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.

between dreams and waking

madrugada

Sometimes when I’m on the verge of waking, I linger on the edge of sleep, reluctant to relinquish that moment of possibility between dreaming and consciousness. In this moment, I feel anticipation and hope, I sense that something good might happen when the day begins. The closest word I can find to describe it is “madrugada”, a Spanish word meaning dawn or daybreak, or more literally, the hour before sunrise.

On many mornings, when I open my eyes and wake up, this moment vanishes; routine and responsibility rush in, and I push my dreams aside. But if I wake up early, in that hour (or two) before sunrise, I don’t have to rush into the day. I can sit for a moment and think about my day, my dreams, my desires, my disappointments. In the quiet of this madrugada, I can listen to God and be open to my heart. And I find that if I start the morning with stillness, I am better organized, better prepared, and better balanced as I head into my day.

As I look toward the future (now that I’ve passed the long-anticipated 50th birthday milestone), I realize it is this awareness of each day that is becoming most valuable to me. As much as I enjoy getting “stuff”, acquisition is not my goal; neither is career climbing or travel or fame. None of this will ever give me any satisfaction unless I know who I am, unless I can be whole and at peace in that moment between dreams and waking.

Photo taken on November 4, 2009

construction is a season

construction is a season

I know it’s not spring yet, but look — patches of bare ground have appeared where ice-encrusted snowbanks once ruled, I can see a ring of grass around the maple tree, and, on the sunny side of the street, a sidewalk! This past weekend, the temperature soared to 9 degrees celcius and it rained (other places were not so lucky). We lost two-thirds of our snow. It feels like such a relief.

Along with the warming temperatures, other signs of spring:

  • a sleepy housefly was buzzing and bumbling around the kitchen at work
  • the goldfinches are beginning to yellow up
  • the cat actually wants to go outdoors
  • lost dog toys have suddenly turned up in the backyard, having been there all along

The construction project uptown has moved into a new phase of work, and the excavation for the new parking garage has begun. When I walked by the construction site yesterday, I smelled mud. Mud! Any day now, road crews will be out with fresh asphalt to start filling the huge potholes that plague the city streets.

The construction season has begun. Can spring be far behind?

Photo taken on February 24, 2011

living in a snow globe

living in a snow globe

I was browsing my winter photos the other day, and actually cringed when I found one with the comment, “Yay, the snow is back!” We’ve had so much snow this year, I can hardly believe I felt that way only a few short months ago. At the same time, I’m aware that all this snow will seem as unreal as a dream in another few months.

In the last few days, I’ve been walking around our property, making mental notes:

  • the snow is over the top of the driveway reflectors
  • look how it’s drifted right across the fence
  • it’s higher than the railing on the back stoop
  • the snowbanks along the road are taller than me.

Right now, we’re inside looking out at winter and wishing it will go away. But it will go away, and we’ll be outside looking into our memories, shaking our heads as we say to each other, “Do you remember all that snow we had last winter? It was up to here!”

Photo taken on February 28, 2011

winter, the continuing story

winter at the park 2

That combination of snow and rain on Friday night made for some horrible driving. I agree that the trees look really pretty.

I arrived home safely, but then managed to wedge the car into a snowbank, and with all that ice underneath, all the wheels could do was spin. I was so relieved when my partner remembered the old rug in the garage, and between the two of us, we managed to get it free again.

That high wall of snow and ice chunks left by the snowplow Saturday morning across our shared driveway made me want to cry. I almost cried again when our neighbour’s friend drove up with his plow to clear it.

We bundled up and took the dogs to the park yesterday, but it was so cold I wanted to turn around and go home again. But once we were in the shelter of the trees on the sunny side of the lake, it was warm again, and people were smiling, and the snow sparkled in the sun.

More snow is expected today, and more rain tonight. To be continued.

Photo taken on February 27, 2011

mystery of light

mystery of light

It’s raining today but I don’t want to show the rain. I want to show the black road glistening between white banks still tall from last week’s storm. I want to show the shards of icicles, half buried in the spongy snow. I want to show the chickadee, feathers fluffed against the cold, hopping from branch to branch. I want to show the inner life of the forest, the way the treetops hum and sway in the wind, the sheltered pockets beneath the wide-boughed spruce, the soft fragrance of cedar.

It’s dark today, but I don’t want to show the dark. I want to show the mystery of light.

Photo taken on January 6, 2011