Summer by a nose

Russell Wangersky
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Not the nicest summer, this one, by far: too much grey, and every time it starts to get warm, the rain is back.

Sunday, I watched the rain in Adam’s Cove come down in fine and solid sheets, falling so heavy that the air turned white, a riot of raindrops the size of pinheads.

A good year for potatoes, I suppose, but I wonder what the tourists are making of it all. 

They’re not used to opening the blinds on a Monday morning and being immediately uplifted because the sky happens to be all blue, just right at that moment.

Take your pleasures in small places, when the bigger picture — and the long-term forecast — is painted grey.

Signal smoke

On the side of the road Sunday heading towards Bradley’s Cove, looking at a spot where beavers have dammed a roadside brook (am I alone in thinking that there seem to be far more beavers in this province than there have been in years?), I suddenly smelled someone burning slab.

I couldn’t see the smoke, couldn’t find the chimney, not even by looking back along the wind, but that didn’t matter.

Particular scent

It’s got its own smell, slab — if you’re not familiar, it’s the outside, bark-covered round edge that’s cut off sawlogs before the wood is sawed into lumber. It dries fast, but it burns with a smell that, to me, smells much richer and sappier than burning whole logs. The only thing that comes close is burning spruce in a woodstove with the damper down tight — it kicks out a similar, but lighter, pitchy smoke.

Some people burn slab for heat, but I always think of it as the kind of thing you toss in the stove in the shed or the house more to dry a place out rather than to heat it up.

There’s not a lot of heat in the barky edges of softwoods, but there’s plenty of character to carry away on the wind. Toss in a couple of pieces and let the stove die down.

Sudden life

But something else.

It’s like that smell — maybe any particularly distinctive smell — can suddenly wake your senses up.

Out near the end of the road, there was suddenly the heavy iodine of beached and rotting caplin.

A hundred yards more, all of them through a scrim of rain that disappeared as quickly as it came and dried back up into the air from the pavement like a mirage, and there was that summer rain smell of copper pennies and wet steel.

Just the beginning

All of the roses are out now — the multiflora heavy pink bush roses so common in old yards, and the four-petalled small pinks that hug the ground — so that you can actually pass through drifts of heavy rose-scent, as if the humped shape of the bushes themselves carries on beyond themselves out into the air.

Then there’s the heavy spruce smell of the fresh candles on the tips of the branches, and the smell of the wet peat bog itself.

Bog will never be a perfume, but it is a remarkably evocative and complicated smell, just the same. Wet dirt road and the smell of clay underfoot, and then the straightbacked cold breeze that darts in off the ocean for a second or two, shouting kelp.

Light winds and grey, high-flat skies, and out ahead on the road, somewhere well past Northern Bay, something big was burning, a black anvil of smoke as dark as that of car tires standing still on the horizon, a two-dimensional construction paper cutout of smoke.

A simple wonder, and all because of something as simple as slab wood and someone’s need to dry the damp.

It might be a wonder for a day or two, but to tell the truth, I’d like to smell the barrens under the heavy heat of August sun now, and smell the dirt roads in the rising dry dust getting caught in my nose.

Caplin June?

Bad enough.

Caplin summer?

An embarrassment of richness.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Geographic location: Northern Bay

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