Posted by: alexhickey | June 28, 2015

Headin’ In the Harbour ©

Eastern Point-Friar Cove-StJacques

Eastern Point-Friar Cove-StJacques

As you approach the mouth of St. Jacques Harbour from the northeast you pass between “the island and the land”. On your left is the imposing basalt profile of St. Jacques Island less than a kilometre offshore rising dramatically from the waves, a beacon to sailors since 1908. On your right is the multi-coloured pebbled beach of the Back Cove divided into two unequal sections by a promontory called Jimmy’s Rock. If you listen carefully you can hear the undertow moving the egg and potato size pebbles in and out as it ebbs and flows, a magical sound from beneath the edge of the sea.

The beachhead ends abruptly as it encounters a dense treeline of fir and spruce, a backdrop, a curtain of green seemingly positioned to accentuate the pastel pinks, blues, greens and violet variations in the beach rocks. Here and there a discerning eye can locate vague openings between the trees, remnants of ancient paths once worn clear by the many feet that made the trek from the harbour to harvest wood, to picnic on Sunday afternoons, to catch rolling capelin in season, and to tend woodland gardens hidden in spaces carved from the forest undergrowth.

Seagulls perch comfortably on exposed bedrock cautiously watching the bay; behind them rich burnt brown peat lies exposed to the air, a perfect disguise for red foxes to burrow winter lairs. A metre or two away crisp clear water lazily oozes from an underground stream, the depressions dug by thirsty hands of yesterday no longer visible.

The expansive beach abruptly gives way to a sheer rock face topped by scraggly low growing spruce trees and patches of crowberry bushes. The obliquely sloped cliff suddenly shatters into jagged extrusions of beige coloured, layered rock and tapers to the water’s edge. Here the waterway quickly ‘shoals up’, made shallow by centuries of boulders which have tumbled end over end to rest beneath the salty ocean. At low tide one steers well clear of Eastern Rock else its looming shape abruptly caresses and scrapes the bottom of the vessel and delivers a menacing blow to propellers.
Rounding the point reminds boaters that the water below is the ocean and not a calm inland pond for currents create tumult and stresses requiring diligence regardless of the size of the vessel. Waves seem to fight against themselves, vying for a firm compass direction as unseen forces beneath the surface push and battle each other as they’ve done since the beginning of Fortune Bay.

Around Eastern Point lies a dramatic surprise for the first timers. Here, in the little cove is a sea stack rising like an obelisk from the mid-tide mark; a layered stack of stones intricately interlocked, a veritable Rubik’s Cube. Atop the near forty foot column is a collection of twigs and sticks woven into a birthing place for stately birds. Left behind by centuries of erosion, this, harder than its surroundings, column of stone has served as the nesting place for Eagles and Osprey year after year. The Friar, as sea stacks are known locally, stands stately and diligent, lording over the coming and going of fishers and other residents just as it witnessed schooners and Jack Boats slicing through the waves a hundred years ago.

At the western end of Friar Cove, the beach, shaped by the perpetual action of waves into layers resembling the undulations of gentle ocean swells, rests against darkened granite whose worn edges resemble the beach itself. Carved into its base, a sea cave large enough to accommodate most of a small dory, invites exploration and demands one to marvel at the forces of nature. High above in silhouette against the sky, wary Osprey fly in circles keeping an eye on all life forms below.

Beyond this near pristine piece of the coastline lie a series of small beaches in crevices too small to be called coves. Towering above them the brow, still covered by spruce trees tenaciously clinging to the edge, gently slopes as the harbour opens to full view. The shore abruptly changes to a beach of boulders whose edges, though worn, bear none of the witness to the power of moving water as the rocks of Friar Cove. Haphazard in their arbitrary placement these irregular chunks of granite bridge the waterline to the grass covered banks above. Only flat-bottomed dories venture close. Anyone gazing over the side can readily see the ocean bottom, barnacles, starfish, and perhaps, a fish or two swimming along. Large ships remain further out into the centre of the harbour as they enter. Behind the mussel-encrusted boulders of this rugged beach, created by the scattered remnants of a once sturdy breakwater that extended almost two hundred feet into the harbour, lies the protected waters of Burke’s Cove.

On the southwest side of the entrance, Louis’s Cove, sheltered from prevailing winds, beckons as an oasis, a near idyllic expanse of pebbled beach, flanked by rocky headlands and set against an expanse of evergreens that reach to the sky. The beach transforms into ever increasing rocks and boulders until it becomes a cliff once more with pebbles at its base. From there the rounded rocks that roll beneath ones feet continue all the way past the swimming hole to Hatchet Cliff and a grassy landing which leads to the local road.

Whether you are rowing a flat-bottomed dory, guiding a luxury yacht home or returning home from the fishing grounds, the arrival to that point in the harbour where the entire community opens to a panoramic view is breathtaking. The skyline is defined by Bottle Hill, Big Hill, Bungay’s Hill and a protective arm which separate the harbour from the bay. One’s eyes can travel unobstructed, following the contours carved by time. Beyond Hatchet Cliff the “Barrisway” nestles in a sheltered valley flanked by Bottle Hill and the Barrisway Point. The roadway ribbons past St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church, skirts the base of Big Hill, dips as it crosses Pitman’s Brook then curls eastward to wend along to Sacred Heart Church and branches onto the community wharf. Up over Clinton’s hill, the roadway, shaped by hand-built rock walls, carries on to the end at Burkes Cove.

It’s time to cut the motor and drift into the expanse of this protected harbour, once an insured haven from storms, backed by Lloyds of London. Drift among the waves made by thousands of schooners, steamers, dories and longliners that have come this way before. When the breeze is right you can hear the voices of men loading herring on the decks of Gloucester schooners at Gorton and Pew’s wharf; feel the wake of vessels laden with barrels of fish hoisting sail for Spain or the West Indies, and sometimes, hear the cautious voices of women and children as they watch sails coming around Louis’s point, giving thanks because their men have made it safely home once more.

Heading in the harbour is as much a spiritual experience as it is physical one; shared moments across historic waters feeling the buoyancy which brought people here centuries ago and which sustains today. Inspiration for poetry and song rattles off the hillsides, forming half-spoken thoughts which drift carelessly away on the breeze. Mind, body and soul seek no differentiation here; no separation, just oneness with sky, land, sea and time.

Cradled by undulating swells, caught in motion that supersedes human life, a boat floating languidly in through the harbour carries within it all that is embodied in the life of a coastal community. While the moment registers on the calendar, it flows through time and people, through life and death, and courses through the emotion of what it means to say, “ I am from St. Jacques.”

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Responses

  1. Next time I need to get on a boat. You bring back warm memories of our visit and a feeling of what my ancestors experienced. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Your piece took me home yet again…..such a beautifully written tribute..to our forebearers. and to Mother Nature who bestowed such beauty on St.Jacques from beach to beach and hill to hill…to St.Jacques as a haven in a storm…. Thanks once again :John


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