From the Field

Faith is tangible

Posted: Feb 19, 2013 10:15 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 19, 2013 10:15 AM ET
Faith is tangible here on the Woods Harbour wharf. You can see it in the rocks piled neatly in a row like sentries. The carefully placed  guardians of the fleet stand locked against the sometimes unstoppable waves that lash this coast.

A breakwater is - after all - an act of faith.

You can feel it here too. In the cold, coarse fibres of the colourful lines that lash open backed boats to wooden pilings. Thin cords of hope that strain against a fierce February wind.

You can see it in the eyes of the fishermen here today. Men who ply the waves of winter to harvest a crop they cannot see have a faith beyond measure.

They've gathered here now as they have before. They huddle together like their boats. Some in cabs of half-tonne trucks. Most in a smoke-filled room in the building they call the Haven. It sits at the head of the wharf overlooking the boats and the water beyond.

They huddle today not against the wind and cold but against the harsh reality of their lives.
People who draw from the sea for a living know the sea sometimes takes back. Today the toll is more than many in this community can bear.

For while faith is in abundance on this wharf, hope is not. It is a word being repeated over and over. Yet it sounds more like a curse than a prayer. For as soon as it is raised by one it is cut down by another.

Can there be hope for five fellow fishermen lost at sea in a winter gale? Five men of faith whose boat toppled in waves that loomed like living mountains in the night.

Everyone here knows the five men who set out to do what generations before them have done.

There are questions about why they chose to leave the safety of the breakwater for the storm-whipped seas beyond. The answer most offer is a reality as harsh as the sea they fight for a living. It wasn't faith that carried the tiny boat into the rolling sea. It was chased there they say, by an economy that pounds these coastal communities day and night like no storm ever has.

The risks of the fishing life have not changed. The rewards have. Lobster, they say, sells for a pittance. Halibut is in short supply so the price runs high in winter.

Today on this wharf, people are speaking of the economy in the same angry tone they use to curse the stormy seas they have all faced. The question no one can answer is whether faith, even the tangible faith of the fisher, can conquer both.
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About the Author

Phonse Jessome has been chasing stories down the main streets and back roads of Nova Scotia since the spring of 1981. So far he is showing no signs of giving up the chase.

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