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Stars In The Lake – Ingonish National Park

Stars in the Lake – Ingonish National Park

24.8.2016, night, Ingonish National Park campground,

Warren Lake at twilight, Ingonish National Park

It is hard to believe I’ve barely been here one day (yesterday I was still in Newfoundland, visiting the Codroy Nature Reserve …). Did I really sleep the night in cabin 8 of the Marine Atlantic? I’m already very very much here, especially after the night walk. Truly, in the beginning it seemed like nothing could compete with Newfoundland,  but…

Ingonish National Park

After disembarking the Marine Atlantic, I re-crossed the magical bridge by the  N. Sydney’s KOA. Strangely, I missed the campground, and instead went on to Ingonish. The name stuck in my brain as “the” destination in Cape Breton.

Cape Breton sunrise viewed from the Marine AtlanticA cellphlone pic of the sunrise  viewed from the Marine Atlantic through the glasspane of the 8th cabin , announcing my return to Cape Breton

There were signs on the road: “You are now about to climb XXX feet to the top of Mt. Smokey”. Bizzarre.  The slope felt so steep, the mountain so high, it was hard to believe we were only 366 m above sea level…View from the top was awesome.

At the time, me and my ex-husband climbed by foot to the “highest pub in Ireland”. It was pouring rain. We got there drenched to our underwear, panting and out of breath, only to find out later it was less than 300 m above sea level… 

As I drove down, I passed by some very pretty wooden vacation cabins on the side of the mountain. A good-looking older man told me their price, which was, of course, totally out of my range. I fantasized a bit both about him and about the cabins, but kept heading down to the campground, where I booked my “non-serviced” tent site. The road passed through the picturesque village.

No Wi-Fi, as in all national parks, probably for ecological and ideological reasons.

On the other hand, for the first time, I found a dishwashing facility. Once they do have that, it is, of course, grandiose, unlike its Israeli simple tin counterpart. On one side, there were nice sinks set in a spacious marble counter. On the other, the familiar trough with multiple taps. But nothing is perfect: there was only ONE  showerhead for all the women in the camp…

Doing maintenance at Ingonish National ParkI knew where to go and what to do thanks to Philip, the maintenance guy. He was busy painting the bathroom but nonetheless, devoted his time to tell me about the area.

His first suggestion was the nearby beach (see below), but as he saw I was interested in hiking, he told me about the Middle Head Peninsula trailMt. Franey and the Clyburn River Valley. Once I got the map from the office, he even got off his ladder to mark for me the “must do” trails. On the practical level he said they were aware of the shower problem. It would get solved.

The Double Beach

I started with the nearby double beach, double because the sea and a lake flank each other with a very narrow land strip in between. The trail led through the forest, passed a road and a football field. Once I crossed it, I was on my way to the beach. I put my mind to remember where the stairs leading back to the trail were located.

The cars parking was right above the seafront. Most of the people did not dare a foray far from the shore and were crowded in the first few meters of water. I decided to go to the lake first. Interestingly, the bathrooms were by the lakeside, almost out of view for the majority of the people. I was there alone initially.

I put on my “tail”, goggles and the warmer overshirt, and had a fairly long swim. The lake bottom was shallow and boring – rock, sand, a few plants, a few fish. It was cold. I did a loop around the little bay, then walked back to the ocean.

The ocean was even colder. Perhaps the people didn’t mind. Maybe the words “sandy beach” were sufficient to attract, or perhaps they didn’t know there was a swimmable lake nearby. At any rate, it was indeed a bit iffy to swim there. Powerful waves came like sheets and broke, leaving a very quiet surface behind, but hardly anybody crossed the wave-line to enjoy that calm. 

 Happy seagull on beach, Ingonish National Park, Cape Breton Seagull with pretzel in beak, Ingonish National Park

The seagulls at the beach were also deep into civilization…

Stars in the Lake

24.8.2016, Ingonish CG, cape Breton, NS , in tent, night time. 

Her name was Katy. She was wearing a ranger’s skirt, reminiscent of the uniforms religious girls in the Israeli army wear. Perhaps she was Jewish or Christian. I don’t know and it makes no difference, but, oh, did she cut through nonsense. The walk was advertised as “Seeing in the Dark”. It cost an extra fee of 15 CAD, (12US$), and was one of the most transformative experiences of my life…

The on-going attention to survival details, to planning, the attempts to do new things, all those have a cumulative empowering effect on the solitary traveler.

We slowly gathered at Warren Lake parking as the day was waning. We were going to walk some of the trail encircling the lake in complete darkness. I took a few pictures with my cellphone while waiting. We were not allowed to produce any light once on the walk. By the time we started, the lake was sinking into evening. These are my last pics:

Ready for the Seeing-in-Dark walk, Ingonish National Park, Cape Breton

This is Katy, one of the strongest, smartest women I met, waiting to meet us by the car park.

The beauty of this lake cannot be overstated.

Warren Lake at twilight, Ingonish National Park

Lake Warren folding into night, Ingonish National Park, Cape Breton

The “nonsense” I was mentioning above is the overly done “safety and security” stuff. You cannot live an authentic life anymore because everything around you has to be padded with cotton wool and covered from all sides by the rules of a gang of lawyers.

Katy was out here to teach us to be with the night, to lose our instinctual and learned fears. We navigated amongst branches flying in our faces, tree roots we could stumble against. I felt a creeping panic when I couldn’t see the person walking right in front of me… There was no “safety net” except for Katy herself who, after innumerous times of guiding this tour, knew every stone and twig on that path. Apparently, she could actually see much better than we could. Perhaps it is an acquired art.

We were learning to re-meet the night, the primeval condition of humankind, pre-civilization.

In her introduction, Katy explained the difference between twilight, dusk and darkness. As we started walking in a line behind her, the sky and the land gradually shifted from one state to the other –the Being of the Night was taking over.

Katy told us that authentic Night – as we, humanity, once knew it – was disappearing from the world. National Parks of Canada are now “light pollution free”, for the benefit of humans and animals alike. Moths get confused with our artificial lighting. They are naturally programmed to go after the big light, the moon, as do the nascent baby turtles. We mess it all up for them with dire consequences. Birds collide with office buildings that are lit 24X7.

Give us back the night, said Katy. It is necessary for our sound sleep as well. Clearly, even here, you needed to get out of the campground to experience it.

In the creeping darkness, everything made a huge difference. If the person in front of you wore a white shirt, it reflected and you could see them. A walker with a black shirt would merge into the darkness and disappear from view. The path kept winding closer and further away from the lake. When we were near, the water would reflect the lingering light in the sky, and we could see our silhouettes. When in the forest,  there would be nothing for the eye to register.

Katy taught us to use all of our senses – touch to feel the branches and tree trunks, hearing to estimate where our friends were, where animals were, even taste and smell.  More than anything, still, we learned to train our eyes to distinguish shapes and hues.

Several times when I, or somebody else, felt lost, we called. Katy’s voice would come from a distance that could be much smaller than we perceived it to be, or the person in front or behind would reassure us they were still there. Normally, though, we kept quiet. We learned how our proprioceptors worked even without us being aware. They were compensating for the lack of the direct visual input.

Despite the total darkness, nobody fell, nobody even stumbled, nobody hit a branch and got hurt. Katy said people on these walks keep safe… Even more than while driving on the highway, awareness becomes acute, senses awaken. We kept putting one foot in front of the other…

As dusk was setting in, I saw a bunch of pretty fireflies over the lake. But, no, these were no regular fireflies. The more I looked, the more I realized. These were the stars, vibrating at us in the almost perfectly reflective calm water. The sky was virtually down here at our feet. Magic.

I am getting stronger. First the Green Gardens walk I was so apprehensive about, and now this walk in the dark. It all gets registered into the biology, re-imprinting my psyche. Even further – the on-going attention to survival details, planning, attempting to do new things – all those have a cumulative empowering effect.

At the end of the walk we received Scottish oatmeal cookies. The promised tea did not materialize for some reason… Could have been nice, but everything was great nonetheless. 

There’s no better way to “become animal” (in the good sense, as David Abram sees it), than to take this walk. It brings you right back to Origin. I recommend this experience for everybody!

The next day was very prolific. I walked the Middle Head Peninsula, then drove up the eastern coast, including Neil’s Harbor, Green Cove and a (failed) attempt to reach the Coastal Trail. For a finale I had a meal and a concert at the iconic Atlantic restaurant in the Keltic Lodge compound.

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