Fundy National Park: a place to breathe and heal (by Sarah Smart-Yates)

A heart-felt, wonderful post by our beloved daughter-by-marriage, Sarah.

One of the natural wonders of the world is Fundy National park. The tidal water flows in and out of the large basin in an eternal, rhythmical motion, producing the highest tides in the process. This daily ritual is predictable and scheduled. Something that you can count on, something you can expect. It is as if the bay of Fundy takes a deep breath each day as the water rushes in and out. During moments of crisis or sadness or chaos, having that dependable rhythm can be a source of constancy and strength. As the bay of Fundy breathes, it forces you to breathe with it.

I found this out a few years back when Matthew and I planned to take our young daughter there for a family vacation, complete with grandparents and uncles. This was to be our daughters first experience camping and we were all very excited to watch her explore the outdoors, something hard to do when you’re growing up in a city. Matthew and I were also very excited for this trip because I was 10 weeks pregnant, and we were going to share the news when we arrived. The day we were leaving I had my monthly doctors appointment to make sure everything was alright before leaving. Matthew stayed at home to pack the car and was going to pick me up afterwards and immediately embark on our east coast adventure. We had seen this “little bean” on a previous ultrasound, so we were hopeful that all was well. The doctor put the ultrasound wand to my stomach, but this time there wasn’t a twinkle of movement announcing the beating rhythm of a heart. There was just a little bean shaped baby devoid of movement. Unbeknownst to me, The pregnancy had died that week. It was a heartbreaking moment. When Matthew arrived moments later I had to crush his hopeful smile with the news that everything we had planned for had been drastically changed. We were heartbroken to lose the pregnancy. Instead of driving out east that afternoon, we found ourselves instead waiting in the hospital for surgery to eliminate the remains of what was to be my second child, our growing family, a piece of me. It was hard to breathe.

That night afterwards i laid on the floor next to my toddlers bed and just listened to her sleep. When morning finally came I announced we were still to go camping. We were still to go be with family. And instead of using the bay of Fundy as a place to announce our growing family, we decided to use it as a place to breathe and find the space to process what had just happened to us. We were going to heal.

Fundy National Park did not disappoint. We hiked on trails. We walked on the beach. We played on the playground. We ate marshmallows. We were with people and we also found space to be alone as well. We started the week in grief and shock and some pain, arriving only two days after my surgery. Yet over the course of the week we started the path towards healing. We were surrounded by a space that was bigger than me, And bigger then the personal pain that I was experiencing.

 

When you drive in the park they have a bunch of muskoka chairs, red, that look out at various natural wonders. They often came in fours; two big chairs, and two little. As if yearning for a family of four to come sit in them, those chairs would stand out to me all week as a reminder that we had just lost. But they also gave me a sense of hope. Just as the tides would always be there, so too would those chairs. It gave me hope that in our future we could come again and that our dream of four would be a reality for us when we did. I knew those views would wait for us. They were just too beautiful… the horizon over the water, the colour of the sands, the feeling of the wind, the smell of the ocean. The surroundings were just so big. Bigger than me. Bigger than my immediate pain. Constant. And dependable. Dependable when I needed it.

There is no one way to heal from a miscarriage. Just as there is no one way to walk through a time of grief. But I will forever be grateful for our decision to spend that first week of grief at Fundy National Park. The sky was big. The beauty of the surroundings was all encompassing. Not only was it a source of distraction in the moments that I needed it, it was also a source of comfort. The park breathes. And you can’t help but breathe along with it.

Smart-Yates' at Fundy, 2016

Top left: Ellie and her Dad explore the beach. Top right: Ellie shows her Mom some treasure Bottom: Ellie, Matt, Sarah

Fundy National Park Trails: great proximity, incredible variety

 

The great gift of Fundy National Park is the sheer variety of ecosystems contained in one National Park package. The variety of hiking trails reflects this diversity. There are over 100 kilometers of them to explore. What makes Fundy special, compared to other parks, is the proximity of the trails to the campsites. You do not have to travel very far to reach any of the trails. Over the years, the trails we chose reflected the abilities of family members. When little legs had to trot along, we chose shorter trails with an interesting payoff, like a small waterfall or a beaver dam. Dickson Falls and MacLaren Pond would be examples. As those legs grew longer, but attention spans seemed a little short, we would negotiate. During the mornings, we would hike for an hour or two and in the afternoon, we would go to the playground, swim in the pool, play games, go to Alma for a sticky bun. In later years an hour or allow two on their handheld video games might be the post-hike pleasure.

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The fourth generation is introduced to the saltwater pool by her grandmother (me) after some hiking in her baby trail-carrier. Loved the pool toys. Hated the cold water.

Many trails are between one or two hours. You can cover a lot of ground in two hours of hiking. In Fundy that may mean starting at a tidal pool and ending up on a mountain. We have hiked most of the trails and all are worth a trek. There are a few that are special to us because they combine beauty, intersecting ecosystems and local stories of bygone eras.

 

 

 

 

 

Coppermine

This trail is a 4.4 km loop that will take about 1.5 hours. It will take you through deep, green forest. Much of the trail is coastal so you get breathtaking views. Benches are periodically perched along the edge. Take the time to sit and periodically ponder. Some of the trail is old road that led to the copper mine. Eventually, the trail will take you to the old, caved-in entrance to a played-out copper mine. Years ago, there was old mining equipment scattered about which our sons loved to investigate. In these latter years of anxious lawyering, these have been removed, although some interpretive panels explain the significance of the mine.

Matthew’s Head

One of our camping rituals was to find the sign that said “Matthew’s head” and take a picture of our son Matthew underneath, pointing to his head. Besides this happy naming coincidence, the Matthew’s head trail is a wonderful trip that begins with a path through old homesteads and farmland. It is a 4.5 km trail that will take most hikers about 1.5 hours. There is an old foundation that has a riot of rhubarb growing around it, interspersed with once-domestic flowers that someone planted a hundred years ago to cheer their days. Once you make your way through the fields, the trail moves into wooded areas and coastal paths. A fantastic fern forest greets you at one point.  If you want a beach experience, you can go from Matthew’s Head to Herring Cove beach. Fun fact: when I was a girl, there were government run stables at Matthew’s Head where you could get trail rides on horses. We did this a number of times as children. I suspect our parents were grateful to get some “adult” time for those two hours. There was something quite magical about travelling those old settler trails on the back of a horse. I had one that almost bucked me off when it saw a porcupine mid-way up an adjacent tree.

Laverty Falls

This hike tends to be popular. It is 5km and will take about 2.5 hours. The Park rates it as moderate. It can be a little rugged in spots and there is a fair amount of ascending and descending which can be problematic for folks with knee problems. However, your reward is the lovely falls at the end of the trail. On a hot summer day, you can jump in its very cool, refreshing water, so bring a swimsuit or amphibious hiking apparel. There are two levels to the falls, so don’t get there and think you are done. If you go a little higher, you not only see some lovely white water, you also get a great view of the river.  I think every time we hike this one, we are surprised at the number of unhappy young women limping along in flip flops despite signs warning of the rigors of some parts of the trail.

Third Vault Falls

This hike at 7.4 km return trip at about 3.5 hours is rated as “difficult” and it is, in spots. At one point we were climbing flat rock face, which, with small Jack Russells in tow, is no mean feat. We attempted this one for the first time in 2016 with our son and his husband. We loved it. Lots of riverside trekking, rugged forest floors, great diversity of tree species and much bedrock. Carl, the geotechnical engineer found the riverbed and bedrock fascinating. Of course, at the end of the trail, the spectacular Third Vault Falls is the great gift. Again, take the time to climb a little higher and you will be rewarded with a wonderful view of the river

Third Vault Falls

Taking a break at the top of Third Vault falls

Unscripted Trails

Fundy has a lot of lovely abandoned roads and ghost villages of ancient hostels and tiny tourist cottages. In the sixties when the nation’s youth were wandering about finding themselves, a youth hostel came in handy. Only the rubble of the foundations of the youth hostels exist now. The road to the hostel begins opposite the golf course. We call this the “Emerald Road” because the asphalt has been colonized by moss, so you find yourself climbing through a tunnel of green, with a canopy of overgrown tree branches above and soft moss below. It is breath-taking. Carl says it is lovey to jog on early in the morning. The air, he says, is absolutely saturated with oxygen. The preponderance of bear scat can be a little unnerving. I tell myself that Atlantic Canadian bears are small and shy. When you take these little unscripted hikes, you can meet some interesting people. We came upon university students counting fish from the river that meanders alongside the golf course in parts and were able to ask them a few questions about their research. We often forget that National Parks are places where ground-breaking research of our natural world takes place.

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Scientific researchers taking a break from fish counting

Note: another post about fascinating tide walks will be forthcoming.

 

Easy Trails

Caribou Plain: 2.1 km loop,  60 – 90 minutes (forest, wetland)

MacLaren Pond: .5 km loop, 15 minutes, (forest, pond)

Shiphaven: 1.0 return trip, 30 minutes, (forest, coast)

 

Moderate Trails

Black Horse: 4.4 loop 1.5-2 hours (forest)

Coppermine: 4.4 km loop, 1.5 – 2 hours (forest, coast)

Dickson Falls: 1.5 km loop, 30 minutes (forest, brook)

Dobson Link: 2.6 km one way, 60 – 90 minutes (forest)

East Branch: 5.6 km loop, 2-2.5 hours (forest)

Herring Cove Beach: 1.0 km return trip, 1.5 hours (coast)

Kinnie Brook: 2.8 km return trip, 1.5 hour (forest)

Laverty Falls: 5 km return trip, 1.5 hours (forest)

Maple Grove: 8.0 km return trip, 1.5 – 2 hours (forest)

Matthews Head: 4.5 km return trip, 1.5 – 2 hours (forest, coast)

Point Wolfe Beach: 1.2 km return trip, 40 minutes (forest, coast)

Tracey Lake: 14km return trip, 5 hours (forest, wetland)

 

Difficult trails

Bennet Brook: 15.4 km return, 5-6 hours (forest, river)

Black Hole: 11 km return trip, 4 hours (forest, river)

Coastal (East): 6.4 km return trip, 3-4 hours (forest, coast)

Coastal (West): 13.8 km return, 5-6 hours (forest, coast)

Foster Brook: 8.8 return trip, 3-4 hours (forest, river)

Goose River: 15.8 return trip, 5-6 hours (forest, coast0

Marven Lake: 16 km return trip, 5-6 hours (forest, wetland)

Moosehorn: 4.8 km one way, 2 hours (forest, river)

The Forks: 6.8 km return trip, 3-4 hours (forest, river)

Third Vault Falls: 7.4 km trip, 3-4 hours (forest, brook)

Tippen Lot (North): 4.6 km return trip, 3 hours (forest, wetland)

Tippen Lot (South): 3.8 km return trip, 5-6 hours (forest, wetland)

Upper Salmon River: 17.6 km return, 7-8 hours (forest, river)

Whitetail: 11.4 km return trip, 4-5 hours (forest)

Fundy National Park Trails