Posted by: alexhickey | May 16, 2021

Friar Rock ©

Listen! Listen to the growling undertow and the rattle of rocks as waves build tension. Watch the foam dissipate and disappear into crevices and shadows of pebbles and boulders as the water flattens and thins in retreat. Watch the next wave rise and urge itself forward, pressing its fluid form against the resistant shoreline.  Stand still, fixed to the bedrock.  Wait in anticipation on the rising tide, each wave reaching slightly farther up the beach, wetting sun bleached stone until it washes around your feet. 

Nothing seems to change but the passing of time, drifting of clouds, and the rise and fall of tides.  Yet if you were to stand there as long as Mr. Friar, many things would change.  Let me introduce you to him.  He’s been standing alone, midway between the high and low water marks in a cove on the eastern side of the mouth of St. Jacques harbour, for thousands  perhaps hundreds of thousands of years.  He is about the height of five humans and much too big to wrap your arms around.  Ten humans holding hands might be able to encircle and embrace him.  Mr. Friar, a sea stack, stands sentinel in a cove which bears his name – Friar Cove.  Sometime, well into the future, he will have company for several adjacent headlands are giving birth to sea caves. If Mr. Friar is able to stand long enough his family will expand by three.

The sea is a formidable force whose gentle lapping of the shoreline on calm days belies its tenacity and ferociousness.  Friar Cove faces southwest, leaving it open to the immense strength of water and wind which frequently crash recklessly in through Fortune Bay.  The cove wasn’t always there.  That portion of the headland which culminates in Eastern Point was once a relatively straight shore characterized by cliffs which dropped precipitously into the ocean.  Over time the ocean exerted its patient and persistent power to erode, shape and modify.  Though a single wave seems relatively ineffectual in moving mountains, several million in succession will bring about change.  When the sea water moves so too does sand, pebbles and, depending on the strength of the waves, boulders.  Over and over they assail the shoreline, grinding away tiny bits that fall into the water to join force with those already lashing the cliffs.   As openings are carved into the rock face, overhangs are created which eventually crumble and fall.  With each successful foray into the landform a space gradually opens, creating a cove.  Instead of moving out with the tide, small rocks remain at the base of the cliffs, rolling and abrading under the waves to create a beach.

Some rocks are harder than others and can withstand the onslaught. Softer ones fall victim to the abrasive forces much more readily.  Over long periods of time the sea conquers them as it widens and deepens its intrusion.  Left are the more resistant formations capable of standing firm as the repetitive waves break and wash around them.  This is what happened in Friar Cove.  This is what gave birth to Mr. Friar.

At the northern end of the cove a sea cave capable of sheltering a small row-boat at low tide has emerged.  When the tide rises the cave fills with water whose mission is to make it bigger, deeper and eventually carve an opening through to the other side of the small headland.  Once it achieves that goal its task becomes focused on enlarging the opening until the cave gets transformed into a land bridge which will eventually collapse leaving a portion of it standing as a sea stack.  But, that’s for someone to witness many generations from now.  At low tide there is enough room to walk upright inside the cave where the earth, out of reach of the sun, feels cool and damp.  Its smooth polished interior is devoid of seaweed or debris.  There is nothing but a surrounding room of dark wet stone at sea level, an opening beneath a cliff that reaches sixty feet towards the sky.  The odour of the ocean, mystery and darkness live in there, clinging to the slippery walls, hanging onto a few visible cracks, beckoning visitors.

Two other smaller formations are emerging a little farther along.  These too will grow large enough for some curious human to venture into and be reminded of the power that lurks beneath the welcoming sea which gently rocks a boat in its arms. 

You might wonder how Mr. Friar got his name. So do I.  Sea stacks on this part of the south coast of Newfoundland are all given the same name – friar.  This name is not prevalent throughout the island.  Could it be that the imposing structure resembles a robed friar in stature?  In some ways it does, however, Mr. Friar stands head and shoulders above all other friars along the coast, a tall statuesque form resembling a sentry more than a friar. He is not visible from the community, tucked away as he is inside the cove.  Nor is the cove accessible from the shoreline due to a series of steep cliffs which drop into the sea.  The only way to pay him a visit is to travel by boat. As you approach and the shoreline looms higher Mr. Friar grows in stature.   By the time you’ve disembarked and stood at his base you feel just how small the space is that you occupy on this planet.  You are also reminded by the Osprey family that has nested atop him for generations that here is a place where the course of daily events are not directed by humans.  You are welcome to visit but not to stay.  Stay long enough though to listen and imagine the tiny chips and grains of rock gradually giving way to the sea.


  1. May be next visit I will take a boat ride and say hello to Friar Rock.

    • That can certainly be arranged!

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