In June 2018, I headed to Newfoundland, hunting icebergs. There had been a slow start to the iceberg season, but I hoped by flying into Deer Lake and just targeting two main areas (Twillingate and St. Anthony) and staying in each place for a few days, I would get lucky in finding icebergs and being able to photograph them in nice conditions.
Despite the date - June 3 - Newfoundland delivered some chilly and surprising weather with a snow storm and even white out conditions on my first-day drive from Deer Lake to Twillingate.
My original plan had been to spend 4 days in Twillingate, but reports online showed no icebergs anywhere around Twillingate, so a quick change of plans took me over to nearby Fogo Island, where I stayed for 3 days. What a great choice that was, though not for icebergs. I could see a few offshore but winds were consistently too high to go out by boat to see them. It was still a thrill to see them from a distance. As I waited for winds to die down (which they never did) I photographed the beautiful modern artist studios dotted around the island, as well as the wonderful old wooden fishing stages, which are quickly disappearing.
Despite being five days into the trip, I still hadn’t seen an iceberg up close, but I had high hopes for St. Anthony, which lies at the northern tip of Newfoundland. I took a leisurely 2-day drive to get there, stopping in beautiful Rocky Harbour near Gros Morne National Park. I was thrilled to see lots of growlers and bergy bits and even some gorgeous large icebergs as I drove up the west coast of Newfoundland. Among other things, I hiked to all the artist studios on the island. In a word, they are spectacular. Each is different, each is in a stunning location. Among the many things I loved about them - aside from the fact that they are occupied by artists who apply for a residency, that they are all off the grid (solar-powered, heated by wood, collecting their own rain water), they are all (except one) are not visible from the nearest road or village - is that none of them are sign-posted. You have to know where they are. They are all on marked trails, but the trails don't tell you that you are going to a studio. I just love that.
According to NOAA icebergs must be “greater than 16 feet above sea level and the thickness must be 98-164 feet and the ice must cover an area of at least 5,382 square feet. There are smaller pieces of ice known as “bergy bits” and “growlers.” Bergy bits and growlers can originate from glaciers or shelf ice, and may also be the result of a large iceberg that has broken up. A bergy bit is a medium to large fragment of ice. Its height is generally greater than three feet but less than 16 feet above sea level and its area is normally about 1,076-3,229 square feet. Growlers are smaller fragments of ice and are roughly the size of a truck or grand piano. They extend less than three feet above the sea surface and occupy an area of about 215 square feet.”
St. Anthony didn’t disappoint. There were icebergs around, though not as many as in previous years. I got out 4 times with two different tour companies and saw all sorts of icebergs.
After a successful stay in St. Anthony, I headed to Port aux Choix to photograph the lighthouse and then to the airport and home. But on the way, I knew I’d pass that same iceberg that was in the Strait when I travelled up. It was five days later, I hoped it would still be there. I remember lying in bed the night before, hoping/dreaming that it would still be there and that I might be able to get out and see it. It was pouring with rain, but as I drew closer to Green Island Harbour I could see the iceberg - it was still there and, wonderfully, it was closer to shore. I drove around town, looking for someone, anyone who might be able to take me out to see that iceberg, but in the pouring rain, there was no one around. I eventually stopped at the post office, where the postmistress (Joyce, as I found out) was on the phone. I said, "I'll let you finish your conversation," but she said to just go ahead. I said, "This might be a silly question, but is there anyone you know who would be willing to take me out to the berg?". She laughed and said into the phone, "Do you want to take this lady out to see the iceberg?" and the guy at the other end said yes. He turned out to be Roland, a retired fisherman, and sure enough, in no time flat we were in his small boat, speeding towards the iceberg, with me clutching onto my hood in the wind and rain. We didn't get too close, but we circled around it and I tried, in the pouring rain, wiping my lens constantly, to photograph it. It was SO beautiful - very elegant with a gorgeous arch in the middle. There was a crack forming, we could see, so we didn't get too close. You don't want a piece falling off and capsizing the boat with a big wave! It's hard to describe how amazing it was to see this 10,000 year old beauty close up. A highlight of my trip, for sure, and a probably a highlight of my life.
Roland invited me to his house for coca which, since I was soaked to the skin, was very welcome. We chatted for over an hour about his life and the life of his town. I love those kinds of conversations. Then the phone rang. "Look out the window," said Joyce, the postmistress, and sure enough, when we looked, the iceberg had collapsed. How incredible that I was there at just that moment and found someone kind and generous enough to take me out to see that beauty. The snow that fell in Greenland to form that iceberg fell between 3,000 and 10,000 years ago. The iceberg calved from a glacier in Greenland 2 or 3 years ago and began its journey with 10,000 to 15,000 icebergs, only a few hundred of which make it all the way to Newfoundland. Then it sat in the Straits for nearly a week. It collapsed just an hour after I visited it. How amazing!
Throughout the trip I thought about Peter Matthiessen’s book “The Snow Leopard”. If you’ve read the book, you know it’s about a trek to see a snow leopard on the Tibetan Plateau. The thing is, Matthiessen never sees the leopard. Among other things, the book is about accepting things as they are. This trip to Newfoundland was a bit about that. 2018 was a significantly below average iceberg season, so the chances of seeing one up close in the kind of conditions I like to photograph were always going to be slim. In the end, I was luckier than Mattheissen, but there were times when I thought, “why I am doing this??”. Maybe that wonderful encounter with my dream iceberg on the last day was my reward for trying to accept things as they are all through the trip.