On the Rocks Online - Sue Hallgarth


EDITH LEWIS GOT out her easel and watercolors and set them up near the edge of the bluff in front of their cottage on Whale Cove. Most of the previous afternoon Edith had spent trying to catch the rough beauty of the rocks just where the water cascaded over for a long, leisurely dive to the darker rocks below, then joined the chill, salt water of the Bay of Fundy. From this angle she could just hear the faint sound of its rush.

Actually two waterfalls occupied this section of the cliffs between Whale Cove and Ashburton Head known as Seven Days Work, where rock layer upon discernible layer rose well over two hundred feet to tower above the beach below. The height of the cliff in front of the cottage she and Willa had built four years before was breathtaking, but these cliffs just to the north were even more dramatic, dwarfing the fifty-foot tides that regularly rose and fell in this part of the world, so that except for the long rattle of shingle with each tide’s withdrawal, the waves seemed almost usual.

The afternoon light was perfect for another try, Edith decided, fastening the paper so the slight breeze coming off the water would not disturb her work. A pair of gulls circling just off to the right caught her attention, and she paused to watch as one of them, nearer the water, pumped her wings and rose to the same level as her mate, then reached out to re-embrace the air. Floating opposite each other in the same lazy circle, the pair rode effortlessly, graceful, chattering occasionally, almost inconsequentially, Edith surmised, about the prospect of fish offered by the solitary rower in the dory below. He was, Edith knew and she thought the gulls probably did too, heading out to check the herring weir staked well out in the water below their bluff. A lone boatman inspecting nets at high tide would supply few fish for the gulls. They must know that too, Edith thought. Perhaps they were riding scout just to be sure or, it was such a lovely day, maybe they thought it would be a shame not to tag along for the flight.

Flying seemed such joy compared to bobbing about on the sea. Edith never reached Grand Manan without nausea and had only once dared to go out with the others to see how the local fishermen worked their nets. Willa went out at least once every season, but Edith preferred the solidity of earth. Such rolling about was the same as living with an inner ear disturbance, Edith declared every time they made the crossing between Eastport and North Head. Humans weren’t intended to imitate fish, and only dead fish float like boats.

But flying might be different, Edith thought now, turning back to her preparations. At least soaring would be, like those gulls. Lindbergh made flight look easy. Willa and Edith had followed closely the news of Lindbergh’s flight. When he landed in Paris, it was as though he had reached the moon, Edith chuckled to herself, people were that excited. Of course, now he had to learn to live with fame, Edith took a moment to massage the bristles on her brushes. And fame was much less glamorous than most people guessed. Lindbergh still seemed to be having fun, even with all the row about his wedding and new wife. But they were young, Edith smiled, plunging her brush into water. They should have fun. Plenty of time for the rest.

With the afternoon sun on the other side of the island, shadows cast the rocks near the two waterfalls into sharp relief. Edith hoped today she could manage exactly the right touch, fanning her brush to keep the deeper shades firmly on the outer edge of the bristles. It was difficult to capture the jagged recesses of the ledge just where the waterfall flung itself over. Once she had that, she thought a few strokes of the darker hues topped by some touches of green to suggest the wind-tossed evergreens above, and it would be finished.

A flash of red caught Edith’s attention, and she stared at a stand of scrubby trees less than thirty feet from the nearest waterfall. Nothing red reappeared. The weathered spruce where the flash had been reminded Edith of nothing so much as naughty children digging in their heels and leaning back vigorously, as though they wanted to touch the land beneath with their whole bodies, refusing even to look