Bear Island is more fun in the summer.
That's one of the text messages I got on my phone during a quick run round the island in Smith's Cove this week.
It was a little cold and windy out there, a little unwelcoming. Maybe March is the wrong time of year to wander across a narrow sandbar to a windswept pile of gravel and frozen scrub brush.
There's no shelter out there to speak of. And if you dilly-dally and don't get back across the sandbar in time, then you're wading, swimming or waiting the night out there. I don't know which would be worse.
But I've always believed as the Germans do, there is no such things as bad weather-just bad clothing. And besides I thought, this is a chance to see Bear Island like few others have seen it.
You normally have about two hours either side of low tide when you can get across the sandbar.
I arrived right on time I thought, about an hour and 55 minutes before low tide, but the sand bar was still mostly covered in water.
I hung out at a shaggy seaweed-covered boulder at the beginning of the sandbar, watched the waves and waited.
Tides actually fall and rise faster towards the middle of a tidal cycle and slowly towards low and high tide. So I was surprised to see how fast and dramatically the sand bar popped up like Atlantis out of the ocean.
Depending how much time you give the sandbar to dry out, it is pretty solid going. You don't have to walk in mud at all if you're careful. But kids (or "adults" like me) will definitely find some mud without much effort.
At this time of year, you'll know you've reached the island when you hit snow-all around the island the high tide mark is clearly delineated by the sudden end of the smooth white blanket.
Beyond that border, the dark wet beach stones and gravel are revealed like organs in an anatomy textbook.
When I reached the island, I startled a flock of geese resting just over the other side of the sand bar out of the weather.
They flew up over me, into the wind, hanging in the air like a baby's mobile-I had my camera tucked away in my jacket for protection and couldn't get it out in time. They are elegant flyers, even panicked as I assume they were.
The island is basically a triangle. The north side is a long straight bank; storm waves are eroding the bank, undercutting and uprooting the few big trees.
The shorter east side is a high gravel bar pretty much inline with the long sand bar back to the mainland. It towers over the southwest side where they meet, making for a large deep gravel bowl when the tide is out.
At the northwest point, where the north shore and the southwest shore intersect, the beaches fall away in long gentle slopes.
The end of the land, even if there were no snow, is clearly marked by a large boulder; an erratic fully deserving of its name, sitting all alone at the far end of the flat scrubby island.
The south east side is the rockiest, the bank is much higher here and there are more trees up top.
Safe from the erosion, many of these trees are nonetheless dying or dead from the hundreds of cormorants and other seabirds that roost out here in the early summer.
I have never explored much inland on the island and have no interest in it. I leave it to the birds.
Back at the sandbar I found my solitary footprints filled and highlighted with snow. They shocked me a bit and it took me a few seconds to realize those were my footprints. I was indeed alone out here.
It took me a total of 50 minutes, with lots of camera breaks, to run round the island and back to the shaggy rock on the mainland; a total distance of 4.75 km. Seems to me it would be awful easy to make a 5k race out or fun run out of this.
A family puttering along could definitely manage it in the three hours the tides allow. If you're nervous, don't go out of sight of the sandbar- just have your picnic there on the southeastern end.
But remember, it is the last little bit nearest the mainland that opens last and closes first-you can't quite see it from the island. To be safe, try to be back over the sandbar no later than an hour after low tide.
This trip I was back in Digby before low tide. Winter visits are best kept short.
But next summer, after nesting season is over, I think a picnic is in order. Who's in?