As we disembarked from the ferry in Port-aux-Basques and made our way carefully through the early morning fog that rolled across the landscape (a remnant of an overnight thunderstorm), we caught periodic glimpses of the majestic hills that define this part of the island. The view was so visually overwhelming that I wept. And for once, my kids -- also in awe of the magnificent beauty surrounding us -- didn't ask me why I was crying!
As we continued to work our way north along the Viking Trail (the highway that traces the island's west coast), through Gros Morne National Park, past many brooks and streams, towards St Anthony, we enjoyed a visual feast each day. There were few appetizers and little dessert. The landscape offered up mostly main courses: One strong and powerful rock formation gave way to another, always another. Water gushed and trickled and danced its way down the mountains, across the rugged landscape and out to the sea. And the sea was big and omnipresent, always to one side of us, creeping in and out to form little inlets for fishing villages, but always eventually stretching out, out, out towards eternity.
In the people we met along the way -- whether through a local theatre performance, a band accompanying our supper one night, or the tour guides on the whale boat and at L'Anse aux Meadows -- we sensed a deep appreciation for, and love of, this landscape. They were connected with the water in ways that I would say most other Canadians, even those from other east coast provinces, aren't. Every brook is marked (and many accompanied by hiking trails), and the ocean plays a key role in the history of almost every family on the island for generations back. Their pride in this land is evident in the way they speak, the way they carry themselves.
The Newfies we met were confident and funny, without being arrogant; they were just very sure of who they were, geographically and culturally speaking. Where many Canadians waver in terms of what one might call a national identity, Newfoundlanders stand tall and certain. It was clear: We were in Newfoundland, but Newfoundland was not in us the way it was in them!
I enjoyed our time on the road tremendously. As a Canadian, getting to know this part of my country a little felt like an important pilgrimage. And I was very impressed with the landscape.
But I did not fall in love.
As we wound our way back to the Confederation Bridge, and Nova Scotia gave way to New Brunswick, and we eventually were able to glimpse the red soil on the other side of the strait, my breath caught a little. This beautiful place I get to call home sometimes is not nearly as impressive in its majesty as its larger sibling to the east, but it is a pretty little island, and strong in its own right.