The ties that bind

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The weather had been perfect for almost two weeks straight, with record-breaking temperatures and unusually stable conditions across much of the province.

Then, last Thursday evening, the barometer started dropping, the winds picked up and storm clouds gathered threateningly overhead. Within hours it was blowing a gale from the northwest, with gusts exceeding 100 kilometres per hour — just the sort of unforeseen tempest they used to write songs about years ago.

Not surprisingly, the ferry running between Fogo Island and Farewell on the mainland didn’t sail the next morning. It didn’t look good for the rest of the day either.

By that point, bands of lost and anxious wedding guests were roaming around the northeast coast, most of them desperately trying to figure out an alternate way of getting themselves and their luggage to Tilting, which, of course, there wasn’t.

Meanwhile, out on Fogo Island, which was virtually cut off from the rest of the world, the bride was holding up as well as could be expected under the circumstances, all things considered, such as the fact that more than two years of intensive planning were hanging in the balance.

The groom, who’s no dummy, was maintaining a low profile, which is hard to do when you’re six foot seven and close to being the tallest freestanding structure in Tilting. (That’s his description of himself, not mine.)

At 3 p.m. they announced that the MV Capt. Earl W. Winsor wouldn’t be leaving the wharf in Man O’War Cove until the following day at the earliest. The first signs of panic began to set in.

The wedding was less than 24 hours away and unless a miracle occurred and the winds dropped overnight, it looked like most of the guests would be marooned on an island all right, just not the right island.

Of course, as sometimes happens in situations like this, a miracle did occur. The wind did die down, relatively speaking, and eventually everyone who was supposed to be there made it to the church on time.

Shotgun salute

The service itself went off without a hitch. Afterwards, as the newlyweds drove off in their motorcade they were stopped by a small gathering of men who saluted them with a thundering volley of shots from ancient muzzle loaders packed with judiciously measured charges of black powder.

Similar groups awaited the couple at various strategic points around the harbour, so that their progress could be followed by the billowing smoke and the roar of the guns, which echoed off the barren hills and drove drifting flocks of slumbering seagulls to wing.

As I pondered this impressive display of firepower from a window up in the choir loft, it struck me that traditions such as these, while seemingly out of step with our brave new world of instant communications and technological marvels of every description, still speak deeply to the human spirit, in ways which only become fully apparent at times of great importance and significance in our lives. It’s what gives some sense of meaning to our existence and helps get us through the bad times, as well as the good.

It’s easy to dismiss ritual and tradition as quaint holdovers from an earlier, less-enlightened era, but without them we would be left entirely to our own devices, alone in a very lonely universe, with few signposts to guide us through the various stages of our lives here on earth.

Even the very earliest priests and bureaucrats  felt the need to devise formal rites of passage to mark the beginning and end of their all-too-brief sojourn here on earth, along with all of the more noteworthy events in between, such as bar and bat mitzvahs, baptism, confirmation, circumcisions and weddings.

Then there are funerals, and the whole panoply of customs and conventions designed to make death more palatable, at least to the lucky ones left behind. Funerals are also one of the few officially recognized functions where the guest of honour has the least to worry about in terms of everything going according to plan. And so what if you don’t make it to the cemetery on schedule?

And just as ritual and tradition ensure continuity and a connection to those who came before, so too our communities, our social structures and institutions have evolved down through the generations to reflect the values and virtues which mean the most to us, both as individuals and as members of the larger society in which we dwell.

That’s why getting married in a place like Tilting, with friends and family close at hand, sure beats the hell out of tying the knot at the Heavenly Bliss Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.

Even if the ferry is sometimes delayed and the weather doesn’t always co-operate.


Tony Collins lives and writes in Gander.

He can be reached by email at

His column returns Oct. 26.

Geographic location: Tilting, Fogo Island, Las Vegas Gander

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