“The very simplicity and nakedness of man’s life in the primitive ages imply this advantage, at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature. When he was refreshed with food and sleep, he contemplated his journey again.” — From Walden by Henry David Thoreau
A sojourner in nature — what I would give to become just that.
I was born and bred in the city — Manila to be exact — and the nearest forest cover would entail a 3-hr drive north without stopping. An escape to verdant territory would only happen rarely, as I have developed a permanent allergy to our perpetually gridlocked highways. Long walks to inhale polluted air are still possible, and fresh flowers offer solace in my windowless refuge from urban blight.
Out of sight, out of mind, and for more than 3 decades, I lived comfortably in the midst of squalor. An atmosphere of soot, cacophony and urban decay was the norm. Homegrown bacteria made me immune to serious illnesses. I had no choice, but am alive and well so my folks must have done something right by raising me here.
But ten years ago, I ventured on my own into the vast wilderness of the Old World. I got lost in the allees of Boboli Gardens. I marveled at the sunbathers on the Jardin des Tuileries at the early onset of spring. Not a single trash littered the canals of Amsterdam.
I learned up-close, for the first time, that nature and cities could harmoniously coexist.
That rare experience triggered in me a passion for travel to distant and nearby realms where lush greens take center-stage, to compensate for their absence in my home. I still like cities, but prefer to make a detour, whenever possible, to a nearby rural destination where I can freely commune with nature.
One such opportunity for a nature respite emerged when I found myself traipsing around New England last year. My longtime friend Gail from high school happened to lurk in Dieppe, New Brunswick for work, and was excited to learn of my presence in her periphery (I was in Boston — not really close, but definitely closer than Manila). She invited me to come, as most fellow Filipinos in foreign lands are wont to do, and I gladly accepted her offer.
I barely lifted a finger in what turned out to be a restorative hajj in the middle of nowhere. Gail handled all the details of our trip from start to finish. She did ask for my preferences, and I merely hinted “nature walks” — the perfect anodyne for a traffic-weary soul. We had many of those, and ended up discovering New Brunswick, Canada like hard core Asian islanders: in bubble jackets at spring time, enjoying bountiful feasts at every stop.
New Brunswick is one of the four regions of Atlantic Canada located in the country’s Atlantic coast (the other three being Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador). 83% of New Brunswick is forested, with the Appalachians traversing the province all the way to Newfoundland. Only about half of New Brunswick residents live in urban areas.
Music to my ears.
Our first stop was Hopewell Rocks, which is less than 40 mins away by car from Dieppe and Moncton, where the nearest airport is. It is conveniently located along the route to Fundy National Park from Moncton.
Hopewell Rocks are rock formations that stand 40–70 feet tall on the Bay of Fundy. Their unusual shapes are caused by tidal erosion and the normal cycle of advancing and retreating tides. They are covered in water “twice a day, every day” and are the highest tides in the world (up to 50ft). You can walk around the ocean floor and marvel at the rocks at low tide, then ascend to the viewing deck for an incredible view of Hopewell Cape’s unique reddish seascape and rocky coastline.
Fundy National Park
In my last visit to North America, my friends showcased the best of Americana and took me to Great Falls, Humpback Rock and even Sedona in the west. They shared my fascination with their country’s national parks, one that would make Theodore Roosevelt proud.
I wanted more of that, in Canada.
I was all set to go full-on Thoreau in the Great White North, but old habits die hard. My friend did say camping in her last correspondence, so I braced myself for the wild. Not so true to her word, she found a gorgeous chalet at Fundy where we would be staying for the night. It was cozy and beautiful, and I was quite relieved that I wasn’t so true to my word either. I brought out some decadent ready-to-eat prosciutto and Parmesan crisps that needed neither fire nor toasting to be enjoyed. They paired well with a souvenir from one of Moncton’s wineries.
Gail and I grew up in a tropical country with 7,000+ islands, so the sun/sand/sea combination that many North American travelers travel wide distances for was already a familiar scene. We wanted the exact opposite and Fundy brought it. It is a peaceful nature reserve sculpted for over 400 years with waterfalls, placid lakes and vast swaths of evergreens. Beguiling and absolutely refreshing for a resident of the tropics. Everywhere we went we marveled, and would only take a break at the sight of relaxing red Adirondack chairs.
Fundy National Park occupies an area of over 200 sq kilometers so we had to get around in a car. I was in constant awe of the fleeting horizon from my window and beyond. A beaver suddenly went swimming in a tranquil lake, as if to remind us how relaxing bucolic bliss can be. Dickson Falls is but one of the 25 waterfalls at Fundy waiting to be discovered, just one step into long-term healing that 3 to 4 days at the park can pave the way for.
New Brunswick may not be as popular as the mountainous terrain of Alberta and British Columbia but there is enough understated beauty here to inspire an artist to make art, or for the hopeless to rediscover hope. It is poetry for those of us in search of the primeval and whose “greatest skill,” in Thoreau’s words, “has been to want but little.” Like the beaver gliding in tranquility, this piece of Canada shows the world that it is not that hard to be happy.