Visiting The Rock

Driving up from the ferry terminal, we are quickly surrounded by rocky hills, some still covered in snow. We finally feel as though we have left the land we know and have entered something foreign. Halifax and Nova Scotia felt familiar; Cape Breton was important to us because of the stories of Alistair MacLeod. But there’s something imposing about Newfoundland—maybe it’s the distances neither of us were expecting, and maybe it’s this landscape that’s like and unlike anything either of us has encountered.
It’s a two-hour drive to Corner Brook. We have a hotel, a room with two double beds squeezed into a small space. I need to smoke, so I find my way downstairs—down a spiral staircase to the lobby. The staircase is an odd feature for such a basic hotel. I stand outside and smoke, listening to the hum of neon as I text my children. This is what we do whenever we stop for the day—text those at home, keeping open a thin line of communication with those thousands of miles away.
In the morning, we pack hurriedly and check out. We want to get to our next destination. We have to make a decision at Deer Lake. It’s a Tim Horton’s where we stop. Snow is in the forecast. Before leaving Sydney, we were asked several times why we were visiting so early in the year. Now we understand. This place feels more northern than anything I’m used to. It’s the landscape, but it’s also the incessant wind that bites my face and dries my hands.
In the Tim Horton’s over coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we talk about what to do. It’s four hours up the northern peninsula to our original destination—the Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows. If we turn east to try and outrun the snow, it’s almost seven hundred kilometres to St. John’s. Tom’s the driver; I’m the passenger. We make the decision to outrun the snow.
Three days of driving across Newfoundland. We are never far from the sea. We climb to the summit of Blue Hill, only to find the distances shrouded in fog. We drive through Terra Nova national park and take note of the signs to watch for moose. We spend the night in cabins facing Bonavista Bay, the sea pounding and pounding against the shore. We are off again the next morning. We drive, we talk, we stop for coffee, talk to as many people as we can.
The snow catches up to us in St. John’s. But we make it to our hotel, where we will stay for three days, exploring the city and area. We drive then walk up to the Amherst Lighthouse in a screaming wind, and we drive to Pouch Cove, where an iceberg sits in the distance. Icebergs are few this year—that’s what they tell us. The iceberg in Pouch Cove breaks up after another day.
We arrive at Cape Spear on our last full day in Newfoundland. This place has impressed itself on us. We have driven across this island, we have talked to its people, we have wandered the streets of some of its towns. But we are still foreigners here—we always have to be. We are “from away,” which sets us apart.
We climb the wooden stairs from the parking lot towards the lighthouse. There are two of them—the old lighthouse that one family for nine generations tended, and the new, automated lighthouse that stands lower down the headland. The stairs are uneven, and we climb and climb.
At the top, we come to the end of the headland that looks out over the North Atlantic. This is the most eastern point of North America. the water heaves and swells three-hundred feet below; the wind tears over the headland from the sea. We wonder at the people who first came here, four-hundred years ago—fisherman, trappers, seekers after adventure. And standing here, exposed on the headland, we can feel ourselves being altered by the wind. It strips our faces and hands, peeling away flecks of who we are to scatter behind us and down over the landscape. We are going to leave something of ourselves here on this island, flecks of DNA that will find their way into the water and soil, picked up by plants or mussels that cling to rocks or outcroppings of stone. This landscape has become part of our imaginations, but we are becoming part of it, too, even if only a little.

6 thoughts on “Visiting The Rock”

  1. You really brought back the feel of the trip for me with this piece. Few trips I’ve taken anywhere have been so much about the WEATHER. It was an elemental force there that shaped everything we did and experienced in those few days.

    1. Elemental is the word. It’s a good thing the islanders are so warm-hearted. They made up for the weather.

  2. The arrival of your dispatch from Newfoundland coincided with my completion of reading Michael Crummey’s epic novel of Newfoundland life, Galore. So, I found your description of a first-hand discovery of the province most apt, especially the foreignness of the place. Thanks for helping to hammer Crummey’s novel down in my head. Best Wishes, Graham

    1. Thanks, Graham. I’m glad my impressions of Newfoundland aligned with your reading of Crummey’s novel. I’m looking forward to reading his book. It’s the MacEwan book for 2018-19.

    1. Thanks, Angelika. And yes, you definitely want to visit the east coast. Give yourself lots of time. It would be easy to spend an entire summer out there.

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