© Joe Gibbons
Confederation Building under wraps. July 16. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
First, the photograph. I don’t often have a photograph with my column, but they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and usually my column only runs about 750. So here’s 1,000 words of photographic information inset in this column, showing that the provincial Tories have decided to go with an artistic rendering of the muzzling effects of Bill 29 — their “improvements” to access to information legislation in this province that have had the effect of dramatically restricting that access. Either that, or they’ve simply decided to practise safe government. I’m betting on the first.
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Away from Confederation Building, and off along the North Harbour Road towards Branch, it’s fascinating to see the changes on the landscape meted out by the tail ends of a hurricanes and a post tropical storm — Igor and Leslie — over the past few years.
One of the first things to catch your eye is that the fallen trees deep in the country now let you see the coastline from many parts of the road.
It used to be that only the map would tell you how long the hike was down a river to the sea.
Now, the distance — at least the line of sight — is clear, and in its own way, it changes the experience.
But that’s just the beginning.
When you get in on rivers like the Little Barachois, it’s easy to see that the changes were dramatic and almost instantaneous — it is 50, 100 years’ worth of damage, done, at most, in a couple of days.
The huge flow of water not only swept into the trees on both sides of the river, but ripped away whole stands of trees, stripping the ground right down to bare soil. The trees, roots and all, are now tossed together in huge jumbled log jams further down the river course, almost always at the spots where the river makes a sharp right- or lefthand turn — and there, the piles of broken and shattered trees can be house-high. A place no one would have wanted to be when it was happening.
The noise and the force must have been astounding.
On the O’Keefe River, the change in topography is equally stunning — except it’s a flatter river, and on it, whole islands that used to split the river in two were simply undercut and swept away, leaving the river moving in almost a straight line in places where it used to curve.
We all know about the damage to man-made structures this pair of storms wrought — seeing the damage on these rivers, with raft-marks on trees as high as 20 feet up their trunks, lets you know what a 100-year storm really means, even out away from culverts and hydro lines and flooded homes.
Looking around, it’s easy to see how out of the ordinary this damage looks. There are fundamental changes in hydrology and vegetation, signs of truly remarkable wind and water. Rivers that curved are now straighter — and shallower. Pools have been filled and rocky obstructions just brushed aside.
Well downstream and a good mile from any cabin, you find river lands strewn with sheets of vinyl siding.
Forget whether or not we’re ready for a new and stronger round of hurricanes. Human infrastructure took its own significant amount of damage — out in the country, the damage to trees and rivers is remarkable.
And that’s only from storms that barely registered as category one hurricanes. Imagine what the circumstance would be with something stronger.
I think one of the reasons the damage is so significant is because Newfoundland forests, at least on the east coast, are used to strong winds: primarily evergreens, they almost work together to hedge out wind damage (despite their relative inability to root deeply in the shallow soil) because they move together and dissipate the wind’s force: what’s interesting about the hurricane damage is that it broke into the hedging all along its track, and, with the province’s regular and relative strong winds, that damage spreads year by year.
There are places where the footprint from the two hurricanes is getting bigger and bigger, as exposed trees along the edge of windfalls find themselves unable to withstand the force of less cataclysmic storms.
And here’s a thought as we cruise through a relatively dry July: two years in, a lot of the fallen wood is drying.
The fire load in many places is also remarkable — especially for a time like now, when the fire index is also high.
There will be masters’ theses and more, I’m sure, as a result of Igor and Leslie and whatever storms come next. But they have carved away 30 years of familiar ground, in the equivalent of geology’s heartbeat. Remarkable.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor.