Wednesday, February 21, 2007

square dancing with eagles (sorry, no pics)

(photo credits: Alison Dyer except last beautiful photo of island with Newfoundland bonsai - by Lewis Greenland)

One of our trips a few summers ago was in Trinity Bay from Chapel Arm to Dildo. I wrote a short tip report - about eagles & eager kayakers: (for other photos from kayak the rock, check here)

When an armada of kayaks (particularly one in the pink, white and green), surge into a small Newfoundland community it is not unusual for a few locals to gather and hurl questions and suggestions to the group. On one trip to Chapel Arm, Trinity Bay, [i] a Mr. Otto Warren went one step further. While scrambling to zip up, buckle shut, and snap down, I became absorbed by Mr. Warren’s description of eagle preying behaviour (we had spotted one hardly a stone’s throw from the slipway). Within moments, he was reversing his car with a promise to bring the group some frozen mackerel. Before our entire group of lucky 13 had launched from the slipway, Mr. Warren handed me the bait in a plastic shopping bag. Tying it on behind the cockpit, I slipped into the Arm, looking forward to some eagle training.

Directly after leaving the slipway I paddled over to the eagle’s perch, and flung out some bait. An immature slipped into the air eyeing it and us. It circled, took stock and returned to its perch. Obviously I was too close. Trainer zero, bird zero.

We paddled up the eastern side of the Arm which for the most part has fairly steep cliffs without any decent take-out places until the barasway at Little Ridge Rock. But the rocks, however, are worth a closer look. There are many examples of pillow lavas – a volcanic rock that is deposited from submarine lava flows.. There are a couple of interesting sculpted overhangs and one or two arches that are not passable in low tide.

About half way up the Arm is Little Ridge Rock, a narrow rock formation, that offers more places to scoot around. At the tip of it we turned south and headed for the pebble and slate beach. Once the community of Little Ridge[ii]... Although we had paddled for only a little over an hour, this was an ideal location for lunch and a cook-up. It was also obviously a favourite with locals and we found several old fire pits on the beach. Paul toed one, found it still smouldering, and quickly got a fire going for a rabbit and tea boil-up.

We pushed the kayaks back in the water around 1:20pm and paddled north toward the tip – McCleod Point on the topo, Southern Point on the chart! Paddling along one can clearly see, across the Arm, the steep cliffs stretching from Norman’s Cove to Chapel Head. Like a bad case of sunburn, the cliff has a wide horizontal strip of red. The sedimentary rocks at Long Cove are a designated site of interest (noted in the Newfoundland & Labrador Traveller’s Guide to Geology). The rocks exposed in the cliffs comprise westerly dipping Cambrian quartzites, sandstones, conglomerates with apparently excellent crossbedding overlain by red and green shales, and red and green limestones, all apparently deposited on a shallow continental shelf. Both sides of Chapel Arm are bounded by Cambrian rocks that were deposited about 525-550 million years ago. As you paddle along the shore, there are numerous faults and igneous intrusions.

Rounding the McLeod or Southern Point, one has a good view around Trinity Bay. The coast from Southern Point to Martys Cove Point is bounded by more Cambrian sedimentary rocks, and has several pocket beaches and offers more in the way of rock-hopping. There are also good examples of the Newfoundland evergreen bonsai perched on a pinnacle of rock, giving the impression that soil is not a prerequisite for vegetative maintenance or growth. And some of the rocks, with their jagged edge and face a smooth steely grey, appear like two-dimensional paper cutouts.

We had only the slightest of waves, good visibility and could clearly see the partly wooded Dildo Islands off to our left. As we paddled over to Burn Point in the middle of Spread Eagle Bay, I saw a dark mark high above some paddlers out in front and remembered the thawing bait behind me. I was too far away to go for it.

Between Burn Point and Southern Spread Eagle, the shoreline rocks change from Cambrian to Proterozoic across an important geological unconformity ... Spread Eagle[iii] is cabin country, but it used to be a permanent settlement until 1967. As we continued paddling between Spread Eagle Island – a small island, partially wooded of low relief – and Old Shop Point, the houses of Dildo, Broad Cove were clearly visible on the other side of the bay. We paddled parallel to the coast to Old Shop, over to Lynch’s Point, and down to South Dildo[iv]. A few locals were out in the water picking mussels. We finished the paddle at 2:50pm. Arriving at low tide, we had a bit of slippery rockweed to navigate across. Finally, cramming into Dan’s van, we ferried back up to Chapel Arm.

Oh, so what happened with the eagle training you wonder? Paddling around Lynch’s Point it dawned on me that I had, tied onto the back deck rigging, a shopping bag of rapidly thawing mackerel and no winged takers. With Sue’s help, we released them into the water. In conclusion then, trainer zero, bird zero, but marine biomass five!

[i] Entry for Chapel Arm in Lovell’s 1871 Directory:
“A fishing settlement at the bottom of Trinity Bay on south district of Trinity; New York Newfoundland and London Telegraph Co. has an office here; Distance from Dildo 8 miles by boat.; Mail Weekly; Population 230.” The census lists all as fishermen except one telegraph operator. The family name Warren is also listed.

[ii] Little Ridge, TB – notes from the Encyclopedia of Newfoundland & Labrador:
- Population 53 in 1935.
- Likely that the first settler, John Cooper, came to Little Ridge from New Harbour area.
- Little Ridge first appears separately in census in 1884 with population of 15.
- The Coopers of Little Ridge were supplied for the inshore fishery by merchants of Norman’s Cove (“on a dead calm day you could bawl back & forth” across the Arm).
- First families began to move from Little Ridge to the Little Gut area of Chapel Arm in 1939. By end of WWII, only a handful of people were left and they relocated soon after.

[iii] Spread Eagle, TB – notes from Encyclopedia Newfoundland & Labrador
- Community was located in western bight at the head of Spread Eagle Bay which was noted for its fine beaches.
- Residents fished for salmon, herring, and cod.
- Population reached 30 in 1891 – Reid, Hillier, Smith.
- School built in 1901 for children of these families.
- Logging supplemented shore fishery and by 1930s there were 2 sawmills providing local employment.
- Pothead whaling took place in area.
- Spread Eagle also enjoyed a reputation as a fine trout fishing area.
- With a population never exceeding 80, Spread Eagle was resettled in 1967.
- Since Spread Eagle remained accessible by road from Old Shop, several families continued to keep summer homes there.

[iv] South Dildo, TB – notes from Encyclopedia Newfoundland & Labrador
- population of 272 in 1991
- Nearby communities of Dildo and Old shop qqv were settled by the early 1800s – no record of settlers in South Dildo prior to 1866 when family of Edward Lynch was recorded.
- Most men worked chiefly in lumbering, but there was at least one schooner from South Dildo involved in the Labrador fishery.
- Turn of century – small lobster factory began and there was one full-time farmer.
- Pothead whaling also played a part [as well as shore fishery] in local economy until industry ceased in 1972.
- Whaling station opened in nearby Dildo in 1947 [processed primarily Pothead & Minke whale meat and oil in part to provide food for local mink and fox farms].
- South Dildo received families from Spread Eagle and Harbour Duffett during resettlement programs of the 1960s.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ode to the worthy stove

february 19, 2007
Ice pings on the window, wind shakes the walls, something in the roof creaks, my elbow aches. Winter. Newfoundland style. Never mind sun salutations (although they help). I'm in search of Odes to the Wood Stove. Above is my lovely stove (albeit at my place around the bay - I'm in the 'dirty old town' with electric heat and draughts that let in a legion of icy tongues).
Below is my friend Peter's stove he likes to hoist around with him when skiing across the barrens of Labrador or, as above, setting up for a New Year's Eve Day skating party on the hills and ponds not far from St. John's. (He's not taken it paddling yet.)
So, if anyone has a particularly fine ode to a stove - or would like to try same - consider leaving them here. We could do with warm thoughts.
11:30pm update. Can no longer see out the windows (what's new). House is shaking badly. Creaking crescendos. Computer monitor about to fall off desk. Ah. Time to play ostrich.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ragged Harbour on the Straight Shore

february 16, 2007
The map shows a squiggle. I figure it’s about another ten minutes drive on a dirt road...The tires scrunch along a tidal offering of pebbles and mussel shells until the car comes to rest, spluttering, at the end of the track...This must be the place. Cabin on the right, and a boulder-rolled, crescent-shaped beach sharp with the scent of kelp on our left...
Days are spent beachcombing and exploring... careful of crabs, but oblivious to the cold water, they wade out to a large boulder they’ve named Crocodile Rock. Afternoons are spent riding the barebacked boulder, offering the sun their pale naked bodies, and drifting their nets below the water, teasing the seaweed nurseries for glimpses of tiny lives.
(excerpt from Products of Erosion, Alison Dyer 2005)
In July 2002 I took the family on a road trip 'all around the circle' as in the song. One of our first stops was at the cabin of a friend, well-known local musician Eric West. His little cabin in Ragged Harbour is but a 15-mins drive from his home in Ladle Cove on the straight shore. Across from Fogo Island.

A stark and rugged coast. Bakeapple flats behind, cold ocean beyond - I was standing on a thin wedge of terra-maybe-firma.

Anyway, Eric graciously loaded us up with goods from his freezer - moose, caplin, greens, his mum's homemade bread, cake, squares. We were good. I squeezed the car over the mussel-laden dirt road and it farted to a stop in front of his emerald-green cabin. Kids piled out and quickly got a beach fire started for dinner. That night Eric joined us and we sat in the dark as he played guitar, enthralling the kids with his many songs including the 'Brass Button Man' - a song that sent gleeful shivers down the kids' backs as they thought about this strange fellow on Duck Island - not far from where we were now staying.

The Brass Button Man

One evening last July, I won't tell you any lie,
I was fishin' off Duck Island for a spell;
I jigged a load of fish, and a bucket full of squid,
And I thought that everything was going well.
I was steamin’ in the tickle with my load of fish to pickle,
When I saw a figure standing by a shack;
On his coat was shiny brass, and he held a captain's glass,
And he carried a load of crunnicks on his back.
(And I heard him say:)


"I'm the Brass Button Man and I'll catch you if I can,
I'll chase you up and down the rocky shore,
And if you're not so quick , I will trip you with my stick,
So you won't be on my island anymore."

Now as you might suppose
I took fright and nearly froze,
And I headed out the harbour right away;
But when I looked around
No where could he be found,
And I haven't seen him to this very day.

( But I heard him say:)


Now if you're on Duck Isle
And you're stayin' for awhile
Be sure to keep your doors locked in the night;
And if you hear strange sounds
Don't get up to look around,
'Cause if you do you're bound to get a fright.

(You might hear something say:)


© 1990 Eric West (Vinland Music )

Eric is an avid paddler and we'd planned a couple of day paddles. The wind had other plans so we kept our kayaking and canoeing short in the sheltered reaches of this bay.

But Ragged Harbour left its imprint on me. And the few days spent there - watching the kids make inukshuks on an island at low tide, eating meals on the rocky beach, and revelling in thunderstorm backlighting the tuckamore - turned into a short story, 'Products of Erosion’ published last summer in The Nashwaak Review.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

South Coast Musings

(Photos: White Bear Bay; Ramea by Alison Dyer)
february 8, 2007

Newfoundland’s South Coast is a place of almost mythical proportions. Fjords as long as memory, headlands with attitude, and surprising outports – remote communities that knit a narrow space between water and rock.

Back in the 80s, when the ferry still ran most of that coast, I visited the island of Ramea with a friend who grew up there. Jigged my first cod in White Bear Bay. It was huge. Then a few years ago I returned, this time to Burgeo, for a week-long kayak course. Around Burgeo I discovered a long kiss of white sand, a spray of islands, a kayaker’s delight. One day I’ll make it back for an extended paddling trip. For those interested, Kayak Newfoundland & Labrador has several good trip reports of this coast on its website, including one by instructor Richard Alexander, paddler/photographer Kevin Redmond, novice paddler Brian Newhook, as well as our trip report about further along the coast.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Grates Cove

february 4, 2007
One week last August, while I was still out at my place in Trinity Bay, the wind blew fiercely from the north. The sea roiled. Pounding waves echoed in the cove, bouncing off the cliffs and into my house. For nights my sleep was interrupted, raw, unrestful. I decided to drive up to Grates Cove, a small community I’d not visited for some years. But of course located at the pinnacle of the peninsula, many metres above the sea, the place was being battered by a noisy ocean. Winds whipped across its barren old fieldscape. The sky was grey and white with battling clouds, the ocean white and indigo in swirling choas. It was hard to breathe. It was magnificent.

Grates Cove is a National Historic Site, a designation earned for its miles of dry stone walls. (Imagine the wonderful hands that would have moved and piled these rocks.) These beautiful artifacts cover an area of 65 hectares. The rock walls enclosed pasture land, gardens, and graveyards, used to make root cellars and wells. Many of the enclosed spaces have names, such as
"Moonlight Garden," "Grandma Warren's Spelling Rock," or "Dancin' Place."

There are a few storyboards around the site, some that describe how the walls were constructed:

Rocks are the most striking feature of both the natural and cultural landscape of Grates Cove. To build a house, clear a garden or make a path, rocks had to be moved. A perfect solution was to use them to construct walls.

Three different types can be identified: piled (or thrown) walls; stacked walls; and built walls.
A piled or thrown wall: A wall made simply by rocksbeing tossed in a pile to surround a garden. Although rocks varied in size, they were usually arranged with larger ones on the bottom or outside. Natural outcrops and very large boulders were incorporated into the walls and gaps became paths.
A stacked wall: In some gardens more care was taken in sorting, stacking and
balancing multisized rocks. Larger stones were placed to create a wall 90 to 120 cm (3 to 4 feet) wide. Higher than a pile wall, with wooden gates, it provided good protection from roaming livestock.
A built wall: The most carefully constructed garden walls were 90 to 150 cm (3 to five feet) high, built with interlocking and balanced stones. Many had two faces, with the area between filled with small stones so that water could filter through. The built wall afforded good shelter from driving rains and high winds.

But other than a few plaques there's little to tell the visitor about the treasures that lie around the community. And while Grates Cove has been recognized for its national cultural significance, it does not appear to be mentioned in many places.

Looking at the ocean that day, kayaking was far, far from my mind. But someone will have to paddle around the tip of that peninsula, to help complete KNL's Circle the Avalon challenge. Probably won't be me.