Thursday, August 31, 2006

Urban Dwellers

I often paddle under the bridges through the little town and down the stream which forms the outlet to the nearby lake. It is part of the almost daily circuit I make when I paddle this lake. When I was young I don't remember there being ducks or any other kind of wildlife on this stream, but today ducks form part of the urban scene along the river. For the most part they seem to be mallards with what appears to be a few escapees from nearby farms. These latter ducks are not the pure white of their forebearers, but present more of a mixed parentage, no doubt from their relationships with the mallards over the years.

I sometimes wonder about these birds. They don't seem to migrate and can be seen swimming in the stream all winter as it doesn't freeze over any more. I suppose people, especially those at the stream-side restaurants, feed them, so they get by just fine during the cold months. With all the talk these days of avian borne flu, I also wonder how safe we all are paddling among them and whether children should be jumping off the docks near where the ducks congregate. I really have no idea, but I do at least wonder about this whole business from time to time. I also avoid showing off any rolls to the passers-by while paddling in the stream. No doubt we've all benefitted from that form of visual exploitation.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From Gentle Sands to Rocky Beaches

One woman's journey, 1989 to 2006

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Several years ago I was reading Diamond Jenness's account of his time spent with Stephanson in the western Arctic. It was in the early part of the 20th century in an area of the Arctic where Inuit people for coming into contact with southern Canadian traders for the first time. In his book, Jenness describes an odd event which struck me deeply. It was an encounter with a very old man called Ilatsiak, apparently a shaman, and much revered by his people. What the man said to Jenness was haunting and mysterious and it got me thinking about what his story might be. Unable to shrug it off, I began writing Ilatsiak's story. Visit my companion blog called 'Ctories' (link to it on the right) and see what you think of Ilatsiak and the story he tells...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Coming Home

Traveling is fun, but there's always a coming home to deal with at some point. We all face this sooner or later. I was grateful when I turned into the driveway to see it wasn't washed out again. I've lugged gravel three times already this summer thanks to the flash rain-storms we now have. What ever happened to all-day-ground-soaking rain like we used to have?

I got out for a paddle finally after a 10 day break. It felt good to be cuddled in the waves again, happy to be in my boat, even if paddling through familiar scenes. They were my scenes, good scenes. After a couple of hours, my arms were aching just a bit too soon and I knew I better start paddling myself back into shape.

On the 'Net' there was an item about the Smithsonian Exhibit on Igloolik, one of my old haunts in the north. Here's what it said, in part, "It’s in “Our Lives” that you will find familiar faces and voices as well as a qamutik, caribou skin garments and an inuksuk. This section on Inuit from Igloolik focuses on change and more precisely, the change Inuit in this community have undergone.
"Igloolik’s exhibit was the work of John Macdonald of the Nunavut Research Institute and Iglulingmiut including Thoretta Iyerak, Zipporak Inuksuk, Theo Ikummaq, Madeline Auksaq, Leah Otak and Arsene Ivalu who talk about hunting, country foods, sewing, the return of the sun and living on the land. “There have been a lot of changes,” says a quote from the late Elijah Evaluardjuk." It was good to read again about John Macdonald, the man who made the qajaq for the film 'Atanarjuat'. Good also to see Leah Otak is still actively showing us how Inuit ladies sewed both in times past as well as today. We've been friends now for over 30 years. Time to return to Igloolik, I think...

In the newspaper, I've discovered life is really only a chemical cuisine of hormones. Reading a review of 'The Female Brain' has made it all clear. Of course, men's brains work much the same way. If you're not sure what's going on, you can safely blame your hormones. Beat's blaming your spouse or your lover...

Finally, there's advice for everyone in a book about 'Where There's a Will'. Apparently everything valuable in life falls into the categories of: Changing your life; Getting drunk; Outdoor sex; Giving money to beggars; Looking after your health; Eating out; and Contemplating immortality. Gee, which one to work on first now that I'm home and not going anywhere for a few weeks? Which one is most pressing, has a 'best before date', that sort of thing?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Newfoundland Diary - Last Thoughts

Traveling around a place like Newfoundland in a rented RV has the great advantage of having a 'home on wheels' where it's dry, warm and comfortable. I've always loved tent camping and probably prefer it to the RV - it's certainly far less expensive - but I found rushing around Newfoundland as we did, not having to set up each night, and not having to repack each morning enabled us to go further, see more, do more and stay drier during the ten days of the trip than we could have otherwise. It was an intelligent compromise. Newfoundland is a marvelous place, but they still have some work to do on their weather. It's very changeable and leans towards the wet side more than most campers like! Our foul weather clothing got a lot of use!

Apparently this old coaster boat in Southport was to be used as a floating tourist attraction, but the upkeep over-took the revenue she brought in and she sank where she lay.

Crab season ended a few days after we arrived on the island and one could see piles of traps like these ones in Southport in nearly every community one went.

A last look at a small community in Newfoundland. Sadly these places are changing as young people move to the cities to find work. Few can find employment today in the smaller places and the bright city lights beckon from afar.

St John's, the provincial capital, is one of the cities young people head for, but many other leave Newfoundland entirely. I spoke with several people who've recently returned to their island roots after spending 40 years and more away. Interestingly, they all remained very much Newfoundlanders in spite of the time away.

Would I return to Newfoundland? You bet I would! I can't wait to dip a paddle in the waters and head out along the coast. I'd do it slightly differently from the others and take the time to explore both land and sea as I made my way around. I'd give myself years to paddle what others have done in a season!

Did the island visit change me at all? Hardly at all. Only my eyes are slightly more 'green with envy' now when I think of those who've proceeded me, but I like to think they're only slightly ahead! After all, it's a 'Rock' and not a race!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Newfoundland Diary - Twillingate

We often just parked the RV right on or overlooking a beach for the night, but in Twillingate we booked into an RV Park on the south side of the island and paid the fare. Laundry facilities and electrical hookups were the reason this time. Once parked, we decided to walk out on the nearby headland to get a view of the place. Walking out, we enquired from a local resident whether it was possible to hike all the way out beyond the houses as the height of land seemed to be an island from where we were standing. We were told, "Sure b'y, go wherever ya like. Dere's nowhere we don't go. It's all free for walkin'! Walk right through a house if ya like, nobody's gonna say nodding to ya!" Sometimes the openness and friendliness of Newfoundlanders can leave you thinking you've somehow left the planet you were born on and arrived at a place were people were created the way they should have been in the first place. It may not be that way if you live in Newfoundland and have to put up with the winter and the hardships which exist for many, but it was a wonderful experience being a visitor. We had some difficulty understanding the Newfoundland dialect and frequently asked people to repeat what they'd said. I suspect many Newfoundlanders believe that people from 'away' are almost all hard of hearing as they so frequently get asked to repeat what they've just said in the plainest way possible!

From the top of the hill it was obvious we were in a kayakers paradise. I don't understand how people can possibly make it all the way around Newfoundland in a single season of paddling. I would need at least a year to explore all that this area alone has to offer. Of course the glorious weather while we were there helped, but the itch to get a boat in the water and begin exploring all the coves and 'tickles' was unbearably strong. I wasn't alone wanting to launch. I group of kayakers all over 50 years of age was camped in the nearby provincial Park doing exactly that. They expected to be in the area for at least a couple of weeks.

I suppose every paddler visiting Twillingate sees this lighthouse from the water as they paddle the area. It's a big red beauty sitting atop an immense mass of grey rock jutting forcefully out to sea, with a long finger of shoal rocks thrusting out even further to catch the unwary. It was a wonderful sight on the calm evening we were there, but I can only imagine it on a stormy day! There were no landing spots visible anywhere forcing anyone in a small boat to be tough, skillful and resourceful as they made their way by.

Another view from near the lighthouse, this time looking westward. On the water below the light, many local people were out fishing for cod, the first time in years people have been permitted to catch fish for their own table. We talked to some as they came in. They were happily cutting up and fileting their catch on little tables, right on the beach, skillfully removing the tongues and cheeks considered delicacies, while families joked and laughed and seagulls floated just offshore, awaiting their share. It was a special event, one going back to days some years ago when fishing was a way of life for nearly everyone, reminding people of when times were good.

These rocks are some that lie below the light, just in front of a spot called 'Nanny's Hole' another one of the countless peculiar place names found all over Newfoundland. Naturally I was intrigued with the name of this place and tried to climb down the rusty wire rope which led over the cliff and down to the beach and rocks below. However, I was wearing my 'Croc' type sandals at the time and chickened out, fearing Nanny's Hole might quickly become renamed Michael's Demise.

What better locale than this kayaking haven to enjoy the best sunset of our trip?

Oh, the whale! When we arrived at the RV park everyone there was full of stories about the whale sightings up at the lighthouse. One guy from Arkansas had spent $100 on a boat tour and seen not even a spout, but there at the lighthouse he'd seen a whale in the same spot two days running. Sure enough, everyone coming off the lighthouse overlook talked about the whale they'd seen. Talk about excited! It was big. It was right in close to shore. It stayed around for all to see. The perfect whale! I had to see this for myself. What I saw was a sunker. A rock barely awash, making vaguely whale-like splashes when the Atlantic swell rolled over it just so.
I smiled. Why ruin their day? I've only seen a few whales in my lifetime and treasured each experience. So they should have their whale too, and especially if they've come all the way from Arkansas and paid their $100 to look at some water.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Newfoundland Diary - Shallow Bay & The Arches

The biggest drawing card in Gros Morne Park, but in my opinion, not the most interesting, is the fresh water fjord called Western Brook Pond. Like the one at Trout River, it too was carved by glacial action and then left high and dry in ancient times. Today it is a fresh water lake guarded by high vertical cliff faces filled with hanging valleys, lace-like water falls and volcanic dikes. Walking the 2.5 km trail into the valley for the 2 hour boat trip down it's length is well worth the effort, although the whole time we all wanted to land and hike one of the narrow cleft valleys to the heights above where, of course, we would be photographed in the classic 'Gros Morne' pose seen in many ads for the place.

We were drawn to other places, Cow Head being one. Just the name by itself was intriguing. We never saw a cow's head there, but the place did offer a tiny RV park near the beach, just off the long pebbly spit leading out to the point. In the end, we chose to continue a short distance up the coast to the Provincial Park at Shallow Bay just to the north where warm showers made an alluring call to our hike-stained bodies. The following day we visited a coastal feature just a few miles northward called 'The Arches', a mega-sized hunk of rock, which the sea has pounded sufficiently hard to create several inter-linking passages through which one can walk with ease. I took movies of the surf and us clambering around on the top, so this pebble picture will have to do until you get there yourself. The parking lot above the beach was an RV nightmare with several huge rigs jostling back and forth trying to get both in and out. There are some downsides to these monsters, no matter how convenient at times!

For some odd reason all the tuckamore trees directly inland from the arch formation had perished and their grey woody skeletons now stood in a blaze of fireweed. On either side the trees once again burst into life and the fireweed disappeared. Has a battle of Nature been raging here in silence? Do dead trees turn into fireweed in Newfoundland? If passing kayakers see fireweed on the shore, does it mean they can be sure of having a bonfire that night? I wonder...

Heading the RV back towards the south wasn't easy to do. The temptation to continue heading north to see more of its wonders, especially those at the Viking site at L'Anse aux Meadows was strong. Time constraints and the staggering gas consumption of the RV kept us in check, so we sadly headed southward, making a few last stops, one of which was at the mouth of Western Pond Brook, where it empties into the Gulf of St Lawrence. Here lay a sandy beach, as beautiful a curving beach as one could find anywhere in the world. Signs warned of dangerous undertows however to the careless swimmer. As they had everywhere we went on this coast, enormous waves pounded in from the Gulf and spilled their way up the shore. The wind off the sea blew furiously. Behind the beach lay rare sand dune formations and on the stream, a fish counter tallied the number of salmon making their way upstream into fresh water.

It was time once again to head back eastwards. Next I'll write about the Twillingate area on the northeast coast and how every tourist can see a whale any day of the year in exactly the same spot! Amazing, but true...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Newfoundland Diary - Bonne Bay & Rocky Harbour

The rain and high winds were back with us as the RV swung around to the north side on Bonne Bay after our night in Trout River. Before leaving the southern side of the park, we drove up the river to the 'pond', the term used in Newfoundland for many of their lakes. Like many of the other ponds in the area, it was carved out by glaciers and at one time was a fjord of the sea. Rising land levels blocked the entrance to the fjord changing it into a fresh water pond from which Trout River now flows.

We stopped for lunch on the beach in Norris Point, a village about half way down the north side of Bonne Bay. We parked right at the water's edge, just beyond the Aquarium and seakayaking outfitter's shop. As we munched our sandwiches and looked out the large windows of the cozy RV (can you tell I'm beginning to enjoy the benefits of this rig?), a group of kayakers, the first I'd seen on the water in Newfoundland, came paddling in. Bonne Bay, being relatively protected from the blast of Nature's furies out on the coast, allowed these brave souls a few hours on the water in relative comfort. Needless to say all were dressed for potential immersion in the chilly water beneath their hulls!

The brave and the daring who venture out to sea and paddle the coasts of Newfoundland, get to see the entrance to Bonne Bay, guarded by this lighthouse, typically, perched high above the raging seas on a rocky headland a few kilometers from the village of Rocky Harbour. I was fascinated by the area, and tried imagining come down along the northern shore soaking wet and tossed by the stormy seas, finally seeing the light ahead and knowing I'd soon be safe on the beach in Rocky Harbour just around the corner...

... Passing under the light, I'd imagine swinging wide of the headland to avoid the nasty looking waves pounding into the shoals just below the light. Then turning into Bonne Bay, my paddle would be stroking hard as I paddled into Bonne Bay to seek shelter in Rocky Harbour, a welcoming sight after my day on the water.

With my heart no longer in my mouth, rested, dried out and fed by hospitable Newfoundlanders, I'd head down to the beach, and reposition all my gear back in place in my kayak. I would launch my kayak, this time into calm, protected waters, a pleasant change from the business of crashing through a surfy beach filled with rocks and jelly fish. My bow would point me southward towards the distinctive waterfall on the southern shore and my voyage would continue, ever onwards!

From there I could paddle along the coast called 'The Green Gardens' until the cove at Trout River opened up on my left.

Alas, it's a fantasy which I may never get to do, although it certainly looks possible. Several others have paddled this dream and lived to tell the tale. However, there are other inviting places to kayak and I'll never be able to get through even half the list. Still paddling a kayak along the shores of Newfoundland is something every kayaker ought to consider, even if for only a single coast or two!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Newfoundland Diary - Tablelands & Trout River

One of the benefits of it having rained so hard for several days was that most of the mountain side streams were running full bore and pouring off the cliffs high above. We took advantage of this by hiking up a trail in Steady Brook which runs beside the Marble Mountain ski center. The falls at the top have a pool below the initial plunge which is a swimming hole when the flow is less intense. The day we visited, the high water volume made the pool suicidal to say the least. It wasn't even in the category used by extreme white water kayakers to pump up their adrenaline. Still the shear sight and thundering noise of the falling water made the place a worthwhile hike.

Later that day, as we made our way along Bonne Bay in Gros Morne Park, the road swung high up the mountain slopes giving us vistas of what was to come. Below, the various arms of Bonne Bay presented themselves as a kayakers paradise, with huge surrounding hills, shear cliffs, calm waters and intriguing coves. We began our visit to the Park on the southern side by visiting the 'Tablelands'. Here lies a huge chunk of rock, a mountain sized, chunk, in fact, which somehow got pushed above the Earth's crust when two tectonic plates collided at this spot in the distant past. It's barren yellowish surface immediately identifies it as different from the surrounding areas which are all either tree covered or show a greyish rocky colour.

We hiked up through the Tableland valleys for several hours thinking we could easily be on Mars were it not for the running water and the odd bits of vegetation here and there. While the sun beat down on us warmly, the winds were truely Martian in strength: fiercely strong and gusty. At times it was hard to stand up straight, especially when trying to balance on loose rocks when crossing the streams coming down off the heights above. The experience of being is such an unusual environment was incredible.

We headed for Trout River afterwards, hoping to get into the RV park for the night. By chance, we decided to check out the village first to see what was available in the way of a restaurant. After cooking for four in the tight confines of the RV for several days, we were ready for a meal out. Coming down to the street lining the sandy beach we spotted a parking spot beside a tiny park and pulled in. I walked a few meters along the beach front boardwalk to the Seaside Restaurant and booked a table. When I asked if we were bothering anyone where we were parked, I immediately exposed myself as someone from 'Away'. In Newfoundland, it seems, few people are hung up on land ownership and usage and as long as common sense is used, people feel free to come and go as they please.

It turned out that the restaurant was actually famous and had been written up in several magasines. We enjoyed an excellent meal, drank local Newfoundland beer - I can recommend the '1892' brewed by Quidi Vidi - all with a view into the bay. To make things even more pleasant, a harp player added some Celtic aires to the ambiance while we ate. After strolling through the village down to the Trout river mouth working harbour and back, we retired to our beach front RV for the night. The heavy surf coming into the cove pounded all night, lulling us to sleep, filled with the knowledge that we didn't have to try and launch kayaks into it the following morning! In fact, it was easy to see why a paddler might want to stay and enjoy the village hospitality and resist the urge to paddle away too soon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Newfoundland Diary - Salvage & Lark Harbour

To spend ten days in a rented RV in Newfoundland can be either a voyage to the Ends of the World, a visit to Paradise or a descent into the Bowels of the Earth. You can take your pick. It's been all of these and several more to its visitors. To me, it was a sort of homecoming, a return to a northern paradise, even though it was my first visit. What do I mean? It's vistas, the rocky shores, the treeless barren interior places, the bogs surrounded by black spruce trees and the extraordinary hospitality of the people all reminded me of my second homes in the eastern Canadian Arctic and sub-Arctic. I felt instantly at home in a place I knew well yet had never been. It was very special to be there for so many reasons.

Our trip began in St John's, but we quickly headed south to Witless Bay and Lamanch park where we parked overnight. In the morning it was westward to Eastport to visit new friends made through a common interest in the voyage of Wendy Killoran this past summer. The very essence of hospitality, they showered us, fed us and made us feel their cabin was our home.

From there we went out to see Salvage, a nearby fishing town and photographic gem on the tip of the peninsula. What a place to paddle out of! Surrounded by bays, rocky cliffs and numerous islands and hiking trails, it would take months to explore the area by kayak and on foot. Winds were moderate, but growing the morning we were there, so we looked for a more protected spot to paddle in Newman Sound to the south. But here too, the seas were building and rather than risk a roll into freezing waters without adequate gear we put off paddling entirely and enjoyed hiking along the forested shorelines. Our friends had recently discovered a new hobby: collecting sea glass. These are bits of broken glass which the sea has slowly ground and chemically changed. People all over the world now collected and displayed these colourful exotica, made by man and shaped by the sea.

Our trip then moved to the west coast to visit other friends in Steady Brooke at the foot of Marble Mountain outside of Corner Brook. We drove in torrential rain most of the afternnoon, but the ever changing views kept us enthralled and the time passed quickly. The following morning, in spite the continuing rain, we drove out to the Bay of Islands where we had lunch at a park high in the hills overlooking the wind swept sea below. The clouds lay on the Blow Me Down mountains as we continued along the twisting road out to Lark Harbour, Bottle Cove and Little Harbour, all pretty fishing villages on the Gulf of St Lawrence.

We were intent on a hike, but the driving rain and winds dampened our enthusiasm. No paddling outfitters locate in the area and besides the heavy pounding surf outside the harbours had us thinking of anything but paddling. Instead we slowly made our way back up the Humber Arm past Corner Brook and we began making plans for visiting Gros Morne National park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Earth's mantle is exposed for all to see and hike upon.

Monday, August 7, 2006

I'm Off to Newfoundland B'y!

That's right. I'm off to see the Rock for meself for a couple weeks or so. I'll post from there if I can. Hopefully I'll paddle the frigid seas and tickle some whale tummies and so on...

Sunday, August 6, 2006

A Compelling Campabello Beach

One of the interesting places I have been to this summer was Campabello Island which is a good stone's throw off of the easternmost tip of the state of Maine. The south end of the island is linked to Maine via a bridge. All other ways to and from the island require the use of a toll ferry boat. Property on the island once belonged to President Roosevelt who house can be toured by those inclined to that sort of thing. Odd, he felt the need to escape to Canada, but then again, maybe not so odd. Depends on your point of view, I guess.
This beach is located at one of these ferry crossings. There is no dock, no visible signs that a ferry even visits the beach except that the little road leading down to it mysteriously ends at the water's edge. When the ferry does arrive, it edges into the beach gravel and plunks down a metal ramp so that vehicles can offload and load. Very simple. Must be a hoot in the wintertime!
To the left of the dirt road lies this beach. Perhaps it was the light, the day, the company, I'm not sure, but I fell in love with this beach. I want it. Badly. Sadly, it's already owned and not backed up by much other than a smelling slough, still... It would be nice to have the beach. I might be able to do something about the slough, like turn it into a salt march or something...

The Local Band Concert

On another topic, my daily paddle took me into the local village for the weekly Sunday band concert. This tradition of music and popcorn by the lake has been going on since my childhood thanks to a wealthy benefactor many years back. Spread out on the lawn sit hundreds of people drawn by the site, the cheerful music and the adjacent lake. I was one of only two kayaks there today. Often there are several canoes as well, but today it was motor boats that predominated, perhaps due to the breezy conditions. I got to show the lady in the other kayak how to side scull with her paddle to keep her boat more or less in position. Such fun being a teacher again! The power of knowledge being transmitted to the uninitiated. I had to head home early and lie down until my testosterone levels returned to something below my personal 'Lantis" level...

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Country Food

One summer the Inuit hunting camp I was living in ran out of sugar. As a result none of us ate any sugar or anything with sugar in it for a couple of months. It was unpleasant at first, but we managed to do without until finally we hardly missed having it. We lived happily on the food we were able to catch, 'country food' it was called back then.
At the end of the summer I returned to the village where my summer had begun. I went up to a friend's house and was offered a cup of tea. Naturally I reached for the sugar bowl, swirled a teaspoon of it into my tea and took a sip. Bang! My mouth went totally berserk! I could not believe how incredible that tea tasted. It was actually the taste of the sugar suddenly, after all that time, exploding in my mouth. It was a mind blowing experience and I've never forgotten the power of sugar from that day on.
So when I was checking to see how Renata Chlumska was getting along on the last leg of her journey around the USA, a comment she made caught my eye. She mentioned she was eating 6000 calories each day to power her trip, whether she paddled or bicycled. That struck me as a lot given she is not a large person, but I assume she knows what she's doing. Obviously anyone involved in a high energy activity, especially one that lasts for weeks or even months, must pay special attention to their diet. I'm sure she has this all worked out. To sustain oneself over the long haul, I would imagine that calorie consumption would be a critical factor.
According to one guide put out by the Heart and Strike Foundation of Canada, the "moderately active female" needs to consume up to 2100 calories per day, the equivalent male needs up to 3000 calories per day. So you can see why the figure of 6000 calories caught my attention!
I next got thinking about the average paddler like myself. I don't often paddle for days on end, but I have been out for a couple of weeks and more and my calorie consumption has not been high on my list of things to check into during preparations for the trip. Perhaps I should look at this again as there must be thing I should know.
For example, there are some well known side effects which show up when one is living in a calorie deficit situation. The first obvious one would be weight loss. More worrying would be possible changes in one's mental attitude, which could seriously affect the outcome of a trip, especially over the long haul, where the effect probably creeps up on one slowly. I'm not certain what specifically these symptoms would be, but I suspect mood shifts, indecision and general lethargy to be in the mix somewhere. There may be other things as well.
All 'food for thought' as they say, so next time I head out for several weeks or more, I'm going to give my calorie intake more serious thought than I have done previously.