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.    

The Colour of Memory

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We were blessed this week at Adventure Canada HQ to receive an email from Gilles Matte, a passenger on our recent Greenland & Wild Labrador expedition. Mr. Matte lives in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, outside Quebec city, where he works as an architect. In addition to his trade, however, he is a singularly talented illustrator and watercolourist—he has worked to produce handsome tomes documenting old Quebec, the oldest roadway in Canada, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. He is no stranger to capturing scenes of grandeur and contemplation, and we are proud to call him our friend.

With Mr. Matte’s generous permission, we are proud to present a selection of sketches and impressions from Greenland, Labrador, and Newfoundland.

Gilles, thank you for sharing your gift with us.

—Your friends at Adventure Canada

My First Adventure

I grew up canoeing in Algonquin Park. I’m used to sleeping under the stars and battling hordes of insects; I’m no stranger to the raw power of a thunderstorm or the perfect moments of stillness at the day’s end. I have shot rapids and portaged thousands of kilometres with a boat on my head and a song on my lips; I have fished for my supper and stared down moose in the deepest of swamps.

But nothing prepared me for Greenland and Labrador.

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Nothing prepared me for the Greenlandic fjords, their grey-blue waters and ice-capped, soaring peaks that slipped in and out of low wisps of cloud. Nothing prepared me for the playful seal that dogged our progress, nor the profound calm as winter approached the continent.

Davis Strait

Nothing prepared me for crossing the Davis Strait in storm-tossed seas; desperately clinging to my bunk (and my sanity) and waiting for my Scopolomine patches to kick in. And then, once they did: screaming into the wind from the observation deck, laughing as the bow of the Sea Adventurer smashed through the waves, hurling spray hundreds of feet into the air. The sound was like a thunderclap.

Torngat

Nothing prepared me for the glasslike waters and towering summits of the Torngat Mountains, the panoply of colour and might that lay quiet and daunting on the Labrador coast. The sunshine that day was like something out of a fairy tale. Nothing prepared me for our brush with the polar bear that morning, watching agape as he tore great hunks of flesh from a seal carcass.

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Nothing prepared me for driving a Zodiac in gale-force winds during our arrival at Hebron, the abandoned Moravian mission. The waves crashed over me in salty tumult, my hands numb inside the bricklayer’s gloves I’d borrowed off a friend. But we made it. I made it.

Nothing prepared me for the thrill of diving into the 3°C waters off Labrador’s coast, waters deemed too warm by our Expedition Leader, who compensated for this setback by tossing a few trays of ice cubes into the drink.

Polar swim

Kiddos, Nain

Nothing prepared me for the smiling faces of the children in Nain, the celebration at the school as we descended on the community en masse and equipped them with the gear for two complete hockey teams. They followed us back down to the docks, laughing and singing. Some of them hopped in our Zodiacs and rode around the harbour, hooting and hollering.

Nothing prepared me for the soft grass and undulating dunes of Byron Bay, or the majestic shoreline of Castle Island, or the perfect moments on deck when the sunrise would play against the ship just so. Nothing prepared me for the northern lights that pulled us from our bunks late one night, to shiver in raincoats and pyjamas and look up in wonder.

Henley Harbour

Byron BayDawn

Nothing prepared me for the warm welcome at Conche, the steam rising from our soaked overclothes as we inhaled plates of the freshest cod in Canada. As we ate elbow-to-elbow at tables of grinning Newfoundlanders beneath garlands of crepe paper, the guitar picked up, and then the accordion, and then someone started to dance. Black clouds and wind muttered and grumbled outside.

Fogo bell

Nothing prepared me for the unsurpassed hospitality of the town of Fogo, where I played a hundred-and-fifty-year-old pump organ, climbed into the belfry of a church, shouted from one of the corners of the flat earth, and ran along a coastline wild and heedless of man and all the more perfect for it.

Nothing prepared me for the stillness that would take hold of our hearts on the last morning as the Sea Adventurer made her way up the narrows and into St. John’s harbour, nor the song that would waft across the breeze.

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Nothing prepared me for the hundred-odd strangers who had come together in two short weeks to share in something marvellous, something inexplicable, something powerful.

I have been searching for a long time for a way to bring together my love for the wilderness with my love of the written word, and with Adventure Canada I have done just that. I would like to thank everyone aboard Greenland & Wild Labrador 2014 for making me feel welcome, for trusting in the new guy (my Zodiac was always the cool Zodiac, thank you), for experiencing this sublime corner of the world with me. There is no shortage of wonder to be sought, and the adventure is just beginning.

Saglek

—Mike Strizic

Conche selfie

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

Tamblyn takes up Residency

This just in from Ian Tamblyn, pioneering musician and AC expedition team member:

IanTambltnI have been appointed as artist in residence at Carleton University‘s Faculty of Music for the academic year 2014- 15. This appointment will include a songwriting course during the academic year as well as concerts, production and recording seminars and sessions on music for film and drama. The appointment begins July 1, 2014.

I am currently working on the last album of the four coast project, The Labrador. Many of the songs for this album have been written on Adventure Canada trips. The release date for this CD is set for April 6th with a CD release concert at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec. Other concerts will follow.

Please look at the tour section of my website www.tamblyn.com. A four CD box set will be offered in May.

I will be artist in residence at Torngat Mountains National Park this summer from July 26 to August 3. I will be working with youth who are participating in the camp, conducting several creative writing and songwriting projects.

I have recently released a CD called Connected, a collection of Inuit student songs. These songs were written by the students while on the Students on Ice expedition last summer. You may hear some of these songs soon on CBC radio.

In late December I attended the premier of a wonderful film set on Cape Hope Island on the eastern shore of James Bay. The film is called Nunaaluk: A forgotten story, directed by Louise Abbott and produced by the Cree Outfitting and Tourist Association. I wrote the music for the film. For those who have seen People of the Feather, it is a wonderful companion piece.

(Fellow AC musician) Daniel Payne will be coming to Chelsea Quebec to work on my album. For those interested in seeing Daniel he will be doing a concert January 30th at Paddy Bolland’s in the Bytown Market, Ottawa, January 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Join Ian on the following adventures in 2014:
Northwest Passage, East to West Aug. 12, 2014 – Aug. 28, 2014
Antarctica Oct. 17, 2014 – Nov. 6, 2014

Labrador’s Torngats: did you know?

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Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador is a favourite destination for our staff. But to the world at large, the park is still a bit of a mystery. Small wonder: the Torngats are pretty far from the hustle and bustle of most people’s ordinary lives.

But for those who have visited, the Torngats rank among the world’s great places to visit. Why? Well, here’s a quick primer on this incredible Canadian wilderness destination:

1. It’s BIG. Torngat Mountains National Park comprises 9,600 km2 of area, basically forming the whole northern tip of Labarador.

2. A natural high: The Torngat range includes the tallest peaks in eastern Canada. Mount Caubvick (also known as Mont D’Iberville) tops out at 1,652 metres.

3. No car camping. This is not a weekend getaway, but a true wilderness. There are no roads to the park, and no roads or campsites in the park, either. You camp the way people have done for thousands of years: by choosing a likely-looking spot and pitching a tent.

4. You can see for miles. The park lies above the treeline, so the terrain you’ll see among the spectacular mountains is tundra. Which means the views are always spectacular!

5. You stay high and dry. Although the North Atlantic Ocean forms the eastern perimeter of the park, there is very little precipitation in the Torngats; desert-like conditions prevail.

6. It’s old! The precambrian rock that forms the Torngat mountains is part of the Canadian Shield, and is thought to have been formed several billion years ago.

7. Glaciers abound. There are more than forty active glaciers in the Torngats. Snowy peaks, crystal-clear streams and waterfalls are the inevitable, gorgeous result.

8. Grin and bear it: coastal Labrador is polar bear country. Fans of the mighty mammal stand a good chance of seeing them here along the coast. Not to mention caribou, peregrine falcons, whales, seals, and more Arctic char than you could ever eat, protected within park boundaries.

9. Aurora Borealis. The splendour of the northern lights, dancing across a crystal-clear northern night sky, is one of the Torngats’ many heavenly attractions.

10. It’s an ancient homeland. Torngat means ‘place of spirits’ and the land has been home to the Inuit and their ancestors for thousands of years. The Inuit of Nunavik and Nunatsiavut play a key role as partners in the management of Torngat Mountains National Park.

Visit Torngat Mountains National Park on these amazing trips:

Torngat Mountains Heli-Hiking, July 26, 2013 – Aug. 3, 2013
Torngat Safari Base Camp, Aug. 2, 2013 – Aug. 10, 2013
Greenland and Wild Labrador, Sept. 5, 2013 – Sept. 18, 2013
Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, June 19, 2014 – July 2, 2014

Seasons of the Torngats with Mike Beedell

Seasons of the Torngats cropTorngat Mountains National Park is among Adventure Canada’s favourite destinations. This Inuit homeland in Labrador is a virtually untouched wilderness, one that includes Canada’s highest peaks east of the Rockies.

Photographer Mike Beedell has travelled extensively with Adventure Canada from our earliest days, producing stunning images of the spectacular North.

On Monday, May 6, Mike will present a series of images from his travels in the Torngats in an exclusive Adventure Canada presentation at Toronto’s Pangaea Restaurant. Book your dinner through Adventure Canada and enjoy a complimentary after-dinner presentation from Mike Beedell.

Seasons of the Torngats
With Royal Canadian Geographical Society Photographer Mike Beedell

Pangaea Restaurant
1221 Bay Street (at Bloor)
Toronto
Monday, May 7, 2013 6 PM

Seating is limited; reservations required. Call Judy at 905-271-4000 x232 to reserve.

This summer, Mike Beedell is leading two Adventure Canada trips to the Torngats:
Heli-hiking, July 26-August 3 and Base Camp Safari, August 2-August 10.