(Sorry not to call you sis – there is no signal here!)
The sun took a while to climb over the mountain next to us this morning but when it did, it was like having a warm spotlight turned on our breakfast table. Outside, it was a cool crisp morning and we set out for the Skyline trailhead a few miles further up the road as it twists higher into the mountains. The parking area was already filling up as we arrived and the excitement cooled a little as we realised that this was not going to be the solitary wilderness walk we might have hoped for. It sets out on a well maintained flat gravel path through dead and dying spruce and fir trees, killed off by Spruce-fir budworm which arrived in the 1980s. There are also a lot of stunted birch trees which grew up in their place, and were set upon by the moose which find them delicious. Consequently moose began to thrive in Cape Breton after being hunted to extinction here in the 1920s. Looking at the chattering crowds ahead of us though it seemed unlikely that we would see any wildlife at all.
Eventually the path became a boardwalk over boggy land and took us to a high ridge with a sweeping view down to the sea and back along the coast. The sky was blue over the sea and boats almost too small to see were dragging big Vs through the waves. There were benches set out for whale watching so we sat and scanned for a while and saw an eagle far below us soaring along the coastline, its wings almost completely motionless. No whales though.
At this point most people went back the way they had come but we took the fork which heads up the coast a little way before turning back to trailhead, making for a much longer walk. This trail was just a track and much quieter. Almost immediately we felt to be in wilderness, with all kinds of birdsong around us and a sense of deep stillness in the woods.
There were lots of little animal pathways crossing the trail and we got Tom to look out for them. He spotted one track leading into the scrub and I said to Philippa that it smelt kind of moosey; a musty, horsey sort of aroma. The track had a neat pile of moose droppings on it and a little way along it I was sure I could see some shed antlers lying on the ground. I walked a few feet up the track and realised that the “antlers” were just a tree stump. I looked up and to my left.
Fifteen feet away from me, perfectly motionless was a huge bull moose, with great scooped antlers. His back was at least as tall as me. We both froze but a moment later the moose carried on grazing. I beckoned to Philippa and Tom and we all watched this massive creature wander slowly in front of us. He was so close to the path, yet invisible from it. It was a truly special moment and not a little unnerving. I hadn’t expected it to be so big. Moose have very bad eyesight and we stayed very still so if it was aware of us, it didn’t show it.
OK that was it. We didn’t really need to see anything else; our day was made. We walked on to a spot overlooking the sea for lunch and made up bad moose puns. What does a moose have for breakfast? Moosley. How do moose keep in touch? Text moosages. Favourite entertainment? Moosic. Favourite fascist dictator? Mooselini. And so on. It was all very amoosing.
As we walked, Philippa spotted a woodpecker attacking branch by the path with great gusto and seemingly oblivious to us.
A little further on the trees thinned out and we were in a wide meadow full of tall grasses and further over, perhaps a hundred feet away, there was another massive bull moose.
He was chomping away at the birch leaves and checking us out, moving steadily towards us. Having a full grown bull moose wander over in your direction puts you in your place a bit sharpish.
They are extrordinarily outsized creatures with too-long legs and a ridiculously long head and those surreal, furry antlers. Every so often he would raise his head up and slowly look left and right, giving us the full view of his magnificent rack. OK, yep we understand. We got out of his way. He knew who was boss and crossed the track right where we had just been. Phew. The guy in the picture walking with his wife and a couple of grandchildren watched that moose with us. As we re-joined the main track he was talking to a loud group of beefy hikers, each with a carefully cut “hiking stick”. He was saying that we had just seen a bull moose ten minutes back down the trail and they all looked distinctly uncomfortable – even irritated. It was an unwelcome complication to their plans. “Yes well”, one said “we’ll do the boardwalk and then make a decision at the other end”. On they marched, shouting at each other, a little bubble of incomprehension.
Back at the campsite in the mid afternoon we broke out books and swim gear and headed for the beach. There is not a scrap of litter on it, no plastic, no rusting lumps of iron, no foamy crud at the shoreline. Philippa and I sat on warm rocks and lazed in the sunshine while Tom acted out some seven-year-old adventure mission involving sticks and pebbles and a weathered tree stump. It was glorious. Later we walked up the headland to look for whales. We saw loads and loads of course, far too many to count and really I am bored talking about it.
A guy on an unusual motorcycle and sidecar pulled up in our site, his son on the back and wife in the sidecar. He lifted his goggles and asked about Harv. “It’s fantastic-looking” he said in an accent I couldn’t quite place. It turned out he was originally from Bridport in Dorset and still had a rich Dorset accent, though he had been in Nova Scotia for more than twenty years where he worked at the Caterpillar factory. He clearly appreciated interesting transport and showed me over his bike – a Russian model made in 2006 to a 1950s design that had barely changed. “Best bike I have ever owned – I can get every part from a supplier in Ontario.” We admired each others machinery and then he fired his up, clicked it into reverse to back up before speeding away, with all of us waving.
In a tight rocky cove below, the waves crashed against the rocks sending brilliant white spray over a squealing Tom. Later while manoevering a large rock he got a squished finger and howled, poor lad. There was blood all over it, but we washed it off in the icy river and with promises of chocolate, all was well. He went to bed with a fat finger but still excited about his day.
Philippa and I are going out for a look at the stars before bed. With so little light pollution we should be able to see loads. Perhaps the whole cosmoose.