Newfoundland (Canada)

 
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So here I am in Saint Johns, Newfoundland.
Saint Johns, is a remote place, the most Easterly point in North America. And claimed to be the oldest. It has a stark beauty. It is in a huge valley surrounded by high rocks. When I arrived after my 5 hour flight, It was raining buckets from a low cloudy sky. There was once a thriving fishing port here, it is said, "You could put your hand in the sea and pull out a fish" Now there are none left! The big, greedy fishing trawlers have taken and dredged all the fish away and also taken all the baby fish and the eggs. It's sad to imagine the sea as being so lifeless and no longer infinite. There is high unemployment here now, older men who were fishing from the age of 14 years, now with no job. Fish is all they know. Folks enjoy their drink here, and goods aren't so cheap, the provincial purchase tax is high here at 17%.
In the speech of the folks here you can detect a definite Irish lilt mixed with the Canadian accent.
The weather changes every minute hear. It is raining heavily now. A cold, windy, Grey day. today. But it didn't keep me inside.
I played one of my gigs at the Ship Inn Friday night, The oldest pub in Canada It is a 10pm start, pubs close at 2am here. People enjoyed my songs, don't hear many contemporary songwriters here.
Some pleasant surprises here. There was an English man who was living and working here as a doctor, he had a couple of my older albums on Vinyl. He comes into Saint John from Gander, 4 hours away to spend the weekend with his wife. He told me that he couldn't believe it was actually me who was playing here in this remote place, he has heard my music before. He thought I must be some other "Rory Mcleod". It feels good to deliver my songs, like milk, to someone's front door like this!
A cold, windy, Grey day. today. But it didn't keep me inside.
This place Newfoundland is called the rock, as that is what it is built on. There is not much top soil. They can only grow spuds and a few root vegetables. I am surprised there is no sheep farming here. There is still crab to be caught. Even though many of the fish have gone.
I walked, Autumn is here, copper red leaves and turning to yellows on the distant hillside. Dog-berries and I found some blueberries, they grow wild here and taste sweet.
I walked up to signal Hill, (where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal) towards the mouth of the harbour, high up above the town. The freezing boil below. You can hear streams of fresh water falling down the gashed and scarred mountain side in wet, mossy streams to the sea. Old rocks here with green lichen on them like faint old green paint. The skreel of Gulls.

This is one of the most sheltered harbours in the world. A narrow doorway leads out to sea for the big ships coming in and out.
In the spring Gigantic icebergs drift down from the glaciers of Greenland and Arctic, huge ten thousand year old mountains of fresh water iced. They will stay floating around the harbour for weeks. There's no chart for icebergs.
They have caused shipwrecks, you don't last long in that water, freezes the blood in your veins. Many people depended on shipwrecks to improve their lots, butter, cheese, china plates, and chests of drawers. Some folks might have lured ships onto rocks!
You can see light houses winking on the points. The seas like a door opening and closing.
Some sea men could navigate and know their way through fog by a rhyme pulled from the old days when poor men sailed by memory, without charts, compass or lights.
"When the knitting Pins you is abreast,
Desperate Cove bears due West
Behind the Pins you must steer,
Till the Old mans shoe does appear."
They would have tricks to find their way, listening for the rut of the shore, call out and hear the echo off the cliffs, feel the run of the current beneath you, or smell the different flavours of the coves, the taste of the air.
The sea is a huge animal, I can't take my eyes off it.
There are old 2nd world war gun turrets here, a lookout place, apparently sunk a U boat during the war. From here the Atlantic sea goes all the way to Ireland some 1994 miles away.
Greenland is 100 degrees North of here, 969 miles away. Looking at a map, Greenland looks desolate, place names scarce, like a lunar map, just around the edges of the island.
Its a shame they just dump the sewerage straight into the harbour here from the city.
This area of Newfoundland is called the Avalon peninsular. Three hours away, South of here, on a huge island or rock, there are colonies of Puffins, Gannets, Harlequin ducks, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Cormorants, all kinds. Some 60,000 sea birds whirling and clamouring like a blizzard of snow past this huge rock, probably frosted with bird shit, called Cape Saint Mary's, all nesting on ledges, outcrops and overhangs and plateaus. I hope I can get to see them, the birds might have already migrated.
I was surprised to hear that there is a Basque connection here, Basque fisherman and whalers landed here years before. It is too late in the year to see them now but schools or pods of 22 kinds of Whales can be sighted off the Southern peninsular here. Humpbacks, Fin Sperm, and Minke all come to feed on Krill, sand Lance, Capelin and squid. I wish I could have seen them.
I am told that one time of year the Capelin fish, the size of sardines, practically throw themselves wildly onto the beach with the incoming tide and waves. In these shallower waters they are frantically breeding with each other, while some of the natives here scoop them up like silver, wriggling by the handful, while these beautiful fish are procreating in their frenzy. folks here have survived just by living on fish.
At a place called Spear point. The most Eastern point in North America. I saw an old lighthouse here. Where the keeper and his family lived and worked. The thick lenses magnified light from 6 oil lamps using a prismatic cut glass. They first used sperm oil, then seal oil, when it got too expensive, then kerosene and now use electricity to illuminate the way for mariners entering and leaving St. Johns harbour.
The light-keepers duties have passed on from one generation to another.

I saw a gigantic piece of old whale vertebrae outside on a door step like a door stop. Another piece I saw, while walking down "Water street" in the city, had a face faintly carved in it. An Inuit face.
There is plenty of breathing room here.
An old superstitious cure for warts here:
Take a piece of bread and prick the wart until it starts to bleed, then smear a little blood on the bread. Throw it out, and when the birds or an animal eat the bread, then your warts will disappear!
I have been looking for a cure like this for my spine, I wish things were so easy!

An "InookChook" is a figure on a cliff top made of stones piled on top of each other balancing. made by walkers, passers by, kids.

Qidi Vidi village part of Saint Johns, is another small protected harbour within a protected bay. Old fishing boats moored, wooden dwellings on stilts, a small brewery seemed to be prospering, working, functioning. Blistering paint peeling off old boats and a tiny chapel. Peeling paint also off its weather beaten wood.
There is high unemployment here. This sparse population on an Island bigger than Britain, there is 17% unemployment.

I am trying to see as much of this place and its nature it as I can when I am not playing, or preparing to play. It keeps my mind off petty problems. And takes me as far away from those smoky bars as I can get before they beckon me back to work inside them again.
I picked up a fiction book, novel called The shipping News, and the first bit of reading I have tried for ages. Helping me to relax a little and to feel nourished and warmed, reading about local characters on the coast here. About a family trying to cobble a new life together.

To Cape Saint Mary's.
It was a four hour drive down the coast, some ways, over bays and spits of land that were used as bridges. Then a barren plain, where Caribou and Moose can be seen, I never saw any, with hunting season just started here they had all probably pissed off and made a run for cover some where. I got to the Venue early enough to wander.
I scanned the Atlantic Ocean, but, no whales, and bird island was not so busy and as populated as earlier, some gannets and kittiwakes, but no Puffins. It was a beautiful spot, wild craggy cliff faces, the sun going down, and a fishing boat out.
Some birds were still moulting their young fluff, tiny feathers, downy. A gannet was eating red meat from a dead friend, maybe?, a birds carcass. They shrieked, squealed and cackled throaty noises. Some echoed from the huge deep chambers off the cliffs below. It was too dangerous to walk to the edge. Precarious rocks, perhaps, waiting and ripe to fall, after millions of years patience! To crumble under my feet down into the icy sea below.
It was very cold. And I had a gig to get to, The Atlantic Bar, restaurant was somewhere ahead.

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