The Land Below

I had a moment of panic when my plane began its descent on Monday after only 3 hours of flying time into St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador. I don’t know if it was the result of jet lag, my severe lack of sleep, my recent experience with flights lasting much, much longer than 3 hours, or some perfect combination of this unholy trinity. Whatever the case, for several very long and very intense moments, I just knew that I was on the wrong plane landing at the wrong airport.

Where am I supposed to be flying? Are we in St. John’s? Good lord, did I fly to St. John? There is another St. John along the east coast, isn’t there? I’m sure I remember learning that in school. It’s in New Brunswick, maybe? Or was it St. Johns – a city named after more than one St. John, instead of the possessive St. John’s? But wouldn’t the former be more appropriately written Sts. John? Is Sts. a short form for saints? Wait, what was I trying to figure out? Right – where the hell am I? And where should I be? I think I’ve flown to the wrong city. I know I’ve flown to the wrong city. I couldn’t have made it to St. John’s in 3 hours. Assuming St. John’s is where I’m supposed to be, is it only 3 hours away? Where the hell am I? Gah!1

Apparently, when I’m sleep-deprived and jet-lagged my brain loses all sense of reason. After a ridiculous length of time – which was likely only seconds but felt like an eternity in my mind – I decided to embrace the adventure. Wherever I was, I was surely closer to my final destination of Rigolet. When the seatbelt sign was turned off, I gathered my luggage and made my way to the terminal, learning in the process that I was, in fact, in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador.

From St. John’s I eventually found myself inside a smaller shiny lawn dart making my way through Deer Lake to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, my destination for the evening. There I met Ashlee, my friend and research partner-in-crime, with a giant hug. She had just arrived from Halifax with Jamie, who was busily dealing with luggage while the two of us caught up. We spent the rest of the eve chatting over dinner and scotch before jet-lag ultimately forced me to go to bed.

The next day I was back at the airport on my way to Rigolet. In the past, I’ve always flown direct from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Rigolet, but today I was on the roughly 4-hour milk-run. Our first stop was north to Nain, followed by Natuashish, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik, and finally Rigolet.

Despite the fact that I’d spent a significant amount of time on planes over the previous week, I couldn’t help but be captivated and moved by the landscapes that rolled by beneath me. Mountains in a former life, but reduced through countless eons of the scraping and smoothing forces of the ice and wind and rain, the hills below were no less majestic, no less monumental than the towering rocks they once were. Every crevice and crack that comes with the wear and tear of time a page in their history, a story of what once had been, a lesson for those willing to listen.

I watched silently as the plane’s engine droned on, plotting to somehow make it back here to hike these hills. And even though I was safely protected by the walls of the plane, I somehow felt like I was inhaling the world below me, inhaling its vastness, the crispness and freshness of the air, the smell of the trees and the land and the water. And I continued to marvel at the feelings that this land always seems to evoke in me; how time had worn away the jagged peaks and towering pillars that once were, yet had somehow failed to wear the land down. Its power, its majesty, its strength were all still very present, and seemingly limitless. Where once a formidable and lifeless mountain range once stood, the hills now supported innumerable insects and animals, swaths of green moss and lichen, and vast forests that blanketed the land below. Lakes and rivers and waterfalls punctuated and divided the land into fractal-like lots; beautifully intricate jigsaw puzzle pieces that, while individually beautiful, were so much more than the sum of their parts.

And as I watched the land and water unfold beneath me, I was reminded how important this space is to the people who call Nunatsiavut home. The power, the strength, the resilience that echoes from every bit of exposed rock, from every tree that somehow roots itself in what could best be described as unforgiving ground, from every animal and bird that thrives in this environment – all of this is reflected in the people, and their culture, and their day-to-day. They are part of this land, and the land so very much a part of them. To care for this land is to care for these people, to injure the land, to injure them. It’s at once both beautiful and perilous as any deep connection can be.

Four hours flew by, and before I knew it we were arching towards the Rigolet runway. Familiar buildings came into view; the craft store, town hall, the grocery store, the school. As I stepped off the plane in Rigolet, I smiled and inhaled deeply. It was so good to be back.

 

 

 

 

 


1 For the record, St. John’s is in Newfoundland & Labrador, Saint John is in New Brunswick.

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