Every time I see a frost-painted window, I’m reminded of the first article I had published, almost 20 years ago. So, I thought I’d repost that article today. It was a rather defensive, nostalgia type piece that was published in our provincial newspaper. I still remember the thrill of seeing the tiny byline that proclaimed me to be “a writer”. :)
I cleaned the prose up a bit a few years ago, but it is basically in its original form. The four-year-old in the article is now 24 with a baby of her own. I was still living in Walton at the time the article was published, and for another 10 years after that. And I still call it home.
The small village of Walton on the western shore of Nova Scotia has been my home for all but a few of my forty-eight years.
Boasting one of the largest deposits of barites in the world, this sleepy, seaside hamlet once hummed with activity. The mining of barites was a multi-million dollar industry that once employed more than 200 workers. The small village grew steadily over the years as new homes were erected to accommodate mine employees.
In the early 1970’s, however, a flood in the mine forced its closure. All but a handful of employees were laid off and made a reluctant exodus. All commercial shipping eventually ceased and Walton underwent a metamorphosis. As families moved away, the population dwindled to the point where even the school closed. The lighthouse that had stood sentinel at the entrance of the harbor for over 100 years suddenly stood in darkness. The village of my childhood was gone.
How I miss it all! Even now, on nights when sleep eludes me, I need only throw open a window, close my eyes and inhale the salty, night air. It all comes rushing back: the resonant clang of a ship’s bell; the rattle of anchor chain; the dull, rhythmical chug of the pilot boat that safely guided ships into port. It is only a memory, yes, and it fades much too quickly into the gentle lap of a receding tide, but for a moment, it is real again.
One forgets, as real estate signs continue to be posted, that although the village now stretches lazily and yawns, it is still a beautiful place in which to live. It is easy to give way to melancholy and to forget why, after several brief absences, I chose to return to Walton. A very poignant reminder was presented to me through the uncluttered vision of my youngest daughter.
On an unusually warm November afternoon, my daughter, Erin, and I went for a walk. As we moved along in silence past the peeling paint of vacant houses and the abandoned wharf, I asked her if she liked living in Walton. Her answer was an immediate, “Yes.” When I asked her why, she explained simply and matter-of-factly, as only a small child can, “Because in the winter, beautiful birds come.” I smiled. She was referring, of course, to the myriad birds that grace our backyards each winter with their sweet song and beautiful plumage. They are a bright spot in an often bleak and harsh winter on the Bay of Fundy.
“What else?” I asked. With an expressive gesture of her arm toward the harbor, she indicated, “The beautiful sea, the beautiful gulls, the beautiful leaves—“ She continued her Beautiful List like Pollyanna and her Glad Game. I squeezed her hand in unspoken agreement and marveled at a child’s ability to see the beauty in everything.
Unbidden, fragments of my own childhood sprang to life as vividly as if it were only yesterday: running along the beach with icy-cold water splashing our tanned legs; ice skating on small ponds and quarries; coasting parties and bonfires; star-gazing on our backs in a sweet field of freshly-mown hay, pondering time and the universe. All melancholy evaporated as quickly as the early morning mist and I was left with a feeling of complete contentment, of knowing that I belong here, and that a seaside village is, indeed, one of the best places in which to grow up.
I had often wondered if we were somehow depriving our children of a chance to expand their horizons that a larger town or city might offer. Yes, metropolitan centers offer opportunities that are undeniably attractive, but I would not trade even one faint childhood memory for the chance of an urban existence.
Instead, I cling to simple things. I take joy in the first peep of the spring frog chorus. I listen to the ponds and fields. I walk the tranquil beaches and savor each sunset that paints its crimson path along the Bay.
And when spruce and pine are bent and groaning under the weight of winter snow and the world is silent and white, I will stand at a frosty window and wait.
For here, every winter, beautiful birds come.