Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Churchill: at the end of the day

The rest of the day passed slowly but leisurely. Churchill seems to shut down outside the major tourist seasons, so I was able to spend a pleasant afternoon just walking and stopping off for a coffee from time to time in one of the town’s cafés. There are a handful of attractions outside town, such as the wreckage of a freight plane that crashed near Churchill Airport in the seventies. I’m told it was brought down because of a heavy load of Pepsi, but I suspect it might have had more to do with something more mundane. Seeing these requires transport, but I decide not to spend C$20 on a taxi tour.

I explore the town some more, stopping off in the post office for stamps (and to ensure my postcards get a suitably interesting postmark) and going back to the Northern store to get some supplies for the return trip. I go back to the library when it opens again at 19.00 for a second burst of blogging, having realised how far behind in this travelogue I am. On my way out, I notice some boxes by the door. A large quantity of old books, some from Churchill Library, are being offered for free to anyone who can offer them a better home. So I rifle through, and pick out the Booker Prize winning paperback The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and an old hardback biography of the inventor of radar (something my father would doubtless approve of…). Having been turned off by the imported souvenirs I’d seen today, this would be an excellent souvenir of my trip. Inside the front cover, this decommissioned library book still carries it’s loan record and the insert library card. It was given to the For Churchill Library in 1953, and has spent the last fifty years being read by generations of Churchillers with a passing interest in radar. It adds quite a weight to my luggage, but I’m happy to leave with a special souvenir.

Just before returning to the station, I turn round the corner of the Town Complex once more and walk down to the beach. The sun is falling behind the pretty solid grey cloud cover, and the temperature is beginning to drop again. I crunch through the untouched banks of snow and down onto the sand. I stand alone, staring out across the frozen bay once more. Another cinematic reference pops into my mind – this time The Winter Guest, filmed on an unnamed Scottish island during a particularly cold winter, during which the straight between the island and the mainland freezes over. Despite being quite unbelievable for Scotland’s mild climate, it’s still an enchanting image, and throughout the film people do as I do, and come out to stare across the immensely solid yet dangerously fragile surface. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before, and the immensity of this frozen sea is almost overwhelming. Having lived in Montréal for almost eight months now, I have realised how much I miss being near to the sea. I miss the smells, the sounds, and the sense of enormity that borders seaside landscapes.

But here, there is no sound, other than the wind whistling off the ice and across my numbing cheeks. Every quality I associate with the sea has been obscured. Part of me agrees with a young female character in The Winter Guest, who runs out onto the ice, teasing her more cautious friend that he shouldn’t be afraid: he might never get the chance again to walk on the sea.

But fears of plummeting through a cracked ice flow overcome my subconscious urges. I turn my back to the sea, and walk back to the station.

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