The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 4

Eclipse Day!

Judi was actually up until about 5:00 am working.  When I arose a couple of hours later, she was sound asleep ~ in our Murphy bed!  She said that she’d always wanted to sleep in one so . .  dream come true.

I headed out for a beautiful morning beach walk.  The St. Lawrence River has widened to the point where the northern shore is invisible.  Birds: black-backed gulls, cormorants, and gannets in the distance.  Crab breakfast for gulls.  The pink flowers we would see everywhere.  I made a cairn for Josh.

q matane beachQ matane crabQ matane flowersQ matane cairnQ Matane river

I felt fine until we began loading the car and I reached upward to put now-dry tents back into the roof storage container.  My first hint that I might have done some serious damage with that fall the previous morning.

Lots of driving that day as we proceeded from Matane to Gaspe’.  A delicious lunch at a roadside cafe’, where the chef/niece of owner sent me off with a bag of ice for my invisibly bruised ribs.

Q cafe east of Matane

I had not realized that the eclipse would be partially visible in the peninsula.  When the time came, it seemed a bit hazy, and the river darkened from blue to gray.  Most obvious sign?  The gannets vanished, and the gulls and cormorants moved in toward and to the beach.  Twenty minutes later, they were all airborne again!

Q cormorant

As we drove on, the landscape began to change, and so did our conversation.   Sixty-four years have brought challenges we could not have imagined in our dorms all those years ago.  I think we’ve handled them pretty well.

Q coastQ mountains

We reached the town of Gaspe’ in the early evening, settled into our hotel  ~ home for the next three nights ~ and went out to a restaurant we enjoyed so much that we would return the next evening.

gaspe restauant

By bedtime, I was hurting, but highly motivated for the next day’s gannet trip and promise of sunshine.  I turned down all suggestions of waiting a day, and went to sleep on my back ~ not a good sign!

 

The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 1

As of August 18 . . . So far so good . . .  After an uneventful flight from Cleveland to Boston (except for a minor kerfluffle over luggage), Judi picked me up (after a minor kerfluffle pertaining to my exact location), and off we went, driving through New Hampshire and Vermont to Quebec City!  The drive was, of course, longer than anticipated, but the hours of almost nonstop conversation gave us ample opportunity to remember our Northfield (girls’ boarding school) days, and establish that they were not, for either of us, a time of unadulterated happiness and achievement, not by a long shot.

Judi had come as a freshman from a small town and public school in northern New England, and I, sophomore year, from a small town in Ohio and a previous boarding school life.  She, I think, had a better time of it than I did until nearly the end.  She was involved in music, and Northfield had an outstanding music program, whereas my efforts to engage outside the classroom mostly flopped.  As far as our junior and senior years are concerned, our stories differ, but I can say from my vantage point, as I probably already have, that while academically, musically, and athletically outstanding, Northfield was poorly equipped to deal with the emotional challenges of adolescents living far from home.  Carol Gilligan’s work and emphases on girls’ learning styles were far in the future, and I think that most of our counselors were simply graduates of Seven Sisters colleges — brilliant women, no doubt, but with no training in education or psychology or group dynamics.  And to be fair, it was the late 1960s. I have read that the administration and faculty were in something of a state of shock as they sought to respond to the upheavals of that decade, which reached New England prep school campuses nearly as quickly as they did colleges and universities.  All of those factors no doubt influenced our high school experiences.

Back to our trip: as dusk fell, so did torrents of rain.  Clenched-fist driving for Judi at that point. We were both glad that our first night’s lodging was the elegant, art-deco style Hotel Clarendon in the center of Quebec City and not a wilderness campsite!

clarendon1  clarendon2

Tired, cold, and quickly quite wet, we threw our stuff into the room and ventured out for an excellent dinner at Le Grill Ste-Anne, only a block or two away.  And then we fell asleep quickly, hoping for a glimpse of the city in the morning.

 

Why Gannets? (La Gaspésie ~ 3)

Why gannets?  I don’t know.  But I love them.

There’s a great image of gannets here.  (Unfortunately, the only close-up photograph I have taken is of the one whose body washed up on the beach at St. Augustine last spring.  She — for so I decided that she was — made for a good opportunity for up-close study over the week we were there, but her soaring days were over.)

It was at St. Augustine that I discovered gannets.  Many, many years ago, sitting on the beach with my binoculars, I suddenly realized that the birds I was watching far out to sea were not pelicans.  I had been taking in their acrobatic dives, but saw that their coloring ~ their white torpedo bodies flanked by jet-black wingtips ~ was completely off.  With a little research, I discovered that northern gannets, birds of the ocean off Canada and Scotland, winter as far south as St. Augustine, and occasionally can be seen from the beaches, when storms drive them shoreward.

Some years I see them, some years I don’t.  Once, out in a motorboat preparatory to a parasailing adventure, I saw one resting on the waves.  “A gannet!” I was excited!  Our guide was surprised.  “I thought they were just gulls,” he said.

Gannets nest in huge colonies, thousands of large and loud birds in close quarters raising fluffy young to become pirates of the sea.  And they soar and dive ~ if you search for them on google and youtube, you will find astounding gannet feats recorded in photographs and films.  Elegant, exquisitely colored, fearless acrobats ~ who wouldn’t want to return someday as a gannet?

Back when people hid behind pseudonyms online, I chose “oceanmrc” ~ ocean + my initials ~ as my first, and Gannet Girl as my second.  Gannet Girl’s first blog was entitled Search the Sea.  Due to the vagaries of life, my blog writing has undergone many reincarnations of its own over the past fourteen years, but I am feeling the pull of that old title these days.

I had no idea that l’Île Bonaventure (click through the dots ~ lots of pictures), just off the coast of the Gaspésie Peninsula, was home to a major colony of nesting gannets, not until I began to research the adventure that Judi and I are planning.  I am going to a gannet colony.  When I say that I may never return, I mean it.

I think that Judi is a little concerned.  But I am excited for all that we are going to see on Gaspésie ~ whales, kittiwakes (those are birds, too), forests, waters ~ and to get to meet the people and learn something about their lives, out on the edge of the sea in the north.

But I am just a little bit obsessed with les fous de bassan.  My best bird friends.

 

Barkskins: Book Review (La Gaspésie — 2)

barkskins

  • A generational saga ~ the four hundred years’ narrative of two families, one First Nations from what the area known today as Quebec and the Maritimes, and one European, specifically French, eventually reaching Chicago and western North America;
  • The story of the destruction of the North American forests, a devastating attack which takes entrepreneurs to China and spreads as far as New Zealand;
  • The harrowing details of the devastation which white settlers, trappers, missionaries, and purveyors of commerce visited upon those whose fished and hunted and understood as sacred the lands of North America, and the beginnings of the conservation movement, wholly inadequate to address the losses which will take a millennium from which to recover;
  • A female anti-heroine, oddly compelling in her single-minded pursuit of trees and money:

Barkskins is a riveting, albeit loooong novel.  At one point, unable to keep track of the multitude of characters and their relationships (unfortunately, the illuminating family trees are located in the back of the book, and I did not discover them until I was finished), I put it aside, but several days later found myself drawn back, and finished every page.

North America in the seventeenth and eighteenth century was a brutal place, one in which violence was common and in which people lived and worked in the midst of constant danger.  Annie Proulx does not mince details; pages and scenes in Barkskins require a strong stomach.

It was also a place of a seemingly endless supply of natural resources, and the greed carelessness with which the Europeans destroyed them ~ birds, mammals, waters, forests ~ is well known, but documented with  harrowing precision in this novel.  The term “barkskins” refers to the woodsmen who logged and transformed the forest into ships, houses, and furniture, swiftly and remorselessly.)

It’s a difficult read, made more so by the speed with which some of the characters are dismissed within a short space of having been introduced.  (And the ironic twist by which the families, unknown to themselves, become re-connected in the twentieth century, is rendered nearly invisible, and those back pages are required to clarify it.) But it’s also a fascinating read, in its attention to period detail and its sweep across human emotion and entanglement.

I did not choose this book with my upcoming trip to Gaspésie in mind; I chose it because I admire and enjoy Annie Proulx’s writing.  However, as I paused every few pages to google yet another reference ~ tribes, families, places, historical events ~ I discovered that much of it is set in eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and Maine, and so it took on added meaning for me.  The friend with whom I am travelling and I had been focused on the Gaspésie coastline for our travels, but I am now trying to ensure that we at least dip into the interior of the peninsula, so that we can see something of the forests that once dominated this continent.

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“You do not understand the saying ‘tian ren he yi.’ It refers to a state of harmony between people and nature.  You do not feel this.  No European does.  I cannot explain it to you.  It is a kind of personal philosophy for each person, yet it is everything.” (Hong merchant Wiqua to French trader Charles Duquet in Barkskins.)

 

 

 

 

La Gaspésie – I

GaspePeninsulaRegions

Long ago, probably decades ago, National Geographic inaugurated a new publication, Traveler, to which I immediately subscribed. The first issue included a feature on the Gaspe’ Peninsula (la Gaspésie en francais), north and east of Quebec City. I was enchanted by the pictures of one of those realms seemingly at the end of the earth which I love so much, and tucked the name away in my memory as a someday destination.

In the last year or two, Quebec Province moved to the top of my travel list, partly because I had devoured the Inspector Gamache mystery novels, and partly because it had occurred to me that travel on this continent, much of which I have not yet visited, held advantages over the hassle of transoceanic flight.

Several weeks ago (the time frame keeps condensing itself), a friend from my boarding school days, herself still a New Englander, mentioned on FB that she was planning a dream road trip to Gaspésie. I had not forgotten that article! ~ and asked, mostly in jest, whether she would consider moving her trip up a week and loping a day off, as the new schedule would exclude Labor Day week-end.

The upshot of that little joke is that I am flying to Boston four weeks from today and the two of us, who have not laid eyes on one another since our high school graduation in 1971, and have mostly become friends thanks to FB postings on our class page, will immediately head north.

I am surprised at myself! ~ but the years are speeding by, most of the world still awaits, and people from all the different parts of my life keep popping up on FB with intriguing stories and dreams of their own. There’s a lot not to miss!

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