Day three of my walk from Salmonier to Cape Broyle was to be one of relative ease and comfort, not so much on account of the terrain, nor because of the trails that I would use for much of the day, but on account of the fact that on this day I entered into my home territory. All of this day would be spent walking through the watershed of the Southern River, which meets the sea on the south side of Cape Broyle Harbour. Having spent countless hours in the swimming holes near the mouth of the river, it gave me a fantastic sense of rootedness to pass through the places where its waters originate. It was as if I were seeing the great old Southern River in its infancy. Every bog that I walked over, every little stream that I walked through, and every gully that I passed by seemed a little piece of its sacredness.
Fly Pond, where I’d spent the second night of my journey, is not part of the Southern River watershed. Its water is channelled elsewhere, toward Mount Carmel Pond and the hydro-electric generating stations at Horse Chops Pond and Peter’s Cove in Cape Broyle Harbour. It is nonetheless a pleasant place to awake. The joyful laughing sound of a bunch of loons eased me out of sleep. In the cool morning air, wispy clouds of slow-creeping mist hung over the far end of the pond. Walking commenced at about eleven o’clock, after a breakfast of oatmeal cooked on the campfire.
Toward Cape Broyle
For a while I followed Horse Chops Road, then parted from it to head straight east towards Cape Broyle. Not far from the place where I left Horse Chops Road is the pond that feeds the main branch of the Southern River. It’s about a square kilometre in size and nestled in among some rocky hills and ridges. Passing to the south of this pond I left the Avalon Wilderness Reserve and soon thereafter forded the main branch. At this upper reach the river is a shallow stream about fifteen feet wide and makes a pleasant gurgling sound as it slips its way around small stones. I couldn’t resist taking a few soul-quenching swallies from my beloved river.
A little further on and my route merged with an old ATV trail that I had encountered before but never followed. I decided that this time I would follow it, being fairly certain that it would lead me to the old railway track between Cape Broyle and Calvert. But first I had to stop. Here at its furthest extremity, the ATV trail followed some high barren ground where blueberries were abundant. I couldn’t pass them by without picking some to bring home.
Waylaid among the berries
It was the perfect place to be waylaid a while. Looking west toward the reserve I could see at once the many prominent rocky hills that rise above the headwaters of the Southern River. It was wonderful to see from this perspective the cliff face that I had passed under a short while ago as I was exiting the reserve. When passing under it I had still felt very much “on the barrens”.
Having now reached the old ATV trail I felt much more at home. I felt the comfort of being back in the sphere of my hometown, back in the woods that had been frequented for so long by the people of Cape Broyle. I felt the anticipation of being with friends and family again after a few days alone in the woods. For an hour or so I savoured the feeling of being on the threshold between the wild barrens and the more familiar woods of my hometown.
My berry-picking finished, I set out in earnest on the old ATV trail. For some distance over intermittent woods, barrens, and marshes the trail showed no sign of recent use. I was passing now through low and ever lowering country, with the main branch of the Southern River to the south and a tributary branch to the north. Both were out of sight and hearing. Eventually I did find fresh signs that an ATV had passed this way: whereas before the marsh grasses had all but obliterated the old disturbances caused by the ATVs, now I saw two freshly beaten tracks. In the distance I caught my first glimpse of the ocean at Cape Broyle Harbour.
The cabin in the woods
Moving along the trail I eventually came to the Black Shack, a small cabin in the woods of which I had often heard mention, but had never actually seen. It was clean and tidily kept inside and out. Green siding concealed most of the old tarpaper exterior. Some amusing custom-made signs were posted about. “All visitors bring joy to the Black Shack, some when they enter and some when they leave.” The sign on the outhouse said “Don’t drop cigarettes in the toilette. It makes them wet and hard to smoke.” There had evidently been no shortage of parties here over the years: empty bottles of alcohol lined the walls on the inside. I lingered a while and moved on.
The ATV trail now showed signs of heavy use. Great pits of dark chocolate-coloured mud were frequently met with and in places deep ruts had been cut into the marshes. Finally, after about an hour and a half of walking on the ATV trail, I broke out onto the old railway track and turned left towards home.
The tracks that lead home
Almost immediately I crossed one of the several trestle bridges (or “trussles” as we call them in Cape Broyle) on the railway track between Cape Broyle and Calvert. This one gives passage over the tributary of the Southern River that was flowing to my north as I followed the ATV trail. On the other side of the bridge the rail bed follows a rushing stretch of the Southern River, now twice its former width, for some distance. I found some blackberry bushes, picked a couple of handfuls to add to the blueberries I had picked earlier, passed beneath the southern end of the Green Hills, and crossed another bridge. In sight now was The Scrape, a steep treeless slope of loose rocks and gravel on the northern side of the Southern River valley. If my childhood memory serves me well, berries abound at its top and the forest at its base is exceptionally well grown. The old railway track cuts through The Scrape midway up the slope of the valley.
Just before coming to The Scrape I had a strange encounter with a small grey rodent, a vole I think. It was sitting still in the track and appeared to have no desire to flee from me, even as I sat down to look at it closer, even as I lightly poked it with my finger.
I wondered if it might be feeling ill, although it had a plump and healthy look about it. Eventually it got tired of my attentions and made its way none too energetically into the bushes.
The condition of the rail bed was ever rougher as I neared home. Frequent ATV traffic has over time severely eroded the soil and exposed more and more rock. Rusty old railway spikes lay exposed on the ground here and there. Old meadows appeared to the left and right. I crossed the last bridge to the sound of falling water and soon thereafter struck hard pavement. My feet complained, but it was now only a short walk to my parents’ door. The wind was blowing off the harbour. The fresh smell of salt water welcomed me back from the woods.
I was just in time for supper.