Well, despite the absence of regular blog updates, our trip has ended. We are now back from Newfoundland. I was so busy having a great time outdoors and with my family that I am only on Day 2 of the 20 day trip, as far as telling you all about it goes. I know, I know. Now that I am back to hum-drum every day life I am sure I will get caught up (or some semblance of it) soon.
One thing I did want to tell you about without further adieu, however, was the mileage this time away from home has put on my new sneakers. Without a definite (accurate) tally, I’m guessing I added between 80 and 100 kilometres while we were away. The main reason for this refreshing change in my activity level? My nearly 69 year-old mother gets up at 6:30 every morning, slips on her sneaks, and walks nearly 4 kilometres from her little house to the shipyard at the very end of the community’s road. Then she walks back. For a total of 7.8 kms (“Dad took it off in the car for me” she says, by way of explaining her knowledge of her own daily mileage – she prides herself on her lack of charts, graphs, or pedometer). This walk is how my mother starts nearly each and every day.
When I last saw my mom 6 years ago she did not have this habit. She started about 3 and a half years ago and has been doing it faithfully ever since. And so – to me – this transformed Mom is basically a new person. One good thing I noticed about my mother this trip – perhaps because of all this walking – is how much calmer she is. Somehow she seems more confident too. Another thing – this one because of the walking for certain – is that she’s lost weight. Not that she needed to lose any. But she is definitely looking fit and trim, and obviously in good physical condition. I was sweating to keep up with her. But – much as she prides herself on speeding past the odd male walker she encounters - I prided myself on at least being able to (mostly) keep up with her. After all, my mom is 24 years my senior.
I have to admit that I was a little nervous the first couple of mornings out. I’d heard about the rapid pace Mom sets. Also, she looked me up and down appraisingly that very first early morning and quipped something like “You’re sure you’re up to this?” Obviously she’d been able to accurately gauge my physical activity level as of late (which was nada). Inwardly I gulped, but bravado forced me to pretend I thought I was. And, despite all my trepidation and misgivings, I somehow still managed to feel shocked and surprised when Mom suddenly briskly marched down the driveway and set off at a merciless clip down the road. Who is this drill sergeant and what has she done with my mother?
It took me a few minutes to accept that I was really going to have to walk this fast or be left behind by my mom. It took me a few more minutes to accept that I was too stubborn, or proud, or both to make some excuse (“My fly bites are itching…”, “My laces are too tight..”, “I need to pee!!!”) and go home to Dad instead of continuing. Soon my legs ached and sweat trickled down the back of my neck, giving me away. Yet I surprised myself by somehow keeping up a somewhat acceptable speed for the hour and a quarter till we made it home again. Throughout that time, however, I secretly suspected I was slowing Mom down.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been home, and by “home” in this context I mean Newfoundland the island. You can take a Newfoundlander out of Newfoundland, but, somehow – no matter how long they’re away from it – you can never take the “Newfoundland” out of the Newfoundlander. So it’s hard to explain what I was feeling as I walked in a place I’d once taken so much for granted. A place I’d once so desperately wanted to leave.
It was astonishingly beautiful. The bay, so sheltered that it is easy to be lulled into forgetting it is the North Atlantic Ocean, is surrounded by hazy blue mountains rising off in all directions in the distance. On perfectly still mornings, after rain, the sea was a blue mirror, reflecting the houses, wharves, boats, and trees.
The air itself continually delighted me with the aromas I’d only vaguely remembered until that moment – the “landwash” smell near the water’s edge at low tide, the smell of the fish plant, the smells of trees, wild roses, the pine-y smell of forest paths. And – of course – the salty smell in the air when a stiff breeze blew in from the water. Too, there were smells I couldn’t place but knew I hadn’t smelled since the last time I was home. The sense of smell is so visceral, isn’t it? Smells get you right in the centre of your very being, by-passing all the logic and resistance the rest of your brain has tried to set up to protect you. Suddenly I am six years old again. And I want to dive into the ocean. I want to be a gull flying high in the air. I want to eat Newfoundland whole, like a rhubarb pie.
The pot-holed pavement we walked along was lined on either side with delightful vistas. On one side of the road little old houses were interspersed with gorgeous new homes rising up the sides of the hills into the forest surrounding the town. As well as having dogs for pets (Newfoundlanders just LOVE their dogs – many wandered free as we walked along), some people had barns and enclosures where Newfoundland ponies also grazed. Beyond the meadows and eccentric gardens (brightly painted discarded tires continue to be somewhat popular as planters) tantalizing diagonal views of dusty dirty roads curving out of sight as they rose into the mountain beckoned for further exploration. Yet I knew better than to mention these to my mother, who kept her up her relentless forward momentum to the road’s end.
On the other side of the pavement, more homes, these with “da bay” in the backyard. In some places, the ocean closed in to the roadside. There were no houses here, simply a gravelly ditch falling away to the sea. In other places, the ocean swept away low and far off, revealing sweet new (to me) dirt roads widening down country lanes where weather-beaten old homesteads met yet more new construction.
ICF (insulated concrete form) construction seems to be all the rage in my parents’ community right now. Seasonal residents, as well as retirees – returning to the area after long years’ of absence – have built many of these new homes, but longtime locals are building too. Most of these houses are clad with brightly coloured siding (red, yellow, and deep blue are popular colours). Many also have design features such as being more stories on the back (ocean facing side) than on the front, with surprising levels of ocean-viewing decks connected by flights of pressure-treated wooden stairs. My brother’s house (in “town”, meaning St. John’s) has a heat pump (much cheaper than the local alternative of electric heating), and I wonder what other forward-looking features these new places in Glovertown might have.
A lot of the new homes were gorgeous spots, with – for certain – amazing views of their own to be had out their own bay windows. On the “bay” side, many also had their own little docks, some with impressive-looking pleasure boats waiting for their owners to take them out for a sail.
I got the impression there is more work around than there are people available. There are many open positions nowadays, from work on the oil platforms to positions in mining and refining, with all the supporting trades in-between in demand as well. Too, there is – to some extent – a fishery again. The fish plant was open (they were processing capelin, I believe, while we were there) many days as we strode past.
But the main thing that caught my eye were the wild flowers. I had forgotten so many of them, after years and years hiking and canoeing in Ontario. And so, I was caught off-guard and astonished somehow by how different the flora of Newfoundland really is.
As I said, I haven’t been home in a while. And I love nature. I love water. I love trees. And I love flowers. I want to stop. For. Every. Single. One.
It’s hard to do this walk with Mom without stopping and disturbing its flow. Somehow I get that this flow is important. Today the discipline is NOT stopping to take a bazillion pictures. And so, I am not stopping to smell, photograph, or catalogue the dozens of old friends I am so delighted to see again (I do much of this later, at outings to places like Newman Sound and Sandy Pond).
All this walking, I forgot to mention, is made possible by the fact that my father sits at home in the morning, getting my children milks and watching cartoons with them till we return. I am eternally grateful for this. The walking soon becomes a lovely break. Soon I genuinely look forward to this refreshing way of greeting every morning. As well, I notice that the morning seems longer now, and the day itself expands correspondingly – more hours, more possibilities, more promise.
And so – as the days in Newfoundland grow shorter and the date of our return flight draws near – I dread the thought of being parted from my walk. I can’t image walking anywhere else. I need the shipyard. I can’t imagine doing this discipline without the motivation I get from my mom, or without the help I get from my dad. I am in Newfoundland, a place I once was dying to get out of, and I can’t remember anymore why I stayed away so long.
That’s the great thing about travel, isn’t it? It’s like a form of Reality Maintenance. At home in Ottawa, I was in a funk. I didn’t clearly remember my family or the place where I came from. I couldn’t accurately recall Newfoundland’s beauty or unique-ness, even as I longed to see it again. And, at the same time, I didn’t really see Ontario with fresh eyes anymore either. So I couldn’t feel part of where I came from OR appreciate where I was.
I needed to go. And I needed to come back. Ontario is different from Newfoundland. Yes, there are Dragon’s Mouth Orchids and Pitcher Plants to see in my native land, but somehow it feels great to be back in my adopted home amongst Queen Anne’s Lace and blossuming Milkweed as well.
So how about that walk? Well, it turns out my husband understands this need better than I ever could have imagined. And so – between his own run and his heading out to the office time - my “me” time is a snug fit, but it fits. It occurs to me now that I just never asked for an hour of my own each morning. I simply assumed I couldn’t have it. And now that I have (at least for the moment) ditched the grumpy martyr routine I am genuinely content with my hour and fifteen minute walk along the Ottawa River bike path each morning.
And so morning for now finds me setting out in pink sneakers at the closest semblance of Mom’s spitfire pace that I can muster. I walk down to the bike path and follow it to the beach. For a while, the path follows the waters’ edge. I see reeds in the water and watch the edge change from rocky, to mucky, to gravelly “sand”. I long to dip my ankles in the river and contemplate that “learning to kayak” session I wanted to sign up for, as well as daydreaming about whatever we watched on tv the night before. I avoid the “goose grease” as I stride toward the lovely northern red oak 37 minutes from my home – the oak has become my walk’s goal.
Along the way, I see many things I’d like to photograph. Yet my new Samsung camera “glitched” while we were away in Newfoundland, so I don’t have my toy along to distract me (it’s off to Samsung, where it will – hopefully – be repaired), and I’m okay with that. Instead, I keep up the pace I’m setting for myself. Some wonderful flow of energy from somewhere keeps me bopping along, even though I’m alone.
I reach the oak tree - which I greet like a friend, but with rougher skin – then turn back, passing inuksuks in the water as I return home. Today I paused briefly to check out Maple Lawn in its full glory, then I walked rapidly up my own hilly little street, feeling energized and looking forward to another glorious Ottawa day.
As I strode up my hill this morning, I felt a lovely breeze, almost as thought Newfoundland was with me still. And I guess it is. It’s in my heart, afterall. Meanwhile, my own little street seemed to say “Welcome back, Mumma.”
It’s good to see you again, too, Ottawa.
All for now,