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
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
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
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
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
It was very cold. And I had a gig to get to, The Atlantic Bar, restaurant
was somewhere ahead.
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