Monday, July 19, 2010

Newfoundland: July 18-19, 2010

Cugina’s gift for Woody Island: insect spray, cards, and a compass. Just in case of bugs naturally – or rain – or getting lost in the woods.
Todd comes to George’s House early and serves us delicious French toast, bacon and fruit. Last night, we all bought his recipe book which he wrote with his partner and some additions from locals (even me, because one of the recipes is a baked potato and I thought I could handle that). There’s also a recipe for Elephant stew. You just need one elephant and some carrots, but it will feed 2800 people. Of course, we might not have a pot the right size.
We are on the road right on time, heading for Garden Cove. Trees plaster the cliffs and the hills roll us along the highway. It’s a foggy morning, but warm; we drive through the clouds and feel as though we are in heaven.
The Cove is tucked into a little harbour. Our blue and white boat is waiting for us, sitting flat on the sea. Mist hovers halfway up the hillsides; birds circle overhead. The inlet remains calm, barely rippling; small lines of current drift now and then. All we can hear is the hum of our boat and the call of the sea gulls.
We arrive on Woody Island and, as promised, time does stand still. The quiet is broken only by the lapping of water on the rocks and the birds chirping and dancing between the branches. The water is so clear we can see a riot of colour in the rocks: red, yellow, green, and brown. Little yellowish green sea plants wave lazily at us.
We are pleasantly surprised by our accommodations. We are all sleeping in a house on the ocean, with small but comfy rooms, a huge living room, and a wide porch overlooking the harbour. An enormous generator provides lights until 12:30 a.m. and hot water all the time. It’s amazing.
Loyola, one of our hosts, leads us all into the main building, where we gather for information and a story. He tells us all about the one person who stayed on Woody Island after everyone left: an artist named Randy. It seems that Randy wanted a foreign wife, so he advertised in the international papers and eventually had three wives and nine children. The first two wives up and left him, though the third was the charm. After the first one left, Randy painted a picture, which he told Loyola was representative of him rowing about, all lonely, imagining he was going to find his wife. He invited us to look at the wall. There, in all its splendour, was the painting: a rowboat, the sea, and in the background, a mountain that looked suspiciously like a naked woman on her back.
After check-in, we sit in the sunshine or walk along the flat-pebbled beach. Small crabs scurry at our toes. Many coloured shells, one a deep blue, are strewn over the shore.
Woody Island is situated in Placentia Bay, which is living up to its name of peaceful and flat. Once upon a time, Woody Island was home to 400 people, until they were relocated under a government resettlement program. When Dennis scouts the graveyards, we understand the sentiments that may have been behind this move: there are whole families listed on one stone, all dying at a young age. Now it’s a vacation spot.
On the shore by our house is an abandoned dory. Tiny, multi-coloured chickadees live in the tree by the porch. Some of the guests are already out on the bay, rowing along the calm water. Their laughter ripples over toward us. Seagulls fly overhead, showing off the lovely grey-black underbelly of their wings.
We return to the main house when the dinner bell rings and sup on pea soup, homemade bread, and toutin (fried bread and molasses).
Afterward, we go back to our house and sit on the porch once again.
Loyola, one of our hosts, comes down to see how we’re doing and tells us a bit about his resort business. He’s off to St. John’s and we won’t see him again.
There are no cell phones, computers, or telephones to interrupt the flow of fresh air. We have only conversation, laughter, and each other. Now the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, chases away the mist for the afternoon. The couples do their own thing: walk, nap, row, photograph, talk.
After a nap, Vince and I walk along the road. It’s incredibly silent. Flowers, purple, yellow, slim stemmed and scented, line the laneway. We discover some interesting rock formations: they are smooth and round and look like dinosaur eggs. Birds circle and chatter at us, unhappy at our intrusion. We spy an enormous brown rabbit, who looks back us, blinks and hops away. We try the rocky way down to the cemetery, but it’s boggy and wet, so we turn around.
Later, we join the others for Happy Hour on the porch of the main building. It’s still warm and the sun continues to smile. Suddenly it’s time for dinner – cod, carrots, potatoes, homemade bread, cottage pudding (butterscotch and cake). Once again, we are stuffed and still licking our lips as the different tastes linger on our tongues.
At nine o’clock, we are entertained by Richard and his wife (we can’t remember her name). I am starting to recognize some of the songs –ballads that tell the history of the land, both sad and joyful, love lost and regained. The Wife tells a couple of jokes, which I won’t repeat here, but these are the “punch lines” or gist – “I’m comin’ with yer” and “up or down”. Richard plays Music and Friends, which is becoming my and Cugina’s favourite so far.
Some of the guests gamely join The Wife as Mummers and they dance and sing, make everyone laugh.
Vince and I go to bed before the party is over. It’s quiet and cool in our room. I get up once in the middle of the night and it’s pitch black; no generator, no lights, deathly silent, but not frighteningly so.
In the morning, we have breakfast, pack up, and play a round of cards before we board the ship for a tour around the bay. We circle Woody Island, which is much bigger than we thought. In the midst of the evergreen peaks, I spy a majestic white head, which turns out to be a bald eagle. Vince gets a great picture of him as he spreads his wings and takes flight. His snowy head and tail are patches of white in the green and grey. The sky is still a light grey, covered in mist, clouds touching our heads and the mast of our ship. It sits across the evergreens like a delicate mummer’s veil.
We pull into Sound Island, a tiny horseshoe cove, where an abandoned ship lists on the shore, along with a crumbling fishing shed and mounds of broken lobster traps pay tribute to a colony long vanished. Gary, our Captain and Loyola’s brother, tells us that the Cove used to be inhabited by several families, a church and a school once existed here. Now it’s home to animals and birds.
We have lunch on a deck that has been built against the rock; soup, sandwiches, dessert – all infused with that irreplaceable homemade flavour. The whiskey jacks arrive just as we are finishing. They are lovely shades of grey and white, very tame; they take bits of food from people’s hands. Vince gets some beautiful pictures. We cruise past a frothy white waterfall, tumbling out of the green and over the rocks into the sea.
The weather keeps changing, Newfoundland style, first cold, then warm, then misty, then sunny and hot.
Soon we are back at Garden Cove, where our cars await, and we are on to another adventure: Trinity.
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