Something in the Water

by Marjorie Simmins

It must be something in the water. Or perhaps mothers’ milk. Maybe it’s genetic. Then again, it could be nature and nurture. Only a double-whammy like that could explain the unrelenting cheeriness of Cape Bretoners on the subject of weather. Even during this winter, the one that won’t quit, won’t moderate, won’t release its icy stranglehold on most of Canada, I have never heard so many ringing tributes to the wisdom and generousity of Mother Nature. Think I exaggerate? Here’s a sampling, from the past year or so on Isle Madame.

Neighbour One, as I trudge by him on the village road in February, the wind so biting my face has lost all feeling: “Beautiful day! Milder than yesterday, for sure.” He has three fewer layers of clothing on than I do, and his arms are outstretched to encompass the apparently boundless beauty of the winter world around us. The four-foot hedges of snow along the edge of the road are blackening from the exhaust of cars, the dirty snow underfoot has ice beneath it. There’s a dirty looking sky above us, too, both in colour and probable intent.

“Daffodils,” I reply wearily. “There are daffodils blooming on the west coast right now.”

“I saw that on the TV news last night,” he laughs, “thought of you. But hey, you know what, that’s not so good.”

Not so good? Must be a relative concept, more so than I understood. What could be bad about soft, honey-scented air and a landscape royally rich with colour?

Neighbour One is still beaming, reveals the obvious with a wink: “Lawns, they’ll be mowing their lawns about now. We don’t have to.”

Well silly, ungrateful me. Thank all the Powers That Be that we don’t have to breathe in the fresh, invigorating scent of newly-mown grass. That would be depressing. The mere thought has my spirits deflated and my feet dragging dejectedly toward home. But wait, Neighbour One has more to add.

“And no bugs! We won’t get bugs for months! Those poor guys out west.”

They’re the same in summer. Neighbour Two, early last July, on a chilly, teeming morning not fit for ducks, the two of us arriving at the grocery store door at the same time: “I can’t believe how lucky we are.” She looks beatific. Perturbing, when I look as though the unicorn and I missed passage on The Ark. I swipe back several strands of wet, tangled hair and repeat the most confusing word of her pronouncement: “Lucky?”

Rapid nods and a sweeping hand to the pewter sky above us. “I haven’t had to water my garden in over a month! Why it’s practically self-caring with all this lovely rain. Everything smells so clean and delicious. And the wells are topped right up, no worries there, either. Summer rains, they’re practically romantic, aren’t they?”

Other than a dazed “Uh huh,” there is no suitable response. You can’t very well speak out against romance, can you?

Neighbour Three, a cousin of Neighbour Two and with her on that day, has the last word. Upbeat, of course–these two are related, after all. And born and raised in This Weather-Demented Region.

“And you know what else,” she trills, “I haven’t seen an ear-wig in days. Just too cold for them to flourish.”

For me too, I nearly wail. But I bite my churlish tongue.

A frigid summer week later, Neighbour Four is standing in line in front of me at the local post office. He is speaking not to me but to a male friend, who has already collected his mail. The friend stands near to him, yet Neighbour Three’s voice is stage-bold, the tone conspiratorial, more than a little bit smug. “Ahh, these cool summer nights–they work to our advantage,” says he. Now there’s an interesting phrasing, I think, I wonder what exactly he—

—”We can sleep well at night, and our wives want to snuggle….” I depart the post office hastily, to the sound of happy guffaws.

Neighbour Four, when the dog-days of last summer arrived; not a second of wind, only a stone curtain of heat and mugginess: “You gotta love this! Just like the Tropics–’cept we didn’t have to travel anywhere, the heat came to us! Cheap vacation or what?” He dives back into the weirdly tepid harbour waters. Hugging a furnace might be more refreshing.

Three summers ago, and the tail-end of a hurricane slams through our village of D’Escousse. Some boats drag their moorings toward the open Atlantic, bound for Ireland. Others tear free of their moorings, bounce merrily over gargantuan waves toward rocky harbour shores. The wharf is an angry animal, that lurches, heaves and bucks. Our family sailboat appears to be safe on her mooring. But the other vessels will need to be retrieved. It’s all I can do to stay on my feet, as I sway and stagger against the buffeting of curiously warm winds.

Neighbours One through Dozens are much more nimble-footed; they appear, in fact, to be dancing on that same mobile wharf. Cries of “Rock’n’roll!” and “Let ‘er rip!” rise above nature’s shrieking orchestra. Quick shouted conferences ascertain that no one has died or been injured, so spirits soar as heaven-high as the winds. Several skippers have fired up the engines on their Cape Island vessels; soon they’ll be rounding up stray boats like cowboys roping steers on the range. Male bodies are flying off the wharf, their departures punctuated by Tarzan bellows. Ker-thump, their rubber boots land squarely on broad decks. Arms are held aloft like Olympic gymnasts awaiting a judge’s scoring.

An exhausting day concludes late in the afternoon. The wind has eased to melodic gusts. Neighbours One through Dozens head home to hot toddies and supper: “Holy whistlin’, that was a jeezly good blow….”

You know, I love good weather as much as anyone else. It’s the any-weather-is-worth-celebrating part I haven’t mastered yet. However Cape Bretoners have come by this strange but laudable attitude, I now see it as an art. Takes considerable mental and spiritual agility to see the rainbow before it emerges from behind the clouds.

All the same, glad we don’t get tornados around here. They’d close the schools and hold a three-day picnic, with live music and a lobster boil. Woe betide the Neighbour who mentions her house has blown away….


Published in The National Post, as “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” March 24, 2003.