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 cafĂ© 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!