The Hand of God

When I travel, I go for local. Every place has its opportunity for iconic experiences.

A recent trip to Nova Scotia meant a spontaneous trip to Peggy’s Cove, when the weather belied the forecast, to catch a glorious sunset and strong winds crashing the waves on rocks that kicked spray on my camera lens.

After the sailing ship tour of Halifax harbour there was steamed lobster on the wharf – disdaining the net, I plunged my arm into the tank and bravely grabbed the feistiest two-pounder for my supper.

On the road to Sydney (with McLobster sandwiches for fuel), the sunny and clear day meant wonderful views of the Bras D’Or Lakes – and picking up a CD, oatcakes and tea at Rita McNeil’s Teahouse in Big Pond.

Collecting stones washed up on the shore at Glace Bay led to bird watching at Dominion Beach early in the morning, after a night of singing local music in a pub marred only by drinking imported Guinness because they ran out of Cape Breton Scotch. Keeping the maritime theme, there was another lobster for supper at the ferry docks in North Sydney (four pounds!) before it was time to trek back to Halifax.

Leaving the coal mines of Sydney and Glace Bay in the early morning fog and rain to drive along the Louisbourg road along the east coast of Cape Breton, I pulled out the CD from Big Pond and drove to the rhythms of Rita and the Men of the Deep, headed for Port Marien and then – the ultimate iconic destination – to Main a Dieu, the Hand of God.

It seemed like the right place to go – to experience (and take pictures of) the Hand of God, in what I had been told repeatedly was “God’s Country.” So I photographed the sign on the way into the coastal village, finding an iconic spot where only the fog and rain obscured a spectacular view of the harbour and the North Atlantic beyond.

I pulled up the hill to the lookout, parked the car and walked up further overlooking the harbour. It had been two hours since Sydney, however, and the road (while picturesque) lacked the facilities tourists on road trips require.

Slipping into a stand of white spruce where I was hidden from the road, I was in the midst of my offering to the morning coffee gods when the trees rustled ten feet over my head. A full-grown, adult eagle launched into flight over the harbour, soaring down on a hunt for food of its own.

Stunned by the moment, I could only gape and then – eventually – take a picture of it far off into the fog.

It was the ultimate iconic moment. There I was, standing at the Hand of God, visited by the great Eagle Spirit – and I was watering the weeds.

While there are humorous moments in stories told elsewhere of other gods, aboriginal legends frequently recount tricks that have humbled all creatures – human, animal and divine – into understanding their true place in the cosmos.

Every day, iconic and spirit-filled moments surround all of us, all the time, right where we are.

You don’t have to be visited by the Eagle Spirit at the Hand of God for your day to be filled with spiritual significance.

Forget that, and for your foolishness, you will be greeted, as I was, by a guffaw from above.

I will never again think of the Hand of God in quite the same way.