Turn left at the firehall. Beach access isn't marked, and we like it that way. You will too. Maybe what makes a place sublime is the impression that it is, in some small way, yours. Through your discovery, your adoration, your pride. It belongs to you, sort of.
If you go to Cherry Hill Beach, N.S., on a particular Saturday (check the firehall sign - it's usually a monthly affair) you can pick up a Fireman's Breakfast and support the community. Six bucks for "any or all of" the following: coffee or tea, juice, homemade baked beans, bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, toast (regular or whole wheat). Fuel up - you're in for a walk. After reaching the point, relief from the wind is instant and a serene pair of sand dunes constitute the perfect spot for picnicking, reading a book and/or al fresco naps.
Cherry Hill's appeal is largely elemental: It offers a direct route to happiness via its empty curve of fine grey sand, exposed water and endless sky.
Locals know this beach is a stunner, but with so many popular beaches close by (i.e.: Rissers, Crescent, Green Bay) and only a few months to enjoy them, few seek the deserted glory of Cherry Hill. We have thousands of miles of unspoiled coastline in Nova Scotia; playing favourites is arguably claptrap. And other beaches certainly have better facilities, warmer waters for swimming and more activity.
But at low tide (key phrase), the visual and aural beauty do something to my parasympathetic nervous system, my perspective, my mood.
Sounds dangerously New Age-y perhaps, as if I am overselling to an outsider. But I assure you I have visited my fair share of beaches - on the Adriatic, the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico - and Cherry Hill retains some ineffable hold over me. It's the most breathtaking beach I've ever seen. Because it feels like it's mine? That, and because it feels like nobody's.
My parents attribute its instant decompression effect to negative ions in the ocean air.
According to WebMD: "Negative ions are odourless, tasteless and invisible molecules that we inhale in abundance in certain environments such as mountains, waterfalls and beaches. Once they reach our bloodstream, negative ions are believed to produce biochemical reactions that increase levels of the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our daytime energy."
Ion researcher Michael Terman, of Columbia University in New York, says, "The action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions … we also see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods."
In fact, studies by Columbia University of people with seasonal and chronic depression show that negative ion generators relieve depression as much as antidepressants.
On another front, a Psychology Today article points out that modern life leaves many of us feeling "overloaded," prone to overreacting to minor annoyances and feeling like we can never catch up.
The best cure for this, the article suggests, is to enjoy some solitude.
Besides that solitude, what's striking about Cherry Hill is its ability to make time disappear. There is no time zone here. It's Paleolithic. Pangaeac, even. Time doesn't pass on this beach.
Tourists converge on Nova Scotia in summer for its natural beauty and old-timey feeling. I, too, am a huge fan of quirky shops and cafés like those peppering Lunenburg and Mahone Bay and Chester, and I love the galleries and folk art along the Lighthouse Route - these pleasures are available on the way to or from Cherry Hill.
But more than cute treasures and delicious snacks, I love being blank. I want to be subdued by nature, awed and absorbed by it. "In which the heavy and the weary weight / Of all this unintelligible world," as Wordsworth wrote in Tintern Abbey, "Is lightened."
Cherry Hill beach seriously blisses me out.
Cherry Hill Beach is 37 minutes from Bridgewater on the South Shore, Highway 331 near Broad Cove. Find public beach access at Henry Conrad Road. But before you go, be sure to check the interactive tide table at low-tide.com/tide.
Special to The Globe and Mail