Gros Morne: Gone fishin’ (by Carl Yates)

Not everyone likes fishing but those who like it, like it a lot.  It can be one of the most relaxing things to do, especially if the setting is right.  In my opinion, the setting is right at Baker’s Brook in Gros Morne.  Baker’s Brook is located north of Rocky Harbour and in strict Newfoundland terms it is a brook.  In other provinces in Canada, it would be called a river but in Newfoundland the term is reserved for the big flows that are at the base of many valleys.  Baker’s Brook is fed by Baker’s Pond which again in other jurisdictions would be assigned lake status.  You see a pattern here!  Baker’s Pond was once a fjiord open to the ocean but after the last glaciers retreated over 10,000 years ago, the earth’s crust rebounded and the fjiord got flushed with fresh water from the receding glaciers.  The brook is home to speckled brook trout and Atlantic salmon, the two most common freshwater fish on the island.  Both of these species have a desire to travel to the sea to feed and as result, grow bigger.  Baker’s Brook discharges to the ocean approximately 1 km from the main highway that goes through the park and is one of the better places that an angler can try his or her luck for salmon or trout.  First, the rules are in order; fishing licenses for both trout and salmon are required but you don’t need a guide if you are a Canadian citizen as the park is on federal land.  Although Baker’s Brook is an unscheduled salmon river, you still require a provincial salmon licence and a park licence if you wish to retain salmon.  In essence, you will have two sets of tags and if you are fortunate to land a grilse [a salmon less than 63 cm centimetres], you must insert and lock each of the two tags through the gills of the fish.  It is hoped that salmon will continue to make this ocean journey to ensure a sustainable run but our “friends in Greenland” may put an end to salmon if they continue to harvest salmon from the ocean as part of a commercial fishery.  The numbers are very clear here that recreational fishing brings a greater return on investment than commercial fishing which is why Newfoundland banned commercial fishing in the 70s [a very good move].  In addition to the economics, Atlantic salmon are an important aspect of indigenous culture and a source of food for thousands of years.

To speak directly to the angling, a beautiful pool exists just upstream from where Baker’s Brook flows into the sea.  It is meant for fly fishing with a steady current to ensure your wet fly trails nicely.  I have had the fortune to hook both salmon and sea trout.  The trout gets the “sea” designation if it makes the journey to the ocean to feed.  One can tell the trout is of the sea variety by its brilliant orange underbelly and its taste [sweetness].  The other interesting aspect of hooking a fish in the lower reaches of the brook is that the fish returns from the ocean with a full belly and an abundance of energy which means that the fish will put up a good fight when hooked.  Although I have landed salmon at this pool, I have lost many after a fish has leapt in the air to set itself free.  Even if you don’t catch a fish, the experience at Baker’s Brook is one of tranquility.  You have beautiful views of the mountains and coastline to the south where the Tablelands rise, a wide-open ocean to the west and immediate views of hikers dropping by along a beautiful coastal trail which I have walked many times with Linda and our Jack Russell terriers.  I have also had the pleasure of fishing this pool with my son Matthew, the fish biologist, who is even more enthralled with salmon fishing than myself, but not as much as my father who got us all hooked on this recreational past time. In addition to enjoying the recreational aspect of fishing, Matthew is finishing up his doctorate degree at Concordia University with objectives to ensure a sustainable approach to fishing for future generations.

camper at Green Point Gros Morne

Gros Morne National Park: lone woman camping trend

Some are adventurous. Some love nature. Some are sad.

We have noticed it before and I have a friend who does it. However, it would seem that women camping alone is a definite and popular trend. When we were camping at Green Point, every single campsite adjacent to us had women who were camping solo in them. The campsites were close and did not have a great deal of tree or bush cover so view-planes were unimpeded. Your neighbours are unavoidably observable.

One woman, about 40 or so pulled up in a kind of volkswagon-y  . She would arrive at the end of each of her two days, cook up a scoff, contemplate the world from the vantage point of the top of her picnic table and then retire to bed. She had a large dog that looked kind of like a labradoodle. One evening a man came over and hung about chatting with her. She did not look terribly comfortable and I wondered about wandering over just to join in so she, and he, would know she was not unsupported and he was not unobserved. He left before she went to bed, but he arrived bright and early the next morning in a car. Again, they conversed and I could tell she sent him on his reluctant way. I admired her so much because, among other things, she expertly began her mornings with outdoor yoga.

The person to our immediate right on our first night was in her thirties. She was dog-less and slept in a tiny tent. She too was gone for most of the day, then arrived at suppertime, cooked a one-pot scoff and retired to the beach with her tea. At dusk she returned, lit a small campfire and sat by it, musing. She stayed for a night.

The next tenant of that site was a woman in her thirties who pulled in with an SUV with a rectangular contraption on the top. Lots of web addresses and sayings were decaled onto the car. When she got out, the most well-behaved German Shepherd calmly exited too. He kept very close to her. She told him to stay put, which he did reluctantly. Worried, his eyes followed her as she made her way to where I was sitting. Would I mind, she asked, defending her site from campsite stealers? She explained that someone took her last site because her car was not in it and her tent is always with her so a person just claimed her last campsite as some kind of squatter’s rights. I sympathised. Green Point campground has a Darwinian survival-of-the-quickest system. There is no way of making reservations and there is no kiosk with a person in it to manage the sites. I could see how it could happen. You are supposed to put an “occupied” sign on your campsite marker, but there are never enough. She further explained that she does not carry food and she just hiked all day, 10 km, and was hungry. She and the dog had to go to Rocky Harbour to eat. She did not appear to carry any kind of food. She was very worried that someone not take her site, she repeated. In fact, she appeared anxious in a general, vibrating kind of way. The dog looked like he might get up and come over. She had her back to him, but must have felt his slight movement. She turned and motioned for him to sit. I thought quickly. I had no idea how long she would be and could not imagine personally fending off campsite thieves for the rest of the evening. I offered up our “occupied” sign. She could not seem to make eye contact. Grateful, she expressed thanks, ran off, placed the “occupied” sign on her campsite marker and sped off in her car. The dog sat upright in the seat, looked toward the road and settled in, like he had done this a thousand times.

On the back of her Subaru was a website address https://www.wandering-dog.com. I took a look. I found it fascinating reading. The blog chronicles the adventures of the service dog named Indiana. The feelings, thoughts and experiences of her person, Brittany, provide content. Brittany was sexually assaulted twice while serving in the US Navy and was diagnosed with PTSD. Four years ago, she was discharged on disability and has been travelling with Indiana ever since. Camping for four years! Her blog makes for some difficult reading. When she returned, I longed to get to know her a little more. But, connection is, as she says in various places in her blog, difficult for Brittany. It was getting dark when they returned from Rocky Harbour. She parked the car, reached up to the rectangular thing on the roof and adjusted some bits and pieces. Voila!  A ladder appeared and a tent erected itself. She and the dog climbed the ladder and we did not see them until the next morning when the tent and ladder process worked itself in reverse. Then, safely ensconced in the SUV, Indiana and Brittany departed for breakfast and parts unknown, forever.

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I have observed over the past couple of years that women who camp alone seem to have short stays. They like to hike. Many have dogs and most seem to cook their own food. Brittany, the only one I knew by name because she had a website, was the only one who does not deal with food. She also was the only one that was outwardly, seriously anxious.  There are various reasons women camp alone.  My friend, Janet Moulton loves the outdoors, is a confident, skilled and gregarious woman. I suspect she makes friends wherever she goes. Sometimes, she tells me, other women join her. I know another woman who is determined to do the entire Appalachian trail on her own. She too is confident, determined, tough and loves the outdoors, as well as the challenge of having a difficult goal. All the women I have encountered solo-camping in Parks, have another life to return to. Camping was a break, a time of renewal, a contrast from their ordinary life. It did not occur to me that someone would camp for four years and possibly many more. What, I pondered, is Brittany looking for? How will she know when she finds it? She is another person that will live in my prayer life for some time.

A final thought. It is interesting that I consider it an anomaly to observe more women camping alone. Yet, it also has to be said that it is unusual to find men camping alone in National Parks. What would I think about a man camping alone for four years with a dog? What would you think?

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Gros Morne: a spiritual experience of apology and gratitude to the earth

Gros Morne National Park: a spiritual experience around every corner

I must see the mantle of the earth before I can rest. Going to Gros Morne always feels like pilgrimage. I need to go to the Tabletop, study it, touch the crinkled surface of the rock and just wait. The rock itself feels grainy-raw and looks wrinkled. Mother Earth without her makeup on.

The formation gives rise to a kind of dragon-spine all along the Northern Peninsula.  Some of the oldest rock on the planet, it has managed to stay surface-bound in the shifting, folding, molding of the earth’s crust. Nothing but the very toughest and most slow-growing of life exists on Tabletop rock because it is chock full of minerals and chemicals that make colonization of rock and soil almost impossible. The tiniest of trees, hundreds of years old, take root between rocks. They are so easily and willfully trampled by tourists who make rock cairns along the path despite explicit pleas from the Park not to because of the ecosystem’s ancient fragility.

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I need to touch Her for two reasons. First, I just pause to consider the near impossibility of being alive at this moment in time, part of a species that has existed for only 300,000 years. Energy from the gold rock reminds me to reflect, simply because I can. I am life consciously reflecting on 500 million years of planetary life. Second, I apologize to Her. Green Point may mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, but we are now living in what scientists call the Anthropocene era. “Anthro” simply is a fancy word for “human-ish.” Humans have so affected the air, land and water with our need to project heat, garbage and chemicals into and onto our planet that we are now creating our own geological time-mark. It can be measured in the earth’s crust for all of time. So, I apologize to Her and vow to do a little better in my own life and sphere of communication. The apology is part of my passion for Parks as preserved space for nature, the people of Canada and the inhabitants of the greater world. When I leave I am sustained by the knowledge that the earth is resilient. On the Tabletops I can see, smell and feel 500 million years of persistent existence under my feet. Humankind may not live another 100,000 years, but the Tabletops will still be there.

Another place of deep reflection and peace is the ocean shoreline. There are a couple of lovely shoreline trails. One of the most wonderful spiritual experiences we have had occurred this summer. During our honeymoon, we wanted to camp by the shoreline at Green Point campground, but were not able to. For over 30 years we aspired to spend a couple of nights there. Arriving around Noon this summer, we despaired of finding a site, but was astonished to find the one site we had always dreamed of camping on vacant. Those nights were some of the most beautiful we have ever spent camping. Behind us, the waves made their endless, eternal heartbeat on our doorstep. At night, as the sun set and the moon levitated, we observed people moving to the shore, clutching cups of warm liquid. They would often talk as they walked.  A curious thing happened during the final setting of the sun. The people became silent. It was not just about the gorgeousness of the moment.

The death of the sun amongst the salty, wet heartbeat of the earth, reaches deep inside of you. The moon brings hope of luminous resurrection, but still, it is never really enough.  There is some part of you that knows the death of the sun is but an echo of your own. And so, conversation stops, tea remains un-sipped and gratitude for life itself floats, if only for a brief visit, within you and among your companion strangers.

Gros Morne National Park trails: Green Gardens. Learning to hike the hard way.

Gros Morne National Park: The Green Gardens trail – sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t…

When Carl and I were honeymooning, young and stupid, we decided to hike the Green Gardens trail. In those days it was a 20-kilometre loop. It is no longer a twenty kilometre trail, in part because dumb people go unprepared, get lost, suffer from exposure or have to be rescued. We didn’t get lost, exactly, but it was a miracle we did not suffer from exposure. We thought it sounded like a nice thing to do for an afternoon. It was heart-attack rugged.  We traipsed up and down mountains, valleys, rock falls, shorelines and so on. I think we brought a bottle of water and nothing else. We were young and stubborn. Even when we knew we were in trouble, we just kept going. It was cold, drizzly and we were not wearing raingear, although our windbreaker jackets were euphemistically called “water-resistant.”

At the beginning of the trail, about two kilometres in, we encountered a young British doctor who was doing a locum in Corner Brook. A young woman accompanied him. She wore shorts, pretty sandals and appeared soaked, sad and cold. As Carl and he talked, she conversed a little, shivering in her thin clothes. She was from Corner Brook and was flattered to be asked to hike with the handsome young physician. I could tell by the looks of resentment she flashed at him, the glamour was quickly fading. We said our good-byes. The Doctor appeared a little crestfallen. As we left we could hear them arguing. We encountered them on the next couple of kilometres as you do when you are on a trail. Sometimes we would stop to rest or wild-pee and they would catch up. Then, they just stopped catching up. I suspect the good, young Doctor’s hope for a bit of sexual recreation that evening may have been in jeopardy.

We persevered. I became cranky as my out-of-shape legs and lungs struggled with the jagged terrain. I startled when we encountered lots of poop on the trail, which turned out to be sheep, not the herd of bears I feared. They look nothing alike (the poop or the animals) although I did not know that then, newbie as I was to hiking in deep Newfoundland woods. Carl knew the difference but I didn’t believe him, because, well, the Green Gardens hike was endless and we had no more water and I wasn’t in a mood to trust very deeply. Finally, we came to an interpretive panel which said, “You have hiked ten kilometres.” We patted each other on the back and generally felt elated, then screamed “Nooooo! That means it’s ten kilometres to go back!” Soon it would be dark. It began to rain. Parched, I opened my mouth to catch drops. I remembered my Canadian Armed Forces Reserve training from two summers before which taught us that fast moving water was safer.  We decided to drink from the first fast-moving stream we could find. As we filled our lone bottle from it, a moose regarded us calmly a hundred feet away or so. Thirst slaked and bottle filled, we moved as fast as we could. Kilometre nineteen brought on semi-delirium with visions of sheep-bears sneaking up behind me. We staggered out, gingerly packed our aching limbs into our tiny Datsun and took the Woody Point Ferry (which no longer runs). We collapsed in our tent. After we had a bite to eat, we marshalled up the energy to have showers because we were filthy and cold. Carl had a lovely long, hot shower. The women’s shower ran only cold that evening. He emerged looking like he stepped from the Sears catalogue. I simply emerged, growly. Suffice to say, the English Doctor wasn’t the only one who missed out on recreation that night.

Like most stories of foolishness and/or hardship, this one became a favourite of ours, a kind of marital talisman tale. About every five years Carl and I would challenge ourselves to do the twenty-kilometre loop again. I am proud to say that we have always managed to finish it. We enjoyed, even relished, the newer experiences because we brought food, water, dogs and good gear. I will not lie, there have been times, particularly when I was recovering from cancer, when I thought the helicopters may have to come and pick us up. However, I still managed to stagger out. It has been a kind of “touchstone” hike for us. To finish it means all is well with us, with each other and with Newfoundland.

 

The rigour of the trail continued to confound other travellers as you can read in this CBC article, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/ontario-family-hikes-gros-morne-in-the-dark-1.3696696. Possibly for this reason, as well as some upcoming needed pricey trail maintenance, Green Gardens has been modified to a nine-kilometre trail and is still rated as one of the top five wild flower trail hikes in the world. You can see forest, shoreline, volcanic stacks, valleys, streams, steep cliffs, grassy fields, marshes, wetlands, mountain tops and more. The sheep seem scarce these days, but there are plenty of moose, and probably bear, to keep you company.

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“Sheep on Green Garden’s Trail” by Natalie Lucier, (Creative Commons)

Gros Morne National Park: a UNESCO World Heritage Site for lots of reasons

 

Many years ago, Carl and I spent our honeymoon in Gros Morne National Park, where, as you would hope, we fell even more in love with each other. What we did not expect was how deeply  we would fall in love with Gros Morne National Park. I had trouble writing this post because it is so very difficult to convey into mere words such astonishing beauty. A combination of mountains, a freshwater fjord, the highest waterfall in eastern North America, salmon rivers, deep lakes, ocean seashore, dense forest and the occasional misty field make it a stunning buffet of panoramas. The multiple options available to explore these make it a struggle to choose your daily adventure!IMG_0280

Gros Morne is a UNESCO heritage site partly because of its picturesque splendour, but also because of its unique geological features. Orange, naked, mineral dense, weathered rock from the middle layer of the earth called the Tablelands, has been thrust up next to beautiful, forest-covered mountains through the stresses and strains of plate tectonics over 500 million years. You can walk on some of both in the span of a day. The geological tectonic thrusting about combined with glacial scouring during the last ice age to create interesting mountain cliffs, valleys and a freshwater fjord.The Tablelands of Gros Morne is one of the few places on earth where you can see, touch and walk on the Earth’s mantle. Every time we go to Gros Morne I need to walk on the Tablelands, lay my hands on the wrinkled rock and just breathe. It feels like holy space to me. At Green Point, seaside cliffs are layered with markers of deep time. Fossils mark the boundary between the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. This is a geological benchmark for the rest of the world, referred to as “Green Point Time.”

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Green Point: plate tectonics make interesting patterns. All of these, including the section that looks like a castle “wall,” were sculpted and cut by the earth’s crust .

If you camp, time seems to bend at Gros Morne. The five campgrounds are well maintained with clean comfort stations and good showers. You can choose from forested areas, shoreline or mountain views. Newfoundland is one of the last bee, bat and bird havens in eastern Canada. Since it is an island, the diversity of mammal population is more limited than that of the  Canadian mainland. You will notice that besides the occasional moose, there is very little roadkill on Newfoundland roads. There are no porcupines, racoons, snakes or gophers. Campsites therefore remain relatively unmolested by wildlife. Even bears tend to keep themselves scarce.

The hiking at Gros Morne is, I was told by global hikers, world class. There will be a separate blog describing some of the trails. Suffice to say, there are nineteen trails that explore unique aspects of this part of the world. There are many guided walks and some really excellent interpretive centres. You must get out and move around in Newfoundland to truly meet her. Luckily, when you get there, the land calls to you and you can’t wait to get your walking shoes on. Having said that, be prepared. Newfoundland is rugged and the weather changeable.

Tabletop mountains

Tabletop mountains

Many journeys culminate in Gros Morne National Park. Salmon make their epic voyage home to Gros Morne from their travels in oceanic parts unknown. You are able to fly fish in the Park, an activity that Carl says would beat any kind of meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice in terms of total body-mind relaxation. There are several companies that offer boat tours, kayaking tours and ocean fishing. Rocky Harbour is a tiny town inside the park which has certainly grown since we honeymooned in Gros Morne. You can find just about anything you may need there.  It has a fish store where you can get the world’s most delicious scallops and lobsters, often brought in that very day. If you prefer a cooked meal there are several restaurants.

We were told last summer about a really good fish-and-chip place in Rocky Harbour so we dropped by at about noon. Usually if a restaurant is good, there will be lots of people in it. I was one of two customers so I wondered if we were in the wrong place. I looked at the waitress and asked, “Where is everybody? There’s no one here.” She put down her cloth, looked over her glasses and said, “They strikes about 12:30.” It took me a moment to realize she meant that’s when the customers come. Newfoundland has a famously unique dialect. Often phrases or words refer back to fishing.  I remembered that when lots of fish start biting the fishing lines they are said to have “struck.” Also, on that note, most Newfoundlanders expect a real lake to be gigantic (by Mainlander standards). Most bodies of fresh water tend to be called “ponds.” When we first moved to Nova Scotia from Newfoundland thirty-three years ago, we saw Dollar Lake, shook our heads and Carl said, “I scoffs at dat. It’s a pond, b’y.” With that in mind, to explore Western Brook Pond requires a substantial trip in a large boat, which is well worth doing.

Explore local culture in Rocky Brook and other nearby towns. Newfoundlanders are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

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Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore created this piece of art that invites people to listen to the land. You can find it at the edge of Green Point.

 

 Contact Information for Gros Morne National Park

http://www.pc.gc.ca/grosmorne

email: grosmorne.info@pc.gc.ca

Mail: Gros Morne National Park of Canada, P.O. Box 130, Rocky Harbour, NL, A0K 4N0

Phone: (709) 458-2417

Reservations: http://www.reservations.parkscanada.gc.ca, 1-877-737-3783

 

Gros Morne National Park: the journey includes a ferry and adventure

The Newfoundland Ferry. I would be lying if I said I ever got used to it. The first time I boarded it was December 31st, 1974. We had been living in Pickering Ontario where my father had worked for a couple of years for Ontario Hydro after leaving the Canadian Air Force. Never one to be content in one place for long, he set his sights eastward, accepting a job with Eastern Provincial Airways in Gander, Newfoundland. The fall of 1974 was full of anxious conversations between my mother and father, in the kitchen, on the phone, in their bedroom, in the basement. My mother was not a happy camper. She did not want to leave her province of birth or her brothers. At 15, I was the oldest of 3. None of us wanted to go either.

We moved a great deal when I was a child. Dad had a strategy. Since he always moved first and we followed several months later, he would under-promise and over-deliver in terms of describing quality of life. In pre-internet days, all we had was Dad’s first-person descriptors. When we arrived we were always so relieved, even joyful, that things were so much better than we imagined. Somehow, pre-move we always forgot he did this. Did Gander have a library? Yes, my father said, but it consists of books sent in cardboard boxes by plane once a month (not true, Gander had a lovely library). My mother’s face blanched at this. She read a book a day. Books were her oxygen. What were the people like? Friendly, but you could hardly understand them. They speak a strange language (a tiny element of truth). Mom’s brow furrowed. That didn’t seem right, everyone in Canada spoke English or French. How do you get there? By boat, but sometimes it takes weeks (only in the rare winter when the weather terrible) . I despaired at this. Always one to get motion sickness at the slightest of rocking motions, I envisioned days with my head in a bucket for days on end. Dad also had a flair for the dramatic. January 1st would be the day we began our new life in Newfoundland he declared. Numbly, we packed up our big red pickup truck and hit the road a few days after Christmas. Most of the furniture went by company moving trucks. We took ourselves, some luggage, my mother’s copious collection of houseplants and the budgie, Bluebird. How that budgie survived that frigid trip is beyond me.

We boarded a small ferry on New Year’s Eve.  We had a cabin with 4 bunks and crammed ourselves into them. All of us were either scared or cranky. The boat was small, unlike the big, comfortable ferries they have nowadays.  The crossing was rough and we envisioned being engulfed in our sleep in dark, salty water. I was pretty convinced I was going to die. No vomiting occurred because my mother very wisely doped us all up with gravol. She was probably more grateful for the sleep-inducing effects than anything else. When we awoke, the sun was just coming up and the ferry was slowly gliding into Port Aux Basque. I peeped out of the window and observed the pinkest sunrise I had ever seen. The tiny town of Port Aux Basque was covered in fresh snow, pink, iridescent, warm, magical. This was a new land unlike anything we had seen or imagined. Snowy rocks perched upon snowy rocks. We climbed downstairs and took our place in the truck. A couple of hundred feet off of the ramp, we saw a man in thick coveralls walking along the road. Dad stopped to ask directions. To our mainlander ears, he did speak a different language. Part Irish, part English, part Lord of the Rings. Directions collected, Dad drove us to the Irving Station where all who have ever endured the ferry land to eat hot stacks of pancakes and gulp down coffee whitened with canned milk for the long Trans-Canada highway trek to Gander.

How did we make out? Gander is famous for its warm, 9-11 hospitality extended without question to stranded travellers. It is immortalized in the Broadway play “Come From Away.” All I will say here is that hospitality is a way of being in coast-bound Newfoundland; the young town of Gander is no exception. After 34 years of living away from Newfoundland, I still consider it my “home.” That tells you something about how we were welcomed and embedded. The warm coals of that early morning welcome still burn.

We go back every year because Carl’s family live in Deer Lake. Every single time we cross on the ferry I am reminded of that first sunrise of ’75. There is a tourist chalet just outside of Port Aux Basques where I need to get out of the vehicle to touch my hand on the land in gratitude, to feel its energy go into me and to breathe the always crisp air. Every single time something in my soul meets the soul of the land. Your soul needs to go there.

Gros Morne Green Point Time

Gros Morne, Green Point Time

If you are travelling by camper or RV to Gros Morne National Park, you will need to take the ferry to Port Aux Basques. Rest assured, they are new, big and less inclined to make you motion sick than in the olden days. There are lovely reclining chairs in rooms where televisions abound with movies playing. There is an area where you can rent special, very comfy reclining chairs for ten dollars. Most people don’t rent them, so there are few people in that lovely room of cool air and wide windows. There is also a cafeteria, a gift shop, and a few food kiosks.  You can rent a cabin if travel overnight, which many do because it means less travel in the dark. This is not just a matter of convenience as MOOSE abound in the night. The chances are pretty good that you will hit one if you travel long enough in the dark. The cardinal rule is, in an argument between a vehicle and a moose, both will come out damaged and someone usually dies. So, travel in the light. Finally, this is REALLY important: you must make your reservations months in advance. Do not expect to just show up and be able to cross.

 

Gros Morne National Park is about a five to six-hour drive from the ferry. Take your time. The people are hospitable, with a penchant for self-deprecating humour. The scenery is astonishing with a Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings kind of epic adventure beauty.

Newfoundland Ferry website

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“The Blue Puttees” Newfoundland Ferry. Photo by Hayden Blackney

 

Forillon National Park: Acknowledging the territory

A few years ago, I was invited by two congregants to preside at their wedding at  Gespe’gewa’gi First Nation reserve near New Westminster, Québec. One of the brides grew up there. The other bride, Diane who is Anishinaabe, grew up in Newfoundland. The wedding designed by the couple was a weaving of Christian and indigenous spirituality. It took place on community sacred grounds. At the time pictures of the hunters who provide meat for the community had been posted around the circle. I was very moved by the gaze of these elders as the women spoke their words of love and commitment to each another, the gathered community, the earth and God. They were and are a beautiful couple. It was a striking wedding celebrated in the midst of a loving community. I will never forget the gracious welcome we received.  As Carl and I moved through the community I was struck by spiritual, social and commercial vitality. I mentioned this to Diane who told me that the reserve was not as affected by the residential school system as other reserves were. They still had to endure centuries of racist and colonialist policy and colonizing, violent, day schools, but the devastation of the residential school trauma did not reach as deeply here.

For me, this wedding was one of the most deeply spiritual experiences of ministry. The warmth of the community and the beauty of the land made Carl and I determined to come back to explore the Gaspé. And so, we did.

Take time to visit the Micmac Interpretation Site of Gespeg when you camp at Forillon National Park. It is a fascinating education centre.

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Micmaqugespeg Interpretation Centre photo:www.micmacgespeg.ca

There are often interactive activities. Their excellent website describes several options for immersive experiential activities (http://www.micmacgespeg.ca). If only we had had more time…. Although the woman who managed the information centre and gift shop had limited English and my French is worse, we managed to communicate enough for me to be able to pick up some printed resources. I was unable to determine whether the territory is ceded or unceded. One of the resources I picked up, A Journey Back in the History of Gaspé (Corporation Berceau du Canada: 2010) states:

The first humans to occupy the territory were the ancestors of the Micmacs (!) more than 8000 years ago. These nomads lived according to the available food resources, fishing in summer and following game in the winter. A seafaring people, the Micmacs knew the territory and its many rivers very well. We owe them for the name ‘Gaspé’, the name which the Europeans adopted on their arrival. “Gespeg” in the Micmac language means ‘the end of the land.’

The St. Lawrence Iroquoians arrived several hundred years later. A nomadic people, they were attracted by the abundant resources. In the 16th centre, these Iroquoians matched their trips to the peninsula with the arrival of the European ships, with whom they regularly traded.

The Park is situated on in un-ceded Mi’qmak land.

Forillon National Park has a shadow side. One of my colleagues who has worked in the Gaspé told me that the land was expropriated from people in order to create the Park, some of whom were indigenous. All were given a pittance in compensation. In 2011, the Government of Canada formally apologized. However, my colleague noted, no money was forthcoming.

Forillon National Park recently received some money from the Federal government which is earmarked to help the Park tell the stories of the Mi’kmaq people with some integrity. We can only hope.

 

 

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

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.”

Dollar Lake: “Dune,” Extended family and teen wrangling

camping-tent-1-1427722You really have to love camping to be willing to do it with two unwilling teenagers, aged 13 and 15. When my sister Suzan and her husband Joe decided they wanted travel from Ontario to go tent-camping with us, I was a little worried about how they would survive being confined on a campsite with all of us. They were bringing their young son Luke and a new corgi puppy, Cruz. We had our own newly adopted rescue Jack Russell Terrier whom we had named “Jack.” He was only 10 pounds but was determined to be king of the planet. When Suzan arrived, Jack felt job one was to teach Cruz. It was not always pretty to observe and difficult to control.  A camping weekend sounded like chaos to me. Suzan was determined. We agreed to go not too far from home, which meant Dollar Lake Campground. Much moaning ensued. Since it is so close, there was always the risk that the boys may be seen by their friends and their lives would be, if not over, then seriously burdened with embarrassing peer-observed moments. Added to that was the trauma of being torn away from video games and various other screens. “Bring books,” Carl and I said to a wall of sighs and eye-rolling.

My sister and I have similar ways of talking. We are direct, ironic and have a peculiar way of talking LOUD ON STRANGE parts of SENTENCES. It is almost an accent. I blame it on being moved all over the country as Airforce brats. Bits and pieces of various geographical accents stuck. At any rate, our way of talking seemed to be incredibly annoying to pubescent sons. (Later, when Luke was 17, I had supper at their house. Suzan started to go into full throttle story-telling mode. Luke glanced at me in an apologetic way, patted her hand and said, “Volume, Mom. Volume. Breathe!”) It would not be easy for my boys to pass under the radar on Dollar Lake beach as Suzan and I got into full guffaws, story-telling and shouts at dogs.

On Friday night we put up our tents, cooked supper, then gathered around the picnic table. Shane played cribbage with Carl, Suzan and I took out our books. Joe put Luke to bed in their tent. Matthew took out his multiply-read, fraying copy of Dune by Frank Herbert. Suzan glanced up from her book and said, “Oh, you are reading Dune. Great series. Very provocative.”

Shocked, he met her eyes. “What, you have read Dune? You?”

I knew at that moment that I could not save him. The moment she realized that he was surprised and perhaps appalled, he was not going to hear the end of it. She laughed.

“What, you think I am not SMART ENOUGH?”

“No,” he stammered, “it’s not that, it’s just…”

“Oh, I get it. I am not IRONIC enough. I am not part of your TRIBE.”

Still, he puzzled out, “Are you sure you have read it?”

“The whole THING. Yes, Matt, I am a CONVERT, I tell you!  Look,” her voice went to a whisper as she grabbed the Tupperware container of cinnamon, “SPICE, Matt,” she hissed, “SPICE!”Dune-Frank_Herbert_(1965)_First_edition

He gawped at her, his face a little pale now in the Coleman lantern light. It was dawning on him, the enormity of his error.

“Matt!” she shouted waiving a small plastic disposable knife in the air, “Wait a minute here while I cut my pear WITH MY CRYSKNIFE!”

In the morning Suzan pointed to the French language portion of the bottle of hot sauce, “Matt! Matt! MELANGE. See, MELANGE!” He wearily raised his eyes.

My sister is a redhead and melanoma creeps about in our family, so she covers up. Later that afternoon we decided to go to the lovely Dollar Lake beach. Attired in white, voluminous cotton, slathered in sunscreen, carrying various bags and topped with a wide-brimmed hat, she moved 50 feet ahead of us. She was determined to get a good spot on the beach. Abruptly she stopped mid-stride. Pointing to a track of plowed ground about 20 feet in length, she shouted back to us, “Matt! Matt! Look, sandworm TRACKS!”

“Mom,” he pleaded, “can’t you make her stop?”

“Not likely,” I sympathetically responded, “you will have to ride this one out.”

Her husband Joe came alongside and patted Matt on the back. “It does end, son, I promise.”

Later Saturday night, Suzan challenged him to a game of cribbage. Perhaps eager to reframe their conversation in another direction, any direction, he accepted.  I read my book and listened. Their conversation inevitably drifted toward Dune because she asked him, very slyly, some open-ended questions. She intently listened to him. As the plastic pegs hiked their way around the wooden track, I heard Matt talk about the prophetic nature of Frank Herbert’s writing. He related it to authoritarianism in our time and the resistance of indigenous people to corporate mining. My sister talked about oil cartels and how “spice” was meant to be symbolize oil, that rich and horrifyingly power-filled resource that everyone was fighting over. I must confess, I did not know my kid was that deep or that my sister was so skilled in teen-wrangling. I realized that she simply took time to “see” him and meet him where he was. He saw in her an interesting person who was interested in him. They laughed a lot while they played.cribbage-2-1422672

I pondered by the firelight that this is a great gift of camping. It reveals the necessity of extended family. I don’t know if it takes a village to raise a child, but it sure does help to have extended family when you are raising teens. Aunts and uncles can see you in ways that your parents just don’t. They augment parental love. I sighed with gratitude and closed my eyes. For a millisecond peace prevailed. Then,
“Jeez! Linda! LINDA! Your DOG is prison-mounting my dog!  Get him OFF!”