This man's love affair with icebergs will warm you on the inside
The first thing that might catch your eye when visiting Bonavista, Newfoundland is the lighthouse.
Built in 1843 and still fueled by seal oil, it stands tall at the tip of the Bonavista peninsula, a poignant symbol of a community carved from maritime tradition.
It’s a surreal place, where just a few thousand people, mostly in the fishing industry, huddle close to the North Atlantic — weathering its stormy moods to reap its spoils.
But for a a little more than a month every year, that ancient beacon is eclipsed by towering icebergs, making their migration down the coast from the frozen north.
Wind and ocean currents determine just how long icebergs will linger. (Photo: Mark Gray)
The march of the frost giants is such a common sight between May and mid-June, most residents hardly raise an eyebrow.
Not Mark Gray. The 45-year-old music teacher and amateur photographer chases those icy behemoths like a kid running after clouds.
A music teacher by day, Gray can’t resist the siren call of icebergs. (Photo: Mark Gray)
“For most people around our area, it’s not a real big deal,” he tells MNN. “For me being a real nature buff — I love nature. I love being outside. I love everything that it offers — I really look forward to this time of year.”
So when his uncle, a fisherman, called on a recent Saturday asking if he would like to go out on the boat, Gray didn’t hesitate.
“It’s a completely different perspective when you’re on a boat on the ocean. You can’t really compare it to the land,” he says.
Joined by his family, armed with a camera — and a powerful lens — Gray was soon sidled up to one of those wandering titans.
For Gray, much of an iceberg’s allure comes down to its sheer fleetingness.
“They can be there one night,” he says. “And the next day they’re gone. It’s all to do with the ocean currents and wind direction.”
This time of year, more than 300 icebergs can be spotted making their way down the coast. (Photo: Mark Gray)
Indeed, Bonavista, where Italian explorer John Cabot made his first landing in North America back in 1497, is uniquely positioned as a kind of shipping lane for icebergs.
“Where we’re living on the North Atlantic, the wind is incredible,” Gray explains. “The winds can change so much overnight. The ocean currents and the wind direction can make those icebergs move quite quickly.”
But not before giving onlookers a full view of its staggering dimensions.
“You can even see from the top of the ocean how much bigger they are underneath,” he says. “Those icebergs are nine times bigger.”
An iceberg strikes a solitary figure near Moses Point, Bonavista. (Photo: Mark Gray)
The Canadian Coast Guard makes things even easier for iceberg gawkers like Gray, patrolling the area, and updating a website called icebergfinder.com with a real-time tally.
“There are 300 that are on our coastline right now,” Gray excitedly declares.
It all adds up to a magical place — if, of course, your idea of magic includes a little meteorological mayhem.
“My goodness. It is very interesting,” he says. “This week, we’re in a lull. All we’ve had is rain, drizzle and fog. It’s minus 4 out there now with the windchill. And the wind is howling out there. But we’re used to that. It’s just part and parcel of when you live on the coast.”
The coast guard tracks every iceberg that makes its way from the Arctic down Newfoundland’s northeast coast. (Photo: Mark Gray)
Despite the fact that “basically, we’re living in the North Atlantic Ocean,” there’s somehow an unmistakable warmth in Gray’s voice. He loves his hometown and all the visitors, both human and frozen, it draws.
In fact, Gray, who does some work for the local tourism board, would love if his work could also be a kind of beacon — one that might draw visitors to the area.
He could even introduce you to a couple of his titanic friends, in the frozen flesh.
“There’s a couple that just broke apart a couple of days ago,” he says. “I’m going to go out there tonight and just check it out and see.”
Another perspective on the iceberg that may or may not want to swallow the old lighthouse. (Photo: Mark Gray)
It’s a passion that runs deeper than any photograph could convey. Indeed, you might even say, these images are just the tip of the iceberg.
And, of course, if you would prefer to soak up those ice-scapes from the warmth of your couch, you can always check into Gray’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.
This man’s love affair with icebergs will warm you on the inside
No one gets more excited about iceberg season than camera-toting Canadian Mark Gray.