19-May-2001 -- What is so special about N45W63? On the nearest highway, there is a sign to remind tourists that they are halfway from the equator to the North Pole. So 45 is a special latitude. 63W is the central meridian for Zone 20 UTM. That might make N45W63 special. But for me, it is my confluence, it is the closest to where I live and work.
In real life, I am an engineer who designs instruments to study the bottom of the ocean. I work for the Geological Survey of Canada and am based at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Many of the instruments I build and the computer programs I write ask me for my position. I often just type 45 -63. This is close to the position of my office. But not exactly. Until today, I had never actually been at 45 -63. The next time I enter this approximation for my position, I will remember today and visualize a very wet black spruce swamp.
Yesterday, I checked out the map of Nova Scotia and found that there are 9 confluences in our province and decided that it would be a great summer project to visit them all. I made a little spreadsheet and listed the map sheet, the driving distance and how I could get there... walk, bushwhack or kayak. We had a sprinkle of rain this morning but the forecast and the sky promised a better afternoon. With no preparation, I decided at noon to try for my first confluence, N45W63.
One problem with confluences its that they tend to be at the corner of a map sheet and I might need to buy 4 map sheets to have the complete picture. In my topo map collection, I had two of the four sheets for N45W63 and they showed the closest road about 3 km away. I knew that there would probably be many logging roads in this area which are not on any map. I would have to reconnoiter.
N45W63 is close to a little town called Moose River about which I will tell you more later. I knew the area slightly. It is about an hour's drive from my home. The area is typified by black spruce, balsam fir and swamps. It had been a very cold, snowy winter followed by a late, wet spring but this long weekend in May is always the weekend that the trees regain their leaves and they were right on schedule. The Indian Pear trees were in their white bloom, the tiny green leaves where bursting on the hardwoods. The mayflowers were finished and some other little flowers like the purple rhodora where just starting to appear. The only thing that was late was the black flies. They seem confused by the late spring and are not yet as fierce as usual. We have had a week of rain and the lakes and streams are as high as I have ever seen them.
I thought I would just reconnoiter today and maybe not even reach my destination today. I threw my mountain bike in the trunk, filled the tank, borrowed my son Max's digital camera and set out with my Etrex GPS in my pack. It was a pleasant 1 hour drive to the Moose River area and when I was just a few km north of the point, I turned off the main road onto a good gravel road. Now I was navigating to the waypoint 45 00.000 N 63 00.000 W. About 3 km to the north, there was a smaller road heading south so I turned off and decided immediately that it was time to park the car. I pulled off the road and discovered it was far to soft and the car was down to its rocker panels in the soft mud.
I drive an old (1983) Cadillac which is not exactly an off road vehicle. I was already far enough off the main road that I could not expect any help to come alone. I knew I had to start jacking and get the wheels up out of the mud. I am always distressed when I see garbage and old appliances dumped on a side road but today I was more than happy to find a pile of old boards about 50 meters along on this side road. I hammered the nails out with a rock and took the jack out of the trunk. It was soon clear that there was no chance of staying clean as I had to dig away under the wheels with my bare hands and dig a hole for a board to support the jack. It took about an hour and I knew this could scuttle any chance of reaching my destination today.
With the car safely parked beside the good gravel road but very muddy inside and out, I took the bike out of the trunk and set out down the side road. About 2.5 km from the waypoint, the road ended in an alder swamp. I stashed the bike and started to bushwhack. I waked along and through a small stream. It was a cool May day but I needed to get the mud off anyway so I just walked through the water for a while. At 2 km I decided that there would not be time to today and I would have to come back later. My only concern was that the black flies were saying the same thing.
I biked down the main gravel road and found that it kept hooking around to the left and taking me closer and closer to N45W63. At about 1 km, there was a new logging road that took me to a clear cut and I could ride to about 750 m. How hard could it be to walk through 750 m of anything? It was now 4:45 PM but I decided to push on. At the end of the clear cut, I made a bee line to the waypoint. This was in black spruce and balsam fir but not too thick. There was a lot of open swamp that I could walk through and was finally getting mud off my shoes and legs. There seemed to be many small paths but they may have been made by deer or moose, not people. I did find some survey cuts and a painted rock. Seems you can't go anywhere without evidence of other people anymore.
As the range dropped, I kept saying to myself, "how hard can it be to go another 450, 350 , 250 m?". The last 100 m or so were in open wet swamp and bedrock outcrop which made for fairly easy walking since I was as wet as I could be anyway. Then 50 m, then 20 m and finally 1 m. I took off my pack and found the camera. I'm afraid these may not the most beautiful pictures. I took the four directions but they all look the same. It was a grey sky and all directions look the same.
And then back. I had made a waypoint where I left the bike and the Etrex guided me back. This was featureless bush in which one could easily get lost without a compass or a GPS. The grey sky gave no hint for direction.
I took one extra picture of a little stream beside an outcrop. The swamps were full of pitcher plants. Pitcher plants are the floral emblem of Newfoundland. I always thought it was funny for a province to adopt a carnivorous plant for its floral emblem. They are also common here in Nova Scotia swamps.
So that was 45 -63 and I will remember the image in the future when I type my approximate position in some computer program.
I promised you a few comments about Moose River. I know the area because the mother of a girl friend in one of my previous lives came from there. I had visited the old home and attended the funerals of her grandmother and uncle in the little church. That was in the mid seventies when long hair and a full beard turned heads in the tiny rural church. I also canoed into the camp of another uncle so I knew what to expect of the forest in this area.
Moose River had one of the many small gold mines common in Nova Scotia in the late 1800's and early 1900's. It gained world fame in 1936, 65 years ago last month. The mine was no longer being worked and three men, I think the owner and two prospective buyers, went down to inspect it. The mine caved in and a massive rescue effort was mounted. This is not a big mine disaster by Nova Scotia standards where we have seen many men trapped in coal mines. However, it happened when a new technology could bring it to the nation. Broadcast radio was in its infancy and in 1936 it was just possible to broadcast on site using telephone lines and a burgeoning radio network. The Halifax radio station sent a reporter. He was tied into a continent wide grid and made half hourly newscasts to an enraptured public for five days. This is considered to the be original "on the spot" news broadcast and the entire nation tuned in. Or so I am told, I was not born for another ten years.
Most of the other confluences in Nova Scotia will require more highway driving but less bushwhacking. Some are slightly offshore and will require a kayak.