A tacit agreement
Floating in sea kayaks on the choppy surface of the mighty St. Lawrence River, we sense the whales before we actually see them. It is as if these great marine mammals — wary and reticent in their resource-rich domain — have reluctantly agreed to share their world with us.
To encounter a whale close up in this magnificent yet daunting marine environment is to glimpse the profundity of all of nature, and to appreciate once again the regenerative powers of the oceans which cover the majority of the Blue Planet. It is, for the most part, a silent and serene experience.
However, the privilege of being among the whales of Québec Maritime is not a commercial “Marineworld” experience; it is instead an endless moment of truth, and a time and place for becoming once again sensitized to the prodigious life forces on the planet.
This is also — dare I say it? — a spiritual moment.
Above all it is a time for patience, vigilance, and hope.
This sensory-rich region of Québec is a poetic destination, replete with meaning and meaningfulness — a land and waterscape that embodies metaphor, allegory, rhythm, cadence, living symbols, and feeling.
As Wordworth said,
“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
For this and other reasons, travellers are more and more in search of reconnecting; and of resolving the metaphysical “disconnect” that life since the Industrial Revolution has engendered. Increasingly nature travel, green tourism, ecotourism, soft adventure (however you wish to express it) has become a priority for travellers.
And in Québec Maritime, you can reintegrate, sit back, and watch the whales go by.
The “water road” to the interior of a continent
Born in a distant time, enduring, and abundant, the St. Lawrence was known by the First Nations people as Magtogoek; and the spirit of the mighty river still continues to nourish and replenish the life of an entire continent.
This part of the lower reaches of the river is also a land of magnificent and ancient boreal forests; and the amaranthine granite is that of the Canadian Shield, ancient mountains that also have stood the test of time — and the relentless elements. Here you will find a natural world that is still pristine and accessible, both physically and conceptually.
This is a travel destination where geological time and human time are blended.
Whether you are on the water, or driving, hiking, or simply pausing to reflect along the shores of the St. Lawrence in the Québec Maritime region, your vision will be constantly drawn to the river, to the ebb and the flow of the prodigious tides, to its bountiful environment, to a sense of timelessness.
And every now and then, a dorsal fin or a fluke will interrupt your reverie and you will remember the often uncertain benevolence of the natural world.
And the whales will come: 12 species of cetaceans among which the Great Blue (the largest mammal on the planet), the Fin Whale, the Beluga, the Minke, the Humpback, the Northern Right, the Long-Finned Pilot, the Atlantic Killer Whale, the Sperm Whale — all accompanied by a multitude of other species such as the Northern Bottlenose Dolphin, the Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin, the White-Beaked Dolpin, Harp Seals, Harbour Porpoises, and many species of birds (the Peregrine Falcon … the migrating Snow Goose) and other animals that also hear the call of the mighty St. Lawrence.
Where the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers meet, the world’s largest estuary is also to be found;over 230,000 square kilometres and a flow of more than 35,000 cubic kilometres of water. As you pass this critical juncture on your way downstream, the river bottom suddenly plunges over an underwater cliff that was carved out eons ago by glaciation which relentlessly also ate away the continental shelf to form the Laurentian Channel.
And these great geological forces combined with the powerful currents of the Saguenay, the St. Lawrence itself, and the Arctic currents that enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence, have created one of the most fertile and dynamic marine environments on the planet.
The constant recirculation of water from top to bottom in this deep underwater canyon, the astounding tides, and the constant mixing of fresh and salt water, have created a marine environment in which multitude of plant forms thrive in great abundance — the ideal feeding ground for the marine mammals that come here every summer.
The estuary is a key biological engine of this great river. It is also the embodiment of life itself.
Imagining La Nouvelle France
Great rivers also nourish human habitats. And the St. Lawrence has been a two-way water road to North American history since the arrival of the First Nations people who came across the frozen Bering Strait and migrated throughout a new world that was propitious, daunting, but also abundant in its resources.
And that is also why the Europeans followed the water road to the interior of the continent and beyond.
Sitting at a campsite looking out toward the distant south shore of the St. Lawrence, and slowly scanning the surface of the water for the next sighting, I imagine what those First Nations people must have thought and felt when they saw sailing ships proceeding inexorably upriver.
For these indigenous people who were quite accustomed to seeing the other visitors to the estuary of the St. Lawrence, I would like to believe that they greeted the new arrivals with the same generosity of spirit with which Magtogoek greeted them.
In many ways, the diversity of natural and cultural resources of this part of Canada and Québec, represent a world apart.
For wildlife photographers, it is always about capturing le bon moment, that moment that defines and celebrates the essence of the animal. This is no easy task. It requires skill, a keen eye, and above all patience.
Québec Maritime resources and other adventures
(d) The above website will also take you to The Parc national du Saguenay.
(g) Croisières AML (whale watching in Zodiac boats)
(h) http://www.meretmonde.ca/en (sea kayaking, camping, restaurant, bakery, outdoor educational courses, corporate adventure/getaway programs)
(l) To see a map of the region, click here and zoom in or out.
by Michael Dickman
You can go blind, waiting
except for their
Moving the sea around
Unbelievable quiet inside you, as they change
the face of water
The only other time I felt this still was watching Leif shoot up when we were twelve
Sunlight all over his face
the surface of something
I couldn’t see
You can wait your
Other stories from The Philosophical Traveller about the mighty St. Lawrence