Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Mornings in Blue Rocks

About four kilometres southeast of Lunenburg, is the little community of Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia. Watch out for white-tailed deer on the drive -- they're plentiful out here. A handful of houses hugs the shoreline here, along with a scattering of wharves and fishing stations. There's something wonderful and almost magical about the light in Blue Rocks, especially in early morning and evening.

There's not much road to cover here, but every turn reveals a new and striking scene. Low tide reveals rockweed on the bluish rocks that give the village its name; the light catches the seaweed turning it to deep gold. There's more gold in the weathered wood of fishing stages, the tidy shingles of sheds and barns, and the worn timbers of wharves. Continued exploration along the coastal road will bring still more scenes that are begging to be photographed or painted by someone with an appreciative eye. There are working fishing boats, abandoned boats, punts and skiffs and dories powered by outboards or by main strength on the oars. There are lobster traps of wood or wire stacked by sheds in the off season, their brightly coloured buoys and coiled ropes neatly tucked inside.

In the stillness of early morning, deer wander down to the water's edge and coyotes' howls can be heard in the distance. Perfect reflections shimmer in the smooth surface of the coves, intensifying the colours of the sky and shore. As in many small communities in Atlantic Canada, many of the houses here belong to "summer people" from Halifax or farther afield. There are still plenty of year-round dwellers, though, so lights are on in their kitchens, where the first of the day's cups of tea are being brewed and sipped.

There's certainly no shortage of interest in this little spot, even without venturing farther down the road to Stonehurst, although it's certainly well worth the trip with its Maritime vernacular architecture and expanses of glacial paving, evidence of the times when this whole region was covered with ice during the Wisconsinan Glaciation 10,000 years ago.

When it's time to head back to Lunenburg, it's essential to make the trip at mealtime since it would be a shame to leave town without a visit to the Knot Pub for fish and chips or a Knot burger, made from locally produced Lunenburg sausage.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cape Sable Island webcam

Check out the new webcam on the block -- showing the Cape Sable Island causeway. The name's a bit misleading, since the webcam is located in Barrington Passage, on Nova Scotia's mainland, but view is of the causeway and the island itself.

Speaking of misleading names, there's a certain tendency on the part of people not familiar with Nova Scotia's geography to confuse Cape Sable Island with Sable Island, that magical, drifting crescent of sand famous for wild ponies and breeding seals. It's understandable that the
names are so similar, since the word sable is French for "sand" and both island are notable for their dunes and beaches. To add another layer of confusion, just to the south of Cape Sable Island is another island known simply as Cape Sable, where a lighthouse warns mariners off the constantly shifting undersea sandbars.

Cape Sable Island is connected to the mainland of Nova Scotia by a causeway that's roughly three-quarters of a mile long, built of stone from a nearby quarry. The causeway was completed in 1949 and replaced a coastal ferry service that linked North East Point, on the island, with the mainland
community of Barrington Passage. The ferry had run, in one form or another, since the closing years of the 17th Century. Interestingly, one of the later ferry boats employed on the run, the Edgar N. Rhodes ended out its days plying Bonne Bay, Newfoundland, between the ports of Woody Point and Norris Point; this was the principal route to the Great Northern Peninsula prior to the construction of a road along the north side of Bonne Bay.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Herons in the Shallows

It won't be long before the herons are back. Ardea herodias is theoretically a year-round resident in Southwestern Nova Scotia, but it's very unusual to see them here in January or February. When spring arrives, though, so do the herons; we'll start to see them wading in the shallows, making quick lunges to catch small fish swimming past. Herons tend to be shy and are startled by loud noises or sudden movements -- they'll take to wing when frightened and their broad wings, spanning up to six feet, will carry them quickly away. It's often late autumn or early winter before we see the last of them, with ice forming along the shoreline and on pools in the marshes.

These birds can be found in Newfoundland as well, although the salt marsh that forms their principal habitat can be scarce there so herons are confined mostly to the southwestern area of the island. I'll be glad to see the herons return, since when they make an appearance in the shallows, spring can't be far behind.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Meet Me at the Diner

I like diners. Whether they're called lunch counters, lunchrooms, cafes or greasy spoons, I like them. Jukeboxes on the wall help, as do coolers filled with fluffy, mile-high pies topped with mountains of meringue or whipped cream. Milkshake blenders are absolutely essential.

A good diner serves breakfast, and although there might be one or two specialty items on the menu, none of them will involve latte or quiche or kiwi. Not that there's anything wrong with latte or quiche or kiwi, they're just foreign to the kind of diner where eggs are ordered sunny side up or over easy. Here, coffee is a mug of joe, and fruit is an orange slice on the plate with your ham and eggs, and whole wheat toast is considered exotica.

The lunch menu features things like tuna melts and burgers and good, hearty club sandwiches. They're served with fries. Salad? You've gotta be kidding me! Ask nicely and you can get lettuce and tomato on your burger, and in keeping with the tenets of the Reagan administration, ketchup is a vegetable.

Suppers (they aren't dinners here) might include a blue plate special of roast beef or, if you're especially fortunate, liver and onions -- a pile of onions too tall for two men to shake hands over. A piece of that mile-high coconut cream pie is included in the price, of course. Believe me, there are no heart-smart choices advertised on this menu, no nutritional info in small print under each entry; the best-tasting plates come with their own medic-alert bracelets. They're not the place to go for every meal, but for an occasional foray into pre-21st-Century mealtime nostalgia they can't be beat.

This photo was taken at Large Marge's Diner in Lunenburg, NS which my sources tell me is now closed. Alas, we'll have to meet somewhere else for breakfast. The joe's on me!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Raindrops and Dewdrops and Dull, Drizzly Days

Living in a part of the world where any season can be marked by rain, drizzle and fog, it's vital to develop an understanding that the weather outside doesn't necessarily have to set the tone for the day. There's much to be said for a foggy day in winter, since it usually means that the weather's taken a mild turn and the snowbanks are about to disappear, or at least show a significant reduction in size. The sun may not be splitting the rocks, but mild weather has its advantages. In spring and fall, the fog can make for some interesting photo opportunities as it seems to soften the edges of the landscape. In June, it's a sure sign that summer's on its way since it's a contrast between the warm temperature of the land the the cold water that create the condition.

In the spirit of embracing the moment, I often take the camera out for a walk on a foggy day to capture its subtle charms. I love the way water droplets collect on lichens and mosses, and the way the moisture darkens the bark of trees and shrubs to provide extra contrast with soft green leaves or bright autumn tones.
I can be just as put off by a downpour as anyone; it's challenging to get as much enjoyment out of a day when the rain's pouring down, but a little light drizzle can be taken in stride.

I have to admit that I love it when tour guests take bad weather in stride. It's what we're getting, we can't change it, so we may as well enjoy what we've got. For that reason I have some very happy memories of those out-of-the-ordinary touring days over the past thirty years or so, when weather could have spoiled our fun but didn't -- days that were enjoyed despite the weather's most determined efforts. Thanks, all you rollers-with-the-punches. You know who you are; you make my job a heck of a lot easier, and you're great fun to be with!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some Wildflowers Wouldn't Go Amiss

It's the middle of winter, that long season that's not-too-affectionately referred to in this part of the country as "Novembruary". The landscape is uniformly grey-brown when the ground is uncovered, and of course white when there's been a snowfall. Like a lot of other residents of Atlantic Canada, I'm just about ready for some brighter colours -- I'm thinking about the wonderful variety of wildflowers that will paint the countryside here starting in just a few weeks. The sun may shine brilliantly on these short, cold winter days, but wouldn't it be nice to see a few bright splashes of pink, yellow or purple on the land?

When spring arrives, it's often the weeds we see first... dandelions with their cheery flowers decorating lawns and ditches. Later, the lupins follow, painting entire meadows with shades of pink and purple. They're so plentiful in southwestern Nova Scotia that the main road through the area was once known as the "Lupin Trail". They're a nitrogen fixer and a welcome addition to the very acidic soil found here. Daisies, of course, are scattered across pastureland.

Early summer brings the white blossoms of Labrador tea, Rhododendron groenlandicum, as seen in the photo at right. Just before they open, its white clusters of blossoms resemble large white raspberries. The plant's distinctive leathery leaves are creamy white to orange on their undersides, with a fuzzy, suedelike texture. As its name implies, an herbal infusion of this plant is sometimes used as a beverage, but be careful -- it higher concentrations it can be harmful.

Wild orchids of many varieties are native to Atlantic Canada, blue flag iris grow in marshy ground, and the globe-shaped maroon flowers of the pitcher plant decorate ditches and bogs. In August, large patches of bright fuchsia-coloured fireweed or Epilobium angustifolium (bottom photo) begin to appear. This beautiful plant, known as Rosebay Willowherb in England, is a pioneer species that takes its name from its habit of moving quickly into areas recently burnt over. Fireweed is a member of the evening primrose family, and in some areas its flowers are gathered to make jelly.

Meadowsweet, or Spiraea ulmaria (top photo) is present in mid-summer along with other white meadow flowers like tall meadow rue and Canadian burnet, a member of the rose family. Meadowsweet is a source of salicylic acid and was traditionally gathered to treat coughs and colds and as an anti-inflammatory. Another of the white wildflowers of summer is yarrow, Achillia milleflorium, sometimes known as the battlefield plant for its properties of promoting wound healing.

Yes, I'd love to see a few wildflowers right about now, and smell their scent on a gentle breeze. If you see any, please send them my way!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

River Jewels

Cold winter days and nights might make staying indoors tempting, but they create some wonderful sculptures with flowing fresh water that are hard to resist. One of the most accessible spots for seeing these sparkling natural creations is the footbridge next to the Old Woolen Mill Museum in Barrington, Nova Scotia. The mill is a relic of the days when sheep were raised throughout southwestern Nova Scotia; it opened in 1884 and closed in the 1960s, carrying out all the necessary steps in the production of wool from washing and picking through carding, spinning and weaving. A
dam created a headpond for the vertical-shaft turbine that powered the mill, and the resulting diversion of water makes for some interesting currents and flow patterns. When the temperature drops well below freezing, ice forms on the rocks, concrete dam, and riverside grasses. With a little imagination, the shapes can take on a life of their own -- a ferocious beast with sparkling rows of teeth here, a glittering string of suspended beads there, or perhaps a fight to the death between a dragon and a stegosaurus. Hey, it could happen! I love how fleeting these sculptures are -- a few
hours of warm sunshine and they're gone forever, but the potential is always there for a new gallery with every cold snap.

There won't be any more ice sculptures in my future for this week anyway, since there's a stretch of several days of positively balmy weather (well, 5° C anyway) on its way. Could this mean that spring's on its way?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Untold Stories

I have an admitted love for working boats, but I'm fascinated with boats that have been left behind; boats that have been abandoned in favor of replacements, or left on the beach because they've simply outlived their usefulness. In my eyes, they've all got a story to tell after a lifetime of hard work. It seems right to show them a bit of respect by capturing the wistfulness or melancholy of their look. From the proper angle, the old boat rotting in a field far from the water's edge still shows the elegant lines that once set it apart from others. The workmanship is still there in every
joint, accentuated by the effects of weathering. For as long as there have been boats along these shores, it's been possible to find derelicts. Since the announcement of the cod moratorium in 1992 and the subsequent restructuring of the fishery, many small inshore boats have fallen into disuse and lie where they were dragged at the end of their last season. Outmigration from Atlantic Canada to other regions of the country or to the U.S. has combined with a population shift from rural to urban centres to leave boats high and dry and houses empty; when the community is shrinking there's no one to sell a boat to, or a house for that matter.
Our schools seem to emphasize skills that are useful for getting an office job, not making a rural livelihood. Our economic focus has shifted from the fishery to mining, manufacture, large-scale commerce and tourism, yet our lives and psyches remain firmly tied to the sea and to our seafaring past. The provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are called the Maritimes, meaning situated by the sea. They've been a political and economic bloc at least since the eighteenth century. Add Newfoundland, Canada's newest province, to the mix and the region becomes Atlantic Canada, taking its very name from the ocean on our doorstep.

This is a region of incredible beauty and fascinating history; it has struggled when other areas prospered, and thrived when other parts of the country faced hard times. It dances to its own rhythm, and it will persevere. These derelict boats serve as a reminder of its close ties to the sea, and the pride those ties engendered. Pride in our heritage is part of that rhythm; the rhythm of the waves, of the tides, and of our lives.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Of Peeps and Beaches

Beachwalking has its rewards. The broad, white stretches of sand in southwestern Nova Scotia seem to go on forever -- and the beach is a living thing, constantly changing its configuration. In winter, the sand moves offshore exposing fields of rounded rocks sculpted by scouring sand and seawater. In summer it drifts back in again to create smooth expanses where once the rocks showed through. Shells, bits of seaweed, the occasional lobster trap or float -- even a fish-splitting table -- might appear one day only to be gone the next. In spring, summer, and late into fall, though, there's another attraction: the peeps. Sanderlings (Calidris alba) stop in on their spring and fall migrations. They're here briefly to feed before continuing on the long journey between their wintering grounds in South America and the Caribbean and their breeding grounds in the High Arctic. They can be seen chasing the receding waves then running away from them in what looks like a highly animated game of tag.
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) have long, drooping bills that make them easy to identify even in their dull non-breeding plumage. These medium-sized sandpipers probe the sand at the water's edge; they too are migrating, but their journey is a shorter one, between the eastern seaboard of the United States and the shores of Hudson Bay. They are sometimes seen in mixed flocks with sanderlings and semi-palmated plovers, performing an aerial ballet as they swoop low over the waves. The star of the show here on these Nova Scotia beaches, though is a sparrow-sized shorebird that nests near the edge of the dunes -- the piping plover (Charadrius melodus).
These little birds forage on the beach, running along then stopping suddenly to feed in an abrupt stop-and-go pattern. They must be treated with respect and care since they're endangered here in Canada, due to destruction of habitat, changes in water levels, and harassment -- often unintentional -- by people, vehicles and dogs. To protect their fragile nesting sites, it's best to beachwalk away from the dunes, to keep dogs on a leash and keep them out of the dry sand at the upper reaches of the beach, and to confine any use of recreational vehicles to the wet, compact sand avoiding known nesting areas. Efforts to protect the piping plover in Southwestern Nova Scotia have been more successful than those in the rest of Atlantic Canada; the photos that accompany this post were taken at a respectful distance with a long lens, then cropped for detail. Being on the beach in the company of shorebirds is a delightful experience, but by showing them some consideration it's a treat that can be shared with future generations, both of people and of birds.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Grim Anniversary

Valentine's Day may be a day when people's thoughts turn to love and romance, but here in Atlantic Canada it has another, very different association. Late on the night of February 14 and in the early hours of February 15, 1982, an event took place off the coast of Newfoundland that will forever trigger memories of tragedy and loss. The semi-submersible mobile oil rig Ocean Ranger, deployed to drill an exploratory well seeking subsea deposits, had a crew of 84 on board. At the time it was the largest semi-submersible rig to have been built.

Winters on the North Atlantic can be unpredictable, and violent storms can develop literally overnight as weather systems merge. Although we'll never know exactly what happened on that awful night, some things are clear: one of the rig's portlights was smashed; this would allow water to pour into the ballast control room. The rig eventually developed a serious list and was abandoned. Of the 84 crew on board, the bodies of only 22 were recovered.

Thirty years later, I still remember hearing the news broadcast on CBC Radio while driving through Doctor's Cove, NS, and the sense of disbelief over the subsequent few days as the extent of the disaster became known. Early on, there was a faint hope that some of the crew might be found alive; that hope faded quickly as the extent and force of the storm became apparent.

Newfoundland songwriter Ron Hynes penned the song "Atlantic Blue" about the tragedy:

What colour is a heartache from a love lost at sea?
What shade of memory never fades but lingers to eternity?
How dark is the light of day that sleepless eyes of mine survey?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you.

How is one heart chosen to never lie at peace?
How many moments remain; is there not one of sweet release?
And who's the stranger at my door to haunt my dreams forever more?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you. as you.

I lie awake in the morning as the waves wash on the sand
I hold my hurt at bay; I hold the lives of his children in my hands.
And whose plea will receive no answer? Whose cry is lost upon the wind?
Whose the voice, so familiar, whispers my name as the night comes in?
And whose wish never fails to to find my vacant heart at Valentine's?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold... My heart is as cold... My heart is as cold as you.

© Ron Hynes

Wikipedia's entry on the Ocean Ranger can be found here.

The 84 men lost on that terrible night were:
Jim Dodd
Derek Escott
Cyril Greene
Derek Holden
Rick Sheppard
Frank Smit
Daniel Conway
Terrance Dwyer
Fred Harnum
Randy Noseworthy
John Pinhorn
Dennis Ryan
William Smith
Woodrow Warford
Tom Hatfield
Arthur Dagg
Kenneth Chafe
Gerald Clarke
Douglas Putt
Gary Crawford
Norman Halliday
Wayne Miller
Gord Mitchell
Perry Morrison
Greg Caines
Wayne Drake
Cliff Kuhl
Robert Wilson
David Chalmers
Robert Howell
Robert Fenez
Jack Jacobson
Robert Madden
George Augot
Nicholas Baldwin
Kenneth Blackmore
Thomas Blevins
David Boutcher
Wade Brinston
Paul Bursey
Norman Dawe
Thomas Donlon
Joseph Burry
Leon Droddy
William Dugas
Domenic Dyke
Andrew Evoy
Randell Ferguson
Ronald Foley
Melvin Freid
Carl Fry
George Grandy
Guy Garbeau
Regineld Gorum
Capt. Clarence Hauss
Ron Heffernan
Gregory Hickey
Robert Hicks
Albert Howell
Harold LeDrew
Robert LeDrew
Michael Maurice
Ralph Melendy
Ken O'Brien
Paschal Joesph O'Neill
George Palmer
Clyde Parsons
Donald Pieroway
Willie Powell
Gerald Power
Donald Rathbun
William Smith
Ted Staplton
Benjamin Kent Thompson
Craig Tilley
Gerald Vaughn
Michael Watkin
Robert Winsor
Stephen Winsor
Robert Arsenault
Darryl Reid
Greg Tiller

Monday, February 13, 2012

Saltmarsh mornings

One of my favorite places to wait for a sunrise is the saltmarsh. The frosted grasses in winter, the rustling of birds and small animals, the hoofprints of deer come to test the salty tang of plants along the shore, the ever-changing tableau of seaweed or eelgrass arranged by the last tide; they all captivate me. There's a stillness here that overrides the noise from the traffic passing just a few yards away. A good pair of boots and a walking stick are essentials, and of course the camera has to come along as well, since the still water can provide a canvas for perfect reflections of a glorious sunrise. The scent of the marsh
is salty too, of course -- fresh seaweed left by the receding tide. Sound carries well over the water, so the cries of a pair of loons or a small flock of mergansers can be heard from the islands in the near distance. A heron's quick lunge for a passing fish makes a quiet splash, and a small stream tumbles over rounded granite rocks as it flows into the cove; a pair of muskrats dabble in the shallows by the brook. As spring approaches, the willet's distinctive "pill-will-willet" call is added to the soundscape. The sunrise seems somehow more accessible here -- not a distant event but an intimate one as the first rays of the sun peep through the trees and begin to cast their golden light
on the marsh grasses. It creeps slowly along, casting long shadows that enhance the delicate lines of the tide-swirled seaweed, sparkling off the frost or shining warmly on the mist that rises gently off the water. With the sun fully risen it's time to tread back across the muddy flats and head back to the house for the first sip of morning coffee, but the marsh will still be here tomorrow, constant, timeless, yet ever-changing and new.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tickle-aces, Turrs and Noddies

One of the most interesting things about Newfoundland and Labrador is the wonderful variety of expressions and figures of speech that are very much a part of life; archaic words that have fallen into disuse in other parts of North America are alive and well here, and there are local names for most of the seabirds found around the province's shores as well. The bird that's widely known as the black-legged kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla, is called a tickle-ace or tickle-ass here because of its habit of pursuing other birds and pecking at their tail feathers to make them drop the food they're carrying, allowing the kittiwake to swoop in and gather it up. Kittiwake in itself is an interesting enough name, echoing the bird's call, but it pales in comparison to tickle-ace.
The common murre (Uria aalge) nests here by the thousands on the islands along the coast, and is a traditional food source for coastal dwellers; at one time it was such an integral part of the diet that it was sometimes referred to as "salt-water chicken"; there is a hunting season for these birds during the winter months similar to that for ducks or geese. In Newfoundland and Labrador this bird is commonly called a turr, although in Britain it goes by the much more aristocratic "common guillemot", while its close relative the thick-billed murre or Uria lomvia is referred to as BrĂ¼nnich's guillemot. While not as plentiful as either the kittiwake or the murre in
breeding colonies on the province's shores, the northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) is found here in sufficient numbers to warrant its own nickname, the noddy. Although it is primarily an Arctic breeder, small colonies of fulmars can be found in both Labrador and Newfoundland. The fulmar is a tubenose -- a relative of petrels and albatrosses -- with a highly specialized beak whose function seems to be related to getting directional sensory input to detect food on the open sea. The fulmar has a particularly endearing habit of regurgitating the oily, smelly contents of its crop if alarmed; my advice is to avoid alarming fulmars. If you're planning on birdwatching in Newfoundland and Labrador, bring your field guide but be sure there's room in the back for notes!

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Whales of Summer

Imagine being in the place where the world's largest gathering of humpback whales takes place every summer. The waters off Newfoundland and Labrador are rich in phytoplankton, providing nutrients for zooplankton and in turn huge numbers of caplin, a small member of the smelt family. It's the presence of these caplin that brings the whales from their winter breeding ground off the Dominican Republic to this prime summer feeding ground. The humpback's scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, translates to "big-winged New Englander" --
a reference to the massive pectoral flippers that are roughly one-third as long as the whale's body. These fins or flippers are used for steering rather than propulsion; in the North Atlantic both the underside and upper surface of the pectoral flippers are white, making them easy to spot through the water. Humpbacks are baleen whales, filtering their food from the water with massive parallel baleen plates that hang suspended from the palate; the inner surface of this baleen shreds into coarse bristles that make the filter more efficient. The whale takes in a mouthful of water and food
such as caplin, then expels the water through these baleen plates leaving only the food behind. This food must be small, since the whale's throat opening is smaller in diameter than a grapefruit. Humpbacks and other baleen whales have a very informal social structure, unlike many toothed whales like orcas and dolphins; they often travel in company with other whales, but not in highly organized pods or family groups. In areas with high concentrations of food, though, they can often be observed feeding cooperatively, working together to herd the schools of caplin into tighter groups
before lunging up through them with mouths agape to feast at this mobile buffet. Organized whale-watching tours by boat can be found in many parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, but excellent land-based whale watching is possible from spots like Signal Hill in St. John's, the cliffs at Cape St. Mary's, Cape Pine, or Twillingate, the beach at St. Vincent's on St. Mary's Bay, and viewing areas like Fishing Point in St. Anthony, to name just a few. The best time for whale watching in Newfoundland and Labrador stretches from late June until early August, although it's possible to see whales from spring through fall. Individual whales can be identified by the markings on the underside of their tails; more about this identification process can be found at Atlantic Whales.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Seeing the Light

With a combined total of nearly 40,000 kilometres (roughly 25,000 miles) of coastline in the four provinces that make up Atlantic Canada, it's no wonder that an abundance of lighthouses can be found here. Often constructed on high ground, they serve as warnings of rocks, shoals or ledges that might prove deadly to passing vessels. Each beacon or lamp has its own distinct flash pattern, and along with it a distinctive look and a fog alarm that is unlike any other nearby. These three factors allowed mariners to pinpoint their exact location long before the advent of GPS. Canada's first lighthouse was constructed in 1734 at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia; today, of the country's several hundred light stations and lighthouses all but 51 are now unmanned.
While some modern lighthouses can be less than graceful, most of the region's lights are highly photogenic and are often found in areas that are dramatically beautiful. While a few are located on offshore islands and are difficult to reach, many are in highly accessible locations and some are open to the public. The lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, even houses a post office with a special cancellation stamp that depicts the building itself; it's a very popular spot during the summer tourism season. It's even possible to stay at a bed & breakfast that's located in a lighthouse or lightkeeper's house, like those that can be found at Quirpon Island, NL; Cape Anguille, NL; Cape d'Or, NS. In Ferryland, just an hour or so south of St. John's, NL, Lighthouse Picnics provides picnic lunches on a coastal headland accessed by a scenic walking trail; icebergs or whales might just add to the ambiance here in June and early July! Lighthouses are a fitting symbol of Atlantic Canada, since so much of our history is closely linked with the sea and seafaring. Depicted here are the lighthouses at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland (top), Point Amour, Labrador (middle) and Ferryland Head, Newfoundland (below).

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Change Islands

Change Islands can be found off the northeast coast of Newfoundland, near the larger and better-known Fogo Island. The community is made up of two principal islands and several outlying islets so closely linked by geography and economy that they are referred to as a unit, so Change Islands is an interesting and intriguing spot to visit. Well-maintained fishing stages with their storage buildings painted in the traditional red ochre make this spot an intriguing one for photographers. It retains not only the look but the feel of "old Newfoundland" with its tidy homes and winding roads.
Its place in Newfoundland and Labrador history is assured, since this is the place where the fishermen gather: it was here that Arthur R. Scammel was born. At 15, Scammel wrote the famous song "The Squid-Jigging Ground" describing a fishing scene in the waters just offshore. When Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, this was the song that rang out from Parliament Hill to welcome the Canada's newest province. My favourite way to explore Change Islands is with a combination of car and foot travel, making use of the many walking trails that lead to quiet coves and scenic overlooks. The local museums are definitely worth a visit for a glimpse into the islands' past, and the Interpretation Centre can provide information about island life and the geology of the area. Island life isn't the romantic dream that mainlanders sometimes imagine; the idea of having to take a ferry for all but the most basic errands can lose its polish in a very short time. It's best summed up by a resident of Bell Island, near St. John's, who put it this way: "I live on an island off an island. Seems like I have to cross water to pass water." Travel plans are entirely dependent on the ferry schedule, and weather of course has a huge impact, especially in winter.
For those of us who aren't ready to commit to the idea of full-time residence, though, this is a wonderful place to visit; there are ample options to fill one day or several. Of particular interest is the Newfoundland Pony Refuge, established to carry out a breeding program for the hardy ponies that were once common in Newfoundland but are now found in greatly reduced numbers. There will be more about Newfoundland ponies in a future post. Change Islands is accessed via Newfoundland and Labrador's Provincial Ferry Service from the port of Farewell. There are two restaurants, a small inn, and several shops in the community.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Messing about in boats

There's nothing like a wooden boat built by the hand of a craftsman. Atlantic Canada is full of them -- they're moored just off the shore or tied up at community wharves or private docks, showing off their beautiful, graceful lines to anyone with the eye to appreciate them. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: dories, punts, speedboats, rodneys, Gander River boats and so many more. They're built piece by piece in hundreds of boat shops and sheds, fitted together by work-roughened hands; built for fishing or for pleasure or simply for transportation from A to B. There are still places in the Atlantic region where a boat is the only practical means of transport during the summer months, serving the same purpose as the family car. More commonly, in areas where they're far from a necessity wooden boats are valued as a form of transportation that's also a work of art.
I love the lines of these hardy little vessels, and the way that each builder has a distinguishable style that sets his -- or her -- boats apart from those built by others. I love the tidy joints and sweet curves and suent lines that come together into a finished product that's not only pleasing to the eye but intensely practical and above all, seaworthy, for that's what the whole exercise is about. In a well-constructed wooden boat, form and function come together in a perfect marriage; neither takes precedence over the other. It's this inherent grace that appeals to me about them. One of the joys of traveling in Atlantic Canada is the wealth of opportunities to see these great little boats at their best, being used for fishing, gathering seaweed for sale, or being rowed hell-for-leather in races at community celebrations and gatherings, cheered on by enthusiastic crowds.
In addition to the many chances to see wooden boats in their prime, there are boats that have lived out their usefulness and have been abandoned, sinking into the earth that produced the trees they came from. Others have found their way into museums as static displays and tributes to the boatbuilders' skill. In southwestern Nova Scotia, the Dory Shop Museum, Shelburne houses a dynamic display that illustrates the building of these workhorses of the fishing trade. The Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador at Winterton, NL, has a collection that encompasses a wide variety of boat types used in the area. Both are well worth a visit. "I'm gonna build me a boat with these two hands, it'll be a fair curve from a noble plan; let the chips fall where they will, 'cause I've got boats to build." -- from the song, Boats to Build by Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Ninja in White

A light snowfall on Monday night turned into a full-blown blizzard on Tuesday -- whiteout conditions brought traffic to a halt on major streets, and even though the snowfall amounted to only 20 cm, or 8 inches, conditions were so miserable that at times it was difficult to see across the street. The storm packed such a punch that it's already being referred to as the "White Ninja", and both schools and businesses started closing as soon as it struck. Snow day! Those words were magical when I was a student because they meant an unexpected holiday, a reprieve from the day-to-day routine of school. In our house, though, they had an even greater impact since both my parents were teachers. When a snow or ice storm arrived, the whole family would be gathered around the radio listing for that sweet announcement: Closed for the day. There were a lot of people around yesterday who know that feeling, since the closing announcements started early in the morning and continued into early afternoon. By that point, though, driving conditions were perfectly miserable. Packed snow covered the streets, and those whiteout conditions were at their peak. Some hardy souls braved the weather while others opted to stay at their offices a bit longer in hopes that things would improve.
By the next morning, streets had been cleared in most neighbourhoods and life was pretty much back to normal, or at least "winter normal". Snow clearing has been a touchy subject at City Hall for several years now, with the City maintaining that sidewalk clearing simply wasn't possible in a climate like ours and the populace maintaining that it was a necessity. For years, a snowfall in St. John's has meant that sidewalks disappeared and pedestrians took to the streets along with the cars. As the number of cars in and around the city increased, there was a corresponding rise in difficulty for those on foot; some actually had the nerve to complain about the near-constant shower of salty slush flying up from the tires of passing cars.
It's taken a long time, but City Hall finally began to listen and a greatly improved system of sidewalk clearing has been implemented. It's going well, up to a point. Sometimes, as you can see, that point is right in the middle of the block, when snow clearing has inexplicably stopped and we're back to the mountains of snow that are best negotiated with the aid of a team of Sherpas; on the whole, though, it's definitely an improvement, and as time goes on I'm sure it will get better and better, both for pedestrians and for the drivers who no longer have to worry about threading their way through the foot traffic. Here's to snow, and to snow clearing, and most of all to snow days.