There is an enormous fog bank sitting off the Atlantic Coast. According to pilot from Maritime Air Charters it is larger, formed earlier and is lasting longer than most years. We were warned that only 50% of the time does the flight leave on schedule and that we would need a couple of ‘buffer days’ on either end of our scheduled departures. They had not been able to get a plane into Sable for six days, so we were hoping the trend would change in our favour soon. Not worried, we opted to spend the day seeing the sights and sounds of Halifax.
We started with a tour of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic which has an excellent feature on the history of Sable Island, including some of the rescue boats used in the 1800’s by the Humane Establishment to rescue shipwrecked sailors. Of particular interest was the breeches buoy which used a zip-line type of contraption which was sent by rocket launcher to the wrecked ships. Only if all other means failed did they dispatch a rescue boat, towed by horses to nearest launch location. The rescue boats were especially equipped with baffles designed to self-bail in the wild surf.
After sampling some of the seafood treats along the docks we returned to our accommodations hopeful for the next day departure. Darren was staying with friends while Joan, Claudia and I were staying in the resident’s rooms at Mount Saint Vintcent University.
The rooms are very small, no TV, phone or air conditioning but at $40/night it seems like a good way to save money and its just for a day or two.
We received bad news again today regarding the weather. The fogbank was as thick as ever and there was no break in the forecast. We were told not to stray more than an hour or so driving distance away as the weather could change unexpectedly and we would be called in for our flight. The fog retreated away from the coast a little allowing some decent views so, we decided to take a run out to the renowned Peggy’s Cove to photograph the lighthouse and surrounding coast. By mid-morning weather was so nice it was difficult to believe that Sable was fogged in, but 100 miles out in the Atlantic things were very different.
We checked in every three hours in case of a change but we were told it did not look hopeful for a flight out today. It was only then that I began to get an idea of how much of this difficulty was weather and how much was government policy creating obstacles for us. We learned at this point that the manager of the coast guard, whose job it is to receive us is not permitted to work any overtime. That means he works from 8am to 4pm and if our flight does not leave by 2pm he can not receive us! This rule is as a result of a government decision to designate Sable Island as a non-remote location. In other words it is part of the local constituency! Still not discouraged we re-planned our day. Darren and I took off in a car borrowed from his friends in Halifax, and Claudia and Joan chose to explore more of the city.Though the light was flat and sky lacking any interesting detail, we managed to get some interesting images of the local fishing scene. We spent hours trying to get a view of Sambro lighthouse, running up and down gravel roads and traipsing through brush, but to no avail. A drive down the coast through Mahone Bay, on to Lunenberg and down to “the Ovens” gave us a real sense of the photo possibilities. We took some shots along the way, but inwardly we were hoping we would be back during better light. The Ovens sea caves were particularly interesting with their dramatic cliffs and twisted trees. We were out at last light around 9:30pm and then the hour’s drive back into town made for another long day. At our last check-in with Maritime they told us there might be a small window of opportunity for a flight out in the afternoon the next day. That was a nice bit of news as we were all getting anxious to get to get to a prime destination.
Peggy’s Cove Coast
More fog! Our spirits dipped to an all time low when the morning report from the pilot was a ‘no go’ for this morning. It did not look good for the afternoon either but we were still on stand-by. Now it felt like we were just killing time and it was then that it really hit me that this I may not make it to Sable. The others were thinking the same thing and we began to discuss alternative plans, none of which seemed satisfactory. A group of artists was booked to be on the island the following week, then a survey crew that had been on hold for two weeks.
The list went on, and the Coast Guard was running low on food supplies. Around 11am I received a call from the airline that ‘perhaps’ there would be a small window of good weather around 1am. That was cutting it close for departure by 2pm, the cut-off time for Gerry to be allowed to receive us. We packed all our gear, took taxis to the Maritime hangar and waited on edge in their small lounge. They checked the weather images every 5 minutes to look for a trend. Because there was no control tower, they needed a minimum of 1000 foot ceiling and 3 miles visibility. At the moment it was at 600 feet and rising. By 1:30pm it was at 700 feet and rising and it was looking promising. the anticipation was palpable and I paced the lounge anxiously. We weighed all the gear and loaded it on the plane. 2pm and it was at 800 feet and 2 miles visibility. The trend looked good so we were okayed to go! We headed out to the plane and received our safety drill from the pilot and took our seats. The engines were revving and just as we started to move towards the runway, a call came in from Sable. It was Gerry, the window had closed up, the fog was back and there was no way to land.
Dejectedly, we pulled our bags off the plane and trudged back to the hangar. Ironically, one hour later the weather cleared at Sable for three hours, plenty of time to have landed. But, Gerry’s hands were tied by government policy and we could not get in ‘after hours’. I must say that I admired everyone in my group for keeping their cool. It was incredibly frustrating for all of us, not to mention the amount of money being wasted on cab fare for false alarms like this one. I tried to tell myself that this would all unfold in a positive way eventually. Something fortuitous would happen, I just needed to stay focused.
Today was full moon. It was also my 51st birthday. Surely the weather gods would smile upon me today and the luck would change? Again we checked every 3 hours and again the weather was unfit for flying. I went down to Chebucto Head where there was a small abandoned lighthouse, some nice sea cliffs with waves crashing. The light was again flat, but I tried to photograph some seascapes without involving the sky. It was hard to be enthusiastic shooting tidepools with the days at Sable slipping through my grasp. I began to think that all of my photography luck had been used up in Alaska, and now I was getting my share of poor conditions.
After a couple of hours down in the tidepools I climbed back up the rocks to the parking lot. I discovered a middle aged Asian man meditating in the lotus position on the cement platform of the lighthouse. He offered me a friendly greeting and inquired about my images. Yau-Sun Tong, a qigong and taichi instructor, is also a tour guide for photography trips to western China, Mongolia and Tibet. A native of western China he takes his tours off the beaten path, and proceeded to show me a collection of photos on his little Leica point-and-shoot. They were spectacular! Chance meetings like this often result in future connections, so we exchanged business cards. He was very gracious in recommending other places in Nova Scotia for great landscapes and I sensed that this would not be my last meeting with Yau-Sun.
On his recommendation we drove up towards the Bay of Fundy, passing wonderful old Acadian farmlands. The early Acadian settlers drained the vast salt water flats by diking them, thus producing highly fertile lands for their farms. When they were deported by the British in the mid 1700’s they left with only that which they could carry.
Many went south into the United States and down to Louisiana where they became the ‘Cajuns’ a slurred version of ‘Acadians’. We carried on to the coast of the Minas Basin where we were treated to low tide and the dark red cliffs of clay capped by bright green fields. Again the light was disappointing, but we enjoyed the experience nonetheless. We came across a pier of fishing boats that had docked at high tide, but in typical Bay of Fundy fashion, were now resting at low tide in the red mud some 15 feet below the pier. The drive was scenic and peaceful and we kept shooting until the last light disappeared. My birthday passed unnoticed.
My alarm went off at 4am, and I quickly dressed and dashed downstairs to the wi-fi area to check the Peggy’s Cove Webcam. It was difficult to see much in the dark, but it looked fog-free, so I texted Darren and he responded with an enthusiastic ‘On my way!’. It was quite cloudy, but not to be discouraged we set up our cameras and tripods in a very light rain and waited for sunrise. Gradually the sky lighted but produced no colour whatsoever. It seemed like we could not get a break. We shot anyway, making the most of our circumstances. There is a reason Peggy’s Cove is the most photographed lighthouse on earth. It really is a beautiful setting even in the worst light. We stopped for breakfast in Banford and spent the rest of the morning driving the windy coastal roads. We took advantage of every possible scene, from lily pads to boathouses. By noon we had put in an 8 hour day.
Though the weather here was at last free of fog, out in the Atlantic it was pouring rain at Sable. Visibility was low and the beach used for a landing strip was getting soaked. Our window of opportunity was now down to 4 days. My little room at the university began to feel like a jail cell. It was half the size of a box stall and the florescent lights, shared bathroom and kitchen facilities clearly had not been upgraded since the 70’s. It was hot and humid and the only place in the entire building with air conditioning was the cafeteria which was only open until 10am.
Joan and Claudia had rented a car and were jaunting around the province and I had not seen them in two days. I knew that they were getting discouraged and I could only hope that everyone stayed focused on what we had come here to do and did not get drawn into a negative spin of baling out on the flight to Sable. There was still enough time to accomplish our goals. We just needed a little break. The best news we had was that Gerry had approached his superiors to please relax some of the rules to allow his backlog of flights to get into Sable. This had been conditionally granted, which meant we could still try to get in on the weekend. The weather was supposed to be clear on the weekend, but the questioned remained whether the runway could be made operable. A beautiful sunset and stars visible boded well for the morning. We would check in with Maritime at 6:45am and see if our luck had turned.
Deb Working, Photo Credit: Darren Reeves
I held my breath as the call came from Ted at Maritime. “Be at the hangar at 8:30am for a probable departure at 9.” We arrived at 8:20am and paced the waiting room for confirmation from Gerry. It was still not guaranteed until he had check the beach runway. We knew that this could be our last chance to get to the island and we waited on pins and needles, finally we got the green light! It seemed surreal to at last be taxiing down the runway but this time it was really happening. We climbed slowly up over Halifax and flew over the northern coast of Nova Scotia and then out into the Atlantic. It was an hour and a half flight to our destination and we had requested extra flying minutes (at $20/minute) to circumnavigate the island before landing.
Even though I had seen aerial photos of Sable it did not prepare me for the spectacular sight ahead. The island is a long crescent shape with beautiful white sandy beaches, lush green vegetation covering much of the dunes and tropical looking turquoise waters surrounding it all. As we toured the coastline we could see the small bands of horses scattered throughout and the hundreds of grey and harbour seals lining the beaches. Just off shore the outline of a large ship was visible just below the surface of the water, and this was the wreck of the ship ‘Alfonse’ occurring in 1946. Except for the fact that there were no trees, it looked like an island paradise!
Our landing strip was a wide stretch of beach about 10 km from main station. Gerry had harrowed the strip to take out any ruts and had placed yellow floats along the edge. He was waiting in his truck with lights flashing and a windsock billowing from the antenna. The landing was short and smooth and as we stepped out onto the sand three brown horses came trotting over the dunes and onto the landing area, as though they were a welcoming committee. They stopped and posed for a few photos and then we loaded up our gear and headed for home base. We drove along the beach and then passed a large shallow lake with harbour seals basking in the sun. This was Lake Wallace, but the Sable staff had dubbed it ‘ the spa’. In past centuries the lake had been the centre of a thriving community. As we neared the current main station a set of windmills loomed before us. Approximately 30% of the islands power comes from wind energy. Large solar panels surrounded the buildings and these were solely to heat all of the hot water necessary to the tiny village. Diesel generators provided the rest of the power. Water was ample, as a large lenticular aquifer existed just below the surface of the island, which was dotted all over with lakes and ponds. Gerry gave us brief instructions on approaching seals and rules about being around the horses. Like any protected wild creature, it was ok to let them approach you but you were not supposed to feed or touch them in any way.
Our accomodation was a large guest house which also housed two of the Sable Island mainentance crew that were in on a 3 month work period. It seemed like a palace compared to last week at MSVU. We each had our own spacious room, a large kitchen and dining area, pool table and TV room, laundry facilities, satellite internet and a phone. We hurried to organize our gear, knowing that a clear sunny day was a rarity on Sable, we wanted to take advantage of every minute. I giggled a little when the station maintenance man told me not to worry, that the horses would not hurt me and not to be scared because they were curious and might come very close but they were not ‘carnivores’. I figured after the last two weeks in Katmai with the bears I could probably handle it.
Morning Light Pond
Three on Beach
The four of us headed out towards the ponds to the west. We had no idea how close the horses would be or how easy to approach. Much to our surprise and delight we came across a small herd about 10 minutes down the trail and they barely looked up as we approached. They were everything I expected and more, with their long shaggy manes and forelocks. For the most part the horses were all in great condition and looked the picture of health. Except for their feet. With no natural terrain to help keep their feet ground down, many of the horses had shockingly long feet some that had curled up and were about 8 inches long. Another large percentage of the horses toed out quite badly due to the flaring of the outside of their hooves.
The foals all looked very straight and correct in their foreleg conformation so I assumed that the foot shape was not genetics but simply the result of no natural means of wearing down hoof wall. They were small hardy creatures that reminded me of Connemara ponies and other similar pony breeds. Although genetically they were horses, not ponies, they were mostly between 13.2 and 15.1 hands high. They seemed to have nice tight legs despite the condition of their feet, although they were much lighter boned that I would have imagined. I had read many descriptions of these horses that touted them as ‘sturdy’ and I knew that they had once ‘imported’ a draft stallion to improve the stock, so their refinement was a surprise. In fact so much had been written and embellished about their pedigrees that it was hard to know what to expect. I would have to draw my own conclusions.
Their colours range from almost black to light chestnut, a few had white socks, stockings and blazes. Their most striking feature was the long flowing manes which were most prevalent on the stallions and some of the older mares. Many had flaxen manes and tails and even the dark brown horses often had blonde highlights. The first family group we came across was feeding at a small pond. Most of the horses were standing in water over their knees pulling up the rich sedge grass from under the water. This appeared to be a delicacy. The band leader was a chestnut stallion whose mane was so long it was matting together and hung to the ground as he grazed. He had a very grumpy demeanor and carried his head low with his ears back much of the time. You could tell he took his role as protector very seriously. Anytime one of the mares would wander too far out of the group he would quickly herd her back in. The foals in his band were stamped with his genetics being strongly built and a light chestnut in colour. After observing their herd dynamics for a while we decided to head back to main station, refuel with a quick bite to eat and head out for the evening light.
The pilot at Maritime had commented on how light we were travelling and where was our food? When we pointed to our backpacks she raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders. I guess our meal-in-a-bag camping food was not the normal cuisine for guests of Sable Island. However, we were not there to fine dine, and eating would need to be quick and efficient. We quickly downed our reconstituted meals and headed back out. Darren and I chose to investigate the group of Grey Seals on the south beach and Joan and Claudia sought out more horses.
South Beach Sunset
Three Grey Seals
We tried to slowly walk up to the seals but as soon as they saw us they bolted for the water. They were afraid and we were going to have to be more stealthy. On the advice of author/photographer Rosemarie Keough we tried sneaking up on them from behind, which was pretty easy as the sand bars offered us a little protection from view. We also tried climbing up on the dunes and shooting down on them, which they did not mind at all. It was very interesting to see that some of the seals were branded with large numbers. A primitive way of identifying them at one time was to brand the babies. Many of them had huge bite marks and we were later informed that shark predation in these waters kills about 10% of the 200,000 population, and another 10% are lost through disease or deadly encounters with fishing gear. One seal we saw was girthed with a blue rope and probably had been for some time as it was well embedded into its flesh. The seals were so entertaining that we spent the whole evening watching and photographing them. When the light started to wain I caught a few late shot of the sun going down, feeling very satisfied with my first day’s shoot.
Lake Wallace Sunrise Panoramic
Today was supposed to be the only sunny day of the week, so I knew I had to make the most of every minute. I headed out to Lake Wallace in the hopes of getting a nice sunrise reflection. Lake Wallace is mentioned frequently in the history of Sable Island and it was the sight of a major settlement in the 1800’s. When a large storm caused the ocean to breach the dunes isolating it from the salt water several ships took advantage and sailed into the lake to unload their cargo. The next night another storm closed the lake back in, trapping three American ships. The lake was not breached again and the ships had to be dismantled and rebuilt. Standing on the edge of what was now a very shallow lake, it was hard to imagine it as the location of a thriving establishment. All that remained were a few remnants of the telegraph poles used long ago.
The sunrise provided a beautiful display of colour and as the light increased a small band of horses became visible walking towards me on the edge of the lake. What an opportunity! Still unsure of how nervous they would be of my presence I decided to move over towards the dunes to see if they would pass between me and the lake. I talked quietly so that they would be aware of me, and squatted down in the sand to appear non-threatening. The band of 5 (brown stallion, bay mare, colt and two youths) casually walked over and then after a brief pause, one of the two year olds walked right up and started to sniff my face. I blew softly on his nose, something I often do with horses at home, and he responded by curling his lip with his nose in the air. As would become a common pattern, it wasn’t about getting close enough to the horses but rather keeping them from getting too close for photos. Otherwise, I was completely comfortable with this closeness. After 30 years of training horses I was pretty astute at determining their body language and it was clear to me that many of the horses here did not fear humans at all.
The rest of the herd gathered around me and when they decided that I was not terribly interesting they wandered off at a slow walk down the south beach towards main station. One of the foals stopped to scratch his body on a piece of pipe sticking out of the sand. You could tell from all the tracks around this little post that it was a favorite scratching place. He scratched for a few minutes and then took of at a gallop to catch up with his disappearing family. I laughed quietly to myself and then hoisted my pack of gear back up and followed at a distance towards the west ponds.
This time I found a family that appeared to be headed by a liver chestnut stallion. They were grazing around the ponds, some were splashing about in the water and some were rolling in the sand. Gerry’s description that all the occupants of the island (human, horse and seal) were very spoiled, was beginning to be apparent. With no predators to worry about their only concern was the harsh weather in the winter. The stallion was particularly friendly and curious, so much so that he was quite a menace about getting into my gear. He thought my tripod was a nice idea for a scratching post and proceeded to test it out with his chin. Of course the tripod would not support this type of treatment and when it fell over he spooked a little but came right back to play with it again. I had to dive in and rescue it before it become a play toy for the herd, as several had gathered with interest. Since there were no trees on the island that meant precious few places to scratch on. Anything was fair game to rub on and it was clear why the buildings and equipment were fenced to keep the horses out. The precious few pieces of driftwood and remnants of old buildings and ships were all there was to serve this use.
Walking further towards West Light introduced me to another small herd. The band leader was a gorgeous black stallion with a large white blaze. He had a lot of quality and a truly beautiful topline. He had gotten distracted by the presence of some other horses and had gone over to investigate them. After a little encounter with some squealing and posturing he realized that his small family had wandered away. He whinnied in concern and galloped straight through the pond to rejoin his harem. If he did not take care they could become the property of any one of the other band leaders. His offspring were dominated by mainly dark brown or black foals and youngsters. I had a hard time telling which of horses were yearlings or two year olds as their sizes varied a great deal. One thing was certain, the diversity of the gene pool was well intact. There were approximately 400 horses on the island and they ranged dramatically in their size, quality and particularly head type. Some had Roman (convex) noses, others had dished, almost Arab-like profiles, while others were straight. Some had beautiful top-lines ( curved from ears to tail) and others had ugly ewed or upside down necks. Lighter noses known as ‘mealy’ were a common trait. There were no greys or horses of colour (i.e. pinto) as they had been culled out decades ago as ‘undesirable’.
Liver Stallion 2
The afternoon was spent following the older chestnut stallion and his band. For reference sake I called this horse Beachcomber. After the herd had filled themselves grazing they made their way down to a sheltered area of the beach for rest. One by one they all lay down in the sand. The stallion was the last to go down once he was convinced that his band was settled. The horses snored peacefully in the afternoon sun, Darren and I, thankful to stop the arduous task of following horses around with heavy gear in deep sand, settled in along with them. The sun was very high and bright, the light harsh, but it was a precious moment none the less. It was an opportunity to compose interesting images of horses at rest and to feel for the first time on the island, unhurried. I was beginning to understand the rhythm of life on Sable.
North Beach Sunset
Foal & Tripod
The forecast had been for it to sock in overnight and rain all day. Ever hopeful I set my alarm for 4:30am and was pleasantly surprised to see the moon and stars. After a quick cup of instant decaf I stepped outside and as I closed the yard gate behind me I was overcome by indecision about where to capture the best sunrise. I really wanted to see horses on the beach again. I marched through deep sand to the north beach – only seals there. Tired from two days of sand-hiking (which by the way is 2.5 times more difficult than firm ground), I crossed the island through the heathlands and emerged at Lake Wallace on the south beach and arrived just as the first rays of light broke the horizon. No horses were in sight. I wandered the shore of the lake taking sunrise photos and enjoyed the solitude of the moment.
I could hear the waves breaking on the south shore punctuated by the occasional barking of seals. Intently focused on composing my sunrise shot, I had not noticed the brown stallion and his little group creep up on me from the west. I had been watching for them to come from the east and I was quite startled when they seemed to appear out of no where. They had quietly approached, there hoof steps inaudible in the soft sand and by the time I noticed them they were only 20 feet away!
Bren Gun Carrier
I knew this was a curious bunch, and recalling my previous day’s experience with horses wanting to check out tripods, I placed my sacrificial Manfrotto out in the water. Predictably the youngest foal stalked out carefully to see what this new scratchable was about. He sniffed the ballhead and then tried to rub his head on it. As planned, the tripod toppled over and he spun on his heals and scampered back to the herd. Alas I had my shot and was only slightly concerned about the future value of my wet and sandy equipment. Soon the sky darkened, the colourful light turned into the forecasted grey rainclouds and I headed back to main station for breakfast.
The rest of the morning was spent on a quick walk over to west light. We found a rusted old Bren gun carrier that had once been used to haul life boats. As we passed the many fresh water ponds in this area we found several horses standing in the water, getting their daily ration of vegetation from the bottom. One had to exercise caution when walking in some of these areas as we soon discovered several areas of quicksand.
Mare in Water
Our hopes of seeing more of the island had been curtailed by the rule of ‘no overtime’ for Gerry the station manager. Initially we had wished to get some transportation via truck or quad to further reaches of the island, but as our arrival had taken place on a weekend this was not possible. This morning Gerry would be driving out to the landing beach to pick up a geophysics crew and he graciously offered us a ride out as far as Bald Dune 10km away and would pick us back up at 3pm. Looking forward to a change of scenery Darren and I accepted the ride.
Iris & Dunes
The weather had become quite heavy and overcast and the light looked light it would be flat all day. Gerry had been on the island in various capacities for 20 years and he was a fountain of historical information. He spoke to us about the old settlements and of shipwrecks and his frustration with dealing with government officials who were making decisions about the fate of the island and its wildlife without ever having set foot on the island. Apparently one environmental group had lobbied to remove the wild horses so that more nesting sites would entice larger bird populations. After being attacked regularly and frequently by the arctic terns nesting around the windmill farm, this sounded less than appealing. Their premise was that the horses galloped in large groups trampling nests and eggs in their wanton roaming. It sounded good on paper but these groups had never been to the island to see how sparse the horse population is. It seems also that the Coast Guard’s role on the island was morphing over the years and there was talk of removing the station and its staff. The only alternative to protect this amazing site would be for it to become the responsibility of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Canada Wildlife Service had already declared that if this were to happen they would protect all of the other animals on the island but would not protect the horses, since they were considered ‘feral’ and not ‘wild’. This would open the door for anyone to take horses from the island for their own use, or even for slaughter. It was a constant balancing act and Gerry’s passion for the island and all its creatures was obvious.
Gerry deposited us at the far end of the landing beach and we headed off towards the Bald Dune. As we walked over the first set of dunes, the former location of Station No. 3 we came upon a vastly different set of vegetation. Here the heather was in full bloom, casting a purple hue to the landscape. It was more lush here. We stumbled upon a piece of marble in the sand which turned out to be an old headstone and I shuddered to think of the hardships of living here in the 17th and 18th centuries. Our first equine encounter was of a bay stallion and his family. He was a heavier type of horse with his left ear missing, most likely from frost bite. One of his mares was a bay, and she was regal. Her coat was shining with dapples and she bore the quality of a show horse. Her mane was as long as most of the stallions and her spring foal bore equal quality. These horses, being farther away from the station were not quite as tame, but still showed little fear. We proceeded on to the Bald Dune. There are three such dunes on the island and they are characterized by their shifting sands, to volatile to hold vegetation, and their migratory movement. This particular dune was attached to the north beach some years ago and now it was in the middle of the island. In time it would reach the south beach and then likely disappear into the sea. Unfortunately the flat grey light did not give me the best images of this natural beauty. The vast bald dune transformed the area into a desert like setting, such a contrast from the lush fields just a few meters away. The dune did however serve as a great viewpoint to see both shores and distant views of the East Light.
Storm at Bald Dune
On the way back I quizzed Gerry about the variety and quantity of garbage and other artifacts that often appeared on the beach. Several years ago millions of dollars in cocaine had washed up on shore double wrapped in plastic packages. This caused quite a stir even after the authorities had picked it up, the station was worried that someone would come to retrieve their lost stash. Zoe Lucas, the main researcher on the island, had done a study revealing that over 8000 pieces of plastic wash up on shore monthly, the result of plastic pollution stemming mainly from uncaring fishermen and other boaters who carelessly toss garbage overboard. Once a prosthetic leg washed up on shore. As fate would have it, they knew the owner, a fisherman who had acquired a new leg and thrown the old one overboard.
To top off the day we crept up on the north dunes and photographed grey and harbour seals, a never ending source of entertainment.
Red Bay Stallion
I awoke in the morning to thick fog and I new that our flight would not be leaving. I was actually looking forward to getting some images of the horses in fog, especially since this was the norm for 125 days of the year on Sable. I got a little extra sleep, and started at a civilized 8am, heading west towards the ponds. This was familiar territory and easy to find the way in the dense mist. The salt content was so high that I had to stop every few minutes and wipe the salt film from my glasses. I kept my lenses covered except when I was shooting, and I wondered ‘if a new pick-up truck only lasts 3-4 years here how long would camera gear last in this climate?’ The horses kept popping out of the fog like apparitions and it was fun to photograph the dew on their whiskers and their long wet shaggy manes. I started using a flash with some success. I came across a mare with a new born foal, who was probably only a few hours old. Surprisingly, the mare was also still nursing her very large yearling colt. The fog began to lift so I headed back to main station to see if we had a departure time. Gerry explained that while it looked good here, Halifax was socked in with heavy rain and the small planes could not leave. Excellent!
Wildrose and Heather
Deb & Snippy
I took some time to download photos and have lunch, but soon became anxious to get back out and take advantage of the unexpected extra day of shooting. The fog had lifted but it was still soft grey light, so I set out to try some macro work. I headed out into the heath lands with best intentions of shooting some flowers, but was constantly distracted by horses and quickly put my extension tubes away in favour of my teleconverter. A dark brown stallion marched right up to me and blocked my path. When I stopped and tried to get my video camera out of my bag he got quite curious and pushed his nose into my pack to see what I was up to. Trying to mind the ‘don’t touch the wildlife rule’ I did my best to ignore him, but he sensed that I was comfortable with this arrangement and rested his head on my shoulder looking for attention. He reminded me very much of a Connemara pony and I thought how suitable he would be in the show ring. Clearly the horses near the station we so acclimatized to people they were almost tame.
Two on the Beach
The weather continued to improve and by early evening it was gorgeous out. Darren and I (now confident with our system for spying on seals) crept up a dune and hid on our bellies in the tall grass shooting out towards the ocean. Here we could capture the seals without our presence begin known. That accomplished we set out on a quest to find horses on the beach and fulfill the last major omission from our shotlist ‘horses in the surf’. We started hiking west on the north beach and as usual the seals all dove into the ocean, but continued to follow us, their heads just above the surface.
They always followed us as far as long a we stayed in sight of the beach. At last we came upon a chestnut and a dark brown stallion. The air was getting cooler in the evening and we hoped that would produce a little more activity, as the horses had been pretty laid back all day. After a few minutes the pair started walking past us, just about when Beachcomber and his herd came down between the dunes and onto the beach. The brown stallion took one look at Beachcomber and spun on his heals, closely followed by the chestnut. The way Darren and I were positioned on the beach meant they had to go between us to get back to their home range. They took off at a gallop right along the edge of the surf! Darren was lucky enough to have the angle and the light and captured them beautifully! I had to be content with a smaller silouetted version, but was happy nonetheless.
We walked back to where Beachcomber’s group was grazing near the beach and took much needed rest from sand-hiking. It was nearly 7pm and the western sky was quite dark from the weather happening back on the coast, so we knew the sunset would fizzle out. A few last rays peaked out between the clouds and we watched Beachcomber pin his ears and herd his band of mares and foals out on to the beach and along to their overnight spot. It was a short walk back to main station and we felt lucky to be given this extra day. Inwardly I was wishing for bad weather and flight delays. It seemed like I was just beginning to understand the horses routines and nuances and it was time to leave.
Our hopes for extra days on Sable were dashed with the arrival of a beautiful sunny day. We loaded our gear into the pickup and headed for the landing beach to await our plane. We valued any time with Gerry, as he was so generous with information about the island and its history. Our time here felt so brief and in adequate in many ways. There was so much to see and learn about Sable and that could not be found in the few books, or essays that were available, it had to be experienced on location.
The plane arrived carrying a load of artists who had come in for the week to draw and paint the wild horses. We said our farewells and as we flew over the island one last time we said our silent goodbyes to the horses we had come to know. Beachcomber was at the west ponds with his band, the morning sun glistening off their summer coats. We passed by the west spit and saw a quad and a lone person standing on the extreme end of the island gazing off into the colliding currents.
Sable Island Morning Panoramic