December 10, 2004

O, Canada: Christmas trees and tidal bores

Last week, a crowd gathered on Boston Common for the lighting of the city's Christmas tree. Like 29 trees before it, the 46-foot white spruce was a gift from the people of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The tree is an annual expression of friendship and thanks for help that Boston provided after the 1917 Halifax Explosion, in which a collision between two ships, one loaded with wartime ammunition, took 2,000 lives, injured 9,000, and left 1,500 homeless.

George Bush recently went to Canada to try to patch the friendship damaged by his decision to go to war in Iraq. While politicians maneuver to mend fences, everyday gestures of friendship between Americans and Canadians remain strong. The delivery of this year's Boston tree reminded me of a personal experience with Nova Scotian friendliness.

I was in Truro, at the head of Cobequid Bay, a finger of the Bay of Fundy. I'd come to watch the tidal bore, an amazing crush of water that rushes toward Truro twice daily, filling Cobequid with a fast-moving wall of water that literally piles on top of itself. I was preparing to experience the evening performance, dramatically lit by a fireball sunset.

I pulled up to a farm that sat at the water's edge. As I began to see water from the distant Bay of Fundy move toward Truro, I realized I'd left my camera at the motel. The woman who owned the farm came outside, and I asked her if I had time to retrieve the camera before the water wall reached us. She considered the liquid shimmer advancing from the horizon and said, "Yes. You have time. But hurry."

I tore up the road and barrelled into the motel parking lot. The owner was waiting at the door, holding it open. "Forgot my camera!" She nodded and smiled.

I got back to the farm just as the water reached the channel neck west of Truro. In a minute or two, the advancing sea would be squeezed into a narrow space, and the aquatechnics would begin. The farmwife stood where I had left her, staring at the bay.

"I knew you would make it," she smiled. I considered the wonder I was about to behold, then considered the wonder I had just been part of. I'm convinced that, through the power of welcome and friendship, the farmwife and the motel owner had held back the tidal bore and made it wait for me.