Friday, February 4, 2011

EXPLORATION: Winter Gloom (part 2)

With the counterfeit promise of an Arctic spring dominating my thoughts, I turned from the old ship and marched back to the car without another glance. If this journey was to have any redemptive value whatsoever, I had to cling to those moments of hope, wherever and however they might be imagined.
Entirely on a whim, I chose to follow the sign at the next intersection and head to Ball's Falls. Why? I have no idea. The only thing a frozen waterfall can do is remind you of what February has taken from you - the sound and spray of the raging rapids - and what is continues to deny you - the chance to hike down to the water's edge and gaze up and the torrent of water above.
On first glance, the 'bowl' of Ball's Falls is just as sad and dreary as you'd expect. All colour has been washed away. There are no trees, no bushes, no flowers, no dirt, and no rocks to be seen - everything is shrouded in white. It's as if February has leached the life out of the scene.
Look closer, though, and something remarkable appears. The cold and snow may be able to disguise the beauty of the waterfall, but they can't destroy it. The top of the waterfall resembles a collage, with a still photo superimposed on the running water. You can see the frozen curtain of the waterfall, a thousand tiny icicles dangling inches away from the reduced, yet still raging water behind them.
Follow the water down, and the picture stops even as your breath does. Three months of cold and snow have sculpted the base of the falls into a layered cake, with three perfect plateaus. Look closely, and you can see the water swirling and cascading atop them, before over the edge and into oblivion.
Look closely, and it's almost alien in its beauty. The raging, bubbling, boiling caldron of icewater is something that looks entirely out of place in the drab, dreary, February landscape.
As the sun begins to set, and we take a step back, there is still beauty to be found in winter. The gloom may be back tomorrow, and will likely persist for another month or two, but there are moments where the veil is drawn aside and something of the real world emerges.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

EXPLORATION: Winter Gloom (part 1)

It was T.S. Eliot who proclaimed April the cruellest month, and I whom proclaim that to be a bold-faced lie. February - dreary and depressing, despite the artificial addition of it's mid-month Hallmark holiday - is well and truly the cruellest month.
The only reason August outranks it for suicides is the fact that February's been cheated of a few days by the calendar.
So, here we sit, huddled against yet another severe cold weather alert, and virtually homebound by yet another blast of snow. Since the snow began to fall back in November, we've literally had fresh snow three out of every four days. As for those all-too-brief glimpses of sun, and those near-mythical moments when the temperature flirted with the plus side of zero, they're just Mother Nature's way of twisting her knife of cruelty.
I have come to loathe every minute of it. The only thing worse than shovelling out the driveway for another slippery drive into work is the thought of being stuck indoors . . . again. To hell with the cold, to hell with the snow, and to hell with the darkness that falls before dinner. Today, I left work with only one goal in mind - to get out.
For no particular reason, I decided to head out on the highway and drive up to Jordan, home of the Niagara Region's only pirate ship. Abandoned since 1997, and a burned out hull since 2003, the rusty old ship still manages to dominate the shoreline.
The first glimpse is one of sorrow. The rusting hulk looks as if it's ready to fall over onto its side, being held up by nothing more than the frozen harbor. The burned out timbers have all rotted and fallen away, denying the ship even the suggestion of it's original 'pirate' glory.
On a clear summer night, with the green-black waves gently lapping againt it's hull, it can still manage to look quite magnificent. Silhouetted by a full moon, wrapped in warm shadows, it looks like a ghost ship, ready to sail. But in the cold, harsh light of a February afternoon, the ships looks pitiful. Encased in ice, with pieces laying torn and broken, it looks like a petulant child's broken toy.
As you skirt the shore, however, the picture changes. Forget the highway behind you, ignore the marina to your right, and step through the brush before you. Take away all the distractions, and you can imagine yourself standing in the Arctic, gazing out at the frozen wreck of a 19th century ship, lost in search of the fabled Northwest passage.
For a moment, the cold and the snow become transformed. It's no longer the cruel burden of another Canadian winter surrounding you. Instead, for so long as the ship remains fixed before you, it's the promise of an Arctic spring. The tantalizing suggestion of a partial thaw, and the hope that she might break free and sail again.