Safe spaces can take many forms.
It can be your favorite chair on the back patio, or the trail you jog on in the afternoons. Maybe it’s your favorite podcast, or the playlist you made for the moments you want to write or read. It can also be a memory that makes you smile, like a family pet or cooking with your grandmother.
I have a safe space in the form of a lighthouse.
I went to Nova Scotia in September 2018. I checked into my Airbnb, met my host, and unpacked my bags in the small bedroom that would be my home for ten days.
The following morning was bright and warm, and it was a perfect day to visit a certain lighthouse I had read so much about. I set out early in my rented Subaru and drove out of Halifax to the small fishing town of Peggy’s Cove.
I stopped along the way to take pictures of a rocky pool.
The area reminded me of a secret haven you would find in a fairy tale. The river was babbling underneath the bridge that led into this pool. Its small, rocky islands were enough to tempt me to take off my shoes to break the stillness of the water, just so I could wade out to them.
I would have, too, if something on the other side of the bridge hadn’t caught my eye.
It was a sloping rock face along the river that had the resemblance of a fallen elephant, or something out of an Eldritch horror story.
After taking more pictures, I returned to the car and continued my journey to the lighthouse.
The town of Peggy’s Cove is said to be named after St. Margaret’s Bay (Peggy being a nickname for Margaret). It’s a rural town, but is no stranger to tourists. I can smell the lobsters boiling from the food carts that sat outside the local shops as I followed other tourists who were making the trek up a steep, narrow street to reach the top.
The ocean grew louder as I approached, and then I got a full view of the lighthouse known as Peggy’s Point.
She was gorgeous, in all her simplicity. She towered over you, painted in pure white with a red crown that held a light that aided fishermen and sailors to her shore like a benevolent siren.
Peggy’s Point Lighthouse was established in 1868 as a wooden house with a beacon on the roof that, when the keeper lit a kerosene lamp in a catoptric reflector, would shine a red light that marked the eastern entrance of St. Margaret’s Bay. The current structure was built in 1914 with reinforced concrete, and the original wooden house stood beside it until it was destroyed by Hurricane Edna in 1954. The lighthouse is still active with an automated red light in her beacon.
It was high tide when I visited, and the blue waves of the Atlantic were crashing against the rocks. There are metal signs drilled into these rocks, warning you not to take pictures near the edge as many tourists have been caught by sneaker waves.
After taking many pictures, I sat on a rock in the shadow of the lighthouse and watched everyone explore. It was the sort of scene I thought you could only see in movies, yet here I was, with my own camera to capture my own scenes in this marvelous place.
I closed my eyes and listened to the waves composing their symphony against the rocks, and I had never felt so calm in all of my life. I didn’t want to leave, but I had other small towns to visit and capture on film.
The day before I was to fly back to Oregon, I visited Peggy’s Point one last time. It was partly sunny that day and it was low tide, but she was all the more glorious as she was when I first saw her.
I gazed up at her red beacon for the longest time, as if to sear her face into every facet of my memory, until I heard the distant sound of bagpipes.
Being of Celtic descent, I have a soft spot for these boisterous instruments, so I was lured by the piper until I found him. He was fully dressed in traditional Scottish garb, and when he finished playing, I spoke to him for a while. He told me he had played at Peggy’s Point every few days and had been doing so for nearly 15 years.
Afterwards, he played another tune as I walked down the narrow street back to my car. I took one last look at the lighthouse and then drove to my Airbnb to finish packing.
Visiting Peggy’s Cove was like walking into a storybook. It may have been geared for tourism, but the town was laid back and peaceful. I’ll never forget the smell of cooked lobster that permeated the air as I walked, nor will I forget the sound of the waves of St. Margaret’s Bay as they splashed against the ancient rocks.
Two years later, I would find myself in therapy, something that was long overdue. My therapist suggested that I create a safe space in my head to go to when we conclude each session. My mental place of refuge took the form of Peggy’s Point, but I shortened her name to Peg.
Safe spaces are not a ridiculous notion, nor are they reserved for the weak. Even the strongest of us need a place we can hide for a few minutes to take a breath.
When life gets overwhelming and my brain won’t slow down, I close my eyes and I go to Peg. I hear her waves crashing and the faint sound of pipes behind me. I walk out to the middle of her rocks and bask in the glowing sun until I feel her beacon of light shining upon my heart to guide me safely back to shore.
Nova Scotia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and I can’t wait to back one day. My first stop will be Peg so that I can lean on her, just like I would an old friend.
Author’s note: my heart goes out to the people of Nova Scotia and to the families who lost loved ones in the recent tragedy. I stand beside you. #NovaScotiaStrong