We were watching for caribou, and there was plenty of signsa lot of
droppings, some quite fresh, and tracks in the mud, each print
slightly wasp-waisted in the middle. We also found the remains of a
calf that had died over the winter, down along the streama corona of
white hair and the clean, bleached bones, along the streamalong with piles and piles
of mammal scat, much of it fox, all of it containing great quantities
of caribou fur. When we later saw a live caribou, a large bull, it was albescent, as white as the weathered bones; even its nose was pale
gray, so that the only color was the dark eyes and the black hair that
grew inside its ears.
The wind howled, and for five minutes a cold, heavy downpour soaked us
before the sun peeked back out apologetically. We hiked an hour or so
down the main river, then looped back and struck a smaller tributary,
which had cut a confused series of low gorges in the rocka creek
maybe thirty feet wide, the water so stained with tannin it was nearly
black. It was fed by a series of small pools and ponds on the higher
ground to either side; some of these were jewel-like, surrounded by
sedges and irises, set in little steep-sided dells where the wind
couldn't reach and the dark water reflected the sky like glass. In
one, a yellow-rumped warbler alit on a rocky shelf above the water,
blue-gray against the yellow lichen, flew down to splash with its
reflection, then whirled off with a single chip.
More than a thousand square kilometers of the central Avalon are
protected as a wilderness reserve, but even the margins are largely
wild, largely wild, largely empty land. The only paved road is a loop
that skirts the edge of the sea, linking the small towns like St.
Shott's and Trepassey, with a handful of dirt tracks like the one that
runs down to the old lighthouse at Cape Race, where we were paced by
swift-flying horned larks and found the remains of a freshly killed
murre on a low bluff beside the sea, its feathers gently waving in a
long plume to the leeward where a peregrine falcon had sat and plucked
it. Its skeleton was still wet and bloody, the two black wings
untouched, but the falcon was gone.
Excerpt from Return to Wild
America by Scott Weidensaul. Copyright 2001-2003 by Scott Weidensaul.
Published by North Point Press in 2005. All rights reserved. Visitors to
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