Roosevelt Park Campobello
August 10th, 2016, Mary’s house
Roosevelt Park is the only binational park in North America: jurisdiction and duties are equally shared between the two countries and the park is staffed by locals from both Canada and the United States. Funding for the park comes from federal grants on both sides. However, the park is located on Canadian soil and therefore Canada has sole sovereign authority over the territory enclosed within it.
The English gave the island an Italian name meaning ‘a beautiful port”.
When Mary said I must go to the “International Park” , I thought this was a diplomatic name like we give our forests in Israel. We even have a “Canada Forest” and a “Britain Forest”. I did not suspect it was authentic. When I “landed” on Campobello Island by sheer luck, little did I know I came to one of the most interesting political-historical sites on the Continent. It might even be the only place where two nations in good spirit agreed to share a little piece of land.
I knew nothing of the politics of course, and very little about the history of Canada in general. As I mentioned elsewhere, we are all inundated with information about the United States. Everybody even calls it America, as if it is. We hear and learn very little about its neighbors to the north or to the south. When I came to Mexico in 1980, I was in for some education about how little I knew. Now it was Canada’s turn. Was it always peaceful and mutually respectful between the two countries? Was Canada always the benign and friendly neighbor to the north?
Apparently things were not always as peaceful as they seem now. Here and there in Maine and upstate New York you see memorials to some military events between the U.S> and Canada. There were episodes involving the French and First Nations, as Canadians call the native tribes. There were intermittent wars, many border skirmishes and several border back and forths, but also peaceable agreements and accords.
Canada itself came into being through such processes. Its independence did not come via a “revolution”. Tea bags were not thrown over ship decks, but a Confederation was eventually formed, taking most people’s interests into consideration, even if not everybody is perfectly happy. A constitution was fomulated and a de-facto liberation from England was achieved without cutting the umbilical cord.
I like the term “First Nations”. It sounds more respectful than “Native Americans”.
According to Wikipedia, “The shared historical and cultural heritage (between the two countries) has resulted in one of the most stable and mutually beneficial international relationships in the world“.
For both countries, the trade with the other is at the top of their export/import revenues. Still, the U.S. is ten times larger in population and has dominant cultural and economic influence. Canadians were fearful of annexation and invasion, starting already with the American Revolution. Invasions indeed occured on both sides in the war of 1812, but it ended with the border unchanged and demilitarized. The British refrained from supporting First Nation attacks on American territory, and the United States did not try again to invade Canadian territories.
There’s a lot to learn and history is rich. In the here and now of Roosevelt Park I saw something dignified and noble – Canada granting its neighbor an equal share in a piece of land to mutually commemorate an American president’s greatness. In days past, rich families from both territories used to vacation on this beautiful island in summer. The Roosevelts’ were one of them. FDR himself spent his childhood summers here, and brought Eleanor with him to the island for vacations as an adult. Unfortunately, he contracted his polio disease here as well.
At the visitor’s center I got a map of the park, brochures for “interpreted trails” and some oral explanations. I opted to give “natural history” a precedence, but nature is not all roses, and roses do have prickles. At the entry to Friar Head’s trail there was a warning about Lyme disease with instructions to tuck in shirts, wear light colors, check oneself head to toe after the walk and wear long sleeves.
There was a warning not to rub against branches, which was hard to execute – branches popped in my way all the time. You lose your normal ease of walking and become overly conscious. I know somebody who contracted Lyme disease and it isn’t much fun. He had to take antibiotics for years, and there is always danger of a relapse.
The walk took place mostly in the shade of trees. At one point it opened up to the bay, where I saw aquaculture cages, interesting to me as a marine biologist.
Friar’s Head was my first introduction to the Canadian system of interpreted trails. Walking with the guide in hand I learned how to distinguish between a red and a white spruce, how to tell previous human habitation by signs like old apple trees and non-native wildflowers, that much of the exposed root systems is typical of spruce, and that “old man’s beards” were actually lichens.
After I picked a raspberry that seemed to have ticks on it, I did not even dare to touch the many pretty apples sprewn on the ground underneath the abandoned trees. I returned to the center by re-tracking my steps, rather than risking getting lost on the alternative return paths mentioned in the brochure…
When I got back to the Center, I went to see the Roosevelts’ cottage, a very rewarding experience. First we saw a movie about the life of the family and the history of FDR. It made me nostalgic for real leaders with character and humanity.
Having a happy childhood here he rowed, swam and paddled around the beautiful island. His son presented the cottage preservation project in an audio-visual show all visitors watch. Then we all walked through the many rooms, where friendly tour-guides were eager to give answers and directions. Like everybody else, I took a million pictures of the cottage and the premises, some of which are shown here.
My favorites are from the servants’ quarters, which is where actual work was done.
The laundry room had a hand-operated washer and a bunch of non-electrical irons heating on a woodstove. The huge kitchen stove had drawers for firewood. A cone amplifier was used to call the children to dinner.
Interestingly, I saw much resemblance between the Roosevelts’ house and Mary Fowler’s home, especially the bedrooms and kitchens. Everything in our world is on a continuum.
It has always seemed more fun to me to eat in the servants’ dining room or the kitchen. Where would you rather eat?
Next I went to so-called Liberty Point or Ragged Cove on the seaward side of Roosevelt Park. That was a beautiful bay, that by the time of my arrival was as quiet and smooth as a baby’s cheek. A slight fog (rain was forecasted) was making everything even more mystical. Two overweight girls were sitting on a rock.
I filmed a duck catching a fish and tried to capture the magic at the interphase between fog and rain, water and shore, for future meditational purposes.
The Bog Trail
My last, but certainly not least, Roosevelt Park walk for the day was the Bog Trail. This, again, was an interpreted trail, and it was conducted exclusively on boardwalks. A ranger told me the entire thing was dismantled and re-done because the original way the boards were nailed together was not conducive to wheelchairs – the wheels would get stuck in the gaps between the longitudinal boards. …People go a long way in developed countries to supply the public with all the services, something we Israelis should look up to.
I think about the men who do these kinds of jobs in weather, dirt, mud, standing in the swamp with their high boots, nailing boards to make it that much easier for others…
This walk was very instructive. It was my first real-life encounter with predatory plants, and I found them fascinating. I also discovered how the sphagnum moss created the acidity and anoxic environment in the swamp, preventing the needed nutrient circulation to the plants.
These plants do not get their nutrients from water and soil but from the air, and that’s why most have curled leaves to absorb rainwater and dew. Their nutrition comes from the clouds… The predatory plants, like the pitcher plants, get their minerals from the prey that floats in the leaf cup filled with rain water and digestive enzymes.
Every several meters I found a different ecological niche. Even a slight elevation makes all the difference between a sick swamp forest and a healthy one. “Normal” mosses replace the sphagnum; alders and birches have normal leaves, and the beard lichens hang everywhere.
The leaves shown above are “designed” to capture “clouds”. We, in Israel, have desert plants similarly equipped with special leaf adaptations to keep moisture in and reduce transpiration. Here, at Roosevelt Park, water is not an issue. The main difficulty is nutrients scarcity. The plants “learned” to capture and concentrate the nutrients straight from the rain water. Otherwise, this northern bog would have become a literal desert. Indeed many Irish soils, despite the abundant precipitation, are virtual deserts, and cannot even support trees… Here trees grow, but they are somewhat diminished.
According to the interpreted brochure, sphagnum moss, the culprit for the swamp’s woes, had been affecting this area for the past 10,000 years! Originally there was a simple pond in a glacially-carved depression, but once this moss took over, it created dense mats and dominated the bog. Over centuries it got so thick that the surface vegetation could not connect anymore with ground water or with the mineral soil. The sphagnum moss itself gets compressed overtime and turns to peat (as in Ireland).
I also discovered a new type of spruce called “black spruce” that grew in these bogs. It is tolerant of wet and acidic soils and adapted to the nutrient-poor soil of the swamps. A few centimeters difference in depth can make all the difference between healthy oxygenated vegetation and a water-logged, nutrient poor and acidic terrain.
The leaves of Labrador tea collect tannins from decaying plants in the bog. I had a taste of that tea later in the week at Fundy National Park. It was delicious.
Walking alone in the bog I was suddenly startled by a weird sound. A chipmunk was pulling a candy wrapper with some remnant food in its mouth. Seeing me, it quickly tried to escape, and I failed in my attempt to take a quick picture. On the drive back, I stopped by a park ranger and told her about the incident. We both agreed it was horrible how wild animals, even in protected reserves like this, had to struggle with plastic and aluminum garbage.
When I drove my way back to Mary’s house, I saw Rachel taking a walk around the village. I mobilized the poor girl to help me find a gift for Mary. I felt so indebted to her for the amazing hospitality and the opportunity to stay in such a lovely atmosphere on this beautiful island… She said her aunt had “everything” and just threw “tons of stuff out”, and therefore the gift store would not be the place to look. In the end we settled for a bottle of Kalua, a drink she favored.
Despite extreme tiredness I still needed to take care of some essentials:
August 10th, past midnight, Mary’s house
Dead tired, and still trying to shove in the swimming half finals and finals. Michael Phelps wins again at 200 butterfly. A phenomenon.
The evening was tense. I searched an hour for my calendar. When travelling, things like that are essential. Cannot afford to lose. Finally found it in the bag with the flutes… Strange. I must be consistent and methodical. It takes too much energy to look for stuff.
Then I fought an hour and a half with the article site. Even after it was published, the nightmare wasn’t over. A million securities designed to protect me made it that much more difficult to get into my own article. After corresponding with them back and forth and renewing the password, I still could not figure out how to send my article to others. When I get the answer, I’ll be tucked in my tent in Fundy and offline.
Well, here was another ordeal. Reserving my campsite. I had to go through multiple red tapes, phones, websites, passwords, the whole gestalt.
On the phone, when I finally got a network connection and a human on the other side of the line, they told me everything was already booked. When I went online, though, I found out it wasn’t. Only sites with electricity were. I could still find sites without electrical connections. I’ll need to walk a bit to the car and services, but I am already accustomed to that and I don’t mind. Seems like the tent will be in the middle of the grass ….
I spent an extra hour and a half on the Canadian Government website, again with dozens of securities, passwords, identification questions and what not in order to book. There was a rule against using the same 3-letter sequence thrice, and somehow I did not notice I had repetitive sequence in both my username and in “Canada” . I was rejected ten times in a row until a figured it out…
In the end I booked in a campground called “Point Wolfe”, sounding romantic and central, site 158.
The next morning was a magical farewell to a magical island.