NEWFIE OR BUST by Bernie Howgate
( Chapter 10 )
On sunny days you can fast forward daily frustrations, relax aching muscles and look forward to healthy sun tans, but today the only thing I looked forward to was finishing it. The sky went unnoticed and bends in the road, so much looked forward to on normal days - like the start of a new chapter - now piled one on top of the other like so much unread mail. I was approaching Yarmouth, Nova Scotia's most southerly point. Peninsulas have always had this depressing effect on me. Getting there is no problem, it's the long haul back that kills me. I was only a days cycling distance away from Yarmouth, yet already Halifax was weighing heavily on my mind. At Greywood, I could have shaved five days off my trip, but I didn't, and this mornings long range weather forecast with its depressing catalogue of lows, rains and falling temperatures only added to my mood, but by evening they were gone.
When all else fails on my trip, I fall back on my bread and butter pit stops. Baseball games not only act as end of the day entertainment, but from under their players' dug-out, they offer the protection against rain and the curtain against the elements. There's something quintessentially North American about rounding bases, sliding over home plate and the crack of wood on leather. It's mother's apple pie and chewing gum all rolled into one. It's like watching grass grow while listening to cat calls. 'Have an eye. Take a ball. It's outa here'. I've never felt intimidated by either its spectators or by the manner in which the game is played. Just as football and hockey have spawned their own breed of groupies, so has baseball. It's fundamentally a family-oriented sport. You don't have to purchase dollars of equipment to participate, be an athlete, or be a professor of statistics to understand that you have to round four bases to score. It's simplicity itself, although its television commentators would like to tell you otherwise. The game and the spectator go hand-in-hand and it's the closeness that draws me to camp in their diamonds.
I stopped cycling at 7:00 pm, was introduced to both sets of spectators by 7:30 pm and I had topped up my tanks with their gratitude by games end at 9:00pm. At 9:25pm the lights had gone out. The night sky reclaimed the stands and I slept where the players had been seated thirty minutes before.
The clouds broke early before breakfast and, by the time my wheels touched the road, the wind had changed direction and what clouds had remained were soon lost to the horizon. I made Yarmouth in double quick time. I was under the influence of a strong tail wind and, as I rounded its peninsular and started on the return loop to Halifax, the wind changed to greet me.
For the first time since leaving Victoria, I had a 180 degree sea line horizon. It was fantastic. The fresh salt air pinched my nerves and its pungent smell ignited my senses like smelling salts. I now found myself cycling over narrow inlets, rising and falling into bays carpeted in lush healthy forests of fern, and crossing swollen rivers of sound. Within a morning, I had exchanged farmland for forest and agriculture for fish-based economy, but sadly an economy that was on the decline, for about the only thing the eastern seaboard exports these days is its labor force.
For once, I was heading for a known destination. A friend of a friend in Alberta had passed on his mother's name and address with a 'Just tell me mum John sent ya and that I'll be home for Christmas'.
Just as it is true that for a person to truly understand the Maritimer one should see them in their own territory, so it is true that there are always two sides to any coin; those who stay and those who leave. John had chosen to enter the exciting lottery of those who leave and landed a twenty dollar/hour laboring job in Fort McMurray, Alberta, but the pull of one's roots is a strong one. To visit home in these parts means to visit your mother. Family ties are strong and where mother lives your home is, no matter how old you are. She expected nothing more and accepted nothing less. And when I arrived that evening with her son's name on my lips, I was immediately accepted like some extended family member. Short of a glazed eye at the mention of her son, I didn't even cause a hiccup in the old lady's routine.