Chapter 4. New Brunswick
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2000 All rights reserved.
(Shari) Coming to the wharf every day for his walk before breakfast, a well-dressed elderly gentleman stops to tell me about lobsters. He speaks very good English, but with a French accent and a twinkle in his eye. He says it is unlikely that the fishermen will sell lobster from their boats so early in the season. They have to catch so many lobsters to be eligible for a "grand" stamp for next year, that they want to make sure all their catch is counted and weighed by the government. We watch the boats come in and he tells me each of the eight or so bins on each boat contains 80 lbs. of lobsters. At $5 a lobster that is a handsome salary for a few hours of work. But - and it is a big but - the season only lasts for two to three months. The rest of the year, the workers take unemployment. We decide if we want lobster tonight, we had better go to the fish market. At Sugarloaf Provincial Park in New Brunswick, where we stay for tonight, I inquire where to find the lobster. I am directed to the fish market not far from camp and buy three of the little beauties for US $4.75 per pound. Telling the clerk that I am from Texas, I ask her to educate me about the eating of lobsters. Pointing behind her to the bin filled with nicely pink lobsters, she tells me to buy it already steamed. She says nothing I have ever had in a restaurant will taste as good. One customer listening to our exchange offers to be my test taster. Laughingly, I tell him I'll take my chances. She shows me how to open the lobster and tells me I can eat everything but the shell and what comes off with the head. Even that green goopy stuff is edible and delicious she says. I have my doubts on that. Back we go to R-TENT, salivating for our lobster. Reheating each one for two minutes in a pot only big enough for one, we finally sit down for our feast. I have boiled some potatoes, Bert has made a salad and we are all set. Using the pliers-like tool I bought with the lobsters, I grasp a claw, squeeze tightly and crack it open. The shell separates and a big hunk of juicy tender meat comes out. It is so good that it does not need the drawn butter I prepared. Not since I was in Maine 20 years ago, have I had such tasty lobster. The ones I have had in Texas are tough, dry and tasteless compared to this. I mean, it is good, good, good!
(Bert) Rounding the last bend in our seaside tour of the Gaspésie peninsula, we cross the bridge to Campbellton, New Brunswick. The low fuel light has been illuminated for the past half hour, but I have put off refueling on the hope that prices would drop once we are out of Quebec and into a more populated area. Waiting for the stoplight, Shari reads the sign on the railroad overpass ahead: 3.7 m. We try to make a quick conversion to feet and at the last minute decide R-TENT won't fit, so I make a right-hand turn onto a truck route. We miss a sign or the route is poorly marked, for soon I am wandering through a parking lot and zigzagging through city streets with Don following in D'BUS. We stumble on the main highway out of town, but aren't sure whether Sugarloaf Provincial Park is right or left. We choose left, only to find the next exit is 10 km off and my fuel light is still blinking. The exit sign convinces us we have chosen the wrong direction, so we U-turn to Campbellton, determined to find a gas station before our discussion in the front of R-TENT gets any more tense. At the pump, R-TENT guzzles down 283 liters at CN $0.739/liter (74.5 gal at US $1.88/gal) and my credit card gets hit for CN $209. This is the first time I recall paying over $200 for a tank of fuel. Don pays even more (US $1.98) for gasoline than I do for diesel. (Our friends, Jim and Ermine, refueled near here exactly one year ago and recorded their gasoline price then as US $1.42/gal.) Now with full tanks, we find the New Brunswick Visitor's Center and get loaded up with tourist information and clear directions to the provincial park. Dinner is an experience worth a day's journal in itself, but suffice me to say, the fresh steamed lobster that Shari prepares is the best I've eaten since we visited Maine in 1981.
(Shari) Nothing. We did nothing today. Even we need a day of rest and that is what we took today. I made some granola and cookies this morning and did a load of wash, but other than that, and a walk before dinner, the day is uneventful.
(Bert) Without particular plans, today becomes a day of leisure. An early morning walk adds a few species to the trip list: American Black Duck, Common Goldeneye and Boreal Chickadee. Later I catch up on e-mail. Hardly a day goes by without a couple of messages from readers of this journal. No matter what we write about, the subject seems to spark a memory, a thought or a question from at least one reader. We've had comments about Map 'N' Go frustrations, restaurant details, camping facilities, writing a book, men teaching wives to use computers, school trips to Quebec, breeding birds, favorite local beers, milk containers, tobacco fields, northern trees, and many more. We love to get e-mail and are somewhat frustrated when a day goes by without finding a phone link. That has started happening and will probably get worse as we head to more remote areas. Throughout the Gaspésie peninsula cellular phone service was either non-existent or provided by a local company without a national contract with AT&T. An operator recording in French would interrupt our calls. Two days ago our cell call went through perfectly, but yesterday we drove to the New Brunswick Visitor's Center and used their land line to send and receive email. The outside thermometer reads 31 deg as I write this journal; time to quit and turn up the thermostat.
(Shari) Walking back in time to the mid 1700s, we talk with Acadians dressed in traditional costumes in a working enclave. The Acadian Historical Village in Caraquet, has houses from the period that focus on the labors of the time required to survive: farming, fishing, weaving, trapping, woodwork, printing and milling. I have been to many historical parks before, but this one surpasses the others in completeness and authenticity. Still early in the season, we get a very personalized explanation of the houses, the crafts and the lifestyle from the guides in each of the buildings. Restored to their original condition, these buildings depict a true idea of life at the time. A hard life it is, just to survive. Each family having 9-14 children all in one room with very little to do for amusement. Can you imagine, no toys or TV? My 3-year-old granddaughter would just die, I am sure. The admission price of $10 each is a bargain, especially when you realize it must cover the salary of all the workers. Here again the locals work in the summer and many take unemployment in the winter. We stop for a snack at the authentic restaurant serving Acadian food and have pea soup and homemade bread for $3. After our tour we attempt to find Caraquet Provincial Park. Not trusting Map 'N' Go, I read about the park in Trailer Life and AAA. But we do not find it in spite of asking three people. Finally someone tells us it is no longer a Provincial Park but called Camping Caraquet. Still we cannot find it and giving up, we pull into what looks to us to be a campground. Sure enough, it is the one we have been looking for and passed up four times because the sign is broken. Oh brother! We are one of four rigs in this campground on the ocean bay. With so few people, it is scenic, but when full, I think it would look like a parking lot.
(Bert) At 9 PM the red orange sun dips behind the row of spruce trees growing along the edge of Baie des Chaleurs, the long narrow bay separating Gaspésie and New Brunswick. Although the peninsula is easily in view from the New Brunswick side where we are camped, the distance by road is several hundred miles. As the sun sets, it throws a kaleidoscope of colors in parallel bands: shades of blue blending to violet offset by the dark silhouettes of barren ash trees. This is the land of the Acadians, whose history we learned today when we visited Village Historique Acadien. Arriving here from France in the 1600s, they took the name of the new land and became known as Acadians. Farmers, hunters, fishermen, craftsmen, they lived a quiet life, trying to keep apart from the turmoil of the changing politics. They brought with them from France their Catholic religion, French language and native customs, all of which were threatened when the British took control of the area. Forced to change or leave, the Acadians dispersed to France, the American colonies, and New Orleans. Some stayed, others returned. So the Acadian culture persevered. Today, we stepped into their world as we walked through a village of two dozen homes, barns and workplaces, all restored to their original conditions from the period 1770 to 1890. Although we've visited historic villages before, this one was unique in its presentation. Each building has an occupant dressed in traditional garb and working at daily tasks. The women serve the men noontime meals cooked over fireplaces and in antique stoves with Acadian recipes. A blacksmith makes nails, a carpenter builds hope chests, a young man makes shingles to resurface one of the houses. And all of them tell us about the homes, village and history of the Acadians, speaking broken English in a heavy French accent. I definitely go away from the village with a strong feeling of having walked into a time machine and being transferred to the real experience.
(Bert) In an e-mail to us, Bill writes, "As you proceed north and east it seems as if you are going back in time to a world of natural beauty and one much less burdened with the hurried cares of our highly automated and time pressured existence here at home." I thought about that today here at Kouchibouguac National Park. Our campsite is on a grassy knoll overlooking the mouth of the Kouchibouguac River as it opens up into Détroit de Northumberland, the strait that separates New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The sky is deep blue and clear. Garlands of white blossoms adorn the Pin Cherry trees growing along the forest edges. Shari and I bicycle along the river and strait, pushing hard against the cool breeze coming off the water. Men and women in hip boots and wetsuits wade in the shallow saltwater. Searching for soft-shell clams, they dig with a pitchfork or shovel into the soft sand and reach into the cold water when they've found one. While Shari continues a conversation with one couple, I bicycle further along the beach, stopping to sit on a driftwood log. With the warm sun on my back and the cool sea breeze across my face, I am again reminded of Bill's words. Tens of thousands of Common Terns nest at this national park. Through my binoculars, I can see a hundred of them on sand flats on a long barrier island across the river. Other terns fish in front of me, gracefully winging against the wind, sharply-pointed wings, forked tail, head down in search of prey. Spotting a likely target, the tern halts in mid-air, arches its back while beating its wings rapidly and hovers in one spot. Then it suddenly plunges downward, hits the water and simultaneously grabs the little fish in its bill. I watch the sequence over and over, until Shari catches up with me and we bicycle back to camp.
(Shari) Kouchibouguac National Park is another gem. Here the forest meets the sea and the water supposedly is warmer than any shore north of Virginia. I find that the Canadian Maritime National Parks offer a pass that allows unlimited access to the nine parks in the system for CN $26 per person. After six days, this pass pays for itself. We find a superb campsite, #238, with a view of the water, next to a meadow and woods that just begs for a moose sighting. The 20-mi. bike trail is right in front of us also and it too calls for exploration. After setting up camp, Bert and I pedal to one end of the trail, stopping at various interpretative areas that have signage explaining the habitat. Along the coast we see people digging for soft-shell clams. This looks like a possible activity for us tomorrow. The license is $3 and the limit is 100 clams of over 2 inches. I talk to a woman who, with her husband, comes here every low tide during the summer months. Today her husband has dug over 100 clams in a little over an hour. She tells me how to get them, how to clean them and how to prepare them. The clam opens after being doused with hot water. The clam has a "head" much like the razor clams we dug in Alaska, but the whole body is smaller. Cleaning them is a lot easier and is just a matter of pulling a small membrane off the body flesh. Digging is also a bit different and is done in shallow water with a shovel. The lady says you can see the "head" of the clam under the water. In Alaska we looked for dimples in the sand and we did not put our hands under water. This seems to be a bit messier. She then grabs some lettuce-like looking stuff from the shore, washes it in the water and offers me a bite. It tastes like salty seaweed and she says it is good to eat. Today is Jean's birthday and I promised to have her and Don over for dinner. Atlantic salmon, rice and fiddlehead fern is on the menu. No, we did not catch the salmon. In fact the meat man at the store, said that we will be unable to buy wild Atlantic salmon anywhere, because there just aren't any. Over fishing has decimated the wild salmon and now they are grown on fish farms. Fiddlehead fern is a gourmet treat that Bert and I tried a few weeks back. It tastes like a mild asparagus. I just lightly steamed it and added a little butter, salt and pepper. Really good!
(Shari) It starts as a light pitter-patter on our roof. By 6 AM, R-TENT starts to sway with the gusts. At 7 AM we have a full-fledged storm brewing and I pull the covers over my head and hope it will go away. It does not. It looks like we are in for one of those all day rain sessions. By 11 AM I am stir crazy and decide to drive into the nearest town and see what there is to see. We stop at a liquor store for some beer and wine. Then Jean sees a library sign on a building where we inquire about Internet usage. For CN $2 per hour she can use the computer and get her needed flight information for traveling to her class reunion in July. Upon finishing the web search, we ask the librarian for her recommendation for lunch. She directs us to a restaurant attached to a motel that I noticed earlier was very crowded (a sure sign of a good local place). Bert and I both have the Clam Snack: fried steamer clams with fries, coleslaw and bread. This lunch is probably cheaper than the clam-digging license I intended to purchase today and certainly a lot easier, warmer and drier. By the time we reach home, it is already 3 PM and I finish a load of wash before taking a nice cozy nap in front of the heater, dreaming of sun kissed cheeks and coatless days.
(Bert) A cold chilling rain descends from sunrise to nearly sunset. Our planned activities for the day are curtailed. In early evening with the sun still prominent in the sky, the weather clears and we walk along the river. With the thermometer still reading in the mid-40s, no one else has ventured outside and the soft-shell clam diggers are absent also. The trees along the river are forming new cones. Cute, miniature soft green cones are developing on the Tamarack and brown cones on the Speckled Alder. Chipping Sparrows are nest building. Snowshoe Hares have put on their rich chocolate brown summer coats and we catch a good view of them munching fresh green grass beside the path. Spring is pushing out from the remnants of cold winter everywhere we look.
(Bert) I'll title this journal entry "A Naturalist's Log During a Morning Visit to a Salt Marsh." Snowshoe Hares greet me near the entrance to the boardwalk through the woods. A short walk from the parking lot, the boardwalk opens to a view of the lagoon and the barrier island holding back the sea. I follow the boardwalk into the marsh and I decide to try an experiment. I will record each new observation of nature as it occurs, but I will not move from my position near a bench on the boardwalk. I begin my log.
- Black-capped Chickadees sing from atop Black Spruce trees (7:15 AM),
- Red-breasted Merganser (male) flies over the bay,
- Elephant Grass grows at the higher elevation (low salinity) near the forest edge,
- Freshwater Cordgrass grows around the boardwalk where I stand,
- Scaly Sedge is a bit further toward the seawater,
- Saltwater Cordgrass grows at the low elevation, high salinity area next to the bay,
- Alder Flycatcher calls,
- Flock of Canada Geese fly over in a distorted V-formation,
- Deer (doe) prances on grassy peninsula, then enters water up to her neck (7:20),
- Common Terns dive for fish in the lagoon,
- Savannah Sparrows sing from stiff grass perches or gnarled dead branches,
- Song Sparrows sing from short Speckled Alder trees,
- Warm sun rises into a cloudless blue sky,
- Plants are heavy with yesterday's rain,
- Red-eyed Vireo sings from unseen perch,
- Pair of Wood Ducks fly over woods with whistling wings (7:26),
- Common Loon flies over woods, another calls from a distance,
- Blue Jay scolds, White-throated Sparrow sings, American Crow caws,
- Deer is still swimming in the bay, only its head above water (7:35),
- Common Yellowthroat (male) flies to dead branch,
- Alder Flycatcher lets itself be seen atop a distant Sugar Maple not yet leafed out,
- Second deer appears a half mile from the first, this one shoulder deep in Elephant Grass (7:51),
- Red-breasted Merganser (female) floats on the open water,
- American Black Duck (female) appears at edge of marsh, but remains curiously sedentary for several minutes, then floats from shore escorting 8 tiny ducklings,
- Pair of Common Loons fly over sand dunes on barrier island (8:02),
- Sun warms the marsh, I have not strayed from my position as nature unfolds,
- Unidentified frog (perhaps Leopard Frog) croaks, but can't be seen,
- Three Tree Swallows zigzag across the salt marsh,
- Eight Double-crested Cormorants fly in a straight line across the lagoon,
- Gray Jay perches silently from a perch midway up a tall Black Spruce (8:24),
- Black-capped Chickadee appears, showing off its frosty wings,
- Belted Kingfisher calls from somewhere up a tributary of the river,
- Palm Warbler stops briefly atop spruce, then wings away,
- Sun's warmth brings out first of tiny black flies (8:30),
- Waves give a muffled roar as they break a mile away, beyond the barrier island,
- Red-breasted Nuthatch calls from far off in the forest,
- Golden-crowned Kinglet sings at the threshold of my hearing (8:34),
- American Robin sings distantly, then another appears nearby,
- First unnatural sound - car tires on blacktop - is heard,
- Yellow Warbler sings (8:45),
- I decide to quit note taking if 5 min. expire without a new discovery,
- Seven American Wigeons fly along the lagoon,
- Osprey glides along perimeter of marsh (8:50),
- Ring-billed Gull flies high above the lagoon,
- American Black Duck (male) wings directly overhead (9:00).
(Shari) Getting my wish for sun-kissed cheeks and a warm breeze, we spend the day exploring more of the various habitats of Kouchibouguac National Park. Biking in the opposite direction of yesterday, we pass through the forest, hugging the river edge, and enter the area of the Bog: a 1 mi. by ½ mi. stretch of sphagnum moss. We explore the boardwalk through the area and climb the 18-ft. tower looking out over the flat vegetation. Thousands of years ago, this was a shallow lake. The water is still there, as deep as the tower, but it is covered with a thick, tightly packed layer of sphagnum moss that allows little else to grow. The path under our feet is squishy as we walk down it. Plant life has a struggle for food in this environment and 100-year-old Black Spruce are only knee high. An anaerobic environment, plants have a difficult time of it and must struggle to get nutrients from the top through rain and snow. Continuing our bike ride, we travel to the sand dunes along the barrier island that lies off shore. Here too, plants have a difficult life and the fragile grasses holding onto the dunes are protected from human devastation by a boardwalk. Bert wants to continue walking the shore to find the endangered Piping Plovers that nest here, but I am ready to head home. As I pedal back through the woods I notice cheery, lilac, crab apple and an unknown purple bush all in bloom. They seem to love the sun as well.
(Bert) Once dry land connected New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, enabling Indians to inhabit both areas, but 5000 years ago the rising sea level covered the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Wind and water formed sand dunes between the beach and two narrow lagoons. Two thousand years ago, the lagoons connected to form a narrow channel and the dunes became a barrier peninsula jutting several miles into the sea. Today we visit the Dunes of Bouchtouche, the name by which this peninsula has become known. Elevated above the fragile dunes, a serpentine boardwalk, 10 feet wide and over a mile long, stretches from the mainland to half way along the peninsula. Perhaps better than other dunes that I have visited, the Dunes of Bouchtouche are well preserved and our elevated perspective gives us a clearer picture of this unique habitat. The folding hills of sand are blanketed with Marram Grass whose root system holds the shifting sands intact. Tire tracks, laid before the ban on vehicles 5 years ago, are still evident in the dunes. Little else grows here: cordgrass in swallow, high salinity areas, and a short woody shrub in a few higher areas. Except for a few Song Sparrows, we see no wildlife on the dunes. Perhaps what little is there, keeps hidden from the strong winds and the bright sun. Piping Plovers use the sandy beach for nesting, but this year's first attempts were destroyed in a storm. An exhibit near the entrance to the dunes tells me only 5500 adult Piping Plovers are left in the whole North American continent, and of these, 150 individuals are in New Brunswick. I guess my find of two of these yesterday at Kouchibouguac was a rare sighting.
(Shari) I am almost embarrassed to tell you this. We ate lobster again tonight. And just as good, we did not have to pay for it. Don and Jean wanted to take us out to eat to thank us. I do not know what for, but heh, when you can get free lobster one does not argue. Anyway, we just had to eat lobster in Shediac, the Lobster Capital of the World. Today, we move 55 miles down the road to Parlee Beach Provincial Park in Shediac, New Brunswick. By the way, for those of you tracking camping spots you can erase this one from your list. It has beach in its name, but the beach is a good distance away in another section. Also a size limit of 35 feet is supposedly enforced in the summer. Worse of all the price is CN $24 for 15-amp power, no water or sewer. Mosquitoes come free on the flat back-in, side-by-side spaces. Anyway, dinner tonight is at Captain Dan's on the wharf in Shediac, THE place to be at sunset on a Friday night. At Captain Dan's, we buy lobster by the pound, coleslaw in plastic containers, and take it to one of the many assorted colored picnic tables under a covered and protected porch. Later a waitress comes by and asks us for our drink order and inquires if we want anything else off the regular menu. We order rolls, butter and beer. When the clerk put on my tray a lobster direct from the refrigerated case, I ask if I could have it heated. I am met with a blank stare that implies, "Heated? Why would you want it heated?" Later at the table, Don says, "When in Shediac, do as the locals do." So cold lobster dipped in warm melted butter it is. Eating a lobster takes time and is quite messy. Nevertheless, too soon, our trays are covered with empty shells and paper towels that come off a roll at each table. Although my lobster is quite tender, juicy and delicious I'd still rather have it warm. I'll have to try it some more I guess. Darn!
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