For the second day running the temperature was 101 degrees. When I stepped outside the heat nearly knocked me down and the air was so thick I could chew it. This was not Bombay or Timbuctu. It was my home town of New York City. Trapped in an air conditioned apartment I looked out the window and thought, "Got to get to Canada."
"I've never seen a moose," I said to Ruth Elliott, the woman who picked me up at the Deer Island airport in Newfoundland. Four hours later we were turning into the drive leading to Tuckamore Lodge when out of the darkness loped a huge animal directly into the glare of our headlights. It looked down at us with an expression of disdain, then turned away as if that would make us disappear. Slamming on the brakes, we skidded to a stop just inches from the southern end of a north facing moose. Not a pretty sight, but I had to hand it to Ruth. It was a heck of an introduction to the "Encounters with Wildlife" program I'd come to experience.
Barb Genge, the owner of Tuckamore Lodge, was a small woman with an oversize supply of energy and an accent unlike any I'd ever heard. When I'd spoken to her by phone I already felt as if I were in the northern wilderness. "Everywhere I went I ran into animals," she said, making me wonder about her choice of words. "Caribou, bear, foxes. Lots of moose come right up on our lawn. That's where I got the idea
for 'Encounters with Wildlife.'"
"The wind dictates where I go," said Ed Pilgrim on the first day of my week at Tuckamore Lodge. In an open skiff we were skimming over Hare Bay past low-slung rocky islands. Cutting the motor Ed glided toward a shelf of shale. "There are caribou in these islands," he said. "They swim from one to the other. On a calm day you can see
antlers floating across the water."
At a depth of 3 feet Ed dipped a pole net over the side and came up with a cluster of big blue mussels. In 5 minutes he had a pail full. On shore he quickly cleaned them, then set up a colman stove on a spongy mat of undergrowth enclosed by towering spruce trees. While the chef was busy I walked into the forest, coming out to see Ed
waving frantically. As I got closer he pointed to a magnificent animal sporting a heavy rack of antlers. "What a beautiful caribou," Ed whispered. "280 to 300 pounds." Ever so slowly the great beast picked his way delicately across the flinty shore, stopping to glance imperiously at us before he vanished into the woods.
Returning to the feast, Ed emptied the pot on the rocks. One taste told me that these unadorned mussels were better than any I'd ever eaten in a fine French restaurant.
"That's one unhappy bird," I said next morning. Above our kayaks a long legged projectile jigged and jagged, squawking to beat the band. "It's a greater yellow leg," said Con Coates of Grandois Sea Tours. "It must have a nest near here." The river curled around a shock of marsh grass and if the bird had its way we would vacate the
premises. "It's nest is probably in there," agreed Clyde, Con's young assistant. Clyde's older brother, Junior, a guide for Barb during hunting season, said, "That's where her nest is." Not to be outdone I added, "It has a nest over there." It was so good to be an expert.
Con, one of the local outfitters Barb uses for her program, had driven us and 4 sea kayaks up the southeastern branch of the Main River. Like corks in bottles we squeezed into the plastic boats and with easy strokes slid across the water. On the far shore a rough mound of dirt and sticks rose 8 to 10 feet high. To reach it we
paddled through a Sargasso Sea of bullhead water lilies, their bright yellow pods bobbing above the leaves. "Are beaver lodges completely hollow inside?" I asked. "Yes," said Junior, "with platforms at different levels so the beavers can stay dry when the water level rises."
Following Con we threaded our way up a thin side channel flanked by thick forest. The finger ended at a deep pool fed by an underground spring. "Look at those trout!" someone exclaimed. "There must be 50 of them." Under our kayaks flashed gleaming darts of silver. "So now you're going to tell everyone about this place?" said Con to the wilderness guide.
"Oh no," Junior replied. "This is our secret."
Back we went through the lily pads, paddling easily where the river was wide, picking our way where it narrowed to rocky shallows. On the bank a chocolate brown moose grazed, raising its massive head to look at the brightly colored boats. Off our bows a duck skittered over the river, pretending to be injured. "It's trying to divert our
attention," Con said. Sure enough, tiny ducklings popped up on the surface, took deep breaths and popped down again.
By the time the lodge hove into view we'd heard the staccato laugh of a loon, seen an osprey wheeling through the sky and tugged the kayaks through passages too shallow to paddle. When we pulled on shore, Barb was waiting to call me to supper. She didn't have to call twice.
"Did you see any wildlife," she asked as I stepped onto the porch. "Tons of trout," I said. "But I can't tell you where. I'm sworn to secrecy."
At the small fishing village of Conche I boarded a small fishing boat with a Canadian film crew that was documenting out-of-the-way Canadian locations of natural beauty. With them was Jon Lien, a marine biololgist whose specialty was diving underwater and hand-freeing whales caught in fishing nets.
"The largest number of humpback whales in the world feed in these waters," he said. "They collect their groceries here and then go to the Caribbean to socialize and breed. They don't look very smart but they know enough to go south for the winter."
"Look at the bubbles!" said one of the film crew pointing over the side. Seconds later an enormous shiny whale-back broke the surface and with a sound like a lion's roar released a great exhalation of breath. Hearts racing, we tore around the deck trying to find the best spot for photos while 3 mammoth mammels broached and sounded next to
the much smaller boat. Unlike us the whales were unhurried, arching their backs in slow
motion and slipping giant heart-shaped tails into the water without a ripple. For the rest of the afternoon we chased plumes of spray that spouted like misty geysers from the sea. Finally, all whaled out, we returned under high striated cliffs where bald eagles with 4 and 5 foot wing spans soared on uplifting currents of air.
The Aurora II was our vessel again when, on a gray morning we sailed a slate-gray sea to the Grey Islands. Ahead and above, a gang of gulls seemed to have found an interesting patch of ocean. Suddenly, below them, a porpoise jumped into the air and flopped back with a splash, then another and another. Just as suddenly they caught sight
of us and came streaking for the boat. For the next ten minutes bottle-nosed Atlantic white-sided dolphins rolled beside us or flashed underneath our bow. Then, when they no longer found us amusing, they disappeared as quickly as they'd come and we saw them no more.
There were herds of caribou on the Grey Islands Barb had told me, but as far as seeing them was concerned, it was a definite maybe. As we approached, the morning fog lifted, revealing a 9 mile long slab of rock sitting on the sea like a gigantic humpback. In a dinghy, Captain Paul Bromley took us into a shallow cove to his little cabin. Around it bloomed masses of yellow buttercups, wild purple iris, white Queen Anne's lace.
While the others walked by the shore, Paul and I climbed to the top of the island. Through rents in a soft mat of bright green undergrowth poked lichen-encrusted boulders. Though we hiked on neat clean paths that caribou had laid down over the years, today there were none in sight. Until, walking toward a cliff hanging over the
ocean, Paul touched my shoulder. I turned and saw a regal stag with a powerful body and noble, antlered head staring back at us. "He must have been lying in the bushes when we walked by him," Paul said. The wind was blowing our scent away as he turned, strode slowly away, then turned again. "He's curious," Paul said. "He doesn't know what we
If he did I doubt that he would have admired us as much as I did him.
LETTER FROM CAMP
On the last day of my week at Tuckamore Lodge, I imagined writing the following letter:
I went sea kayaking today in Hare Bay. Not much wildlife. Bald eagles, eider ducks, moose, same old, same old. I'd send you a picture of a moose but it ends up looking like a dark spot in the woods. I'm really getting good at kayaking. We paddled almost out to the Atlantic Ocean. Then we got off at an island that was covered with
purple flowers they call fireweed. That's cuz they're the first thing to grow after there's been a fire. You'd like them. They're pretty. Camp Tuckamore Lodge is great. There's loads of food and the beds are real comfortable. There are lots of activities. I do something different every day. Barb runs around like crazy making sure every-
one's having a good time. She's cool. I'm even getting to talk like her. You were right when you said I'd like it here. Please reserve a place for me right away for next summer. I hear they fill up fast.
P.S. Did you know they have a winter program? (hint, hint.)
TUCKAMORE LODGE is really 3 lodges. The original, built by Barb Genge in 1986, has 4 double guest rooms and next to it, the 1995 log lodge has 5 guest rooms. A third 4 bedroom lodge is located in the remote wilderness. Each main lodge has a vaulted ceiling over a living room and dining room where copious meals are served family style by wonder-fully friendly local ladies. Guest rooms are rustic and comfortable with modern bathrooms. The lodges look out at a large lake where moose are often seen. For information call 709 865-6361. Web site: www.tuckamore-lodge.nf.net.
ENCOUNTERS WITH WILDLIFE is one of several Tuckamore Programs. All run from Sunday through Sunday and include airport transfers, accomodations, meals, guides, boat tours and manual. Other packages include ecotours, kayaking adventures, the Viking Journey, Women in the Outdoors, fishing and hunting in season. Dog sledding and snowmobiling are offered in winter.
HOW TO GET THERE: Air Canada, 800 776-3000, and its regional airline, Air Nova, fly from 46 U.S. cities to Deer Lake, Newfoundland and less frequently to St. Anthony. Transfers to the lodge are provided.
WHAT TO BRING: While summer temperatures can reach the high 80's, nights are often cool as can be days on the water. Bring both shorts and long pants, t-shirts, warm shirts, windproof jacket, sweater, hiking boots, binoculars, hat with brim, sandals, sun screen, camera and plenty of film. Ex Officio, 800 644-7303, makes hiking pants with
zipper-removable legs that convert into shorts which I found perfect for cool mornings and hot afternoons. Dress is very casual and noone will notice if you wear the same outfit more than once.