Tuesday, December 26, 2006

the passion of travel

december 26, 2006

"It is not down in any map; true places never are."
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
[opening quote to Miles Harvey's The Island of Lost Maps, published by Broadway]

"What is life but a form of motion and a journey through a foreign world? Moreover locomotion - the privilege of animals - is perhaps the key to intelligence. The roots of vegetables (which Aristotle says are their mouths) attach them fatally to the ground, and they are condemned like leeches to such up whatever sustenance may flow to them at the particular spot where they happen to be stuck... In animals the power of locomotion changes all this pale experience into a life of passion; and it is on passion, although we anaemic philosophers are apt to forget it, that intelligence is grated."
- George Santayana, The Philosophy of Travel
[opening quote to Andrea Barrett's Servants of the Map, published by Norton]

Just finished Barrett's book of stories, now reading Harvey's. Enjoyable reading.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

gobble gobble

december 24. 2006
happy holidays.
share. laugh.
have joy.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

bella on the bay

December 19, 2006

Where does the time go? Parents get into this kind of thinking this time of year. Here's my daughter (in 2000) trying out a rental in Bonne Bay, Gros Morne. We camped at Lomond (my favourite campsite - usually a few roving black bears) that summer for a few days before I participated in the Kayak symposium. The west coast of the island is quite different from the avalon (east) where I live. Birch trees, caribou, mountains, fjords. Bonne Bay is quite a nice (read gorgeous) spot to paddle. Richard Alexander conducts some CRCA Level 2 and possibly other courses in the area. The park itself is beyond awesome, and rightly designated a UNESCO world heritage site. Just beware of those katabatic winds!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Canada's newest parliamentary poet laureate named

December 18, 2006
This past year, the board of directors of the Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador took the opportunity to nominate a candidate for Canada's next poet laureate. As the organization's president last year, I am extremely pleased to say that our candidate was named to the position on December 4th. For many years, poet John Steffler lived and taught in Newfoundland, and I'm a real fan of his work. An unabridged audio edition of one of his books, The Grey Islands, will be released by Rattling Books in March, 2007.

It's a terrific read. Here's what Rattling Books distributor, Anansi Press, says about The Grey Islands:

A novel in the form of poems, a physical exploration of Newfoundland's past, a search for ghosts in an abandoned settlement on an abandoned island, this is the story of a come-from-away determined to immerse himself in the physical reality of Newfoundland in an abrupt and inescapable way.

Indisputably a modern classic of Canadian poetry, The Grey Islands is one man's mediation on the interplay between nature and human society in the rugged setting of coastal Newfoundland. The boats and houses of those who tried to live on the Grey Islands have disappeared, but their stories survive in the neighboring settlements -- stories of treks on the sea ice, of near-starvation, of hunting ducks at night with muskets loaded with everything from nails to the parts of a gold pocket watch. Originally published in 1985 by McClelland and Stewart. Now published in print form by Brick Books.

For those of you wondering where the Grey Islands are, they are steeply cliffed and wild islands (home to Newfoundland's largest eider duck population) about 15km southeast of the community of Conche on the Great Northern Peninsula.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Mystery Photo #3

Chance to try again. Hint: this is Newfoundland.

Mystery Photo Revealed

You might recall I spoke about paddling St. Mary's Bay to John's Pond this past summer (see blog Another remarkable summer), and meeting a wonderful elder, Mr. Clarence Dalton.Well, Mystery Photo #2, of a tidal loo, is in that resettled community which, like many others in Newfoundland, are alive in the summer as people visit their cabins. St. Mary's Bay on Newfoundland's south coast is a great place to paddle, quite a bit of diverse paddling conditions, wildlife, and history. (Oh, and this whirligig is in front of Mr. Dalton's cabin!)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mystery Photo #2

I took this photo this past summer on a kayaking day trip.
Question: Who can identify where this is?
And, for those who may not know, who can tell me what this is?
Okay, seems as though a hint is necessary: this was a day trip, and I live in St. John's, Newfoundland (though I have been known to drive a fair distance for just a day paddle!)

Paddling buddy Peter, who's far to modest to blog, suggests perhaps a changing room in Florida.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Guest Blogger - Dan Ficken on working the Grand

I had a summer job nearly four years ago at the Geo Centre and, well, there was a lot of garbage back there - but there's a good story that goes along with it.

Myself and a few others were hired by an outside group to work with (not for) the Geo Centre and the Grand Concourse to do some small unobstructive trail marking around the outside perimeter of the building and we were asked to make a brochure outlining certain stops that had geological significance. We also helped build those steps in the outdoor classroom and the path along the roof, and among other things, picking up the garbage, etc.

The existing trails were only marked with red ribbon so people could find them easier when doing the outdoor geotour. There was no impact because we took photographs of the geological features and added them in the brochure, so really all anyone had to do to learn about what was out there was walk along the trails that already existed and take the brochure along with them. It was that simple and non-invasive. And it really only included about 0.01% of the total "geoproperty". We had heard rumors that there were bigger plans for the area, but from our experience with working with the Concourse (not an easy bunch to communicate with or get any sort of idea of what was going on or what we were really supposed to be doing there for most of the summer), it seemed like nothing would ever get done so we didn't take them seriously. In fact, before we started the trail marking they asked us to clean up the glass on a rock outcrop behind the building. There was literally tonnes of broken glass built up below this boulder from decades of kids throwing bottles at it in and before the 1940's, apparently. We removed the glass about a foot deep in some places and we were asked to store it all in boxes, but the way things worked we were not allowed to store it anywhere, they used to get mad at us for all these boxes of broken glass lying around. So we were fed up and then it rained heavy one day and about the same amount of glass became re-exposed in the same spot under the boulder when some newly exposed dirt washed away. We were appointed again to the job of picking up the glass, and we were facing the same situation with being asked to store it for no apparent reason but not really being allowed to store it anywhere.

So we chucked half the boxes in the dumpster in the back, a big job in itself. We got in a lot of trouble when they finally told us they wanted to make an archaeological exhibit out of it. I'm sure they had more than enough left over to make an exhibit, but I don't think they ever did anyway. We then learned about the former squatters' dwellings in that area and we went looking around and found many small foundations of old buildings and of course old garbage.

We even saw the remains of primitive electrical infrastructure, and we kind of guessed that they must have tapped electricity from down the hill and sent it up, probably illegally. We then went to the archives and dug up an old picture, the only public one in existence apparently, of the dwellings on the Geocentre site. We had a hard time even convincing them to let us scan it because it was a fairly restricted picture. We added it to the brochure, which I'm not sure if they ever used. Now, we also noted that there was what appeared to be a garbage dump directly behind the geocentre, and yes there was a LOT of garbage back there. Basically what had happened was when they built the GeoCentre, they essentially drained and excavated part of the bog that was there to put the building in the hole to give it that underground effect. Of course the squatters had thrown all of their garbage in that bog for decades, or who knows how long, and all of the excavations and all the garbage had been piled in behind the building and left there. An archaeological treasure trove for some prospective graduate student perhaps.

But when we saw it, we immediately started asking questions about what seemed to be newly forming leachate going into the fen and when they were going to remove it. And we were given vague answers about the proposed distant future cleanup. But it looks like from what the JFF are now saying that they have cleaned up all the garbage (thus doing everyone a favour). It must have been the garbage that they put there when they dug up the bog, which was well contained in bedrock and well preserved in the acidic conditions before then. Pretty ironic now, I would think, considering they're only now cleaning up their own mess and saying that if it weren't for them, the garbage would still be there. We raised our concerns with the GeoCentre and, well the Grand Concourse was never ever available to talk, but we were met with different opinions and a lot of frustration. We had asked nearly four years ago for them to clean up their mess and they got mad. We, discouraged and defiant, spent the last few weeks of our job picking berries behind the geocentre, which we also got in trouble for I think. Now they're praising their own "good work". I don't get the mentality of these people Alison, but they think they're smart cookies.

All the best, Dan

Dan Ficken lives in St. John's, Newfoundland and is a monitoring practitioner working for Northeast Avalon ACAP .In addition to his strong environmental interests, Dan likes to keep active and plays a mean 12-string guitar.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Beer Bottles at the Geo Theme Park

We need a new reality show. Blog reality show. (you come up with the name, maybe I'll have a prize!). So here's the problem: well-known local philanthropist/developer (you figure that one out) has said this on radio:
"We are not damaging the Fen. It is not even within our boundary." and
"Do any of these high-minded, nature-lovers remember the many truckloads of garbage, beer bottles, furniture, mattresses, and car wrecks we had to clear up ?"
Wow. There's a mouthful. Let's look back at the concept plan submitted by JFF (see earlier blog). Yup, the fen, half of it, is definitely within their boundary. And they've asked to occupy rest of it. And they've built a road-grade trail on it. So I can't figure out that statement!
How many truckloads of garbage, beer bottles removed? Nope, please tell us. Surprised you haven't.
Supposedly there were mountains of garbage that they hauled out of this urban wild space (no-one actually saw them do this). Regardless, the newly installed parking lot - just for walkers of the new 'trails' - has its own new garbage as the above photo attests. (Build it and they will come, I guess!)
It is doubly a shame because the developers - the Johnson Family Foundation & the Grand Concourse - have done some great things for the City and surrounding municipalities. Over 100km of trailways - I'd be the first to say a sincere bravo. This, however is not the place for gentrified trailways (and the un-gentrified garbage that follows). This is provincial crown land and public consultation should be a precursor to any proposed development.
As far as anyone knows, JFF still intends to follow its 'concept plan' for the area which includes - in addition to several kms of road-grade trails - manmade ponds and fountains, contoured meadowlands, lit signage, stone works (including miniatures of historic buildings - see previous blog about defending the fen).
PLEASE: before the entire Signal Hill is destroyed, please consider signing the petition:

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bay of Hope

Notice posted in Milltown Valufood: "Benoit Community Aid in Conne River - Curtis and Marie Benoit lost their home in a fire July 20, 2006 - all contents lost - we have set up a bank account..." notice continues with information on where to make donations. A small, neat and no doubt close-knit community where neighbours care for each other. When I was there on assignment this fall, the air was scented with wood smoke and punctuated with trickling sounds from numerous streams, the thickly wooded slopes wore a mantle of green and gold.

Milltown is near the top of Baie d'Espoir (pronounced despair), on the south coast of Newfoundland. It's about 30km from Little Passage (see previous blog). Looking at the topo maps of the area is an adventure in itself: closely contoured coastlines, crazy indentations, and place names such as Goblin Bay, Dragon Bay, Pushthrough (resettled community), Blunder Cove, Muddy Hole, Hares Ears Point.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

N&L writing competition

Recent WANL (Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador) competition announcement:

Paul Butler's Web site www.paulbutlernovelist.com invites readers to compose between 75 and 125 words in praise of the Newfoundland and Labrador media outlet that best represents the work of the province’s writers. The competition closes at midnight on January 31, 2007. The prize will be half a dozen new Newfoundland and Labrador books. The competition will be judged by award-winning writer-journalist and WANL Past President, Alison Dyer.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Little Passage a Big Surprise

We knew there was a hurricane forecast. In fact we travelled from St. John's to Hermitage, about seven-hours by car, in a torrential downpour. Rain turned to mist and we took the short ferry-ride to Gaultois, staying overnight at a wonderful B&B. Next day, we started out on what would be the shortest trip for the longest time travelled in a car (yes, that hurricane was blowing up) but discovered an absolute gem. Little Passage on Newfoundland's south coast is a boomerang-shaped passage with thunderous waterfalls, tundra-topped cliffs, eagles and more bald eagles. We met some successful moosehunters who generously offered us their cabin. That first day of paddling was unseasonably warm, the sea like velvet. We arrived at the end of the passage, still lots of daylight for paddling, but a wide grinning beach with two white adirondack chairs were inviting us to land. An extraordinary sight given where we were, or thought we were: a rather remote piece of The Rock. Beers were popped, a curry started and we listened to the VHF. This day was undoubtedly the eye of the storm.

This trip, alas, was a couple of years ago. I've yet to return and complete the paddle as planned - from Gaultois around Long Island and over to the tiny outport of McCallum (only accessible by boat).