I don’t know exactly when it was. Or where. The moment when I knew.
I have my suspicions:. Perhaps when I was in a big backwards-
running bay off the Piper’s Hole River at the top of the Burin Peninsula. We were cutting through part of the tidal estuary — a great shallow bowl, muddy-bottomed and beribboned with eel grass — when a full-grown bald eagle unfolded itself from a spruce snag and flew over the bow of the kayak.
The eagle’s wings made no sound at all, and at that moment, the wind was flat, too, and the whole place had the kind of postcard stillness that makes you talk softly.
The nose of the kayak carving through the water, folding a narrow wake down and away from the curving bow.
It’s a heavy kayak, bought
second-hand, a two-seater, bright orange and made out of the kind of thick plastic that reminds you of old picnic coolers.
And it can take a serious licking: it’s been dropped and dragged, and it’s spun out threadlets of plastic when it’s been gouged by sharp rocks.
The marvel of the second-hand — you can look at any one mark and blame it on previous owners. It is no art form, but it will get you where you want to go, albeit almost always wet, one way or another.
Three days in and out of the boat, and except for two errant Jet Skis that appeared, curled sharply and whitely around and left again, not one other person on the water.
Not one other person in sight.
Maybe it was then.
Or maybe it wasn’t precisely then, at that eagle moment. Maybe it was nearby, on one of those days, on a scree slope on the back of Mile Hill, the clay pounded down all around with fresh moose prints, where two sides of a small jawbone lay flat against the mud and small stones, a jawbone — and four long knuckles of spine — that turned out to have belonged to a beaver kit, brought farther away from water than it could walk by some predator and stripped to white remains.
Who knew that you could eventually check for certain that it was a beaver at a website called “Skulls Unlimited”?
Maybe up high on a rolling swell of pink granite, set into the hill that becomes Mile Hill, granite that curves in a way that could let you imagine the stone half-melted and oozing down towards the bay.
The granite now fixed and covered with a set of waterfalls that tumbles from some 50 feet high and casts out along the hill for almost a kilometre.
Up there, individual falls angle down into deep pools, and the brown clean water then sweeps out in great shallow fans until the next sudden drop. There are several drops so precipitous that you can strip down and fit yourself in behind the waterfalls, out of sight and watching the world flicker through the almost-constant rush of white water.
And, I mean, it’s nothing precisely new, this feeling. I’ve felt it before on the water in Bonne Bay on the west coast of the island, cutting that same old kayak into sea caves in an ocean as clear as bottle glass, while schools of conners angled back and forth beneath the boat, picking over the surface of the mounded boulders for scraps of food.
Or up on the lunar scape of Burnt Cape, up past Raleigh on the tip of the Northern Peninsula, where the trees vanish and you’re left on a vast moraine of grey rock, small thick-leafed plants throwing up bright and hopeful flowers in yellows and pinks, exuberant in a way the surroundings seem to barely deserve.
What surprises me is how often you can find yourself in absolutely astounding surroundings — and find, at the same time, that you’re the only people there.
For years of Newfoundland history, people barely ventured inland from the coastline of the province. Now, they venture mere feet away from the ease of the highway and their cars, unless there’s something that they need and have to venture further afield to find.
We live in a pure marvel.
Sometimes, we have to remind ourselves of that.
And sometimes, we have to walk that extra empty mile to find it.
This has been the best summer for walking that mile that I’ve seen in years.
I hope you found it, too.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s
editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.