Beginning March 1, submissions to the Winter in the Bay short nonfiction essay contest will be shared on this website, alongside the works of art from the Winter in the Bay art and quilt exhibit that inspired or illustrated the stories. Read more about Winter in the Bay in the January, February and March issues of The Masthead News. Here, one of three judges for the adult and teen sections of the short essay contest, Neil Everton, shares some thoughts about the pleasures of reading the essays. The other two judges for the adult and teen sections were writer and editor Heather White and Masthead founder and editor Ron Driskill.
It’s not too late for you to tell your story! Submit your fictional short story (maximum length 2,500 words) by March 15 at 11:59 p.m. to email@example.com to participate in the fiction contest. Or submit your nonfiction essay of 350 words or less or your fictional short story of 2,500 words or less anytime for sharing. We will post it here once all contest entries have been published. Let’s keep telling our stories of the Bay!
by Neil Everton
What a joy it has been to read the memories and reflections, the tales of loves and losses, treasures and secret pleasures, of the people who love to live around St Margaret’s Bay.
The simple pleasure of driving at night with a partner, singing your heads off: “We take the roads that curve and dip past the sandy beaches… these salty, beach-side back roads can become the most perfect place on the planet to be yourself.”
Or a tale of a gentle friendship kindled over coffee and lemon tea at The Bike and Bean. Two people who would chat about this and that, and go their separate ways… except that “there were the poems—one per week slipped in an envelope for him to open later. About them, he thought I had some grand scheme but they were simply a way to carry on the conversation. To stir hope, revive a feeling, crack a smile or paint beauty.”
And then Covid-19 came, interrupting the coffee shop get-togethers: “Like a winter fog it crept in and chilled: we needed masks; we needed distance; we were locked out.”
Another writer reflected on the stresses of living through the pandemic: “Even a walk with my dogs in my neighbourhood was stressful. People crossed the street, wore masks and didn’t stop to chat. I realized how important that was in my daily life—a hug— a handshake—a smile.”
That writer found succour in drawing and painting and writing, thanks—in part—to the Winter in the Bay essay competition.
Another writer, dragged low by Covid-induced negativity, had spirits restored by the simplest of acts… a glance at St Margaret’s Bay out of a window. “I tilt my head towards the light to find that the moment has stilled my mind of chaos, of boredom, and of negativity and has replaced it with newness, hope, beauty and a present grace.”
As you’d expect, because of geography and history, boats and the water featured prominently in our stories. For some, an escape: “I climb over her gunwale, stepping from one world to another.”
For others, an obsession. “Perhaps we are crazy…” was the opening line of a story about a winter spent restoring a 90-year-old schooner. It turns out you need to be part detective, part mechanic, part chemist…and that’s before you spend hours connecting with, and learning stories from, the descendants of previous owners.
One writer was fascinated by the old wharves and fishing sheds and cribs that dot our coastline. “I imagine myself standing here a hundred years ago in the pre-morning light, shoveling slush and shoring up the gangway. Just like today, neighbours would have gathered on the beach and shared stories, congratulated and coveted one another’s success, talked gossip. Just like today, when things broke, they lent a hand. These structures tie me to my adopted community, they remind me I am home.”
This is Canada, in winter, so skating has to feature. A lake skater from the prairies is transplanted to Glen Haven, and discovers the joys of skating on sea ice. “Ocean ice is elastic and so the gentle give of the ice sheet is thrilling. The ferocious cracks and groans heard on lakes and ponds don’t plague salt water skaters.”
And the memories of a “Brit” who moved here and had a revelation, “that most Canadians were probably born with skates on their feet.” The Brit was game for the challenge. “From nowhere came a selection of ‘well loved’ ladies’ skates, none of which truly fitted but gamely, like an ugly sister, I squeezed my feet into them as I was reassured that ‘first you feet will hurt but then they’ll be so cold they won’t hurt anymore.”
Everyone has a story to tell. How about the engagement ring that was delivered on Christmas Eve 2020? “A slate blue fabric ribbon tied around a small, deep blue box. I felt a single tear slide down my cheek as I gingerly opened the box.” The only problem…the ring arrived 51 years after the proposal.
Or the Hackett’s Cove resident who was warned about the dangers of scavenging bears in the neighbourhood. The warning was ringing in her ears as she took the garbage out that night. “As I got to the garbage hutch, I dropped the flashlight, which went out. In that instant, I heard something move behind me. I spun around, my heart thudding in my ears. Despite the darkness, I felt the presence of a large creature looming over me, nearly close enough to touch. So close, I could hear it breathing.”
Yes… yes… and then what? That’s the thing about good stories. You want to know what happened next.
Well, if you want to know what happened next to our friend in Hackett’s Cove, or in any of the stories sampled here, get a coffee or tea and take a few minutes to read all the essays. We’ll be posting them here in the next few weeks for all of us to enjoy.
About the author: Neil Everton started writing for a weekly newspaper at age 18 in an English coal-mining town. That led to a daily newspaper, and then to the BBC where he worked on news and documentaries. As assignment to the Middle East to cover the first Gulf War led to a meeting with CBC producer Halina St James, marriage and relocation to Nova Scotia. Since then he’s worked with Reuters, CBC, CTV and Global.