A Walk on the Edge – Tristan Atkins

A Walk on the Edge 

Tristan Atkins 

As I begin my walk along Stratford’s Bellevue Cove, I look back on all my memories and experiences of “the edge”.  I am one of many who’ve been afforded the opportunity to live my life on an island, however, is it not as paradisical as one might think. 

As a child, I spent much of my time on the edge of our island, building castles on the sand bars; as the tide went out, so did the edge, giving me more area to explore, & more places to play.  But even then I knew that eventually the tide would return, and all this space that I’ve gained will be taken back by the ocean.  As I grew older, I found new ways to explore the edge and go even further; I decided that if the high tide will eventually take away my sandy playground, that I would find a way to make the ocean itself my playground.  Nowadays, I spend my time literally on the edge, in my kayak or paddleboard, I’m able to not only explore the edge, but map it and slowly test its boundaries.  Each time out, I try to push the boundaries of where I can go and what I can see.  After all, despite some of us having a deep connection to the water that surrounds us, for many islanders, the ocean represents not only the edge of their island, but the edge of possibility.   

Right now, however, as I make my way outwards, I am not able to jump from sand bar to sand bar as I did when I was a child, nor am I able to take the time to peak into the little pools that form between them in an attempt to find any fish or hermit crabs that may have been left behind.  Instead, I’m walking along a frozen wasteland, and will be on thin ice if I go out further (perhaps only figuratively). For as the winter comes, and the ice builds up along our shore, the edge of our island is also pushed back.  Some try to deny it, remaining in their shore front houses all the way into the dead of winter.  Others accept it, deciding to creep inland in an attempt to forget that they were ever islanders to begin with, only until the first spring thaw comes, and the remnants of our beautiful red-sand beaches begin to show themselves again.  Myself however, I’m stuck somewhere in between. 

I find my thoughts beginning to drift inland, 20 minutes away, to a small river in the next community over.  In late April, as the temperature warms but the oceans are still much too cold to risk exploring in my small vessel, I find refuge among the grasses and trees that line the river.  I share a sense of solidarity with the birds & frogs, finally able to sing after months of silence.  Although exploring this river requires me to “downgrade” from my typical touring kayak to a more recreational boat, and although my playground is not the same, I find myself in Johnson’s River every April & May, and for me it represents the first step in my journey back to the edge.  

As I write this however, it’s still only early February, and those days are far away. Nonetheless, I can’t wait until they come to pass, so I can finally continue to explore the edge of my island the only way I know how.  By the time June comes around every year, I can barely hold in my excitement.  Being able to explore the shores of our island once again, enjoy the thrill of knowing that I’m pushing the limits of where I should be able to go, and laughing in the faces of those stuck on the shore.  When this time finally comes, after months of being held back by the threats uttered at me by the cold desert which has overtaken the outskirts of my island, I can finally, once again, walk the tight rope hanging between our island and the rest of the world.  In full defiance of nature, one step (or paddle) at a time, I begin to move forward, exploring a world which I dread I would never have been able to experience, had I grown up somewhere else. 

As I turn back from my walk, amidst all the thoughts of longing and excitement, I also feel the dismay and trepidation that comes with knowing that eventually, I will be pushed back from the edge once again.  For a final time, my mind travels back through history and ahead into the future at the same time… to Autumn, as temperatures here once again start decreasing, and my window of opportunity is almost shut.  With the coming of the Fall season comes my last expedition of the year.  There is a certain amount of both fear and excitement in knowing that your days of blatantly disregarding the pull by nature and society to stay off the edge are finally over.  From this fear and excitement comes passion – a passion for continuing to walk the edge, a passion for exploring my limits as a human, and a passion for understanding what outlines my sense of self as an islander.  

As I finish my walk and begin to unlock my car, I take one last look at “the edge”, I feel everything at once and nothing at all.  I know I’ll be back; I know the boundaries of our island will change, and I know the boundaries of our society and world will change with it.  But no matter how much it changes, and no matter how much it stays the same, I know… 

I will be there, walking the edge.