Fall vignettes: off the beaten path
The trail to Lowlands Cove
"…with moose, gulls and whales"
By DAVID LAWLEY / Photograph courtesy of Inverness County
shunpiking, October / November 1997, No. 16
along the quiet roadways of Cape Breton always gives me a good feeling.
But it is meandering through the hardwood valleys and uplands in the
fall when every tree exposes its own uniquely-coloured leaves and enlivens
my sense of sight that I feel absolutely wonderful.
The phenomena of nature are never the same twice. Autumn is a vivid
testament. Just as we humans are each different, so too every leaf and
tree exhibits its own individuality. Yet there are similarities; which
how a botanist categorizes individuals into species. And then we come
to leaves! Even on the same tree, they show great differences in colour,
hue and shape.
This week I hiked to the most wild, northern, rustic, colourful area
of Cape Breton to Lowlands Cove. I could look closely at each tree and
found that most that were showing red or orange leaves were sugar maple,
red maple, pin- and choke-cherries and sometimes ash. Birches, mountain
maple, moose maple and beech become golden yellow. Yellow also are the
leaves of the trembling aspen, large-tooth aspen and the balsam poplar.
Ash can be any colour from purple to brown. Ironwood and larch both
become very yellow as do the rare Arctic birches. The great variety
dazzles our eyes!
So my day started, as I hiked from Meat Cove, Cape Breton's most northern
village and, by the way, most northern and most beautiful campground,
perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. It's hosted by the McLellans
who have lived here since Europeans first cleared the land, many decades
The hike to Lowlands Cove passes under a canopy of multi-coloured hardwoods.
It is the season too when spiders and other small animals climb or fall
out of the trees and begin burrowing under the soft new blanket of leaves
for winter. The air is fresh and clean: this is shunpiking at its very
After passing over hill and dale for what seemed a very long time, the
horizon opened up to a most gorgeous valley in full fall crescendoing
hues. Lowlands Cove, with its headlands and rocky shores splashing with
white, violent waves. A strong wind was blowing, yet the sensation of
wind on my face was just right.
After hiking around the headland, I saw a gigantic bull moose. What
a magnificent animal. It was almost pitch black in colour. The moose
waved its huge antlers around as it trotted along slowly looking for
a mate, or so I thought at the time.
After lying on the grassy headlands for an unknown duration of dreamlike
time, I began hearing sea gulls; the waves had quieted. Pilot whales
made splashing sounds just below me. The day went on forever; wind in
my face, feeling great, lots of pilot whales surfacing, slowly feeding
on something just below the surface of the water. The sea was deep blue
that day and the whales appeared black as they surfaced, and dove again
and again. I knew from experience that pilot whales -- as well as fin
and minke whales -- will be here until Christmas or later, but it was
time for me to leave.
Wind, waves, sea gull calling loudly, and the strong smells of fall
leaves made this one of the most memorable experiences, I thought, later,
as I started my car. "Farewell, North Cape Breton, until another time,"
I said aloud.
If ever you want to feel free, a little wild and very distant, you might
guess where to go.
David Lawley, author of A Nature and Hiking Guide to Cape Breton's
Cabot Trail, is shunpiking's northern Cape Breton field editor
and well-known naturalist. Dave's most recent work, Guide to Whale
Watching in the Maritimes (Nimbus Publishing), was published in May,