In the afternoon, we traced the city’s veins of Asian culture to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, in Chinatown. Built in the 1980s, largely by 52 craftsmen using only Ming dynasty tools and materials from their home city of Suzhou, the garden occupies a mere third of an acre, but with a pond glittering with koi, a drooping willow tree, and serene pavilions edging the courtyard, its presence is expansive. I noticed my father’s demeanor lighten. He listened raptly as Anita Huang, our Taiwan-born guide, described the careful consideration that resulted in this faithful interpretation of a 15th-century scholar’s garden. She pointed out the Corsican mint growing spontaneously from cracks in the cobblestone. “After it rains,” she told us, “the entire place is perfumed like mint tea.” My father looked over at me. Without a word, I knew it reminded him of the wild mint growing around our house in the Catskills.
Some 3,000 miles east of Vancouver, I sat shotgun in a helicopter as we approached Fogo, a tiny island of roughly 2,400 residents. Blasts of wind indicated when my father was hanging his head out the window to photograph caribou trails sketching through the bogs below. Walking from the landing pad, we struggled to comprehend the Modernist structure before us: a pale, woodpaneled form of two stacked rectangular blocks on rust-colored pillars with a cantilevered segment perched above the granite coast.
(L) The dramatic modern architecture of Fogo Island Inn. (R) Flores Island, where Clayoquot guests can hike the Wild Side interpretive trail.William Abranowicz
We had arrived at the 29-room Fogo Island Inn, the work of Newfoundland-born architect Todd Saunders. “There are few buildings on earth that have made me feel like this,” my father said. He didn’t need to elaborate; I shared his awe. The floor-to-ceiling windows in our room flooded the space with afternoon light, illuminating the nautically themed wallpaper, locally sewn quilts, and smooth wooden furniture made in a nearby woodshop. The faint blue pyramid of an iceberg floated offshore.
We were soon navigating ice-cleaved rock formations on foot, heading toward an old seaside cemetery overgrown with wild blue flag iris and crowberry bushes. Whereas the Pacific Northwest, with its dramatic fjords and lush forests smelling of loamy earth, had a distinct sense of grandeur and mystery, this craggy eastern coastline had a certain intimacy that reminded me of Maine. The friendliness of the islanders was, however, distinctly Canadian.
Any description of Fogo Island is incomplete without a mention of its greatest patron, Zita Cobb, who was born here in Joe Batt’s Arm, a tiny village of saltbox houses. Cobb and her family fled Fogo for the mainland after the collapse of the cod-fishing industry in the 1970s. But after making a fortune in fiber optics, she returned, determined to revitalize the community by building the inn and creating the Shorefast Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting the local culture, economy, and environment. That night, we ate mackerel spread on pumpernickel bread, served by the first of many staffers who told us with pride they were from Fogo. Tender pork loin followed, as we listened to locals playing jigs on an accordion and plotted future expeditions. After a breakfast of organic oats and wild-blueberry pork sausage (the inn sources much of its food from the island itself, its waters, or Newfoundland), we spent the day exploring the island, first on a bicycle ride up a steep hill to the charming town of Tilting, then on a cross-island drive with Fergus Foley, our guide and a Tilting native. He told us that Irish sailors settled the village in the 1750s. “I don’t know if they were seasick or what, but they stuck around,” he joked.
(L) A fishing hut in the village of Joe Batt’s Arm, on Fogo Island, in Newfoundland. (R) An iceberg off the coast of Fogo Island, Canada.William Abranowicz
A fisheries officer in the grim days before the inn was built, Foley spent a few years in Nunavut, the northernmost, least-populated Canadian province. “If it wasn’t for Zita Cobb,” he said, “I might not have come back.” Given his previous occupation, it made sense that Foley knew everyone we passed. “There’s Frank,” he said, waving to a man mending his dock. “I used to catch him poaching lobster.” Frank waved back with a big smile.
The highlight of the trip came the next day: a boat ride to the Little Fogo Islands, a small archipelago visible from the window of our room. Captain Aneas Emberley steered us between islets that are home to nesting puffins and razorbills. Once we landed at Wadham’s Harbour Island, Michael Dillon, Emberley’s nephew, led us around a handful of houses and the tiny St. Anne’s Church, which has stood since the days when the place was a fishing outpost. (The island is now a summer retreat and cultural site.) Dillon had recently restored his grandfather’s one-room house, and his pride cemented our faith that Fogo’s past and future are not only compatible but utterly symbiotic. On our return, we stopped between the two islands and, in a light rain, dropped lines into the water. Within 30 minutes, we’d pulled in 15 wriggling cod. As we boated back, my father and I both felt a deep communion with a place, people, and culture best experienced from the sea.
My father lost his father young. I know that’s the painful genesis of his impulse to record impermanence in images. It also adds intensity to our travels together, a sense that the time we share exploring the world is sacred. As the years have passed, he’s grown lighter, finding peace with himself, his craft, and his environment. And I’ve learned to heed my own need to frame the world with words. He’s transferred that drive to me and, in doing so, has given me the tools to find peace on the road.