Winter morning

winter morningIf you live in the Northern hemisphere, especially above the 47th parallel, winter has settled in to stay for a while. Whether you hibernate, prefer denial, or embrace the season may depend on how cold it gets in your neck of the woods…

  • Hibernate? You are a heat-seeker in all seasons, especially now, piling up the logs or blankets while dreaming of tropical beaches, staying indoors while waiting for winter to pass. Or you have already headed south so you can ignore winter more effectively.
  • Live in denial? You walk (or run) hatless through the freezing air, relying on your car to get from one door to the next, and don’t even own a warm winter jacket or toque.
  • Embrace the season? You are outdoors at every opportunity, enjoying the intensity of the winter sun and impossibly clear blue skies. You are probably a skier or skater or snowmobiler or snowboarder — or all of the above — and live for that squeaky sound the snow makes under your boots and the rush of cold air as you speed downhill or skate under the stars.

As for me, I’m all three (although my skiing and skating skills are nothing to brag about). And I will admit it: in some profound part of my spirit, I do love winter. I love the sudden joy of finding Orion watching from high overhead on dark bitter mornings. I love the sound of nothing made by falling snow on a windless night. I love how the fresh snow transforms my dull leafless city, sculpting every surface in sparkling white. I love the fact that I can witness the most wonderfully golden sunrises without having to wake at 5 am. I love that deliciously crispy ’ air which puts red in my cheeks and a sparkle in my eyes.

Now, if only I could remember all this when I wake up in mid-February in the middle of a deep freeze…!

Photo taken on Jan 10, 2015

Tin Can Beach: an update

Princess of Acadia

Princess of Acadia coming in to port – from Tin Can Beach

In the three years since I last posted here, a lot of metaphorical water has gone under the bridge. I am still passionately involved in photographing Saint John and environs, but I just haven’t been writing about it. Life and all that…

me & my shadow at the water's edge

me & my shadow at the water’s edge

However, I wanted to post an update because there has been a lot of interest over the past six months in maintaining access to and perhaps developing Tin Can Beach, the inspiration for this blog. I won’t go into the news details — all that is available via Google — but where I come into it is that my photos and writing about Tin Can Beach have attracted some attention, and I am hoping the public interest in this Saint John gem continues. A couple of weeks ago, a reporter named Kyle Mullin emailed me with some questions, and asked me to articulate some of what I feel about Tin Can Beach. Here is our conversation:
 
KM 1. What prompted you to make a website about Tin Can beach? Why does it inspire you?

 
First of all, my blog is about Saint John not Tin Can Beach. I named my blog Tin Can Beach because I felt that this hidden gem encapsulated much of what is wonderful — and frustrating — about Saint John. And because I love Saint John. And because I lived “away” (in Ontario) for nearly 20 years, and I missed the sea. So I was thrilled to discover Tin Can Beach when I returned and was living uptown. 

It may not be historically accurate, but I think of Tin Can Beach as the place where Saint John began. In no other place in our city can we see the natural seascape at the same time as the evidence of our seafaring history. (You could argue for Long Wharf or Fort LaTour, but neither have any seascape to speak of.) Tin Can Beach and Saint John are both:

  • rooted in a long and proud history, and marked by their relationship with the strong Fundy tides
  • untidy, in the way of all industrial sites & cities: a place where graffiti and seaweed, poverty and plenty live side by side, preferring the real over the merely picuresque.
  • friendly – all the people I have met at Tin Can Beach are friendly – whether it’s the Mr Coffee man having lunch in the parking lot, or the kid with a bike who just likes to hang out. (It would be interesting to know how many people visit or use the beach on a regular basis – I counted 5 + me in my hour spent there this morning.)
  • hidden gems – both Tin Can Beach and Saint John are under appreciated, and suffer from reputations no longer deserved. (Need I elaborate?)

 

KM 2. Can you tell me about Tin Can beach’s potential, what it could be, and what needs to happen in order for that potential to be realised?
 
First of all, ensure that there continues to be public access. Even if there’s no money for garbage cans or picnic tables, even if there are no fences to keep people from exploring and possibly hurting themselves, keep it open. 
It would be nice to have a paved parking lot with a picnic area, some room for art and interaction, at least a sign and perhaps an information panel about the intertidal zone. In terms of more ambitious projects, I would welcome some kind of development that encourages access — a chip truck or cafe, a condominium or concert centre — the main point is that this is public space. 
I have heard from people how they (or their parents) used to come to the beach regularly for a picnic and swim — even with the rocks and seaweed and tides and Fundy temperatures! Historically it has been public space, currently it is public space, so please let’s ensure that it remains public space in the future.

KM 3. When you think about the potential benefits of Tin Can beach, do you also think there is there a void or lack of those benefits in Saint John at the moment? Tell me about what’s lacking, and how Tin Can beach can fulfil those needs.

Tin Can Beach is a diverse environment – a wild space – in the South End Peninsula. This is the only access to the sea in the inner city (as opposed to the inner harbour area; I love Harbour Passage but there are no beaches, tide pools etc). The west side has Bayshore, the east side has Red Head and Mispec. For people in the South End – possibly the only place in Saint John where you can live happily without a car – Tin Can Beach is a respite, a playground, a place to explore and learn and wonder. And at low tide, there is actually a beach!

KM 4. Can you also tell me about your thoughts on the following article about Tin Can Beach: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-s-tin-can-beach-to-be-cut-off-to-public-1.2447638
 
Re the article you linked, I read it in the context of this follow-up piece: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-attempts-to-clear-route-to-tin-can-beach-1.2448858 – which indicates in a non-specific way that 
I attended the launch of the UNBSJ student study (http://blogs.unb.ca/newsroom/2013/11/04/students-see-potential-in-tin-can-beach/), and I know that ACAP is looking at an initiative to create an ecological buffer along the public access to Tin Can Beach (http://www.acapsj.org/initiatives/2014/3/12/tin-can-beach). According to a recent news story (http://www.country94.ca/news/tin-can-beach-getting-some-love) ACAP will begin to plant trees there in July “provided proper permissions are granted”… but of course you will have already researched this.
What I see, and would like to see, is the following: 

  • according to Mayor Mel Norton, the land rights of Tin Can Beach belong to the Port of Saint John, CN Rail, and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan, not to the city of Saint John
  • CN Rail has removed the old tracks (you’ll see these in one of the photos I have posted in my Tin Can Beach gallery: https://tincanbeach.wordpress.com/why-tin-can-beach/#jp-carousel-1315) and built a road; rail ties are piled at the side but as yet the work to lay the ties and rails hasn’t yet taken place
  • from personal observations and conversations I have had with area residents, Tin Can Beach is frequently visited and appreciated by area residents.
  • judging from news reports, the announcement of the beach being blocked off by a rail line met with public outcry and surge in interest in Tin Can Beach
  • there is an opportunity here for community organizations like ACAP to take the lead and rally citizens to show support and create a campaign to either retain the traditional right of way to the beach from the foot of Sydney Street, or ask the city to enable/develop alternative access through the former sugar refinery lands.
  • political support and citizen interest will raise awareness and give the city enough leverage to start discussions with the Port, CN Rail, and Potash Corp, develop a plan, commit a budget, etc
  • in the meantime, I hope that local residents continue to visit and use the beach and talk about it with their neighbours and city councillors
  • and I also hope that CN Rail & Potash Corp put the rail line on the back burner for now; or at least consider how they could make a public access/rail crossing as a gesture of neighbourliness and to demonstrate that they are community minded.
  • and then… see my previous thoughts on how we could use the space!

 

I do hope that this interest in Tin Can Beach results in the space being used, being cleaned up, and remaining accessible to the public. So I welcome your conversation – on this space, on your space – on the importance of public space.

BTW, the article appeared in Here magazine, with some inaccuracies. Oh well.

sandy stretch 1

sandy stretch of Tin Can Beach at low tide

sidetracked

railway tracks, dandelions

I’ve taken a few weeks off. I haven’t been writing, and for a while I wasn’t even taking any photos. When my short-term job finished at the end of April, my daily schedule dissolved into mush.

And it strikes me that — as much as I like newness and adventure — I need a daily rhythm to ground me. In musical terms, I could improvise to my heart’s content, but without a steady beat to act as counterpoint, creativity becomes chaos. And chaos is confusion, quicksand, energy-sucking distraction.

My partner has started a short-term job, and I needed to clear my desk to make room for her laptop. The dining room table is now covered with the non-essential  papers and peripherals that were cluttering my desk. And I discovered my missing lens cap. And I’ve discovered that I like the look of the desk with just a computer and keyboard, a lamp, a storage drive or two. I like the way it looks clean and non-distracting. It helps me to see where I’m going, to remind me of the tasks I have set for the day, and the long-term goals that will keep me from getting too sidetracked.

And I know I will get sidetracked. It always happens. There be dragons, sloughs of despond and other obstacles along the way. As Ferron sings in “Ain’t Life a Brook”: “Life don’t clickety-clack down a straight-line track, it comes together and it comes apart.”

And then it comes together. Confusion gives way to clarity. Something clicks, and a new adventure begins. And I pick up the camera, and new images inspire new words, and here I am, on track: ready to begin again.

say it’s not the end

after the rain
Of all days, if there ever was a time to feel sorrow, this is it. The most sombre day in the Christian calendar, Good Friday, this is the day we realize the depth of our failure as a human race.

We have failed to protect our environment, and our children. We have failed to be at peace with our neighbours, and to share our wealth and our food. We have failed to grow, to learn, to stretch, to reach our potential, to live a full life. We have failed to count to 10, to let well enough alone. We have failed to learn the lessons of our past, and to prepare for the future. We have failed to see, to hear, and to speak.

Those of us who attended church today heard a story of betrayal and pain, manipulation and meanness, taunting and tragedy. The thought that the ruthless and jealous and narrow-minded and prejudiced could win (and do win still) is maddening. I feel a surge of rage, a deep well of anger and sorrow stirring within me when I hear this story, because there are so many other stories that happen in the world around me that end (or seem to end) in frustration and weeping. It’s the earthquake in Haiti and the oil spill in Louisiana and the tsunami in Japan. It’s war and poverty and greed. It’s unfair.

And I am implicated. I am in the wrong just as often, or as easily, as I sit in the wings and gnash my teeth. Perhaps the worst agony is knowing that I’m powerless. Or knowing that I would also run away. Like Peter, not wanting to be seen, but unable to turn away. Not wanting to be tarred with the same brush, fleeing the accusing voice, the cowardice in my own heart.

And so the cock crows. The bell tolls. The darkness falls, and we are left alone with our fear and our failure.

[this is not how I want the story to end. so let it continue. let us continue to hope.]

Photo taken April 17, 2011

taste this

taste this

It’s that first whiff as a wave of wood smoke wafts by your nose. It’s the lawn chairs pulled out from the back of the garage, now waiting on the patio. It’s the surprising warmth of the sun in the late afternoon. It’s the pile of brush heaped into the portable firepit, spitting sparks and sinking into coals and ash. It’s all of this that draws me outdoors, out into the fresh spring air.

That’s when the bag of marshmallows emerges, and last summer’s marshmallow sticks are pulled from their hiding place. The stick ends are whittled clean, and the familiar ritual begins. Bundled against the chilling breeze, we lean into the warmth of the fire as we meditatively twirl our marshmallows over the hot coals. Smoke tendrils spiral upwards as the white-coated sweets turn brown and pocked with heat. I lift the perfectly toasted marshmallow to my mouth. Mmm.

Photo taken on April 10, 2011

nosy neighbours

nosy neighbours

I’ve been walking to work lately, most days. I take the neighbourhood route, avoiding the busy road until the winding residential streets run out. I walk in the cool of the morning, on the sunny side of the street, past quiet houses, and listen to the birds sing. Sometimes I see other people out walking their dogs, or jogging.

I arrive at work, where the spot I used to park has been taken over by roofers, and the rest of the parking lot has been removed by the construction crew working on a large building project. We are surrounded by drilling, thumping, hammering, blasting, and digging. Sometimes we can hardly get out the door for the cement trucks, dumptrucks or other heavy equipment moving in and out of the construction site. Yet people still manage to arrive, anyway, for art classes and gallery openings, workshops and meetings.

Then I walk home again, and when I reach the quiet streets of my neighbourhood, I see kids playing in backyards and cars pulling into driveways. And people are out walking dogs and jogging. And sometimes these two yappy dogs are out in their front yard, watching, ready to scold or gossip or at least make a lot of noise as I walk past, smiling.

Photo taken on March 31, 2011

spring has sprung

spring has sprung

I’ve been waiting for this, for the tiny patch of purple here, the splash of golden yellow there, for the crocus and scilla and hyacinth, the johnny jump-up and colt’s foot, the first flowers of spring.

It’s not easy to find flowers in our neighbourhood, as the deer have been brazen, nibbling the tender new growth as soon as it emerges. There are hoofprints in our flower beds at the front of the house, and signs that the deer have been leaping the fence to empty our bird feeder at the back. Some people put human hair around their tender plants to discourage deer, and others cover their beds with tangles of wire and fencing. Many people seem to have given up; they have no flowers at all.

We, on the other hand, are planning a bountiful crop of flowers, herbs and vegetables. My partner has been poring over seed catalogues and garden advice for months, charting hours of sunlight and drawing beds and borders. We have tiny kohlrabi and calendula seedlings up already, with many more expected to follow soon. And, yes, plants die, they fall prey to fungus and pests, drought and deer, but — this is my philosophy — if you plant generously, there will be enough for the pests, the deer, and you. And perhaps you will discover a patch of carrots miraculously untouched by worms, or a basketful of beans, or a pocket of perfect golden flowers to make you stop, and smile, and marvel at the persistence and bounty of life.

Photo taken on April 3, 2011