August 8th, 2017
With cooler temperatures and no sign of the yet to materialize thunderstorm, Bailey and I headed out to Jean Lake for an afternoon of collecting Labrador tea leaves (also called Ledum groenlandicum which is a shrub that flowers from late May to mid-July). The plants grow abundantly in the forest around Labrador West without any human care. All that we have to do is be patient until the leaves are ready for harvesting. The leaves are picked, washed and dried before being stored away for the winter months. It is the North’s version of herbal tea. The leaves can be used to make a tea that is rich with vitamin C. Faced with the harsh weather here, I relish warming myself up with a mug of seeped Labrador tea leaves throughout the winter. I can close my eyes and its smoky aroma reminds me of hiking off the trail in search of unblemished leaves. This harvest, I have a helper. Bailey would be hauling our gear as well as the collected leaves. She must know that hauling is what Newfoundland dogs were bred for. The sight of her harness brings on an instant tail wag. I have become more skilled at putting the harness on her over the last few weeks. I carefully balance the load consisting of water bottles, drinking bowl, bug spray for the two of us, collection bags and camera. Then, we are off. Bailey ignores another dog and owner coming towards us. She plods ahead, focused on her work. Within 10 minutes of leaving home, we are strolling down the trail in search of “perfect” tea leaves. I have learned not to pick from plants too close to the trail. Local dog traffic on the trail means these plants are likely to have been specially fertilized.
Bingo, I spot a mother lode of vibrant, dark green leafed plants. They are setback from the trail. Bailey responds immediately to the command, “Whoa” and remains stationary while I root in the backpack for one of the collection bags. I begin picking. I soon realize that Bailey is no longer standing on the trail. She has followed behind me – curious to see what I am doing. Perhaps, Bailey remembers me picking berries and is hopeful that a tasty treat might come her way. One sniff of the Labrador tea leaves and Bailey’s hopes were dashed. The leaves were not appealing to a Newfoundland dog unlike berries. The forest was peaceful. A bird would chirp every so often but, Bailey and I were on our own. That is, if one does not count the hundreds of black flies swarming us. We continued for a while before moving back to the trail in search of other picking spots. I reflected on the fact that my father’s paternal side also had picked Labrador tea out west and sold the dried tea leaves to men headed for British Columbia’s Gold Rush. It must be in the genes. The only difference is that I had a Newfoundland dog assisting me.
Occasionally, I would take a break for water. Bailey seemed to understand guzzling the water in her bowl resulted in the backpacks getting lighter. A couple of places on the trail allowed Bailey to wade into the lake. I always took off the backpacks before she entered. It was a precaution. One cannot always tell how far out a Newfoundland dog will go. Not all of the items in the backpacks would fare well if submerged in water like the camera. When the bags were filled, we made our way home. Bailey made quite an impression on two preteen girls who wanted to know what she was carrying. Working or not, Bailey earned the ear scratches that the girls gave her. Bailey promptly plopped herself down onto the cool concrete in the garage for a late afternoon siesta and it was tea time for me.