WALKING THE OCEAN FLOOR (Hopewell Cape)

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Tessi and I slopped through the ruddy-brown muck in an attempt to reach the water, where she could have a drink. Once there, she hesitated at ingesting the murky liquid. A minute or so passed before I comprehended her resistance wasn’t due to its dirtiness, but to its saltiness.

We came across this issue while exploring the Hopewell Rocks on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. Having lived all my life in the Great Lakes region of our country, I’ve only visited the seacoast a few times, this being the first with a dog. I never considered the water’s undrinkable aspect.

At the Hopewell Rocks, a ramble among the towering flowerpot formations on the ocean floor at low tide will reveal what the sea has left behind. When the tide is in, the water can rise over 14 m (40 ft). The area boasts one of the highest tidal systems in the world.

Busy Destination

The entranceway gate area during this sunny summer morning pulsed with people. Quite a few dogs - all leashed as per the rules - accompanied them. The rules are posted on the board at the gate and are the ones generally expressed at tourists’ destinations. The website also lists pet policies.

Once we paid and entered, I left Tessi with Helen and Missy to take a look in the gift shop in the Interpretive Centre, where dogs aren’t allowed. Not seeing anything in particular amongst the myriad of mementos, I rejoined my travelling companions and we headed on.

A ten minute walk through the woods would lead us to a staircase and our transit to an unfamiliar world - the ocean floor. The woods, though steady with people, filled me with serenity. The cool air exuded crisp freshness. Having spent too much time in the car, Tessi yanked me along, anxious to explore the unfamiliar landscape. Garbage pails, which are much appreciated for poop-filled bags, were placed along the way.

When we arrived at the stairs, we found them stuffed with people. The descent was awkward with Tessi. Her distress led her to push through the throng. I found it difficult to be considerate. Thankfully, her presence was generally ignored. At least she had an easy time with most of the steps, which were solid, except for the bottom two flights. They were comprised of the grating she hates.

Once we reached the bottom, everyone spread out and the world opened up providing us with breathing room. The twisted and distorted ruddy-brown flowerpot-like formations around us boasted many shapes and contours, but most of them balance on wide bases, tapering in through the middle then widening out again. Cracks and striations give them unusual patterns. Rockweed adorns parts of their surfaces and trees sprout out of their tops. In some spots, the formations stand alone. Groups of them gather in sections and along the cliff. Looking closely at the material they are made of, it appeared concentrated dirt had cemented stones and pebbles of all shapes and forms together.

A World of Ruddy-Brown Mud

As we headed to the shoreline, the thick mud sucked and squished at our feet in an attempt to imprison them. I had noticed the warning for footwear on the sign outside the gate and am glad I heeded it by wearing my heavy sandals.

During one of our brief stops for picture taking, a young couple attempted to pass us as they struggled through the sludge. Its claim on one of the woman’s flip flops nearly succeeded as I watched her stretch the straps above her foot in an effort to pull the base out. I’m surprised the straps didn’t break. Maybe they did; we moved on leaving her to battle it out. I wonder which won, her or the mud.

After taking many pictures of anything and everything, we finally arrived at the shoreline. While pondering Tessi’s reluctance at drinking, I watched two women step into the water to wash off the grime covering their legs. I wondered if the goo would make a successful spa treatment. Helen had met up with me by then and commented to the ladies on the subject. They offered no response. Just as I realized they likely only spoke French, they talked to each other - in French.

Not accustomed to the world beyond Ontario, my assumption of fellow travellers automatically speaking English would change on this trip. I naturally wanted to comment to others about some spectacular part of the scenery around us, just to have some of them look at me oddly when I did. Gradually, I would comment less and smile more, all the while wishing I could remember my high school French.

Once realizing there’d be no drinks for the dogs, we continued on. We took many pictures of each other, the dogs, with and of the scenery, while delighting at its uniqueness and grandeur.

The shoreline lacked the bulk of tourists. They were concentrated up in the drier areas, where we eventually headed. We passed huge mounds of rockweed, which upon a closer inspection left me with the impression of plastic beads that could be used for children’s jewelry. In sections, barnacles lay crusted on rocks. Even a brown leafy bloom of kelp weed stranded in the ripples of mud made a pretty picture. Necklaces of rockweed hung off the sides of the formations. I took more pictures in this environment than I had of any other in a long time. The variety of textures around us amazed me. It’s hard to believe it all spends a chunk of each day under water.

We continued to thread our way through the crowds of people. The panorama around us captivated each person in his or her own way. I felt challenged to stay out of the way of cameras aimed at family, scenery or both. I noticed a few people, including Helen, taking pictures of a girl showing off her grimy legs. So I joined in. I wondered where she and the other two women managed to become so dirty. Our group of four only boasted muddy feet. Cute little Missy looked like she donned ruddy-brown booties.

Before we found out, we felt we had toured far enough and turned back. The driving ahead of us to reach the campsite I had reserved would eat up the rest of the day. Again, keeping an anxious Tessi behaving on the stairs challenged me. At one point, she pushed into a guy, who displayed his annoyance in an unfriendly glance. I could only apologize. I soon lost him in the crowd anyway. Helen easily scooped Missy into her arms for the ascent.

Fresh Water Found

At the top of the stairs, the Low Tide Café offers refreshments. I briefly thought of buying a snack until I considered the lineups. As for water for the dogs, we found a crowded shoe cleaning station. The setup included a hose ready to spew freshwater, if we could get at it. Back at the Interpretive Centre, we found a deserted cleaning station and a dog dish. After I rinsed it out, I filled it up letting the girls lap up a needed drink. Luckily, we hadn’t been below for too long and it hadn’t been too hot. Tessi doesn’t drink a lot anyway; however, Missy likes her refreshment.

For the rest of our trip, Tessi would continue to be disappointed to find the water undrinkable at almost all the shorelines, though we would occasionally discover freshwater lakes and streams. Since we knew the dogs would be challenged for fresh drinking water, Helen and I carried bottled water wherever we hiked after our wander on the ocean floor.

Struggles through mud and quests for fresh water aside, the ocean floor and its towering sculptures left a unique impression on me that will be difficult to replace.

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(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2011

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