I was born in Nova Scotia in the merry month of August, so chances are 50-50 it was foggy that day. The province of my birth is a drear place that I suspect secretly believes itself to be the set for a Victorian murder mystery. It has some extreme weather episodes, mostly in winter, but is possessed primarily of a grim, prim and disapproving sort of climate; the sinful and weary are regularly shamed and chastised by a fine, righteous mizzle that quietly but very surely does destruction upon fancy hairdos and forces people constantly to wipe their spectacles.
I miss very few things about Nova Scotia, but I do sometimes very intensely miss the fog and the sea air salted to delicious perfection. Where I live now, there is generally very little fog, mizzle or drizzle; great storms or full bleeding sunshine tend to be the options. But lately, it’s been foggy almost every morning, and it has been glorious.
I’ve been cycling as much as possible and have had the trails almost entirely to myself, even though with the fog has come unseasonably high temperatures. People from Toronto are ill-equipped for weather, generally, as far as I can tell; one of the advantages of growing up on the east coast is knowing that if you can’t go out in weather, you can almost never go out at all–and so one goes out, even if it’s snowing sideways, the rain is bouncing a foot or more back up off the ground, or rain is damping everything down into maudlin resignation.
Cycling in fog is to me pure joy; it’s a return to my natural element; if anyone were on the trail to see me, they’d see a middle-aged lady grinning like a gormless fool.
As I say, even for Toronto, it’s been unusually warm; but in spite of nervous suggestions of trees re-budding much too early, everything is for the most part just a sort of tired brown. All the flora has pretty much died back until next spring, but their dormancy isn’t yet hidden in pleasing layers of snow.
I love riding my bike as deep into winter as I comfortably (enough) can, in large part because of the dramatic waves along Woodbine Beach. On a good windy day, the waves crash and froth against the sand and the rocks like they’re on the attack; the roar and the worrisome heights they reach can almost convince me, just for a moment, that I’m riding along the ocean rather than just Lake Ontario (dangerous, of course, if handled irresponsibly, but in no way embodying the mad romance of the sea).
The city tries to civilize this only half-wild beach nonetheless: the sand is regularly tidied and swept from the boardwalk, while locals decorate the trees and benches for the holidays.
But there’s nothing to be done with a beach in winter, no matter how quiet and mild the winter may be, or whether or not it belongs to a lake or an ocean; a winter beach is the very soul of desolation, one of the inescapable examples of humanity’s limited influence on the natural world.
On my beach, responsible adults keep their dogs at a safe distance from the grasping waters; those of us who cycle hunker down into wind that would unseat us if we got too cocky; and the bare lifeguard stations look so fragile and rusty it’s hard to imagine they ever stood as beacons leading people to safety or bulwarks against the terrible pull of the tide.
Late Fall, almost winter: the dying back of everything that burned with light and life in the summer is more beautiful to me than life bursting, irrepressible from the awakening earth. The promise of struggle and hibernation has been distilled down into shoveling snow and salting the sidewalks; and this promise is set comfortably within cozy evenings of books and hot chocolate, hearty stews and fresh baked bread, and fat cats purring and contented.
The dim and cold beauty outside amplifies the beauty inside; the reverse is also true. And soon, real winter…