Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Last night, I made a point of walking up to the Samuel Champlain monument, perched above the river. It was the strangest scene and the most out-of norm weather I've ever witnessed, given that it was January 7th. And this is not a piece about the alarming march of climate change. It's a snapshot of an unsual moodswing in the Ottawa valley.

First, one couldn't see one shore of the river from the other through the thick, shifting fog that seemingly enveloped all objects. At one instant, the lights on the Parliament hill appeared hazy, as if many miles away - and that's from the middle of the Alexandra bridge. The next instant, they disappeared completely, shrouded in fog and rain. The cityscape took on a distinctly 19th century look, recalling book portrayals of Jack the Ripper's London - eerie, surprising, maybe treacherous. Remnants of Christmas light displays glowed faintly here and there, painting the fog various shades of green and blue. Below, the half frozen river sat still and partially obscured, breathing cold air like some glacier meandering through an alpine valley. The cloud of fog wasn't stationary, rather it drifted between the Quebec and Ontario shores and also rising and falling. And then the rain started to fall. Not the usual freezing rain of the season; an autumn night rain, droplets ample and heavy, soaking my hair and my coat in minutes. It felt oddly liberating and disconcerting at the same time...it was, after all, January 7th, and very few of us had ever been in the rain in Ottawa in mid-winter. Near the National Art Gallery, a random group of revellers who looked to be the fringes of a bachelor party or some bus tour were hollering "Signing in the Rain". A figure of the odd runner passed the bridge from time to time, soaked, clenched and animal-like in the raw elements; this is when humans resemble other creatures the most closely.

What I connected to the most the entire hour or so I'd spent in the fog and the rain was not how strange it was - it was the sheer immediacy of my sensory environment, the heightened feeling of exposure to the environment. I usually get that sense high up in the mountains or trekking through a wet forest, or out on a large expanse of water in a kayak. City life does not ordinarily create these experiences.

We could as well have a discussion about the La Nina effect or dissect the winter storm systems and their anomalies, or have the predictable commentary about global climate change. It would all be valid and to the point. What is wouldn't do is it would not capture an extraordinary moment in time, one of Nature's whimsically beautiful moods.

No comments: