Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Captivating Fogo

North of Gander in central Newfoundland lies the port of Farewell, terminus for the ferry to Fogo and Change Islands. These island communities are not only beautiful but culturally captivating -- they provide a glimpse into a traditional Newfoundland way of life that's fast disappearing in many places. Change Islands is dealt with in another post, but Fogo is worth a bit more exploration. One highly recognizable feature of Fogo Island is the abundance of fishing stages painted in shades of red ochre. They are especially striking when seen in evening or morning light,
like the one above. The landscape is uncompromising: barrens and scrubby trees give way to rocky headlands; houses and fishing stages cluster in snug harbours while surf pounds the exposed shorelines nearby. There's no question that Fogo Island holds almost endless appeal for photographers, but the island has a vibrant life of its own. As in much of Newfoundland and Labrador, fishing remains an important source of income for many
islanders, as reflected in the song "The Joe Batt's Arm Longliners". There's commerce as well, and a thriving tourism industry in the summer months. Change is afoot on the island, though, as the Shorefast Foundation works to create opportunity for local entrepreneurship. Fogo Island is nearby and yet a world apart; it is an unforgettable destination filled with stark beauty and strong character.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Branch and the Cliffhouse

I always look forward to visiting Branch, a picturesque community nestled on the shores of Newfoundland's St. Mary's Bay. The setting for this village of approximately 300 is striking: a river flows through pasture land where horses, sheep and cattle graze. Colourful fishing boats line the apron of the small, sheltered harbour. Scattered farms draw the eye upward to the surrounding hills, and waves crash in on a broad, curving beach front. Overlooking it all, from a vantage point high on a cliff, is a charming bed and breakfast, the Cliffhouse at Red Point.
What a setting! The inn is perfectly situated to enjoy sweeping views of the village, the Wester Cove, and Hayjer's Rock, whose name seems to be a corruption of "Hare's Ears". The Cliffhouse was purpose-built as a bed and breakfast, and its three well-appointed guest rooms have comfortable beds and private four-piece baths stocked with lots of thirsty towels. The amenities and the view would provide ample reasons to stay here, but the true treasures at the Cliffhouse are its hosts, Chris and Priscilla Mooney. Priscilla is the mayor of Branch, and its staunchest supporter.
She works tirelessly to further the interests of its residents, and is a vocal advocate for the area's culture and traditions. Her husband Chris is a naturalist interpreter at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve, a few miles away. Thanks to them, the Cliffhouse at Red Point provides an opportunity for not only accommodations and a hearty breakfast but great conversation that explores Branch's rich heritage and folklife, making a stay in this intriguing place even more memorable.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Autumn in the Bay of Islands

Autumn in the Bay of Islands on Newfoundland's west coast is one of Atlantic Canada's best-kept secrets. Dramatically sculpted hills are covered with mixed forests that provide some of this region's finest displays of fall foliage, and the city of Corner Brook provides a scenic focal point for all this splendid color. The Humber River was named by Captain James Cook during his hydrographic survey expedition to the area in 1767. In 2012, a statue of Cook by renowned sculptor Luben Boykov was unveiled; it can be seen on a hilltop overlooking
Corner Brook and the Humber Arm. Cook spent several years charting the coasts of Newfoundland, beginning in 1762; his stay in the Bay of Islands region marked the final year prior to his voyage to Tahiti. The broad, sheltered waterway he mapped is lined on both north and south sides by a series of small communities that boast impressive views of Guernsey, Tweed and Pearl Islands in the distance or of Corner Brook itself. A short drive along the south side of the bay leads to York Harbour and Lark Harbour, while a similar trip along the north side leads through Irishtown and Summerside, ending at beautiful Cox's Cove (seen below) where in summer, True North Charters provides a boat tour that explores the nearby coastline, including the striking headland known as Penguin Head.

The Corner Brook area also boasts a network of walking trails that is well-used by local residents; the sections that lead alongside the Corner Brook Stream are particularly attractive during foliage season. A short drive to the north is
Marble Mountain, Newfoundland's best-known ski hill, where the autumn color of the surrounding valleys is reflectedin the pools and rills of the Humber. This region of Newfoundland's west coast is beautiful at any time of year, but the brightly painted hills of fall make it well worth an extended visit.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Found Art

It's been an interesting summer for found art on the Bonavista Peninsula. In June I happened upon an arrangement of chain and small rocks, simple in design but beautiful and intriguing. The contrasting colours and textures of the rocks and rusted chain were accentuated by the smooth stone beneath them.

In early August, the community of Red Cliff provided its own work of art, again involving a rusted chain. This time the chain was casually heaped on a rounded rock -- once again the contrasting shapes and textures were eye-catching and photogenic. To the artist or artists responsible, thank you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Morning With the Seabirds

You'd definitely have to call it a busman's holiday: on the day following my last Newfoundland Adventure of the 2012 season, I drove to Bay Bulls for a trip with friends. We headed for Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions and boarded the Blackfish 1 for a visit to the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and a look at the surrounding coastline. After a loop through Island Cove, a look at the sea stacks of Spoon Cove, and a visit to a beautiful sea cave, we struck out for Gull Island, nesting site for thousands of Atlantic puffins, kittiwakes, murres and storm petrels. Light fog was hanging over the area and sea conditions were excellent, with an ocean so calm that the hundreds of birds in the water cast perfect reflections. We travelled slowly alongside Gull Island, pausing to photograph the puffins outside their burrows on the grassy slopes and lounging on the rocks near the water's edge. These photogenic little birds seemed to be in a particularly cooperative mood, posing for us as we slipped past. Although the fledging season is here and many pufflings have already left their burrows, there were still plenty of adults to be seen. There were also many common murres, some
guarding chicks that had not yet fledged. The young birds are ready to leave the nest at about three weeks of age;; unable to fly, they tumble or glide down the cliffs to the water below. Once the chick has fledged, the male parent attends it closely for up two two months as the birds venture out to the open sea. Within about two weeks the young are able to fly. The female stays at the nesting site for an average of two weeks or slightly more. This is the time of year when the
dense concentration of murres on the island begins to thin out.

A little farther south on the island, an unusual sight awaited us: one of this year's black-legged kittiwake chicks exhibited a condition called isabellism, a dilution of melanin, the pigment that colours the bird's black feathers and legs. In isabellan birds, one of the two types of melanin, Eumelanin and Phaeomelanin, is missing, resulting in a bird that shows a pale tan colouration
in areas that are normally dark.

As we reached the southern end of Gull Island and headed for open water, we found that the fog and onshore wind had brought a large number of greater shearwaters, birds that are usually found far at sea. These birds nest in Tristan da Cunha, a remote group of volcanic islands in the South Atlantic. One of these curious birds swam up to the boat to investigate us, providing a great opportunity for a close-up shot. From our shearwater encounter, we headed north to view the area's beautiful coastline; more about that in a later post.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Summer of the Whales

It's been an extremely busy summer, and one filled with remarkable experiences. For tour boat operators and land-based whale watchers alike in eastern Newfoundland, it's been the Summer of the Whales -- a summer of flipper-waving, spyhopping, tail-lobbing, barrel-rolling, breaching excitement. In a word, wow!

The whales have been cavorting around the Avalon Peninsula and in Bonavista and Trinity Bays,
and each week's adventures around those areas with Wildland Tours have been enriched by memorable encounters with humpbacks. It seems as though every trip with Sea of Whales Adventures, O'Brien's Boat Tours, or Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions has produced a bumper crop of sightings and photo opportunities, and the sightings just keep on coming. The weather has been outstanding, too, with brilliant sunshine, warm temperatures and
evenings filled with golden light -- all the better to record the interaction with the whales. It's early August now, and although the seabird population is beginning to diminish as the birds leave for another season, the whale encounters show no signs of slowing down. I know for certain that it's a great year to be a whale watcher in eastern Newfoundland, and judging by all the cetacean activity going on along our shores, I think it must be a great year to be a whale!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Echoes from the Past

On the eastern edge of Newfoundland's Bonavista Bay lie a trio of communities accessed by a single turn from the main road. They are Open Hall, Red Cliff and Tickle Cove; each has its own beauty, but in Red Cliff there's a scene of great poignancy that for me illustrates an important aspect of today's Newfoundland and Labrador: abandonment. More and more the small communities of the province's rural areas are being abandoned for the city of St. John's or for areas further afield. There's an economic necessity behind this move, but while that reality makes the move understandable there's an underlying sadness in it all. Houses are abandoned because there's simply no one to sell them to. Not every
snug, comfortable little house by the water can be turned over to new occupants; there's little work to be found in the area, so what were once beloved family homes now stand empty, with vacant windows staring out to sea. Boats were hauled up from the shoreline after their last day of fishing, turned over to shed the rain, then never returned to the water. The houses and boats make beautiful and haunting images, but they speak volumes about a society in which not only buildings and boats but an entire way of life have been abandoned.

Monday, June 18, 2012

LaHave Islands

The LaHave Islands lie just ten miles from Lunenburg, on Nova Scotia’s scenic South Shore. That’s ten miles as the crow flies, but unless you’re actually a crow then getting there takes a bit more time than you might expect. Travel along Route 332, the Lighthouse Route, to East LaHave, and from there take the cable ferry across the LaHave River -- it leaves the eastern side of the river at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour. Turn left after leaving the ferry, and proceed no farther than the delightful LaHave Bakery before continuing on your way. It’s essential to stop at this bakery
and café to snack on fresh baked goods or enjoy delicious soups, light lunches, and a fine variety of teas, coffees, and cold beverages. You might like to pick up a loaf of bread to bring along as well; milk & honey, cheese & herb or multigrain are just some of the choices. Now that you’re properly provisioned, it’s time to continue west along the shore to Crescent Beach; the road to LaHave Islands runs parallel to the beach, behind the dunes. Take time to linger on this smooth strip of sand; although the seawater is usually too cold for swimming, it’s a great walking beach, well-used
by locals and visitors alike. During my most recent visit, there were several people wading hip-deep in the cold water, digging into the sand for surf clams (above right). They’d wisely chosen to wear wetsuits for this activity!

Back on the road, a bridge at the end of the beach/causeway leads to Bush Island, where a small but picturesque fishing harbour makes for interesting exploration. The next island is Bell Island; here you’ll find the LaHave Islands Marine Museum (top), housed in a former Methodist church. The eclectic collection of displays here pays tribute to the area’s seafaring past and to its farming history, as well as recognizing the contribution of the district’s veterans of the two World Wars. There are some fine examples of local boatbuilding, including large double dories and an example of a double-ended Bush Island boat christened the Vera Mae.

A little farther down the road lies the turnoff for Wolfe Gut, an out-of-the-way corner with lovely views of the shoreline. This is just one of the many peaceful spots that make a visit to the LaHave Islands worthwhile. The South Shore is a popular travel destination and can at times be busy and bustling during the summer months, but the LaHave Islands are a haven of calm and peaceful surroundings on a summer’s day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Traveller or Tourist?

"The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see." -- G. K. Chesterton

If you subscribe to G. K. Chesterton's assessment of the difference between travellers and tourists, I've always been a traveller. Pre-conceived notions of what I'd encounter have always taken a backseat to the actual discovery -- the people I've met, the surprises that have lain in store, and the incredible variety of sights, sounds, smells and tastes experienced on the journey. Thirty years of travel have led me down a wonderful variety of roads and lanes, and it's a delight to be able to share some of the experiences along the way with my fellow travellers. I travel for work, but also for pleasure; the two can't be separated. Alone or in company with others, the spirit of discovery leads me on around the next bend in the road to see what lies beyond.

For me, it all boils down to the approach, summed up in another quote:

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity." -- Ellen Parr

Do you travel to see what's been promised in a printed itinerary or a description on a website, or do you travel to discover and experience and satisfy a craving for the spirit of a place? Please leave a comment with your views -- I'd love to know!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's Not What You See, It's How You See It.

There's an old adage that states "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." In other words, the gist of the statement is important, but the phrasing is what shapes the final interpretation. When it comes to visiting some of the planet's most important natural areas, though, it's not what you see, it's definitely how you see it. There are wondrous sights to be observed, but observation must be coupled with caution and respect to avoid unnecessary stress to wild populations; this is an occasion when a
long lens is extremely useful for capturing bird or animal behavior. On a visit to the Witless Bay Ecologial Reserve, North America's largest Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica) breeding site, for example, pair behaviors like billing (the touching and rubbing of bills) bill tossing (rapid upward movements of the head showing the underside of the bill) and wing flapping displays can be seen. While it is possible to go ashore on the island, human intrusion is limited to legitimate research purposes; however, boat trips from the nearby communities of Witless Bay and Bay Bulls offer
excellent opportunities for puffin observation. The best views, though, come by way of a measured and careful approach that is quiet and unobtrusive. Boat access to the islands of the reserve is limited; tour boat operators require a permit issued by Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Environment and Conservation, Parks and Natural Areas Division. It's a wonderful place to visit, and thanks to protection and limited access it will be here not only for us but for future generations.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Icebergs, Archaeology and Antlers

Roughly an hour south of St. John's lies the town of Ferryland, site of the Colony of Avalon, established by George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore. Calvert purchased the land in 1620, and the following year sent out a party of twelve settlers under the leadership of Captain Edward Wynne. Although a year-round settlement was established, when Calvert himself ventured to the area in 1629, he discovered that winters here were much harsher than he had anticipated; he
chose to make another attempt at forming a colony, this time further south -- his heirs founded the first settlement in what is now the State of Maryland. Today the site is open to the public; a small admission charge covers access to a visitor centre with extensive displays of artifacts found during the ongoing archaeological dig. Guided tours acquaint visitors with the buildings unearthed to date, including a cobbled street, various dwellings and outbuildings, and what is
arguably North America's first known "flush" toilet -- the flush mechanism was the ocean tide!

Another hour on the road brought us to the town of Trepassey, where a large, sleek and healthy-looking bull moose grazed in a clearing not far from the road. He cooperatively posed for photos before we moved on across the eastern hyper-oceanic barrens toward St. Vincent's and along the shores of St. Mary's Bay, returning to St. John's for the evening.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The Road Less Traveled

Many (sometimes I think a few too many) years ago, my high school English teacher, Mary Wille, assigned a Robert Frost poem as a memorization exercise for our modern poetry class:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

At the time I didn't have any idea how deeply I would take those words to heart. After nearly thirty years exploring the winding byways of Atlantic Canada, though, it's become clear that roads less
travelled by have become my first choice. It's these roads that allow for breathing space; for stopping and smelling the wild roses or walking a woodland trail beside a crystal waterfall or watching an osprey hover and plummet in pursuit of a fat mackerel. These roads lead to small communities or to broad expanses of unsettled country, to forests and barrens and bogs and meadows where moose or deer graze, and to lakes or coves where eagles soar high above -- where bears sometimes amble out of the shadows in search of a mouthful of tender dandelions and
where wildflowers bloom in profusion, painting the landscape in purple and gold. They lead to places like Elliston, where abandoned root cellars, storage sites for houses that long ago have fallen into dust, create the look of a hobbit village and where a short walk leads to an Atlantic puffin colony that's ideally situated for viewing from land. They lead across eastern hyper-oceanic barrens where hundred-year-old trees rise a few inches in height, and where the only traffic doesn't pay much attention to roadsigns; the right-of-way belongs to the one with the antlers. These are the roads that reveal the
true character of this region; there's no pretense or putting on airs out here. I love exploring these out-of-the-way spots and visiting much-loved places that keep calling me back, and I love sharing those sights and sounds and experiences with others who have the same capacity for delight and discovery. As the summer touring season begins in earnest and the summer's travellers begin their journeys, I'm looking forward to every adventure-filled mile of it!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Springtime in Grand-Pré

The day before my most recent junket to Newfoundland was spent exploring Nova Scotia's South Shore and Annapolis Valley regions; it was a relaxing and interesting way to make the trip to Halifax for my flight. The South Shore was a natural since it lies between Shag Harbour and the airport, but the jaunt to the valley was prompted by the need for a plate of Santa Fe Haddock at Lisa's Cafe in Windsor, NS. Lightly breaded and seasoned with southwestern spices, the flaky white fish is
served with a delightful cranberry salsa and it's definitely worth the drive. Getting there, though, was a pleasure as well; it was a perfect day for seeing the sights of the eastern Annapolis Valley around Grand-Pré National Historic Site and Evangeline Beach. One of the prettiest views of Grand-Pré is from the Post Road as it travels along a ridge above the community (top). Apple orchards were in full bloom, and the gracefully arching umbrella-shaped trees in the older orchards
were especially striking. Before the widespread use of dwarf varieties of fruit trees, standard trees were pruned in this pattern to allow the sun to reach the fruit more evenly and to keep the apples closer to the ground for picking. Although it's fallen out of favour in more recent years, this pruning style can still be seen in a few locations. The most striking sight of all, though, was a remarkable sculpture along the road to Evangeline Beach. Three doors, one standing on a base at ground level and the others arranged above it, created an intriguing and traffic-stopping attraction -- there weren't many cars on the road that afternoon, but I wasn't the only traveller who stopped for a closer look. I've done a bit of research since, but to no avail; I'd love to know more about this piece of roadside art and the artist who created it. A short drive from here lie the broad, red tidal flats of the Bay of Fundy, stretching out from shore at low tide. There'll be more about them, and their crucial role in shorebird migration, in a future post.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Great Way to Spend an Evening

The call came yesterday evening: "I'm going out to visit the iceberg. Care to go?" Of course the answer was yes, so after a couple of phone calls, a friend and I were on our way south from St. John's to Bay Bulls, headed for Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions on the Northside Road. The Captain himself was waiting on the front deck of the ticket office, ready to fit us with warm jackets for the evening ride. The sun was sinking low in the sky, bathing the scene in golden light. We
boarded Blackfish 1 and headed out toward the mouth of Bay Bulls, where a large tabular iceberg was grounded on a ledge just off South Head. We kept a respectful distance, staying back at least the length of the berg at the waterline. The ice glowed golden in the sunlight, bringing out the textures in sharp relief, and waves roared as they rolled under a small ledge at the water's edge. Streams of meltwater sparkled as they caught the light, falling from its flat upper surface. We
completed our circuit and headed back in the bay as the sun was setting, streaks of pastel pink painting the sky. We returned to the dock and tied up just as the sun was sinking below the horizon. What a perfect end to the day!

It's a good year for icebergs along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, with prospects of bergs staying around well into June. An excellent resource to see where bergs can be found and to learn more about how they are formed, how they reach our shores and where they come from, can be found by following this link.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For the Love of Whales

Wayne Maloney of Bay Bulls, NL is an admitted whale-aholic -- at least that's how he puts it. He's addicted to the big cetaceans that make their way to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador every summer to feed. Wayne's been operating the boats that go out whale watching from Bay Bulls for close to thirty years. He's the son of boatbuilder Gene Maloney, so when he found himself in a position to start a whale watching
business of his own, the question of where he'd get a suitable boat wasn't difficult: he'd build it. And build it he did -- from the keel up, and from a design that incorporated a "wish list" that was many years in the making. Countless hours were spent poring over plans to get the lines just right, and the details of the deck layout complete. Theatre seating would allow for excellent forward-facing viewing, and the aft cockpit would mean uninterrupted sightlines for those on board. The shot above shows this beautiful boat, christened
Blackfish 1, in progress. He'd be the first to tell you he didn't do it all himself; he's quick to give credit to the good friends who lent a hand, a strong back, or a heaping helping of moral support. Their assistance just helped to spur on the inevitable, though, since this is a man who was born to the water and who has what seems to be uncanny whale sense. He's studied humpbacks and their habits for years, and it's paid off in a knowledge of whale psychology that's remarkable to see in action. It's all based on a deep-seated respect for the whales, and for observing their interaction without intrusion. In addition to the humpbacks that arrive in the area in midsummer, there are minkes, fin whales, dolphins, occasional visiting pods of orcas on the hunt, countless seabirds to be seen on the islands of the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve and miles of spectacular coastal scenery. Wayne and Blackfish 1 are now in business as Captain Wayne's Marine Excursions, and can be found on the Northside Road in Bay Bulls, NL.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Lunch by the Riverbank

Just east of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, on the banks of the Medway River, lies the little community of Mill Village. An iron bridge crosses the river in the middle of the village, and next to it, the Riverbank General Store overlooks the fast-flowing water. The store now features a variety of grocery items including free-range and organic products, a gift shop with a variety of hand-crafted goods, a farm and garden section, and a café offering freshly prepared soups and
sandwiches. The café's atmosphere is light and pleasant, with soft green and white predominating, a charming painted wood floor, and local artwork on the walls. Large windows offer views of the river, the bridge, and a small garden area outside with comfortable Muskoka-
type chairs.

This business is a local success story: it opened in August of 2011 as a project of the Queens Association for Supported Living, a Queens County initiative to give people with disabilities an opportunity to participate more
fully in their community. A steady stream of visitors drop in, some from the Queens area and some from farther afield, to enjoy an ice cream cone on a hot summer's day, chat over a delicious lunch or visit the gift shop or grocery, supporting this very worthwhile endeavor. If you find yourself on the South Shore, the Riverbank General Store is well worth a short detour through scenic Mill Village.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Work of a Craftsman

I stopped at the service station to inquire: "I hear there's a man here who makes some really nice lawn chairs." The young man behind the counter looked up, grinned and said, "Yep! He lives just down that way by the lake." Armed with the name and phone number of the chairmaker, I headed "that way" until I got to the right general area, then phoned for more specific directions. "I heard a rumour that you make the nicest lawn chairs in Nova Scotia," I said. I could hear the smile in his voice as he replied, "You must be
looking for a big discount!" A couple of false starts later, I was in Herman's driveway, looking at some of the most beautiful lawn furniture I'd seen in some time. There were two benches in the garage where he was waiting, and they were works of art. Every corner was rounded smoothly, every screw was countersunk and filled -- there wasn't a rough edge or awkward line in sight. "They're made from hackmatack" he stated. They're made from hackmatack, the local name for larch, all right, and they have a rich,
attractive grain. This is the hardest of the softwoods, a conifer that drops its needles in the fall and puts out a new crop in the spring, a deciduous softwood that has as much in common with hardwood as it has with its softwood cousins.

The workshop was neat and tidy, with every tool in its place -- including the all-important cribbage board on the table. A quest for lawn chairs had turned into a voyage of discovery and an encounter with a delightful character. Just imagine how good those chairs are going to look on the shore in Shag Harbour!