David Phillips

A Walk on the Edge
by David Phillips

I didn’t see much ice before I moved to Prince Edward Island. The only other time I had seen this much frozen water was during a winter trip to Hamburg when I was a kid. The frozen harbour seemed unnatural to me, that the water could be stilled. Growing up in Cornwall in the southwest of England, I only knew a moving sea. I was confronted by a similar shock when I took my walk on the edge to Victoria Park in Charlottetown last February.

The storm had calmed a little and I ventured downtown to enjoy the snow. The last time I saw the sea I was on the north coast of the island back on Thanksgiving. I didn’t expect to see red sand, what with the snow, but the stark landscape was still surprising. I couldn’t see the sun, so I was unaware of how close to night it was when I arrived. Beyond the city lights the park appeared desaturated and covered in a blue film.

to dusk

As a crow to dusk
The light retreats,
Shore’s bound’ry fades.
Gold tresses reach
To frozen waste.
Crippled harbour
A broken plain,
The steely creek
All that remains.

On the beaches I knew, the boundary of the sea always shifted with the tides. At low tide you could see the shadow of where the furthest waves reached. At high tide the edge is more pronounced, but the sea was still in motion. Now there were no waves, just a white expanse, blurred by the snow filling my vision. Still, at the edge of the boardwalk the boundary was defined as the rocky border jutted through the whiteness around. Were I more reckless I could have walked out onto the ice, but I haven’t read many stories about someone walking out onto ice that they weren’t sure was fully frozen, let alone where they had a great time and didn’t fall in once. So I stuck to the shore for now.

Untossed Waves

Relentless tide
Ebbs to yield,
Numbed fear abates,
Wrought to the silent field,
This placid sea of untossed waves.

I knew the Northumberland Strait froze, having seen photos of broken ice around the Confederation Bridge, and heard stories of the bitter journeys islanders took walking to the mainland. That knowledge only compounded my awe. With the wind already biting my cheeks and icicles forming in my beard, taking a walk over to Stratford seemed agonising, never mind Nova Scotia. At least I wouldn’t have to pay the bridge toll.

After struggling to read some educational signs about the Prince Edward Battery through heavy snow, I appreciated the view and the endless ice became tranquil. But for a few brave dog walkers and braver dogs I was alone. I still missed the sound of the waves, though the silence of falling snow is similarly calming. The winds slowed and the sun set, painting the white a rich blue. Turning back to Charlottetown was a struggle, but my stomach led me home. The city seemed distant and unfamiliar, the bright yellow lights contrasted with the unlit skies and strait, and I found myself looking back from the edge.

On From the Edge

I wish I could say I dipped my feet,
’Stead I watched on from the edge
In the months since I last met the sea
I wish I could say I dipped my feet
Or dived heels over head,
Swiftly sinking to sea bed.
I wish I could say I dip my feet,
But I watch on from the edge.