Farthest East

We are used to travelling great distances by air in the other direction: across the Pacific to Asia. Now we get on a plane and fly and fly, wait in an airport and fly some more – and we are still in Canada! The occasion is a birthday party in Newfoundland. My father is turning 80, and my sister is 50, and even though they live in Winnipeg it seemed it would be more fun to celebrate in Newfoundland. We mine a family connection – my father’s sister-in-law’s brother – who has a vacation property near Tickle Cove, and my mother and father, my sister, my two nephews and Katheryn and I all find the time to make the trip to the other Far East.

We are out of our house at 5:30 a.m. to catch the flight, but it’s not until 9:30 p.m. that Jane and the boys – Adrian and Andrew – pick us up in St John’s. Tickle Cove is still 3 hours away, and we need food, so we decide to find something in town. It takes about 5 minutes to fall in love with St. John’s. The airport is so close to downtown it’s like a friend who’s just nipped out of a kitchen party for a quick smoke. The houses butt up against each other on the steep streets like old chums, and yards and fences have been done away with so that you can pop in on your neighbours for a visit even quicker. Walking down Duckworth St. the first locals we meet stop us and give us the traditional greeting: Looking for something to eat? You could always come back to our place…

We pick up some take-away from Get Stuffed, where the server warns us about the highway to Tickle Cove. Drive safely, she says, it’s Moose Alley up there. I’m thinking about this as we leave St. John’s and drive into the fog. Adrian has set the mood, putting on Great Big Sea. The road is a black strip that dissolves 20 ft. in front of us. We pass two moose, but what almost does us in is a huge Great Horned Owl sitting squarely in the middle of the road as we crest a hill, staring at me with the gaze of a mad alchemist disturbed in the middle of a ritual sacrifice.

The house where we stay is actually in Open Hall, just a skip and a tad from Red Cliff which is a gull’s breathe from Tickle Cove. It is absolutely gorgeous, with only a bit of scrub and a massive blueberry patch between it and the rocky coast. The next day, for a special dinner, we decide to buy a fresh fish. There are 3 problems with this: 1) the fishery has been closed for 15 years and all the locals have left; 2) the periodic food fishery has just finished, and the catch is all gone; 3) the guys down on the wharf explaining this to me talk with such a heavy accent I only understand about 30% of what is said.

It often seems, in fact, like a foreign language and a foreign country, and that we have somehow pulled a sneaky when we buy something and pay with Canadian money. There are still lots of people upset with Joey Smallwood for bringing Newfoundland into confederation, as the number of tri-coloured Republic of Newfoundland flags we see points out.

For a week we never leave the Bonavista Peninsula. It’s a spectacular landscape of charming villages and dramatic headlands, the stunted trees and tundra-like moors a testament to the heavy weather. I am surprised to learn that we are south of the 49th, south of our own lush, temperate, palm-tree-growing coast. One day Jane, Adrian, Andrew, Katheryn and I walk out to the very edge of Canada, to a wild promontory east of The Dungeons, a natural arch outside of Bonavista. The cliffs fall away sheer into the ocean, and we pose on jutting rocks, or crawl to the lip and peer fearlessly at the churning water below. A few puffins remain from the nesting season, and one zooms round and round an off-shore crag like he’s at an amusement park, two fish dangling from his beak.

This is enough inducement for my Dad, a keen birder. We are told there are still puffins at Elliston, also renowned as “The Root-cellar Capital of the World”. Puffins are spotted, but what steals the show is the ocean. The day is calm and, for Newfoundland, almost sunny, but immense swells are rolling in and crashing in dramatic plumes on the cliffs. We learn later that a freak convergence of storms far off-shore generated these waves, including one massive “rogue wave” which hit the coast just north of St. John’s and nearly dragged a beach full of picnic-ers into the water.

We are all back home now, and Katheryn and I are getting ready for our last sale of the year before our return to Asia. For those of you who can make it, we are in the Elk’s Hall in Duncan, and because it is our last sale, everything is 50% off! Hope to see you there.set:72157607454397072

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