JOURNEY THROUGH LABRADOR by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter 4 )

 

 

 

FEBRUARY 20th

There are some things better left for outsiders to find and bad ice is one of them. I had been warned about springs, tickles and seal holes, but I never thought a burst pipe would be one of them.

One moment I was walking on firm ice, the next breaking through it. There was no sudden fall, more a slow motion dive, I wasn't even frightened, the only thought passing through my mind was one of embarrassment. Who, but a fool could freeze to death in the middle of Port Hope Simpson. Imagine the headlines, 'Toronto Man drowns in two feet of water'. I had no matches, no change of clothes, but lucky for me I was only five minutes walk from the Alex Hotel. 'Been for a swim, my son?' What a sight I made. Iced from waist to foot, at -30 degrees Celsius, my clothes had freezed dried instantly.

I had now been travelling for three weeks and covered nearly three hundred kilometers. Every day I saw snowmobiles. They broke up my day and brought with them the inevitable invitation to spend a night, or at the very least, 'Do you want a ride?' Since leaving Red Bay I had not once put up my tent. Between communities, I took shelter in government cabins. Built at twenty kilometer intervals alongside the groomed snowmobile trails, these emergency shelters were always well stocked with wood and varied from the five star, pots and pans included, emergency rations, sleeping bags and split level accommodation, down to the primitive. They acted as drop-in centers to meet the 'Walking Man' and more often than not, had in them a welcoming committee of smiling faces and a warm fire.

Communities were always announced by the sweet smell of burning wood and once spotted by a chorus of its barking dogs. Every day seemed to be a laundry day and freeze dying clothes tapered off in all directions in streams of color. All houses were wood and box like. The odd one still retained the add-on look and a few more with the picture postcard window and door mouldings painted in vivid green and red. The interior of most were no different than that of a city family with its one to two children, central heating and microwaves. But you only had to scratch the surface to find the east's coast flip-side. To cross their threshold was like entering a time machine. Wood burning cast-iron stoves were still used for both heating and cooking, black and white televisions constantly crackled and clothes hung as they fell on the floor. Every room had that lived-in look where you could just as easily see a snowmobile stripped for repair on the kitchen floor as baking on its table.

Blood ties on the Labrador coast run deep. In Lodge Bay nearly all surnames were 'Pye'. In Mary's Harbor every other a 'Rumbolt', and in Port Hope Simpson the 'Pennys' ran everything from the post office-cum-store, to its only hotel. In Charlottetown the 'Cambells' and 'Turnbulls' were evenly matched and in Norman's Bay all except two were 'Wards'

I would on arrival go straight to the post office, pick up my mail, then check in on my host's house. Once an invitation was accepted it was sealed with a drink of tea. Water was always on the boil and it wouldn't be before the kitchen table was full with oven fresh bread and home made jams. The next ritual would take me into the living room where the family history was framed in pictures from black and white to color on all four walls.

Conversations at first were guarded, but once the ice was broken, became open and animated. I never once heard sun spot activities, ozone levels or black holes blamed for the inshore fisheries."Everything has its season," if I'd heard that phrase once, I heard it a dozen times. "You just can't harvest year round. Fish need time to breed." To these people it was as easy as that - over fishing. Once thriving, these communities are now on the brink of collapse. Here men still take pride in working with their hands, but for how long was anyone's guess.

A seaman's face resembles that of a rocky mountain route map and with fist like sledge hammers, shaking hands could be a risky business. Image here is just a word with little currency, but its slowly creeping into the younger generations language. To be 'cool' among the young means not to be warm. Fashion has its price and frostbite is the payment.

In Labrador, women hold the key to its future and many a well rounded figure bares witness to this fact. Family life is everything and here children run free in a wilderness playground second to none. All this could change, but that is still in the future and to a large degree tied to fish stocks.

I've now come along way. I'm not treated like an intruder anymore, but as a kindred spirit. Maybe I get it because I am walking or maybe it's because I take them as they take me; with a pinch of salt and a little humor.

 


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14