The Tablelands

On the western coast of Newfoundland lies Gros Morne National Park; as if that place wasn’t spectacular enough, in the southwest corner of the park lies the Tablelands.

The Tablelands is a red mesa that towers over the scrubby green land, a mad region of red rock surrounded by grey stone and ocean. To at last pull yourself off the talus slope and onto the top is like climbing into the fifth world. The land behind you, the land you knew, is hidden below the rim, and the land before you is lost in cold fog. The jumble of red boulders is not common sandstone, but something much harder and stranger- peridotite, pulled from forges deep in the earth. They say that the continental plates collided here once, far beneath the ocean, and the violence of that collision caused magma to pour up; then, 570 million years ago that piece of the ocean floor was pushed up and over instead of down and under so that now it lies exposed.

It’s remarkable to even the casual passerby because its story is so clear, so easy to read- it doesn’t belong there. It’s obviously an alien, an outcast, a county-sized anomaly. It looks like a chunk of Mars that fell from the sky, or a vast red ark that sailed off the sea and stuck in the land. Continents fought, and loved, and birthed this war-child only to exile it to a cold island at the edge of the world. It’s a story of giants and cataclysms, creation and metamorphosis, all on a scale in which we are less than motes.

You can’t see that mountain-sized red land without imagining it in motion. And the land does move, of course, geology teaches us that, but it shouldn’t be so obvious. To imply life in rocks is terrifying; to say they are not still, but still alive, and maybe coming towards us, is crippling.