Friday, January 1, 2010
York Redoubt, Halifax, NS
We arrived at the fort and parked the car. The journey there had been a good one, escaping from the house and heading out of the city along a winding road that took us passed Purcells Cove, lakes, cottages and schools. The air had a crispness to it that hinted at snow and every now and then, a couple of flakes would fall lazily from the sky above. There seemed to be a lot of walkers out today, mostly older couples who were enjoying the first day of the year, people out with their dogs, letting them burn some energy. We locked the car, and walked through the entrance to York Redoubt. The fort had been in use since the 1800s and there were plenty of buildings and earthworks to see. Inside the fort felt like being in a crater. The high banked walls contrasting with the depression that we found ourselves in. Five large cannons stood silently pointing to the sea, cannons that last made themselves heard in a long distant time. We climbed up the steps of one of the banks to absorb the view of the ocean that lay far beneath. It didn't really feel as though we were so high up, but the difference was clear as soon as we looked over the edge. We walked along, talking about the way of life, the kind of people that lived and worked there, what they valued, what they did. Both of us were born in the wrong era. The Victorian days would have suited us more. I think that there would have been a far greater sense of fulfillment, life satisfaction and that instead of taking things for granted, that as life would be harder, it would also feel more like it had been earned. Imagine how the food would have tasted for a soldier about to leave for war, not knowing if he would see his family again. Imagine his children, his wife, working hard and being thankful for every simple meal that they had together. Hands knarled and calloused with labour. Coming home from a hard day and falling asleep in a simple bed with no furnace, no internet, no television. A life more simple, harder, but satisfying. Our tour of the fort itself was nearing its end, we looked hungrily at the ocean below, and the winding near invisible trail leading down to it. The going was steep and snow had begun to fall, covering the rocks and earth with traces of white. Both of us nearly slipped, the footholds icy and occasionally difficult to identify. Cautiously we descended down towards a track which we could see below us, holding on to tree branches, and stepping slowly with bent knees as we neared the road. There were pockets of water and ice that were forming beautiful patterns as the water seeped down the path we were taking, sculptured into the earth itself and enveloping small twigs, lichen and leaves into its frozen smooth surface. We got to the road, and climbed over a small barrier which separated the ridge from the road. Once on the road, we looked in both directions, left, then right, to see what would interest us, and attract us to see more. We have that in common, a sense of adventure, an interest in discovery, in finding new places. Left and right seemed to offer little, we looked down, toward the ocean, and were drawn to it. We found another little used trail that lay hidden among the trees and followed it. The snow was beginning to fall faster, a flurry which had the potential to become something more. Leaves covered the ground here, leaves that were fast being obscured with snow. We nearly slipped a couple of times as we continued downwards, the slope steep and stimulating. About fifteen metres below us, we could see a gravel pathed trail and we headed towards it eagerly. Pushing back branches and driving through thorned bushes we reached the trail. It was beautifully quiet, a light breeze swept through on occasion and the snow would drift up from where it had settled. Water could be heard trickling down the slope, forming ice walls and frozen streams, icicles that stretched far enough to touch the earth itself. It was beautiful, a perfect mix of transparent, translucent and opaque. Underneath my feet, through the ice, I could see the water running by, its movement fast and unimpeded. The trail was very pretty and I would love to visit and explore it further another day. Today, we were drawn to the sea, and so crossing the gravel path, we found a set of worn, moss covered steps leading into the trees. We followed the steps downwards, and after a few metres, it opened out into a view of the rocky beach, and a garrison fort at the waters edge. The landscape was rugged, hard and unwelcoming. To get down to the waters edge, we clambered across large rocks, down slippery earth and underneath the boughs of age old trees. Our descent from the fort of York Redoubt, high above us and out of view, had been an adventure in itself. Now we were by the ocean, a place both of us feel a great affinity with, we looked in different directions, out to see, along the coast line, into the dark water, at our feet and between the rocks.
Tiny little shells lay interspersed on the ground, shells white and light in colour, they had been washed lovingly by the currents and sat shining and smooth waiting for someone to pick them up and take them home. We began putting them in pockets to take back with us, going in separate directions along the rocky coast. We took photographs, pictures of each other, of the landscape, the water and the way we had come. It was a wonderful day. Her company was so treasured, and such warmth filled me as I watched her climbing over large rocks and then looking out to the unknown of the ocean. Her hood up and the fur ring and purple scarf near obscuring her face. Only her eyes and nose were visible. She was beautiful. I turned, and with a feeling of child like curiosity had an urge to clamber up the side of a large boulder, covered in ice and with water trickling down its edges. Finding niches in which to grip my gloved fingers, and then searching for hard, dry parts of the rock, I made my way upwards, another ice wall greeted me and I ran my hands along its smooth surface. I continued upwards, a stream was flowing and the water was covering the dark blackness of the rock. A fallen tree lay across it and I made my way too it, the objective of the quest was to lean against it, one foot either side of the trickle of water, and then look out to the ocean. It felt sheltered up there, as if no snow was falling upon me, and no breeze moved the air. I liked it there, looking out to the Atlantic and letting mind drift with the waves that gentled cast their white horses against the shore. Our time there was nearly over, and we checked the time. We had to be back soon and so silently said our farewells to the ocean, and began the ascent back up to the fort. She led the way, picking a path between rocks, between trees, and at steady pace heading back to where we parked the car. Before we reached the gravel trail, a concrete structure appeared from within the trees, overgrown and dark, it encouraged us to step inside. One day, perhaps long ago, this building would have performed a duty, a function, people would have worked there, perhaps slept there, ate there, and talked there. It seemed strangely sad to see the building so changed, the floor was green with moss, the windows empty. It felt like a shell, as if the life had been sucked from it and the walls were all that remained. We stepped inside. A set of steps lead upwards, but the ceiling blocked progress, as if at one time there had been a second storey. The walls had occasional graffiti on them, but didn't have the dark slogans often seen inside abandoned structures. Perhaps few people knew of it, few people had been inside it. After taking a couple of photos, we passed around the walls of the building and back on to the trail. We looked around to search for the best way back up to the fort. She turned right and spotted a trail leading up and back in the direction of York Redoubt. The incline was good, our lungs began to work as we set a rhythm, a pace as feet stepped between the roots of the trees and the occasional frozen puddle. I could feel the muscles in my legs, tense and relax as we progressed. I was really enjoying it, being outdoors, the walking, the new sites, the feeling of being alive in the world. It was the first day of January, 2010, and the world felt quiet, subdued, but wonderfully real. We arrived back at the fort, the grass covered with snow, the car white, windows obscured. We opened the doors, got inside, our coats moist with snow. The return journey to our house was slower, the weather worsened and the snow came with greater intensity. As we came closer to the city of Halifax, my mind drifted, I imagined being back there in the summer, with warm air and cloudless skies, sitting with her under the trees, night starting to fall, a sleeping bag, good books, lying in each others arms, falling asleep to the gentle lap of the waves. Already, writing this I am longing to be back there with her, to share those moments and feel alive.