Who are you? When I first spotted them, with their brilliant white against the grey storm-beckoning sky, I thought they must be gulls. They were in the harbour in Placentia, Newfoundland and Labrador and there, the gulls tend to always be flying about, invariably on their way somewhere to do something of great pertinence. It’s a gull thing. But then, as I watched, there was no mistaking that perfectly executed plunge dive into the water. No, these were not gulls. They were northern gannets who must have flown up the coast from their nesting site at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve.
While for them, it was simply a search for food, for me it was a rich gift sent from the heavens above—from out of the blue. Literally. What a spectacular privilege to spot them this far from their home. At least that’s how it seemed for me. Although to them, it was just an average day hunting for food in the waters of Placentia Bay. And after making the trek from the Gulf of Mexico, it was child’s play.
As the gannets were wheeling around overhead, cormorants—both double crested and great cormorants live here, although I’m not sure which one they were—sat low in the water. They would arch their lithe bodies to dive down into the depths to gather food. In a few moments, they’d rise back to the surface, sometimes just a few metres from where they descended. Afterwards, they’d slowly lift from the water to flap and dry their wings, which are actually not waterproof.
Closer to the shore, animals such as otters would be floating on the water, their sinuous bodies periodically diving down to catch a crab or some other tantalising morsel that they bring to the surface to consume. These creatures join the cornucopia of other animals—whales, seals, fish and countless more—who make a permanent or temporary home in and around Placentia Bay. For much of the time, the wildlife of the bay quietly go about their own business, their unquestioning eyes merely looking on as the goings on of Placentia Bay proceed apace. They no they belong here. No need to question that force of nature.
Amidst the goings-on in the sky or near the water, a rich and varied assortment of plants also grow, uninhibited most of the time by the activities of others. And yet, they quietly harbour an explosion of life. The seaweed quietly sits anchored to the rock and like a beautiful dance, they sway to the gentle melody of the sea. Whatever the nature of that life, they and the plants forming a part of their habitat, are a characteristic element of the bay.
Whenever we journey out onto the bay, whether in reality or in our minds eye, soothed and enlivened by memories and thoughts, the myriad plants and animals we encounter are a part of the bold richness and unique identity of the bay — sentinels of nature. But what are these elements that are a part of the bay? And more importantly, how do they help to impart an aspect of uniqueness, value, and meaning to the bay—to its spirit? We shall see.