12 February 2010

Skywatch Friday meets Memory Lane: The Skies of Labrador

It's no secret that I'm a little bit in love with the sea. I was born near it, raised my whole life beside it (except for one eighteen month stint in Ontario as a teenager). I live beside it now. I watch it, sail on it in lobster boats and coast guard vessels, occasionally swim in it. There is sea in my blood, though my father was a jet pilot. 

Two years ago, in the summer of 2007, I had the chance to go with fourteen other plant-crazy botanists and horticulturists to northwestern Newfoundland and south-eastern Labrador, to Battle Harbour in the  Battle Island. A dear friend who is a senior horticulturist and amazing plantsman led an annual trip plant-hunting for interesting variants of hardy native plants. Finally, things worked out so I could go on this epic adventure. 

The photos I posted on Wordless Wednesday were taken in Labrador on that trip. We travelled well over 3000 kilometres (about 2200 miles) over the span of nine days. To give you some idea of how far we were from home, and how big Newfoundland and Labrador are in comparison to other provincecs and states, just click on the map above. I've marked our journey from the Valley to Battle Harbour in green. Newfoundland could eat Nova Scotia and PEI for lunch. Nfld and Labrador are a very big province, bigger than most states. 
Here's a more relative explanation of the trip we took. To get to the wilds of Labrador from my home in the Valley, we had to leave Canning, then go to Falmouth to pick up a friend; drive to North Sydney and take a ferry six hours across the Cabot Straight to Porte aux Basques. Then we made our way gradually up through Gros Morne National Park, the most stunningly rugged and gorgeous wild space I've yet encountered. At the top of the Northern Peninsula, we took another ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle to Blanc Sablon Quebec, from which you could sneeze into Labrador. 

The next leg upon disembarking from MV Apollo was to make all possible haste to Red Bay, where we said goodbye to pavement and drove over gravel roads for 86 kilometres. Along the way, three Highways plow sheds. That's it, folks, til we hit a small community called Mary's Harbour, from which we were to take our last ferry, out to Battle Island. 

Have I mentioned that there was nothing there but rock, tundra, scrub trees, water, and sky? It was starkly beautiful. Emphasis on the 'stark.' 

I don't seem to have a photo of the boat we took from Mary's Harbour to Battle Harbour, but she was a lovely refitted fishing vessel, and I knew who had built her (she'd come from Nova Scotia). The captain and I shot the breeze about fibreglass boatbuilders, 2:1 reduction gears, the benefits of Cummings over Detroits over John Deere diesels, and other worthy talks. It comes in handy to be hitched to a (now retired) lobster fisherman. I talk boat fairly well, so long as it's a Cape Island type fishing vessel. 

Finally, (I think the trip was about 65 minutes), we navigated in among the shoals protecting Battle Harbour from the elements. This remote national historic site was once a crucially important fishing station, with its own Marconi wireless station. 

Once we were squared away in the residences where we'd be sleeping, we were off up the stony cliffs behind the settlement to look at plants, and collect seedlings, and photograph more plants. And gaze at the scenery and the peacefulness around us. 

One of Battle Harbour's claims to fame is that in 1909, Robert Peary arrived to cable back to New York that he'd successfully been to the North Pole. Imagine, a press conference from this fishing station off the coast of Labrador, hanging off the coast of Canada, talking to scientists in New York! It turned out Peary hadn't been the first to reach the Pole, but it was still an accomplishment nevertheless. 
We spent two nights here, and the second day had to delay our leaving because we had a bit of a storm come through. That worked out fine as a day to sort of rest, tell stories, sleep, eat awesome meals at the cookhouse, drink a little wine, tell more stories, and sleep some more. Of course, we had more weather when we got back to mainland Labrador, as you saw in Wednesday's photos. 

It's hard for anyone who has never been to someplace remote to grasp both the remoteness and the beauty. I could go back there again for a few days, armed with just my computer, camera and my eyes. We all spent a great deal of time looking, from peering at plant seedheads to examining lichens to gazing at the countless shades of blue in both sky and water. Some great friendships were made on that trip, and others strengthened, and we all learned a great deal. 

If you get the chance and are at all adventurous...GO. First, to any part of Newfoundland island, then particularly to Gros Morne and the Tablelands, then up to the Labrador, even just to do the scenic loop from Forteau to Red Bay. But if you're really adventurous, off to Battle Harbour you must go. You'll be treated magnificently by the staff of the site, left to your own resources, and...it's a good place to think. 

By the time I finish this post, I'm ready to pack up and move BACK to Newfoundland, where I was born (on the eastern side at St. John's.) Funny how my three favourite places to live would be St. John's, Montreal, and where I am right now, on a windy hill overlooking the Bay of Fundy. 

Guess I'm where I'm meant to be. Are you? That's my post for this Skywatch Friday. 


  1. Great post (an not just cause i love the area too), full of interesting details and photos that really sum up the place

  2. Dear Jodi, What an absolutely amazing trip and what a wonderful experience. In many ways I find it quite reassuring to know that there are still places to be found which are remote and which remain unspoilt.

    The sea has an immense draw. One of the advantages of the UK is that one is never too far from it although, sadly, in so many parts it is rather tame and, dare I say it, lacking in interest. Not so the coasts of Cornwall or Northumberland which remain rocky and rugged - the best in my view. Have a happy weekend.

  3. Whew, that's an amazing trip! I was visualizing whatever you mentioned there including the details as if i was with you all along. I experienced a back ache before reaching the destination, Grrr! But that was a fascinating, exciting, productive trip. Thank you. and Happy Valentines.

  4. And what an enchanting post it is! Love the story & pics.

  5. Quite an interesting account of your journey clubbed with beautiful pictures of the stark terrain. It appears peaceful, uninhabited n like you said a good place to sit back n THINK. Guess i too am where I was meant to be... here in my Nawabi hometown, Lucknow...well known for its Mughlai cuisine n Baghs(Gardens) nestled somewhere in North India.

  6. Thank you Jodi for your great post and pictures!!
    My husband and I discussing a trip by car from Toronto to Canada's east coast and returning via Quebec. Love to visit Quebec City again.
    Perhaps fall would be a good time?
    What do you think?

    - Cheers Gisela.

  7. That was a wonderful read Jodi. Before reading this I knew next to nothing about Labrador, and now I want to go there. Preferably by walking straight into that last photo!

  8. One of my favorite places to be is in Alaska on the tundra. I can imagine the magnatism of this area that you love. I would love to visit here.

  9. What a wonderful adventure-a once in a lifetime thing. Lucky you!

  10. Lovely post Jodi. So well written as always.

    I have always lived near water too and could live without it. Sailing is a hobby as well. The great thing about your pictures are that they show so much of the sky and that I miss where I live, I have to go far out in the archipelago to get that.

    I wish you a great weekend and a Happy Saint Valentine's Day


  11. I came for your skies and got caught by your amazing story! Wow.

    Lovely, lovely place.

    Happy Friday and happy weekend!

  12. Jodi, How fabulous you had such a trip... what an adventure! The remoteness and beauty of the place is captivating to me... I feel like I have stepped back in time ... or where time seems to be standing still... I do not know but there is an other worldly feeling about the images you share here. I can see how such a place next to the ocean can inspire thoughts... remotely poetic I would guess. I want to spend more time with your maps!! ;>) Carol

  13. This was quite the virtual trip, Jodi, thanks to your expert and compelling narrative, we were right there with you. I find it so romantic that you are of such stout stuff with the sea running in your veins. A brave and intrepid traveler too. It's funny you ask about being where one belongs. My maternal grandmother was born in Tennessee, and came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, she was the 11th of 13 children. She was so very proud of TN and spoke highly of it. And when we had the chance to move to either TN or Chicago from southern CA, the choice was easy and we came to TN. We fell in love with this area, the mountains and natural beauty so different from the flat plains of OK. It is where I was meant to be, right here. It is in my blood like the sea is in yours. :-)

  14. You got some great pictures! Sounds like an exciting trip!

  15. hi jodi
    thank you for sharing this beautiful area of the world
    oh yes i could love it there
    live there-the sea draws me to it
    always has
    thank you for sharing such stark beauty with us
    enjoy your day

  16. Your posts are so interesting, thank you for taking us along on your trip. I have visited the maritimes on numerous occasions, and have always said I would retire to PEI. Gros Morne is on my list of 'must visit' one day, since moving west it is more difficult to get to the maritimes, but when the kids are older it will be feasible. Lovely images of seaside villages. I'm sure I've said this before, but I can always smell the salty water and hear the seagulls from your posts.

  17. Some beautiful scenes! Not just in the photos but in the text too. The plant adventure sounds perfect and the views look the same. I've rarely been to the sea but at least I can read from the experiences of those how have. Great post!

  18. This country of ours truly is BIG and Beautiful. I have a chance to visit PEI in June. I'm looking forward to it.

  19. You sure live in a beautiful part of the planet!

  20. I love your photo/journal posts, jodi! ♥♡

  21. What an amazing trip and you told it so well.
    I'm pretty sure I'm where I was meant to be. Yesterday I commented about having to go get my 'ocean fix' now and then because I do love it but I think my love for being in the woods is greater. I guess that comes from being raised on the Olympic Peninsula near the rainforest with all of the big beautiful trees. This was also close to the ocean where we smelted and dug clams and did all the beachy things so I guess that's where that part comes from. I'm still within a couple of hours drive so I can take off any old time. ;-)

  22. Oh, thank you so much for sharing with us your trip to such a beautiful place. The stark beauty is so amazing there. It reminds me a little of the starkness and beauty of our deserts.

  23. Now I want to go too! It sounds like such a great experience and so beautiful there. I always wonder what it would be like to live in a place so remote, but with views like that it would be tempting to try.

  24. Jodi, This brought back such strong memories of a month I spent camping my way through Newfoundland in the summer of '86. I didn't get to Labrador, but I thought Gros Morne was the most amazing place. One day, I drove up the north peninsula through many, many kilometers of road construction and gravel roads to get to the L'Anse aux Meadows Viking archaeological site. It turned out that I was one of only a handful of visitors who made it out there that day, and I was rewarded with a one-on-one guided tour. All this makes me want to go back and to get to Labrador, too. -Jean

  25. hi jodi
    thanks for stopping by
    yes elliott is a real ham and he knows it-he's still a kitten-8 months and too much fun
    full of mischief and i love it
    enjoy your day
    ta bby

  26. Jodi girl ! No one can feel the same after a visit to those areas.
    I visited Deer Lake and a near by town/city which name escapes me now. I also have to say .. and I know you know this too .. when you are born on the coast you do truly have salt water in your blood for life. I will always yearn for the sea .. but I guess I have to except living in Kingston by now ? LOL .. but ... the coast of Cape Breton, in Lousibourg is a very special place to me and it always will be.
    You make your own mood where you live so I will be happy here : )

  27. HiJodi: As another fellow coastal gal, I too will always have sea water in my blood :) My best friend spent two months in NFLD doing her science research thingy about 10 years ago and said it stunningly beautiful. Of course, with Canada's most amazing Mary Walsh from there, I have every excuse to make my way there when the toddler has grown a little.

    Thank you for this most enjoyable post.

  28. so rare to get shots of Labrador These are wonderful so are the cats

  29. I've never been up there but my husband and I have always talked about visiting. Those coastal villages are absolutely gorgeous. Until I actually get to visit, it will just need to remain a faraway idyllic dream like something on a postcard.

    Your trip sounds wonderful.

  30. I did know about that other Sydney, but it's electrifying to see its name in print! Our North Sydney is mostly office blocks; I suspect yours isn't!

    Both the architecture and topography of Battle Harbour remind me of photos I have seen of the remoter parts of Scotland.

  31. Looks like this trip was well worth the effort Jodi! What a beautiful place.

    Seaside locals have always been top picks for vacations. I'm where I'm meant to be living near family and life-long friends. I'm thankful Lake Michigan, our own fresh-water 'sea,' is so nearby and has been the setting for a lifetime of happy memories.


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