On the evening of September 3, 2008 we reached the furthest point in our epic journey.
Port aux Basques is the entry port for most travelers from mainland Canada. I can tell you that I was not prepared for the overwhelming sense that we had arrived in a land of times past. As we drove north on Highway 430 past Deer Lake, we silently took in the gnarled Tuckamore trees that arched to the lee side, shaped by incessant winds. Large stacks of lobster traps lined the highway that followed the ocean. Fenced gardens grew in the road allowances and green was everywhere.
We made our way to Woody Point, Gros Morne National Park. Big Moody. Moody it is, and mysterious. The village of Woody Point is crawling with artists and crafts people who are smart enough to recognize a good thing. There is also an artist residency sponsored by National Parks and folks come from everywhere to stay for several months to work in exceptional surroundings. We celebrated our anniversary by staying three days in the Woody Point Motel which is run by a couple who were so “Newfie” I thought they were putting us on. They had us in stitches with their storytelling and fed us like family. When we left, they even sent us on our way with an order of clam chowder complete with crockery bowls and a reminder not to forget Newfoundland. As if that could happen!
Of course, we eventually made the northernmost tip of the western peninsula, where you will find the temporary settlement that the Norse established a thousand years ago.
L’Anse aux Meadows, the holy grail of Newfoundland travel was everything it was cracked up to be. From the densely constructed sod dwellings to the costumed animators and knowledgeable guides it was pure enjoyment. Later, we traveled just beyond Wild Bight to Cook’s Harbour. We spent several hours there in awe of the power of the Atlantic surf, each wandering alone with our thoughts along the rocky shore. We warmed up in the van, sketching the stark white lighthouse with its red roof and trim.
The next day we explored the French Shore which was established in the sixteenth century by France to make a claim on New World riches. We viewed the ancient graveyard in Croque that up until the 1970s, was maintained yearly by the French navy.
We put our fingers in the letters carved in the rocks at the end of Epine Cadoret Trail where young men had left evidence of their existence two hundred years ago. We were profoundly moved.
When it was finally time to turn the van around and begin the drive back home, we were not the same. Had I found that pristine place untouched by humanity? Of course not.
Oh, there were many magical places to be found in the forests and mountains, the vast prairies, the Canadian Shield, the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. Newfoundland came closest, yet it was always about the people in the place. Then there was my second quest: what is a Canadian? I’m not so sure there is an answer. Just maybe it’s got something to do with being able to live together in relative harmony even though we all have such vastly different histories and landscapes to inhabit. Maybe you’ll take the epic trip and get back to me on that.