As we steam out of Channel-Port-aux-Basques the fog closes in. As is our habit when underway in limited visibility, John and I between us work the radar and plotter to differentiate between the myriad rocks and a potential fishing boat hidden among them. The fog swirls around us, lightening up sometimes, then closing in again, and the leftover sea from an offshore gale rolls the boat. John’s daughter and son-in-law are sprawled out on the cockpit seats, conked out thanks to anti-seasickness drugs, condensation dripping on them from the rigging. (We sure know how to show the youngsters a good time!)
“The fog’ll lift for sure as soon as we turn into LaPoile Bay,” we assure them when they occasionally swim back into consciousness. But, tenacious as fog often is on this coast, it makes liars of us as we steam up the fjord. At least the swell is now from aft, allowing the youngsters to sit up and take notice without the ever-present fear of losing lunch. Finally, our destination, the little inlet that houses the outport community of LaPoile, comes up to port, and we turn the corner. Into bright sunshine. Wow! Trees, hills, brightly painted houses! It’s always a shock when the fog scales up and suddenly there is a world out there!
A substantial wharf surrounded by fish sheds protrudes into the inlet and the guys on the dock welcome us alongside the inner sheltered side, just as the daily ferry from Rose Blanche pulls up to the outer end. Large plastic fish boxes are winched on and off, a few people arrive and a few people leave, ATVs whizz about—it’s a hectic few minutes before the village swallows up the bulk of the crowd.
Down to about 150 people, LaPoile is a small cluster of houses perched on the edge of the inlet, surrounded by moderate-sized hills. The concrete sidewalks, just wide enough for two ATVs to zip past each other, thread between the houses and stop suddenly when they bump into the wilderness. The closest community to the west is Rose Blanche, a 90-minute ferry ride away. The next community to the east is Burgeo, about 40-nm away, but without a ferry connection and at 6 hours and 350-kms away by road from Rose Blanche, it’s in another universe.
There is still an elementary school in LaPoile, though high school students have to board in Channel-Port-aux-Basques. The medical center is sporadically used by a nurse who is helicoptered in for consultations. There’s a small store and a post office. (The store owner reports that a few of the local men work on boats in the Great Lakes.) But the heart of the village is the wharf: It’s the link to the outside world; it’s the nucleus for the small remaining fishery, the only industry in LaPoile besides a small salmon fishing lodge inland; it’s where wharf hockey is played; it’s where wood is unloaded for the winter, brought in from the outer fjord, one small speedboat load at a time; and it’s the hub that the paved sidewalks radiate out from.
As we stroll the sidewalks, a couple of adults are whipper-snipping scraps of lawn; one guy is chopping kindling for his woodstove; several men bait tub trawls for their small cod quota; and a small boy drives his bike, his little yappy dog threatening us as we walk towards him. But we see no teenagers (except for the boys who play wharf hockey in the evenings) or really anyone else under 35.
The guy chopping wood tells us about a path along a stream, that runs up to a small pond, that connects to a big pond, and then works its way along the power line back into the village. He once walked all over this land, trouting, hunting moose, and cutting wood. He told us about one occasion when he caught 60 trout in a few hours, just while circling the big pond. As we slog through the bog beside the ponds, swatting deerflies, blackflies, and horseflies, the thought of standing still, holding a fishing rod, knee deep in bog, being eaten alive by bugs, doesn’t hold much appeal.
But then we clamber up to the open hilltop above the village. The fog has lifted enough that we can see a short way out into the fjord, over the steep cliffs battered by the swell. The wind blows the bugs away, there’s a moose hanging out on the other side of the inlet, and the clean spruce-scented air of Newfoundland washes over us.
It is so beautiful here. It is so isolated here. I can feel the pull of these opposing forces. How difficult must it be for someone raised here to choose which force to obey.