As I’ve doubtless said before, I am drawn to the wild and windswept places in the world, and few spots fit the bill like Newfoundland where The Best Beloved and I recently spent a holiday.
Twenty-two years ago, when he and I were first in love, The Best Beloved had planned to go on vacation to Bangkok (naughty boy), with a friend. However, in the early spasms of love as he was, he said he no longer wanted to go to Thailand with a buddy, but rather, wanted to go on vacation with me. He would take me anywhere in the world I wished to go, just name it.
I was touched, and thrilled, for I hadn’t traveled overmuch, and I had this dream…
“I want to go to Newfoundland,” I said.
The Best Beloved looked slightly perplexed. “I did say anywhere, you know. Paris? London? Tibet?”
“I want to go to Newfoundland.”
And so we went. And even though The Best Beloved had been there on a number of previous business trips, he’d never been to Gros Morne, the majestic national park on the west coast of the island, and so that’s where we went.
The heart knows what it wants, what it needs.
What a time we had.
So this year, when The Best Beloved turned 50, we decided to go back. Things have changed a great deal for us since that first visit so many years ago, but it seems as though in Newfoundland time moves more slowly. The fog, the lighthouses, the sea, the gulls and crows, the stunted scrub forests and innumerable ponds, full of the tender shoots so loved by moose, all seemed much as it had been…
But now we have friends in St. John’s, the wonderful writer Michael Crummey (whose new book, Galore, I have just pre-ordered), and his wife Holly Hogan. Holly is a biologist who has responsibility for two bird reserves, one of which is at Witless Bay. She also looks ridiculously fetching in standard-issue-green provincial-worker uniform. The Best Beloved had placed “seeing puffins” at the top of his birthday wish-list and so Holly very kindly arranged for lunch and a boat trip out to Gull Island. Michael even took time away from his writing to come with us. It is impossible to describe what delightful company Michael and Holly are, and when one adds puffins, a whale sighting, guillemots and eagles the result is heavenly indeed.
(Photo: Billy, our skipper)
That night we discovered what so many others already know — Holly is a woman of many talents, one of them being singer extraordinaire! We had the great pleasure of hearing her sing with Matthew Byrne at the Shamrock Pub. She is, if possible, even more fetching when dressed for the stage.
If you have a chance to hear her, TAKE IT! She’s wonderful, as is the very talented Matthew.
The next day we headed north to Trinity Bay, and the little house we’d rented for a week, called Eagle Peak. A stunning traditional two-story wooden house, it’s decorated in deep teal and cream and blue, filled with books by Newfoundland writers and artists – Michael Crummey, Michael Winter, Lisa Moore, and David Blackwood, to name a few. There is a generous tea-pot. great big cups, comfy places to sit, thick comforters on the beds and on the porch stand four red Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy the view. And what a view it is:
…the bight (a body of water smaller than both a bay and a tickle, I am told), the lighthouse, the fishing village, the sea and sky. When the fog rolled in we fell asleep at night and woke in the morning to the sound of the foghorn, which was certainly plaintive enough, but also sounded a bit like the Wookie Chewbacca from Starw
ars. Odd that.
Time slowed. Tension slipped into the water and was washed away on the tide. There was a sense of homecoming. It is the same feeling I had the first time I came to Newfoundland, and which I have felt in Ireland, the Northumberland coast of Britain, Scotland, Wales… unmistakable, undeniable. It is a combination of recognition, of rightness, of a sort of heart expansion, as though something inside unfurls, knowing that here it is safe, and need not defend itself.
There are many reasons why a certain landscape is so precisely right for someone, most having more to do with one’s interior world than anything else. For example, whereas some people would go crackers sitting on a porch and gazing at the sea for hours on end, I find it narcotic and deeply alluring. Perhaps this is because I am a person drawn to solitude and contemplation more than parties and group activities. I love a quiet hike across the moors, but think places like Club Med are designed by sadists. (Try and make me sing “Hands up, Baby, Hands up” and something bad is likely to happen.)
It may also be a question of weather which, again, is tied to psychological states. I am a winter person; a person with an affinity for fog and rain and snow. I find bright summer days a little unsettling. They make me restless. I feel obliged, as I have said elsewhere, to get out and frolic, which is fine once in a while, but really, I am happiest before the fire, book in one hand, cup of tea in the other. I am soothed by fog-softened landscapes, cosseted by snow, refreshed by rain.
One day, with any luck, and if the fates decree, I will find a way to spend more time in the midst of such landscapes than away from them. In the meantime, I am simply most grateful that they exist and that, from time to time, I may go there with my Best Beloved and restore my soul, amidst the whales and gulls and crows and scent of salt-sea.