Fog is inseparable from the Bay of Fundy and to thoroughly appreciate this beautiful area of New Brunswick, you have to welcome both.
Here sometimes the fog will settle in for days, blanketing everything in a backdrop of white with only the closest trees visible in the mist. It’s as if an artist sketched in only the elements in the foreground of a painting, leaving the canvas-white background to be sketched in another day.
I’ve seen the fog pouring over the cliffs that encircle the bay, its dense vapors cascading like a cataract into the water below. I’ve also seen it not 10 feet over the ground being pushed by offshore winds, moving as rapidly as a gliding seagull.
The fog here is nearly alive, creeping over the countryside and down mountains. It insinuates itself into every nook, a cool presence that bathes your skin in dampness.
This day as I set out to explore the Fundy Trail from St. Martins, the fog hangs low over the coastal mountains. At some spots, it nearly obscures the road. At others, after a small dip or rise in the road, the car emerges from the mist to a moist and very green world.
The Fundy Trail is especially susceptible to these foggy days. It hugs the coastline from St. Martins to Alma, a coastline composed of sheer rocky cliffs that fall hundreds of feet to the sea.
For many years, there’s been hiking trails along these cliffs, but for the past two decades Canada has been steadily plugging away to create a linear park that features a spectacular auto parkway for visitors. Today, it exists only part way northward up the coast from St. Martins but by 2018 it is expected to connect to the main roadway through Fundy National Park, creating what will be one of the most incredible drives in North America.
I last saw this drive several years ago, but many miles have been added since. I hoped to see the newly constructed areas to see whether the park’s developers had maintained their meticulous attention to details, but today there was the fog that obscured all.
Do you think the fog will lift soon, I asked my restaurant waitress at morning breakfast? Oh sure, she replied with utter confidence. Later, at the entry to the linear Fundy Trail Park, I asked the same of a waiting ranger. Yep, she replied. No doubt it will.
But not even the best meteorologist can predict the Fundy fog. Sometimes it will disappear for an hour or so before it roars back. Other times, it never dissipates.
This was one of those latter days. But even with the fog obliterating most long-range views, the drive was breath-taking.
Carefully constructed scenic lookouts give visitors spots from which to view the Bay of Fundy and its monstrous tides. Dozens of trails are cut through the pine-laden forests, inevitably ending in another view of the water, a rocky cascade or of the remnants of the logging industry that once thrived here.
A mammoth swinging bridge takes walkers over the Salmon River, once the conveyance for thousands of logs cut upriver that would be floated down to a sawmill at its mouth. In that same era, the Bay of Fundy was noted for its shipbuilding prowess, most of the ships constructed from the lumber harvested from bay’s own mountains.
Mark, a 60-year-old park employee who I caught crossing the swinging bridge, says he grew up in the tiny town of St. Martins and remembers that he only came to these woods a couple of times with his longshoreman father. Much of this land was then owned by the wealthy Hearst family of William Randolph fame who used it as a private escape and for logging.
He does remember a trip to the Salmon River as a child, before the swinging bridge replaced a much-older covered bridge. At that time, true to its name, the river was one of the primary passages from the sea to freshwater breeding grounds for millions of salmon.
“You could sit down there,” Mark says, pointing to the banks of the river, “and see the river covered with so many salmon that they were lying on top of each other.”
Now the salmon have mostly disappeared from the freshwater rivers flowing into the Bay of Fundy. No one knows exactly why.
Many in St. Martins, like Mark, have mixed feelings about the parkway, which will eventually provide a straight shot for tourists wanting to visit the coast here. Before the parkway, this was the only spot on the entire Atlantic seaboard that lacked a coastal road. The main road traveled far north of the park, leaving the coastline untouched and pristine.
I hop back on the road and finish my tour of the Fundy Trail so far completed. It’s noon and still gray and damp, the fog now seated directly on top of the road.
Then, to remind myself the final thing I love about the fog, just before I get to the park’s exit, I pull over and shut off the car. The stillness is profound. The fog muffles any but the most proximal chirping of birds. Otherwise, the world is a silent vessel.
Like the pleasure of viewing the night sky in a place devoid of light pollution, being in a world largely devoid of noise pollution is just as satisfying. I bask in the absence of sound before cranking my engine and breaking the silence.
I pass the ranger at the entryway who had prophesized a break in the fog and toss a quick wave. No matter, Fundy without the fog just wouldn’t be the same.
Then, just as I turn onto the highway headed inland, the sun breaks through the clouds.
Heaven is everywhere in Fundy.