By Barry Rueger
Published: Globe and Mail
October 14, 2023
In Nova Scotia, September marks the peak of the hurricane season. All of us who live here, right next to the Atlantic Ocean, learn quickly to watch the skies, observe the winds and prepare for the kind of weather that many Canadians will never have experienced. So far this year, Hurricane Franklin grazed us with heavy rain before heading for Bermuda. Hurricane Idalia laid waste to Florida, but missed us. Then Hurricane Lee headed our way – arriving as a still-ferocious “post-tropical storm“ – and all of Nova Scotia braced as it hit us directly.
I grew up in British Columbia. Everything I know about hurricanes I learned from TV. What I didn’t know is that they are incredibly slow to arrive, and incredibly hard to predict. Living on the edge of the Atlantic, you learn that the only thing you can do for an impending hurricane or post-tropical storm is to prepare, and then wait for as long as it takes. After you have gassed up the generator and packed the patio furniture into the garage, all you can do is sit at home, endlessly refreshing Facebook for an update.
I am a city boy: I’ve lived and worked my life indoors, while weather has always been something that happened outdoors. Seasons were defined by changes in wardrobe and themed parties, and nature was what I found at nearby Princess Park, or on a sunny hike on the mountain trails above North Vancouver. The natural world was something I appreciated from time to time, but it wasn’t part of my day-to-day life.
Now I find myself fascinated by the patterns and progressions of the world around me. Since moving to Western Head, on Nova Scotia’s east coast, at the end of 2022, we’ve had different periods when we were overrun by various life forms: first with ticks, then mice, then big ants, and then mosquitoes. We had one week of big fat moths, and then bees and wasps arrived for a short stretch, and some little black bugs that we never did identify before they disappeared, too. And finally this week, inexplicably, we had fruit flies congregating unseen inside of a newly opened wine bottle, before riding the wave, drunkenly, into our wine glasses.
We’ve seen big brown snowshoe hares dancing around the yard, then disappearing, and now returning with little babies. We’ve seen a myriad of birds arrive, then depart as they migrate north or south, and now we look out every morning to see who is perching on our bird feeders today. What we’re learning is that the creatures around us are almost always temporary visitors, so we enjoy them when they’re here, then welcome the new birds that arrive the following week. In more practical terms, we watch the skies each day to calculate whether it’s safe to hang laundry on the line. We know that we need to stay alert for the time each day when the wind changes direction, to prevent the almost-dry clothes from getting damp again. We understand that when you only live a couple of hundred metres from the Atlantic Ocean, the official weather reports are at best a suggestion, and that looking out the window gives a better picture of what weather is about to come your way.
For the first time in my life, I find myself waking at 6 a.m. or earlier for the singular pleasure of watching the sun rise over the sea, revelling in the clouds’ changes as they move across the sky, and gauging the size and ferocity of the waves below us. For the first time in my life, I stop before going downstairs to make coffee, peer out of our bedroom window, and say, “Oh my God, that is so beautiful.”
And at day’s end, I look out from the back of our house and marvel at the breathtaking red sunsets behind our ancient old barn. Living here, you can’t avoid being conscious of the moments when the day begins and ends.
We’re only now learning when and how to plant a garden, and which of our two- and four-legged visitors will invade the vegetables and steal them. As newcomers to Nova Scotia, we planted far too early, and with 101 things to contend with in our new home, managed just barely to find time to observe as the rain and wind turned our tidy vegetable patch into a tangle of colourful but inedible weeds.
Our failing attempts at building a garden are honestly very sad when compared with the established gardens encircling our house. The flowers, bushes and shrubs that we inherited when we bought our home are simply brilliant. Each week, some new flower blooms: some white, some orange, some red, and a myriad of bushes and hedges appear and flourish with little or no warning. Once again, every morning I peek out the windows and marvel at what surprises have appeared. And I thank the people who obviously spent so many hours, months and years building a Garden of Eden that we can now sit back and admire.
The sea, too, changes from week to week and month to month. The height and violence of the waves shift, of course, but the sea winds also constantly change from one direction or another, from cold and destructive to warm and pleasant. When you live this close to the Atlantic shore, you learn to love the hissing sibilance of the waves blowing in from whichever direction the winds choose, and the equally romantic lowing moan of the foghorn in the lighthouse at the end of our road. In our part of Nova Scotia, there is something that has connected us to the natural rhythms of the world around us. In all of this, I’m looking at the patterns, the shifts in weather, the things that appear and prosper and the things that die off until next year. None of these are things that I ever really noticed while living in Vancouver or Toronto.
And now, of course, we’re looking forward to the rest of autumn, and then our first full winter in Nova Scotia. We know it will be cold, wet and windy, but we also now know it will be beautiful, breathtaking and awe-inspiring. And we know that on occasion, the Atlantic weather can be frightening, and even dangerous. I’m looking forward to Christmas; I can already see the snow that will cover the ground and the trees, and can smell the turkey in the oven. I’m planning now to order the plow for our tractor, and where to safely store the outdoor furniture. I’m looking at the big tree that I can see out of my window, looking for all the world like the grandest live Christmas tree imaginable.
In the midst of everything else, and during the endless changes and cycles that are now such a part of my life, I find myself wondering whether we should put the coloured lights in the trees now, while the weather is good.
In all of this, I’ve learned to slow myself, to wait until the next cycle, or the next season, and to be patient. I’ve found the space to stop, to look around me, and to trust that the opportunity, or the delight, that has passed me by will surely return in due course. Just as the birds who visit our feeders accept the bounty of seeds without question, I am learning to embrace the good things I see all around me, and leave aside any fears or doubts for the future in this new place.
For the first time in my life I understand that, like the birds, bunnies and flowers, I am really just one tiny part of a great and all-encompassing world, and that my happiness depends entirely on my accepting my place in that larger universe.