Labrador Caravan

July 1, 2007
Returning to Newfoundland

I came back to Newfoundland on a slow ferry. A very slow ferry. It was supposed to be a six-hour ride from North Sidney to Port aux Basques, but one engine was out on the boat and it took twice as long. Fortunately the weather was fine, the seas were calm, and the sun shone most of the time. And traveling slowly turned out to have a great advantage. Instead of scaring away the sea life with our noise and our speed, we were surrounded by creatures. We spotted minke whales off the sides of the

boat. Fulmars, storm petrels, and shearwaters flew and dove behind us. Pods of dolphins leapt out of the water, their curved forms reminding me of ancient Roman mosaics decorating the sides of a fountain. We even picked up a stow-away, a tiny bright red-orange bird that certainly hadnít intended to sail from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. After many efforts to catch it with my binoculars, and careful study of my bird book, I decided it had to be a red crossbill, a woodland bird that makes its home all around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. And then it flew off, heading out over the water as if it spotted land on the empty horizon. I hope it made it somewhere, didnít fall from the sky in exhaustion and drown in the sea.

Last summer I traveled up the Great Northern Peninsula, visited Gros Morne National Park, was enchanted by the village of Woody Point, toured the Viking settlement at LíAnse aux Meadows, climbed the stairs up to the top of the hill overlooking St. Anthonyís harbor. I did many of the same things this summer, and it was strange. Strange and wonderful, that is.

I wanted to come back. Last summer I felt that Newfoundland was a place where I belong. Returning made it seem more real, a place that could be a part of my life instead of one more collection of words and photos and images Ė one more page on this website.

The weather was lovely last summer, when I took a photo of the tablelands out the window of a small restaurant in Woody Point. I returned to that restaurant, dashing through a downpour that threatened to soak me to the skin. I learned a lot dawdling over breakfast. The wall covered with warnings about marine pollution and photos of the townís beach clean-up showed how clearly the restaurantís owners were thinking globally and acting locally, to protect their own environment and keep their own business going. And the waitress told me about the local school where here daughter was one of three children her age. Thereís talk of closing that school, combining it with the school in Trout River 17 kilometers down the road. But neither town wants to lose

its school. And in winter the road can close when snow and wind make it impassable. So the moms in Woody Point are fighting to keep their school open and their children in their home town. And yes, everyone in town does know all your business, the waitress smiled ruefully at that.

The sky was clear last year when I climbed the hills over St. Anthony, and my photos showed sweeping vistas of town, harbor, boats, and sparkling sunshine. This year it was cold and foggy, mist blew across the hilltops as I sat on the rocks staring out to sea. Itís quiet up there. Plenty of people hoof it up the stairs to see the view, but not many get away from the staircase. I meandered across the bog Ė walking on bogs is absolutely delightful, like a natural trampoline Ė to a high point overlooking the Atlantic, and settled on the ground to wait.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all text and photos on this page © Joy E. Hecht.

It was gray. The sky radiated light, almost white where the clouds were thin, smudged with darker wisps of fog drifting across the sea. The water was a dark metallic gray, lined with bright ripples reflecting the sky. Drifting slowly in the water, the icebergs were blinding. The stones where I sat were a light blue-gray, speckled pale green and black and orange where lichens clung to the surface. Even the air was silvery gray with tiny droplets of water that collected on my glasses and in my hair.

If I were to move to Newfoundland, it would have to be to St. Johnís. I am a city person, after all. And the hills over St. Anthony harbor are about as far as I could get from St. Johnís and still be in Newfoundland. But it would still be nice to know they were there, that intensely peaceful and lonely gray place between sea and sky.