Today I packed up my stuff and checked out of the Capital Hotel in St. John’s a day early. I can’t recommend this hotel highly enough. The price is very reasonable for the high quality of the hotel, the staff is amazingly friendly and helpful, and they have an in-house restaurant and lounge. Their wifi handled my webinar sessions with clients very well and the bed was so awesome I didn’t want to leave, though I wasn’t sure what to do with it all. The bed was so big, that out of curiosity, I laid smack in the middle of it and star-fished as hard as I could and still couldn’t touch both edges of it! I didn't see my new buddy Glen on my way out, but I did see Boyd and said farewells.
Having achieved my goal of completing the Irish Loop yesterday, I was a bit at loose ends for my last full day in Newfoundland. So I thought it a good day to take up the offer of Ed to visit his home on Random Island. It turns out that everyone who knows Ed actually calls him “Junior”, so he will henceforth be referred to as Junior, because…..well, now I know him. And his lovely wife Heather, who would charm the skin off a snake. As Junior predicted, Heather and I got on like a kerosene-doused house on fire. On my way up, I was earlier than planned and was about to stop in Clarenville to have lunch so I wouldn’t arrive too much ahead of what I had told them. When I stopped, I had a message from Junior asking if I liked cod and could I be there in time for lunch. For fresh cod?! Absolutely! So I fuelled up Fury and we made tracks for the last 20 minutes to their place.
I was welcomed warmly and while Heather and I got acquainted, Junior prepared a fresh fish and chips lunch, which was amazing. We talked about how great our kids are and all kinds of things. Their son, Nathan, is studying graphic design in St. John’s. Like Junior, Nathan has ridden bikes and done motocross since he was a wee lad and still loves it, though is current decompression tool is skateboarding. Junior showed me his little collection of bikes, which included the tiny Honda 150 that was Nathan's first bike and a classic Kawasaki 650 that is under construction.
Given that Heather has been under the weather with a case of Bell’s Palsy, which has left her with pain and some paralysis in one side of her face, I thought it extremely generous that they were willing to host me! This condition is something that can show up for those of us that have had chicken pox (shingles virus) and is probably the culprit in her case. Fortunately, it is a temporary condition. I am happy to report that she is beginning to feel better and the next few weeks will banish the last of the symptoms for her. Having had chicken pox myself, I am very grateful to have learned about it and to know what symptoms to watch for.
By the time lunch was over, I had accepted an invitation to stay overnight and accompany them to Heather’s parents’ place for a family dinner.
After lunch, we jumped in the truck and went for a tour of Random Island. Random Island is the second largest island off the coast of Newfoundland and is now connected to the community of Clarenville by a causeway. There are 11 communities on the island. Its massive beds of red shale and limestone were mined for bricks and slate tiles from the 1800s. In fact, Random Island’s slate has the highest quality of slate and limestone in the world. Junior said lots of churches in Quebec City were built with it. Unfortunately, the plant is no longer in production, though there is still lots of supply and the jobs are much needed. Much of the industry of Random Island now is fishing and lumber. As one might expect, the views are beautiful and the peacefulness of the island saturates you.
Around 1965, a re-settlement program began in Newfoundland. With all the remote, far-flung locations people were living, it was impossible to deliver equitable services to all residents (health, education, infrastructure, etc.). So the government offered monetary assistance to residents who would relocate from remote locations to larger centres. As it made sense, many people took advantage of the offer, but, feeling very connected to lands that had been in their families for generations, still retained their properties on islands such as this as summer homes. Some never left at all. This story explained why I have encountered some pretty rough roads in locations like this and Random Island is no exception. As you tour around, you can see why people didn’t want to leave, but they are the last priority for upgrades and improvements to infrastructure.
I finally got an answer to the question I have had about the “wood teepees” I have been seeing since New Brunswick - where the logs are stacked in a teepee shape in everyone’s yards. Apparently, there are a couple of reasons, one being that the wood dries faster that way. The other reason is that most people have a wood horse to cut the lengths into logs for burning and it is easier to have the wood in a standing position so it can be tipped onto a wood horse, rather than bending over and hefting it up. Makes sense. Junior said that some people will also stack their lengths in a lattice formation so the air moves through it to dry it faster.
I also commented that people all over Newfoundland wave when you pass, but on the southern peninsula, they kind of twitch their head at you. This, apparently is "the nod and wink" greeting. I'm going to have to practice that. If smiling a people in Vancouver makes them nervous, imagine the consternation I can cause with the nod and wink!
Having taken my pictures of fishing boats and island views, we headed back to the house. Heather was responsible for dessert for dinner and I had been wondering what I could do to contribute to all of this hospitality I was receiving. So I asked if I could make Grandma Curtis’ chocolate cake to take. They accepted this offer with alacrity and Heather and I took turns in the kitchen making our desserts. She made a raspberry almond coffee cake and I made the chocolate cake with my coconut icing, using walnuts instead of pecans. By 6:00 p.m. we were ready to head over to Violet and Joe’s. I had to take a picture of Heather's bobble-head moose! Too funny, and another first for me.
Arriving for dinner, I met Heather’s sister Jennifer, and her husband Robert, and Heather’s brother Brad. Robert’s daughter Rhiannon was also there and unfortunately had to leave early. Violet and Joe are clearly accustomed to a houseful and enjoy it! An extra chair was slid in for me and steak, potatoes, corn, greens, fried onions, and pickled beets were passed around. Everything was delicious and yet we left room for dessert. Grandma’s chocolate cake was a hit – she would have been proud! 😊 Junior claimed that with a story of adventure to tell and that chocolate cake, I might not be permitted to leave “the rock”.
After dinner, a guitar and bodhran materialized and I was treated to singing by Junior, Robert and Jennifer. Such a fun and entertaining evening! I had a hard time not doing a treble reel for those rhythms when they came up (that darn dance will never leave my head – nor the slip jig either). Brad's paintings hang around the house and Jennifer is an artist as well. Heather has been knitting the most gorgeous scarves and apparently cooks like a rock star. What a talented bunch of people. We also discovered during this visit, that Fox (Heather and Junior's dog) has the perfect ears for a comb-over. The time flew by and it was time to head back to Junior and Heather’s. We had another bit of visit after getting home, but now it is time for bed.
My last full day in Newfoundland could not have been better spent than with these fine, down-to-earth people who have made me feel like family and shared their extraordinary hospitality and joie-de-vivre with me. If that does not restore one’s faith in humanity, you are a heartless cur!
Tomorrow will find me back on the road, heading for the ferry to leave the beauty and friendship of Newfoundland. Sigh.