Life & the Lack Thereof

Thoughts on Newfoundland for Rucksack Magazine


A place of advents and endings, Newfoundland has sat alone off the northeast coast of Canada for millennia. The barren landscape boasts the title of the first landfall for seafaring explorers from the east; Vikings looking to conquest and raid, only to find a vast and uncharted island, shrouded in a fog of  the unknown. Its advents do not just exist as landmarks but also as new life. Each year, thousands of puffins and seabirds fly to its rocky cliffs to spawn, finding safety in the high cliffs overlooking the treacherous sea raging below. The birds wait patiently as the chicks earn their wings, before all taking flight to leave the only home the young birds have ever known. 


As the wildlife marks their territory along the cliffs and crags of the Newfoundlands’s long coasts, man has found more comfort on its eastern-most edge. St. John’s is home to the islands largest population, roughly a third of all islanders live here. Nestled in a natural harbor, the city lies safe from the mighty Atlantic’s unpredictability, sheltered against its waves and winds. For centuries the city has acted as a lighthouse to anyone making their way across the cold ocean, a home to shipping fleets and a friend to cruises liners. A constant against the unknowing of the sea. But the city’s light doesn’t just face outward, it faces inward as well. An introspective one, which brings out the brightest minds. Sitting atop Signal Hill, overlooking this northern capital, marks the place where the first transatlantic wireless message was received. A series of three “s”’s, called out over and over from England, waiting for anyone to hear it only for the lonely island of Newfoundland to receive its call and send mankind into a an age of instant communication, making the isolated island, and the world outside it, a less lonely place.


Newfoundland is of subtle beauty. One set of rolling hills lends itself into the next with no towering mountain ranges, wide raging rivers, or picturesque hamlets await you on the other-side. Unlike the other lonely lands of the North Atlantic, it boasts no glaciers, volcanoes, polar bears or walrus. Instead, its beauty is found along its rocky coast, where pine forests end abruptly at the waters edge. Where contrasting colors of the burnt orange rocks smash against the fragments of mighty icebergs. Beauty lies in a cohesion between the land and the sea. The island itself a protrusion of the ocean. The waves needing a place to crash against, the land needing a barrier to end at. 


With the advents come the endings, which the island knows all too well. Long before man arrived on the island, Newfoundland has served as the final resting place for many of Earth’s quickly dying icebergs. Drifting in, silently, after their violent severance from the glaciers on Greenland’s southwestern coast, the icebergs wade, falling apart just offshore, a funeral on display for anyone passing by to see a  long and ancient life come to a lonely end. Life’s circular trajectory is on obvious display in Newfoundland, and stranded in this very cycle is man and wildlife’s search for place and survival amidst the harsh and barren landscape. For centuries, man and animal have used the island as a place in which to fish from, to feed and maintain life. The constant squalls of Atlantic cod that reside off its shores have urged man and wild to brace the heavy waves and dive below its surface to feast on the world teaming with life below. All across the island, remnants of the sacrifice are on vivid display. Ships, both massive and small, dead in its harbors and bays. Scattered bones and skeletons, both reminders of feast and famine. The sea having claimed them all, unforgiving in its nature.


But so is life, and the lack thereof, on Canada’s easternmost shores. Patiently stranded in a cycle of life, constantly beginning and ending. A place in purgatory, a place between being and not. Beautiful in its lack of definition.