Exactly four years ago my hubbie and I made a trip to visit his family in New Brunswick Canada. It was perhaps the eighth or ninth time I had been, but that visit was different, I was almost 20 weeks pregnant with Esmé. This week was our first trip back since then–the first time that she was stable enough to even consider making the 12+ hour drive through New England to New Brunswick.

I have always loved visiting New Brunswick, but visiting when I was expecting a baby–a baby that would carry the last name of one of the original Acadian families to settle in this region (around 1640)–made the last trip in 2010 different for me. Acadians–for those of you who are unfamiliar–are the French-speaking population of Maritime Canada…they are not to be confused with the better-known French Canadians, the Quebecois. Rather, they share kinship with American Cajuns from Louisianna, the result of a brutal deportation from Canada by the Brittish in the mid 1700s.

Acadians have a very complex sense of lineage and family that was unfamiliar to me as an American “mutt.” My sense of lineage was that I was “mostly Scottish.” My husband, on the other hand, can tell you the name of his original ancestor to settle in Canada and give you the approximate date of arrival. This isn’t unusual here. At a party yesterday I was asked by a 9 year-old boy what my maiden nom de famille (surname) was. He was trying to sort out whether I was Acadian or not, where I fit in the picture.

When I was pregnant with Esmé we knew that it was important to find ways to secure our child’s Acadian identity while living in the US. We had plans to raise a bilingual child–speaking French at home (my French was acceptable at the time). We expected to bring her to New Brunswick for summers. We discussed old Acadian names while pouring over the family geneology books. I can clearly remember four years ago sitting looking out over the Bay of Chaleur, my belly just beginning to be round, and thinking about how we could best make this part of the world home for our future child…

The following week, home after our trip, we had our 20 week ultrasound and learned that we were having a girl. We also learned that there was a distinct possibility that she might have a serious genetic condition. With the circumstances of Esmé’s birth our plans to speak to her in French gave way to questions about whether she would understand language or speak at all. Our ideas of traveling with her through hours and hours of remote forests in Maine and New Brunswick–so far from the doctors that know her case and over a border–seemed simply insane.

Until recently we wondered if we would ever be able to bring her here. In place of focusing on teaching her French, of bringing her to see this part of the world, we have focused on telling the people we love in New Brunswick about her…in hopes that we might bring her to visit one day and they might already feel as though they know her.

On Sunday we made our way up north to the Acadian pennisula. There is something very particular about the New Brunswick landscape. Inland the road cuts through thick forest on either side–the trees smaller than at home, but somehow the forests are more daunting. There is a sense that these trees have lasted through such severe weather, stretching unknown and unbroken through so much of the province, that a person could get lost for a lifetime in them. And there is a very real risk that at any point you might find a moose along side you, dwarfing your car. 

By the water the forest begins to give way to views on the bay, steep cliffs separating the road from the water…here you have a whole new reason to feel the enormity of the world: Water stretching out forever, quiet homes perched precariously on cliffs in some sort of modest defiance that borders on celebration of the elements…wind, salt, and, so much of the year, snow.

It was as I was anticipating that view over the bay, still inland, that I began to feel the tears coming on. There was this sense of coming back around again to those old hopes that this place might be so important to Esmé. That we were, in our way, just by bringing her here, carrying out our own modest defiance of the elements…bringing her home.

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