Lauren Henkin Displaced

During the summer of 2007, my marriage started to dissolve, and I realized that our commitment to each other would not be for life, that I would be alone again. I needed to escape. I needed to find beauty. I needed to restore confidence in myself and, hopefully, return home with a piece of myself reclaimed. On a self-imposed exile, I fled to Nova Scotia, Canada, a place I felt connected to, although I’d never seen it. I rented a house in Chester, a small, quiet sailing community, and began exploring. I started with the eastern coast, traveling to the quaint seaside villages of Lunenburg, Kingsburg, Mahone Bay, Peggy’s Cove, The Ovens, and Halifax. I purposefully drowned myself in the sadness I felt, instinctively drawn to subjects that reminded me of what I was losing, the joy of a family summer vacation, the comfort of a home, the security of knowing which path to travel. I wandered, allowing myself, for the first time in many years, to be lost. Later, I drove to Nova Scotia’s western coast where I met more permanent residents, people who have lived and worked in the region for generations. And then to the northern areas, Cape Breton, Sydney, and Louisbourg where landscape is king. When I set out to circle the Cabot Trail (the winding path along Cape Breton’s northern edge) it was 5 a.m., pitch black and cloaked in the thickest fog I’d ever seen. The cloudbank was so dense that almost as soon as I got in the car, I had to pull over. I was scared. It was a moment that seemed to crystallize what the previous few years had been to me, filled with fear, lacking in direction, anxiety-ridden. I got out of the car, wondering if I’d be able to go on. I couldn’t see anything, couldn’t hear anything. I started to listen like I never had before, like I’d regained my sense of hearing after a long period of deafness. At that instant, a car emerged from the darkness and immediately slipped again back into the fog. It felt like a sign—that if someone else made it through, so could I. My senses were reawakening. I began to see again, beauty I had been blind to for a long time: clear sparkling rivers, beachfronts dimpled with boulders, shrouded in fog. The longer I spent there, the more comfortable I became, just roaming. I drove down an unmarked dirt road that eventually led to a family farm. I had tea with the residents, a couple who were probably in their late-eighties, who had sought sanctuary there from the United States decades earlier, to escape the possibility of having their teenage sons drafted during the Korean War. They showed me family photographs taken over their half century together. They didn’t press me for answers about my past, or why I was so far from home. They simply opened their lives to me, how they’d rebuilt their future and had claimed this land. They invited me, as a photographer, to carry away a piece of it. Later, I learned that Nova Scotia translates as “New Scotland.” I imagined Scots traveling there, exiled from their native land. They were the ancestors of a grief that had birthed me, also; like me, they must have been relieved to find a place of solace, safety and familiarity. I felt this land had been bequeathed to me, that my principal fear, of being abandoned, had been dispelled not by a person, but by a place. I rediscovered myself there. I found, like others who were exiled before me, that I could survive on my own.

All images © courtesy of Lauren Henkin

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