Who’s Counting?

Up ahead of me, legs hammering the road like pistons, antlers like tree branches raking the air, the morning sun shining off his burnished coat, his beard swinging back and forth with each toss of his head, and a rogue eye glancing back at me over his shoulder as he trots along the yellow line, Mr. Moose is on the loose, and he has no plans to share the road with me, or to let me drive by.  Could it be that he’s waiting for me to turn on my signal light before he lets me pass?

One of the most common questions directed at me since I moved to the northern peninsula is, “Seen ‘ere moose today?”  It’s not a hard question for me to answer; I just don’t see why it matters how many moose are out there, and I don’t understand the Newfoundlander’s fascination with an animal that can pester the wits out of people by trotting up the center of the road and defying drivers to pass.  Perhaps it has everything to do with something I heard someone say not long ago.  “He’ll be a great one to get in the fall.”  Is it possible that, when people are counting, they’re actually counting moose steaks rather than moose?

I’ve discovered that many Newfoundlanders take their moose sightings very seriously and that the whole tide of a conversation can be diverted in the blink of an eye by calmly stating, “I saw 87 moose today.”  Guaranteed, Buddy saw at least a dozen more than that, even though he was one car-length behind me at the time.

So, when it comes to moose, I know people are counting, but the question that begs to be answered is, why are they counting, and why does it matter?

In the early 1960s, my dad drove a 1952 Chevy 4-door sedan, and every summer our family took a vacation across the prairies.  Back then, the old car seemed as big as a boat; I know, because my parents, plus all six kids, a dog, and two cats fit nicely inside.  My favourite spot in the old blue Chevy was up on the ledge by the back window, where I could lie for hours watching the dust clouds behind us and the clouds of grasshoppers in front.  When boredom struck, as it occasionally did, one of us would ask, “How many more minutes till we get there?” And my dad would say, “There are 300 miles to go, and 26 telephone poles per mile.  Just count the telephone poles and that should give you some idea of how long it will take.”  Dad was just giving us something to divert our attention from the long hours that lay ahead because, other than the occasional sighting of a herd of antelope, there was very little to speculate about while crossing the prairies.

So, we counted telephone poles and became very good at it.

The way I see it, this moose-counting thing has got to be more fiction than fact.  I’ve lived on the island three years, and I have yet to see the sheer numbers of moose that are supposed to be out there along the side of the road.  I’ve traveled along the roads at dawn, at dusk, and times in between, and the most moose I’ve seen on any trip is a couple dozen.  I’m beginning to think people claiming to see large numbers of moose are really counting legs instead of the number of animals, and really, who can blame them?  One moose on a slippery road, propelling itself out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, legs flailing like chunks of wood falling off the back end of a truck, is sure to make a person think he or she is seeing more than one moose; I know; it happened to me.  One second a collision was imminent, the next, Mr. Moose was gone in a mad flurry of hooves and legs and ugly snout, tearing off through the brush like a scalded cat.

So, when it comes to counting, here’s my advice (although I know no self-respecting Newfoundlander will ever heed it).  Count telephone poles.  I guarantee you’ll get the numbers right every time and, because telephone poles ‘stay where they’re to,’ you won’t have to share the road with them, or tell lies to outdo Buddy.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t expect her to swallow all the ‘moose tales’ circulating in outport Newfoundland.  At least, not yet.

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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!

Look around and see the young people are gone

Ship Cove Wharf on the Great Northern Peninsula --Kathleen Tucker
Ship Cove Wharf on the Great Northern Peninsula –Kathleen Tucker

It’s what I didn’t hear, or see, that troubled me.

The telephone rang.  There was to be a boat launched at the wharf and Len was asked to help.  I went along to watch the dozen or so men roll the boat down over the poles and into the water; it’s a piece of Newfoundland history that’s fading into obscurity.

The morning was crisp, clear, and cool.  The ocean was deepest blue.  Seagulls hovered and swooped and screeched.  Waves splashed against the wharf.  Men’s voices rose and fell on currents of wind.  Sun spilled across the water and spotlighted a pile of lobster traps near the shore, casting vivid shadows.

Ten minutes after the trucks and cars had arrived at the wharf; the men put their shoulders to the boat and it slipped into the waves.  I thought the men might have got back into their trucks and gone home, but most stayed behind to yarn.  I wondered then if the pleasure of launching a boat lay not so much in the launching, as in the gathering that followed.

But something was missing.  It’s true that nobody had sung The Jolly Poker since the days of Reginald Bessey, but that wasn’t what was missing either.  I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

As I sat at the wharf with the car window rolled down, the wind carried the salty smell of the sea and the lush, pungent smell of warm sun on earth and moss and new grass.  Suddenly, the years slipped away like beads falling from a necklace, and I was seven years old again, standing beneath pine and spruce trees on the Sarcee Indian Reservation.

I know I claim to be a city girl, but there was one year in my life when I wasn’t.  My dad was a traveling missionary and when I was seven we lived for a year with the Indians near Calgary.  It was one of the most magical years of my life.  I was one of six children and our playground was the five acres surrounding the church and rectory.  We didn’t need the expensive toys kids seem to need now; we built our own raft and sailed it down Fish Creek; we played endless games in the abandoned school; our ‘baseballs’ were round balls of dried horse dung; we crawled under barbed-wire fences hunting for gophers, and tried to trap squirrels as they skittered along the fence poles.  The fresh, keen smells of pine and spruce and grass were perfume to my soul.  We played cowboys and Indians with real Indians, and rode real horses.  We discovered the dried-up skulls of cattle and buffalo as we roamed the pastures and forests, and we watched for bobcats in the trees.

It’s a mystery how sights and sounds and scents can transport us to another place and another time, but they do.

I spent only one year on the reservation, but I still remember the beaded necklaces, moccasins, and jackets the Indian women made for us.  I remember wonderful old surnames like Starlight, Heavenfire, Dodging Horse, One Spot, and Many Moons.  I remember my father preaching in the little clapboard church, Indian powwows and teepees and dances.  My mother had her hands full in the church and the rectory, cooking many meals at the woodstove and hanging countless laundries on the line.

Life as a child in the early 1960s was alive with adventure.

A car door slammed and I was suddenly back at the wharf with the waves slapping on the rocks and the boats silent on the beach and the men gathered around the truck in their green unemployment boots.  It struck me then.  Almost all the men were in their 50s or 60s; there were no young men and there were no children to carry on the customs and traditions of a bygone time.

It leaves me wishing I had lived in this fishing village in its heyday, even for one brief year.  I can imagine the bay full of ships, the men and women working at the fishery, the laughter and tears of children, laundries whipping on clotheslines.

The past is a kaleidoscope of memories that creates a variety of patterns to help us shape the future.  Families are the glue that holds it all together.

You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.  But memories of a simpler time are like jewels on the necklace of time. 

Double Line? What double line?

Learning to drive in St. Anthony is a far cry from learning to drive in Toronto.  My son Ryan learned to drive in Toronto, and my daughter Amy, who just got her beginner’s license, is learning to drive in St. Anthony, but regardless of where they learn to drive, the fear-factor of sitting in the passenger seat and yielding control of the car to a teenager takes nerve.

To demonstrate my point, I read in a Toronto newspaper of a teenage girl who traumatized a number of people when she showed up to complete the final portion of her driving test—parking.  But, instead of parking, she accelerated and ploughed into four parked cars.  The vehicle spun out of control and hit two more.  A pedestrian walking nearby was taken to hospital with leg injuries after she was pinned between two cars.  Her driving instructor was treated for shock and stress and sent home to recover.  The young girl failed her test.

When Amy passed her beginner’s test, she was instructed to put a Novice Driver sign in the back window of the vehicle.  That way, other drivers would, hopefully, keep a safe distance, which was not the case in Toronto when Ryan got his beginner’s license.  When he took to the streets to drive, he not only had to learn how to read signs along the way, but to read the signals other drivers were giving him with their fingers, their horns, or their mouths, and none of them were nods or winks, I assure you.

But at least, in the city, there were well-marked signs and freshly-painted lines on the roads and intersections.  And I have to say, since Amy started driving, I’m seeing the local roads with new eyes.

With her beginner’s license in hand, Amy reviewed the manual, memorized the signs, and settled back into the driver’s seat.  It wasn’t until she drove from Ship Cove to St. Anthony that an interesting number of facts came to light.  First of all, the Ship Cove road suffers from so many cracks, fissures, and potholes, one can only hope it will receive some major improvements this summer.  Then, as she puttered along at 60 km/h, she asked, “Can I drive 80 or 90 km/h like everybody else?”

I took the driver’s seat when we hit Route 430 to St. Anthony and discussed some rules of driving.  “When you see the double line on a road, it means nobody can pass on either side.”  I said.

What double line?” she asked.  That’s when I realized the traffic lines mentioned in the manual either couldn’t be seen or were barely visible on Route 430, although they had existed in my imagination.  It occurred to me it might be wiser to paint the lines on the road at winter’s end, rather than in the fall, or use a more durable paint so they might last more than a season.

As we drove through St. Anthony to the Town Hall, she said, “I think the fog is rolling in, it’s hard to see.”

“It’s not fog, Amy, its salt and dust.” I said, rolling up the windows.

We dropped some books at the Library and turned around to go back to the mall.  At the RCMP station she slowed to 30 km/h.

“Okay, Amy, move into the left lane so you can turn into the mall.”  Looking into my side view mirror, I noted there were perhaps half a dozen cars behind us, and clearly they wanted to pass in the right lane.

“Where is the left lane?” asked Amy.

“There!”  I said, pointing.

“Where?” she cried.  “I don’t see it!”

She was right. There were no lines or arrows visible to indicate that there was a left or right lane.  To her, there was only one lane.

“See the sand up ahead on the left?” I pointed to dirt and sand in what appeared to be the middle of the road.  “That’s the left lane.”

She navigated her way towards the mall parking lot, running right over the large pothole by Tim Horton’s that the town, thankfully, had filled only recently.

“What a harrowing experience!” she sighed.  “I like driving, Mom,” she said, “but these roads are not maintained like they were in Toronto!”

Which just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, at least, not yet.

Enjoying toutons and a good yarn

Queen Elizabeth may think tea and crumpets at the Palace is tasty, but she probably hasn’t tasted tea and toutons, poor dear.  All my life I’ve measured how civilized a social gathering ought to be, by comparing it to Tea with the Queen, but no more!  If Queen Elizabeth hasn’t tasted toutons,  more’s the pity!

My love affair with these delectable morsels began not long ago when a lovely lady by the name of Rose invited me to tea.  As I at down at the table she took the toutons from a sizzling cast iron frying pan and stacked them on a plate.  When the kettle boiled she poured steaming hot cups of tea and placed them on the table along with a tin of Carnation and a bowl of sugar.  On the platter, next to the toutons, were crisp fried pieces of salt pork.

“Just butter the toutons and drizzle molasses over them,” she said, pushing the containers nearer to me.  I helped myself to a touton—buttered it and drizzled the molasses over it—then took a bite.  If there was a heaven on earth, it was in Rose’s kitchen that morning!

When I first set foot in Newfoundland in ‘77, Len took me to see his Aunt Mamie and Uncle Newton in Kelligrews.  Never in my life had I seen anybody just walk into someone’s house without knocking, but that’s what Len did.  Where I grew up—in the city—you phoned ahead to arrange a visit, then you knocked on the door and waited for it to be opened.  Walking into someone’s house without knocking was a culture shock for me!  That evening Aunt Mamie cooked up a scoff of Fish ‘n’ brewis; something I had never heard of.  As I ate, I wondered how someone could take pieces of hard bread—like hockey pucks—and turn them into something so good; but she did, and the scrunchions and onions complimented the delicious meal!

My first sit-down meal at the home of my future in-laws was also a bit of a culture shock. The kitchen was full of visitors, young and old, and the table couldn’t accommodate everybody so the men sat down to eat first.  I was a visitor—and didn’t have a clue what to do in the kitchen anyway—so I was told to sit down with the men.  I didn’t understand much of what they were saying to each other, so I sat quietly and hoped nobody would notice me.  Platters of fish and potatoes, vegetables, salads and soups were passed around, and if I didn’t want something, I passed it along.

Suddenly, Len’s mom handed me a loaf of fresh-baked bread and a knife.  I had been away from my home in Vancouver for a couple of years, and hadn’t seen homemade bread in ages.  I looked at the loaf in my hands, then at my plate heaped with food, and decided I didn’t want any bread.

“No thanks,” I said, and passed the loaf along.  The table of men—and the women standing around the table—erupted into laughter.  I looked at their laughing faces in total confusion.  What had I done?

Len’s mother took the loaf and the knife and held the bread to her bosom, cutting slices skilfully and handing them to the men.  Len explained, “You’re the woman, you’re supposed to cut the bread.”

Fresh from the oven...
Fresh from the oven…

Tea in Newfoundland, especially in the outports, remains a ‘homely’ way for friends to get together.  In the city, having tea with a friend is more of a formal occasion.  When you invite someone over, you arrange a date and time and your friend arrives at the designated hour, and woe betide if you show up early or late.But in the outports, it’s a gentler life, which goes without saying, really.

All things considered, when it comes to having tea, I think Queen Elizabeth and I might agree that tea and toutons in Rose’s kitchen exemplifies the age-old adage, “Life’s simple pleasures are the best.”

Not like the swarming, faceless crowds

When we moved from Toronto to Newfoundland almost three years ago, we thought we no longer had to worry about dodging bullets.  Did we leave the city and all its perils behind only to find similar dangers in outport Newfoundland?

Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers produced a beautiful song called “Saltwater Joys.” One of the stanzas goes, “Some go to where the buildings reach to meet the clouds, where warm and gentle people turn to swarming, faceless crowds…”

Part of the culture shock of moving to the Great Northern Peninsula has been adjusting to the ‘faces’ of rural Newfoundland.  People in these communities expect to be recognized and acknowledged.  Everybody knows everybody’s business.  Not so in the cities, where the swarming, faceless crowds are the norm.  For instance, in the three years we lived in Toronto we were very careful not to look at other drivers, because Toronto drivers have been shot for doing that kind of thing.  Eye contact is to be avoided if at all possible.  A city driver—especially in Toronto—cultivates a certain detachment from other traffic; he or she is intent on only one thing, getting to his or her destination alive and as fast as possible.  Likewise, a pedestrian doesn’t engage anyone in conversation on the streets or in the malls because chances are, he or she will either be asked for a handout or ignored.

When we first moved to Northern Newfoundland, people were a little upset when I passed them on the road or in the mall without so much as a wave or a hello.  I might as well apologize now because it’s probably going to happen again.  Most of the time my mind is set at full-throttle, mentally ticking off the next item on my to-do list.  I have no sense of direction either, so I might be ignoring you because I took a wrong turn and I’m lost.

The first time my daughter and I ventured out to the store in Raleigh–just 10 kilometers away–we got lost.  You laugh?  On the way to Raleigh, we noted the narrow, pot-hole roads; the 60 km/h speed limit and the fields and marshes; but on the way home, the scenery changed.  In the interval between our arrival at, and departure from, the corner store, the speed limit had mysteriously gone from 60 to 70 km/h; a bridge appeared out of nowhere and, finally, we passed a sign that indicated Pistolet Bay Park was one kilometer ahead, and that’s when we realized we weren’t traveling to Ship Cove.

If you understand my ignorance of the customs and culture of this area, it might help you better understand the tourists that will be flocking to Northern Newfoundland come summer.

I’ve learned if I’m driving behind a local driver and he suddenly veers to the side of the road, chances are he’s letting me pass because he’s driving too slowly, or he might be scoping out someone’s pile of wood, or he might have spotted a moose along the edge of the woods and wants a better look.  I’ve also learned that if a truck is following at high speed and the driver is flashing his lights, chances are he’s trying to stop me to ask me something.  It’s all trial and error, but mostly error, I admit.

Not so very long ago, round about six o’clock of an evening, three of us were driving along a local road, radio on, when we spotted a vehicle up ahead with brake lights on, moving ever so slowly.  I figured the driver had spotted a moose and had slowed down to have a look.  I cruised up behind him, waiting for him to move off the center of the road so I could pass.  Meanwhile, I was scanning the bushes on the passing side of the road to see if I could spot whatever it was he was looking at.  The vehicle moved to the right and I passed. Suddenly my daughter gasped, “He fired a gun just before we passed!”

“He did what!” I cried.

“He stuck a gun through the window and fired into the bushes, right across the lane, just before we passed,” she said.  “I saw the barrel and I heard the pop.”

“You mean we could have been shot?” I asked.

*****

It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl, at least, not yet.  And, please don’t shoot me!  I’m still learning!

Recollections of loading wood and a high speed chase

I’m a city girl.  The day I left home in Vancouver, my mother said, “Don’t marry an easterner.”  I’m sure my mother didn’t have any real prejudice against easterners; she just wanted me to live a little closer to home, but I disobeyed her; I married a boy from Ship Cove.

If you consult a map of Canada you can see that the community of Ship Cove, on Cape Onion, is as far removed from Vancouver as possible, and outport life is as far removed from city life as you can get.  That’s where the culture shock comes in; I just haven’t managed, yet, to cross the cultural bridge from city to rural life.

A view from the front yard at Ship Cove
A view from the front yard at Ship Cove

And that brings to my remembrance a high-speed chase on Route 437 last fall.

That November morning dawned crisp, clear, and cold.  “It’s a perfect day to haul our wood home,” said Len, as he finished his morning tea (he should have had his wood home last summer, but he was away in St. John’s working).

Len doesn’t have a truck, but one of his brothers has a truck and one has a tow-behind.  Both brothers were willing to help, so they picked Len up and drove to the gravel pit near Shoal Arm Hill on Raleigh Road to bring the wood home.  A few hours later, two loads of wood were stacked in our back yard.  Meanwhile, Eliza Colbourne, Len’s sister in L’Anse aux Meadows, put her spyglass to the window, looked across Sacred Bay, and noted that Len and the boys were hauling wood.  “Winston!” she called, “Len’s hauling wood!  Let’s go and help.”

I had some errands to run in St. Anthony and knew nothing of Winston & Eliza’s plans.  Just before I left the house, the phone rang but, before I could pick it up, it disconnected.  I noticed it was the Colbourne’s number and called back, but there was no answer.

A pile of split wood, ready for the fireplace come winter.
A pile of split wood, ready for the fireplace come winter.

Minutes later, I was on the road to St. Anthony.  At Pistolet Bay Park I met Len and his brothers returning with a truckload full of wood.  A short while later, I crested Fox Head Hill on Raleigh Road and noticed a vehicle driving ahead of me, and it looked remarkably like the Colbourne’s truck.

“Can’t be,” I said, dismissing the possibility, “they only just phoned me before I left, and there’s no way they’d be driving away from Ship Cove.  If that were Eliza or Winston, they’d be driving toward me.”  (What I didn’t know then, was that they had been up and down the road searching for Len’s pile of wood, and had just made a U-turn)

The truck slowed down right near the gravel pit where Len’s pile of wood lay and, as I drove past, I thought again how much it looked like Winston and Eliza’s truck, but with the afternoon sun in my eyes, I couldn’t see the occupants.  It seemed to me they must be ‘scoping out’ our pile of wood.   Immediately, my ‘city thinking’ kicked in, and I thought, “That might be somebody looking to steal a load of wood; I’d better warn Len as soon as I get to town.”

Moments later, looking in my rear view mirror, I noticed the same truck speeding up behind me, headlights on, four-ways flashing.  “What are those people up to?” I wondered.  “They’re in a powerful hurry; I guess I’d better speed up.”  The faster I drove, the faster they drove.  In Toronto, you wouldn’t stop for people who drove their cars like that; you’d get out of their way as fast as possible.  To my way of thinking, that was the only thing I could do.

At the branch road to St. Anthony, I rounded the corner on two wheels, barely stopping at the sign, and checked my rear-view mirror again.  Ah!  They were doing a U-turn and heading back down the road.  What strange people, I thought.  I’m glad they’re off my back…

Hours later, when I returned to Ship Cove and saw the black and white truck in our back yard, and Eliza and Winston unloading and stacking wood with Len and Rick and Bob—I knew I’d really messed up.

Five faces turned my way, and five people shook their heads in disappointment.

“Mary,” said Winston.  “We chased you down the road to try to get you to stop. We only wanted to ask you which pile of wood was Len’s.”

*****

It just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl; at least not that quickly!