What is a friend?

It’s a word bandied about rather loosely without the true meaning attached to it. We receive “Friend” requests on Facebook, yet a “friend” on that site connotes something more than it actually is. Used that way, the word is becoming meaningless

The Oxford Language definition of friend is this: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. Do we really have that bond with our social media friends? Ehhh, I don’t think so. Nor can we. We are too far removed because of social media to have a genuine connection.

While it’s true many us have lots of “friends”, how many of those could we rely on should the need arise? Do we need that many friends? And how many of them really share our values, ideologies, positions, even our taste in ice cream? How important is that? You decide.

We are too quick to make new “friends” that we miss the value in the real ones who don’t need or maybe even want to know where we had dinner last night. Or why they weren’t there with us. A true friend respects our needs and asks nothing more than the same from us.

Finally, are we true friends to others? Hopefully, yes. Otherwise, we’re just acquaintances.

Mermaids, oh my!

Just for some fun… check out the lyrics and then the article.


“The Mermaid”

When I was a lad in a fishing town
Me old man said to me:
“You can spend your life, your jolly life
Just sailing on the sea.
You can search the world for pretty girls
Til your eyes are weak and dim,
But don’t go searching for a mermaid, son
If you don’t know how to swim”
‘Cause her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Her face it was a work of art,
I loved that girl with all my heart
But I only liked the upper part
I did not like the tailI signed onto a sailing ship
My very first day at sea
I seen the Mermaid in the waves,
Reaching out to me
“Come live with me in the sea said she,
Down on the ocean floor
And I’ll show you a million wonderous things
You’ve never seen before
So over I jumped and she pulled me down,
Down to her seaweed bed
On a pillow made of a tortoise-shell
She placed beneath my head
She fed me shrimp and caviar
Upon a silver dish
From her head to her waist it was just my taste
But the rest of her was a fish
‘Cause …But then one day, she swam away
So I sang to the clams and the whales
“Oh, how I miss her seaweed hair
And the silver shine of her scales
But then her sister, she swam by
And set my heart awhirl
Cause her upper part was an ugly fish
But her bottom part was a girl
Yes her hair was green as seaweed
Her skin was blue and pale
Her legs they are a work of art,
I loved that girl with all my heart
And I don’t give a damn about the upper part
Cause that’s how I get my tail.
By Great Big Sea

Mermaid-bashing a common theme


Dale Jarvis
Published on March 10, 2014

Last week, I got an email from a young woman named Erin, who is a Grade 4 student at All Hallows Elementary in North River.

Erin is one of the participants in the Heritage Fair program, a great project which encourages students to explore their heritage in a hands-on manner. Students make storyboards to tell stories about local heroes, legends, traditions and places, and then present their work at a public exhibit at their school. Select students then go on to represent their schools in regional fairs across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Erin decided to do research on the folklore of mermaids in Newfoundland, and asked me for some advice on mermaid stories.

While we have a long maritime history in the province, we do not have a lot of mermaid stories. Erin already knew about the most famous, the story of Capt. Richard Whitbourne, who described meeting a mermaid in his book “Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland.”

Early one July morning in 1610, Whitbourne spotted a strange creature which he called “a marmayde” swimming in St. John’s Harbour. As Whitbourne tells it, the mermaid swam swiftly towards him, looking carefully at his face.

The water maiden had a beautiful and well-proportioned face, and she had blue streaks on her skin instead of hair. The creature was about 15 feet in length, and her tail was proportioned “like a broad hooked arrow.”

The mermaid tried to climb into a boat owned by William Hawkridge. Hawkridge was not impressed with the creature’s attentions, so he hit her on the head with an oar, and she swam off.

While the mermaid has not been spotted recently, her legend has achieved a certain amount of immortality, and for many years she was depicted on a mural by Helen Gregory on the north side of Harbour Drive. What also persisted for many years, apparently, was Hawkridge’s method of dealing with merfolk.

Horace Beck’s “Folklore of the Sea” was originally published in 1973 by the Mystic Seaport Museum. It contains a few references to Newfoundland mermen, including one encountered by a fisherman who was hand-lining by himself in a dory just off the Newfoundland shore.

“At noon, he stopped fishing and started to eat his lunch, when much to his surprise and annoyance he discovered a merman about to climb into the boat,” writes Beck. “He tried to shoo it away with no success, so he grabbed the fish gaff and bashed it on the fingers, after which it acquired a lively interest in other things.”

Another of Beck’s Newfoundland tales involves a second merman, seen in the same area around the same time. When two men were out hunting, they saw a strange creature in the water and shot at it.

“Whatever it was sank,” describes Beck, “but a short time later a dead merman with a black beard and hair washed ashore nearby.”

Not all of Beck’s Newfoundland merfolk stories end badly. In one, a mermaid actually helped a Newfoundlander caught in a storm.

“On still another occasion a man was caught in a small boat in a heavy gale. When the situation became most critical a mermaid appeared, climbed onto the gunnel and conned the boat safely through the breakers to shore.”

One other mermaid story from Labrador has a happy ending. In an Inuit legend, an orphaned boy rescued a mermaid who had become grounded on the rocks. The grateful mermaid gave the boy a hat with a fancy broach as a reward. Visiting sailors recognized the broach as belonging to the King of England, who in turn gave the boy a hefty sum of money for its return.

Here’s hoping young Erin does well on her heritage fair project, and good luck to all the other heritage fair students across the province.

Storyteller and author Dale Jarvis can be reached at dale@dalejarvis.ca.

Words of wisdom from Alan Doyle and Russell Crowe.

One of the joys about traveling around Newfoundland while working on Arn? Narn. was learning about their culture, more specifically their music. One of my favorite groups then and now is Great Big Sea. I defy anyone to sit still while listening to their music and if you get the opportunity to attend their concerts, be prepared to have the time of your life.

Alan Doyle, the lead singer, addressed a hospitality group in Newfoundland and shared these thoughts. They’re applicable to all of us.

Great Big Sea frontman promotes province’s uniqueness

NOT ORDINARY – The message musician/actor Alan Doyle had for the delegates at Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual Conference and Trade Show in Gander last Thursday was simple — Newfoundland and Labrador is unique, and it’s this that makes it attractive to tourists. The lead singer for Great Big Sea also passed along some steps of success the band has followed during the past 21 years.

Alan Doyle has travelled around the world and rubbed shoulders with men and women from all walks of life — that’s just an ordinary day for the lead singer of Great Big Sea.However, his love and pride for his home province is not so ordinary, and he expressed his sentiments very clearly Thursday to delegates attending Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador’s annual Conference and Trade Show in Gander last week.Doyle, who was born and raised in Petty Harbour, said the best thing about Newfoundland and Labrador is its uniqueness — a uniqueness that makes it stand out globally.“The more I talk to people (about Newfoundland and Labrador through my travels) the thing I get most often if I ask ‘Why are you going? Why are you here? What’d you think of it?’ They say it’s different…they love it because it’s different,” he said. “That’s so amazing. We have something that’s different than anywhere else. We have something that’s like nowhere else in this day and age, when everything is like everything else.“I’m blown away with what we (Newfoundland and Labrador) have. The experiences we can offer people in music, geography, weird places to stay, weird meals to eat that they never had before, stories, acting, drama, bars, streets, hikes…the product, the material, the heart of what we sell to people we don’t need to make up, and I think almost everyone (else) needs to do that.”He said those involved in the hospitality and tourism industries in the province are so lucky to be from a place where the heart of what they sell is readymade.

“It’s key for us (in the tourism business) to be ourselves…people love that and it’s why they come,” he said.

To illustrate the point Doyle recounted a conversation he had with his good friend, Russell Crowe, during one of the actor’s visits to this province.

Crowe is a world-renowned actor, producer and musician, having starred in such films as Gladiator and Robin Hood.

“I wrote a song with Russell, after I asked him why he comes here, and he said he feels like he comes to a different place…he said, ‘I’ve been in Canada (Toronto and Hamilton) and now I’m in a different place…I don’t feel like I’ve been in the same place…I don’t feel that I’ve been anywhere like this place before…That doesn’t happen to me very often’,” said Doyle. “The song (Where We Belong) speaks to the heart of the unique place we’re from.”

Working advice

Doyle’s address was not just filled with anecdotes, but sprinkled with suggestions.

He offered advice on how people in the hospitality industry can keep visitors coming.

“Make a plan, be organized, and work with people —not have people work for you or you work for people,” he said, referring to some advice that was handed to him, Sean McCann and Bob Hallett from Sean’s father, Ed McCann, when they first formed Great Big Sea.

Doyle compared the entertainment business to the hospitality industry in the fact that every day a hospitality operation is open for business is showtime — just like in the music or movie industries.

“They both have a showtime, and there’s nothing more important than to be ready for showtime,” he said, noting this is something he has been more aware of since becoming friends with Crowe.

“You need to be ready. Getting ready is something you can do nine times out of 10. The most successful people are ready for what they have to do. You can’t fake being ready.”

Doyle told the audience of a recent experience he had requiring a level of readiness from a hospitality operator that proved just what he was saying about readiness brings success.

Just a few weeks ago he was stranded at the Inn when the ferry didn’t run.

However, he said, the operators of the Inn are ready for such incidents, and he was flown to St. John’s so he could meet his other obligations, while an Inn staff member drove his vehicle back to St. John’s.

“They’re ready, and I can’t stress it enough that you need to be ready.”

The third bit of advice he passed along was that in the world of business you need to do whatever it takes to be successful.

“You need to do whatever the days asks of you, not what you would hope the day would ask of, not what you thought it would ask of you, or not what is convenient, ” he said. “People need to do the good and the bad stuff…it’s the small stuff, if they go wrong, that results in big problems. You need to do whatever it takes.”

These have been three of the strategies followed by Great Big Sea, and himself, have followed to earn success.

“I wish you luck with it all,” he said in closing.

Time passes…

One of my most favorite memories of my time in Newfoundland was that of meeting and befriending some of the people whom I met. Over these years, I have stayed in touch with some of them. Some I hear from regularly; others intermittently but happily.

One who stands out is Bren. I first met him in 2004 on my first trip up there. At that time, he was a spry and very active 84 years old, just about to learn how to navigate the internet. I wandered into his shop to look at some of the crafts his lawn sign was advertising. And a door into a new world was opened.

Bren came out of his workshop where he had been “turning” some bowls. Dressed in work pants and a flannel shirt, Carhartt-type jacket and hat, Bren greeted me warmly. He said I was the first this year. First what? I was a little confused. Tourist of course. How could I have not known?

It was late March and the tourist crowd had yet to invade these lovely shores. I could have been considered the vanguard, but I really wasn’t a tourist in the traditional sense. I was happily working on what was to become Arn? Narn. But I was interested in picking up some local crafts and art for gifts for loved ones back home. So, in that sense, i was a tourist.

Bren invited me into his home while he brought out his wares to show me. Remember, I was the first and he wasn’t yet ready for the annual onslaught of intrepid travelers. We talked and I bought. And exchanged e-mail addresses. As I was about to leave, Bren invited me to stay for a cup of tea. I was running late, for what I don’t remember, but I demurred and headed back to St. John ‘s.

Scan Some of the raw stock of Bren’s turnings.

Later that year, I received one of the best New Year’s notes ever – an e-mail from Bren, trying out the internet. His message reminded me of how much I enjoyed that trip.

I went back the next year, 2005, I bought some more, we talked some more, and we drank beer and tea this time. We were now friends.

Two years later, I returned with my wife Carla and introduced her to Bren. They hit it off immediately. Why should they have not? More beer, tea, laughs, and stories.

Over the years, we exchanged notes, thoughts, and news of each others’ lives. Bren’s back started to give him problems and he had to give up his craft. We are the poorer for that. But he remained as active as he could.

Bren is now, according to his most recent e-mail of two days ago, 91.5 years old. He has sold his home and moved into a facility where he can receive the care he needs and shares his days with others. He states “I am adapting to a new life of idleness & being amongst a lot of people.” They are richer for that as I am for knowing Bren.

I am happy to report I now have plans to return to Newfoundland next summer. I look forward to seeing Bren once again… good friends are hard to find.

No shortage of…

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d be writing about some declining resources around us. Certain things will be harder to obtain and will now always be in short supply. But at this point I would rather focus on some other resources beyond the obvious.

As we wend our way through the obstacle course known as the holidays, it’s all too common to reflect back on the year just past. Were there heartbreaks? Of course. Were there joys? Oh, yes. And everything in between. Like in any other year past, there was no shortage of any of those in 2012. That is what some would call the texture of our lives. That’s accurate enough, but I think minimizes their import. The resources I’m thinking about right now come from what is I believe an inexhaustible source: the human spirit. With that in mind, here, in no particular order of importance, is what I hope for all of you – an unlimited amount of:

Laughter – may you laugh long and heartily every day; sunny days/rainy days – both are good for the soul; smiles – they cost nothing but are so powerful; hugs – for others and most importantly, you; kindness – no explanation needed other than don’t forget it; kisses – all types – give freely!; a warm hand on someone’s shoulder when they need it; understanding – it needn’t cost as much as we seem to “charge” for it; gentleness – this is where real strength resides; serenity; peace – both internally and externally; truth; and so on and so on.

Lest you think I left out the most important wish for you, no, I haven’t. I saved it ’til last; LOVE. From this, all the others will come. Be open, be tender, be gentle. Have a wonderful new year!


Water, water, everywhere…

That was to be the title of my next book. But researching that particular subject turned out to be an incredibly difficult task. Not that there wasn’t any information available. No, quite the contrary. There was too much. Thanks to a wonderful tool called Google Alerts, I was updated on water news daily. And there was a lot of it. Truth be told – there was too much for me to disseminate. Unlike water, there is no shortage of information about the future of water. Hell, if information was water, we’d all be drowning in the stuff. So unhappily, I put that subject back on the shelf for now. But that does not mean I’ve given up on learning about it. At the same time, I do not want to play the role of a Cassandra either, but this is a serious subject.

As I wrote in my last blog post, I was going to spend some time writing about our planet’s limited resources. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, this one is about water. Globally, we are reaching some tipping points in regards to many of our resources. For the past few decades, much has been written and said about oil and rightfully so. Unless the theory of abiotic oil is correct, and few believe this to be the case, then we are most likely running out of oil. There is no corresponding abiotic theory on water though. It has taken years for people to discover that water is becoming an increasingly more valuable commodity. It is only now that it is beginning to take center stage on the world as a limited resource.

The most obvious, visible impact on water’s availability is drought. Most people can identify with that even if they’ve never experienced it first hand. But beyond failing crops and people going without water, and these are not to be minimized, not much other thought has generally been given to water.

However in the coming years, we can expect to see water politicized as never before, both here and abroad. Water rights are becoming an election issue and a states rights issue. Wars will be fought over water much as they are now over oil. It will become a geopolitical tool used selfishly and perhaps maliciously. Who will become the Saudi Arabia of water? Where will the new speculators come from?… and you know they will be there. There are a lot of questions and not many answers yet.

As we should have learned during the first oil crisis in the early 1970’s, we could not continue to use that particular resource profligately, still we did. The same is equally true of water. Using water to keep golf courses green in the desert flies in the face of good stewardship. In New Mexico, a dusty, dirty car is the sign of someone monitoring their water use carefully. There are not many green lawns there nor should there be. They are coming to grips with it before most of us are because they have to.

There are of course numerous ways for the individual to do their part to help keep consumption down and it is necessary. I am not minimizing that at all either. But, we are facing a new time in history where once again, many may be at the mercy of those who control a resource that they, like so many others, need and are willing to fight for it. Such is the situation when a resource is limited or running out and others play games with it. And that is what the future regarding water will look like. Our politicians need to become aware of this and start preparing. After all, there is nothing wrong with a dusty car and a brown desert.

We can’t continue to do this.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be departing from my media campaign to talk about issues of resources. The book Arn? Narn. is certainly, I hope, a powerful statement about the wasting and mismanagement of one resource in particular. But an abasement of another valuable resource is being enacted in more places than I care to think about. And more often.

It has been forcefully driven home with the news about the unbelievably tragic and horrific Connecticut shootings. While I am reluctant to add my voice to the many calling for inquiries how this could have happened, or that we should control guns, or who is at fault, I do look at this as yet another total waste of our most valuable (if you will) resource: our young. For many years, the young have been fodder for our wars and folly. Oftentimes voluntarily; other times through conscription. We are not serious about youthful crime and violence. We are not serious about black on black crime. We treat this resource as inexhaustible which will continue to be there. Just how serious are we? Apparently, not much. Yet.

Yes, there will be calls for changes. There will be experts on how this could happen. There are always those things. But they are a salve and will only be that until we get serious. Is this the time we get serious? Will we stop posturing and get to addressing the issue? We talk about the incidents, but not the causes. In the meantime, we are losing our young in record numbers. And no one is doing a damned thing about it.

Where is the universal outrage? This is yet another issue where sides are taken but only one will speak out while the other remains silent. This happens all too often on other issues. Is this only a one-sided tragedy? Can it really be that easily divided into a pro vs. con argument? Or will we finally grow up and take responsibility for our roles in this? I’m not looking to blame any one side. That’s fruitless. All are culpable to one degree or another. But since that is the case, and it is, we need to put aside political leanings and do this together. I’m not advocating any infringement on one’s rights: rather a reasonable solution to this and one that can be done. Just as in the tax argument – each side is going to have to give up something in order to get it done. What are we waiting for? Our young are dying.


So, the small PR machine has been working a bit. Radio appearances – very cool; book signings – also very cool; written interviews -OK, no wait, what? This was a new one to me and I had no idea how difficult they were. It would be a bit of a struggle.

Person-to-person interviews are, I think, easier to do. Essentially, you gather your thoughts together, remember time and dates and names, be polite and friendly and for God’s sake, don’t swear. That’s pretty much it. If you’re not being grilled by 60 Minutes, you should come out of it rather unscathed.

But a written interview? Who came up with that 21st century version of Torquemadian delights? This is a relatively new twist on PR because of the internet. I am in no way complaining or disparaging this. Not at all. I’m merely stating that it is a lot more stressful for me. With the exponential growth of bloggers and the increasing number of book reviewers plying their craft online, the written interview has moved forward in importance.

It goes something like this: you get a request for an interview. Great! But it’s for a written interview. It comes with a set of questions which by and large you would not have any trouble answering in a one-on-one session. However, it’s asking for you to commit your answers to paper or the ethernet in this case. It will then in turn be re-purposed into another’s blog. You may be asking yourself at this time, “And this is  difficult?” Yes, it is.

If it’s only one interview, no sweat. When there are multiple interviews requested, you’d like to make each seem fresh and original. Again, this is not a complaint. It is the question of how does one achieve that freshness time and time again without sounding canned. Each interview is different, yet the information I have to share is essentially the same. I suppose this is normal, but I haven’t found an easy solution yet.

With each new interview, I sit down and try to write the best response possible. In a spoken interview, so much can be said though inflection of voice, laughter, pauses, etc. Not so with the written interview. I must be far more thoughtful and deliberate as to what I write. Each answer must be honest and as insightful as possible. My goal with these is to make the reader feel as if they are speaking directly with me and this is the first time I’ve spoken about this. It is not an easy task and one I take very seriously.

Musicians talk about playing some of their most famous tunes repeatedly. Some of them find new ways to present them, others resent having to play them over and over again. I prefer that first approach. Arn? Narn. is a serious book and at the very least, I owe it that kind of respect.

We drive around, eat some fish, listen to music, talk to Newfoundlanders, and go to a dance.

With bellies full and hearts settled, we set out to explore. We have a map but plan on using it only if we get lost. If you know where you are in relation to the sea, you should be alright. That was our plan and we stuck to it.

We visited some antique shops in Burin and were able to get a small but nice sense of their history. Like all of Newfoundland, it was informed by fishing. And the articles in the shop reflected that: old prints of boats and fish, compasses and sextants, posters and signs from another era, hosted by a typically wonderful and friendly Newfoundlander.

Across the street was a small museum, the Burin Heritage Museum which of course we had to see. In it were displays of indigenous wildlife, a photo gallery of the 1929 tidal wave that created an incredible amount of damage, architectural records, local ceramics, histories including those of Burin’s involvement in WWII, clothes, and folk art. It was amazing how much that rather small house held.

Burin Heritage Museum                  (townof burin.com)

After that it was time for lunch. Options were limited but a restaurant was right across the street so off we went. Burin is small, it seems as if everything is right across the street. We chowed down and headed out once more.

While walking around, we found this beautiful wooden bay walk that took us almost around the entire bay. We watched while a local fisherman/artist painted a mural on the side of a meeting hall. He invited us into the hall to see more of his work. They were wall size murals and quite good in a folk art fashion, but sadly too big to take home though. He told us he had to finish it quickly as there was a dance there that evening. Everyone has a great time and we should come. Yes, they ARE that friendly to strangers. We didn’t want to commit, but told him we would try. We would. We did.

Burin bay walk. (panaramio.com)

Newfoundland dances are like no other I’ve been to. They are truly egalitarian: all ages, all occupations, no pretense. They are there for one reason – to have fun. And do they ever. Anyone can get up and sing, anyone can join the band, and everyone dances with everyone. It is a remarkable experience.

If you’re not dancing, singing, or playing an instrument, you’re at a table discussing your entire life story with complete strangers, except they’re really not strangers any longer. That is Newfoundland. You’re a stranger for no more than a few minutes.

Many of the people there are older. If you get to sit with them, prepare to share your medical history with them. That noted, it may say something about the Canadian health system that so many of them are elderly and still kicking up their heels. Or they’re just happy to be living in Newfoundland. And that last statement is fact. They do love Newfoundland.

Over the course of my trips up there, I have heard the same refrain repeated time and time again. “I moved away, but had to come back. This is home.” Or some such variation. What makes this all the more significant and poignant, is Newfoundlanders want to come back even if there is no fishing any longer. It is home, their home and they love it. How many of us can say that about where we live? And how many of us dance there?

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

Happy, happy, joy, joy!

It’s just a little bit of silliness from the old “Ren and Stimpy” cartoon show. You can learn a lot about a person based on what movies and TV they watch. An astute reader of this blog will no doubt know which music turns me on; which movies I like to quote; and which TV shows I admit to viewing. The key word here is admit. (I’m not saying’ anyting else ’til I talk wid my law-yer!)

But one of the real personal joys, in addition to working and producing the book “Arn? Narn.” and writing this blog, are the notes and comments received from other bloggers. The blogosphere, as dreadful a term as has been coined in a long time, is filled with people sharing, but not limited to, ideas, thoughts, art, music, problems, actually the whole scope of humankind can be found there.

What is truly amazing is that anyone can find you in the first place. And they do find you, from all over the world. The people who design these programs and write the algorithms, (the Algomystics!?) are crazy smart. I salute them for their genius and intellect that allows postally-challenged me to reach out and talk with someone new.

This blog, arnnarn.com, has readers from all over the world. I did not expect that when I started recounting my adventures in Newfoundland. Oh yeah, friends and family sure, (but curiously not! Guys, are you reading this?) but complete strangers? And the input and encouragement has been very gratifying.

The take-away from this entry is that people all over are interested in what others are doing and are willing to spend the time to find it and read it. Amazing. There is also a hell of lot of useless stuff out there too, this blog excepted of course!

In all the previous entries in this blog and the ones yet to come, I hope there has been and will be some curiosity raised, enough to click on some of the links to learn more. For really the first time in our history, we have the opportunity to hear from what one once described as “the great unwashed” or what we know as just us without the filter of a media company, a government official, or a candidate.

Looking back, I wished that the blogosphere (there’s that word again!) were around when I started the “Arn? Narn.” book. As a source of information, not all of it accurate of course, (much of it really), it can lead you to strange and wondrous places as well as some you wished you had never seen. Yet, it becomes more and more valuable each day. Just be open to what you may find. And if you don’t like it, you can always clickback on it. Just not on this blog, OK?