Friday, September 23, 2016

RV park near historic cemetery makes for stark contrast and sobering contemplation

September 12, 2016

It had been a "travel day,  meaning that we'd booked it to get through New Brunswick and close to the Nova Scotia border. Nova Scotia means New Scotland. Duh! How did I not know that??

Our New Brunswick experience the previous day at Kouchibouguac National Park had been stellar, so a hurry-up driving day was OK. We were excited to get on to Cape Breton.

To find camping spots we use an app called All Stays. You type in the general area you're planning to stay that night, and along the way, it points out the sorts of camping opportunities you've chosen from a list of "filters." Our requirement for this night: we had to be in Nova Scotia and we wanted a shower.
We had not, however, requested a deserted residential RV Park practically closed up for the season. And certainly not one with a cemetery gleaming in the late-day sun just across a ravine. But the cemetery was the unexpected bonus that made the RV park stay a travel moment, not necessarily a highlight of the trip but one that provided insight into the place and inspired thoughts about mortality.
Rust-colored waves lapped at rust-colored sand along a short beach in front of the RV Park as we took a stroll, wondering why earlier inhabitants had chosen prime real estate for a cemetery. We decided to climb the rocky rim guarding it to have a look. We discovered later that historic graveyards often occupy the most desirable places, perhaps a way to honor the dead. The grave stones were arrayed on a bluff overlooking the ocean. And also overlooking, the RV park. We were soon immersed in Scottish history. A mass migration from a troubled Scotland occurred in the early to mid 1880s. About a third of the country's current residents are their descendants, according to Wikipedia.
There were are hunkered down at the far left end in our little van dwarfed by giant trailers.This is not a campground, but an RV park. Most of the 150+ sites were occupied with travel trailers in winter mode. The owners had vacated, trailers were winterized, and we had our choice of maybe 20 campsites reserved for actual travelers. Although the park was deserted, remnants of summer days were evident; a list of park activities posted in the washrooms and community hall, a huge empty playground next to a slanted soccer field, and a ground-down path to the beach where rust-colored waves lapped at red sand. You could almost hear the shouts of children playing and summer neighbors chattering and clinking their glasses of local brews over their sizzling BBQs. 
If the ghosts of the Scots buried in this place could see it now, what would they think? The idea of metal homes on wheels? The notion that people could have a permanent home AND one they could move from place to place? Incomprehensible.  And our understanding of their hardships and sorrows, and perhaps their joys? Equally inconceivable. 
Family groupings with names such as McDonald, McAllister, McDaniel, McClellan and so on, most of whom died in the mid-to-late 1800s, populate this burial ground overlooking the sea.
PK and I are old enough to face that we'll die sooner rather than later. Like in maybe 20-25 years. Could be sooner. We'll likely be cremated and perhaps ask that our ashes be strewn near the Rogue River in Oregon, where we've lived for 45 years. But then in another century, how will random people happen upon  proof that we existed and wonder about who we were and how and why we died and what our everyday lives were like? As we did that evening when we crossed the rust-colored beach and communed with Scottish spirits. 
Recent travel posts

Kouchibouguac National Park, New Brunswick, travel moment lasting an entire day

Rain and a nasty encounter in wonderful old Quebec City

Tofino, BC, Yes!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Travel Moment (s) New Brunswick

It was such a thrill to see this posing heron and others in his flock in New Brunswick's Kouchibouguac National Park, a place we stumbled upon as we were recovering from some rough travel the previous day. I learned that great blue herons, a treasured seasonal bird in our Southern Oregon home, nests here in New Brunswick. In Oregon we rarely see more than one heron at a time. Here, they hang out in gangs. Thank you, GBH. The older I get, the more such  moments thrill me. I enjoyed many such moments today.

Yesterday sucked. Even though we traveled from beautiful, rolling, church-spire-bejeweled and grain-silo decorated Quebec to reach New Brunswick, we disagreed about where we were going and what we were doing. You think that a married couple traveling in a small van for miles and miles and weeks and weeks doesn't sometimes think about divorce?  Gags? Murder? We're probably not the only ones. Right?

PK's a planner, and he's good at it. If he wasn't, we wouldn't be doing all this traveling.

But the problem with detailed planning and road trips, in my estimation? Plans put spontaneity on the back burner. If you have a destination, and you gotta get there on schedule, then unexpected side trips tend to well, slip aside. That's the crux. We managed to compromise with some mileage along a scenic route as opposed to a get-there-quick freeway, and arrived around 6 p.m. a few miles from our stopping point, Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick. (Hard to pronounce, easy to love, is the way they describe it around here.)

We found a municipal campground, scored a site in the trees, and started to relax. Our plan  for today was to roar on over to Nova Scotia and the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton, a place we've talked and dreamt about for years. But we were just a few minutes from a national park. What the heck. Let's have a look. In a sweet burst of spontaneity, we decided to spend the entire day in the park and camp overnight. Thus began a day filled with wonder and fun, brimming with the travel moments that keep us on the road.

Canadian geese in, where else but Canada! They were feeding just a few pedal strokes from our campsite and the great blue herons were close by. 
PK getting ready to cycle. We practically had the campground  to ourselves, a Sunday in September, the
start of "shoulder season." Great time to travel! Even though it rained a bit today, and was windy, it was shorts weather.  This campground also has blazing fast wifi, which, coupled with a long relaxing day, is why I could whip out a blog post in short order. Wifi is not something we expected in Canadian parks, but it is often available. 

One of the park's claims to fame is restoring the pied plover population, which had dwindled near extinction here. One
of the interpretive signs provided this silly photo op. We rode our bikes here and that rectangle on my glasses is a bike 
mirror, in case you were wondering.
Just a few minutes down the boardwalk through the marsh, perhaps through divine intervention? we spotted this bird, which we believe, with the help of Stokes, to be a juvenile pied plover. Again, just unbelievable and thrilling to us both. Photo below, PK on the board walk where we spotted the pied plover.

One of many interpretive signs along miles and miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the bogs, lagoons, forests, and sea shore in this hard-to-pronounce national park.
Strong winds made the grasses dance but kept us safe from the local mosquito population, of which we were warned.

PK making his way through bog vegetation on a sinking boardwalk.
It was a warm but blustery day and we didn't expect to see people swimming or playing in the Atlantic Ocean on Kelly's Beach in the park.  But there they were, enjoying the last Sunday before school starts here next week. 
Yes, warm enough to swim, but PK and I stuck to wading and
splashing around a bit before getting back to cycling.
I liked the red chairs provided by the park service. By the time we got to the chairs to clean our feet and put on our
shoes, a middle-aged woman was occupying one and struck up a conversation. Within a few minutes, she spilled the news that her husband had recently left her for a much younger woman and was also deserting their sons, ages six and four. This was an unexpected torrent of anguish that didn't fit with our perfect day. But we both warmed to her and ended up in a discussion about love and marriage, hope and betrayal. I think we ended with hope. The last time she'd visited this place had been with the errant husband and their boys. She wanted to reclaim the powerful place as her own. I hope she did that. Our encounter reminded me that even when inevitable human suffering occurs, the sea and the sky, forests and mountains and rivers, birds and mammals, and even strangers on the beach, can be restorative. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Travel moment on the Plains of Abraham

Sometimes on a rainy foggy day, we can see certain things more clearly.
The St. Lawrence River from an overlook near the Plains of Abraham, Quebec City.
Language alert. I'll be quoting someone below who used bad language that crosses the line. No way to tell this story without the actual words.

I haven't posted a blog since August 18, a few days before we said goodbye to our tomatoes and peppers in Oregon and hit the road. It isn't that I don't think about writing every single day, but I get overwhelmed with photos and "material" and underwhelmed with reliable wifi and/or strong cell service. Hence images and words pile into a muddled mess in my brain and on my computer, and finding a focus eludes me. Even when I do land on a hook, as we used to say in the newspaper business, driving a few hundred miles several days a week and traveling in close quarters with another person doesn't exactly encourage productivity.

When I do find time and place to write, I try to avoid the "we went there and did this, and then we went there and did that" as blog narrative. So when traveling in wifi territory, I do the easy thing: post photos on Facebook with brief descriptions and move on. (If you're interested in seeing the photos, please be my FB friend.)

But something happened this inclement morning in old Quebec City that gave me an idea about how to handle too much stimulation.

Paul and I decided to hell with the weather, pulled on our Eddie Bauer raincoats, unfurled our travel umbrellas and ventured into the heavy rain. A few minutes later I started to smile and talk to myself.

You're doing the traveling you've wanted to do for decades. You're healthy. You have a good man. A good van. A good plan.  Quebec City is charming, picturesque, historic, beautiful, art-filled and stimulating. What a great day to be alive!

I skipped a bit but stifled myself as my Birkenstocks were soggy and the straps were stretched and my footing wasn't solid. As usual, Birks were the only shoes I had with me.

We were pretty much alone,  PK and me, strolling in a downpour from our little boutique hotel in Old Quebec City to the nearby Plains of Abraham. We reached a shelter with a viewpoint down  the St. Lawrence River and, in the opposite direction,  a look at the Plains. We learned that a pivotal battle occurred here between the French and the British in 1759.  It ended with a British victory over France, contributing to the formation of Canada.

The plains had belonged to a farmer named Abraham. No mention of the original First Nation people whose land it was originally.  Canadians did the same as we Americans - stole the land and all but killed off the people indigenous.

Ok. My happy mood was knocked down a notch. There had been plenty of bloodshed here, deep dark history of human beings settling issues with killing, taking, exploiting.  I had to pee.

I descended the deserted stairs to a public restroom. A scowling muscular forty-something woman with a blur of greying hair on her shaved head emerged from the restroom. It was just the two of us,  and as we passed, I nodded and said Hi. I wasn't inviting, or expecting, anything more than a return greeting, one human being's respectful acknowledgement of another.

She stopped and glared at me.
Do I have to say hi to every fucking person?! She spat the words.
I stood stock still, my mouth agape.
She wasn't finished.

Fuck you! Who do you think you are? And fuck Christ, she continued. I'm so sick of people, and you are disgusting. Fuck you! 

She was still spewing anger and hate as she strode into the rain. I made my way into the restroom talking to myself, again. Wow. What was that about? I can't believe that just happened. And so on.

Where I come from in small-town rural Oregon, and earlier in life, small-town Midwest, greeting strangers is as ordinary as toast with jam. It is sweet and harmless. It is not an affront or attack on privacy but an affirmation of a moment of shared time and place.

A few minutes later, when I told PK what transpired, he said he'd noticed the woman muttering something as she passed him, head down.

I'd taken the verbal attack personally, but he took a different view.

She was bald, he said. Maybe she's a cancer patient. Or maybe she's mentally ill. 

Yes, perhaps mentally ill, I concurred. I don't  believe that being a cancer patient explains bad behavior. The bottom line though, was that she was filled with anger and hate. She would have liked to kill me.  I've never been confronted by such a person. But then I've been spared much of the pain and sorrow that life dishes out, lucky in so many ways.

The encounter was a travel moment - a surprising and unexpected result of being out and about in the world, as opposed to sticking close to home. A travel moment is one that can elevate, elate, thrill or educate. Or all of the above. Like the time we swam with whale sharks in La Paz, or when we visited the sacred cremation site in Kathmandu, or when I made eye contact with wild gorillas in Uganda.

But a travel moment can also take you someplace you don't want to go,  proving that travel isn't just about driving around looking at pretty scenery and eating local foods, but also venturing into foreign cultures and lives, places you may not choose but there you are.

In any case, you learn and grow and are somehow challenged.

What does this have to do with Ordinary Life? More travel moments, past and future, will be shared here. I still want to revisit the sacred cremation site and perhaps the whale sharks, and other consequential moments that have become lost in the blur of passing time. Thanks for hanging with me.

Happy travels, wherever they may take you.