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.