Baked at The Ovens – Memories of Past Debauchery

On the cliffs

**DISCLAIMER:

A)  To those who either sign my paycheques and/or know my mother, please be advised I no longer participate in many most of the activities described in the following post.  And what happens on my blog should STAY on my blog.

B)  Names have been thinly disguised to protect the not-so-innocent.

C) If you have never done LSD before and think it sounds like fun based on this story, heed this warning:  DON’T.  I say this because approximately 11% of the population carries a latent gene for schizophrenia, which often remains dormant until some idiot triggers the gene to manifest by using hallucinogenic drugs.  There is no way of knowing ahead of time if you might be in this 11%.  I was lucky.  You may not be.  Don’t be stupid.

D) The following is a subjective recollection from my own perspective.  I do not claim it to be an absolutely factual recounting of events, so don’t think you’re going to sue me and end up on Oprah.  Just don’t even think it.

———————————————————————————–

I’m a pretty sentimental schmuck to begin with, but too many recent late-night talks with old friends have got me feeling kind of nostalgic.  I thought I’d take a few minutes to tell you about one of my favourite places on the planet.

Some of you may have heard of The Ovens.  Some of you have probably even been there.  I can pretty much guarantee, though, that you haven’t truly experienced The Ovens.

The Ovens, for those of you who haven’t been there, is a natural park and campground located just outside of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.  The main attraction of the park is the fact that it is perched on the cliffs above the North Atlantic, cliffs that are riddled with caves, many of which are accessible to the public.  At first glance, it appears much like any other campground.  There is a pool, an RV park, a gift shop/museum that outlines the history of the man-made caves.  There is even a small rocky beach where some have been lucky enough to find tiny gold nuggets (or so I’ve heard).  So granted, in peak tourist season, it may seem like a less-than-attractive place for us locals to hang out.  Trust me when I say that’s not true.

The first time I ever heard of The Ovens, I was sixteen.  My ex-boyfriend ‘Dob’ and I were hanging out at the mall on a hot summer night, trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.  (We had broken up but were still partners-in-crime when it came to partying.)  Sitting in the food court, we were waiting to see where the action was that particular night.  We knew that if we sat there long enough, we’d catch wind of something – small town rules of society.  And sure enough, it wasn’t long before we noticed an exodus of young people heading for the parking lot and piling into cars.  We followed and discovered another small-town phenomenon – the party train, a lemming launch of cars full of teenagers funneling its way to the parking lot exit.  We jumped in the back seat of the nearest car, which happily was occupied by our buddies Seal and Manny.

“Hey, man, where are we going?”

“The Ovens, man.  Birthday party for Turny.”

“The Ovens,” I asked.  “Where’s that?”

“You’ve never been to The Ovens?”

“Nope.”

Knowing nod from driver, “You’ll see, man.  You’ll see.”

It was about a half hour drive.  Dob and I filled the time by dropping acid in the back seat.  It was the summer of Batman blotter, a fine year indeed.  Dob was one of the few people I knew who could keep up with me when it came to recreational drug use.  And this night, we were blessed with a plentiful supply.  “I’ll take another hit if you do.”  “Okay, you first.”  “No, you first.”  “Okay, together – one, two…”  Put it in, spit it out, laugh, wait for the other to do the same, put it back in, agree to swallow, check under each other’s tongues.  “Okay, I’ll do another if you do.”  “You first, ” etc.  Until we were both on the runway to what promised to be a fine flight.

Finally, we pulled into a dirt road.  I was getting excited to see what the deal was, but a little way in, Seal pulls off abruptly, literally plowing the car into the woods, flattening small trees en route.  He explained that if we went in the back way, we wouldn’t have to pay to get into the place.  Cool.

The car eventually emerged into a small clearing filled with people, clearly the party was already in progress.  The clearing was in a lovely patch of old coniferous forest and possessed a couple of picnic tables, a couple of outhouses, a few tents and lots of teenagers in various states of intoxification.

It wasn’t long before the sun went down and Dob and I were toasting along quite nicely.  That was when our good friend Kosh decided he wanted to try acid, too.  Being young and all that, we kindly fixed our buddy up with his first hit.  Now, LSD takes a while to kick in, sometimes up to 45 minutes.  Kosh was getting kind of impatient, so he decided, against our more-experienced advice, to drop another hit while he was waiting.  First rule of psychedelics is that if you decide to fix up a first-timer, you are then responsible for their ass until they straighten out.  Hopefully, they will have a nice trip and not decide you are the devil.

In Kosh’s case, he wasn’t doing too badly until he went to the outhouse for a pee.  And because Dob and I were having a grand old time and were in rather boisterous moods, I decided to check and see how Kosh was doing.  From outside the outhouse, I called to him.  “Hey, Kosh!  How’s it hanging?”

Seconds later, Kosh came flying out of the outhouse, convinced that the walls were speaking to him, inquiring on the condition of his goods.  He threw himself down on his stomach, and much like a sea turtle preparing its nest, proceeded to attempt to dig himself into the dirt for protection.

Dob and I looked at one another, agreed that he was unlikely to hurt himself, shrugged and went back to freaking each other out by painting the air with the tracings from our lit cigarettes.  We were exceptional trip-sitters.

It was around 1 in the morning when my friend Timon asked if I’d been to the caves.  “CAVES????”  My stoned ass exclaimed, “There’s CAVES????”  So Timon offered to be my guide and off to the caves we went.

A short hike through the woods at the back of the clearing brought us to the edge of the cliffs.  After being in the forest, breaking out into the sight and sound of the ocean just about blew my mind.  We lay down at the very edge of the land and hanging our arms over, Timon told me about growing up there.  He pointed out the various islands and points of land.  “And that, ”  he gestured toward open water, “is England.”

Up and down the cliff we wandered, and then Timon took me for the first time down into the depths.

Decades ago, steps had been created, partially from cement and partially carved from the raw stone itself, leading down into the damp, echoing places.  Each cave had a different personality, its own name.  The greatest of them all was Cannon Cave, a large hollow with a smaller, hidden cave behind it.  When the waves rush in, the water fills the smaller cave before rushing out with a release of air that creates a loud BOOM – thus the name, Cannon Cave.

When we emerged from the darkness of the cave, Timon showed me a cool thing that he liked to do, which was sit on the concrete piling at the end of the platform above the cave; you sit with your feet over the edge, lean back and hook your hands on the edge of the piling behind you and then wait for a big wave to rush up and wash over you.  Yes, this is foolish.  Yes, one could hypothetically be washed out to sea.  Yes, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.  No, you most definitely shouldn’t try it.

The view from the top of the cliff. The end of the concrete piling is where 'Timon' and I sat. It was a calm day when this photo was taken, but during storms at sea (like the night I tell about), the waves wash right up over you and onto the platform behind.

The view from the top of the cliff. The end of the concrete piling is where ‘Timon’ and I sat. It was a calm day when this photo was taken, but during storms at sea (like the night I tell about), the waves wash right up over you and onto the platform behind.

We wandered all the way to the end of the park path, where a fence blocked off the wilderness, with a hand-carved wooden sign that stated “Dangerous Beyond This Point.”  At which point, I commented that I wanted – no, I needed that sign.  Timon, in his teenage boy eager-to-please way wrenched the sign from the tree and tucked it under his arm (Timon was pretty burly – he was the local teen-club’s first bouncer.)  We got in crap later because one of the people at the party happened to be a park ranger and he drunkenly insisted that Timon replace the sign later that night.

When we got back to the party, the heat lightning began.  I’m not sure what the technical term for this is, but it’s when the sky begins to explode with bursts of lightning that resemble fireworks (I know it sounds like the ‘cid talking, but it’s a real thing, I swear.)  Haloes of light radiated outward in concentric circles, like ripples in a pond, overlapping and spreading across the whole clear sky.  It’s one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in nature.

Someone suggested we all head down to the caves.  I didn’t care that I’d already been there – everything is a new experience when you’re having as much fun as I was.  So about 15 of us headed out.

We were about halfway down the winding stone stairs to Cannon Cave when the skies opened.  Within seconds every one of us was drenched to the bone.  The stone steps were so slippery, we had to link arms so as not to lose someone.  After eons of inching our way in the driving summer rain, we all made it into the cave safe and sound.  We crowded in and made ourselves comfortable to wait out the storm.

The view from within Cannon Cave

The view from within Cannon Cave

It was like another world down there.  And I’ve compared notes with others who were not as sky-high as Dob and I, and they agree on the details, so I know it really happened as I remember it.  That night, looking out the mouth of Cannon Cave, we all experienced a magical thing.  Though the mouth of the cave, we could see the crazy lightning bursting in the sky and the sea was rife with phosphorescent algae that flew sparkling like a million waterbound fireflies, up over the edge of the platform where we perched.  It was like being inside a crystal ball filled with fireworks.  Every few seconds, a huge flash of lightning lit up the interior of the cave like a strobe light, burning the frozen images into our retinas.  The fact that we were soaking wet and the booms created by the ‘cannon’ only added to the full-sensory experience.

Someone suggested that the only thing needed to make the moment perfect would be a smoke.  Instantly, an underground room full of drunks craving a cigarette.  After a few minutes of wet pocket-patting, a single dry-ish cigarette and a single dry-ish match were found.  One cigarette.  For 15 people.  Sounds bleak, yes?  But in the community spirit that had come over us all from sharing this incredible experience, that one cigarette seemed to be enough.  I could swear it was passed around and came back to me at least a couple of times.

Finally the storm ebbed and we made our way wetly back to the campsite.  Somebody pulled out a couple of guitars and began singing.  My friend Tizzy (Timon’s twin sister) ran up and said, “Drea, I want you to meet my new boyfriend, Darren!”  I turned in time to watch Darren bite into the side of a can of Off! bug spray and then proceed to guzzle its contents.  Then he and Tizzy went into the birthday boy’s empty tent, presumably to have sex.  Dob and I ourselves ended up in the backseat of someone’s car, making out.

It was just after dawn when we were roused by the sound of Tizzy screaming.  Apparently Timon and another guy had decided to dive into the water off the platform inside Cannon Cave and had gotten stuck in the undertow.

We were all in various states of going up or coming down when we gathered at the cliff’s edge, the morning air punctuated by Tizzy screaming her brother’s name.  It was impossible to decide whether to call in the ‘grown-ups’ – we could see the guys, they waved periodically, and they weren’t being pulled out to sea, they just didn’t seem to be able to move closer to shore.  Eventually, someone called a friend with a Zodiac, and we stayed on the cliff, watching and waiting.

Then we saw one of the guys call to the other and point below him.  Then they both dove under and we lost sight of them.  Tizzy began to hyperventilate.  It seemed like forever, but then someone saw them.  This happened over and over until finally someone shouted, “They’re climbing up the cliff!”   Apparently, we later found out, they had gotten out of the current by diving to the ocean floor and crawling along with their hands until they reached the cliff wall.

They had made their way to the shore, but were at the bottom of a 50-foot cliff.  One of those ones where the top hangs way out over the bottom.

And it took what seemed like hours, but finally, after many stops and starts and many sucked-in breaths by those of us bearing witness, they made it to the top.  Exhausted, they called for beer and it was given.  Tizzy nearly collapsed with relief, before punching Timon and swearing at him.  I can’t remember whatever happened to the guy with the boat.

That was my first experience at The Ovens.  Beautiful beyond belief, and just as dangerous.  My favourite combination.
(Oh, and don’t worry – we hadn’t forgotten about Kosh.  His trip leveled out enough for him to enjoy the storm with us in the cave.  We were just talking about it the other day, in fact.  And the guy whose birthday party it had been was just over at my house the other night with his wife and little boy.  In fact, I’m still friends with everyone who was there that night, and we all remember.)

It doesn’t end there, though.  The following summer, I found myself dating the park ranger who had torn strips off Timon for stealing the ‘Danger’ sign for me.  He knew all of the park’s secrets and took me deep in the woods to show me the ‘witch’s spiral’, a spot where a local coven was rumoured to meet during the full moon – a spiral walking maze of smooth stones.  We spent nights camped out in the caves.  (You see, night-time is the best time -it’s when the tourists are bedded down and abiding the rules of the campground, which is, “no caving at night.”  We locals don’t heed such nonsense.)  I walked the cliffs so many times that summer that my feet learned the way without having to look.

Over the years, I would return again and again.  But a place like The Ovens is one of those places where the good times happen almost accidentally.  If you try to recreate them, you simply set yourself up for disappointment.

But good times were yet to be had.

My 35th birthday was approaching, and for some reason, it was weighing on me.  Subsequent birthdays (all one of them) haven’t bothered me in the least, but inexplicably, 35 was really bumming me out.  I announced that I did not want a celebration unless it was a wake for my dead youth.  (I am nothing if not melodramatic.)

On the day in question, I was picked up unexpectedly by a vanload of my dearest friends, who were especially unexpected since they had thrown me a surprise party the night before, out on the town.  I was told I had five minutes to grab three (and only three) overnight essentials.  Attempts to get hints as to what sort of overnight essentials I would require went unanswered.

I was kidnapped and taken to The Ovens.  My friends, being from the city and unfamiliar with The Ovens but knowing it was one of my favourite places, had booked a campsite there and spent the day preparing it.  A huge tent had been erected, with a table draped in black and set up to resemble a coffin, complete with a large framed photo of the ‘deceased’ (me).  There was even a disco ball and a large tiara onto which my friend Meri had painstakingly glued hundreds of black sequins, fitting for the Queen of the Dead (me).  And a fully stocked bar.

Teary-eyed with love, we settled in for a night of drinking.

Of course, as at any party, I was the last one standing (being both a night-owl and having an uncommonly large liver.)  When the last reveler had been put to…sleeping bag, I remembered where I was.

Now, the campsite that my friends had chosen, being unfamiliar with the area, happened to be located in the highly populated RV park part of the campground.  Meaning…lots of supervision.  Luckily, I know the area like the back of my hand.

I snuck off through the woods alone, bare of feet and wild of spirit (or perhaps that should read ‘spirits’, as I was quite glowy by this time).  Before long, I was running along the cliffs in the pale light of the moon, my feet remembering every rut and root.  I felt the wind on my skin and imagined I was channeling the Blackfoot blood of my ancestors (boy, was I drunk).  I ducked down to the caves, I sat on the edges and felt the waves crash over me.  I felt the soil, the stone and the sea on my bare feet.  I watched the moonlight glint off the water and I stared out to ‘England’ and thought deep thoughts.  I climbed over the ‘Dangerous Beyond This Point’ fence and made my way through the brush, where the tourists didn’t go.  I drank in the night air and renewed my soul.

I returned to the campsite very late, exhilarated and filthy, and spent the rest of the night around the campfire, giving relationship advice to some poor soul I’d never met before, who’d had a fight with his girlfriend.

In the morning, I discovered that my friends had erected the tent right next to a ‘petting zoo’ that was a relatively new addition to the park.  The petting zoo consisted of two goats and a chicken.  The chicken did nothing but cop rides on the back of one of the goats, which was pretty cool.  What more do you need?  It was the best birthday ever.

It’s hard to convey the full effect of such a wild, natural place (at least by night it seems that way – by day, it sadly resembles any other tourist trap.  But a few of us have the fantasy of buying it one day and booting out all the CFAs – Come From Aways – and returning it to its former, untouched glory.  And who knows?  It just might happen.)

But there will always be some of us who remember those summer nights.  And that’s the important part.

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Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 1:46 pm  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Can you believe I’ve never been The Ovens?
    I desperately want to go after reading this entry.

  2. And Illegal drugs, may upset those fine tuned human instinkts, that chooses subconcessly how to get a good life .Were when whom to be in contact with.
    And the d lower the confidence in your self verca findig a rigth man/ woman to marry or shall we say puzzel oneselfs together with. Men ,think to much of themeselfs, and women think to less of themeselfs.
    Espesially pot is bad because it sits in for 3 weeks after every.. hit, and disturb your finest braincells.
    so be pure =get wealth drugs=live in ditch
    if we should build a pc as fine as our head it would be the size of the earth.
    I am a 34 yr mom for 2 little boys and think you should find a man to supply and stand by you ,and give you lots of children ,cause you are a fine woman.

  3. Damn straight I’m a fine woman.

  4. Oh, Thanks! Really funny. Greets.

  5. […] – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by evrabel on 2008-07-31 Baked at The Ovens – Memories of Past Debauchery https://andreamacmillan.wordpress.com/?p=82 – bookmarked by 1 members originally found by […]

  6. It sounds like you had some amazing times out there 🙂 I guess I am not one of those with the latent gene 😉

  7. That was one of the most memorable nights of my entire life. I would change nothing… except maybe to have shared in the dip in the glowing, turbulent lightning charged water. Call it the drugs if you will, but all those present shared in something special and entirely unforgettable.


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