Regardless of the season, the colour of the sky, whether calm or forceful gale, there is bound to be someone who can be found running, rambling or being propelled by the wind on the boardwalk. Built in part in the early 1980s and then continued in the the early 1990s, the boardwalk sits atop a seawall. It has become an iconic element of the Town of Placentia.
Enhanced by three gazebos, one is located near Oceanview Efficiency Units. Another is on the other side by the road turning to Southeast and the other is near the Jerseyside beach. Painted a vivid blue, perhaps a reflection of a blue sky, real or simply imagined, the boardwalk is an unmistakable asset for the Placentia area.
Apparently it was a George Trevelyan who, in 1913, uttered these words — “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Too true. Without question walking is immensely good for your health, both physical and mental.
Walking has been hailed for its contributions to our physical health. Health Canada touts physical activity as a sure path to healthy living. For seniors, in particular, Health Canada lauds the benefits of a “weight-bearing physical activity” as helping to reduce the rate of bone loss linked with osteoporosis, maintenance of strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and it can can help reduce the risk of falls, as well. However, regardless of age, from children to seniors, a place such as the boardwalk provides access to an activity that can enhance physical health.
Gazebo on the one side of the boardwalk (Source: Lee Everts).
But anyone who’s taken a walk along the boardwalk will know that this simple pleasure and activity is beneficial to body and mind. As the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s “Mental Health Promotion” notes, the one is connected to the other. For instance, one of the key benefits of mental health promotion is an improvement to physical health.
So, the two are tightly interwoven. Given this connection, the Public Health Agency of Canada notes how regular physical activity “can improve your overall sense of well-being by improving fitness levels and self-esteem, reducing the effects of stress, increasing energy and contributing to positive mental health.”
For instance, taking a walk along the boardwalk provides both a time and a place where the rigours or simply the regular routines of the day, can fade into the background. Perhaps it’s been a frustrating or worrisome day. To be sure, we may have to again gather up those thoughts and worries when we return from a walk along the boardwalk. Still, every now and then, they’ve lost some of their vigour and potency once we do. Taking a walk will sometimes allow some time for us to mentally sift through the nooks and crannies of the concern. So, we return to our day with a different and perhaps improved perspective.
And as well, when taking a walk along the boardwalk, we may meet someone we know. Speak with many who have strolled along the boardwalk in Placentia and they will quickly remark how they invariably meet people whom they know. So, whether it’s merely a smile we exchange, a brief “how’re you doing” and comment about the weather or perhaps a longer chat, the boardwalk brings us together.
Either way, a walk, run or trundle on the boardwalk is a shared pursuit, one allowing us to enjoy and experience the inherent ties that, however quietly and imperceptibly, connect us. Without question, it’s a lovely place to be!
I’m in such awe of them. I look at their rough and straggly bark, some leaning over, old webs strung raggedly amidst the branches and maybe some Old Man’s Beard, a type of lichen, clinging to them. I think of how steadfast and noble are our boreal trees and how much they must know.
I lean against one tree, the other one that used to stand alongside it, now fallen, acquiescing to the gentle songs of decomposition and decay. I can’t help but think of the heritage of these trees. The depth of human heritage can stretch back to around 11.6-5.3 million years ago, and that’s respectable enough.
Homo sapiens are the most recent evolutionary spin-off of that line—that’s us. We can only lay claim to 315,000 years since we broke off and went our own way. Despite it being a long time, in stark contrast, trees can call on a much deeper past—around 400 million years, in fact. To compare the two is impossible.
So, for me, trees must be far superior to humans. What had changed in their biology or ecology when they were at 12 million years, let alone 315,000 years, and then simply discarded? We’re mere infants by comparison.
The boreal forest regally crowns the planet, stretching across 8 more northerly countries—Canada, China, Finland, Japan, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. It covers approximately one-third of the world’s land surface—more than 15.3 million square miles. For us in Canada, the boreal forest lays claim to around 60% of the country.
Patience is a Virtue
Several trees make their home in Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular, the province where I live. The balsam fir is one of the primary trees in the boreal forest that covers the entire province. The fir is often joined by the black spruce, larch or tamarack as it’s sometimes known, pine, as well as deciduous trees including the trembling aspen, balsam poplar and various types of birch. The first three are common on the trails where I walk.
Throughout the year, the trees must periodically withstand seemingly gale force winds, often over 100 km/h. The day after such a storm, I’ll walk along the trail and invariably there will be trees bent over or
lying strewn over the trail.
Photograph of blown down balsam firs (Source: Lee Everts).
The circle of roots at their base has simply lifted as the tree toppled over. The balsam fir and the black spruce tend to have shallow root systems, thus allowing them to be readily thrown over by the wind.
I love walking through certain parts of the woods to see the rich variety of growth. Often, there’s moss and a variety of plants on the floor of the woods, the moss ringing the base of the trees. The moss has also often enshrouded the rocks and boulders, sometimes trees taking root on their surface. There are other sections where it is virtually carpeted with young balsam fir.
Photograph of balsam fir seedlings on the floor of the forest (Source: Lee Everts).
Photograph of moss covering boulders (Source: Lee Everts).
They are unbothered by the lack of sunlight, as balsam fir are known to be shade tolerant. But as a result, the balsam fir can readily respond to the challenges posed by the wind. As soon as the wind overturns one of the more mature firs, several of those smaller firs will quickly begin to savour the greater amounts of sun now reaching them and begin to grow.
So, there’s almost a type of patience inherent in such a behaviour. Some may say, but they’re just trees. What would they know about patience? But it’s more accurately a way of being that exemplifies patience. It’s demonstrative of the great stretch of time trees have had to realise or learn it is best to wait. It’ll work. For the younger trees, their time will eventually come. That’s how evolution works after all.
Display of Determination
While the balsam fir has a method for addressing adversity, the black spruce does its own thing. For the black spruce, its winged seeds that had fluttered to the ground from its parent’s cone simply waited for more ideal conditions, in this case, light, in which to grow. To my eyes, it was a reflection of sheer determination. It’s a quality shared with trees in general.
Under normal conditions, the Black spruce gets the job done. It possesses female cones and male cones, making it monecious. The female cones with the eggs cells, where the seeds develop, tend to grow on the upper 1 to 2 metres of the tree. Meanwhile, the male cones containing the pollen are lower down. In late May or early June, the male cone swells and opens, the pollen then being caught by the wind. If all goes well, that pollen will reach the female cones which are simultaneously opening. And its planned to ensure genetic viability is maintained, as the one trees pollen reaches another spruce’s female cones.
Photograph of a red squirrel happily eating a cone (Source: Lee Everts).
For the larch, it’s much the same, except the male and female cones appear on the same branches. They are active in different years. Although the male flowers are borne on 1- or 2- branchlets, the female ones are borne on 2- to 4-year on ones. So, it maintains its genetic viability.
Fires Offering a New Beginning
As I rambled along the trail, contemplating the trees reproducing, I was put in mind of the keen resilience, in particular, of the Black spruce. You see, the Black Spruce has something else up its sleeve. There are times when the woods are susceptible to fire. That’s just a natural part of life. However, the Black spruce is prepared for such an occasion. The waxy exterior on their cones are actually readily melted by fire. Jump starting the new generation of trees, the seedlings are then released onto a seedbed fire-cleared of any existing vegetation. This would’ve normally impeded the new growth. Fire is always regarded as utter destruction and devastation, but after 300 million years of evolution, for a Black spruce, it’s a new beginning.
Pausing along the trail, I take a seat on a fallen fir. Looking all around me, I’m in a section of the woods where the balsam fir is more dominant, just every now and then I see a spruce. Yet when I ponder the woods, I feel all the trees exhibit a strength. They know what to do when they meet various forms of adversity—wind, fire or otherwise. Every year, the cones on the trees grow, time passes and then the little buds appear. It’s magical. They always seem to stand impervious to the elements, whether rain or snow.
They’ve had hundreds of millions of years to work things out. Something that didn’t work, perhaps a bad choice, was soon whittled away over the centuries, leaving trees who simply and peacefully, know how to be. We need only listen and indeed learn.
“Pale Blue Dot.” The earth can be seen in the middle of the ray of light on the furthest right. Given the size of the image, the earth appears as only a mere pin-prick.
As of the 21th January, 2022, it was 23.307 billion kilometres from earth. That means the Voyager I space probe is now the most distant artificial object from home and indeed the first to have left our solar system. Though these may seem practical words merely stating a fact, they convey an awe-inspiring gravity.
Launched on the 5th September, 1977, Voyager I spent decades within our solar system collecting data—discovering a thin ring around Jupiter and two new Jovan moons were but two of its discoveries. Carl Sagan, a scientist of astronomy and astrophysics was a member of the NASA team responsible for Voyager I. He had a particular idea.
The idea was that before Voyager I crossed the boundary into interstellar space1, NASA would transmit a critial command sequence to its computers. The instruction would be for the Voyager I’s camera to turn back towards earth and take one final snapshot of us before it left. The resulting picture was taken and it became known as the “pale blue dot,” a phrase coined by Sagan. It was simple enough. However, while the subsequent image of our planet only appeared to be a few millimetres in length, its meaning was orders of magnitude greater.
With a feeling of supreme humility, one gazes at this photograph. Life continues on that pale blue dot and has for millions of years. For humans, late arrivals to the biosphere, there are constant conflicts and difficulties with which we contend. They involve an innumerable number of people on our planet. Social and political struggles afflict us in every way. Many times, it is the ravening hunger for power and money that lies at its heart. Too many lives are lost in its pursuit.
Likewise, countless joys have been played out on that pale blue dot. People giving and sharing kindness and exhibiting compassion and dignity to others in myriad ways, sometimes breathtaking in their sheer wholeheartedness. This has made every difference, ensuring that no matter how distraught and downtrodden our lives may become, there are always means by which we can overcome.
So, when we cast an eye to the pale blue dot, even the most steadfast and striving dictator must pause. For it is with an eye to this image that we are reminded how we are truly one. This is the case, despite the innumerable differences and disparities of colour, religion, economic status, sex, way of life that unhinge our lives. However, those differences do not matter.
Ultimately, we are life. The trees, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, single-celled species. All of us. Of course we are different. And periodically, we may be wooed by a feeling of power granted by our position economically, militarily, or politically. Still, before we act, it is vital we remember that this creature, two or four-legged we intend to impose our rule over shares this lonely planet amidst billions of light years all around—and has done so for a very long time.
We may be alone in this immense universe. But we are together, bound innately—genetically in fact. Scientists have learned that 99.9 percent of the genetic information in a human’s DNA is common to all of us. Whatever is not included accounts for the remaining 0.01 percent differences in things like hair, eye and skin colour, height and susceptibility to particular diseases. It’s barely anything. Still, one, we are.
In fact, we apparently share 98.7% of our genetic sequencing with chimpanzees. But more surprisingly, we actually share 90% with the Abyssinian house cat and on average, 85% with mice. That’s fairly close. More notably, we share more than 50% of our genetic information with plants—60% with a banana. We’re more than half plant.
When we look upon that tiny blue dot, it seems so unimportant, a minuscule bit of nothingness. Over the thousands of years we have been here, each and every one of us has sought to live a life of meaning, full and replete with both exuberant joys and unfortunate woes of every kind.
We can let Carl Sagan have the final word.
— Carl Sagan
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”
Sagan, Carl (1997). Pale Blue Dot. United States: Random House USA Inc. p. 6-7. ISBN 9780345376596
For centuries, we’ve been left spellbound, listening to stories of ships disappearing without a trace. With bated breath, we hear of boats that have been sighted, eerily surrounded by glowing lights, on fire, or sailed by men rowing and screaming. It sends a chill down our spines. We have entered into a troubled world, one where stories such as the Flying Dutchman ensure that everything we thought we knew is quietly turned on its head. We are riveted.
Placentia Bay is not unaccustomed to the strange and mysterious. It is home to many stories of what are known as “phantom ships.” Stories emerging from centuries past speak of unworldly sightings. One told of a ship with black sails that was seen on a calm night. The crew on another ship apparently remarked on the white foam flying from her bow. Another near Harbour Buffett, spoke of how two men on night watch aboard a schooner saw a dory rowed by two men in oilskins. The dory travelled beside the schooner all night, before it “withered away into thin air.”
These accounts come from a time when many customarily travelled by boat. So, many of the stories tied to the phantom ships were actually used practically. Often, they foretold of the weather. There was a phantom ship that would appear near Davis Cove (near Castle Gut), in western Placentia Bay. It is said the appearance of the phantom steam-powered pirate ship would warn of an oncoming storm. In Brule, the sight of a phantom ship and its lights accompanied by the sound of men working and an engine also foreboded of bad weather.
So, here we had stories of mysterious ships that were a part of the thoughts and ideas people exchanged. They complemented well with the workaday life of the people, speaking of valuable information they could use while on the sea.
Given that more people were on the sea, there would’ve likely been numerous sightings. One can imagine everyone discussing the weird things they had seen or heard while busily unloading their catches. Then, as now, people would’ve been fascinated by stories that left them with a question of what happened. “It disappeared?” they would’ve said, aghast at the thought and no doubt, now intrigued.
No one likes unanswered questions or unknowns. The only option would’ve been to imagine what likely could’ve occurred. We do that all the time as we try to fit the pieces together in what appears to be the most sensible way. Every new sighting would’ve added a dash of spice to the story. By our nature, we instinctively seek an explanation, answers to somehow fill in the empty spaces to the story.
For some, these stories allowed people to exercise their deductive reasoning, to derive a conclusion from something that is known or assumed. What made sense, they would ask. We are all eager to understand the inexplicable. Near Lear’s Cove on the eastern shore of Placentia Bay came the story of the Ada Maud Best (more likely the Ada and Maud). It apparently left with three men, but returned empty, drifting alone. As a result, many believed it to be haunted. It was owned by the Best family of whom Clarence, Kenneth, and George Best, sons of Joshua Best, the owner, were among those lost.
There is little doubt that most would’ve likely deduced that a horrible accident had indeed claimed the lives of the fishermen. Perhaps an unexpected storm. Members of the community likely exchanged possible stories of what had likely occurred. However, time and story are commonly required to soften the details of a rather unpleasant affair. So, casting it with a light of intrigue and mystery may have somehow helped to diminish the very harsh realities of the sea.
Ultimately, we are often left with the unknown, a situation that is as alarming as it is alluring. We may shrug our shoulders, accepting how there are countless things we will neither ever understand, nor comprehend. In our blissful ignorance, with starlit eyes, we are left to merely wonder.