Gaspé: you can tell how the living live by how they treat their dead

“Your communities will never really accept you until they see how you treat their dead.” These were the words of Rev. Dr. Shelley Finson. She peered at us over her glasses, pencil stuffed snuggly in her ponytail. She reached for it and tapped the eraser end on the desk beside me whose occupant was sleepily contemplating the ceiling tiles. The class paused for a minute while my fellow student’s eyes quickly engaged hers. She continued. “The people you serve will watch how you wait with them as their loved one dies. They will listen to your words, not for content but for compassion. Then, at the most vulnerable, difficult moments of their lives, they will observe what you do with those words at the funeral when, along with them, you remember the significance of a life. Afterward, the people will wait to see if you stop to take time to mention the person’s name in their presence. Until you take care with these things, you will never be ‘in.’ How you take care of a community’s dead says a lot about who you are. How do you care for the dead?” My peers chimed in with their wisdom.

I remember being somewhat skeptical twenty years ago sitting in the midst of my Pastoral Studies class at the Atlantic School of Theology. Surely, after so many hours spent absorbing history, theology, social analysis, experiential learning and so on, success in a community cannot possibly come down to the death response? When I got out of school and was thrown into the midst of living with people amongst their grief and joy-stoked lives, I learned that Shelley was absolutely correct, as usual.

I would add my own corollary to Shelley’s wisdom. How the living in a community treat their dead says a great deal about how they live. I have observed that unkempt or hazardously managed cemeteries usually indicate a community in some kind of trouble. Either they have lost community capacity for building social structures or there is such dysfunction that they cannot come together to care for their dead. Well-kept cemeteries, particularly if they are volunteer-run, indicate the opposite. It takes a community of some spiritual capacity to come together to figure out and implement a vision as to how the resting place of their loved ones will look and function.

 

When we took the 132 south from Mont Joli you would come around bends or be in the midst of hollows and a small community would just suddenly pop up. Occasionally you would see nicely kept cemeteries. Sayabec is the tiniest of villages and yet it had a lovely community sign surrounded by a robustly gardened area. Its cemetery was stunning. A stone chapel, constructed of local, unique, beautiful stone greets you as you pull into a level parking lot. The most astonishing aspect of the cemetery is the 14 stone cairns enfolding it. On each is a depiction of stations of the cross, (the story of Jesus’ crucifixion). Near the station which depicts, I think, the time a man is voluntold to carry Jesus’ cross, a man’s family took time to erect a small display with his picture and some biographical material next to his grave marker. Not for the first time, I cursed the limits of my primitive high school French. I wondered that a family or community felt a need to highlight this man’s life. In the centre of the graveyard is the corpus (the body of Jesus on the cross) with Mary and another standing vigil.  The unusual volcanic rock of the area supports both of them. The whole has the effect of declaring to the visitor, “This is our impervious, irregular, beautiful faith-rock. It is us. Pain abounds, but resilient love matters most.” I wonder about a community who take such care with their dead.

 

 

Postscript: Dr. Pat De Meo volunteered to translate the words on the plaque. We both agreed they were lovelier than we could have imagined.

(Photo shows a man who has walked to the top of a mountain.)
At the summit of my life, I thank you for having walked with me along the path of love with its joys, its beauty and its obstacles.
Today, my journey continues with you in your hearts.
Be happy and love, for that is the beginning of your path towards love.
I love you, Zita.
I love you, my children, my grand-children, my great-grand-children.
All of you who have walked with me, I love you.
I am watching over you with my gaze of eternity.
Dominique

The Gaspe Peninsula-Ultimate Truck Camper Test (by Carl Yates)

In late July, Linda and I spent a week in Forillon National Park as a full trial run of our new truck camper, a 2017 Livin’ Lite, Camplite 11.0 purchased from Jerry’s RV in New Minas, Nova Scotia.  The 11.0 model is 20 feet long with a slide and weighs in at a dry weight of 3400 lbs.  As a result [you guessed it], it requires a long bed, one ton truck to carry it.  In this case, the one ton is a Dodge Ram 3500 with a 5.7 litre Hemi engine.  After the week, I can safely say, the truck camper is a blast and performed well on and off the road.   Although the Gaspe is rugged with an abundance of twisting roads and steep grades, the camper contents stayed put for the most part and the ride was smooth.  Some contents did slide towards the front when Linda stopped abruptly; she is learning that even with the excellent brakes on the Ram, the truck does not stop on a dime. The ride did of course benefit from the rear air suspension installed on the truck and are highly recommended when carrying or towing heavy loads.

Once set up at the campsite at Petit Gaspe, we got to try all the amenities, including the microwave!  We decided to continue to eat healthy [there is no excuse really with a fantastic propane stove and three-way fridge, both manufactured by Dometic] and made a couple of grain bowls to sustain us as quick, healthy travel meals for a couple days.  Our grain bowl consisted of a protein cooked on the BBQ [beef, chicken or lamb], stir fried mixed vegetables [bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes] cooked in olive oil and mixed with a healthy grain [brown rice, bulger or quinoa] cooked with chicken or beef broth.   I mentioned the microwave earlier as it served to heat up the grain bowl leftovers for lunches, after the first feast at supper time.

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Hills and valleys everywhere

The dinette slide on the truck camper benefits from a rack and pinion gear arrangement and was very easy to set up including the table.  The table has a solid base stand but not as stable at the top where it rests on the post; a double post system would be better or table attached to the wall.  The north south bed exceeded our expectations with a three inch memory foam over the standard queen mattress.  The comfort was as good as home and when the nights were a little too warm for sleeping, the air conditioner did the job on the low cool setting.  Some think you rough it in a truck camper; I beg to differ.

After initially thinking the leak in the hot water tap on the outside shower was fixed [see previous article], a slow drip was evident [see attached photo].  Fortunately we could still use the hot water system as water was available directly from the Park system which is brand new this year.  The tank capacity is excellent on the Camplite 11.0 with a fresh water tank at 28 gallons and grey and black tanks holding 30 gallons each.  We only had to dump the tanks once during the week and it was very easy to pack up and dump at the station near the campground entrance.

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Outside shower leaking

After a week in Forillon where we enjoyed breathtaking scenary and hikes with our two Jack Russell terriers, we packed up and left for Montreal via the north coast.  And if you thought the south coast was rugged and spectacular, you should see the north coast which has more twisty turns and even greater changes in elevation.  Not to worry, the truck and camper were meant for each other and the drive was splendid.

Forillon National Park: exploring the parks out of the back of your car. Meet Nicholas.

Forillon National Park: Nicholas Madden, explorer

Perhaps you think you need a truck camper to explore all of Canada’s National Parks? I would like you to meet Nicholas Madden who is living out of his small car as he adventures through all of the Parks. We were puzzling out which version of the Mont-Saint-Alban trail the perpetually-psyched-for-a-hike dogs could tolerate with their short legs, when he joined us at the display map. He was tall, young and laden down with all kinds of camera paraphernalia. This caught my eye. It is rare to see someone younger than forty carry imaging equipment in an era of smart phones. Nowadays phones can take better photos than your average human with a fancy camera and a trunk full of camera paraphernalia. He looked directly at us and asked if we had done the climb before. No, I replied and then asked him what he was doing with so much imaging equipment which was admirably arranged all over his knapsack and himself. I silently rebuked myself for being so bold and possibly scaring away a young adult. They are scarcer than bears in these Parks crawling with seniors and Boomers. A spacious smile and then he spoke his story.

Nicholas Madden is 23 years old. He is travelling to as many Parks as he can get to in 2017. He has a degree in Environmental Studies. He was feeling a little burnt-out from constantly being at school and decided to take a year to see the environment close-up and personal. He is living out of his car as he travels across Canada. He is friendly, knowledgeable, adventurous and smart. He will meet his Dad in Alaska where the two of them will embark on a North-South odyssey of epic proportions exploring United States National Park. I totally get why Dad is going, beyond the bonding, fun and adventuring. I would have ten heart attacks a day imagining my child travelling solo, sleeping in the back of a car as he checks out American wild places. I found myself experiencing a total body relax-response the minute he said his Dad was accompanying him.

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Nicholas Madden

Nicholas is vlogging his journey which is why he needs to take so much recording equipment. He takes pictures, sound recordings and video recordings of the environment he loves so much. We talked for a while about the necessity of recording these shared natural spaces before climate change and human greed impact them. Because Carl and I can never stop being parents (damn!) we encouraged him to continue his environmental studies. I told him what I say to our son Matt who is working on a Ph.D. in biology at Concordia. In an era of assault on the environment and popular animosity toward science and data collection, devoting one’s life to science and scientific method is a slow but critically important act of resistance. Not many can do it, so the ones who can should.

Check out Nicholas’ vlog and Facebook site. When I asked if he had a name or title for his site he simply said “Google me.”

Forillon National Park Hiking: We encounter a Canadian lynx who may have thought Pax was a potential snack

One of our favourite things to do, whether we are camping or not, is to hike. We discovered this on our honeymoon in Gros Morse National Park 34 years ago. We were 22, grossly out of shape, unprepared and kind of stupid. We decided to hike the 20 kilometer Green Gardens trail. It was astonishing we emerged from that particular hike at all. When we recovered three days later, we had to admit we liked the experience of walking through vast expanses of nature, observing and/or dodging wildlife and challenging ourselves to push a little farther than we thought we go. We were hooked. We have been hiking pretty much weekly ever since.

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Petit-Gaspé trail

Every journey to a camping site is a commitment on our part to hike as many trails as we can. We prefer hikes that are a minimum of 6 kilometers to a maximum of 15. We have done longer ones but it is difficult to take the dogs as Pax has a bum leg. Given those parameters, Forillon was somewhat of a disappointment to us. Despite being called a “hiker’s paradise” it did not have many trails that fit within this range. You mostly needed to be a super-ninja hiker, that is 20-35 km hiking) or a slow leisurely walker kind of hiker (.6 to 3 km). Nonetheless, we did the few that fit us best and they did not disappoint.

First, it should be noted that Forillon is famous for being the mainland tail-end, or the beginning depending on your perspective, of the International Appalachian Trail (IAT). As you travel through Forillon Park various trails and roads are marked with the IAT symbol accompanied by some information about trail section length and difficulty rating. John Brinda from Washington State hiked the entire trail from Key West in Florida to Forillon in 1997. There is a nice plaque and information kiosk about this at near the lighthouse on the L’Anse-Aux-Amérindiens trail. As you travel throughout the Appalachians in the Gaspé you can often see these IAT signs.

The Petit-Gaspé Beach trail, a 7.2 km loop, was busy with friendly, hiking campers. Many groups included children and dogs. All were affable and seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a well-groomed trail which culminates in an impressive observation tower at an elevation of 283 metres. The view is gorgeous as can be seen in the image below. There were several interpretive panels which were helpful as were the sporadically placed benches and the famous “red chairs.” These scarlet adirondack chairs are placed by Canada’s National Parks in the locations with the best views. They are ideal places to take a breath and let the beauty flow into you.IMG_0062

The most memorable event occurred on the L’Anse-aux-Amerindiens trail which we took from L’Anse-aux-Améridiens to Cap Gaspé. That hike gives you the option of walking on a dirt road or the IAT trail that runs alongside. As it was towards the end of the day and I simply did not feel like mountain-goating up hillsides we took the nicely banked dirt road. At this point I should confess our failings as dog-owners. Despite attendance at many obedience classes, we cannot get Pax to heel when hiking. Or ever, actually. She is 11 pounds of muscular feistiness. She is less unruly when she is able to trot ahead of our other dog Russell. She was not lead dog a number of times on this hike. When she is behind him, she is heart-broken and irate which means she emits sounds akin to that of a dying animal.  When we arrived at the lighthouse, the apex of the hike, I was looking at the ocean, while Russel growled and barked next to Carl. This is unusual for Russell.  Carl said, very quietly, “Linda, turn around.” There was a HUGE cat that was intently observing us about 50 feet away. It had come out of some tall grass, then crossed the lawn as it coolly surveyed the dogs. It disappeared into more tall grass. We think it is possible that it was following us because of Pax’s incessant wounded-animal cry. We had a little family meeting. We decided that if we are attacked by a bear or a Canadian lynx, Pax may have to make an honorable sacrifice to the carnivore gods if we cannot scare or beat the bear/lynx away with our hiking poles. Russell could not speak, but we feel strongly that he would be on our side in this matter.

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Cap Gaspé, after the Canadian lynx

We also saw seals and many different kinds of seabirds. Whales come by there, but we did not observe any.

We did several iterations of the Les Graves beach walks. These were always lovely. It amazed me though how humans need to constantly re-arrange the environment. Rather than leave driftwood as is, there were constant piles and structures being made by visitors. One evening, however, I do think God looked back at me from one of these, as yet unorganized, pieces of driftwood.

 

 

 

Trails

Prélude-a-Forillon:  .6 km loop – easy – universal access trail (boardwalk)

La Taîga:  3 km return – easy – observation blind, view of marsh, boreal forest, fragile environment

Les Parages:  3km loop – easy – Grand-Grave heritage site

La Chute:  1km loop – moderate – 17 m. waterfall, boardwalk and stairs

La Graves:  various possibilities from 6.4 km to 15.2 km, all return – moderate – coves, pebble      beaches, Cap-Gaspé, marine mammals.

Mont-Saint-Alban:  two possible loops from Petit-Gaspé beach and Cap-Bon-Ami – moderate – sea and cliff scenery, observation tower at 283m, 360-degree panoramic view

La Vallée:  9.2 km return – moderate – L’Anse-au-Griffon river system

Le Portage:  20 km return – moderate – connects the north and south sides of the peninsula

Les Créte:  35.4km return – difficult – wooded, mountainous, backcountry campsites

Les Lacs:  36.6km return – difficult – park highlands and wilderness lakes, back country campsites