Impressions of Labrador

A guest post by Lisa Moore

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In the sand, bear paws.

Noses of the Zodiacs scrudging into the sand. Haul. Wet ropes, lean back, heels sliding on wet pebbles, tug the Zodiac up snug.  Slap down the bright yellow wooden step. Swinging legs over the side, walking poles, knapsack, step. Step on the block. Step into the water and feel the tug on your rubber boot. Water rushing up over the top of the wooden step, swirling  away in all directions, smooth pebbles tumbling end over end, everything stirred up underfoot. Stab the walking stick, lapping kelp, up, up, on the beach. Bright GoreTex jackets, red, aqua, mosquito net hats, hiss of radios, MJ, MJ, Jason. Jason, MJ.

The resettled Moravian/Inuit community of Ramah—bear paw. Some of them still filled with water. Claw scrapes on stone. The bear had just rambled through. Haunch and rippling muscle/chunks of hunger and force, but gone. The print a cup surging with water, gleaming in the sun.

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Partridge eggs. Hold back the alder branches. Can you see them? Speckled. See them? I can’t see them. There. The mother just flew. Where? There, the mother.

On the ridge overlooking the beach the bear monitors are just fluorescent orange flecks on the grey stone. They were far away but I could hear them checking in with each other on the radios.

The fjord last night. But impossible to capture the intensity, the depth. Cracks running through the mountains, the black dykes, old molten lava, rust, caramel, cream, brown, black, white splotches of snow, the green like an old rug worn in places, the light slicing through. Light slashing up the mountains. Clouds bunched like grapes, like marbles, like bowling balls. Still blue up there. Blue as a GoreTex jacket. I wish you could see this. I miss you. How can I tell you about this? You would love this. There was no wind. It was still. A black bear just a dot.  A moving dot on skyward straining granite. 

I felt tears lifting up inside me. Like the water rushing around the yellow block by the Zodiac, swirling all directions around my rubber boot, and tugging on my ankles, my leg, this answer in my body to beauty all mingled up and confused with you would love this and I miss you and my god, my god, what is this, the tears are disorienting, salt water—what is this? This is wordless. This is big. This is still. This is forever. This is infinity. This is a fork in the fjord. This is which way do we go? Do we ever go back? Can one go back from this? This is every path ever taken. Never taken. This is giving up, giving over. This is smallness. This is a blasting apart of the inner things. This is we are together, aren’t we? We are in this together. This is missing you and wishing you could see. This is a bunch of people on a deck, on all the decks, nosing in, deep and deeper. This is nowhere. This is the only place. 

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The rocks are cinema and the light is unrequited. The light is, don’t mess with me. The light is, you have never seen anything like this light. You will never see it again. Okay, this is vast. The light is a love affair. The light is going. The light is pink now. The light makes creases and folds in the mountains. The light fingers through. The lit up caves and the lit up faces of the people on the deck. The light is a last hurrah. The pink of inner things. The pink of new things, like the cry of a grandchild, like don’t stop, please don’t stop. This is the pink of the fresh salmon pulled from the water this afternoon and cut up with a pocket knife, and dip/flicked in the ocean on the side of the Zodiac and we ate in raw like religion, like a gift.

On the beach this morning Michelle told us about sod houses. The windows were made of seal intestine, translucent. Just imagine in a snowstorm. Just imagine a child born. The frame might have been wood or whale bone. This is so long ago. The ghosts are translucent. The ghosts are windows made of brass. They sang in four voices. They covered houses in cured skins, and then sods, and when there was a fall of snow, the sod house was very warm. 

The floor of the house might have been slate or wood. Now it has collapsed and grasses overgrown. Let’s not walk over it. Let’s leave it alone. There would have been a cold trap built in the entrance. A depression in the earth into which the cold would sink. But keep your eyes on the water, because bears can approach from there. Swimming sometimes as much as eight miles. Keep your eyes on the land. Be alert. I wish you could have seen. What a fjord that was last night. The way the light slashed across the uppermost blade of mountain. The way it faded. Or lasted. Went dark. Bellowed like a trumpet in the dining room. Looked all sultry and come thither, crooked its finger, said the truth. Flipped a coin, told a joke; the light was a pole dancer a circus, a dream with monsters and empty streets and everything was wet. Everything it touched turned to gold.

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I was talking with another writer on the deck about how hard it is to write. We laughed about ‘hard’ work. Because it isn’t coal mining after all. It’s pure pleasure. It is one-hundred voltage thrill. But it is hard. That’s what we said. And we said of course it wasn’t hard. Nobody twisting your arm to write. What is the difference between intense pleasure and pain. What is the difference between desire and discipline? If we follow this fjord forever where will we end up.

In the sod houses they had soap stone lamps with a wick made of woven beach grass burning in seal oil. The idea of that tiny flame, the halo it must throw out, in the midst of these  mountains,standing up in the dark. I hear Maria, on the radio, say she has spotted a white beluga. Mathew James, Mathew James, Maria, she says. And he answers: Maria, Maria, Mathew James. The hiss and clutches of sound bursting out of the radios. Maria, Mathew James. It is still very early in the morning.

The truth is I got up at five to write. I stumbled out onto the deck, almost blinded by the morning sun. Did it ever go to bed? Did it get tiny like that little flame in a sod hut, maybe a hundred and fifty years ago, glowing through the intestine of a seal? A line of radiant mist on the horizon. Pure white, where it touched the earth. Burning upward. On the hill in Ramah this morning, a little graveyard. Grey stone, half devoured by the grass, sunken, almost gone, splotches of orange lichen and the dates softened by the rain. It’s only ten thirty in the morning, but I feel like I have experienced a century since that mist on the deck burned away. I cannot wait to see you. I have a lot to tell.    

Life and death among the dunes of Sable Island

Sable Island's iconic horses live with freedom - and challenge

Sable Island’s iconic horses live with freedom – and challenge


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I am at 43 55′ 59N & 60 01′ 40 W standing on the beach, mezmerized by the pounding surf and in a state of bliss on Sable Island.
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With my feet planted firmly in the wet shifting sands I am about 300 kms off the Nova Scotia coast -nearing the edge of Canadas’ territorial waters. There are ten humans on this island paradise, hundreds of horses, hundreds of Ipswich sparrows, 50,0000-plus very smelly Grey seals and one tree.
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Grey seals vie with horses for 'handsomest mammal' on Sable Island

Grey seals vie with horses for ‘handsomest mammal’ on Sable Island

I have already spent time with this gnarly little tree ( a pine) reaching an epic height of 3 feet. Its top had been broken off & its branches were broken & bruised from abrasive sand-blasting all winter. I did not know it was the only tree on Sable & so initially did not give it the respect and reverence it deserved.

A rare bird in a lone tree: the Ipswich Sparrow

A rare bird in a lone tree: the Ipswich Sparrow


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I was initially drawn to this wee pine on a quest for the rare and endangered Ipswich Sparrow. I could hear one warbling and calling for a mate. I found him perched atop this one tree, broadcasting his whereabouts to all that could hear him.
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I took out my powerful 500mm Nikon lens and made some wonderful portraits of this wee little fluff-ball who had recently flown all the way from Florida to the one and only nesting ground in the world of his ilk.
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Fortunately the wind was in the right direction for me to hear his romantic overtones—for the powerful winds here can suck the words out of your mouth and cast them out to sea, never to be heard again by another living creature.

Sable Island is like a stretched crescent moon which is oriented east – west. The upturned crescent faces north and catches the force of the north winds that lambaste it regularly.

Huge dunes rise hundreds of feet on the north side and taper off to broad expanses of flat beach on the south side.

Sable Island's spectacular dunes change constantly

Sable Island’s spectacular dunes change constantly

The island is roughly 48kms long; at its widest it is roughly 1.75 km across. But below the waves it extends for its entire length again on the east & west points, so that Sable Island measures some 160 kms in its entirety.

It is a shape-shifting entity that transforms every day, as the wind blows and the seas pound at its shores. Sable Island also sculpts and transforms all those who have been here since people first set foot here in the early 1500’s.

Today I witnessed the challenges for animals that live amid the “dunsescape” called Sable. For some creatures, depending on the season there is a life and death struggle to survive.

As I walked the beach yearning to know Sable as best I can in the short week that I am here, I began to feel its remote qualities. Although I flew in a few days ago during a window of good weather
you can never be sure of getting here when you planned. Nor can you plan on getting out when you would like ! I have been shrouded in fog for a lot of my time so far. Sable may be up for a fog award – it receives over 100 days of fog a year.

So this is not the place to go when you are in a hurry to get elsewhere. Only specialized twin engine planes can land on the beach strip which also changes day to day, often being obliterated by the waves crashing in from the surf surge from the south.

I counted 50 horses today on my peregrinations about the island. There were a few one-year-olds and many mature horses that looked in rough shape after a long, cold winter. I spent time at a distance observing their body language and photographing their behaviour then moved a little closer and sat down to keep a low profile. They are very accepting of me, and intent on feeding themselves on the fresh green shoots that are shyly poking their heads out of the sand for the first time in eight months.

As I crested a dune I came upon a motley looking band of horses; some were looking quite healthy and others were showing their ribs through their skin. Some were lame and others had misshapen hooves and limped along like injured war-horses from First World War battles.

But then a black stallion crested a ridge and the sight took my breath away. He stood atop a dune with the ocean in the background, his mane and tail blowing in the wind.
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This regal creature on that ridge looking out to sea epitomized a powerful sense of freedom for me—but shortly thereafter, a more sombre reality set in as I began to find carcasses of horses that had not made it through the winter. The first body I found was partially subsumed by the shifting sands. This was a young horse and it appeared almost freeze-dried from the incessant winds.

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Mike inspects the remains of a victim of the winter of 2014

It was also close to a pond where it would have been searching for water before it died. As I made my way through the dunes I found more bodies—all from last winter, for they were not yet decomposed. So it was with a heavy heart that I returned to Station Main ( Parks Headquarters) pondering the freedom that these horses have along with the challenges & starvation they face as every winter approaches.
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A frolicsome foal is a sight to lift the spirits

A frolicsome foal is a sight to lift the spirits

My spirits were uplifted, however by the sight of a young foal prancing about with its gangly, klutzy legs looking like a drunken marionette—while mother munched away contentedly. My day ended as a spectacular sun plummeted into the sea.

Tomorrow I would go and find this frolicksome foal and document and celebrate this new life that had just recently been born to Sable Island.

9 things you didn’t know about Newfoundland and Labrador

Battle Harbour, Labrador - Photo by John Chambers

Battle Harbour, Labrador – Photo by John Chambers

As of the 2014 season, Adventure Canada has been operating in Newfoundland and Labrador for twenty years. Over that time, we’ve learned to appreciate some of the unique, and lesser-known features of Canada’s easternmost province. Here are a few.

1. The Miawpukek First Nation in Conne River, Newfoundland, is one of the most economically successful First Nations in Canada. This Mi’kmaw community places a high value on traditional values, including canoe-building and handicrafts.

2. Gros Morne National Park helped change our understanding of the world. The park’s outstanding geology includes visible protrusions of the Earth’s mantle, and crust, which led to insights into tectonic plate theory and continental drift.

3. L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland is the site of the only authenticated Norse settlement on the North American mainland. Now a National Historic Site, the location was discovered by closely studying the text of ancient Viking sagas.

4. Red Bay, Labrador, is Canada’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site. For several decades in the 1500s Red Bay was home to a thriving whaling station, seasonally run by Basques whalers. Multiple shipwrecks from the era lie in the harbour.

5. Battle Harbour, Labrador preserves a classic cod fishing station, with superbly kept wharves, warehouses, ‘flakes’ (drying racks), a working general store, church and houses. Battle Harbour is a living museum of the traditional salt cod industry.

6. Ever wonder what the Wonderstrands were? Two pristine sandy stretches of 20km and 25km along the eastern shore of Labrador are the leading contenders for the phenomenal beaches mentioned by Norse explorers.

7. Rigolet, on the Labrador coast, has a unique place in literature: a fictional, future version of the hamlet (called Rigo), appears in the novel The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. In our time, the area is a haven for minke and humpback whales.

8. The ghost settlement of Okak, Labrador straddles the tree line – and two cultures as well. The site was home to a Moravian mission from 1776 to 1919, and at its heyday was the centre of a large Labrador Inuit presence in the area.

9. Torngat Mountains National Park in Nunatsiavut, the semi-autonomous Inuit region of northern Labrador, contains Canada’s highest peaks east of the Rockies, framing dramatic fiords. The Torngats teem with wildlife, including polar bears and caribou.

Visit Newfoundland and Labrador on these Adventure Canada trips:

Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, June 29-July 12, 2014
Greenland and Wild Labrador, September 11-24, 2014

Gros Morne Magic

This year marks a special milestone for Adventure Canada: twenty years of running expedition cruise trips in Newfoundland and Labrador. While we’re often associated with the Arctic (and we do love the North!), Canada’s Wild East Coast is a favourite destination.

The unique combination of nature, culture, history and geography that is Canada’s easternmost province inspires and amazes our passengers time and time again.

Newfoundland and Labrador is also home to some of the most spectacular geology in the world, perhaps most famously at Gros Morne National Park, where the Earth’s mantle—normally found far below the surface—is upthrust to form the spectacular Tablelands.

A highlight of many excursions, the hike up to the Tablelands provides a window into the formation of the planet itself, not to mention a decent workout, and an incredible view!

Visit Gros Morne on these amazing adventures:

Newfoundland Circumnavigation, June 2, 2014 – June 12, 2014

Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, June 29, 2014 – July 12, 2014

Sable Island, Canada’s 43rd national park

It’s official: Sable Island, Nova Scotia, is Canada’s 43rd national park. We’ve been anticipating this moment of course; our two trips to Sable Island this coming spring have been filling up for months.

Still, it’s nice to see the legendary island with its beloved wild horses, seals, rare birds and plants make The National, CBC TV’s nightly news program. Sable Island is truly a place worth protecting, and we hope people across Canada are celebrating its new status with us.

As the above video report by Tom Murphy notes, Parks Canada and research scientist Zoe Lucas—who has worked on the island for years—are optimistic about the prospect of curious travellers visiting Sable Island under Parks Canada’s strict regulations.

While we didn’t get a personal mention from Peter Mansbridge, we’re delighted that Adventure Canada’s staff, Zodiacs and ship (the Sea Adventurer) appear briefly in this clip from The National on CBC TV. And we look forward to our inaugural voyages to Sable Island next spring!

Click the links for more information or to book your trip.

Sable Island, June 12-20
Sable Island, June 20-28

Why visit Sable Island?

A recent article in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (Missassauga firm plans to offer tours to Sable Island) describing Adventure Canada’s planned Sable Island 2014 voyage seemed to spark opposite reactions among some readers.

One response was positive: our phones rang merrily, as eager travellers from Nova Scotia and across Canada rushed to book beds aboard our cruise trip to the iconic island.

After all, Sable Island (a 41-km-long sandspit in the North Atlantic) has been a dream destination for many people for many years.

The other response was tentative, at best, and at times downright negative. Some comments on the Chronicle-Herald article, and feedback via email at our own site, expressed concerns (in some cases, assertions) that our visits might do more harm than good.

It’s gratifying that people are concerned about Sable Island. We understand that concern. We’re a small, family-run business with just 12 full-time employees. We’ve been specializing in trips to remote, sensitive, and often pristine places for 25 years because that’s what we care most about. Our passengers choose Adventure Canada because of the emphasis we place on respect for our surroundings.

Dozens of communities and parks in the Celtic Isles, Newfoundland & Labrador, the West Coast, Galapagos Islands and the Arctic can attest to the benefits of our way of travelling, in small numbers, with a focus on education, culture and the environment.

Here are some of the reasons we feel it’s important visit Sable Island in similar fashion.

1. Taking travellers to wild places makes them stakeholders and stewards. We travel with researchers, ornithologists, archeologists, anthropologists and other experts who educate us and our passengers about the places we visit. This is a crucial aspect of our trips and one we take great pride in. Our passengers come away from our trips as passionate advocates for the communities, cultures, and environments we visit. We also collect a $250 Discovery Fee from every passenger to help support important cultural and ecological causes in the areas we visit.

2. Parks need visitors. With federal funding always at issue, every park needs to demonstrate its public purpose. Sable Island, Canada’s newest National Park, is no different; visitors (in proportion to the park’s capacity) are an important way for the park to meet its mandate of giving Canadians a connection to the natural world.

3. While remote, Sable Island is already fairly well-travelled. Various scientific and private concerns—including previous cruises—have visited the island over the years. There is an airstrip on Sable Island that has been continually used for access. Now that the island is a National Park, it is bound by stricter policies than the ones mandated previously by the Canada Shipping act.

4. Parks Canada visitor policies, and our practices, will ensure as low an impact as possible on Sable Island, its flora and fauna. Our ship will be moored offshore; our passengers will be tendered to the island by low-impact Zodiac boats. Passengers will be housed in the ship at night, and during their visits will abide by the no-trace rules already in place for visitors to the island. That provides strict limits on where they can wander, and of course, a no-interference policy regarding the island’s animals, including the famous horses. We’ve actually worked with Parks Canada in the past to help clean up Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador, and we’re looking at similar opportunities for Sable Island, where plastic waste, for example, is a growing problem.

5. We’re working closely with Parks Canada to make this work. Our visits provide test case opportunities for Parks Canada to inform its management planning process—which the park is legally required to do. They must have a plan to ensure visitor experience, ecological integrity, outreach education, etc. developed in consultation with partners, stakeholders and the public. Having partnered with Parks Canada in the past, we have a relationship of trust that will help them meet their goals.

Remote and mysterious, Sable Island deserves all the attention and concern shown by the reaction to our planned excursion. But more than that, it deserves to be appreciated, protected, and advocated for as one of Canada’s very special places. That’s why Sable Island is a national park today, and that’s why we’re planning to visit.

Whether you choose to travel with Adventure Canada or not, we hope you’ll understand and appreciate the role we are looking to play in preserving Sable Island’s wonderful legacy.