This way to the bakeapple marshes, August 11, 2008

“It’s just a short walk through the trail to Jenny Anstey’s marsh,” said Len.  “The fields are red; look at them!”

I squinted and tried to see past the cemetery, past the tangle of trees, and past the low-lying mist to the field of bake apples in the distance.  I nodded my head in agreement, figuring he ought to know if there were berries out there; he grew up just down the road from the marsh.

I spent my teen years in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, and I certainly knew about berries.  For six weeks every summer I picked raspberries at a farm, from six in the morning till six at night, six days a week.  Later in the summer, blackberries, even bigger than raspberries grew along the deep ditches.  Picking blackberries was a risky business; the bushes grew ten feet high with thorns that could tear a person to ribbons if he or she accidentally fell in.  But, once picked, these luscious berries were delicious with milk and sugar.

“Where’s the trail?” I asked Len.  He hesitated, and then began walking down the road a bit.  I should have guessed; he wasn’t sure.  He pointed to a deep ditch and indicated a filthy trail through heavily twisted spruce.  I managed the ditch and followed him, thankful I had worn my rubber boots, trying to keep a foot on either side of deep pools of mud.  Twisted roots snaked across the trail at every turn, branches slashed me in the face, my boots became mired in mud that sucked like quicksand.  “This isn’t a trail!” I howled, “It’s a bog!”

That’s when I realized there are two meanings to the word, ‘marsh’.  One is the dictionary meaning, and the other is experience.  Panting, I splashed through the muddy trail, grasping at branches for dear life.  Eventually, there was less mud but deeper grass and more water.  Len sprang from one tuft of grass to another, calling out that there was a little brook ahead.  “You’ll have to jump it,” he advised, leaping first and holding out his hand for me to grasp.  I wanted to say something unkind, but looked up and noticed two people on the other side picking berries, so I clamped my mouth shut.

Once across the stream, the marsh stretched into the distance, rimmed with spruce.  The bog was coloured with white lichen, hummocks of peat moss, pools of mud, delicate marsh flowers, and crops of red and orange bakeapples.  A nor’ east wind sighed over the dry grasses and the roar of waves beating on the shore at Cape Onion sounded like heavy traffic on the 401 freeway in Toronto.

Len bent to the task and soon I heard the thunk, thunk, of berries hitting the bottom of the one-gallon pail.  I stood watching the other couple, who snapped lids onto their pails in preparation to leave.  But, wait!  They were going directly through the trees to the road, and the path they were taking certainly looked shorter than the swamp we had just passed through.  I tapped Len on the shoulder and asked, “Where are they going?”  He looked up and frowned.  “There must be another path.” he suggested, and held up a berry.  “Make sure you pick the shucks off,” he said, demonstrating the process.  Did he say, ‘shucks’?  In the city, ‘shucks’ is something you say when you’re disappointed or irritated; and I was certainly a little irritated.

At first, I picked the ripest bake apples and shoved them into my jacket pocket, but it didn’t take long to figure out that ripe berries turn quickly to jam, so I ate them instead.

I’d like to say getting out of the marsh was easier than getting in, but that wasn’t the case.  The alternate trail was shorter, but just as treacherous.  When we reached the car, I felt as if I’d been on a three-day safari in the Amazon jungle; all for a one-gallon pail of berries.  My hands and pockets were sticky with bake apple juice, my pants were mud-spattered, and my boots were caked in mud.

So, as much as I like Jenny Anstey’s marsh, and admire the fact that she must have been quite the berry picker, getting into and out of the bog is more of a workout than I’m willing to endure.  I would rather buy bake apples at a store than cross that bog—because you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t always take the city out of the girl.

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!