Saturday, August 11, 2012

You’ve Already Won Me Over, In Spite of Me

Nova Scotia, you’ve been holding out on me. After today, it’s clear that you’ve just been teasing me – showing me your less attractive features so that your best qualities stand out that much more starkly.

You put me at a campsite, knowing its proximity to the beach would be too much for me to pass up. But then your odd hyper-New-England weather prevented me from seeing a sunrise.
Your east side features a rocky and potentially dramatic coastline, and at Green Cove, a headland that looks like something straight out of the Shire. But, alas, the view from it was nothing special.
You contain Neil’s Harbour, and a picturesque lighthouse – surrounded by chain link fences and nasty looking pickup trucks. Your Meat Cove (while it does have the best name of any human habitation this side of Djibouti) has one access road – a  narrow dirt path that winds among gorges and seaside cliffs, but that also has no scenic turnouts and really no destination at the end (I learned that Meat Cove is more a campground and a sign reading “end of road” than a village). You have an easily accessible and impressive waterfall at MacIntosh Brook, but you also have saplings and blowdown annoyingly blocking just about every angle. In short, your east side is a student with ADHD: It has potential, but it’s just not living up to it.

But then, just when the thoughts of “This is nice but why did I drive 1,000 miles to get here?” started creeping in, I crossed into your west side, and suddenly all the hype made sense. First, I scaled a 1,200 foot plateau, topped with a vast krummholz forest, and I wondered how the designers of the Cabot Trail had actually managed to make a straight road over a flat plateau interesting:
Then I turned a corner and the first truly spectacular view you’ve offered came into view. And since I happened to be shoot-and-pray picture taking at that exact moment, everyone can share in that experience (which works best by clicking on the first picture and then quickly scrolling through the rest):

Why didn’t you ever tell me that you were Acadia on steroids? Acadia has a few 100-foot headland cliffs, but you have dozens that top 800 feet. Acadia has a mountain or two that rise straight out of the ocean, but so is the entire western half of Cape Breton Island. Maybe someone told you that I’d recently been thinking that the one landform I’d most like to see is a fjord, and you had a whole coastline of fjord-like features waiting.

And thank you for finally giving some evidence to my repeated (and largely unjustified) claims that your Cabot Trail resembles the Pacific Coast Highway. Thanks to your Skyline Trail (something the likes of which I didn’t see anywhere around Big Sur), I have pictures like this to prove it:

It was even kind of cute how you tried to make this trail feel more exclusive and serious by making it the only one in the park that doesn’t allow dogs. You knew that I had the Gordo Carrier, so I could take him along without him ever touching the trail. And although it’s almost 5 miles round-trip, you were even considerate enough to make it virtually flat, so carrying the poodle didn’t make me feel like death by the time I got to the spectacular views at the end.

I can even forgive the cloud cover precluding a sunset, since you attracted a bunch of nice people (another way of saying Canadian people) to the end of the Skyline Trail at the same time as me, some of whom I even talked to! One was even a photography teacher. It’s just a shame I couldn’t think of any of those questions I always tell myself I’d ask if only I could find someone who might know the answers.
To top it off, you even gave me a glimpse of my own mortality. But let me back up for a minute. Before I stared death in the face, you gave me confirmation of the existence the creature known as the moose, living somewhere on its own accord, outside of a zoo. At the end of the Skyline Trail, you had a pair of them, just at the far end of my zoom lens’s capabilities:

Then they started walking towards me, and although they were still several hundred yards and several hundred vertical feet away, I couldn’t help but recall Tim’s line in Jurassic Park: “They’re… uh … they’re flocking this way.”

But, thankfully, they disappeared into the woods presumably to eat said woods, or to have sweet sweet moosey sex. They’d given all of us enough of a show that they certainly earned their moosish alone time.

As I started back, after deciding there would be no sunset worth waiting for, while trying to think of what to write tonight, you had one more curveball to throw at me:

I don’t have a better picture of him, standing majestically on top of that ridge as he had been doing only a moment earlier, antlers pointed straight at me, because I couldn’t decide if he was real or just a decoy put up to keep real meese away from the trail. When he shook his head and started walking, that pretty much answered that question. All along the trail, there are signs warning of the presence of moose in the area, and how to recognize whether they’re feeling curious, aggressive, or full-on enraged. The signs also helpfully noted that when they attack, they charge and kick you with their hooves. However, all of the signs failed to mention what on earth you’re supposed to do if that happens. I’ve read Hatchet, so I know that standing there and letting him beat the crap out of you is a losing strategy, but I didn’t know if I should be preparing to run (which I doubted, since I’m sure a moose can outrun me), or beat it with my tripod (which also didn’t sound promising, since the thing was the length and height of a horse, with the body type of a cow). So instead, 30 feet down the trail from the now mobile moose, I just stood there. Maybe their vision is based on movement, and they can’t see you if you don’t move. I just prayed that they’re not clever girls. Finally, mercifully, it crossed the path and I crept by its new grazing site, only later stopping to check if I needed to change my pants.

And just when I was over the shock of that experience, I turned a corner on the trail and found myself staring straight at another full-grown bull moose only 15 feet to the right of the trail. I tried my slowly-creep-by strategy again, but this time I was too close and moose number 2 noticed me. To my utter dismay, he gave a little hop and trotted away. I had scared away a 23,000 pound moose! You’d think that would give me a bit of confidence for the rest of the journey back, but instead it just made me scared to death of every blind curve for the next mile.

So, yes, while I did get confirmation from the viewpoint at the end of the trail that moose do exist, apparently you, Nova Scotia, were once again just teasing me before saying, “You want to see a moose? Well then I’ll show you a moose you’ll never forget!”

So while I don’t usually like being teased, with you I can see it was just a means to an end. And this time, the end totally justified the means. So thank you, Nova Scotia. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for me at Cape Clear and Spencer’s Island tomorrow.

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