Sable Island Expedition – June 23, 2012

Day 6: The west end of Sable Island, beyond the west light, starts to curve in a crescent shape to the northwest. The dune topography flattens out substantially, and creates a type of elongated bowl between north and south shores. Today was a day to explore, for my first time, the extreme western reaches of Sable Island. Though the fog partially obscured any vista, it was quickly apparent that the vegetation was very different. The bowl was absolutely covered in beach pea, full of nutritious sandwort and plantain. I quickly came across several family groups and it seemed like as I walked along through the fog, that every few minutes a new family would appear. I stood atop a high dune on the south shore, just as the fog pulled back allowing me a brief glimpse of the entire west spit. The scene in front me was the closest thing to horse Eden that one can imagine. I could see perhaps a dozen families spread throughout the valley. They were the picture of health and there were foals running everywhere.

I traversed back and forth across the island several times, following various groups, but I was especially interested in a flaxen stallion with a particularly long mane. He was really playful and appeared to be vying for leadership with an older black stallion, so there was frequent ‘discussions’ going on. He became a major character to be known as “Rockstar”.

By this time the fog was closing in again, and I wanted to head back to the pick-up point early as it was hard to tell how far west I had gone. Over the course of the last few hours I had crossed the island several times while meandering continuously west. I decided to hit the tideline for easier walking. After 40 minutes of hiking I sat on a log for a snack and pondered how few people have been to Sable Island, and how fewer still have had the privilege of viewing the west end. I was also wishing I had a GPS.

The low dunes looked slightly different, but somehow the fog always plays tricks and I could not be sure. No sooner had this thought occurred when the fog lifted and the sun came out. I cannot describe how sick I felt as I realized that the sun was on the opposite side of the island to where I expected it to be. In other words I had hiked farther west instead of back east to the station. I was now sitting at the extreme end of the west spit. This is the place I had always wanted to see, where the currents converge and many a ship has been run aground.

I wondered if sub-consciously I had made this choice to ‘be lost’. My body was exhausted from already hiking 8 hours, but somehow the adrenaline rush of being ‘lost’ kicked my body into a new gear. I now had twice as far to hike back and it was getting late. Off I went in high gear. Unfortunately I passed by many photographic opportunities. However, one shot I could not resist was taken when I came across one of my favourite stallions who I had not seen since 2009 when I had found him near main station. He was much older looking and grayer, with only one mare and foal in his family. It was a beautiful moment.

Suffice it to say I made it back safe and sound, albeit very late. Though I was thoroughly embarrassed at having been tricked by the fog, I was then regaled with many stories from the Sable staff who had achieved the same fate! Ah, yes a rite of passage!

I woke up in the night to torrential rains, thunder and lightning. Tropical storm Debby had pushed some weather our way. I grabbed my D3s and tripod and sat in the dark, videoing from the veranda of the staff quarters. The sound of the storm beating against the big windows was deafening. Every time a sheet of lightening lit up the sky, eerie shapes appeared in the foggy downpour and then were gone. It mesmerized me for hours as I imagined the fates of early seafarers run aground here. In the centuries before modern navigation thousands of souls were lost here. Before the life-saving station was established in 1801 any castaways would have found a deserted island with no shelter and precious little to eat. Often they would be stranded for years before anyone would find them.


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