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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

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Quid ni?

You know how some things happen to you in life, and you realize that you kind of knew all along it would unfold that way? Like when I met Patrick, and I suddenly remembered being a little girl who stared into the flames of candles and saw a man with that same long yellow hair. Some stops along the road are well signed, even if you don't always look up to read them.

Others just aren't on the map.

The South sure wasn't on mine. This is my tenth spring here, and it still feels like I am dreaming sometimes. The surrealism is heightened in springtime, when the trees are snowing blossoms in steady drifts and I feel like I am walking across the opening credits of a Technicolor film. Sure, it's there at other times of the year, like when my toddler, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, stretches out his arms and says, "Mama, HAY-ULP-MUH-EE." But it is this time of year when the distance I've travelled is most pronounced.

I'm about to get in a huge amount of trouble with my compatriots. Watch the comments section either explode, or go icily silent.

Newfoundland is cold.

No, wait, that's not the whole truth.

Much of it is wet also.

As someone from St. John's recently observed to me, people there reminisce about the good weather days the way people in other places remember the bad ones. They are the exception, not the rule.

I didn't know what spring was until I moved here. I didn't know that in some places people had easter eggs hunts outside, in the green grass. (I also didn't know that other kids weren't leaving a glass of rum for Santa on Christmas Eve, but that's a story for another day). I didn't know that the concept of four distinct seasons of equal duration wasn't just a fairy tale you read about in books.

I can hear it all now. "It's not that cold." "It hardly ever snows in St. John's." "Corner Brook summers are hot." "We do too have a spring!"

Let me rush in to avow that my island home is an extraordinarily beautiful place. Like no other. But we are an obstinate race, as islanders often are. I think some of this has to be chalked up to natural selection. You know the people who threw their lot in with the place had to have worn out their welcome back home.

Our inheirited rebellious streak is compounded by an acquired defensiveness, borne of perpetually being picked on by the big kid next door. Canada has a nasty tendency to pinch and poke us, and call us names. And although we understand that they themselves have self-esteem issues arising from being more or less ignored by the even bigger kid down the block, it still hurts our feelings and causes us to make rude gestures behind their back.

What all this adds up to is that we are a little on the sensitive side. It is difficult, if not actually illegal, for a Newfoundlander to admit to an outsider that there is any downside at all to living on a remote outcropping of rock in the middle of the North Atlantic.

When I was in Ireland recently, many of my fellow Newfoundlanders expressed wonder that I would live away from the island for so long. There was a small, but earnest lobby effort to coax me out of exile, cunningly directed at my husband. And you know, I do pine for certain aspects of home. The ocean. The people. My family. The culture. The fish and chips.

Here, my friends and countrymen, is the deal-breaker:

These are photos taken last weekend of my sister, niece and nephew on what my mother calls "a beautiful spring day" in the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland:

And here we have my three-year-old, playing in the neighbourhood creek, on an actual spring day two days ago:

To lend balance to this comparison, in another month's time, the snow will be gone from all but the mountains across the bay from my mother's place, and here the creek bed will be bone dry. Here, it will be so hot and so humid that the walk from the front door to the driveway will be exhausting. When it is cold, you can always put on more clothes, but when it is hot, you can only get so naked. I have come to regard Arkansas summers the same way I did Newfoundland winters: as something to endure.

And as lovely and lush as it is here, there are few places on earth that can touch the beauty of the island on those fleeting summer days. It truly takes one's breath away. On those days, all else is forgotten.

I thought Patrick summed it up beautifully in his live narration of our vacation video from a few years back. We were pulling out of the ferry terminal on the southeast tip of the island. There is silence as the camera pans over the barren granite cliffs that thrust out of the sea like battlements.

" Look at that," you hear Patrick say, in a voice that is almost pained, forgetting for a moment that his comments are being captured for posterity, and that family vaction videos are generally G-rated. "Why would anyone live here, except that it's so... fucking beautiful."

I think it would make a great national motto. Anybody know the latin for "fucking?"

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Blogger woman wandering said...

Loved this.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Geoff Meeker said...

Ah, yet another 'Newfoundlander away' attempting to reconcile why they are some other place, and not here... very eloquently stated though. In your case, you are clearly happy where you are.

The thing is, when Newfoundlanders leave, they form herds; gathering in large numbers at house parties to talk about salt meat, Dominion, savoury dressing and all the other things they miss about home.

Yet, when they are here, they complain to all and sundry about too many taxes, not enough jobs and, yes, always the weather (if it's not too cold it's too hot).

I am reminded of a skit I once saw on the local stage. A tourist was exploring an outport and happened across a skipper, standing on the wharf. The tourist asked how the man was.

"Terrible, terrible," said the skipper. "Been rain, drizzle and fog for two weeks and I finds my arthritis."

"Oh... can't you see a doctor for that?"

"Nope. Our town can't find a doctor and the nearest clinic is 50 miles away."

"Well... Surely it's not that far to drive, for the sake of your health."

"Don't got no car. Can't afford it. Can't afford nothing. There's been no work here since the fish disappeared and the plant closed 5 year ago."

"Good god man! Why don't you just leave this place?"

"Leave? Now why would I do that? Sure, I wouldn't be happy anywhere else!"

2:04 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

Thanks, Wanderer.

Classic, Geoff. My husband will love that. Reminds me of a time in Trinity when we encountered an old-timer on a footpath who nodded his head and said, curtly, "Nice day." And then,

"if it lastses."

2:16 PM  
Blogger scott said...

If Latin had a word for "fucking" maybe it wouldn't be a dead language.

Texas is less beautiful than Arkansas, but it has a subliminal beauty that only the adequately subtle can perceive. It's an acquired taste.

I've often wondered: Why acquire a taste for something that isn't good the first time. But, there are reasons, subtle reasons.

Beautifully said, this post.

Hello, Kyran.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Kyran said...

A hello from Scott. Well, I guess I've arrived. ;)


3:16 PM  
Blogger patsyrose said...

I only visited Newfoundland once but I saw the exquisite and rugged beauty...once the damn sun came out!

7:38 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

If bad, extreme and unpredictable weather makes you depressed then Newfoundland is definitely not the place for you. But if you love a good snowstorm that shuts down the city for a day, or the beauty of a silver thaw in April, or the wonder of sideways rain and the idea of never taking a sunny day for granted, then welcome to Newfoundland!

To endure Newfoundland's weather you require either a love of the outdoors that is not deterred by what is falling from the sky or what the temperature is (and a budget to pay for the gear you need to enjoy it) or you need an inner life that is so rich and full that the weather outdoors is irrelavent.

I also heard a wise person once say that the best way to enjoy Newfoundland is by not listening to forecasts and to just open up your door each morning and take the day for what it is. Not a bad motto for life really.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Kyran said...

I do have a rich inner life, but when the sun stops shining all my neural pathways go dark and i can't find my way to it ;-)

12:57 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

Which goes to my first point. So stay where you are, but plan more trips home during August when the odds of sunny days are highest.

1:28 PM  

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