when time stands still

Why are we fascinated by desert islands? I know it’s a popular writers’ theme, allowing for a wide variety of plot twists and outcomes, from good (“Treasure Island”) and bad (“Lord of the Flies”) to silly (“Gilligan’s Island”) and bizarre (“Lost”). But I’m sure the desert island appeal goes deeper than the role of adventure playground. Desert islands also turn up in personality profile questionnaires, such as “what would you like to have with you on a desert island?” Perhaps this hints closer to the truth.

How many of us have stood on a beach, mesmerized by the ceaseless motion of the waves, and felt that time is standing still? Imagine being on a tropical beach with no abrupt change of seasons to remind you of the passing of time. And if you suspend time and live only from day to day, enjoying each moment as it happens — and of course have your basic physical needs provided — then you would have no worries, no stress. It’s an attractive fantasy, as old as the Garden of Eden. But I think the old TV show “Fantasy Island” had it right: you can dream for a while, to be refreshed and learn something important about yourself, but then it’s time to wake up, to leave the island and make the most of your life.

Taken on April 29, 2010

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the house on the bluff

Living here, perched on the edge of the bluff, you can watch the sea coming and going all day. You can watch the container ships, the tankers, the fishing boats and cruise ships following the tide in and out of the harbour. You can watch the harbour seals and porpoises, the gulls and eagles trolling the shallow shores. You can watch everything that moves all the way to Nova Scotia on fine days, but on foggy days you might not even see the beach. And every kind of weather, be it rain or sun, snow or storm, will beat against your windows. And as the tide rises and falls and marks the rhythm of the days and seasons, you will be always be there, watching.

Taken on April 29, 2010

home of the Marco Polo

Imagine what this narrow bay at the mouth of Marsh Creek would have looked like 150 years ago. Imagine away the train tracks, the smoke stacks, the silt. Imagine the golden age of sail, a sea of masts, a tide of longshoremen. Imagine long piers, and the rough bones of new ships being built, one rib at a time. Imagine the Marco Polo, launched on the 17th of April, 1851 from the yard of James Smith at Marsh Creek. She was a clipper, with stout planking of tamarack, pitch pine, and oak and three tall masts. She was the biggest ship the yard had built, and when she was launched, she got stuck in the mud for two weeks. Imagine this ship, free to ply her trade across the seas, sailing across the North Atlantic to Liverpool, England in just fifteen days. She was the first ship to circumnavigate the world in less than six months, travelling from Liverpool to Melbourne, Australia, and back in 5 months and 24 days in 1852. She was the fastest ship in the world. And she was built right here.

Taken on July 12, 2010

weir at low tide

In the Maritimes, we’ve become used to hearing about fisheries quotas, disappearing species, the threat to livelihoods that depend upon the sea. A warm dry July has even brought a (temporary) end to salmon fishing in New Brunswick, as the fish need to stay cool in the deep pools, and they may overheat if harrassed and driven to shallower water. Of course it’s not as bad for us as for Newfoundlanders, who lost 90% of their livelihood when the bottom fell out of the cod fishery. But there are reminders all around us of how vibrant the fishing industry used to be here. This weir, its net bedraggled on the rocky shoreline, is one example of a rich resource people used to take for granted. No more.

Taken on May 31, 2009

potash train among the daisies

I love the way the orange train lights up against the blue sky. I love the way the daisies decorate the hill above the train tracks. I love the way Marsh Creek carves channels through the silt that you only see at low tide. I love the view across Courtney Bay in the morning, the sun bright on the water, the fresh day just beginning.

Taken on July 12, 2010

Mispec harbour at low tide

Mispec is at the edge of Saint John’s coastal boundary. Fishing boats head out on the tide from the mouth of the Mispec River. There are much bigger boats waiting offshore from the neighbouring LNG and Canaport terminals where they will unload natural gas and crude oil. And just around this headland is one of the city’s few seaside beaches, a popular destination in summertime. The sea is a great provider, a destination for work and play, a source of destruction and beauty, a mysterious stranger always on our doorstep, calling.

Taken on May 30, 2010

Tin Can Beach – high tide, low tide

The south end of Saint John is a peninsula. It separates the deep-water harbour — the mouth of the mighty St. John River where container ships and cruise ships dock — from Courtney Bay, where Marsh Creek flows out to sea. At the point of the peninsula, tucked between the barracks and the former site of the Lantic Sugar Refinery, is a small rocky beach. The remains of wooden piers still stand where fishing boats once docked. At low tide, you can walk past the jagged rocks and low forests of seaweed, and find a smooth sandy beach. And then you realize, standing on that beach, with the sea water lapping at your feet, that your head is under the high water mark. Breathe deeply. You are standing on the ocean floor.

Taken on May 31, 2009 & July 11, 2009