Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 07.29.09
Stanstead, Quebec


Can you dig the River Ross?

I just spent a week on the Bay of Fundy, which was recently named to a short list as a wonder of the world. By this, I don't think they mean, "It's so cold, it's a wonder anyone goes swimming," but that might be closer to the truth.

You can't really call it swimming, actually. More like plunging. The duck, scream and run, perhaps. Accepting a dare, maybe. But not swimming.

Granted, it has been an exceptionally miserable summer in the Maritimes, even worse than here. It took us two days after we ferried over to Grand Manan Island to confirm that it really was the ocean we were hearing through the fog. On the plus side: too cold for jellyfish.

The other plus was that, when the world's highest tides go out, you have a lot of beach to play on, and we had access to one of the sandiest shorelines on the island, perfect for playing Frisbee or chasing seagulls (especially if you're a dog, but not exclusively).

The wet weather also meant that there was a lot of water running off the cliffs, creating little brooklets that began at the cliff edge and spread out across the sand to the water's edge. Since swimming was virtually out of the question, what better thing to do than to divert one of those streams, keep it from spreading across the sand by creating a channel from the cliff to the ocean, maybe create the Grand Dam of Grand Manan.

"Awww," you're thinking, "isn't that adorable. A dad and his kids playing in the sand together."

Adorable, yes. Kids, no.

While my children and their cousins were off poking dead things, I poked my toe in the stream. What if I just pushed a little sand here with my foot to redirect the water... Then maybe another wall on the other side. Now, if I just dig a little bit with my hands...

Pretty soon I was on my hands and knees with toy shovels and rakes, determined to direct the flow of the stream in a straight line to the ocean. I was master of water, reclaimer of land. The resources were mine to control. We have a breach upstream! Fetch me more rocks!

Before long, one of my wise-guy brothers-in-law had dubbed my project "The River Ross." Some of the kids did offer to help, but their attention span was far too short. They were quickly drawn to other diversions, like jumping in the ocean and making sure their parts were still intact. Plus, they did it all wrong. ("Abby, you have to dredge, not scoop! Don't you know how to dredge?")

The problem with engineering a waterway from a cliff to a bay with the world's highest tides is that if that tide's going out, your target keeps receding and receding. So, yes, of course, I gave up and was forced to find other ways of ignoring my children.

We returned to the beach every day. I usually found something to do, like read my book or pull disgusting objects out of the dog's mouth, but then a brother-in-law would say, "How's the River Ross today?" Hmmm, I'd wonder. I'll just take a peek. And then I'd be at it again.

"Straight! It has to be straight! Use gravity, don't fight it.")

It would be untrue to say I was obsessed. I did a lot on my vacation, like go for walks, visit lighthouses, sunburn my feet, overindulge, try to beat my brothers-in-law at horseshoes (record: 1 for 7... dammit), and humbly beat my brothers-in-law in mini-putt (yes!).

Working on this stream, though, tapped into some deep nostalgia for childhood days on the beach when there was nothing to worry about but sand in your bathing suit, jellyfish in the water, and whether the cute girl would be impressed by my driftwood and seaweed dam.

And it worked. Well, Abby was impressed.