Walking on the Edge
I have always been inspired by water, often finding my deepest moments of peace when confronted with horizons of blue, pink and orange hues reflecting off ocean swells along the coasts of my home province of Nova Scotia.
Having grown up on the east coast, I spent much of my time with the ocean. As a visual artist, the ocean has also been a major subject featured in my work as I became infatuated with its tendency to transport me to far-reaching physical and metaphorical spaces. Now living on an island, my ocean walks come with additional awareness when standing at the water’s edge. I rely on a new sense to guide me, an ‘island sense’.
On the drive towards my destination, clouds move overhead, in and out. Uncertain as to what I will encounter on the North Shore, my photographer’s brain silently wishes for better light to appear. As clouds roll over I release any expectations and opt to drive down the Gulf Shore Parkway. To my delight, the skies seem to open up instantly, revealing blue and gold light. I can barely keep my eyes on the road as I pass several beach fronts, deciding to drive to the end where I suspect safer walking conditions.
I anticipate my arrival. Craving the smell of the air, the sound of the water, the movement on the horizon, and the colours reflecting off the surface. I dream of the rolling foam, like frothed milk gathered along the shoreline, bubbling and melting into smooth wet sand. I hold many memories of this summer scene in my mind, having spent my entire life vacationing and visiting family in Prince Edward Island.
However, today the ice had suspended much of the movement, and the red sands are white with snow. This isn’t what the average tourist imagines for an island beach destination. They’ll be back once the icicles have thawed and lupins are in full bloom again. For now, it’s just me, revelling in the solitude and variety of nature’s offerings. The ocean breeze challenges me to embrace the January chill against my rosy cheeks, to blink watery eyes and ignore the numbing of my fingers and toes. The majesty of the sea and howling winds call loudly enough to silence my physical discomfort. The rush of adrenaline overrides my emotional apathy. I begin to walk.
No waves or swells today, just a gentle rocking of broken ice sheets, like a fleet of tiny boats coming in to shore. The ice creaks and moans as the wind swirls. The ice crusted earth crunches gently beneath my boots as I hop out and carefully make my way onto the frozen beach, analysing the ground before me with each timid step. Red sand peaks out here and there along the shore. The rippled, crystallized surface sparkles in the sun and I reach for my camera to capture my first shot.
To my left is a bubbling brook which streams into the ocean, slowly sculpting the ice to form a single opening between large ice structures stacked along the shoreline, a barrier between land and sea.
Inching along to the very edge, on top of thick packed ice creates both a sense of vulnerability (acknowledging that I could break through into freezing water at any moment) and resilience, in that I feel safe with layers of frosty padding between my feet and the water. On top of that, I feel somewhat invincible with the slight threat of danger and surreal quality of the landscape. “This is not the first time walking along a slippery coastline on a winter’s day at the beach,” I say to myself. Confidence boosting, my steps quicken as I continue on, camera in hand and eyes hungry.
Over the course of my two-hour expedition, the sun’s golden glow fades to a dim pastel wash of blue and pink. The last of the light reflects against the now-melting floating ice flats, before being absorbed into the ocean water. Shadows loom larger off the cliff edges, and the coastal magic becomes shrouded in darkness. As I take my last photograph of the evening, I relish in the refreshing winter air. The wind pushes my hair off my shoulders to expose my face and suddenly I find it easier to breathe. I am acutely aware in this moment of the space within and outside of my body. ‘Boundedness’ and ‘isolation’ do not describe this island coastal experience, despite the exposure to the elements, and understanding of island geography. My sense of ‘connectedness’ heightens, and another release of endorphins carries me away to begin the journey back home. On my way to the car, I pass by the first signs of human activity: an elderly couple walking along the edge of the road. They smile silently at me as we cross paths before returning, hand in hand, to gaze out at the view, soaking up the dark blue water as waves begin to form. They, too, are immersed in the quiet beauty offered up by an island in the off-season, finding safety and comfort on this dark, icy, empty island road. As I depart and the scene darkens even more, I wonder if they will turn to their ‘island senses’ to guide them home.