On Monday in Halifax I finally noticed the first sign of spring, albeit not one of the more pleasant ones. The cityscape was as drear as Dickension London – drab grey sky and tree-line. The remains of snowbanks along the edge of the curbs were undermined and shrinking and were the colour of those little piles of dust and dirt that collect in the deepest corners or cracks of the floorboards in heritage homes; a scary dark grey-brown colour. Straw-coloured dead grass covered the banks which surrounded the Citadel and the trees all bare and gloomy except for one small row of young deciduous with their dead brown leaves still clinging tenaciously to the branches. The siding on the north side of houses was badly mildewed and the scattered Christmas wreaths still hung on the front doors (really folks, it’s almost Easter) looked no better than the forgotten ones tossed over the graveyard fence into the woods several years ago. Most noticable though was a distinct perfume: the aroma of composting grass and dog poop. If that wasn’t a sure sign of early spring, the city would have been a very discouraging place to be.
The weather had been so warm the day before, that I dug into my tickle trunk for my hiking costume (old green canvas barn coat and rubber boots) and went out to the shoreline to actually look for signs of spring. They were not easy to come by. Other than the temperature, the only sign that spring might be imminent was that the shore ice was all gone from the bay. What snow remained was back in the shaded parts of the woods. Against a background of drear, the patches of snow were bright white flecked with the dirt of tree bark and dead lichen. Unlike city snow-dirt you could still identify the life-form from which it was shed.
What I noticed more than the signs of spring were the ravages of the winter past. There seemed to be more than the usual erosion this year and in one place it had completely taken out the trail. I had to walk much further back from the shore to a newly formed path which was growing out of an old deer trail through the low ground-cover.
The path was very slippery with mud in the boggy places and I often had to step off and walk on the blackberry bushes – the ground was still frozen hard underneath. We called them blackberry in Newfoundland but here in Nova Scotia they are referred to as crowberry. The small black berries are edible in that they are not poisonous but they are entirely uninteresting in flavour. These bushes were dead; a deep rusty red like old blood, but they still gave up their unique perfume when crushed underfoot. I liken it to a cross between the fragrances of pine, juniper, and rosemary; strong enough to carry over the water to your boat when the wind was offshore. The smell of blackberry bushes is the only smell, other than that of bilge-water, which makes me homesick; it goes right to my limbic system and makes me long for hot summer days on Eskimo Point picking bluebells.
There must have been some crazy wave action over the winter as the beach on the far side of Shag Head had totally changed character. The smooth round (and not so light) beachrocks were thrown right up on the grassy bank and now there was a wide stretch of clean beige sand where there had only been a square yard or two before.
Most of the usual flotsam was thrown even futher up into the wild rosebushes, well past the high tide mark. I am always amazed at the force of waves and how over the course of a day they can totally reshape a shoreline. Reminds me of my favourite E.J. Pratt poem:
It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features of this cliff,
In crag and scarp and base.
It took the sea an hour one night,
An hour of storm to place
The sculpture of these granite seams
Upon a woman’s face.
Despite the niceness of the day, the ocean still looked very cold and uninviting and, unusual for me, I had no desire to be out there in a boat. But the air was warm enough to make me want to open my coat and stuff my wool scarf into my pocket. If spring was nowhere else, it was in the air.