Clints and grikes

Clints and grike

Clints and grike

We’ve walked on more interesting trails in Newfoundland than I can count, and those are a tiny fraction of the possibilities. Many are in National or Provincial Parks; some are on private land or Crown Land. Since 95% of Newfoundland and Labrador is provincial Crown Land, there’s a lot to explore.

Some of the trails have been developed by small towns, including outport communities. For example, Flower’s Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula has the White Rocks Walking Trail. This wanders across a limestone barrens, where I learned firsthand about clints and grikes.

Limestone barrens

Limestone barrens

Limestone barrens are odd, unforested areas with what appear as large, limestone paving stones, mortared with mosses, small conifers, wildflowers, and other flora. These are unique ecosystems with extremes hot and cold, plus cycles of drought and flooding and frost. They represent less than 1% of the total area of the island, but host 10% of the rare plants.

The limestone pavement of the barrens is a type of karst landform. These formations have blocks, called clints, separated by deep vertical fissures known as grikes. Karst is derived from the Slovenian word kras, meaning a bleak, waterless place.

Solied pants

Solied pants

From experience, I strongly advise you to be careful, stepping only on the clints. This advice is not always easy to follow, since plants grow up through the grikes and often spill over onto the clints. Thus it’s possible to step on what seems to be a thin layer of green on the clint and find your foot going deep into a grike.

This happened to me near the end of a walk. My left foot sank down nearly up to the knee. I the fell forward hitting both knees on the clint. I was just lucky that I hadn’t caught the foot more, or I might have had a twisted ankle or even a broken foot, possibly one wedged into the grike. Since I was walking alone at the time, I might have come to understand truly what Slovenians mean by kras.

Instead, I suffered no worse than embarrassment and soiled pants.

Completing the circle

Matthew replica

Matthew replica

We’re staying near Bonavista, possibly where John Cabot landed his ship, the Matthew, in “New Founde Lande” on June 24, 1497. There’s a plaque in the cottage commemorating “the 500th anniversary” with celebrations held in 1997. However, the human presence here is much longer than that celebration suggests.

Newfoundland is famous for its dramatic, detailed, and precise record of life on earth. This includes two of the most important GSSPs, or Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Points, one of which we saw at Green Point. Its record of human life is becoming more fleshed out as well.

Recreated long house

Recreated long house

This shows that the cultures of Newfoundland are intertwined over many millennia, just as the mixed forest, slips into tuckamore, then tundra, building upon and shaping each other. That’s true everywhere of course, but the connections seem more evident here, and are notable for a relatively small, non-urbanized population.

For example, Newfoundland was one of England’s oldest colonies, reflecting Cabot’s voyage in 1497. However, in the 17th-century it was more French than English. Those French were largely Normans, Bretons, and in the western area we first visited, Basque. The English kept the French place names, but chose to pronounce them in the English, or sometimes the uniquely Newfoundland way.

Carlb-ansemeadows-vinland-02

English and French records show that during this time Mi’kmaq families were active along the Western coast. They incorporated the island of Newfoundland along with Cape Breton into their domain of islands. I was surprised to learn that in discussions of cultural eras, they’re often now grouped with the European period, due to the timing, their close interaction with the Europeans, and the fact that many were Roman Catholic.

The long history of Newfoundland with its connected cultures can be seen at L’Anse aux Meadows, a site at the far north end of the Northern Peninsula. It was discovered only in 1960. The settlement probably supported Leif Erikson’s attempt to establish the colony of Vinland, 500 years before Cabot’s voyage. This makes it the best evidence for first contact between peoples of Europe and America and the most famous site of a Viking settlement in North America outside of Greenland.

World Heritage Convention symbol at L'Anse Aux Meadows

World Heritage Convention symbol at L’Anse Aux Meadows

L’Anse aux Meadows might have been presented as the beginning before the beginning–the voyage that was 500 years before what we had earlier celebrated as the first one. Instead, the site today rightly talks about those who came to greet the Vikings, who they were and where they came from.

Tracing back, it shows how early modern humans left Africa 100,000 or more years ago. Some dispersed across Asia then moved into North America and eventually Newfoundland from the west. Others went north into Europe, Iceland, Greenland, and eventually from the east.

L’Anse aux Meadows thus represents many things. But one of the most significant is the reconnection of these streams of humanity. The metaphor of “completing the circle” symbolizes the completion of human migration around the world. The Vikings and the Dorset or Late Palaeo-Eskimos were the front people in this re-encounter.

L’Anse Aux Meadows is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its story aptly reflects the World Heritage Convention symbol, with its emphasis on global connection.

Blow Me Down

Towards Lark Harbour

Towards Lark Harbour

Trail through forest

Trail through forest

Trail through open area

Trail through open area

When, in the middle of August, you need to light up the wood stove to warm your feet, there’s snow at 2000 feet, and an iceberg floats by your cabin window, you know that you’re in an unusual place.

A close encounter with a caribou on a hiking trail, meeting a traditional carver of stone and bone, and eating cod caught a few hours earlier by the restaurant owner’s two young sons add to the pleasant surprises. But the most remarkable thing about Newfoundland are the stories.

Serpentinite

Serpentinite

Every local we meet seems to have a trove of stories, freely mixing what some Viking did a thousand years ago with what they ate for breakfast. And every place, remarkable though it may be on its own terms, comes packaged with intertwined history, myths, and legends,

Beyond the island in front of our lodging in York Harbour was the Blow Me Down Mountain (650 m). Its name comes from the story in which Captain Messervey in 1771 anchored his boat below the range and said “I hope they don’t blow me down!” To this day it’s famous for its powerful winds that blow in every direction at once. It’s also known as an amphitheater that amplifies the sound of thunder. I heard stories of walkers fleeing in terror when Thor seemed to go on a rampage.

Blow Me Down mountain

Blow Me Down mountain

Stairway in a cave

Stairway in a cave

There have been at least 17 communities that share the odd name of Blow Me Down, not to mention mountains, mountain ranges, parks, and other geographical objects.

We took a walk through Blow Me Down Provincial Park nearby, which generated some personal stories to add to the corpus. The trail was beautiful, but a bit of a workout, because of the mud and running water from a recent storm. My activity tracker thought it was more than 100 floors up.

Newfoundland diary: Bottle Cove

York Harbour

York Harbour

I had intended to write a Newfoundland diary, but the onslaught of beautiful rocky coasts, wildflowers and butterflies, fragrant forests of balsam fir, moose and caribou, seabirds, icebergs, quaint fishing villages, lighthouses, Paleoeskimo archeology, world renowned geological sites, challenging hikes with gorgeous views, tundra, friendly people, widely divergent regional dialects, and more has distracted me.

This is beginning to look more like a five-day report, maybe a quinquery? Even now, I feel that I’m just highlighting a few of many rich experiences.

Bottle Cove

Bottle Cove

It wasn’t just the overload of rich experiences. The problem began on the first full day. We had arranged to stay in a cabin in York Harbour, on the central west coast, not far from Corner Brook. The cabin was on the seacoast, with a view of mountains and islands. That would have been difficulty enough.

However, the next day we ventured to Bottle Cove. It’s a fishing village with a population of just 10 people, but deservedly has its own Wikipedia entry. Two of those ten were very good friends who welcomed us with treats, including cheeses and homemade beer.

Trail's End, named by Captain Cook

Trail’s End, named by Captain Cook

The cove is aptly named, given its narrow mouth, but apparently it’s actually an Anglicization of the French bateau, from its days as a French fishing village.

The surrounding terrain is part of the Appalachian Mountains. That’s the justification for including the trails in the area in the International Appalachian Trail system.

We had a beautiful walk to the headland named Trail’s End by Captain Cook, when he first explored the area. The trails are suffused with wildflowers, beautiful mushrooms, and interesting rock formations.

The rocks are mostly ophiolites, meaning they came from the oceanic crust and the upper mantle of ancient seas.  They were uplifted and exposed above sea level, often on top of shale and other continental crustal rocks. A prevalent and striking example are the green serpentinites. We saw them in walks around Bottle Cove and also at the nearby Cedar Cove, another beautiful, but quite different formation.

View from the headland

View from the headland

After a day in the Bottle Cove area I was in a mixed state, exhilarated from the beauty and good experiences, but depressed by the thought that everything to come would be a let-down.