Close the Door

Snowshoeing in the Dark

I was snowshoeing down by the river tonight. It was glorious, not too cold, a fine spray of snow tossed up by the wind.

Down by the rapids, where the river narrows and rushes under the Champlain bridge, I saw huge slabs of ice speeding their way downstream. A plate as big as a school bus swept by, just a foot from the shore. It was followed by a pointy piece, a spacecraft from an old B-movie. I wondered if one might come in on an angle and brush the shore. Would it get chipped? Soon enough, bearing down out of the mist, a gargantuan chunk, the floor-plan of an open-concept condo, came churning along on an angle. It sounded like a car crash. The ice protruding from shore buckled and exploded into shards, a plume of snow shooting into the empty sky. The berg wheeled around with a lurch and carried on with the current, under the bridge and off into the dark.

It reminded me of the first time I saw an iceberg. We were in Newfoundland. We had driven up the West Coast from Port aux Basques, eyes glued to the windows, scanning the grey horizon on either side for two things: moose and icebergs. The moose had been anti-climactic, but moose enough to make use accept that there was nothing more to see looking inland. We were all the way to St. Anthony before we finally tracked one down.

It was in a cove near the harbour, a small closed lagoon right in town, by the point with the seafood restaurant. You could tell it was where the kids go to drink in the summer, where someone inevitably ends up walking home with wet shoes. The iceberg itself was tiny. I suppose it was not even really a proper iceberg, probably more of a "bergy-bit," as they call them. It had evidently been there for some time, its edges softened to the foamy texture of rotting snow. It listed in the shallows, grinding lethargically against the rocks beneath it. The eerie blue light creeping from its folds seemed cheap alongside the plastic grocery bag, frozen to the peak by its handle, flapping wildly like a pennant.

None of this mattered. I was that age where one desperately clings to a childhood that has already dissolved, trying to cram myself back into outgrown clothes. It was cold, and real, and I was in awe. We both were, I think. My sister and I clambered around the cove for at least an hour, as the evening got cooler and the wind picked up. We hopped around the tidal pools, trying to find the path that would get us closest. Finally, on top of a slimy boulder, I could reach out and touch the iceberg as it rose and fell in the surf.

It was as if it was breathing, the way it would sway gently; sometimes towards us, sometimes away. You could fix your gaze on it and feel this rhythm in your eyes, pupils focusing and refocusing on the cool blue shadows. I lost track of time; all of a sudden I wanted to be the iceberg, to float with it, to see with iceberg eyes. I wanted to step out from the rock and stand on it, hop down onto the narrow edge and cling to the glistening sides. I wanted to burrow into it, to find its secrets, the control room. To curl up, and dream iceberg dreams, and wake up and find it be real. I wanted to sweep away the boundary between it and I.

I'm pretty sure I tasted it, grabbing a handful from as deep as I could reach. It seemed so small in my hands, such a simple thing, a handful of snow like any other, melting swiftly. I took a pinch of snow and solemnly placed it in my mouth. It was cold, colder than anything I've ever tasted, and tasty faintly of the sea. I probably could have gotten some kind of parasite; the water in the harbour isn't exactly clean, especially at the height of summer. I'm pretty sure I saw at least one condom, tangled in the ragged kelp. It simply did not matter. I had tasted an iceberg, something ancient and powerful. A great earth grinder, dismembered and cast away, sent to die in the furnace of the Atlantic. This noble being comes into our eyes only at its death, a tragic hero of Nature. As we drove away, abondoning the doomed iceberg like a trapped whale, we didn't find ourselves staring out the windows. Night was falling and the tall grass along the road was silhouetted by the fading sunset. We curled up in our usual seats, and dozed off to the sound of the Volvo: the chant of the engine, the hiss of the air outside, and the soft babbling of tires on the road.