit, and maybe you will find it, and get a chance to be part of a story, because after all, stories don’t disappear with their tellers. They find new ones by carrying on in the imaginations of the hearers. Those hearers become the storytellers, and in this way the stories absorb us just as we absorb them, and they live on. For ages.
Join me next time for more strange tales, more philosophy, and more travel. Thank you for reading!