Heavenly Days

Thursday, June 26, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

THE BIG CHILL, The Final Chapter

Less than an hour after we returned home, we began to wonder whether we had dreamed up Newfoundland and Labrador or if such a place really existed.  Unpacking our bags, we laughed as we pulled out long johns and winter caps.  In the sweltering South, it hardly seemed possible that we wearing such items just a week ago.  Now all that's left is looking back on the memories of two weeks at the eastern edge of the continent.

East Coast Trail at Signal Hill, St. John's
More than a thousand years ago, the Vikings made landfall on the remote northern coast of what would become Newfoundland—the first Europeans to journey to the New World.  What they found was not unlike what we saw in 2014—rugged coastlines guarded by barren cliffs, rocky landscapes with only a thin layer of soil, and vast expanses of emptiness dotted with huge glacial boulders deposited randomly over the land.  Over the intervening millennium, only the hardiest souls have chosen to make Newfoundland and Labrador their home—those who scoff at the challenges of six months of winter in a land where snow drifts have been known to completely conceal two-story houses, who are willing to drive 30 miles from home to find a tiny plot of soil worthy of gardening, and who crave the combination of solitude and beauty that only this remote land can offer.  And those who choose it don't just tolerate Newfoundland.  They love it fiercely.  We met numerous locals who told us they had tried living elsewhere but couldn't wait to come home to Newfoundland.

Light station near Signal Hill
For the rest of us, we'll just visit and enjoy the province on our own terms, rushing home when nature pushes back to separate the men from the boys.  Before we finish up with our visit to this enchanting place, we should state that the correct pronunciation is not 'new-FOUND-land' nor is it 'NEW-fun-len,' as we were prone to say before our visit.  The authentic Newfie pronunciation is 'new-fin-LAND' with emphasis on the land, not its 'new'-ness or its 'found' status.

In our all too brief two weeks traveling around Newfoundland and a tiny, tiny sliver of Labrador, we observed a number of things which we came to think of as distinctively Newfoundlandish.  Though they may exist elsewhere, they occurred there in numbers too large to be coincidence.  Some were self-evident, while others required some assistance from a Newfie to understand their purpose and meaning.

Trash Boxes
Beyond urban areas like St. John's and Corner Brook, virtually every house in Newfoundland has a wooden receptacle near the roadside for the purpose of storing garbage.  They come in an endless variety of designs, some to match the house, some just whimsical.  Some sport the house number, and some even support the mailbox.  Whatever the design, they keep seabirds, bears or whatever other wildlife your neighborhood harbors out of your garbage.

Roadside Woodpiles
Another familiar sight along Newfoundland and Labrador roads, especially in the Northern Peninsula, was an endless string of roadside woodpiles.  Individuals pay a government permit to cut wood on public land.  Then the wood is hauled to a roadside area for storage, where longer logs are arranged in a pyramid, teepee style, to allow them to dry out. Once seasoned, the wood is chopped to stove length and stacked in neat, standard size rows.  Often the telephone number of the pile's owner will be painted on a board and attached to the pile for the convenience of purchasers.  Winter lasts six months in Newfoundland, and fuel prices are very high, so most families go through lots of firewood each year.  

Like the roadside gardens, these woodpiles are not targets for theft.  According to locals, you don't steal from your neighbor in Newfoundland.  The harsh conditions and often brutal winters require a culture of interdependence for survival. 

Firewood Sleds
For convenience, trees are cut in winter for the following year's firewood.  Since every family owns a snowmobile, hauling the wood from the cutting location to storage is much easier with a snowmobile-pulled sled.  And these are stored along the roadside also.

Rock Box Bases
Try as we might we were never able to obtain a definitive answer for why some utility poles in Newfoundland had rock-filled wooden frames at their bases.  Among the replies locals offered were that the ground was too rocky or too boggy to support the pole.  Yet often, as pictured here, one pole would have what we came to call the rock box base while an adjacent pole did not.

Roadside Gardens
As we already mentioned in another blog post, roadsides in Newfoundland, especially those on the northern peninsula, are lined with individually operated gardens.  With topsoil at such a premium, no right-minded Newfoundlander would build a house in a place with loamy soil, so they live on rock on the coast and garden along the highway inland where road construction turned up sufficient arable soil.

Mother-in-Law Doors
The first time we saw a door with no steps we thought it odd or just incomplete.  After seeing them in larger numbers, even on two story houses, there was a pattern.  According to local lore, most Newfoundland houses were built by the people who live in them.  For practical purposes, they put the entrance at the back through a mud room going into the kitchen.  Then after Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949, the federal government mandated that all houses have a front door and a back door for fire safety.  So Newfoundlanders complied; they installed the front doors.  The mother-in-law moniker should be obvious.

Fishing Stages
Fishing stages are small, usually rudimentary, elevated sheds at water's edge in coastal village harbors.  Vital to the traditional cod industry, stages were used to offload and process fish for salting and drying.  Also known as fishing rooms, these ubiquitous structures inspired the design of Newfoundland's provincial museums in St. John's, which are called The Rooms and which dominate the city skyline.  (See The Rooms at the top of the photo here.)

Brilliant Color
Whether it's atmospheric conditions or just the halo effect of a colorful palette, we couldn't say, but the colors in Newfoundland appeared much deeper, more saturated to us than in other places.  Whether there is a genuine difference or it was just an optical illusion, our cameras reflected the brilliance also.

East Coast Trail at Signal Hill
Back in 2010, we spent a month-long road trip in the maritime provinces of Canada and wanted to include Newfoundland on our agenda.  Alas, we were traveling in April and May, and ferry service to Newfoundland from Nova Scotia didn't begin until late June.  Four years later, we can say Newfoundland was worth the wait.  From the breathtaking scenery to the hospitable people, the province is a top-notch destination.  In just two weeks, we began to understand the old Newfoundland saying about the afterlife:

You can always tell the Newfoundlanders in heaven.  They're the ones who want to go home.

June 26, 2014