Vikings, Moose Roadkill and a Bottle of Screech

Trip Start Jun 17, 2008
Trip End Aug 31, 2009

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Where I stayed
Little Lake Campground

Flag of Canada  , Nova Scotia,
Wednesday, July 29, 2009

T'was in the town of St. John’s. It was there I chanced to dwell,
One night when I was playing in a pub you all know well.
I met a girl from Carbonear who said she liked to dance.
And if I knew just what to do then maybe I’d have the chance.
I asked if her if she was partial to the jigs or to the reels.
What was her particular fancy for kicking up her heels?
She said she was fond of the melody and the signing of the note,
But her particular fancy was the rhythm of the goat.
With me rowdy dow diddley dow diddley and me rowdy dow diddly dow da.
Me rowdy dow diddley dow diddley and me rowdy dow diddley dow da.

(The Rhythm of the Goat, by The Navigators, Dance and Sing CD, 2002)

We have no idea what this song means, especially that troubling "rhythm of the goat" reference.  But set it to some foot stomping, fiddle and mandolin screeching music, and it works.  As long as it is sung by some good ol’ Newfoundlander boys, that is.  Continuing to relax, and enjoy the culture of Newfoundland, we have recently immersed ourselves in Newfoundland music.  Life is good here on The Rock.

But (and note the exceptionally dandy segue) life hasn’t always been pleasant here.  And by that I mean that the original European discoverers of North America, the Vikings, had it a little rough.  Our southern neighbours in the US may be quick to point out that Christopher Columbus was the first to discover our continent but, not surprisingly, their history lessons would be wrong again (by only about 500 years).  I say “wrong again” because of their other well known historical inaccuracies, like the one about them never losing a war… “Vietnam?  No, we never actually declared war…we were just there helping the farmers clear the land with our napalm”, or the “War of 1812 against Canada?  Never heard of it…never heard of Canada either, for that matter”.

Anyway, I digress with my blather.  We were talking about Vikings.  These were the guys, led by Leif Eirikson, who landed on the northern tip of Newfoundland, and promptly named it “Vinland” because they found some grapes growing a little way inland.  Despite the long harsh winters, apparently it was warm enough in the summer back then (unlike now) for grapes to grow. [I know the Global Warming Cult (“the GWC”) doesn’t like hearing about historical periods when it was warmer than it is now, but I’m just reporting the facts in the best way that I can plagiarize them from my one page, government-issued, glossy flyer.]  The funny part is that hearty old Leif, and his merry band of Vikings, found the winters too cold here so they moved back to Iceland.

But they didn’t move back before they left enough evidence for the Canadian National Historic Site of L’Anse aux Meadows to be “born”.  It was here that we spent an enjoyable day interacting with the authentic fake Vikings.  Highlights of our visit to this area included the following:

-    Playing with the bellows in the unoccupied blacksmith hut.  In Michael’s overzealous pumping of the bellows, we discovered quickly that there must have recently been a fire there because the hut was suddenly filled with flying embers and sparks… “Daddy, are those fireflys?...Ouch!!”;

    Having the fake Viking blacksmith come into the hut, put his hands into the unexpectedly hot coals (another “Ouch!”), immediately look at us and ask, “Who’s done been playin’ with me bellows?”  We chose the honourable approach of looking innocently around the room and staying silent.  [If you need a better visual, just remember how you acted the last time you tried to sneak out a surprisingly smelly fart in a crowded room.]  Despite our unauthorized use of the bellows, the blacksmith was still nice enough to give us a (safer) demonstration of how they work.  It culminated with Sarah making a nail and getting to take it home as a free souvenir.  You gotta love the free souvenirs.  And for the record, Bob the Blacksmith Viking was accustomed to handling hot coals with his hands, so no serious harm was done;

    Another fake Viking taught Michael how to handle a sword, and a bow and arrow, and then chastised me for not already teaching him how to use these weapons.  “Dude, we use laser guided weapons now!  I’ve already taught him how to push a button on a video game!”  And why wasn’t the fake Viking chick hassling Tracy for not teaching the girls how to sew moose hide shoes with cat gut??;

    We also wondered what happened to summer as we shivered in the wind chilled weather of 0 degrees Celsius [Hmm?  Any comments from the GWC members?].  We did see more icebergs, however!  And some more moose!;

    We enjoyed the nearby Viking Feast, which included a Viking Court.  My name was mud when I tried to “kiss up” to the head Viking so that we could be the first in line for the buffet...I had my eye on the Moose Stew.  He saw through my weak attempt and sentenced me “to the back of the line, swine!”  Damn Vikings!  This guy wasn’t so boisterous when we saw him the next day at his day job at the gas station…fake Vikings need to make a living too, I guess;

In one of those “maybe these folks have it right” moments we sat with a retired couple and their two grandchildren at the Viking Court.  They used to own a bakery that was only open for nine months of the year.  In the summer, they closed up their shop and spent the time with their children, either camping or just hanging out.  They readily acknowledged that they “didn’t maximize their profits” and “operated contrary to a Harvard Business School case” but they were happy, and they were living their priorities.  I say that “maybe” they had it right because personally, after 13 months, 24X7, with three children who don’t always get along, I’m eagerly looking forward to working…but then again, they’ll be in school soon, so the couch might not be such a bad place to hang out.

So, after spending two weeks in Newfoundland it was sadly time to move on.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time here – beautiful rugged scenery, amazing wildlife, unique Irish-Canadian culture, simple laidback atmosphere and friendly people.  Canada is lucky to encompass this beautiful land and it definitely goes on our “we must return” list.  Miscellaneous memories include the following:

    A simple concept, but one that a RV driver can really appreciate…occasionally the highway widens into two lanes with the slow traffic staying to the right (as is the norm in North America).  When the two lanes merge back into one, it is the “slow” vehicles on the right that have the right of way (as is not the norm in North America), with the faster, more maneuverable, vehicles on the left having to yield.  Makes perfect sense to me…and to think people sometimes question the intelligence of Newfoundlanders;

    Spending four days in Gros Morne National Park…great scenery, more moose, and a boat trip into a fjord [Yes, there used to be glaciers here that have long since melted (and contrary to the GWC, this melting happened millions of years before fossil fuels started being burned)];

    Getting “Self-Screeched”.  If you recall from our last blog, being “screeched-in” is a longtime Newfoundland custom, in which a person drinks a shot of screech (strong rum), kisses a codfish on the mouth, and answers the question "Is ye an honourary Newfoundlander?" with the phrase " 'deed I is me old trout, and long may your big jib draw.”  Because our last four days in Newfoundland were spent in a government-run national park (where “fun with alcohol” appears to be frowned upon) we had to self administer the ceremony.  Instead of kissing a dead cod, we used one of the kids’ stuffed whales, and to prove we are good parents we watered down the screech somewhat for the children.  [For those of you who know me well, and remember the big barf of '83, you will realize that to willingly drink hard liquor is a considerable event for me…Note to Mom: Don’t ask.]  [Editor’s note:  ’83 was before my time – I’m not going to ask either.]  We even added to the ceremony by lustily singing a verse from The Islander:

I’m a Newfoundlander, born and bred, and I’ll be one ‘til I die
I’m proud to be an Islander, and here’s the reasons why
I’m free as the wind, and the waves that wash the sands
There’s no place I would rather be than here in Newfoundland!

    And if you think our family fun ends with fish and rum, we also enjoyed one of our family “Sloppy Joe” traditions, Newfoundland style.  I’m sure most of you know that a Sloppy Joe is minced beef, mixed with a tomato sauce and served on hamburger buns.  For whatever reason, a few years ago we started a tradition of each making up and telling a story of “How the Sloppy Joe got its Name” whenever we have sloppy joes for dinner.  Tracy’s Newfoundland entry had to do with messy female moose (“doe”?) roadkill that the locals would scoop up on their plate, and with their strong accents pronounce “doe” as “joe”.  “Dis here sloppy joe roadkill be fine tastin!”  I gave her an eight out of ten, and had she likened the roadkill blood to the tomato sauce I would have given her a perfect 10…yes, thirteen months on the road has taken its toll on all of us mentally;

    And speaking of roadkill, we were stopped on the way to our departing ferry where an agricultural officer confiscated our “imported from Prince Edward Island” but Newfoundland-bought potatoes (apparently some of the locally grown potatoes can carry disease).  Tracy mentioned that she hoped they would be used by local charities or the foodbank, but the officer said these places refuse the potatoes.  Oddly enough, he also added that these charities happily accept moose roadkill that gets brought in to them on the back of a pick-up truck.  Perhaps Tracy’s Sloppy Joe story had more truth to it than we realized at the time;

    And speaking of our departing ferry, it was supposed to leave the island at 10:30am and arrive in Nova Scotia 5 hours later at 3:30pm.  Because the incoming ferry was late arriving, we didn’t actually leave until 1:00pm.  This should have gotten us into port at 6:00pm.  Unfortunately, that was precisely when another ferry was loading up, so we did a “slow crossing” until the port was clear.  The end result was an arrival at 8:30pm, only 5 hours late, on a 5 hour trip.  No one seemed too fussed however…life is more laid back here, and as Joe the Biker told me, “We’ll get there when we get there.”  Well said.  And after all, it gave us more time to watch the whales that came up beside the ferry during the crossing;

    I present Exhibit A…do you think the Newfoundlanders enjoy their drink??  Tracy and I had a good laugh over this one!

After Newfoundland, we spent time in Nova Scotia, with the first stop being the 18th century National Historic Site of Louisbourg.  This was yet another in a long line of Canadian forts that was built by the French, but occupied by the British after they poked their heads over the wall and said, “Boo!”  This one was fascinating to visit as, with virtually no exceptions, the employees dressed and acted as if it were the year 1744.  It was fun, and even for someone with a lack of interest in history (also known as “me”), it was enjoyable.  The festivities included us yelling and spitting (not really) at the local wench who had been caught stealing some wine, and having the kids dress up in 18th century garb.  There was also a children’s “passport” program where they earned stamps for visiting various attractions or participating in certain events.  Five stamps in the passport could be exchanged for a free cookie.  In yet another disappointing “fathering” moment, Laura entrusted me with the task of carrying her passport.  Bad idea.  I don’t know how it happened but I somehow dropped her “four-stamped” passport into the toilet at precisely the same time as I flushed.  Salvaging at least a little bit of self respect, I refrained from reaching into the toilet to save it before it swirled away.  My punishment was having to ask the 18 year old program guide for a new passport.  “Did your daughter lose her passport?”  “No, not exactly…”

Visiting Halifax was also enjoyable (a visit to Chapters for some new books and two chai tea lattes at Starbucks…you have to love cities with more than 5,000 residents!).  We wandered around the waterfront and went to the Halifax citadel.  We also got to check off the required tourist sites of nearby Peggy’s Cove (very scenic) and the Bluenose II sailboat, the predecessor of which graces our 10 cent coins.  We had to chase that gal 100 kilometres to Lunenburg, where she had recently sailed, when we didn’t see her in Halifax.  The highlight of Halifax for little Sarah was a sleepover at the house of her little friend Taryn, who had moved here 18 months ago.  Another simple reminder that it is important and enjoyable to keep in touch with old friends.

I have to apologize if this blog rambles on without too much focus (I mean more than they normally do).  I’m currently under the influence of a few Screech and Cokes.  Add to that the fact that I’m “pumped” because we just got invited to a retro 80’s dance party.  My mind is a’jumble with a collage of Duran Duran, Whitesnake, ACDC, George Michael (or is that Wham?) and grabbing my wife’s a@@ while slow dancing to Lady in Red.  I’m also visualizing Billy Idol laying a beating on Depeche Mode.  More Screech please!

Since this blog seems to focus on a more relaxed and simple way of life, as well as a musical theme I’ll end it with another Newfoundland song that is worth remembering when “life” seems too busy.  Although not many of us are lucky enough to live by an ocean bay, perhaps there are other “Have you ever seen” moments that might be equally simple and enjoyable…

Have you ever seen a sunrise over the far shore reach?
Have you ever seen the magic of a humpback breach?
Have you pondered the mysteries of a jellyfish school?
Have you waded through the water in a clear tidal pool?
Have you ever seen a morning filled with twenty shades of grey?
Have you peaked at an eagle’s nest from twenty feet away?
Have you sung with your friends around a big ole driftwood fire?
Have you floated down across the cove on a tube from a tire?

All these things are out there,
You don’t have to pay.
Just open your eyes and you’ll be surprised,
What you see out in the bay

Have you ever seen an iceberg carved by the unseen hand?
Have you ever seen a north-east gale when it first strikes the land?
Have you taken a boat ride on a moonlit bay?
Have you followed its ripplin’ ribbon that made it look like day?
Have you followed the shoreline hoppin’ from rock to rock?
Smellin’ sea and feelin’ free, never knowin’ where to stop?
Have you ever copied icepans on an April day?
Or have you gone beyond those things and forgotten how to play?

All these things are out there,
You don’t have to pay.
Just open your eyes and you’ll be surprised,
What you see out in the bay

Have You Seen, by Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers, The Serious Stuff CD, 2001
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