Enter the Wanderer with apologies to Bruce Lee…

Sounds sort of like a bad Bruce Lee film, doesn’t it? But, there are no flying fists, no crouching tigers, no leaping lizards, none of that stuff…just good old Newfoundland and its’ people.

I’m now ensconced on the small island of Ramea and have started to walk around the island, it IS small, and photograph. One of the first things I noticed on the ferry on my way in, is a collapsed fish processing plant, a fishery. It collapsed physically, but it is as good as any symbol of what has happened to the fishing industry. I could not have asked for a better opportunity to illustrate what has happened here. But Ramea is so much more than that, though its’ fate remains so tied to it.

Rendering of a fishery.

As  I mentioned earlier, one passes through a beautiful archipelago on the way in. It was so unexpected as to create a disconnect. “Hello, that number you’re calling is no longer in service.” That’s how I felt. In my modest research over the years, I believed that one found archipelagos in Japan, Indonesia, Scotland even. But Newfoundland, really? Oh, yeah. Yes, Toto, this isn’t Kansas anymore.

Ramea itself is a small, quaint even, little island if not for the oil tank graveyard I was currently photographing. I’ll tell you right now though, there are no photographs of those in this part of this journey. While I tip-toed around the tanks, respectfully trying not to wake them, I came up on a local who in true Newfoundland tradition was more than happy to talk with me. He gave me a little current history of the island and some recommendations: there was an ocean walk to take – check; don’t miss the wind turbine farm – check; Red’s Lounge – check and double check (can’t miss that!); the Anglican Church – check, but on Sunday of course; supermarket – check; and other places that were meaningless to me at the time.

I was into my wandering big time now. As I’ve written earlier, there I was taking pictures of nothing and really loving it.

Abducted by sea turtles AND the talk of the town.

With all apologies to the bard (Ramea, O’ Ramea, where art thou O’ Ramea?), Ramea is a small island off the southern coast of Newfoundland and I arrived safely on the good ship (well, ferry) Gallipoli. For those who may be history minded, Gallipoli is the name of a horrible battle in World War I in which allied soldiers were brutally massacred because of an incredibly dumb decision. It was also a movie starring the then uncontroversial and better-looking actor Mel Gibson. And Gallipoli was the boat of which I just got off! Should I have read something into that? Time enough to ponder as I’ll be getting back on it to return to the Newfoundland mainland in a few days.

Approaching Ramea, one travels though a beautiful though unexpected archipelago. It was a wonderful greeting. The only thing missing were giant sea turtles, but for all I knew they may have been laying in wait to ambush me and make mock-Bruce soup. Hey, it could happen.

This was going to be very cool. Ramea is a very small island, populated by about 600 people. At it’s peak in the early 1970’s, it had about double that, but when the fish were gone, half the populace followed. Yet, it holds on. There is a music festival, like so many other Newfoundland outports, in August. And there are a number of outdoor activities in which one can indulge. The electricity is furnished by a small wind turbine farm. OK, so much for the Chamber of Commerce business.

As I’ve come to learn and appreciate and obsessively seek out, the best activity of all in Newfoundland is talking and partying with Newfoundlanders, everywhere! And that more than anything would define this part of the journey. Oh, the photographs would be taken. And with the certainty of only those of the pure of heart and who sleep like babies, I knew they would be good. I didn’t really, I hoped they would be good. But I’m rambling. The beer would be drunk, but not I, oh, no! Moose what would be eaten. Sorry, Squirrel. More on that later,

I checked into the B&B on Ramea, unpacked, and then started out on which was to be my newest adventure. Without giving too much away, must be frugal with my words here, I was to see clothes-lines, coffins, windmills, hand-painted signs, a bar, so much more and unbeknownst to me at the time, become the talk of the island.

Bartender to me – “Would you like that on the rocks?” Not funny.

Now, I’m not going to say I was feeling Like Leonardo in the movie. Nor was there, regrettably, a counterpart to Kate Winslet standing bravely by my side either. But, I was on a boat in the seas off Newfoundland and there was a lot of ice in the water. And it was in early April. Draw your own conclusions.

No, I was now leaving Fogo Island for the second part of this trip. Obviously being on this island meant I was going to have to take a boat ride back to the main and much larger island of Newfoundland proper. It was a ferry in actuality, a not very large one, and it took a couple of hours.

The ferry.

The Titanic – see any difference?

Earlier I wrote about the arctic ice pack that had come in and locked up the harbors. For a large ship as my hopefully sea- and ice-worthy ferry was, this would – should be an uneventful trip.

It’s pretty common knowledge that what you see of an iceberg above the surface of the sea is only 10% of it’s size. The remaining, evil, waiting to sink unsuspecting ships, part constitutes the other 90%. Remember, the ice pack, unlike a lot of doctors, is in!

An artists’ idea of an iceberg

So, me and a bunch of other intrepid travelers including their cars, (that’ll make the ship sink faster, won’t it?) drive on and take our places on the ferry. The driveway (?) pulls up, seals the then-open end of the ship and we shove off from shore. (Wait, I think I left my toothbrush at the B&B!)

I’m not normally apprehensive about sea travel. I’ve been on ferries before! But not through icebergs. Alright, they weren’t icebergs – more like a continuous seascape of floes, large, heavy, really white, and cold ice floes. And 90% of each one could not be seen! Yes, this was a steel hulled ship; and yes, it did this every year, but… Hey, wait, every year? How strong could this barge still be?

We plowed through the ice pack slowly; the floes grinding loudly against the hull; some so large that you could feel the ship shift from THEIR weight and mass. Oh, sweet mother… two more hours of this.

Not surprisingly, we made it safely. I got some good pictures. But throughout that whole trip, at no time did I ever want to climb up on the hull and yell “I’m king of the world!” Nor did I hear Celine Dion singing in the background. There is a God after all.

How did I get here?

Sometime during this, my second trip to Newfoundland, I mused upon the events that led me there. Having previously written about how this whole idea came about, this is not to be a rehashing of that. I’ll probably indulge myself to do so though at some future time begging one’s patience. It’s also not how I physically got here – wrote about that as well in length. No, this is about a seminal event that did ultimately lead to this point in time.

A long time ago, (in a part of the country far, far away), I was sharing drinks with some college friends up in Boston. We were talking about careers and what we wanted to do with our lives. You know, the typical 3:00 AM college discussion. I was also trying to impress a young woman, Darla D., with what I thought was cool. I was an art major which is really, when you think of it, pretty cool, if not a non-starter on the economic scale. I wanted to paint. The underlying problem with that was I wasn’t very good. Being young and full of myself, I wasn’t about to admit it. What to do?

I blurted out, “I’m thinking of getting into photography.” Whoa! Where did that come from? Yes, I was trying to impress Darla D. and that did do it, but I had never thought of photography before. I would look at my fellow students with their cameras going around taking pictures of nothing and think, “Glad I’m not them, what dorks.” Truth is that as a teenage art major (Hmmm, that might be a good idea for a B-movie), we were all dorks already, but the photographers didn’t seem to care and were cool with that.

The more I thought about it, the more attractive the idea became. I have to believe my painting professor was relieved about the decision. So, I took some classes, worked with a photographer to learn more, and then courageously set out to wow the world. Uh huh, yeah, right. It wasn’t at all different from any other artistic discipline or business for that matter. Ya gotta pay yer dues.

So many years later, with any number of missteps and mistakes behind me and yet to come, I found myself in Newfoundland photographing this book. The big difference is that I’m that dork now, taking pictures of “nothing.”

“If the devil will take her…”

Living Planet, St. Johns, NFLD  It’s all about the music – the only “weapons” in this picture are musical instruments.

Imagine driving around for several thousand miles in silence. You could sing to yourself – that’s an option but one that runs out of novelty real fast. You could also play license plates by yourself -either you’ll always win or always lose; it’s your choice. Or you could go get some CD’s of local music. In Newfoundland, there is a wealth of musical ability. Newfoundlanders love to make music even if it’s just for themselves.

Newfoundland music is perhaps some of the best I’ve found for driving (and partying). Take your choice of upbeat, funny, rousing, sad, tender, raucous, historical, whatever. Largely based on a folk idiom with a strong Celtic influence, it’s almost impossible to sit still while listening. That said, it can sometimes make you drive a little faster, OK a lot faster, than you or the RCMP* would like.

But like any movie, a trip must, absolutely must, have it’s own soundtrack. And whether or not you sing along, and I admit I did, it has to reflect the trip. So much so that when you later hear a particular piece of music, it transports you right back there to that very time and spot.

There is no shortage of very talented groups recording in Newfoundland. The most popular and famous group is Great Big Sea who tours frequently in the US and Europe. But that’s only scratching the surface. Musicians like Amelia Curran and Ron Hynes speak with their own unique voice. Groups like Shanneyganock, The Navigators, The Once, The Dardanelles, The Fables, and Eventide helped make the miles go by so much easier and are a wonderful backdrop to the land and the road.

Being folk music, everything is fair game for a song. From “Cod Liver Oil” to “The Fellow from Fortune” to “The Scolding Wife” and so much more, it’s all there. To quote “The Scolding Wife” a favorite of mine and the ringtone on my phone for my wife (much to her dismay):

“And if the devil will take her, I’ll thank him for his pain, I swear to God I’ll hang meself, if I get married again.” Love you sweetie! I think I’m going to have to buy some flowers for this one!

* – RCMP – Royal Canadian Mounted Police or Mounties.

Moose vs. World

If you’re a bicyclist, you know that in a match-up of rider vs. car, the car always wins.

However, in the Newfoundland game of anything vs. moose, the moose almost always wins. These things are (sorry, Mr. Trump) HUGE! At the shoulder they are 6-7 feet high. Add the neck, head, and antlers, and well, it’s just big. Their antlers alone can span up to 6 feet across. Weight-wise, they are probably just a steak dinner lighter than a small Hyundai at 1,500 lbs. average.

Now why, I’m sure you’re asking, is this important? It’s like this – moose, like the younger of our own species, like to come out and play at night. They don’t have very good eyesight. And they’re a little on the obstinate side and can be mean-spirited. One more thing, they seem to like standing in the middle of the road just where you intended to aim your car. Oh, and to compound matters, they’re also dark-colored. So if you’re traveling on the Trans Canadian Highway at night and your forward progress is impeded suddenly, it’s entirely likely you ran into a moose. Usually at great damage and cost to your car. The road signs depicting and warning of such mayhem abound across the island and that in itself is a good case for rental cars and insurance while in Newfoundland.

Again, why is this important? Because as I started to head back to St. John’s from the Western Coast, I’d be traveling partly at night and am not particularly eager to make the intimate acquaintance of said creatures. I’m sure they’re lovely and interesting to study and good to their parents, but I’d try and skip that peculiar pleasure this trip. There are many more pictures to take for the book and this wasn’t in my plans.

Man Cave by the sea.

New Year’s Eve in a shanty sounds a lot worse than it really is. Shanty doesn’t have the same connotation in rural Newfoundland as it does in the States. A shanty is the small building/house/cabin on the coast used by fishermen as a residence when going to and coming from the sea. It is for the most part a home-away-from-home. And oftentimes the subject of cute and quaint calendars and post cards of lands far-away.

But come the holidays and New Year’s Eve, all that changes. The shanty becomes the Newfoundland equivalent of a man-cave by the sea for the duration plus. And one can only speculate on behaviors conducted. The good news is that it’s usually far enough away from the children and pets.

Celebrations – oh, yes. Singing and dancing – yes b’y. Eating and drinking, why the hell not? Fishing – probably not much. But when it’s cold, windy, wet and/or snowy, and more, and the holidays to boot, why would you want to do anything but the aforementioned activities? Consequently, inebriation is often the result. A common comment then heard might be “Goin’ on a tear, me son?” translated as “partying with enthusiasm are we?” Count on it. After all, it is the new year.

“We’re not fulltime stupid.” Really?

One of the small pleasures in traveling is watching local television. Usually it’s some buffoonish weatherman trying out material for his audition reel. Other times it can be just the silliness of a marble-mouthed reporter unable to pronounce the name of a perp or a foreign town.

That said, I’ve nothing to say about Newfoundland TV. It’s pretty basic fare: comedies, which are actually rather clever and entertaining; the standard, low expectation cops and robbers shoot ’em ups; news and weather; and of course the ubiquitous cable channels running infomercials for products of which no discernible need has ever been discovered.

However, because of cable and satellite TV, channels from other provinces can be watched. And because I was in Newfoundland, that was some of the electronic fodder to which I was subjected. I admit, I did it to myself, I was alone and the wine from the lobsters was gone.

So, on went the tube and down went my expectations until I stumbled upon a newscast on a channel from Hamilton, Ontario. It was nice, as Canada and Canadians are. This report had no stories of mayhem, political scandals, or even traffic jams. What it did have was a story featuring the mayor discussing a new curfew for teenagers. Apparently, there had been some problems and it had been decided by the town poobahs that a curfew would be just the ticket.

The reporter asked about certain things that might keep a teenager out after the curfew: would there be exceptions?

The mayor, straight-faced, serious as an IRS audit replied: “Of course, we’re not full time stupid.” Part-time, maybe?

Lobsters and a screw cap.

On the western coast of Newfoundland, I drive through such towns as Cow Head, Sally’s Cove, Three Mile Rock, (not to be confused with the atomic town in Pennsylvania), and Spudgels Cove. (Who was Spudgels that he was important enough to have a cove named after him?) Each one of these has it’s own personality waiting to be discovered by an intrepid traveler such as me. But not now as I’m on a quest. I’ve learned fresh lobster can be had inexpensively here. I make a short stop to see The Arches Provincial Park. This is a natural rock arch formation acting as a gateway to the ocean. I think however, most people probably just go around it to get there. But it does form a wonderful backdrop for new photographs.

The sea is starting to kick up into what will develop on the next day into a pretty fierce storm. Unfortunately, most of the lobster traps on the western coast will be lost.

But for this day, the lobstermen are making the most of their efforts. No longer permitted to fish for cod, they’ve turned to lobstering and crabbing. The lobstering season is very short, lasting only 5-6 weeks. In this time, the lobstermen will catch enough to deliver to the fishery and also help feed their family throughout the year. However, according to the lobstermen, eating lobster all year long gets old fast. When asked what they do the rest of the year, his reply was, “Well, we just —- around.” OK, sounds good. But in the meantime, I’m told if I go down to the fishery which is conveniently located near the cabin in which I’m staying, they’ll cook me up some lobsters fresh and really cheap. This is getting better all the time.

Down to the fishery I go and place my gluttonous order of two(!) lobsters to be picked up at 7:00 PM. Back to the cabin, drop off my equipment, get a bottle of wine from the market, and then pick up my lobsters. I go to the counter and pick up my dinner and am charged the princely sum of $ 11.00! Cooked and ready to eat! And the wine has a screw cap! I’m in heaven.

Screeches in the night…doobie doobie doo.

There’s a saying that goes, “If you remember Woodstock, you probably weren’t there.” Now, I won’t say I don’t remember my first night in Newfoundland, I do, but there are one or two things I’m uncertain about. Well, only one thing. And that’s becoming an Honorary Newfoundlander.

How does one go about that you say? Well, it involves a ritual ceremony called a “Screech In.” Those who survive this ceremony will forever be known as Honorary Newfoundlanders. It goes something like this:

1. The “Screech In” can only be performed by a natural-born Newfoundlander. No pretenders allowed.

2. A real fish (traditionally a cod, but since these are hard to come by, any whole fish will suffice.)

3. A Sou’Wester – heavy duty fisherman’s rain gear, complete with head gear as well.

4. A bottle of Screech – a rather strong, inexpensive, some think vile, rum.

And now the fun begins, especially for the locals who good-naturedly enjoy visitors performing for them. The ceremony host, remember a natural-born Newfoundlander, will have the victim, wearing the Sou’Wester, stand in front of group of “witnesses” The host will then hold up the fish so the future honoree can kiss the fish on the lips! All watching will have the final decision on whether or not the kiss is sufficient to continue the festivity. Some times, multiple kisses are required!

Moving along, the host will pour a shot of Screech for the victim to hold on high before imbibing but not before reciting the following: “Long may your big jib draw.” Then a certificate may be issued to inform all that this person is indeed an Honorary Newfoundlander.

I was informed on my trip I was an Honorary Newfoundlander. I didn’t have a certificate, but I do remember having a “screeching” headache. Hmmm. More on the first night next post when I learn about the ballet.