Walking With Grumpus

After spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon sorting through the countless emails that greeted me when I woke up on Wednesday morning, Oliver and I decided to take some time to walk the famous Rigolet boardwalk. Despite the mountain of work I had to deal with, I reasoned that sometimes it’s good to step away from the computer for some fresh air, and some fresh scenery.

As I stepped outside I was greeted by a surprisingly warmer than expected breeze. Given that I had been sitting inside staring at a computer for the better part of 8 hours, I squinted and tried to adjust to the sun-shiny day as if I had just woken up. I took in a deep breath to clear my mind of the meeting requests, deadlines, grant applications, and seemingly endless respond to this person today emails that had managed to occupy every last free space in my mind. It was a stunningly beautiful day, I was in Rigolet, and there was no need to use up any more of my precious energy on emails than I already had.

We began our walk through town on our way to the Northern Lights Academy, launching point of the roughly 8 kilometre boardwalk that meanders along the ins and outs of the northern shoreline. Northern Lights Academy is the local combined elementary and high school where, on previous visits, Oliver and I had spent some time teaching the kids how to write code. It’s westward facing classrooms overlook the bay that acts as a lifeline for the town. During the school year, teachers and students are often treated to the breaching of minke whales – known as Grumpus here – or the splashing of seals. Today the school stood quiet, almost resting, devoid of the cheery eyes, giggles, excuses for homework not completed, and awkward teenage years that normally grace its halls. The absence of activity, while striking, reminded me that summer would soon be over and that the halls both here and at home would once again become a hive of activity.

Ignoring the torrent of thoughts related to outstanding course planning and still-to-do prep-work that Northern Lights unleashed in me, Oliver and I carried on. And almost as if by magic, the thoughts and worries and plans and due dates and other work-related bric-a-brac vanished from my mind the instant I connected with the boardwalk, replaced with a cool stillness and in-the-moment-ness that only nature can provide. Soft waves of water calmly lapped at the rocks, while the gentle rustle of branches and needles gave away the swaying-in-time of the stately blue spruce that bordered the shore. The air was perfect, and we were greeted by the warm rays of the sun as it poked through a whispy set of clouds.

As we walked we chatted and joked about everything and nothing; from personal lives to summer adventures, to future plans, and more-immediate concerns. We hypothesized about a rather oddly shaped tree, we sat on the rocks and stared at the water, we snapped photos, and we joked about how much tastier Oliver’s blood must be given the swarm of mosquitoes and flies that he had to constantly swat away while I stood nearby almost completely unaffected. Mostly, however, we soaked in the world around us.

Not long after we started our walk we were interrupted by a sound that took a moment for me to both register and place. I can’t recall what we were talking about when the sound first hit my ear, but the conversation ended abruptly and as soon as my brain pulled the memories from some dusty corner of my mind that would identify what I had heard. Breaching!

I stopped and looked in the direction of where I thought the sound originated. And sure enough, slightly to our right was a breaching grey-black Grumpus. We watched in awe as it gracefully and effortlessly moved through the water; showing us first its dorsal fin and then its tail. Soon after it was lost beneath the surface, a fleeting but incredible moment that we were lucky enough to experience. We stared at the void in the water that it had created; a strangely smooth vortex juxtaposed against the undulating water that surrounded it. We stared at the void willing the whale to return, eyes darting to the nearby waters for any sign that it might. And then there it was, playfully exposing its white underside to the sun. And then again it was gone. The impossibility of the next sighting – its too soon and too far away resurfacing – suggested that there had to be at least two Grumpus playing in the water before us. We followed along as they continued to surface, moving further north in the bay away from the town, sometimes showing us their grey-black backs, other times their white undersides. And every now and then they seemed to playfully wave at us with their tails.

We continued north on the boardwalk guided by the surfacing and resurfacing of the Grumpus, until suddenly they appeared behind us seemingly headed back south towards the town. Out of nowhere we were joined by a seal that poked its head above the surface of the water. And there we were, a small but happy band of creatures parading our way towards Rigolet. As we walked back I thought about my time in Malawi, and how not more than a month before I was watching elephants tromp through brush, while nearby hippos lazily eyed the river for crocodiles and nearby boats. And here I was in Nunatsiavut, half a world away, witnessing creatures that were equally majestic, equally impressive, living and thriving in an environment that was so vastly different. Yet despite the difference in their environments, these creatures awed me in the exact same way, evoked the same wide-eyed emotions.

As we made our way back to our home-away-from-home, I couldn’t help but feel extremely fortunate.

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