Fundy National Park: How Those World-Wonder Tides Work (by Carl Yates)

The Tilting Tides of Fundy

When Linda and I went on our first anniversary tour as a couple, she was keen to take me to Fundy National Park where she had previously explored as a young child on camping trips with her family.  One of the big draws then, and still is, the amazing high tides of the Bay of Fundy that occur twice a day.  The twice a day occurrence of course is not unique but the height of the tides in the Bay of Fundy sure is.  When Linda and I did our tour, we met up with a friend of ours, Derek Dunphy, who went to university with us and had just graduated from engineering school.  As part of our reunion in the park, we decided to see what these high tides were all about and planned a day trip from the town of Alma to see how far we could go out on the flats after the tide went out.  Being smart engineers and recognizing the trek could be long and tiresome, we took a six-pack of beer with us to ensure our thirst would be quenched along the way.  After going quite a long distance [> 2 km out] in our rubber boots on a hot sunny day, we decided enough was enough and sat down for our first beer.  With our thirst quenched, we stood up and proceeded back to Alma with one beer gone and another in our hands.  As it was sunny, the walk back was slower, aided by the fact we had to have a swallow every now and then.  After finishing the second beer, we decided it was time for a proper break and found an old log to sit on and tell some war [university stories].  After the third beer, we were getting a little giddy and didn’t seem to have a care in the world.  That was until I looked behind us and saw water rapidly advancing towards us and headed for the beach.  Alas, the tide was coming in and coming in fast.  We had no choice but to pick up the pace and keep moving towards Alma.  By the time we reached the town, we had a good sweat on.  What appeared to be a tranquil resting place to share a beer was long under very deep Carl and Derek Dunphy astonished at the tidewater and we were tired.  The moral of the story is don’t underestimate the speed and extent of the Bay of Fundy tides as they have stranded many an unsuspecting tourist.  So, why are the tides so high you ask!  Well, it goes like this:

As mentioned above, the tidal cycle occurs approximately twice daily, or every 12 hours and 26 minutes to be precise. The Bay of Fundy is shaped like a funnel so as the water enters the mouth of the Bay, it continues up the bay to the narrower part of the funnel and climbs higher up the shoreline as it goes.  In addition, there is a phenomenon called the “seiche” effect that comes into play.  If you put water on a shallow tray and start the movement of water from one end, it is magnified in height at the other end due to the momentum of the water as it travels across the confines of the tray.  The Bay of Fundy is in essence, a rather long, shallow tray.  Now here is the fascinating part.  It just so happens that it takes about 6 hours and 13 minutes for water to travel from  the mouth of the bay to the end of the Bay at the Minas Basin and Petitcodiac River just downstream of Moncton.  In other words, it matches the natural tidal cycle between low and high tide.  So what does the unsuspecting tourist see from this combination of natural forces at work.  The tide rises and falls by as much as 53 feet at the inner part of the Bay.  As Fundy National Park is a little more than halfway up the Bay of Fundy, tides in the order of 30 feet are quite common.

 

Linda’s Note: The tides are a wonder worth exploring. Take waterproof boots and dress for cool weather when you are on the windy flats. Keep track of your time and where you are. Many a tourist has had to frantically climb cliffs in order not to be swept away by the sea. Sometimes, sadly, they don’t make it. Currently both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are exploring ways to harness the massive energy power of these spectacular tides. Some companies have tried putting in turbines but the tides chewed them up and spit them back. The turbines are controversial because the Fundy tidal ecosystem is essential to an incredible variety of marine life. The Fundy sea bottom was once thought to be relatively devoid of life. Scientists have discovered (and you can too) a rich ecosystem uniquely adapted to salt water rushing in and out.

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: Beatles and world peace

 

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright

Desperate for any kind of verbal signal beyond a sigh, we promised him a fire and s’mores. It was the summer of camping with sullen teenagers in our first, tiny, popup truck camper. We gave them their own tent for independence and privacy for whatever it is that teen boys do on their own. That summer, the boys fought so much, we had to camp with them separately. We entrusted the other with my mother, lest there be wild parties held in our absence.  The week before camped in Fundy, we had taken Matthew to Labrador.  He was seventeen and in no mood to recreate with his parents.

 

I offered Shane an evening of s’mores. I began eating “healthy” that summer. No sugar, not much booze and, instead, the addition of whole grains and a lot more vegetables. I had hoped for more energy and a lifted mood. Mostly, I craved sugar nonstop. If ‘smores appeared that night, I was pretty sure candy bars would be my breakfast, lunch and supper for the rest of the vacation. This offer was no little sacrifice on my part. That afternoon we picked up the marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers in the only grocery store in Alma.

 

Fundy National Park seemed strangely devoid of campers that summer. So, we were surprised when we returned to our campsite to find that we had neighbours. To our right a couple in their forties from Quebec was setting up their tent. We waved and nodded whenever they turned toward us. When I encountered the woman at the washroom, I said “Hello, nice sunny day.” She looked at me with a serious expression and spoke some quick words in French, then quickly retreated back to her campsite. About an hour later the most ancient of Volkswagon campervans pulled into the campsite across from us. It had American licence plates. To our astonishment, Mama Cass, Brian Doherty and their thirteen-year-old son emerged. At least, that is what I shouted out to Carl. Alas, it was not. He agreed, sipping his beer, that the trio bore a resemblance to what could be expected in an alternate universe, had Brian requited Cass Elliot’s love. We three watched those three put up a very old canvas tent. Despite their cheery flower-power van, they too, seemed awfully serious.

 

It seemed a sullen kind of day. So be it, I thought. Bring on the s’mores.

 

When all the tents had been put up, both sets of neighbours stretched themselves out on lawn chairs. The French couple had state-of-the-art suspension chairs with cup-holders. The Americans had webbed, wobbly ones. The sun was out, at least, and there was a modicum of civility in the neighbourhood. We settled in, casually observing each other in sidelong glances. The Quebec man got out of his chair, fished around in his sports car for something, rolled down the window and closed the door. The unmistakable words “Writer, writer, writer…” drifted through the air. He had put on the Beatles, Paperback Writer. We held up our beer in approval.  Shane emerged from his tent-lair and the American Hippie Gothic trio across the way turned their heads toward the Quebecer campsite and nodded.  Acknowledging the nods of approval, the gentleman leaned in and cranked up the sound. We jumped off our chairs as did the Americans.  Everyone, even the teens, were dancing on their own campsites.

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It turned out that all three families had brought the new Beatles CD set camping with them. For much of that week, the Beatles filled the late afternoon soundscape. One evening we ate s’mores while listening to Back in the USSR. We recalled for Shane the punky audacity of those four Liverpool boys who dared to sing that there might by something fun and interesting about the USSR at a time when everyone in the West was supposed to hate the Soviet Union as an evil empire made up of drone-like evil people.

 

I once read a theory that the Iron Curtain fell, not because of Ronald Reagan, economic pressure or world sanctions. Instead, some young people discovered the Beatles and created their own bootleg copies to distribute. When they saw what the “Demon West” had produced, a million questions about the unnecessary distance between peoples and economies began to surface. Those questions cracked the foundation of the Berlin Wall.

 

I felt the Beatles had done that for us in our little camping neighbourhood microcosm. We did not all become fast friends or party together. Rather, we engaged each other in friendly, funny, small moments as we shared communal living spaces and equipment at the Fundy Park Campground. Sometimes we could only communicate through basic hand gestures and halting French/English. However, we respected each other’s language and cultural differences because a common love of the Beatles somehow made awkward conversations possible. I think this is one of the many reasons why I love National Parks. They make these kinds of conversations and encounters possible.

smores by 305 Seahill (flickr commons)

“S’mores” by 305 Seahill (Flickr Commons)

 

 

Fundy National Park: an eco-smorgasbord

Fundy is a National Park worth coming back to, even unto the third generation.

I began camping in Fundy National Park at the age of twelve. Camping was important in my family. My father came to Canada from the Netherlands as a young boy after WWII. He fully invested emotionally, psychologically and physically in this country. When he turned eighteen he joined the Royal Canadian Airforce. He met my mother a few years later after befriending her brother. They married and began a family. As an adult, he insisted my siblings and I take part in those things he felt that Canadians did, which included hiking, fishing and camping. My mother was not so keen. Her childhood included times of deep poverty which made the idea of minimalist sleeping, eating and struggling with flimsy shelter seem ridiculous and vaguely, uncomfortably familiar. In particular, she really hated tenting in those smelly, mouldy canvas tents which never seemed to be erected without much cursing.  She loved us, so she endured, managing to avoid camping-reality by immersing herself in murder-mystery novels.

One day, I disembarked from the Junior High bus to find an old, Bell telephone van in the driveway. Dad had put a bid on one and became the proud owner of this strange, clearly once heavily utilized blue van. He had a plan. By himself, with the occasional help of some inquisitive, sometimes incredulous neighbours, he cut off the top, extending it upward by three feet. He added a tiny fridge, some bunks and a collapsible table. He painted this Franken-van the colours of the Dutch flag. Dad grandly opened the side doors one day, declaring it finished. He proudly named it his “Blue-assed Baboon.” He did this, I think, partly because he could not keep himself from inventing weird things, but also because he loved my mother and hoped she would come to like camping as much as he did. I am not sure she ever got there, but camping was never quite the same after that. It improved in some ways and became more complicated in other ways.

One thing that it improved was our ability to range farther during our family vacations. One of the first really long trips we made in it was to Fundy National Park. We liked the Park so much we returned. I fell so in love with this Park that Carl and I decided to spend our first post-marriage vacation together there. He fell in love with it too.  Although, there were some very amusing moments for this born-and-bred Newfoundlander as he experienced life off the rock for the first time (more about that later). When we had children, we would often camp at Fundy feeling it was well worth the long trip. Now our children go there as adults, enriching their children with this same intense camping experience.

 

Why is Fundy so special? Fundy National Park has many radically different ecosystems packed into a relatively small space of a Park. The Park’s compact size means you can experience and explore them all. Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides, finalist for one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World. The Park has guided beach walks or you can walk out for kilometres and explore the fascinating tidal flats on your own. When you tired of tides, there is a unique blend of forests on the cliffs and mountains which are part Acadian forest and part Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region forest. If fields and grasses are your thing, you can find trails through those too. Fundy National Park has a lovely salt-water swimming pool, a beautiful golf course, groups of chalets and access to lake kayak/canoeing as well as sea-kayaking tours. There are hiking trails for every skill set and environment preference including journeys through forests, sea-side, mountain, riverside and waterfalls. Fundy Park is open year-round, although we have never been brave enough to winter camp (yet).

Fundy_National_Park_(8083106376) James Bates pic

pic by James Bates (Flickr Commons)

Accommodations include a variety of tenting sites, RV sites, chalets, yurts and oTENTiks. Care needs to be taken with the latter, as they are perched on cliff edges. Any family with toddlers or disobedient, unrestrained dogs would do well to avoid them. Chignecto North and Headquarters Campgrounds are well appointed with showers and shelters. We have found that there are often restrictions on campfires during the summer. However, Headquarters Campground is more likely to allow them because of their proximity to fire-fighting facilities. If you need a campfire, camp there.

There are a few stores in the nearby town of Alma, but they only contain the rudimentary things needed for camping and refurbishment of basic food. So, bring lots of food with you. There is a great seafood store with wonderful lobster and good scallops. One tradition we have is going to the Kelly’s Bakery, “Home of the World Famous Sticky Bun.” Truly, those sticky buns are the most delicious things on this planet. Don’t get one until the day you are leaving the Park because if you get them when you arrive, you will just dream of them every single day until you have one every single day and then you will leave a much larger person than when you came. So, trust me, wait.

My parents never really camped after we became older teens. However, they did plant those love-of-camping seeds in me. Now, my children and grandchildren are growing into their own deep love of camping. We keep coming back to Fundy and I suspect we always will. It always feels like a reunion of sorts. To honour my mother, I occasionally bring a murder-mystery to read.

Fundy National Park covered bridge

New Brunswick is the only province with well-preserved covered bridges. (Pic by Milo, Marko, Ana and Aleska – Flickr Commons)

Fundy National Park is located in New Brunswick which is Canada’s only truly bilingual province. Therefore, services are handily offered in good quality French and English.

Headquarters

PO Box 1001, Alma

NB E4H 1B4

Visitor Centre/Headquarters: 1-506-887-6000

www.parks.canada.gc/fundy

 

 

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

Marine_atlantic_blue_puttees_august_2011 by Hayden Blackney

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