Impressions of Keji

“Harlooloo loo loo loo. I’m here. I’m here. Are you? Are you?”

Out there, somewhere, a loon calls across the swells of a lake dark as a cup of high-test tea even in broad daylight. Frozen Ocean Lake.

Its dark waters pool within Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site. Keji, as the locals call it, rolls across 147 square miles of the Nova Scotia peninsula, in Canada’s second-smallest province, an Atlantic maritime province of which no part is more than 50 miles from the sea.

Resembling a colossal thumbprint, Keji isn’t so much flat as lumpy and furrowed, a plain undulating with surface features of the last glacial stage: boulders; boulder fields; long, winding ridges of glacial sediment; and drumlins, the smooth, oval hills which have a steeper, blunt end facing the oncoming glacier, and a gentle slope nodding in the direction of glacial retreat. After the last glaciation, which began 100,000 to 80,000 years ago, and after glacial retreat, shallow lakes formed. Like the ridges of a thumbprint, glacial furrows channel the region’s moisture into these shallow lakes and connect them with slow, meandering rivers, making Keji the best canoe country in a wet and water-bound province.

Prehistoric hand-, finger- and thumbprint art carved into rocks within Keji makes up a portion of the largest collection of petroglyphs in eastern North America. More than 500 petroglyphs detail Kejimkujik National Historic Site, a place sacred to the Mi’kmaq people, and accessible only with a native guide.

The earliest traces of the ancestors of today’s Mi’kmaq date back more than 10,000 years. Following retreating glaciers at the end of the last great ice age, these Maritime Archaic people arrived from Asia via Siberia and moved into the southwestern area of Nova Scotia about 5,000 years ago. Thirteen of the 30+ modern-day Mi’kmaq First Nations still reside within Nova Scotia, while others inhabit the surrounding provinces and Maine.

The nomadic Mi’kmaq spent summers at the seacoast and the rest of the year camped inland. With abundant caribou, moose, freshwater fish and other staples, Keji made an ideal living site for part of the year. Because of its central location within the complex system of rivers and lakes between southwestern Nova Scotia’s north and south coasts, Keji beats at the heart of Mi’kmaw culture.

To get there, you roll west from Halifax through second-growth pine forest, then north toward small communities surrounding Keji, their white clapboard houses offset by rainbows of colored Adirondack chairs, farm fields, and orchards. Near the park entrance, again forest dominates: Acadian Forest – red spruce, eastern hemlock, sugar and red maple, white and red pine, yellow birch, American beech, white ash, white spruce, balsam fir. The maps show water nearby, but the trees hide all channels. Somewhere out there, a transcendental yodel echoes across water still as a frozen ocean.

“Harlooloo loo loo loo.”
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