- Our Town
Docks, memories, and why they matter
I was browsing through our photo albums recently and came across the photograph that accompanies this article. It got me to thinking about docks — not as infrastructures for safely mooring boats, but as places of significant experience.
My first experience of docks, which I don’t remember, was in 1947; at four months, my parents and I boarded a ship in Montreal bound for England. I am sure that those docks were, as others have been and still are, places of fond farewells, warm welcomes, sadness looking back at places and people left behind, and anticipation and anxiety looking forward to the voyage ahead.
My first memories of docks are of those my grandfather built on Georgian Bay. My grandparents owned a rural waterfront property and, to supplement his farm income, my grandfather built a small marina with rental berths. I remember the mystery and the magic at the end of the big “anchoring” dock as we peered beneath the water’s surface: the mystery of what might lurk there among the logs of the giant crib that supported the dock’s end and the magic when small fish would dart out from between the logs to catch their prey. In the springtime in older days, I would help to bring logs and repair the damage of the winter’s ice. The older logs were slippery and slimy with their biofilm of algae and bacteria that formed the base of the food web on these “artificial crib reefs”, created by our work.
When I first visited the marine environment on the East Coast of North America, I was delighted to be able to walk along the beach and under the docks at low tide. I marvelled at the diversity of species that had colonized this infrastructure: barnacles on the shortest pilings near the high tide mark; mussels making use of this additional and valuable real estate, crowding each other out for space at the next level down; deeper still, sometimes interspersed between the mussels, were the filter-feeding polychaete tubeworms and here and there an anemone; and sometimes, at the bottom, caught by the receding tide, a starfish or two, which had continued their feeding and had not yet had time to abandon their prey. And now we know that these pilings, properly covered, are appropriate habitat on which herring can lay their eggs — docks are partly enabling us to help in the recovery of this species to Howe Sound!
At the end of docks at many times of the year are the top predators — men, women, and children, with their fishing poles and baited hooks. What proud fishermen we were to bring our catch of rock bass, sunfish, and yellow perch home to our grandmother, who would clean them and fry these sweet tasting morsels up for dinner! Without the dock, fisherfolk we would not have been….
The ends of docks are also the places from which many of us first entered that watery realm — jumping and diving — on a hot summer’s day. Running happily, and as fast as we could — the longer the dock, the better — leaping, splashing, climbing, and repeating until we were exhausted. And then we would collapse on our towels, at the dock’s end, lie in the warm sun, smell the moist aged wood, perhaps with a lingering odour of creosote, and dissolve in the gentle noise of the waves beating on the cribs, pilings, and boats. Or maybe we would plan on a clear summer’s evening to walk to the dock’s end and lie faces up, staring at the night sky and wondering at the immenseness of it all!
So I am taken back by this family photograph to those happy times of my youth, to the times when I remembered them again with our own children, and to the moments these days when we visit docks with our granddaughter. There is a mystery and a magic to docks. As we step off the land and onto the dock, we leave the security of Terra Firma, and leaving this security we are on an adventure –— a big one or a small one, depending upon our perspective.