The timing of spring

After almost 3 weeks in Brussels and London (delayed by the ash cloud from the Icelandic volcano), I confess to having mixed feelings about coming home.

That’s because it’s really spring in Brussels. When we got there on April 4, the daffodils were past their peak. Forsythia – great bunches of it growing wild – was everywhere. The cherry trees on the streets were blooming pink, and along the highways were many white-blooming trees and bushes. The trees were just on the edge of leafing out when we left Brussels on April 19th.

Sure looks like daffodils and primula were growing wild on the forest floor in the Belgian Ardennes region, April 2010

Now at home, my daffodils have just started, and they’re early this year. I’d counted on this when we planned the trip: seeing two springs. And I will enjoy my second spring as much as the first.

So what is it about Nova Scotia that makes us put up with this extra month of not-quite-spring? And with the cold winters that would kill the broadleaf evergreens that keep Brussels green all year? That’s what I was asking myself as I went for my walk today.

And of course the answer is: the wildness of it. Nature raw and pure. Everything in Europe has been trod upon, cultivated, dug up and built over many times. There is hardly a river that follows its natural course through riverbanks that it carved itself. Humans have had their way with the land for thousands of years.

And we’re having our way with the land in Nova Scotia too, it’s just that we haven’t been here so long in such numbers. Natural shoreline is gradually diminishing, soils are being depleted, pollution locally-made or imported on the jet stream fills our lungs.

The closeness of the wild world reminds us that we still have something to protect, even while we seek to build a viable economy. Can we effectively, sustainably, balance these two concerns?

Soft sea ice

Ice on rocks near Oak Island
Ice on rocks near Oak Island

I love how the soft sea ice forms, bends and cracks over rocks as the tide recedes.

It was -8° C this morning along the shore of the Bay, and the tide was falling.

Frosty mornings bring ice to sheltered waters

Ice breaks over rocks as the tide recedes
Ice breaks over rocks as the tide recedes

I’m fascinated by the formation of ice and how it interplays with the tides. And it has started again with cold morning temperatures which leave a layer of ice which plays with rocks as the tide goes down. You can hear the cracking as you walk along the shore – just little crick-clicks now, but bigger booms when the ice is thicker.

I made a video called Frosty Morning last year which you can see here.

Ex-hurricane Danny: Weather for ducks

What's down the road?
"OK, boys, we're outta here. Let's check things out down the road." E. Sepulchre photo

These intrepid ducks were not at all shy as my husband herded them out of the garden and back down the road. I bet they’re happy now: it’s pouring rain. Danny was briefly a hurricane but is down to a post-tropical storm that will pass south of Nova Scotia on a similar path to Hurricane Bill. After a beautifully sunny, but cool, week, the gardens will love the rain. But weekend campers are out of luck this time.

It seems to have been a bumper year for ducks.  Near our place, we’re blessed with lots of natural shoreline where they can build nests.  Elsewhere, and where people have the money, they build walls of boulders at the high tide line to shore up their lawns and act as a buffer against erosion.  But those neat and tidy rock walls are bad news for nesting shorebirds.

Of right, privilege and freedom

I woke up this morning with my family aboard a sailboat at a peaceful anchorage in Mahone Bay just a couple of hours sail from home.  And shared my thoughts:  “We are so privileged to be doing this.  Not just having the boat, but to be able to sail where we want and drop the anchor where we deem best, want without paying a toll to anyone, and to enjoy this beautiful scenery so freely.”

Sunset at Covey Island, one of the islands protected by MICA.
Sunset at Covey Island, one of the islands protected by MICA.

The first settlers of Lunenburg must have been in awe at such freedom.  What we now call Germany was at the time an assortment of many principalities of various sizes.  Going down the “highway” of the river Rhine to Rotterdam, where they boarded the ship that would take them across the Atlantic, the emigrants would have been stopped at every border crossing and paid tolls.  Many of them had even needed to secure permission from their feudal lord to leave the land they were bonded to as peasants.  Once they reached Lunenburg in 1753, they must have been very appreciative of the freedom to profit from their own labour and build their future with their own hands.

Even some of the modern-day German immigrants to Nova Scotia that I know have expressed to me their appreciation of the freedom they have here in a society that is less regulated than the one they left behind.

The entire natural coastline of this island has been destroyed and replaced with a rock wall.
The entire natural coastline of this island has been destroyed and replaced with a rock wall.

The Mahone Islands Conservation Association (MICA) works to protect public access to the islands of Mahone Bay, as well as to preserve their natural environment.  The islands are increasingly under pressure by private owners and developers.  Natural shorelines and nesting habitats are disrupted (photo right).  Owners of some islands chase visitors off beaches that have long been used by the general public. (Some have been known to brandish guns in their efforts, something  that Canadians or at least Nova Scotians just don’t do.)

From what I understand, depending on the type of deed, the intertidal zone has legally remained public except in a few cases where water rights were transferred.  In a country where travel by boat was the norm, the right to land on a shore would have been an issue of public safety.  Nowadays, it seems that there is a trend for private property rights to be extended into the intertidal zone –  whether by deed, by custom, by complicity of the authorities or by ignorance by the public, I don’t know.  Enlighten me if you know anything more about this issue, please, by commenting below.

Meanwhile, I take pleasure in seeing the decendants of the original Lunenburg settlers, with names such as Meisner and Ernst,  involved in MICA, perserving public access to the islands of Mahone Bay for future generations of humans and seabirds.

Video: Frosty Morning – Winter Ice on Mahone Bay

Hot off the press: our first Nova Scotia Photo Album video. It won’t be the last!

This one shows how tide and temperature create an ever-changing landscape on Mahone Bay’s shoreline, from first frost to spring breakup.

The music is an Appalachian tune called Frosty Morning, played by Dennis Robinson on fiddle and Heather Holm (that’s me) on accordion.

First time in a canoe this year

We did it because we could. The ice is gone, the tide was high. My son and I dipped the canoe in the ocean and paddled out to a nearby island. He hiked around it and then we paddled back again.

Ashore on a small island near home
Ashore on a small island near home