The Best Laid Plans, July 14, 2008

Global warming.  In northern Newfoundland, it’s a myth; I’m still wearing my coat most days.  On the mainland, global warming is a fact, but that’s only one of the culture shocks I’ve experienced since coming here.   The other is this; until we moved to this neck of the woods Len’s enthusiasm for hiking had been kept in cold storage.

The Scottish poet, Robbie Burns, coined the phrase, “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft’ awry.”  And that’s exactly what happened when Len decided the three of us would take the first sunny day and hike to the summit of Western Head.

Opposites attract.  I’d rather sit down with a cup of coffee and read a book; Len would rather challenge the summits.  I’d rather bake a sheet of cookies; Len would rather cut and stack firewood.  The pay-off for Len is that he gets to hear me quote a line or two from a book, or sample cookies; the pay-off for me is that I get to help stack wood, or go hiking.  Can this be fair?

“The wind is south.” Len said as we began to pack the knapsack. “This means the Back of the Land will be sheltered.”  He packed essential hardware, like binoculars, matches and the Kelly Kettle, and I packed the picnic.

“I thought we were only hiking to the summit, and coming back,” I complained, already feeling the perspiration breaking out on my brow.  In my mind, this hike should last one hour, and no more.  One of my faults, if you can call it a fault, is that I want to know all the rules right from the start.  I want to know start times and finish times, how far, and how long.

“We’ll just walk the loop,” he said, but I knew he’d change the rules; he always does.

Amy cheered me on.  “C’mon, Mom, you can do it!”

“Once we climb to the summit,” promised Len, “there are no hills.”  That was lie number one.  There were more lies to come.

As we toiled over the hills, I admired the majestic cliffs and winding pathways, the indigo blue of the sea, the pristine icebergs and the deep, plushy, pink moss beneath our feet.  When I remarked on the steep incline of the hills, Amy said, “They’re not hills, Mom, the ground just has a slight upward slope.”  What a girl.

An hour later, after a mad scramble down into the cove at Back of the Land, we arrived on the beach.  The south wind swept down through the valley.  “I thought you said it’d be sheltered,” I remarked.  Len looked surprised.  “I thought it would be, too.” he said.

That had to be lie number two.

We scavenged for driftwood on the beach and Len lit the fire successfully with one match.  “You fill the Kelly Kettle with water while I find kindling,” he said.

The Kelly Kettle, also aptly named the Volcano Kettle, was oft used by Irish fishermen on boats.  It is constructed of three parts:  firebase, chimney, and water chamber.  I pulled the cork out of the water chamber and filled it with the remainder of our bottled water and popped the cork back in.  Len lit the kindling in the firebase and we sat down, shivering in the cold wind, waiting for the kettle to boil.

“Shouldn’t you remove the cork?” I asked.  A warning on the kettle said, “ALWAYS REMOVE THE CORK BEFORE LIGHTING THE KETTLE.”  Len took a spoonful of beans and said, “It’ll boil faster this way.”

KABOOM!  The cork on its chain popped off like a gunshot.  The volcano kettle erupted, spewing boiling water.  The firebase tilted and fell into the grass.  The wind swept down and caught the embers, scattering them.  We leapt up, Len with scalded hands—there was no time for first aid—and ran to the beach for water, I stomped the flames with my feet, and Amy pinioned the plates to the table with both arms.

Fire out, it appeared as if our little picnic had fallen into cureless ruin, but Len salvaged the Kelly Kettle and handed it to me and I poured out a meager cupful of steaming tea, which we shared.

This misadventure will be a family memory we can laugh about over future campfires.

But, was Len satisfied with a one-hour hike?  Nope.  That was lie number three.  That one hour stretched into five, so it’ll be a frosty Friday before I venture out on another hike.  However, with global warming a cold issue in Newfoundland, that frosty Friday may come sooner than I think!


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