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Monday, October 10, 2016

The Night Ferry

"Cape Spear Road," oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
“Cape Spear Road,” oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas.
My Canadian-born neighbor used to tell Newfie jokes. Until Friday, that was all I’d ever heard about Canada’s easternmost province. I’ve wandered around the other Maritime Provinces, but you have to make an effort to get to Newfoundland. It is an eight-hour ferry trip from Cape Breton Island.
Our timing was dictated by the availability of ferry space on this holiday weekend. There are only two trips a day, and today is Canadian Thanksgiving. We decided to drive through from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia to catch the night ferry. We would return on Monday night and pick up our last two provinces on the way home to Maine.
That gave us three days to traverse Newfoundland in both directions. The most sensible thing was to drive straight to St. John’s and work our way back west from there. That means our last three provinces will be done in reverse.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.
Fog flowing down the mountains near Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.
Newfoundland looks very much like the Scottish Highlands and Hebrides. That’s not surprising, since they’re two sides of the same sea. Wind-stunted trees and shrubs cling to granite ridges that drop suddenly to the water. On the other hand, it’s also profoundly familiar, being an extension of the Acadian coastline that runs from Maine through New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
It’s moose season here. I haven’t seen this many men in camouflage since we left British Columbia. The ferry was full of them. As we waited to disembark, a moose call reverberated across the hold. Around us, men laughed and cheered.
My supply of some paints is almost depleted.
My supply of some paints is almost depleted.
On Sunday morning, Mary dropped me off near Cape Spear to paint while she ran an errand. Cape Spear is the easternmost point in North America excepting Danish-owned Greenland. It is also the site of the venerable (1836) Cape Spear light. World War II bunkers and gun barrels face the ocean.
I was startled to hear a moose bugle, since I wasn’t more than a few miles out of St. John’s. About thirty feet down the road, an animal track threaded back into the woods. When I finished painting, I decided to follow it. There was a remarkable quantity of old bear scat, but at least it didn’t appear to include the remains of plein air painters.
I reached a boggy spot and turned around. The track ended at the shoulder of the road; where did the wee beasties go after they crossed? I noted a disturbance in the gravel and dropped down off the shoulder, only to stop short at a pile of moose entrails and sawed-off legs. They were recent enough to not yet stink.
Encountering a moose or bear is one thing; encountering a hunter when I wasn’t wearing safety orange was another thing altogether. I scurried back to the road, just in time to meet Mary.
At St. John's harbor.
At St. John’s harbor.
St. John’s is the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador. Its commercial harbor is filled with trawlers, freighters, and other working boats. Its streets are every bit as pretty as San Francisco’s, but without all those annoying poseurs who plague California. I swear I saw Queen Elizabeth’s body double leaving church in an emerald green coat and matching hat.
Street after street of colorful row houses in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Colorful row houses in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
We headed east and north. At Hare Bay, a great rock promontory rises behind a modest village. This is everything I love to paint, and I set to it with a will, trying to capture as much as I could before we lost our light.
A local woman—born in this village and now sunk well into middle age without having ever left—stopped to chat. This is actually unusual in Canada, where people seem more reticent to interrupt strangers. In the waning light, I saw a mink swim toward shore. She and Mary tried to find it, but it was too fleet for them.
Hare Bay (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas.
Hare Bay (unfinished), by Carol L. Douglas.
There seemed to be more cars than usual. “Everyone here goes to church on Sunday evening,” she told us. As we left town we noticed that each church was indeed lighted and full of people. Living here, they have much to be thankful for.

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