Thursday-Friday, August 11-12, 2016
On the road again…, which is that tune playing through my head as I we head north from Orr’s Island to Canada. Because of the Schengen Visa restrictions in Europe we had to get out of Dodge. So, for the next couple months we’re in the states taking care of business and doing a bit of road travel to Canada.
At this point the only scheduled events were the interviews for our Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) applications at the Canada-US border, a hotel reservation in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and a ferry reservation from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. Plus, we hoped to connect with the Harmons, a sailing couple who purchased Max’s family’s boat, MAJEK, in 2001, and, if possible, Max’s cousins, the Lambs who live in Nova Scotia.
Arriving an hour early for our GOES appointments, we knew we had arrived in the more relaxed and hospitable country of Canada when the customs guys said not a problem, come on in. Ironically, we had tried to schedule our interviews in Boston only to find out the next available slots were in March 2017. Looking at other sites, this border town popped up and, voila, plenty of slots. And, that’s why we ended up sitting in front of our interviewer who was a Laser sailor and travelled to the Bahamas. He mentioned just that week he’d interviewed people from South Carolina, Maryland, and New Hampshire for the same reasons we had scheduled ours here. Even if Boston interviews became available it’s worth the drive just to be cleared by these guys.
After 20 minutes we were approved and on our way to the Harmons, whom we’d emailed earlier to see if they were around for a quick visit to see MAJEK. They had invited us for dinner and to stay the night, and how wonderful that was! Not only did we get to see Bev and Doug but also their lovely daughter Erin and her three children, Tom, Ian, and Maeve who were just as enchanting as their mom and grandparents.
Bev and Doug’s home catches one eye, and not only due to the beautiful lines of the architecture but also the pastoral scene greeting you when you step inside and see the upper St John riverscape stretching in front of you. I couldn’t help but let out a happy sigh as I gazed down a meadow to the river flowing right in front of their property.
Doug took Max and me out to MAJEK moored in this pastoral scene. Doug who’s a woodworker and carpenter had totally refurbished the boat, and, boy, did this 50-year-old boat look beautiful:
As we looked around below, some items really hit home such as his dad’s handwriting on back of a locker cover
and a wooden key holder a ten-year-old Max made copying his dad’s mahogany ones.
while the kids occupied themselves with their curiosity and creativeness.
Later we feasted on grilled chicken, homemade bread and strawberry salad (which Bev kindly gave me the recipe). The next morning we sampled luscious strawberry jam Bev and Erin had made then set off after hugs all around and the hope of catching up again in Maine before too much time goes by.
Friday-Sunday, August 12-14
The road ran pretty much straight to Nova Scotia where we spent Saturday exploring a few spots. We awoke to a blue crisp sky and warm sun, which prompted us to set off for Baddeck, a small town on Bras d’Or Lake (called Golden Arms due to brilliant sunsets over the water). Three years prior Max had joined Finn Perry here aboard his beautiful 46 foot sloop named Elskov. From Baddeck Finn, Max, and two others sailed up the coast of Labrador and into Hudson Strait, an area seldom visited by yachts. Max returned to work from Kimmirut, while the boat with fresh crew continued as far as Cape Dorset.
Down the road was a small museum on the Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) who, with his wife Mabel, moved here in the late 1800s after being charmed by the area’s beauty in 1885. They built a house and a laboratory where Bell along with assistants continued his scientific explorations.
Situated in a small building perched on a hillside, the museum served as a picnic spot as well as host to this man’s fascinating life.
And what a fabulous life he and his wife created! Artifacts and photographs illustrated the storyline, beginning with Alexander’s birth and early years and relating his achievements throughout his life with his wife Mabel as his lifelong partner. They were devoted to one another, a love so strong and comfortable you can’t miss it when gazing at photos of the two of them.
I had no knowledge of anything about Bell other than his patent for the telephone so it was with awe I learned more about this warm and brilliant man. Some things really made a lasting impression on me:
- Alexander’s interest in helping the deaf was a natural development considering his mother was partially deaf and his father taught elocution to the deaf.
- Tragedy struck early with the loss of both of his brothers to TB, which prompted his father to move the family from Scotland to Ontario in 1870.
- Alexander fell in love with a pupil of his, Mabel Hubbard, when teaching at her father’s school, the Clark School for the Deaf in Northampton, Massachusetts. She had lost her hearing at age five from contracting scarlet fever.
- Just as his parents lost two sons, he and Mabel lost their two sons in infancy.
- Children were a loving constant in his life, with his two daughters recounting family tales in a video interview. One of the memories told of his nightly wandering down to the lake with his round life preserver and cigar where he’d float for hours while his family saw this twinkling of light slowly whirling around on the water.
- His enthusiasm and curiosity, not commercial success, drove him to explore the wonders of the world’s make-up.
- Winning France’s Volta Prize in 1880 for his work in electric science, Alexander used the funds to establish his Volta Laboratory in Washington, D.C. for the purpose of studying and helping the deaf.
- He founded the Aerial Experiment Association resulting in the first aeroplane flight in the British Empire, which occurred February 23, 1909 following their successful flight in NY a year earlier.
- Alexander never forgot or stopped trying to help the deaf communicate (Helen Keller credits him with improving her speech).
- He improved upon Thomas Edison’s phonograph.
- He took over the reins of the National Geographic Society, which his father-in-law helped found in 1888. In 1899 with his son-in-law, Gilbert Grovesnor, he expanded the club to a subscription membership organization using photos to tell stories (I’m certain there are a lot of us who remember devouring that magazine as soon as it appeared in the mail box).
I would have loved to have sat at their dining room table and hear their conversations. At least I had a tantalizing glimpse into their lives, however brief.
Our day ended with a drive partway up the Cabot Trail where we spotted more watery vistas, only this time across an ocean.
At a lookoff (which is what we call ‘lookouts’) I spotted a familiar sight, which always brings to mind my brother Cammy, his wife Carmen and their sons and daughters-in-law.
After in-the-blink-of-an-eye ferry ride
we returned to our hotel with the makings for dinner, breakfast and the next day’s lunch. Tomorrow, Newfoundland!
Sunday-Tuesday, August 14-16
PORT AUX BASQUES
After a dinner of take-out pizza and salad watching the Olympics, we arose Monday morning for a breakfast of stashed apples (and cold pizza for Max) to head to our first foray into Newfoundland’s storied small-town experiences. And, we landed in one thanks to our friends Tim and Joanne who heard about Rose Blanche from John and Margo.
Of course, there’s always something acting up with a car when the whole trip revolves around using one. Fortunately, it was only a slowly leaking tire from a nail that a friendly mechanic fixed right on the spot. Max perked right up upon seeing the bill: a grand total of $14.95 Canadian.
On our way out to town we did our usual stop at the Tourist Information Office. We’d done our typical ‘we’ll just wing it and find places along the way’. Well, that’s fine traveling off-season, our usual choice, but not during prime summer vacation season. Fortunately, we had two helpful and very patient young woman who worked with us and were most likely happy to see the backs of us.
And, so began our Newfie experience of which I’ll highlight some of our explorations over the next three weeks…
Monday, August 15
Reaching the town identified as a typical fishing harbor village we noticed ‘welcome home’ signs posted on houses and streaming pennants decorating buildings. Thinking if was a greeting for a soldier we later discovered every summer different towns throughout Newfoundland hold community festivities in anticipation of emigrants returning to their hometowns. Unfortunately, we missed any parties in the towns hosting these welcomes but it was pretty wonderful to think of the celebrations during such gatherings. Probably a good thing as we would have been two Americans going around echoing ‘eh?’.
Known for its lighthouse constructed 1871-73 of local granite, this building was an easy stroll from our B&B. Over its 70 years of operation, five lighthouse keepers lived in several small rooms under the tower. At one time, there were 18 (!) people living here comprised of the keeper, his wife, their eight children and the wife’s sister and six of her 11 children. They said a wooden building was added on. Frankly, even living on a 40-foot boat 24×7 with Max the idea of sharing that small of an enclosure with that many people would make me, well, would NOT make me a cheerful person.
Tuesday, August 16
Stopping for a short hike to a cove we made it to this small city-town up the west coast where we spotted a paper pulp and paper mill (something one rarely sees in Maine these days) and drove up a hill to see the James Cook memorial. Wondering why the connection to this South Seas explorer a little tickle of a memory began. I very faintly recalled his surveying skills from visiting a small museum on the east coast of England, a home where he lived as an apprentice, seaman and master’s mate to a Quaker ship captain, John Walker.
This South Seas sailor who, for me, was more associated with hot vs. cold weather sailing, actually received the commission to captain the Pacific exploration aboard ENDEAVOR due to his surveying of Newfoundland’s west coast.
So, here in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, he is remembered for the accuracy of his charts, still used today. Hence, us and an arriving busload of tourists gazing at his statue.
Wednesday & Thursday, August 17 & 18
We were lucky in that the weather forecast of rain turned out to be just a little spitting then cleared as we drove up to one of Newfoundland’s most spectacular parks, Gros Morne. Located on the west coast mid-way up this spot of nature is woven with hikes, from easy to difficult. Looking through the literature we ended up on a fabulous guided tour of the Tablelands, one of the most accessible views of the earth’s mantle.
The guide named Trevor turned out to be a young man who thoroughly entertained the 50+ people who gathered around him at key spots during the 1.5 hour walk.
Not only did he explain the unusual geology but also to some of the flora, which had adapted to the heavy-metal, i.e., toxic, soil by becoming carnivorous (think Venus Fly Trap).
Further education about the park’s landscape and underpinnings was found in the Discovery Center where we spent about an hour strolling through the self-guided tour.
Heading back to Corner Brook we stopped at the Insectarium, a site I thought would be somewhat of a yawn and eye-roll; but, it was fascinating!
I shudder at the horror of imagining being in contact with creepy-crawlies yet am drawn to just staring at them… through a protective barrier, of course.
The young guides enthusiastically informed us of various insects, one being the millipede (a much calmer and friendlier multi-legged creature than its frightening cousin, the centipede).
The insectarium, one of three in Canada, hosted a large see-through bee hive, one in which the queen recently left with a swarm to find another hive (too crowded in this one). Again, another opportunity to be hypnotized by insects.
Butterfly chrysalis hung behind a glass window where we could watch any hatching that might occur during our visit. We didn’t see any (usually a one-to-two-second birth followed by several hours of wing-drying) but still stood peering in at these crepe-covered larvae. And, my husband did his best to encourage them to hatch in front of our eyes.
And, no, it didn’t work.
Returning to Corner Brook we spent one more night then headed north again with a stop and walk to Gros Morne’s fresh-water fjord, the Western Brook Arm. Arriving at the end of an easy 45-minute walk we gravitated to the deck where a riverboat offered an enticing two-hour tour. We opted out but it looked mighty fine.
RIVER OF PONDS
Friday, August 19
Just north of where we were staying we found another easy trail at Hawkes Bay (named after Admiral Hawkes by the surveyor James Cook). This path commemorated the actions of a newfoundlander ranger named John Hogan. It all began on May 8, 1943, in Labrador when he caught a ride home on a small plane only to have it fill with smoke and start losing altitude. Along with the other passengers, Hogan parachuted out landing safely but alone and in dense woods. Being a ranger he used his wilderness skills and began making his way to the coast over the next two days. However, in spotting footprints in the snow he found a fellow passenger whose feet had frozen making progress painful and, ultimately, impossible. They did manage to hole up in some cabins but had to wait out the spring thaw, which made traveling across water unsafe.
For 52 days they survived on Hogan’s snaring of a few rabbits, his gathering any berries uncovered by melting snow, and the brewing of herbal tea. Finally on June 25, a survey team spotted them and Hogan and his companion were rescued.
The path followed the Torrent River, a 100-mile stretch of water,
and where we visited the Torrent River Salmon Interpretation Centre and Fishway. In spite of viewing five minutes of a famous salmon fisherman tying flies and catching a fish, we both enjoyed our short walk through the exhibit. Boards explained how the river’s salmon eventually lost their ability to head upstream to spawn due to the destruction of their habitat by the logging industry. Even though Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) twice tried to correct the problem, the salmon population continued to decline.
Eventually, it was a community leader and businessman who raised local and tourist awareness of this issue, resulting in the rebuilding of the fish ladder installed by DFO.
Just like the insectarium, watching these salmon gird themselves for the final push was mesmerizing. So, gaze we did. I could easily have fallen into a stupor. At least I didn’t drool.
PORT AUX CHOIX
Saturday, August 20
Another day we headed to Port aux Choix, the site of the first inhabitants of this island, the Maritime Archaic people who lived here around 4,400 years ago. When the climate got colder, the Paleoeskimoes came down from Labrador and Baffin Island, and eventually the folks across the pond landed here: Vikings around 1,000 C.E.; then, the French and English in 1500s.
All of the above took advantage of the rich sea life of seals and whales in addition to the meat on hoofs, paws and claws, such as moose, caribou, fox, hares, birds. Unfortunately, a flightless seabird, the Great Auk, became popular as food and bait, and was hunted to death in the 1800s (more like slaughtered due to their defenselessness), the last one killed in 1844. (Imagine having a specific year for the extinction of an entire species? Thank you, mankind or, more appropriately, inhumane human.)
Must say the small cultural centers dotting the roadsides are well set up. It’s so easy to zoom by or pooh-pooh them since they look as if they hardly have any information worth seeing; yet, after visiting these exhibits I’ve usually exchanged my ‘why stop there?’ to ‘did you know about that?’.
Max checked out the water temperature and found it not too cold, which has been the case whenever we’ve gauged the waters around here.
We’ve also noticed how deserted many side sites seem to be, which makes this exploring easy with so few visitors but also a bit lonely since no one to share some of these highlights. But, as you can see, we’re really enjoying oh Canada :)
L’ANSE AUX MEADOWS & ST. ANTHONY
Sunday, August 21
After deciding to camp this coming week, we decided to air out the sleeping bags and tent that Natalie Shiras so graciously lent us. Not being a true camper who wants to rush out and embrace the wilderness, I eyed these accommodations with a skeptical eye with Max’s puzzled expression only adding to the fear of finding ourselves sleeping on top of the structure, not in it.
But, figure it out he did; so we repacked it all and stowed it in the car as we organized our gear for leaving the next morning.
A six-house car-ride later we landed at the tip of the Northern, western peninsula at L’Anse aux Meadows (a bastardized version of the original French name, named after a ship ’Anse a la Medea’ ). This is one of the two Newfoundland UNESCO sites, Gros Morne National Park being the other. Here we were led through the sod-covered depressions where an outpost of the Norsemen scouted out resources for Greenland, such as timber for ships and iron ore for tools and weaponry.
Reconstructions of dwellings and huts were situated close to the original sites. Bricks of peat formed foot-thick walls with roofs of sod for further insulation.
It’s actually the smelting of iron ore that provides proof of the Europeans reaching North America because in the late 10th and early 11th centuries the locals at that time hadn’t worked with iron prior to the Norsemen.
With an excellent guide we learned that this was definitely not a settlement because too few people lived here (only 100 or so when a settlement to survive required at least 500). He also stressed that these were the Norse, not Vikings because the term ‘viking’ should be used as a verb for ‘raiding’, not applied as a noun to identify Scandinavians at that time.
The amount of knowledge and his way of imparting it made me wish, once again, we could share a meal with him just to hear more about the history of this land. He carefully selected what he felt was true, saying much of what historians have learned comes from matching archaeological artifacts with the old Scandinavian sagas while taking into account probably poetic licensing occurring. He also reminded me a wee bit of Al Pacino.
But, then again, maybe you had to be there to see the resemblance…
Monday, August 21
The night before Max had found a lookout for whales and icebergs (being in Iceberg Alley we had spotted one way off in the distance the day before at L’Anse aux Meadows). Not seeing any more big blocks of floating cubes but spotting the languid arching of whales through the waters, we decided to return with our morning coffee and rolls. No whales but definitely a lovely post for sipping morning brew.
Today’s drive was taking us to another noted location for icebergs and whales: Twilingate. Perched on an island on the central coast, this, too, was part of Iceberg Alley. We had read that the current brings these huge ice cubes down along this coast after breaking off from Greenland two years prior. The season for seeing icebergs and whales close to shore is usually April/May-June/July; so, we were fortunate to actually see an iceberg and some whales the day before.
Our destination of the night was to be our first camping experience on this trip located at Dildo Run Provincial Park. Yes, a bit odd.
And, what we discovered is what our friends Tim & Joanne had told us the day before we left that camping here is glorious. And, it is! Thank you, Natalie!
At least when it’s not raining, which it did in the middle of the night into the morning. Pouring is a better description…
We survived, as did the tent and, after a soggy start, we need up with a brilliant hot day where we met two locals who owned a garage and heavy-equipment business. They told us some spots to check out, one being Dover Fault, the location of the splitting of Pangea when the Atlantic Ocean formed between two new continents.
Wishing we could spend more time with them, we drove an hour south along the coast to Dover where we met two more locals, a grandmother and her grandson picking blueberries. The bushes were loaded with those berries. Just look at what they had picked in 20 minutes.
Max and I managed to munch on handfuls when climbing to the lookout in spite of telling myself I’d try to save some for later. And, of course, we couldn’t pass one of these by, which, uncharacteristically, my husband opted out of…
Another geological wonder greeted us as we gazed upon the town’s coastline.
Back in the car we completed our five-hour, round-trip drive but not before being entertained by a traffic controller along a stretch of highway. First, let me just assure you the accident that had occurred causing the stop-and-go traffic looked bad but didn’t appear to cause serious injuries to the driver. Secondly, it’s not often you get your traffic controller fighting for your right to proceed.
What was happening was our guy was stopping cars while the other one way off in the distance was letting his through. After five minutes, our guy seemed to be getting a little antsy, and after ten he was definitely ready to let his stream of vehicles go. But, his partner down the highway wasn’t cooperating as car after car kept on coming our way.
Being first in line we had a great view as first our guy looked at us as if to say, ‘do you believe that knucklehead?!’,
then started walking towards his fellow controller while screaming his name and waving his STOP sign/SLOW sign back and forth, which must have really confused the vehicles approaching our end.
Finally, he just turned back to us and said,… well, you may be able to hear it :)
Ending back at Dildo Run (can’t believe the Park Service actually kept that name), we feasted on some pre-cooked ribs and corn on the cob (although, hot dogs would have been more appropriate fare)
while a rainbow peeked out
and a fire-flamed night put us to bed.
How can anyone beat Mom Nature?
Wednesday-Friday, August 24-26
More camping but now back to the premier park of Newfoundland, which we briefly visited from our stay in Corner Brook earlier in the trip.
Wanting to camp, we selected one of the sites on the ocean (I’m a firm believer that any breeze we can capture would help keep bugs at bay, plus, the sound of the surf is glorious) and proceeded to cook some chicken over the fire (it was good) before crawling into our nylon, home-away-from-home.
Once again the scope of all of this national park spreads across a huge acreage (697 sq mi.). And, similar to our last visit we only walked-hiked to a few sites noted as ‘best of’.
One of these was Green Point, a geological destination identified in 2000 by the International Commission of Straitgraphy as one of the determining sites marking the distinction between two eras from multi-million years ago: Cambian (595 million years ago) and Ordovician (492 million years ago).
Gros Morne is comprised of so many geological wonders, such as the Tablelands we toured during our first visit to the park. There we saw one of the best examples of the earth’s mantle. Now we were looking at ancient pieces of the earth’s sedimentary sea floor tilted on its side due to the converging of two primeval continents. We learned that on average, 1 meter of rock represented 60,000 years worth of sediment buildup. The older layers are on the right, meaning the earth has been folded up like an accordion past 90 degrees. On a guided tour we took the following day we learned about some of the theories that explain various layers. We also joined fellow tourists in seeking evidence of some of earth’s earliest life forms: Iapetognathus fluctivagus and Graptolites. Several of our fellow tourists found the imprints of these ancient creatures in pieces of shale that had recently broken off. We found it pretty exciting to discover the evidence of life from 492 Million years ago.
That evening our 15th anniversary dinner was comprised of grilled hot dogs with some vegetables a wee bit past their prime… all hurriedly assembled ahead of forecasted rain.
Max played caveman and started the fire while I noticed a young woman seemingly solo quickly trying to assemble her tent. I asked if she was alone (affirmative) and if she’d like help (double affirmative). In lightening speed she instructed me what went where and her tent mushroomed into the appropriate shape. I asked if she’d like to join us for dinners (warning her it was hotdogs), and Kayla came over with a bag of salad she’d been planning on eating since rain would have made fire-starting a bit of a trial.
Over a grilled dinner followed by mistakenly baked s’mores, we discovered Kayla was a social worker originally from Prince Edward Island now working in Ottawa, Ontario. We also found out she was an alumnae of Bishop College, the same school some friends had attended. Kayla enjoyed traveling solo, which recently included Peru, Nepal, and India.
She apologized for talking nonstop for the first 30 minutes due to having been alone since landing in St. John’s the previous Sunday; yet, her verbal travelogue made for wonderful story-telling so she entertained us as she slowly unwound. At that point, night had fallen and rain had begun so the three of us scattered to our respective tents for a drenching, blowy evening of a downpour.
Waking up to just some remnants of the night’s torrential water fall, we made a beeline for the breakfast place we’d located the previous morning. Then attended both the Green Point ranger tour and one on medicinal plants given by a native who learned them from his grandparents. And, both were fascinating. I mean, really fascinating. Max says he wants to come back in his next life as a geologist. Me, I’d like to be a medicine woman. It was so cool how weeds and trees are like a pharmacy in one’s own backyard. If anyone decides to visit this park, be sure to show up for any of the ranger guided tours.
Saturday-Monday, August 27-29
An overnight ferry from Port Aux Basques retraced our steps to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. If only we had known we would have brought our sleeping bags and pillows up from the car deck. We loaded at 15 minutes before midnight to arrive at around 7:00 am the next morning. And, within one hour the seating area (large reclining chairs set in groups of two, three, and four facing several tvs offering a range of programming) the place was a mass of sleeping bodies slumped in chairs and on the floors. At one point it was a cacophony of snores that was comical.
If one can block out the disruptive snorts, snuggles, and snuffles, it’s marvelous how different noses and throats can perform so many vocal variations upon a theme of sleeping. There must be some evolutionary purpose for these noises. What, I don’t know, except to irritate others who can’t sleep.
Debarking we wound our way to Max’s cousins. Their home sitting above a lake in Nova Scotia offers a farm haven. With clucking chickens, gobbling turkeys, buzzing bees, lush vegetable patches, and exuberant flowers decorating the house it was a wonderful contrast to the drizzly campground we had left the day before.
their daughter Bella
and Giorgia, a young English woman participating in WOOFER, inhabited this lovely home. A quiet young man, Austin, appeared with Giorgia throughout the days, helping with daily tasks including raking some blueberries and picking a bucket full of plump blackberries.
Plus, a little dog, named Tivvy, frolicked around our feet. A veritable, Wizard-of-Oz Toto this pup makes friends quickly. I have no doubt Alison wouldn’t be wrong to check every exiting visitor’s luggage in case they just happened to kidnap Tivvy. I know I was tempted.
For two sunny days we enjoyed being amidst the warmth that can’t help but spring from this hive of activity as chickens were fed,
turkeys shooed into their pens,
a spider removed from the bee hives,
squash patch weeded,
and lively discussions shared at meals.
Yet, in spite of all that was occurring, I always felt enveloped by a peace.
What a wonderful family, and what a wonderful way to end our Canadian adventure :)