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[LOWWC] Memories of an Island and of a Boy

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posted on Feb, 22 2013 @ 02:38 PM
Let me first say that this is sort of part short story, part essay, part fact, part fiction. It's more or less all true, but with embellishments and such thrown in at my pleasure. Some of you may or may not know, I'm a Newfoundlander. I've long been in love with our culture and our dialects, not to mention our land and our sea. In this story I tried to convey to you just how special a bond many of us have with our province. I hope you enjoy.


The smell of a cool breeze off the North Atlantic ocean at sunset in the spring of the year is something nearly indescribable. I’ve seen people who don’t come from here (‘mainlanders,’ we dismiss them as, only slightly tongue in cheek), pucker their noses in disgust and claim it smells like rotten fish.

Us, though, we can smell the salt and sundry other minerals in the water. We can smell the fish, yes, but they’re hardly rotting. They’re living their fish lives the best way they know how.

I find myself wondering if all oceans smell the same, because the North Atlantic is the only one I’ve ever smelled. I’ve smelled it every day of my life, more or less. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no scent that tops the smell of a light ocean breeze in your bedroom window early in the morning, every morning. The sound of waves crashing on the rocky beach in indescribably beautiful. It’s almost as if the ocean is not simply made of water and minerals and organic things, but instead an intricate clockwork, and the crash of the waves is the ticking of that elaborate machine, as steady and as rhythmic as they are.

When the days are long and the weather is nice, one can almost bring oneself to believe that there’s a gentle and all-loving God up there somewhere. Almost.

A delicate and desperate ballet goes on beneath those waves. They’re not dancing for our pleasure, but instead for their survival. All the same, to look on their dance as it happens, in real time, would be something to behold.

A school of capelin is massing together in a clump so large and so tight that they look not like many living things working in unison, but instead a single being. An amorphous blob, black as night, with but one central intelligence. This represents a tempting bounty for a lone pregnant humpback whale, passing the island of Newfoundland, skirting the coast scouting for just such an opportunity. Our expectant mother whale knows exactly what she’s looking at, and she knows exactly how she’s going to get her bounty. I firmly believe that some whales, in their way, are smarter than some people.

Capelin are small sardine-like fish which come to Newfoundland to spawn on the rocky beaches.
But for the time being, unbeknownst to them, a hungry predator has her eyes on them. From some distance away, the young but exceedingly intelligent humpback opts for a sneak attack, lest she scatter the school of capelin and lose an opportunity to feed both herself and her unborn calf.

Still some distance from the school of capelin, she takes a single mighty breath of life-giving air from above, then proceeds to dive deep, as fast as she can, hundreds of feet, until finally leveling out still some way above the sea floor. Then, now directly below her unwitting meal of capelin, she silently rushes them from below. She starts slow at first, but within seconds she’s rushing headlong at the entire school, which is still completely unaware that anything is amiss. Maw agape, the humpback continues her sprint toward the capelin and is rewarded for her effort by a mammoth mouthful of juicy little fish for her and her unborn baby. Content for now, she continues her journey farther south to tropical waters to birth her child.
edit on 2/22/2013 by Monger because: (no reason given)

edit on 2/22/2013 by Monger because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 22 2013 @ 02:39 PM
That’s the end of the story for those capelin, but not all. The capelin have their own story worth telling. Here, on the island of Newfoundland, the capelin do, every year, what we colloquially call ‘rolling’.

They ‘roll’ in on the high tide in their hundreds of thousands. Imagine cresting waves three feet high, black with thousands of these diminutive fish. When they hit the beach, they spawn. The lucky ones are swept back to sea, the unlucky ones are left for the seabirds to scavenge and for the sun to dry, making it so that for days and weeks after the roll, the beach is littered with little mummified fish. The seabird bonanza continues.

But it’s not just the seabirds which take advantage of this sudden bonanza. You see, capelin are succulent little fish which can be eaten whole. Fried, pickled, kippered, smoked, sun dried. I’ve even met an adventurous fellow who enjoys them raw.

The problem for people, though, is the capelin rarely outright tell you where they plan to roll the next day, so generally the idea is to phone a series of friends in other outport communities during capelin season and ask one simple question, understood I’m sure by most Newfoundlanders - “Are dey rollin’ fer ye out dat way, by?”

Translation, being, “Are they rolling for you folks out that way, boy?” The ye, which may look archaic, is used colloquially as a plural of you. So, instead of saying ‘you guys,’ or ‘you people,’ some of us will say ‘ye’. The great thing about Newfoundland is that there’s no one single dialect. Different parts of the island use different mishmashes of Scottish and Irish influence, some parts get a lot from the English west country, while other areas get more of a French influence.

If you do, indeed, manage to catch the capelin rolling, then one need only stand in the surf with a five gallon bucket or a dip net and scoop up as many as you please. Less majestic, perhaps, than the whale’s method, but no less effective. We take what we need, enough to share with the immediate family, in all maybe two ten gallon buckets full of the tiny creatures.

The memory I hold dearest to my heart revolves around capelin, I’ll share it with you below.

My Pop (grandfather) and Nan (grandmother) own a small family farm farther inland on the island. From their home, you cannot smell the ocean, but I gather that my Pop made a call very similar in tone and vernacular to the example above, and discovered from a family friend that the capelin were rolling. Pop hurriedly started loading his truck with rubber boots and 5 and 10 gallon buckets, and in his stern but loving way pointed toward his detached garage and said ‘get the net.’
edit on 2/22/2013 by Monger because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 22 2013 @ 02:40 PM
reply to post by Monger

Though I was 6, and terrified of disappointing my Pop, I proceeded, key in hand, toward the garage to find the nets, not without some trepidation. I unlocked the door, and swung it open. The garage, despite being a relatively small, single car affair, seemed almost monolithic to my six year old eyes. I flicked on the light, and immediately spotted a pair of dip nets behind the small tractor he used to till his field. I fetched them, and rushed back to my grandfather’s side.

“Wowee, found ‘um some quick, didn’t ya, b’y?” he said to me.

“Yup!” I said, prouder than I had any right to be.

Pop laughed. The man only laughs when he’s genuinely amused, which is one of the things that makes him so a great man in my eyes.

“And did ya lock the door behind yerself?”

I was immediately crushed, I had let pop down and therefore our whole unexpected adventure would not screech to a halt.

Suddenly, my feet got real interesting all of a sudden and tears welled in my eyes.

He chuckled again.

“What odds, b’y? More cattle than fellers in this town,” Which is to say, what difference does it make. It doesn’t matter. I know now that this was for me, because he’s always very anal about locking his garage and sheds. He just wanted me to know that I hadn’t let him down.

“Go on,” he said “Git in the truck, the capelin is rollin’.”

While Pop loaded our gear in the dump of the truck, I trundled over my Nan who had taken her seat already and took my accustomed spot in the middle of the bench seat of their single cab 1983 Dodge Ram pickup. After enduring a kiss on the cheek from Nan, as was her custom, I sat, perplexed, wondering how, exactly, a capelin could roll. I pictured the diminuitive fish on the beach, rolling bodily for everything it was worth, desperate to roll back to the ocean.

Were we supposed to scoop them up as they were rolling, desperately trying to get back in the water? And just why were they on the beach rolling around anyway? I held my tongue, not wanting to ask Pop any stupid questions.
edit on 2/22/2013 by Monger because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 22 2013 @ 02:48 PM
It wasn’t long before my questions were answered, as after a 45 minute drive through the stunning Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nestled snugly between my grandparents and feeling like just about the luckiest little boy on the planet, we reached the tiny fishing community where my Nan’s friends live.

Their home is nestled above the rocky beach, and directly in front of an immaculate wooden boardwalk for seaside strolls, as the rocky beach is hardly where you’d want to casually stroll with a date in tow.

We could see as soon as we exited the truck that the capelin were indeed rolling - the locals were out in force on the beach and knee-deep in the surf, with their buckets and dip nets - there was even one intrepid old skipper with a casting net, making throwing the thing and recovering huge quantities of capelin look easy, which I can assure you it is not.

Pop gave me a bucket and simply said, “Well, have at ‘er.” Suddenly, seeing the gently crashing waves made black with the sheer number of the tiny fish, I knew exactly what to do. So I ran forward, gleefully, into the surf and scooped up about half of a 5 gallon bucket of mostly fish and some seawater. I glanced behind me, smiling, to see if Pop was watching and if he had seen my success. Not seeing him back where I had last seen him, I was afraid for a second, until I heard him bellow from beside me “Good job!” I turned to look, as he was dumping the capelin from my bucket into one of his larger ten gallon buckets

He had eschewed the bucket method for his preferred dip net method, and between the two of us the first ten gallon bucket was full to the brim with all fish and a tiny amount of seawater.

That’s how the three of us spent our way, and I’ll carry the memory with my fondly for as long as I live.

I hope I’ve managed to convey to you some part of what makes Newfoundland so special to me.

I know it was a long one. If you’ve read the whole thing, I commend you. Written in one sitting. Now that I’ve posted it to ATS, I’ll go back and correct any of the obvious errors that are bound to be there.

Thanks for reading.
edit on 2/22/2013 by Monger because: (no reason given)

posted on Feb, 22 2013 @ 03:20 PM
reply to post by Monger

Vivid imagery.

Well done.

posted on Feb, 22 2013 @ 10:22 PM
reply to post by beezzer

Thanks Beezer, I appreciate the feedback.

posted on Feb, 23 2013 @ 03:33 PM
reply to post by Monger

This story is a wonderful window into a childhood recollection, and certainly delivers in taking the reader to a different time and place. It is also a reminder of the undersea world that has existed in perpetuity, itself a microcosm of life, complex and powerful.

I only have one minor thing I noticed. The words "indescribable" and "indescribably" are used in close proximity toward the beginning, and "nestled" is used in consecutive paragraphs toward the end. The capelin are also described as "diminutive" more than once. Some variation in choice of wording may be order at these locations. These are small detractions considering the length and beauty of the rest.

I found the flow to be very comfortable, and my imagination and curiosity were engaged throughout.

Thanks for this account. It made me want to be there and experience it.

posted on Feb, 23 2013 @ 04:25 PM
That whole story was really great. I have always been curious about that part of Canada, so it was neat to hear it described by someone who knows it so well. I have no doubt I'd love it up there!

It sounds like you had a close relationship with your grandparents, and it comes through in the story with a lot of warmth. Childhood memories, no matter how much time has past can still be vivid and fresh as if they happened yesterday.

This was my favorite part:

"When the days are long and the weather is nice, one can almost bring oneself to believe that there’s a gentle and all-loving God up there somewhere. Almost.

A delicate and desperate ballet goes on beneath those waves. They’re not dancing for our pleasure, but instead for their survival. All the same, to look on their dance as it happens, in real time, would be something to behold. "

It really makes me think of just how much our environment plays a role in our lives and how we see our world. Your world sounds very peaceful. Thank you for sharing it.

posted on Feb, 24 2013 @ 02:16 AM
reply to post by InTheFlesh1980

You're absolutely right, that's something that I do have a tendency of doing.

I think it has do to with my showing a bias toward words that I consider my favorites, at the expense of other, equally worthy words. In this case, as I was writing I just sort of misplaced myself in the flow of the narrative, I had one of those out of body writing experiences if you understand what I'm trying to say.

Thanks to everybody for their wonderful feedback. I'm always open to constructive criticism, so please don't hold back.

posted on Sep, 28 2014 @ 07:22 PM
a reply to: Monger

You folks don't know this about me, but early this summer I returned to school for a GED after dropping out of HS at 16. I'm 26 now, and am hoping to have my GED completed by the new year. My intructor informed me that I'm way ahead of the track, and I have an essay assignment to construct tomorrow. I'm considering using parts of this as well as some new stuff to create a new essay that I hope he enjoys.

Both he and I are fans of Kipling and his talent for imagery, and I hope to expand on some of the imagery here - hopefully I can pull a good mark. These past few month's I've not gotten a mark below 90%, and a few 100%s.

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