Thursday, October 4, 2012

At Sea: Paying Attention to Nature's Rules

Labrador Coast, photo by Claudette Kohut

Claudette Kohut, Nature Canada member and northern explorer, sends us her last dispatch from her Adventure Canada tour of Greenland and Labrador. 

As we leave the Torngats, the sea glimmers orange, blue, red, yellow, an undulating rainbow stretching to the far horizon where it meets the setting sun. Starboard, the rising, almost full, moon reflects a white light in the midst of drifting clouds painted mauve and pink by the port side sun.
Photo by Claudette Kohut
It is a glorious evening to be out on deck, the wind light, and the temperature cool. Being here, in the midst of nowhere, it is easy to see how ephemeral are the constructs of commerce and culture that rule our lives. On the far horizon a dark cloud looms, but our mood is light as we descend the stairs for the dining room.

After dinner, as the very talented on-board musicians play, the ships rocks gently and I look forward to having it rock me to sleep. 

During the night, the rocking has made some a little green, and by morning the clear sky is muddied by the dark clouds which had seemed so far away. As we continue the weather gets worse and the once gentle waves now rise white and frothy as the grey water becomes one with the grey sky. Only a few people are out on deck, willing to brave the wind’s piercing cold.

Airline nausea bags are tucked none too discreetly into the handrails which line the ships passageways, the portholes of the lower cabins are battened down and various antidotes to seasickness are eagerly traded among the passengers. 

At a recent stop in a small Newfoundland port our ship dwarfed the fishing trawlers beside it. But out on the vast, cold Atlantic it felt as powerful as an autumn leaf, floating downstream on the whim of the currents.  The wind and waves which batter us do not care whether we are made of steel or flesh and bones. The elements are not impressed by stabilizers or anti-nausea patches. They just do what they do. 

The wind blows.  And when the wind blows on the Atlantic the water rises up into mountainous waves then comes crashing down in order to rise again. If you are not prepared, then go home, nobody is going to cater to your needs here. 

Except that we cannot go home and so we learn, as we have many times on this trip, that while our lives may seem like they matter, in the grand scale of things, nature will prevail - with or without us – she doesn’t much care which. So if we do care, then we’d better learn to watch our manners and pay attention to her rules.

Which we do. The fjords and shoreline we were planning to visit are impossible in this weather and the captain decides to move as fast as possible down the coast, hoping to keep the wind at our backs. A “following sea” it is called.

Photo by Claudette Kohut

Twenty four hours later the wind is quiet as we arrive at the village of Makkovik, home to many of the ship’s staff. We are happy to feel solid ground beneath our feet and the warm welcome we receive feels like a hug from an old friend as we walk the Poet’s Path and then are treated to a musical feast at the school. 

We are especially happy when we return aboard since, for almost the first time in history, Adventure Canada, a little battered and bruised it is true, has won the soccer match!

Thanks Claudette for sending us your reflections during your trip. Nature is something to behold, at sea and on land!