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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Road trip — rivers and plains

La Manche River, Newfoundland and Labrador. RUSSELL WANGERSKY/SALTWIRE NETWORK
La Manche River, Newfoundland and Labrador. RUSSELL WANGERSKY/SALTWIRE NETWORK

Plains first, though.

Off the highway and onto the two-lane, a battered thread of blacktop towards the Avalon’s east coast, the road patched so often that there are more squares and rectangles of indeterminate pavement pedigree than there is original asphalt.

The shoulders of the road are thin, the views on both sides, immense.

It’s the Avalon barrens here, the only trees higher than your shoulders hedged down by the wind and caught hiding low in dips in the terrain.

Ponds and barrens-bushes laid out like a lumpy quilt, stretching on both sides to the horizon, the sun bright and hot, the ground dry, the smell of brush and peat bog rising full.

I park on a small dirt and gravel widening where I can see a large pond with a sudden, cliff-edged rise of rock on one side, the kind of place that often has deeper water and assembled trout. About a kilometre from the road, but distance is deceptive here: there’s nothing for your eyes to grab onto and set a clear measure, just the soft undulations of the land topped with the same fuzz of windswept plants.

And then I’m stumping down a bog-bike trail through the almost-crisp bog plants, only the carnivorous sundews still looking wet enough to live, their starburst leaves bedazzled with enticing sticky droplets. The pitcher plants are stiff and brittle-looking, as though the rain can’t come soon enough to help. Onto a side path, and there’s suddenly a small formation of birds in front of me, peeping and cheeping and for some reason always fleeing in exactly the same direction as I am going. My advance party doesn’t fly away until the rock face looms directly in front of me.

I spool out some line, rise and hook one fair-sized fish and then sit on the edge of the rocks, boots and socks off, leaning back against the rock, feet in the warm brown water. I can hear the high, bright call of an osprey, but I can’t see it against the sky. There’s a light breeze over the water, and I think about swimming. Out in front of me, cars and trucks occasionally tool down the road, the raised gravel and pavement making the road the line between earth and sky, so that the vehicles are driving precisely on a sort of horizon.


Ponds and barrens-bushes laid out like a lumpy quilt, stretching on both sides to the horizon, the sun bright and hot, the ground dry, the smell of brush and peat bog rising full.


When I wake up, the plains are not enough and now, I want a river.

So into the car, down the coast, and onto a shallow, wide river of brown water and small stones so worked over by the current for so long that they all boast the same waxy and rounded appearance. Not many fish, and where they are, they’re holding in the deep holes, under the cut banks where the river’s curved and cut away the ground under the trees, where fast-moving water taken the corner has pushed drifts of stone downstream to form berms and dams. The stouts are out, rainbow-eyed biting flies, but so are the dragonflies, swooping in to pick off flies around your head before the biters can land.

On the curves, the riffles of flowing water make a sound that seems to eat other sounds, so that there is just the gentle washing murmur of water tumbling over itself. The sun is hot, the river gravel even hotter on my back. The day unspools.

I’ve been fishing, but I’ve barely fished.

I’ve caught next to nothing, barely tried to catch anything, in fact.

Sometimes a fishing rod is just a reason.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.


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