Leonard, weren’t the scones wonderful!

The flavour of the place is already evident on the ferry where the coffee is served with the biggest welcome, and the bulletin boards publicize things like the “Chase the Ace” event in Joe Batt’s Arm.

20161005_1714040_resized_1No fuss about font or lack of a Copy Expert store; just straightforward marker on board, in a bright orange, plunked up for all to see. What you see is what you get on Fogo. The people you meet there are easy to meet, eager to make you feel at home whether it’s in an art studio or a restaurant.  The longest drive you can take is three-quarters of the way around and through the island to Tilting, and my B&B, Foley’s Place, owned by Tom Earl. Though I generally don’t like the word ‘charming’ to describe a place, this time the word is apt.  Fog island and its residents are charming.

This is the view from the back windows of Foley’s Place.

20161004_075056_resizedThough he hasn’t been the owner for long, already Tom’s breakfasts are legendary.  I got my first taste of the also legendary partridgeberry in his scones.  You, Len, have had them many times before.

So we proceeded to explore, going back to the town of Seldom and its old cemeteries. We found that we couldn’t get to Wild Cove any more unless with a guide as people were relocated south into the town in the 60s. Next time we’ll plan an excursion through the bush to where your family’s house was, and your school, to the rocks you walked on there. But didn’t we enjoy tea with Florence Budgell, now Florence Eveleigh, and her husband. She would be your second cousin I think, though too young for you to have met her. After all, your last visit here was many years ago.  Partridgeberry pie and muffins with lots of raisins in them. We should have gone back, where does the time go.

At the Library I read some of your letters to a mixed audience, two women visiting from Boston, island residents, and a troop of cub scouts and their leaders. They loved your writing, asked so many questions afterwards.

Not far from the B&B, a small museum based in the oldest house at Tilting, with clear evidence of the changes it has gone through, the extra floor space, the extra floor, the stairway built by a cooper, like climbing in a spiral inside a keg, and under the wallpaper, the bumps where the barrel stave construction is easily seen. In the stairwell, feel the irregularities with your fingers, and in the next room, the outer curve.  Here is the docent looking up at me.

A stairway built by a cooper
A stairway built by a cooper

She told me of the space under the floor where an indoor fire pit had been, and the story of the terrible priest who did not like the little church the local people had built, and how he’d had everything from the church thrown away.

St. Anne and her daughter Mary
St. Anne and her daughter Mary
Altar artifacts saved and stored
Altar artifacts saved and stored

Here in the back room and in the ‘attic’ are some of the rescued items, statues with bits broken off, old blackened silver crucifix. A pair of boots hangs on the wall downstairs with a sign saying ‘boots made from the last cow on Fogo’, which made me realize that I hadn’t seen any, nor had I seen goats or horses.  Lack of horses is sad, but once roads came, they weren’t needed and they are expensive to keep once they couldn’t roam. Len missed seeing goats. He liked goats.

A pair of boots hangs on the wall downstairs with a sign saying ‘boots made from the last cow on Fogo’, which made me realize that I hadn’t seen any, nor had I seen goats or horses.  Lack of horses is sad, but once roads came, they weren’t needed and they are expensive to keep once they couldn’t roam. Len missed seeing goats. He liked goats. Told stories of his favourites and how clever goats are compared to sheep. I think this was Len’s greatest disappointment, not seeing any more goats with wooden collars to stop their going through fences.

I loved this museum for its human connections. Nothing fancy and put behind glass, all left to further gently disintegrate. Museum curators would have a bird.  Here a crib and the sign that says whose it was, how long it had been in use, and that a particular child’s teethmarks can still be seen on it.  Len and I could TOUCH, feel the stories through our fingertips.

A crib with young Margaret's teethmarks still on it.
A crib with young Margaret’s teethmarks still on it.

But Fogo is taking this whole preservation thing seriously and intelligently. there is a fine marine museum at seldom, and Zita Cobb’s Shorefast foundation has enabled small business, arts and crafts to flourish.  So you find a studio, an ice cream business called Growlers, a restaurant, the older houses being built or restored. The island is attractive. Wherever you look there are the hills and berry patches, old cemeteries,

The old Catholic Cemetery at Tilting
The old Catholic Cemetery at Tilting

houses brightly painted, anything to do with the fishing industry freshly painted, decidedly picturesque. Here there is a balance between letting time show its toll, and saving the past for the future.

A wedding in the arena
A wedding in the arena
Arena decorated for a weddin
A wedding venue
The groom performs the Island ritual
The groom performs the Island ritual

Two more things I will mention and then you just have to go to Fogo and see for yourself: The Partridgeberry Festival, a festival like none you have ever been to.  It was held in the Arena at the center of the island, and decorated not only for fall, but also for a wedding. Saturday at 3:00 pm, the bride was escorted from a side door, the groom was waiting in front of the fall colours and hay bale setup in the middle of the floor. Hundreds were there, and it wasn’t easy to see what was going on.  All we could see, as in the photo, was the groom’s head as he was taller than most of the people there. Also, a secret visitor was there, so secret that he was pleased no one recognized him. Along with his retinue, Prince Albert of Monaco mingled, enjoying his anonymity.

The arena was filled with craft tables, food tables, (mostly jams), displays of paintings, displays and demonstrations of rug hooking, quilting, needlework. The geologist in residence at the Fogo Inn had a table with his charts and rock samples, the Fogo Inn chef in residence for the weekend (from Becta in Ottawa!) made exquisite sliders using Fogo Island seafood; there was a large children’s area where various activities went on all weekend. It was wonderful that here the children could handle a drill with adult help, hammer nails, make their boats and paint them. There were items made of seal skin selling for peanuts. I saw the same items in St John’s for three times as much. There were dancing displays, music for adults and children. It was a lively place…And on Sunday I got to read there.

A blurred photo of me before reading at the festival
A blurred photo of me before reading at the festival
A rug with three dried cod
A rug with three dried cod
A boy with his boat
A boy with his boat

I could write about that festival for a long time, about how the groom had to shoot a gun (outdoors) to finalize his marriage vows… and so many other craftspeople.

The last thing I’ll talk about are the trails. There is one to Brimstone Head, one of the corners of the Flat Earth. Another out of Tilting called Turpin’s Trail that leads up to one of the famous studios, another on the east side of Tilting, Oliver’s Cove Trail. There are fourteen hiking/walking possibilities; most of which I didn’t have time for. They are remarkable. A geologist can tell why and how, and I loved hearing about it from the resident geologist at the Fogo Island Inn while I was there, but there is also the quiet peace of these trails, their seaside vistas, the varieties of plants and rocks and rock formations as we walked.

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Mr. Green, over 90 years old, back in Fogo after working all his life elsewhere. This is his daily resting place.

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Mr. Green, over 90 years old, walks the trail every day. He has come back to Fogo after a career away.
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A reminder near Oliver’s Cove of tragedies on the sea

 

We were on one of the last ferries from Fogo when the hurricane weather hit the East coast. Len, you were my courage on the drive back to St. John’s, four hundred kilometres in driving rain. Not long after we passed, the main road was closed with great craters at Terra Nova and Clarenville. I’m so glad you were with me for hundreds of reasons. I loved seeing Fogo through your eyes, sharing all its wonders. Weren’t we both exhausted when we got to our hosts’ house by the harbour. Didn’t we keep talking about it all over a few pots of tea in Beth and Stan’s kitchen…Didn’t we talk about next time.

The 2016 Journey of Arctic Twilight in Newfoundland

So here we go Leonard Budgell; you wanted us to travel together so now we are, my spirit and your spirit. I met a second cousin of yours, Florence Eveleigh, known as Flossie. She and you have the same eyes, bright and warm.

Okay, here is our travel diary so far: First our reading with Helen Forsey at the Writers’ Guild in St. Johns. We heard writing that was stimulating.  You loved the Newfoundland accents from the Avalon and Berens peninsulas. I did too.

But coming ‘home’ to Biscaan Cove up at Cape St, Francis was so special; the caboose, even the excitement when Helen’s solar power system died. We plugged our ears against the whine of it. There was a fire in the stove and a Coleman stove for tea and soup and we were all quite content. You enjoyed Gerry Skinner’s tales so much when he came to repair the system that he told tales for hours and did not want to get paid.

Mad Moll just a little bit mad
Mad Moll just a little bit mad

The Cove. Didn’t we sit on the pillowy grass that is bent from the wind, and spend a morning with Mad Moll.  You and I know that Mad Moll is just a huge wave breaking on a shoal in the Bay, but she became almost a person as we watched her try and try again to get over that shoal. Actually Len, I’ve gotten an email from Helen who says Moll was quite put out that we left. You can’t win, can you; we had to go.

I figured out that the insect we saw at Po and Bob’s house was a crane fly. Here’s Po’s picture of it. And afterwards that double rainbow over Shoe Cove! I’ll have to see if Bob got a good photo of that…

Carne Fly by Po Chun Lau
Crane Fly by Po Chun Lau

Such memories of the reading at Pouch Cove, of ‘knowing’ now that Pouch is pronounced ‘pooch’…the room full of people who loved your writing, your stories, your knowledge, your respect for First Nations people. They got you, you see, got your very spirit and wanted more. So much more that all the books of Arctic Twilight sold out, and I had none for the rest of the tour.  I made emergency orders the next day, books to come here to Foley’s Place at Tilting, and some to Nova Scotia for the Bridgewater reading.

Cake to honour Len Budgell's Arctic Twilight. Thank you Pouch Cove!
Cake to honour Len Budgell’s Arctic Twilight. Thank you Pouch Cove!

Here’s the caboose, a reminder of that lovely place, and of lovely Helen, our host.  Wasn’t she great?  She is a pioneer type, knows everything about her environment, how to scavenge for berries, clamber trails, stack wood, gather rainwater.

Original Caboose from the Newfoundland Railway
Original Caboose from the Newfoundland Railway

Enough maybe for tonight… I’ll do another Diary entry when I get back from the Change Islands and Summerford libraries where your words will have their usual effect on listeners. They will be entranced by stories of Maggie, the war horse at North West River, your knowing boats and water from such a young age, your stories about the nurse who embarrassed you no end when you were a 12-year-old behind the Hudson’s Bay Company Store counter, and about Israel Williams and the owl.  It’s a bit complicated getting to these places because of ferry schedules, but you have always loved being on water. We’ll chat, as we always did. Maybe about the next book.

 

More soon…

Dreams of Fogo Island

Ever since Leonard Budgell wrote to me of being a child on Fogo island, it has seemed a mystical place. My dear friend wrote of roaming Fogo, of how he walked and played there, developed his love of seagoing vessels, participated in boyish shenanigans, made friends with schooner captains, and experienced in Mary Harnett’s parlour (under the full gaze of the minister) his first very innocent sexual understanding.

His ancestors came to the island with the fisheries, probably in the eighteenth century. He told me there were two branches of Budgells that came to Fogo and the Change Islands from Devon. His uncle John had a house at Wild Cove, so that is where his father took his family on what we would now call a year’s sabbatical. We think this photo is his uncle’s house, and that he is one of the children.

Of course, Fogo was only one place he made me yearn for, and I have been able to be in many places he loved in Labrador. But Fogo hovers, and I would love to go.

len and maxThere aren’t many photos of Len or his siblings when they were young. This is a five year old Len apprehensive about going off to boarding school with his brother Max, but he was a person whose looks changed little, even to a photo taken a year or two before he died. So I can imagine his ten year old face, and delight on it as, at a Captain’s request, he climbed to replace a flag halliard at the top of a mast. Here are his words:

It’s about when I was ten and in awe of ships, and anything to do with the sea.  Once I was on the deck of a little schooner and her owner wanted to replace a flag halliard.  He threw one end to me and said, “You’m big enough, go aloft now and reeve he in the main pole for me.”

I took the end and hardly breathing, fear and pride mixed, I climbed into the backstays. 

He once said he wanted to show me all the places he’d been to. He had the gift of making them all so interesting. The landscape of island at the edge of ocean had always intrigued him, but it was the people he loved most. In fact, I had to track down where his uncle lived by searching for people he wrote about, especially Mary Harnett. Harnett, Budgell, Ackroyd, Coffin, Walbourne, Sheppherd… These people and more. He remembered them all, to the kind of boat engines they use; here are a few paragraphs from a letter:

No two engines made the same noise.  We knew them all in the dark as well as in the daylight.  Mr. Ackroyd away up in the upper harbour had a big old Meanus and it would go bellowing ill-temperedly out the Wester tickle.  Caves’ eight Acadia with its slow tiny bark would go straight out the middle tickle, Taylor’s Hubbard had a wheezy note.  It seemed that the man and his engine bore one another a resemblance.  Cheerful Mr. Walbourne and his chuckling Adams were nearly always first away.

Coffin had a quiet little Perfection, perfectly matched to its owner.  He fished alone.  He didn’t talk much, but every morning he’d cut close to the wharf, standing up with the tiller between his knees.  He’d take the pipe out of his mouth and give me a wink.  If my mother wanted a fish for supper, I’d stand on the wharf in the afternoon and Coffin would throw a fat cod or a small salmon deftly at my feet.  The little Perfection seemed to slide that boat along by magic.  There was almost no bow wave, no wake, but it was one of the fastest boats in the harbour.

Sheppherd was nearly always last to get going.  He had a compulsion to be one of the first out past the harbour islands but he hardly ever made it.  He had one of the most modern engines on the whole island.  Maybe too modern, it was a six N.P. Acadia.  Unlike all the other dependable old Acadia make-and-breaks, Sheppherd’s was a jump-start affair.  Though faster than the other types, it was affected by dampness.  The trembler coil and sparkplug would be wet with condensation every morning and the high tension spark would short out in all directions.

I’d hear Sheppherd cranking his engine.  He lived only a few doors down the harbour.  Crank, prime, crank, prime, curse, crank until finally it would emit one sulky bang and die…

He wrote of the divide on religious lines, the minister’s name, the arrival of the Bishop, and Guy Fawkes bonfires that he wasn’t supposed to go to… So I think I hear Fogo calling. I’d find a bit of Leonard there, and probably a bit of myself.