Crazed by sunset, fog, glimpses of wildness
By JEANNETTE BATZ
On Newfoundlands rocky western coast, you dont talk much: The raw beauty of the fjords and glacial lakes stun you into their own deep silence. Every bend in the boardwalk trails of Gros Morne National Park has me reaching wordlessly for my camera.
I reach so many times, in fact, that I strain my marriage. Especially after begging my husband to brake the car on a high-speed curve and pull onto the gravel shoulder that drops into a cliff. Are you nuts? he retorts, teeth clenched as he negotiates the curve.
I am a bit nuts, crazed by the beauty of peach sunset and smoky fog floating over mossy-green, billion-year-old mountains. At home, our evening horizon is a Dumpster-studded alley. I ache to somehow capture this view, take its Platonic image back with us and bask in the reflected glow of its creation.
I shoot roll upon roll on every hike, sweat glazing the viewfinder, black ants stinging the back of my neck while I focus. Long-suffering husband wearily slings the stuffed-sausage camera bag over his shoulder and waits.
Then we see the moose.
A great big female moose with huge, soft ears, lying down in a clearing. At first sight she seems serene, but then we notice that her ears are twitching nervously, and black flies have settled on her velvety brown cheeks. She is panting. Hard. As we hold our breath, she shifts, and we start to fear shes stuck in the ancient peat bog.
By now, other hikers are traipsing up the trails slope, but -- the magic of universal reverence -- they slow the second we mouth the word moose. It is, fortunately, an easy word to mouth. A chubby little boy whos stomping rambunctiously freezes in mid-whoop, then tiptoes the rest of the way like a Charlie Chaplin caricature. When Andrew offers our binoculars and guides the boys sightline, he breathes a long awed, Wow.
Together, we watch spellbound as the moose pants, gazing straight ahead, her big dark eyes cloudy with a purpose we cannot divine. Maybe shes having a baby, a woman whispers. That sound she just made was almost like a contraction. The woman grins. Been there, done that.
The two of us peer closer, feeling a female solidarity, yet eager for knowledge of her wildness. She tosses her head, looking distressed, and we move back reflexively, guiltily aware that we are invading her space merely to satisfy our curiosity.
Another group comes round the bend, slowing at our signal, but passing us to get closer. A girl scrambles onto a big rock to snap pictures, a boy follows, and soon everybodys handing them cameras. The conversation grows louder in the excitement, and when a woman in her 30s replaces the kids on the rock, she exhorts the moose to Get up so she can get a better shot.
Im so mad my vision blurs. Impotently, I hiss ssshhhh, but the woman just keeps clucking and taunting. The little boy grows bold, too, and asks if I want him to climb up and take a picture with my camera. No film left, I lie, wanting just a bit of peace for the moose.
Finally she does rise, slowly, as though the bog has sucked her down, and we see torn, bloody wounds on both hind legs, right where a cars fender would have caught her.
Around the sores, her fur is blackened by a buzzing, vibrating swarm of flies. She glances once more our way, then with a heavy, impenetrable dignity, begins to walk, as best she can, in the opposite direction.
My husband and I head for the car and speed to the nearest Parks Canada interpretation center, muttering all the way that nobody will care. After all, what can they do? It happens all the time. Theyll probably tell us to let nature take its course. I follow Andrew to the desk, muttering my silent retort (We dont let nature take its course when we build highways through their habitat, do we?). But the ranger is already asking warm, urgent questions. She radios the duty warden, who wants to know exactly where on the trail we found the moose. We drive back to our cabin greatly relieved.
On the way, I proudly remind Andrew how I withstood the temptation to photograph her. How it would have felt just like stealing her soul, as some native peoples fear. How I knew Id been trying to freeze and objectify all this natural beauty, to somehow mark it with my camera, stake a private claim to it, make it a permanent possession. He nods approvingly.
The sun is setting over the ocean just as we arrive, washing the sky with soft pink and purple. All my calm nobility vanishes. Grabbing Andrews camera, which is loaded with our last roll of high-speed film, I race outside the cabin barefoot while hes still calling out instructions. Snap! Snap! I shoot the last two frames in smug rapid succession, thrilled to have gotten it.
Then, just as I hear the film spool start to rewind, the sun breaks through the thickest cloud and it glows a translucent pink, light spilling over to illuminate the entire sky, gold streaking through like God.
Ive missed it.
I carefully carry the camera back inside, thanking Andrew, in a small, formal voice, for its use. We make some tea and watch the darkness fall, and finally, as the lighthouse across the cove begins its steady flashing, I feel my heart -- which nearly catapulted itself across the ocean trying to claim that sky -- settle back into its cradle of ribs.
Some instances of beauty can be captured.
Others remain Gods.
Jeannette Batz is a staff writer for The Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly newspaper in St. Louis.
National Catholic Reporter, September 17, 1999