Life on the Rocks – Reflections

One of the reasons I love to travel is because it gives me an opportunity to observe other ways of living and thinking. It also helps me become more aware of my values as a U.S. citizen – what I believe to be true about living. I especially like to think about how the space we live in forms our beliefs and modes of living. In the U.S. we have always had a lot of space – and as cities got crowded there was always out West – where there is still lots of wide open spaces. When I have visited countries in Europe, including the British Isles, I have thought about how their space is so much different and how their closer spaces impacts on how they use the land and what they value. This trip to Newfoundland has me thinking again.

It is Sunday and we have been traveling along Highway 1, the Trans Canadian Highway, to explore the east side of Newfoundland. It has been a cloudy day and most of our drive has been through pine forests. We need a change of scenery so we turned off on highway 320 that makes a big loop around the coast of one of the many peninsulas that make up the shoreline of Newfoundland. This loop goes along the coast of the Atlantic and is pretty rugged, the scenery is pretty but we are seeing it under grey and low skies. I-didn’t-take-any-photos grey sky, haze and occasional rain.

It is getting late in the day and we haven’t seen any hotels or restaurants – and we are getting hungry and tired. We decide to take a little scenic loop to our scenic loop that begins at New-Wes-Valley and goes through Brookfield, Badger’s Quay, and Valleyfield. There will be someplace to eat and stay in that area. And it is starting to rain – did I say we are also hungry and tired?

We notice pretty quickly that this is strange, in fact has been strange through all the towns. They aren’t commercial. There are lots of houses but no business district, no grocery store, no restaurant. I don’t think these are summer homes because they are too permanent and have huge stacks of wood near the house – they are getting ready for winter. So who lives in these houses, we wonder.

Well, there are several small cemeteries, and Jim sees a funeral home. And there are several churches so clergy and church secretaries live in the homes. We see a garage so there are some mechanics, and a small grocery with a gas pump or a gas station with a small grocery in each town so those employees will live here. They also have a small hospital so there are doctors and nurses and administrators living here. There is a good size school so some teachers live here, too. Also a lawyer and a financial planner. It seems like the people who live here are the people who provide the services to the town. And the people who work in the fishing industry. There aren’t any big businesses only people living together who work for each other. And they appear to be making a good-enough living.

In the US, our business model seems to be that bigger is better. We don’t have a dream of making a good living, we have to get bigger, have more employees, have more stores, branch out. The people who make a living in these small towns of Newfoundland aren’t going to get bigger because there is a limit to their growth – the size of the town and the fact that they are living on an island that is somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. They know their market because it is their neighbors and family.

But they seem to be doing well. The homes are nice but all about the same size – there doesn’t seem to be good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods – or houses with more toys. We talked with a man who lives by Twillingate, not far from where we are traveling, and he commented that the houses are really nice.

But back to our problem. These people aren’t eating out – although the gas station/grocery store has a take out for pizza or fried chicken and I see a couple of people going in. This isn’t what we want to eat, though. I do notice that every fifth house or so has a lot of cars parked around it and I have to think that the family has gone to grandma & grandpa’s house, or maybe to an aunt & uncle. It is Sunday night, it is starting to get dark and people are going home. But there is no business district, no motels, nowhere to eat. We wind around the roads hoping that we will find something in the next town.

All of a sudden the road is weaving around big rocks and there are houses nestled in between. Even though it is still sprinkling I have to jump out and take a picture.

We also are hitting dead ends, and realize that we are going around in circles – we have seen this house before. How amazing that they find flat land to build a house on. How do they build a foundation, how do they attach it to the ground? They don’t have enough soil to plant anything around the house.

Jim is getting really tense but my hunger and tiredness has been forgotten because of my curiosity. I want some more pictures in the quickly fading light. Jim stops, probably because we have hit another dead-end, and I jump out with my camera.

As soon as I open the car door, I am hit with a blaring sound. See that little building at the top right of the above picture? It is a church and there are speakers in the bell tower and “The Church’s One Foundation” is being sent throughout the village. I am in awe – I am shaken.

We decide to retrace our route and I recognize a gas station we had passed so I run in with my map in my hand, getting wet because it is raining hard again. Leaning over the counter is a middle-aged women, a little plump, talking to a young man. They both look up – knowing I am a stranger. I’m lost.

No, you’re not lost, lovey, says the woman. Well, I don’t know where I am, and we all laugh. I lay down the map on the counter and ask how to get back to 320. There is a millisecond of confusion and she says, well where do you want to go? They aren’t comfortable with maps and don’t seem to know highway 320 but they know how to get me to where I want to go – if only I could tell them.

I finally am able to find out that we just need to follow the road to the right – before we had gone straight. See, you aren’t lost, she says with a heart-felt warmth and a hearty laugh. I join her laughter and say that we had been going around in circles. Oh, well if you got over there on Pool’s Island you were lost – and we all laugh some more. I thank her and run through the rain to the truck – continuing to laugh. We find 320 but it is a long stretch back to Highway 1 and we hadn’t noticed much at these turn-offs. We are getting concerned.

In Gambo, down by Highway 1, we find a restaurant called Shiela’s with a couple of cars out front, both tourists. The waitress says everything on the menu is good when asked. We both want comfort food – a hamburger, slaw, and fries and while we are eating we decide to go back up the road where I had seen a B&B. It is full but the owner is willing to make up another room – Jim says no because he doesn’t like sharing a bath with 4 other couples. She calls around and finds a “cabin” 32 km down Highway 1 and Jim has a hard time concealing his excitement because he had stayed in cabins when he traveled with his parents as a child. I wasn’t so excited because, well…  sometimes we like different things.

We were told it would be easy to find because there are signs. They don’t seem to go out after dark because they don’t realize that none of their signs are lighted – another clue that this isn’t a tourist area. After some wrong turns and divine intervention we find the owner waiting for us. She had made a special trip back to check us in and make sure we are comfortable. Not only does Jim have a private bath, he has his own little cabin. And I am happy.

Noah’s on the Point