CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Looking at the water versus fetching it

July 26, 2010 One morning in June my neighbour, Wilson Brown, calls me over to ask a favour. I am passing by during my daily dog walk and he is out in his garden hoeing potatoes. "I need your help with something," he says. "You and I will carry some buckets to the top of the hill and fetch some water from the well up there. We'll need to make about ten trips back and forth. Do you think you can do that?"

Wilson isn't your typical octogenarian. He's been charged with dismantling several houses in the Cove that belong to various far-flung cousins and I see him lugging the timber frame remains into his flatbed truck every day. Still, I feel that I should help the old guy out. I am speechless. My mind races through the possibilities. Why does he need this water? Can't he buy it bottled? Or call a plumber? Why does the Arctic Scientist have to be in Labrador when these kinds of issues arise?

wilsonbrownhouse.jpg A field book study of Wilson Brown's house from early May, 2010.

I am so focused on finding ways to avoid the hillside water-fetching that I don't immediately notice that Wilson is laughing. Oh, this is a joke. I'd interviewed Wilson a few days before, plundering his memory for glimpses into the life of Upper Amherst Cove when it was an active fishing community with almost double the number of people and houses. He'd described the many chores he'd carried out as a young man growing up here. Later that night, after our interview, he realized he'd forgotten to add water-fetching to that list. A retired school teacher, he'd now successfully imparted this information.

hannahrogers.jpgMrs. Hannah Rogers fetching water, Fair Island, Bonavista Bay, 1952. (Courtesy of the Maritime History Archive)

Wilson painted both an idyllic and difficult portrait of a way of life that persists only in memory. He sees the fishing stages that once lined the shore, where I see a government imposed guard rail that works to further separate the people from the water. And, like many people I've met this summer, he describes aspects of the natural and built landscape in words and gestures that I simply cannot decipher.

generalstore.jpg The general store at the entrance to Upper Amherst Cove has been closed for years.

As a newcomer, I don't know the physical world to the same degree as someone like Wilson. He was born and raised here, in the house that his father built, and has worked this land and the surrounding waters in ways that no other summer home owner will. Yes, Wilson is a summer home owner, despite the fact that he was reared in the home that he now occupies in the fair-weather months.

A few weeks after Wilson taught me the value of (narrowly avoiding) hard work I interview two summer home owners from Vancouver who have no ancestral ties to the area. Near the end of our chat I spy movement in the ocean, visible from their kitchen windows. It's a dolphin and he's performing like the talent scout from Marineland is on shore. Distracted, I leave my Edirol running for a few moments before shutting it off to end the interview. The last seven seconds captures a cacophony of wildly shrieking mainlanders (myself included) reacting to the surprises of the North Atlantic seascape. It is perhaps the most valuable seven seconds of tape that I will record this summer.

watchingcapelin.jpg Government workers stop by the guard rail in Upper Amherst Cove to check out the capelin rolling.

Seasonal residents don't know the landscape in the same way as Newfoundlanders, but sometimes their reaction to it can be just as emotional.

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