New Brunswick is almost all forest. Thick stands of sugar maple and paper birch, spruce, fir and Jack pine blanket nearly ninety percent of the province. The forest is home to millions of creatures, and man, of course.
The aboriginal peoples, who came here thousands of years ago, lived part of the year in the woods near the seashore and part of the year in the deep forest. There were no roads so they traveled the natural highways – the gushing streams, placid lakes and mighty rivers that cut through the vegetation and even primordial rock. These people respected the life-giving properties of the waterways and named them long before the European settlers arrived. Native names are still used today – Restigouche, Nepisiguit, Tobique, and Miramichi.
Europeans followed their lead and settled into the fertile river valleys. The mighty St. John River, used by both natives and Europeans as a major transportation route, flows from top to bottom of the province and defines much of the border between the U.S. and Canada.
A modern explorer of New Brunswick is faced with the same frame of reference: – there is the forest and there is the water.
It can be a joyful task – seeking out the living forest and the fresh water that sustains it. Canoe travel would be in the spirit of the first peoples who settled this land. Guided canotoe urs retrace Mi’Kmaq and Maliseet routes and the routes of the French explorers on the St. Croix. There wild white water challenges for expert canoeists and more placid waters for beginners.
The roads which faithfully parallel the river’s edge and shoreline make exciting cycling. When road and river braids together, tiny car ferries, considered part of the highway system carry passengers and vehicles across, free of charge. Dozens of small rivers are forded by silver-grey covered bridges, the traditional way of preserving the wooden trusses underneath.
And the life of the forest is everywhere. It would be difficult to hike down a country road anywhere in the New Brunswick without being confronted by a chattering squirrel, a dawdling porcupine or the split second flick of a white-tail deer.
Some travelers are content with a simple after dinner stroll, to watch the >setting sun, after a fine meal at a country inn. Others push themselves and their backpack up —meter Mount Charleton. All are be rewarded with the fragrant pine air and a handful of raspberries or blueberries grown wild at the road side.
Creatures of the air – birds are everywhere, too and make themselves heard; a symphony of warblers, rapping black-backed woodpeckers, boreal chickadees and gray jays.
The forests end at the salt water. But it also teems with wildlife, of a very special kind. The finback whale, the second largest whale in the world (24 meters long and 73 tones) arrives every summer to feast on a bounty of food which is churned up by the massive tides. More than 20 other kinds of whales including mink, humpback, north Atlantic right whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbour porpoises leap and breach in the waves here. Meanwhile, fascinated human beings with binoculars and cameras, on small trusty boats with naturalist guides have steeled themselves for the experience. The mammoth beast spews its briny breath skyward and they vow to remember this forever.
From the deck of the whale tour boats, bird watchers thrill to see clouds of birds swarming schools of fish, shearwaters, kittiwakes, jaegers and auks. From this rocking marine vantage, the green-fringed rocky coast – the forest – looks quite unreal.