Down "the shore"
"There will be eiders in the sea, cranberries on the ground, and the magic of autumn all around"

shunpiking, October / November 1997, No. 16

On this late September morning the sky is an unblemished blue and there is no mist or haze in the air to dull the emerging fall colors. A lively northwest wind is sweeping over the land and out to sea. The low sun on the wind-rippled water of the bay produces a blinding glitter while clothes on laden lines struggle for freedom to follow the wind into the sea.

I'm heading east on Highway 7 down "the shore" -- the Eastern Shore -- to one of my favourite hikes -- Taylor Head. In the distance, across the harbour, a fresh yellow school bus speeds silently along as though sailing in the brisk following wind, stopping occasionally to engulf small clusters of reluctant schoolchildren.

Like this cool late September breeze, the satiated yellow school bus signals the beginning of a special time in our outdoor season, when the numbers of tourists on our roads diminish and locals once again attain majority status.

I never tire of this winding road between Halifax and Canso, which obediently traces the saw-toothed coastline. This is a coastline where I both work and play: hiking the barren headlands that probe the open sea or kayaking among the myriad islands that bespeckle the ocean along Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore.

In late summer when I last hiked here, hints of autumn were already present. A migrating flock of whimbrels, a large shorebird with a distinctive long, down curved beak, had assembled on the headland to feast on the abundant crowberry that grows there. The yellow blooms of goldenrod and mauve flowers of asters, two common late-season coastal wild-flowers, were emerging and would soon dominate the coastal floral palette. A plethora of plump, green cranberries were starting to show a blush of pink, a signal that days of fall and winter feasting were in the offing. The magnificent blue flower of the seaside iris that flourished in abundance in July was barely represented.

On this breezy, late-September day at Taylor Head the whimbrels with their long drooping beaks were not there to greet me; they had feasted and moved on in search of another summer season. The bloom of brilliant yellow goldenrod had already started to fade, and although the asters were still abundant, they too were struggling to maintain their dominant ranking. Large, green seed pods had replaced the colourful flowers of the iris and cranberries were now robust red adults. An undulating "raft" of eider ducks sat calmly near the shore just beyond the break of an unending procession of ocean swells that terminated in a burst of white spray against the rock cliffs. In the fall, after the nesting season is over and chicks have matured, it is the habit of common eiders to assemble themselves in great flocks around bays and headlands.

Turning away from the sea to the west, the sun was now on its decent to the horizon, and the sky, still cloudless, had turned a deep shade of blue. The filtered yellow glow of the late afternoon sunlight enhanced and strengthened the emerging fall colours offering a preview of the colour transformation that this special piece of the natural world will undergo in the coming weeks.

Unlike many other coastal trails on the Eastern Shore and throughout Nova Scotia, Taylor Head is a Provincial Park where hunting is prohibited. Here you can walk and in peace and safety. If you go, you may find me there, but there won't be a crowd. There will be eiders in the sea, cranberries on the ground, and the magic of autumn all around.
Peter Oickle left a career as a municipal planning director in Bridgewater, hiked around the world and came back to Nova Scotia to start his own adventure tour business, Atlantic Canada Nature Safari