Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Newfoundland: July 26

The rain is still pouring down when we get up and have a great breakfast at the Inn. We decide not to allow the weather to dampen our spirits.
We head out to the Visitor’s Centre near Norris Point. They have a very impressive display of pictures and historical and geological information. The young assistant asks us if we want to see the tourist film and we are glad we say yes: it takes us spinning through the cliffs, aerial views of the mountains, the Tablelands, and the exquisite harbours around the seashore - all in sunshine, summer, fall and winter. It’s gorgeous and very informative. Among tons of other things, I learn that this chain of the Appalachians is called The Long Range Mountains.
Our adventure through the bog to the Western Brook Pond is post-poned until the 1 p.m. tour. It’s still raining when we set off though, so we gather up lots of rain gear: ponchos and of course, we have to buy the yellow sou’wester hats. We look absolutely lovely! (I tell everyone I look so sexy we barely made it out of our room on time.)
We drive along the Coastal Trail, hugging the Gulf of St. Lawrence, past Lobster Cove, Berry Head, Green Point, Sally’s Cove and Martins Point, until we reach the Western Brook Pond park entrance.
We walk the three kilometers through ever changing, evolving landscape. Bogs, flat grasslands, and clusters of evergreen and deciduous trees present themselves in turn for admiration as we stroll over the boardwalks and along the gravel pathways. There are lots of puddles and we are peering through a steady drizzle of rain, but none of this spoils the astonishing array of natural beauty. In the distance, the cliffs of Western Brook, their majestic heights dusted with cloud, loom invitingly.
In the bog, there are artistically twisted tree remnants, especially lovely when the white birch pokes out from the black water. Here are there are splashes of colour: neon pink, purple, yellow, stark white.
The peat moss here is over four metres deep: it would be like stepping in quick sand. It doesn’t decay, but simply piles up year after year. A sign tells us “This bog has filled in a basin between two ridges. The bog is a thin cover of live plants growing on top of the accumulated remains of their ancestors.” The purple orchids are called Dragon’s Mouth, and you can see why: its blossoms open wide to the rain like little tongues. Bakeapple grows here in the acidic soil, its single white flower decorating the black mud.
The grasslands undulate softly in the slight wind, waves of light and dark green, a sea of little tufts called cotton grass.
We read the information sign about “Death Traps” with fascination and horror. These plants actually eat insects, spiders, slugs and even small animals. The pitcher plant is a beautiful purple with deep leaves that hold water. When an unsuspecting prey comes to drink, they slip down into the middle of the plant, where bacteria and tiny animals digest them to nourish the Pitcher. There are other examples of deadly beauty: the sundew (a gorgeous red) and bladderworts, which has a trap that acts as a stomach.
Blue flag irises, Canada burnet, juniper, balsam and black spruce dot the landscape with colour.
Moss covers almost everything with green, orange or yellow. In fact, there are many different, exotic kinds of moss here. It hangs from the branches like decorative Christmas tree icicles.
The bog has a stark, slightly frightening, magnificence. The spongy peat has been here for thousands of years, evolving, soaking up the moisture, creeping through the forests and eventually taking them down, too. After all, this was once the seabed.
Drops of rain on the evergreens are shining crystals of light, Cugina says.
We stop now and then to peer into the forest areas to see if we can spy a moose, the only experience we haven’t had. But no moose, male or female, sticks its head from behind the trees or bush.
When we arrive at the boat launch area, it’s still raining and we’re not certain the captain will decide to sail. It depends on the fog, not the rain, but we can see the clouds begin to lift as we wait.
In the meantime, we read all about the formation of Western Brook Pond.
It’s been sculpted out of the rock by glacier movement a billion plus years ago. The weight of the icebergs forced the ground to shift downward and fill with ocean water. Once the bergs melted, the land shifted up again, spilling the salt water back to its origins. As the bog began to cut the pond off from the sea, the depression filled with fresh water from the air and the tops of the cliffs. Over millions of years, Western Brook Pond became a 16 km lake with a depth of 165 m. Towering all around the “pond” are the cliffs – mostly black granite, layers and slices that were carved by ice so long ago, and now alter through rockslides and the power of water teaming down its sides.
We are in luck! The Captain decides the fog has lifted enough to go through the pond to the fjord, which is a narrow water pathway between the cliffs. It’s not technically a fjord any longer, since it’s now filled with fresh water, but it looks very Nordic anyway.
We are kept informed by Randy and Colin, in English and French, who provide us with so many details I can’t possible share them all with you here. But if you’re interested, you really should look up Gros Morne Park and its formations. Fascinating geological history!
I ask the group how on earth to describe this journey? Indescribable, everyone answers. But how to share this with my blog readers…?
Quite simply, it’s one of the most incredible, breathtaking, awe-inspiring scenery that I’ve ever encountered. And we have traveled a lot.
As we sail into the heart of the pond, we are surrounded by magnificent cliffs, which literally soar into the clouds. Although it is still overcast and somewhat drizzly, the addition of the mist adds a majestic quality and serves to indicate just how high these mountainsides really are. From high overhead, narrow rivers stream down from the flat tops, especially numerous because the recent rain. The waterfalls are so high and often leap straight off the jutting rocks; they look like giant showerheads spraying the mountain. Almost everywhere we look, there is a slash of white from a distance and as we draw near, we see that it’s another roaring waterfall, tumbling down the rocks into the pond.
The cliffs begin to narrow, drawing us into a valley between the mountains; the beginning of the fjord. We stand agape in wonder. One quote that Cugina wrote on our itinerary expresses it as only a Newfoundlander could: “…the beautiful scenery will take the breat’ right outa ya!” And it does. It’s wild, tumultuous, ancient, mammoth. The cliffs stand one to two hundred metres taller than the CN Tower.
Now our little boat is completely dwarfed on both sides by the carved rock. If the water disappeared and we saw the mountains standing on the ground, they’d soar higher than the Himalayas, Randy and Colin tell us. The effect of the clouds skimming the peaks, the wind whistling around us, and the colossal height of the cliffs is strangely calming.
We are suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of our world. Knowing that, in ancient times, Newfoundland was part of the continent we now call Africa, makes the world smaller yet larger at the same time.
It is one of those moments that I call ecstasy – a flare of energy that zings through your brain to every part of your body, gifting you with a sensation of amazement and deep gratitude.
I feel as though my head has been titled back and my mouth wide open through this entire voyage.
At the end of the fjord, we drop off two groups of hikers, including one family with a son and daughter. As they go off into the wet forest, our group is thinking they’re crazy. Sleeping on the ground in tents, damp clothing and surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, doesn’t set our hearts whirling, that’s for sure. On the other hand, the vistas must be incredible and the animal encounters astonishing.
Randy informs us that hikers have to be licensed and well prepared, since the trails are unmarked. We all wish them well.
The little ship turns around and we chug through the fjord once more, this time watching as the mountains part and the lake comes into view. The water here is so clear, so pure, that it doesn’t even conduct electricity. Few minerals mean fewer fish, which translates into a paucity of birds, where you might have expected them to be hovering in droves. Just as we round one of the cliffs, however, we spot a bird circling very high above us. Colin says it must be an eagle: we wouldn’t be able to see anything from here but something with an enormous wingspan. We also catch a glimpse of blue sky and sun. The clouds lift enough to show off the green lids of the mountains.
As we disembark, we are grateful that the rain has stopped. The 3 km walk back to the cars would be, otherwise, a bit of a letdown. As it is, we scout (to no avail) for moose, study the plants with newfound respect, and enjoy the warm wind off the bog lands. Randy has told us that the moose are likely watching us, even though we can’t see them. We convince ourselves to feel honoured just to have been seen.
On the ride home, we veer into Lobster Cove and walk up to the lighthouse on the cliff. Again, another glorious sight spreads at our feet. The sea is choppy and white-capped; the cliffs slick with water. Everywhere, there is the scent of the flowers: roses, clover, all the wild, fragrant plants that grow so freely here. Every time we lean down to smell the blossoms, we are astonished at how sweet they are.
Inside the lighthouse, the history of the region is displayed through pictures, written information, maps and models. We enjoy it for quite some time.
When we exit the museum, Dennis is nowhere to be found. Suddenly we see him running along the pathway toward us. He hands us three cookies, which we halve so we can all enjoy a piece. He says he heard Rita say she was hungry, so he grabbed the cookies from the refreshment table (which we hadn’t noticed) before the group of kids behind us got there. Of course we tease him that the kids are now back in the lighthouse crying.
Wonder of wonders, the sun makes an appearance when we get back to the Sugar Hill Inn. We sit on the porch with boasn’s (remember that acronym, kids? Beverage-of-a-social-nature – plural) and crackers and cheese. We laugh, talk about our experiences, think about the coming trip homeward. Of course, it’s always nice to go back home, but…unlike some other trips, if I were offered a couple of extra days here, I’d take them in an instant!
At 6:45, we all assemble in the beautiful dining room upstairs. Mike makes a toast to Wendy and Dennis, our inestimable hosts. How on earth are we ever going to thank them for this experience?
We have a marvelous dinner and, even though Vince tries to talk everyone into a game of 31 (he hasn’t won a game yet; in fact, last night was the first time he got to deal), we are all tired. Could it be the fresh air? The boasn’s? The wine at dinner? Or, oh yah, the 6 km walk?
Maybe it’s just the overpowering emotion that our trip has inspired.
At any rate, g’nite.
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