My husband has been in Newfoundland almost two decades, but he still uses decidedly un-Newfoundland expressions like “I cottoned on.” He still feigns confusion when a local pronounces the words beer and bear as if they’re homonyms. A beer stopper, he insists, is a sort of cage to capture black bears before relocating them, and not something that can be popped off the top of a bottle.
Although he’s rowed on Quidi Vidi Lake, played hockey in the Molson Canadian Hockey League and harvested iceberg ice at Middle Cove, you can see from the above that he’s still a CFA at heart. So, I had no warning he would take to the bay like a bear to the dump.
After purchasing oceanfront property in Hants Harbour a few years ago, my husband — the father of my five children — would rather drive the one-hour and 45 minutes out the highway in a blistering snowstorm than spend two days of the weekend with us.
We all know a man’s cabin is just like his shed — except it’s around the bay instead of in the backyard. It’s his refuge and sanctuary when he has to get away from the hustle and bustle of the booming metropolis and the booming voices of his wife and children.
In Hant’s Harbour, my husband is as happy as a moose licking salt off the TCH. He regales me with stories of getting invited to the neighbours’ for tea — something he never has time for in town. When he meets someone new, he writes their name on the kitchen wall with an arrow pointing in the general direction of their house.
In Hant’s Harbour, there are no reports to write, no children bouncing on his chest to wake him from a Saturday morning slumber, no wife asking him to fix the darn IKEA dresser.
Not only is my husband happy in Hant’s Harbour; he’s as busy as a bayman with two woodstoves. I’m not joking. In one corner of the kitchen in Trinity Bay we have a vintage beige Hillcrest wood stove similar to the one I grew up with, and in the other corner is a massive cast iron box that holds about a half a cord of birch.
When the wind blows in off the water, my husband pulls down a disappearing ladder and he himself disappears through a hole in the ceiling where burnable parts of the house are stored — those that haven’t made it to the massive bonfire on the beach that is.
The cabin, you see, is unfinished. In fact, except for some new windows and a partial back deck, the cabin, his sanctuary, is but a shell, lined with the original mismatched wall boards, a plywood floor and a couple of wooden Sunlight Soap signs. That’s it.
Actually that’s not true. Let’s not forget the two woodstoves and a set of kitchen cupboards not yet attached to the floor. Oh, and I forgot — as of this month, there is a toilet that flushes and water that magically pours out of a tap in the kitchen. It’s magnificent, really.
When he first purchased the house overlooking the lighthouse, a distinctive-smelling critter had taken up occupancy in the back porch. One day, when he had the removed most of the floor, he looked down into the basement and saw a black-as-pitch mink casually staring up at him as it strode along.
At first he swore it was a pine marten, this being Newfoundland and all, but it was no such thing. It was only once the back porch was completely ripped off and dragged to the beach that the mink was dislodged. Poor guy had to find a new apartment.
Christmas Eve last year, a storm surge washed away what was left of the wharf with the splitting table and hole for cod guts. Then one day this winter, a window in the basement blew in. After that a pipe froze in the basement and sent what I’ll just describe as a lot of water rushing out of the little house by the sea. It’s been interesting being an outport property owner.
Home sweet home
“Surely he didn’t pay a t’ousand for the house,” said one of the ladies in the suburb of Caplin Cove.
Indeed he did, I nod. I don’t mention he paid 20 times that. I know from the look on the lady’s face that she would have bulldozed the thing. And I have to admit that idea did cross my mind a couple of times as well.
But you know, every month or so, when the available family members head up for a weekend on the bay, after a day of hiking the D’Iberville Trail, a marshmallow roast on the beach and a starlit walk to the neighbours’ candlelit house, we all snuggle in on our bunks, which are lined up side by each, camp-style. You can literally feel the person next to you surrender to the Sandman. You can almost see their dreams, filled not with YouTube videos and “Grand Theft Auto,” but dreams of swimming holes and secret beaches and canoe trips on the harbour.
I wake up early on our first morning out in the bay on the May 24th weekend. The sun is exploding through the curtainless windows. There’s no mistaking the fact that the kitchen and unrailed balcony face east.
I feel a body stir to my left. The stove has gone out during the night — old walls burn quickly. I glance out the window behind me. Through the two 60-year-old intertwined apple trees, I see the man across the street doing tai chi. Through the kitchen window, I see Declan’s favourite craggy outcrop of rocks which become an island at high tide. In his efforts to reach his island, he goes through four changes of clothes a day.
There’s a definite chill in the air and I snuggle back under the covers. I have a choice to make. Do I curl up and let the rising sun begin to warm my face or do I get up, start a fire and embrace another gorgeous day around the bay?
Susan can be reached at email@example.com. On her way home from Hant’s Harbour on Monday, she and her family stopped at Northern Bay only to find it chock-a-block full of icebergs.
Flat Stanley feedback
Dale writes: “Hi Susan, Thanks for writing about Flat Stanley and for including some information about my Flat Stanley Project. Even after all these years I still enjoy reading about the little flat guy and the interesting things that hosts arrange for him.
“As you may know, there is now a free Flat Stanley app for the iPhone. The latest version has a journal feature so there’s still a commitment to literacy. I just returned from a couple of weeks in Italy and in a monastery near Arezzo and in a café in Florence some American travellers recognized my Flat Stanley and then posed for pictures.
“It’s amazing the way FS opens doors all over the place. The Flat Stanley Project has become a success thanks to the millions of children who have embraced the concept, the innovative and creative teachers who use the little flat guy to meet curriculum expectations, the kindness of those who host flat visitors, and people like you who help to spread the word. Thank you for your support!”
Janice Smith, a kindergarten teacher at All Hallows Elementary in North River, was very excited to see Flat Stanley on the cover of the Telegram Tuesday. She is doing the same project with her class and Flat Stanley is on his way to visit her school.
Laura, the Grade 3 teacher in Surrey, B.C., whose student sent Flat Stanley, writes: “Wow, Stanley is sure having a wild time out there! It will be great to see him with the other class and in an article! This has been such a great experience for the class. … Flat Stanleys have been reaching all corners of our country and one even went to visit Niagara Falls and came back with water marks to prove it!
Thanks again for all of your enthusiasm. … Annie’s family is very traditional, they speak mainly Chinese at home, aren’t on email or computer so this is huge excitement for her!”