Monday, June 7, 1999
In Penobsquis, which comes from an old tribal name, the motel clerk just couldn’t stop being friendly. After telling us every local thing there was to see, she brought out pictures. “I took these myself,” she confided, though we could’ve guessed. “Now you’ve got to see the Bay of Fundy.”
I’d read about it in our guides, ’cause it was a natural wonder. And it seems the thing to do is go and watch the tide go out. Then hang around for a mess of hours and watch the tide come back in. In between, you buy postcards. And, yes, indeed, it’s world famous—there’s even a duo-directional falls. Though as Oscar Wilde once quipped, “I would have been more impressed if they’d flowed up.”
But we’d already skipped the tides in both St. Andrews and Saint John (never spelled St. John our book explained, without saying why). ‘Cause Tom was more interested in something bigger: Sussex was the Covered Bridge Capital of Atlantic Canada.
Some of these were pretty potent. One could predict the future: If you raise your feet off the floorboards, and hold your breath as you cross, you’ll get your most fervent wish. Hopefully, you didn’t do this while driving.
“The purpose of the covered bridges,” I read to Tom as we headed their way after breakfast, “was not just to give unwed couples a places to neck.”
“What does it really say?”
“Well, there is one called The Kissing Bridge.”
“What does it say?”
“You want me to drive?”
“Read,” he said.
I sighed. “Their dull purpose was protecting the roadway from snow. An uncovered bridge lasts ten years. A covered one, eighty.”
“The wood rots.”
Which probably explained why the first one we stopped at—The Bell Bridge—wasn’t there. It had been built in 1903.
“It’s not on my map anyway,” Tom pointed out.
We were working from three separate maps, pamphlets really, available free in restaurants, gas stations, motels, and local bars. Each was slightly different. Which is to say wrong.
The next bridge was there, though it was built in 1905. At just over sixty-feet long, it looked like unpainted hell. No wonder the first one collapsed.
“If this were America,” I ventured, “it would cost twenty bucks to see these things. But at least they’d look good.”
“Let’s try another,” Tom said.
The third was as unpainted, and scarred inside by spray-painted graffiti—notably a huge Bite Me! This explained why the only photo on the pamphlets featured a 1940’s car. The bridges also sported bright warning signs, limiting vehicle height, width, and noting the amount of weight their beams could support.
“Enough?” I asked.
“There are three more.”
The man’s a collector.
And if you squinted at the fourth and fifth bridges, and stood so overhanging branches blocked the reflective signs, and the unpainted boards began to blend a little, they were… all right. But only just. Either could have used a little stain and a day’s worth of carpentry.
We never did find the sixth bridge, though we moved progressively to the outer limits of our maps. Still, from where we finally gave up, back to the road we wanted, should have been a pleasant country stroll. I should have suspected something was wrong when the pavement vanished.
“Which way?” Tom asked, as the right fork turned to gravel.
“Stick with asphalt.”
Which ended as quickly.
“Okay,” I surrendered, “Turn around.” And we went back to the fork. There, instead of logically tracing our way to the last bridge, then civilization, we decided to follow a car, churning dust.
“He seems to know where he’s going,” I lied. “And the gravel isn’t that big.”
If we’d been in my car, we wouldn’t have followed. But we were in Tom’s truck. Mongo go anywhere. Besides, signs soon began promising: Wilderness Lodge and Food. Just Ahead.
Just becomes real relative when you’re running out of gas. “I was gonna stop when we hit the main road,” Tom explained. Which should’ve been right… there!
Instead, my atlas indicated the vast, unmapped Fundy National Park. Which we might soon be exploring on foot.
“Should we go back?” Tom asked.
“The sign said nine kilometers to the lodge. We’ve probably done most of that.”
Just then, a newly built car, full of very old people, blazed by us. We hadn’t seen it coming ’cause we were both focused on the gas gauge. But before I could stop them to ask questions, they were gone.
“This is Wonderland,” I grumped.
“It can’t be that bad if there are old people.”
And soon we reached the lodge, as seemingly shiny as the car. After the old folks unfolded themselves, I followed them inside, where they were warmly greeted by the owner. “And what can I do for you?” she asked after settling her friends in the surprisingly-full dining room.
“Tell me where we are,” I grinned. “Then get us out of here.”
If we hadn’t already had breakfast, we might also have eaten. The food looked great.
“Let me get my husband,” the hostess smiled. “He knows the woods as well as anyone.”
While waiting, I studied a map on the counter, armored under glass. And marked: Xerox Copy. Do Not Remove. Clearly, other people had wandered astray.
“So you’re lost?” the lodge owner’s husband suddenly laughed. “No problem. The road you want’s just around the bend. Maybe seventeen clicks.”
A click being a kilometer.
“It’s pretty rough going though. Won’t be paved for a couple years.”
“The park’s that new?” I asked.
“Still being built. And it’s gonna be beautiful. Though I hope we get more snow than we did last year. Almost nothing. Nearly wiped us out.”
I explained the gas problem. He said he could sell us some, though apologized for the price. “I have trouble getting it trucked in here.”
Still, ten bucks Canadian for a quarter tank was fairly cheap when the alternative was becoming Hiawatha. And I’d like to say the directions he gave us were easy to follow. But he knew all the reference points.
“You think this is it?” Tom asked at yet another fork.
“Depends. If that wasn’t the house with the bent antenna, after the shed with the tin roof, past the mailbox with the dented flag, then we’re in trouble.
And rather than risk running out of gas, we simply turned around, slunk by the lodge, and followed bread crumbs back to the last bridge.
Which was a mistake. We shouldn’t have been so guy-stubborn and not stopped at the lodge for new instructions. ‘Cause when I’d paid for the gas, I’d also left my credit card there.