Taking it all for granted

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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Maybe it really is familiarity that breeds contempt. Or maybe it’s just a misunderstanding of how lucky we are.

There is a great swath of barrens-land between the light at the mouth of Western Bay and the former town of Bradley’s Cove, ground that includes everything from blueberry bushes to a great triangular wedge of water-weeping bog.

There are long creeping tendrils of ground yew setting off in all directions on their vegetative voyage of discovery, low wind-cut sedges of alder and spruce, and right along the edge of the cliff, a sentinel line of rotting fence posts that stretches for miles, although there are never more than three left standing in any group.

The ground is that distracting combination of things that the barrens do so well: it’s a landscape spread with small hummocks that seem to confound your understanding of distance and more — they are all different, but at the same time so similar that it would be hard to figure out where you were if the fog came in suddenly.

On a sunny day, though, they are a veritable fairy-mound of small treasures: on top of one, the almost-complete skeleton of a small bird, stretched out lengthways and picked clean, tiny fragile bones that seem impossibly light when you pick them up.

On another, a shallow depression walled carefully with flat stones, perhaps an old shelter for hunting seabirds.

There are hummocks topped with an emerging sheet of bald stone, mapped with lichen in complicated and seemingly important patterns, and others that are dressed in so much tuckamore that they seem like spruced fortresses.

The most amazing thing of it all, though, is not the tracklessness of it — although that certainly is amazing. What’s amazing is the ability to be able to set any track you want.

Want to head for the sharp-sided escarpment that’s weeping the kind of rocks that drystone wall builders drool over? No problem. Walk straight there, or take a great looping curve so you can see the spot where a standing conversation of blue flag irises is holding its windblown discussion.

Once there, you can sit and feel the warmth of the rock soak up into you and, looking carefully, realize that not one of these rocks has been moved in a generation, at least.

Want to cut back to the ocean, to go out on the edge of a sea canyon so sharply cut into the cliff that your insides seem to shrink back at the idea of approaching the sudden drop?

You can do that, too.

This is a huge province with only a scattering of humans.

Not only that, but unlike many places in this country, it’s a big province that’s mostly not owned by anybody.

Our seashore is accessible and used — for walking, seaweed- and caplin-gathering, and, sadly, often for depositing old car parts and the occasional washer as well.

Fences and property lines tell a different story in most Atlantic provinces. In many places, the public is only welcome in places that are designated public.

The assumption is that, if it’s not labelled as a public beach, it’s probably private.

Not here.

Follow the old rail line from Carbonear north along the spine of the peninsula and there are far more places where you can cleave away into the brush to pick blueberries than there are places where it’s someone’s property and you can’t.

We share every turn of the compass and let’s hope that doesn’t change. And let’s hope that as we continue our shared ownership, we develop some shared responsibility as well.

Not far from Bradley’s Cove, I came across the ruins of a small root cellar — there are root cellars throughout Conception Bay North, some in fine shape, others caved in under the weight of years and old sod roofs.

Away and forgotten, there weren’t even nearby signs of a house foundation.

It appeared like an archeological site: the outline first, set in the distance, then the sight of the top edge of the stones.

A scramble up the side to look into the small square pit, all sides set with careful, layered and overlapping stonework.

You could imagine the time it took to build, the skill and the care involved.

At the bottom of this piece of craft work, a much simpler and more modern addition: a rusting washing machine, an old hot water heater and a jewelry box of shards of smashed glass.

We can, unlike many places, still go where we want, see what interests us, travel in all directions. But that shared ownership doesn’t seem to have bred shared stewardship.

Perhaps that’s why we feel so comfortable treating this wonder so shabbily.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Geographic location: Western Bay, Carbonear

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