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testing Atlantic waters in March

Spring sometimes takes one step forward and two steps backwards…

But this spring’s steps forward and backwards seem more extreme than in the past.   How can I be finding refreshment in the waters of the Atlantic one hot day, and soon afterwards be wondering if I should thaw the water in the birdbath?

The vernal pools in the woods are almost dried up. Unless we receive a lot of rain this spring, we’re going to have a very dry summer as there’s no snow left to melt.

The Cow Bay River in late March 2010 (left) and late March 2012 (right)

The Cow Bay River in late March 2010 at left, and late March 2012 at right

Even the Cow Bay River is looking a bit drier than usual for this time of year.

Under sunny skies on Friday, the waters in the marsh were wild and churning.

On the weekend, they were calm as glass…

So calm, that you can barely tell which of these images is inverted…

March is a time of change, when winter gives way to spring.  The process is never gradual.  But these waters seem more mysterious than ever.

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Perhaps it’s because there are so many foggy days in springtime in Nova Scotia that each blue sky is considered extraordinary.  We can’t take any for granted and each one is a wonder unto itself.

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Reflected in the water, skies here make an impression both above and below the horizon line.  Some days, the blue is mixed with grey, some days with pink.

The sky is one whole, the water another; and between those two infinities the soul of man is in loneliness.
~ Henryk Sienkiewicz

Right after taking the above photograph at dawn, I saw a young couple still in graduation dance attire drive by.   Going to the beach at dawn to see the sun rise seemed like a fitting end to an already memorable day.

We all see something different when we look at the sky, projecting onto it our feelings of either loneliness, sadness, joy or contentment.  Some of us look to the sky and dream hopeful dreams while others feel the weight of regrets and mourn past losses.   Regardless of the land-, sea- or sky-scape, nothing matters as much as our point of view.

The soul can split the sky in two and let the face of God shine through.

~ Edna St.Vincent Millay

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Like a golden eye, the sun rises above the horizon.  Summer is still almost a month away, but already the warm sunshine is drawing crowds to the beach to bask in its glow at midday.   Victoria Day traffic near Rainbow Haven Provincial Park was crazy enough.  What will it be like by Canada Day? 

Places where the sea meets the sky refresh the spirit and provide an escape from the worries of the world.  The appeal is universal.  Some of us just prefer to avoid the crowds and take our refreshment earlier in the day than others. 

Whether on the sea, a lake or in the marsh, sparkling waters make it easy to forget the busy world that’s left behind.  The sound of waves lapping on the shore quenches our thirst for calm.

Last year, summer in Nova Scotia was dismal and short.  Could this year’s beautiful spring be a promise of a splendid summer ahead?  For now, it’s enough to enjoy the days just one by one, making the most of each opportunity to feel the warmth of the sun on one’s face and happily squint one’s eyes while gazing at sparkling waters.

There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart.
~ Celia Thaxter

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Beyond Nova Scotia’s ocean shore lies the world of inner space.  This marvelous world is seen by few except divers, who brave our cold waters for just a glimpse of its wildlife inhabitants.  The rest of us only see evidence of undersea life when it is washed ashore or edible forms appear on our dinnerplate.  Yet, how far these experiences remove us from the pulse of life beneath the surface of the waves.

The best way to observe a fish is to become a fish.

~ Jacques Cousteau

The spiny sculpin, shown at top, is an odd-looking fish that can survive out of water for hours at a time as long as it stays wet.  Another bottom dweller is the flounder shown below.  Amazingly, one of the flounder’s eyes gradually drifts from one side of its body to the other.  The body of the fish eventually turns on its side, where both of its eyes come to rest on ‘top.’ 

 

Crustaceans, such as this spider crab, are also found on the sea floor, scavenging for food.

Hermit crabs search the sea floor for empty shells that they may use to protect their vulnerable bodies from predators.  They don’t possess the hard exoskeleton common to most true crabs.

The seafood section in Nova Scotia’s grocery stores often hold live lobsters in a tank.  The trapped  lobster, shown above, seems destined for such a place.  Like many crustaceans, it possesses the magical ability to regrow its asymmetrical claws.

Among the most attractive creatures to be found off our coasts are the carnivorous sea anemones, which look deceptively like plants.  

 

Many thanks to Wayne Joy and my son Simon Bell for granting permission to share these beautiful photos taken on a recent dive.  Both Wayne and Simon are members of the Shearwater Scuba Club.

Images copyright Wayne T. Joy / Simon Bell.

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Hearing loud splashes in the deeper waters of the marsh is not unusual.  Fish are frequently active at the water’s surface and birds such as cormorants and ospreys will often dive under in search of food.  But this morning’s splash was much louder than usual and the surrounding ripples revealed that the diver was indeed quite large.

For several minutes, my eyes darted across the grey water, looking to see what would surface.  Once the creature emerged, I was not disappointed.  It was a harbor seal.

This is the first time I’ve seen a seal in the salt marsh.  Apparently it’s not uncommon for harbor seals to follow fish inland during high tide.  They’ll also feed on clams and crabs which are plentiful in the marsh.

The winter before last I managed to see a seal on the iced inlet behind Rainbow Haven Beach.  It was the first time I’d seen a live seal.  

Harbor seal behind Rainbow Haven - January 2009

Whether in the water or on the shore, harbor seals blend in very well with their surroundings.  I almost tripped on a dead one at Martinique Beach a couple of summers ago.  It was perfectly camouflaged among the rocks.  I wonder how many live ones have watched me over the years as I’ve walked along the shore, absorbed in thought.  Wildlife is all around us, whether or not we have the eyes to see.

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As a child I often got into trouble for playing in the streams of water that appeared in springtime in the lane next to our home.  I loved re-directing the rivulets, making dams and watching sticks being carried along the stream’s path. 

However, as an adult, I’ve repeatedly told little ones to stop playing in the ditches that separate properties from the road throughout the Cow Bay area. Springtime waters are a magnet for young explorers. 

Ditches fill with snow in winter, are dry in summer, and usually hold streams of water in spring and fall when there is more rain.  It’s always a nice surprise to catch a glimpse of ducks swimming in them.

Not far from my home, the Cow Bay River always seems to attract more activity in springtime when rains and melting snow increase the water level.  Gaspereau fish attract the attention of both Ospreys and fishermen at some point during the spring as well.

The Cow Bay River empties into the watershed area behind Silver Sands Beach where it eventually meets up with the waters of the Atlantic.

I’ve panned for gold along the river, as have others over the years.  I didn’t discover any gold, but did share a wonderful afternoon with a friend in a peaceful outdoor setting.

You don’t have to play in spring streams up to your knees in order to enjoy the waters of March.  Just the sound of running water and the sight of sunlight sparkles on its surface can do wonders to enhance a walk in the woods or the neighborhood in springtime.

And the riverbank talks
Of the waters of March
It’s the promise of life
In your heart, in your heart.

~ Antonios Carlos Jobim

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