The Western Coastline
The Half-Hour Blunder
It rained heavily throughout the morning. I did not know what to do with myself and the depression from yesterday set in again. It took me around two hours to get myself to the shower, cook some oatmeal and pack stuff in the car, umbrella in hand.
I got re-invigorated when the neighbor lady came over. She offered me some food, but I needed her advice more. What can I do in such weather? She suggested driving a few minutes to see a nice aqarium at Norris Point. From there, I could take a boat to Woody Point, where there are restaurants and a museum.
The instructions were clear and simple. I arrived an hour early for the boat. The aquarium was located in a marine biological station proximal to the dock. The exhibition was geared for both children and adults. A young scientist lifted huge snow crabs and lobsters out of aquaria, showing them to the appreciative kids.
I figured I still had plenty of time for the boat, so I took my time reading the informative panels. There was much research done in the Bonne Bay area, with detailed bathymetric maps to show. The research focus switched from cod to snow crabs and lobsters, in accordance with current trends in consumer demand.
When I finally went back to the dock, there was only one boat moored there and it wasn’t the taxi boat. I was told it had already departed.
Checking the time, I saw there was half an hour difference between my clock and the office. I noticed my cellphone jumped the time a half an hour back yesterday, but reflexively reset it to “normal”. Something was weird here. After investigation I found out Newfoundland was half a time zone away from Nova Scotia. Go figure…
So, missing the boat, I turned back, giving up on Woody Point for the day, but the weather had improved outside and inside. The rain stopped and the sun came out. I decided to switch back to plan A and drive up along the Gros Morne coastline.
Moose vs. Caribou – the Ecological Dilemma
A congregation of people on the left side of the road got me curious. I stopped and got out of the car. The culprit was cautiously moving in the underbrush a few hundred meters below, looking majestic. Everybody clicked.
I later discovered that moose was introduced into the island for the “benefit” of “sport” hunters. The original caribou population was already almost decimated by hunters during the 19th century. The introduced moose could easily take over. Moose is an impressive animal with a lot of personality, but that does not detract from its apparent devastating effect on the island’s ecology.
As things stand, ecological equilibrium existed when caribou was the dominant large mammal in Newfoundland. With moose replacing caribou and people playing God (after those who played with the devil), trees cannot grow, and even birds and lichen are affected. Signs along roads warn of accidents with moose, but what can you do really?
The Authentic NL- Sally’s Cove
Moving on north along the Gros Morne coast, I pulled over at a small hamlet, Sally’s Cove. It barely qualifies as a village. These old ramshackle houses had an immediate call on my imagination. A small number of families, living in this extreme weather. The men out fishing, the women weaving, knitting, mending nets, making snowshoes with kids and neighbors.
Does the fascination I have to places like this indicate something else? Something keeps pulling me to these northern forlorn islands – the Hebrides, Orkneys, Shetlands, Ireland, the Lofotens …
Sally’s Cove looks forlorn, but is still inhabited. Next to one of the houses, a large, old, traditional wooden rowboat was pulled out of its garage. On my way back I, indeed, saw some guys working on it. This, then, is a functional fishermen’s village located inside a national park…
Searching the Net later, I found that the place had 27 inhabitants, a church, a fire station, garbage collection and a cell phone service. Perhaps some of it was on the other side of the road. All I saw were the houses, the beach and the boat. Despite the simplicity, the houses exuded a sense of dignity and independence, of “authentic” life.
Something basic and critical got lost with urbanization and industrialization. Our direct subsistence from Nature was disrupted. Entertainment replaced oral history, storytelling and music making around the fireplace. Something was gained, of course, like my ability to share these thoughts online, but something essentially human was lost.
We got disconnected not just from the Earth, as environmentalists like to emphasize, but also from the Sea, the Mother of all.
In a place like this, one can only imagine the winters… The howling…
I proceeded to Broom Point looking for the fishing museum. An on-the-site guide was supposed to be present there, but the place was empty. It was an ultimately beautiful beach, wild, clean. The magical turquoise bay below was changing colors, as the clouds and sun were playing catch above.
The fishery “museum” was simply an abandoned fishermen’s house full of boats, lobster traps, nets and other fishing equipment. Everything was silent, except for the sea.
Geologists’ Haven – Green Point
Since I read Weathering Heights as a teenager, I’ve been fascinated with desolate beaches. This coastline fitted perfectly with my imagery.
Green Point was my last stop. There was a campground there, but no village. I did not find the expected geology museum either. The world was the geology museum.
Searching for a bit more info, I found that the rocks here are half a billion years old, and a geologically significant fossil was uncovered here. A system of geological taxonomy was created based on these findings. This link is a good readable introduction for those interested to know more.
To me it was also a biological wonderland:
Gros Morne Coastal Road – Where Mail was Delivered on Dogsleds
I walked “The Coastal Trail”,starting at Green Point and continuing south for about 3 km. The coastal road used to be the only artery on the western side of the island, going all the way north to Cow’s Head and beyond, but it was, and still is, only a narrow trail… In winter the mailmen would go by ski, snowshoes or dogsleds…
Here I met a superbly nice couple from Quebec with their daughter, A. Tami (or Tamales, her full name) told me that the accent of old Newfoundland men is not Scottish, but rather a mix of Irish with English. However, the strange sound of their speech is a result of scurvy, a disease you get when there’s not enough fruit and vegetables around. They would mumble the words through toothless mouths, and that affected the accent of the islanders…
Clearly, Tami and her family led a good, happy life in a rural area in Quebec. I could tell, though, that she still loved Newfoundland, and was nostalgic about her wonderful, if difficult, childhood.
The three of them were doing the entire trip on motorbike. Here they are, taking off after our shared walk on the “Coastal”.
Down the road, we also met a group of Chinese men. They were rushing to their car to rescue their women, who came to the walk with high heels and slippers. Later, we met the women waiting for the faithful husbands down the trail.
Everywhere near the water or inland, was beauty. We walked in beauty.
The Coastal Road follows the Old Mail Road which used to be the only travel route in the northern peninsula . Since 1882 and until 1952, the mailmen used dogsleds in winter to deliver the mail up the coast.
Back to the Tent
This is the home I came back to in the evening, following my move out of the expensive dry cabin:
The night was cold despite two layers of clothing, the sleeping bag insert and the comforter. I stretched the rope from one side of the campground to the other, but a miracle would be needed to dry my bathing suit from two days before…
The next day I tried Woody Point again, and this time I did not miss the boat. I also had the best meal this trip, in a place called “The Old Loft”.