The thermometer on my back porch reads 95 or maybe 98 or perhaps even 100. I don’t know as I can’t see the dial from my perch aboard the Ocean Endeavor as the ice-hardened ship eases into a fjord on Canada’s east coast. I’ve escaped the heat and humidity of an Atlanta summer, though I may have traded one extreme for the other. Our guides warn it’s 37 degrees outside, gray skies, and a light mist. They advise us to bundle up for a brisk morning hike.
Labrador’s far north coast is about as far from civilization as you can travel, unless of course you cross the Arctic Circle and head out onto the ice. I’m not quite that adventuresome. Instead, I’ve settled for a ship-based excursion above the tree-line to a terrain of tall grasses cut through by streams, strewn with erratics, and rimmed by mountains that fade to blue. A quiet and empty place, one that to my eye could be the Siberian or Alaskan tundra.
We hike single file, a rifle toting bear guard in front and another at the rear. At the outset, my companions’ voices rang with enthusiasm, their dialog pocked with laughter, their steps light on the soft ground. An hour later, half way up the moderate slope, conversations are short and muffled and then cease altogether, replaced with heavy breathing from bodies that have spent far too much time indoors. The line meanders and the distance between the head of the line and the rear extends.
I’m at the back, as usual, but safe as long as the bear guard follows, sweeping up the stragglers. I pause to admire the uninterrupted expanse of land that flows down and away in all directions. At my side, the guard names the far mountains, in first peoples’ names, and the fjord, and he stoops to show me an arctic flower in full bloom. Labrador tea, he says. I want to linger, but already he’s eyeing the disappearing line ahead. So, I take one more look, close my eyes, and commit the scene to memory. This winter, when the thermometer on my back porch reads 37 and I shiver, I’ll recall the scene and smile.