It had been a long time coming… With Louise Gratton In the leading role of Mary-LouText by Louise GrattonGraphic art by Jean GaudetPhotography by Louise Gratton, Serge Côté and Mélissa Plourde
Prequel As a kid, Mary Lou had two favorite games :horses and Indians. Yes, not cowboys, horses. At 5years old, she would run and run around thepark, neighing and shaking her curly head, jumpingover any obstacles that came in her path, includingdogs and other kids. Her mother said to calmdown, it made her dizzy. But Mary Lou ran until shewas all sweaty and too tired to go on or too hungry.Her brothers said she even ate grass but when theydid she would cry out “ It ain’t true!”. Well… she didtry it once.
Later on, when she was allowed to stayoutside until dark, Lou would play Indians with herfriend Luc, who always wanted to be the Chiefbecause he had a authentic apache headdress(yeah, right!). But Lou didn’t care. She was aferocious warrior and darkened her face with dirtto blend in with the environment. They would spy onthe neighbors laying low behind hedges, movingstealthy between bushes, running fast and hurdlingfences after startling the unsuspicious white faceswith a piercing war cry. Once at a safedistance, they would fall down and roll on thegrass, giggling. It was a lot of fun, until summer 63, whenLuc decided he wanted to play Batman and Robin.No way man…
In her teens, Lou’s pride of having Abenaquiand Mohawk ancestry was broken by her stupidbrother who gave her the family’s genealogy forChristmas. She was shattered because, all theseyears, she had believed her Grandpa who had toldher she had Indian blood. He had also promised hera pony like her mom had as a young girl, to go withthe wicker buggy still hidden in the barn behind oldand dusty hay bails. Now, he was dead and Loucouldn’t bring anyone to accurately tell the storythat she wanted so badly to be true. Not even herGrandma who’s last name, Gill, was that of half thepeople in the Odanak reserve near the village whereshe was born. Anyway, she still had two things thather Grandpa had given her and that no one couldever take away: the love of horses and a passionfor nature.
No one was really surprised when shedecided to study ecology. At age 56, although sheloved her nature-related job, Lou felt strayed.The same old, same old, eat/work/sleep routineleft her empty - while still gaining weight. Sheneeded a serious brake. She took a 3-month leaveto think about what she wanted to do with therest of her life. Browsing the net one rainyday, she came upon the website of a ranch thatoffered expeditions in the McGerrigle range, westof the the Chic-Chocs mountains. That was it! Shewould learn to ride and go on a five-day horsebackriding trek in the Gaspé Peninsula, a part of theAppalachian Mountain Range she cherished.. Twoyears later, she did. It had been a long time coming…
I was in the Chic-Chocs a long time ago withother botanists. We were there to survey rareplants growing on the serpentine taluses andsummits of mont Albert, in the Parc national de laGaspésie.
Serge Côté, owner of the Domaine du Centaure andprofessional mountain guide with Vanessa Moreault, internat the ranch.
The tag line for the Parc national de la Gaspésie is “ a sea ofmountains” and it truly is. A large forest block on the NorthernAppalachian Ecoregion maps. A wild landscape seen here from the topof the Petit Mont Sainte-Anne at 1,147 meters with , in theback, mont Albert at 1, 151 meters.
Also in the park, mont Jacques-Cartier, the highest summit insouthern Quebec, culminating at 1,270 meters. Together with theChic-Choc Mountains to the west, the McGerrigle Range provideshabitat for the only woodland caribou herd south of the SaintLawrence. We actually followed the caribou’s path on which we couldclearly see fresh tracks, browsing and feces. They must had beenhere not long ago.
The diverse alpine vegetation is closely tied to the geology of theregion’s highest peaks, which include extensive areas ofcalcareous, serpentine, and potassic bedrock, each harboring arepresentative alpine /toundra vegetation. Seeing the plants was likemeeting old friends I had not seen in a long time. Once abotanist, always a botanist…
Early morning , mont Table. It’s hard to believe this is Quebec.
Flats, at the foot of mont Xalibu and montTable - to the left -are in fact the restoration site of the former Mines Madeleinethat extracted copper and gold. It is now a very famous winterdestination for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. Maybe in anear future…
Back at the ranch. From the inn’s dining room, a peaceful view ofthe Bay of Gaspé, Gulf St. Lawrence.
Resting the horses on a one-day trek that took us across ForillonNational Park. The Portage trail we rode on is the actual path usedby the Micmacs to reach the bay of Gaspé from the Gulf of St.Lawrence, therefore avoiding the treacherous water of Cap Gaspé.
Like all riding destinations near the ocean, the beach is a must. Thisplace is called Sandy Beach but locals also call it Boom Defence . Itwas, with Halifax, part of Canada’s defence strategy during SecondWorld War. An actual net prevented U-boats from moving inland!
Behind the 3-km sand spit colonized by sea grass, Sandy Beachharbors an extensive salt marsh renowned for its diversity of aquaticbirds. It is the site of the most important common tern colony of theGaspé Peninsula. Their cries, a farewell at the end of perfect timefor nature.
Stay tune for the sequel “A free spirit” Fall 2012Louise and her new buddy Fortune
THANK YOU To Nature Conservancy Canada and to my new friends at the ranch “Le domaine duCentaure” located in Cap-aux-Os, near Forillon National Park Serge Côté (Guide and owner) Mélissa Plourde (Guide and cook) Vanessa Moreault (intern guide) Fortune (Appaloosa), Doc Jim (Canadian) Sheba (Arab), Flash and Jesse James (Quarterhorse) July 2012