Today is the 40th anniversary of the mans first steps on the moon. However, in Newfoundland the anniversary actually falls on July 21.
I know this, because my family and I watched the event on live television from the Newfoundland wilderness.
I was 12 years old, and we were vacationing in the remote woods along the southwestern shore of Gander Lake. There was no electricity or generator, no running water, indoor toilet, or telephone. The refrigerator was a hole in the earth beneath a few loose boards in the kitchen floor.
Yet, it was probably the most memorable vacation of my life.
We were staying in a log cabin that once belonged to the woods supervisor for Bowater, which had cutting rights in the area. It was located about four km east of the mouth of the Southwest River, and just a stones throw from an old logging camp and wharf, long since abandoned.
The backwoods travel began near Glenwood, on a woods road that was pretty good for the first 30 km. But then it forked off to the left, back behind the southwest corner of the lake, on a road that had been rendered impassable by Bowater before they abandoned it.
When Bowater left, when they finished cutting in that area, they took out all the little culverts along the road dug them all up so people couldnt go in there until our crowd and others came along and decided we wanted to use the road, said my father, Ken Meeker, in an interview. So the first few times in there, we cut small trees and laid them across the road, and filled in the gap where the culverts were.
There were tasks that had to be performed upon arrival at the cabin as well small things like stealing back our windows.
There was a crowd from Glenwood that had a cabin on one of the big islands nearby. They were good guys but they were a rough crowd who didnt pay much attention to the rules. They would come over and take the windows and mattresses from our place and when we got up there, wed go over and get them back. We shared them, you might say.
The cabin was located on a small rocky cliff, perhaps 10 feet above the beach, which made a great place to sit and enjoy the view, when we werent swimming, fishing, canoeing, hiking the backwoods, chasing moose, and whatever other mischief we could get into.
There wasnt a soul around for many miles. We were completely, wonderfully alone and having the time of our lives, though I remember it caused my mother some stress she lay awake at night, listening to large animals shuffling past the cabin.
And in the midst of this splendid isolation, I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
My dad was working at CJON at the time, and had already arranged our two weeks in the outback before realizing it coincided with the Apollo 11 mission. So he set about arranging a way to watch it.
I decided we had to see it, so I rented a TV from Bill Campbell at Campbells Rent-Alls. I scrounged an extra 12-volt battery, and when you hook it up in parallel positive to positive and negative to negative that just doubles the power but not the voltage.
The TV was not pressed into service until the day of the Apollo landing, because Dad wouldnt risk running the car battery down in the middle of nowhere. Both batteries were stored in the engine compartment of the old Volkswagen van, with a cable running into the cabin.
And it worked fine, he said. We just had rabbit ears but we werent that far from Gander, as the crow flies, so we had a pretty good picture. Well, we had good reception the image quality from the moon landing was grainy and fuzzy.
If you were around back then, you may recall the operation was not exactly exciting to watch. Truth be told, it was like watching paint dry. The lunar landing module touched down on the surface of the moon at a reasonable time of day, somewhere around suppertime, if I recall. I fully expected them to throw open the door and come flying out, leaping and hollering, just as I wouldve done. Of course, it didnt work that way it never works that way and it was almost 12:30 am Newfoundland time before Armstrong started climbing down that ladder, one long, laborious step at a time. I was drop-dead tired by this, the conclusion of another long day in the great outdoors, but was determined to see it through.
So there we sat in the middle of nowhere, bathed in the glow of the Coleman lantern, watching history unfold. I remember marveling at the miracle of TV itself, and how we could send moving pictures and sound through the airwaves, and then being doubly awed by the miracle that was unfolding in outer space.
When Armstrong uttered that famous line, One small step for man one giant leap for mankind, I thought that was the coolest, most poetic thing.
And then I fell asleep.
The whole event had more significance for my father, of course. Much of todays modern technology was either not conceived or still in diapers when he was growing up.
Technology changed quickly, he said. I was totally enthralled. Being a nut about flying and airplanes, I was fascinated by it. I think I was doing what most people were doing at the time, which was watching, shaking their heads and saying holy shit.