Left the car on Newfoundland’s Route 70 before the turn toward Grate’s Cove, before the long stretch of Breeches Pond, and I cut under the power lines that angle for Bay de Verde. On the power pole nearest to my route, a tin pole identifier shivered in the wind, flickering with Morse messages of sun and cloud.
It’s barren grounds up there, low and flat, mosses and lichen and a tall dry heather-like grey staghorn plant that crunches brittle underfoot right now. The rock pokes through the groundcover, the stone pink and brittle and split by the freeze and thaw into flat slivers, so that there are puddles of pink among the plants. Fat veins of white quartz shoot southwest to northeast, sturdy enough that the pink rock has eroded away from them, leaving the quartz standing proud, cloudy-white and in some places as fat as a man’s wrist.
Not a warm day, but the sun was warm on my back, heading down into the kind of shallow crease of wet valley that defines the word “swale.”
The dry barrens gave way to wet as the hill bellied into the valley’s bowl, the lichen giving way to pillowed moss and then to bog grass, and I could see the deep, dessert-plate-sized tracks of moose punched down into the soaking peat, the windclipped and shaped spruce like a never-ending experiment in the prevailing weather’s topiary.
I’d been in the area before, scouting for the last remain- ing signs of a long-abandoned rail spur line, built in 1915 but abandoned a mere 15 years later, and looking across the barrens, I’d seen a small collection of bog ponds, the kind that are actually sometimes deep and productive pools, beads strung along a thread of moving stream, and the kind that fish best before the pond lilies come up.
I’d crossed the stream where it ran along the hip of the hill, and it was little more than a freshet, brook’s little brother, small and musical where it fell over small falls.
I had my fly rod, but it was more an excuse than a reason.
The trout weren’t interested anyway. I tried a small Wulff Royal Coachman and a smaller Grey Adams, the two real horsemen of the trout apocalypse, but only to be able to say I’d given it my best shot, without the accompanying small misery of harming a small and perfect thing. The misery that often grows as you age, and are every day a less perfect thing yourself.
Cap keeping bright sun from my eyes, the sky rich blue and the ocean, when you could see it, flashing silver.
I walked the watercourse, still caught in the spring smell of warming peat, the scents of the bog plants still not back from their winter hiatus, pretending to be doing something that I was not, the purpose suddenly more about the experience than the result.
I cut away from the brook in a wide curve, eyes seeking out the rock spine of the hill back out of the valley so that I could walk back without dipping back into bog, without the uneven tread that makes you walk with your eyes permanently down for safety. Glad to be alive. When you find a place that redeems you, a place that recharges you, that makes you remember (because you forget, we so easily forget), that “this is why,” then you should go there often, either in real life or in memory.
It doesn’t take much, and it feels oddly like swimming a long distance underwater and then coming back up for that first, big, necessary lungful of air.
I had my fly rod, but it was more an excuse than a reason. The trout weren’t interested anyway.