JOURNEY THROUGH LABRADOR by Bernie Howgate

( Chapter 2 )

 

 

FEBRUARY 1

The good news is, I made it to Red Bay. The bad news is I haven't moved in the last three days. For four nights I've been snow bound in an emergency shelter en route to Mary's Harbor. Every morning, I woke at 6:00 am., tuned to the CBC weather forecast, heard the blizzard warning, then buried myself deep back into my sleeping bag. I'm now on Labrador time. My pace is now governed by nature, not time schedules.

Seven days ago, I woke to the sweet smell of frying bacon. Outside the scene was a blanket of snow. There is something about winter that brings life and symmetry to the north and Red Bay was no different. My months of planning had paid off. A family who had never even heard of me until a week before, had welcomed me with open arms.

Red Bay is literally the end of the road and my start off point for my winter trek to Goose Bay. Nestled in a natural deep water harbor at the end of the Belle Isle Straights, this once great whaling port has dwindled to a scattered community of 100 families.

My first morning brought with it a few surprises. News travels fast out here. I was an instant celebrity. "Are you the Walking Man?" I had a new title.

Having just come from the melting pot of Toronto it was strange at first meeting people who nearly all looked the same, and also whose dialects were hard to follow. Words overlapped. Sentences seemed to hang in the air, waver then snap back like rubber bands. The same questions followed me at every turn. "Why walk? Seen a doctor lately? Came here to find yourself, have we?" but the consensus was if I lived to cross the dangerous 'barrens' to see Mary's Harbor, then I'd arrived.

The cold at first was deceptive. Under a clear sky the slightest breeze bites into your skin, knuckles crack and bones ache. The crisp morning snow that crunched under foot would by night fall sing back to you. Stars were that clear you felt you could reach up and touch them and the northern lights hidden by city hazes , here in Labrador, rush over the horizon towards you.

All day and night there was constant motion. Snowmobiles were everywhere. Trap lines needed tending, wood cut and collected, but most of all their prime use was to visit your neighbor. That invisible interaction behind closed doors that binds communities together. A steady stream of people arrived at our doorstep to meet the new visitor. Maps were poured over and routes checked. My fibre glass sled, damaged in transit was repaired and the inevitable open ended invitation, 'When you're in Cartwright, drop in on my brother.'

On my last night, I was invited to a 'pot-luck-supper'. The venue was the community centre. Each family was to bring some food and by the time we got there, tables were full to overflowing. There was moose stew, chicken pie, brazed duck and every conceivable bakeapple pie variation you could think of. There wasn't a spice to be tasted. Here was good wholesome food made by people with simple tastes, but warm hearts.

The tables were set in two straight lines. Men at one side, women at the other. The vicar said grace, then it was onto the serious business of eating and that night many a tall story was stretched to the limit.

But, all that happened days ago in Red Bay. Outside the blizzard is still blowing. I've just stoked up the fire. Soon it will be time to slip back into my sleeping bag before the temperature drops. Maybe tomorrow the weather will clear. Next stop is the 'barrens' and Mary's Harbor.

 


Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14