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Almanac of Newfoundland and Labrador is accessible and informative

Book cover
Book cover - Submitted

Doyle’s 2018: Almanac of Newfoundland and Labrador
2018 Local Forecasting/Our People, Our Culture/Stories of Our Province
by Robert Doyle and Augustus Fanning

www.doylesalmanacnl.ca
$14.95  121 pages

This is the third edition of “Doyle’s Almanac,” a compilation of text and imagery coalescing around, broadly, Newfoundland and Labrador’s natural and cultural history. This allows for a lot of scope: with articles encompassing an interview with actor/writer Andy Jones, a description of Jones’ incredible, collectively created artifact “The Abbie Table,” a short feature on the Royal St. John’s Regatta (which celebrates its 200th anniversary this summer), and determinations of what was the worst winter ever — and what the heck as with that windstorm last March?

A piece on Torngat Mountain National Park is forthrightly informative: “As one would expect from such a vast area covering almost 10,000 sq km containing mountains, valleys, fjords, and coastlines, there are regions of different climate in the national park and an impressive range of vegetation, Arctic flora, and wildlife present.”

Then there’s a lovely photo essay from a morning of cod fishing and whale watching on “The Irish Mist” out of Dildo. The graphics in “Hunting for the Giant Squid,” included “Wanted” posters (as seen on post office walls in old westerns), and sketches and sculpture of the near-mythical creature. Fun fact: they are most commonly reported in Newfoundland and New Zealand.

Then follows a biography of Biddy O’Toole, born Mary Mallard, which today would be a great stage name, who was performing in the Uncle Tim’s Barn Dance Show at the Knights of Columbus Hostel on December 12, 1942, when a fire killed 99 people. Although she was forever associated with this (still controversial) tragedy, her career spanned decades to either side.

There are chapters on the who’s who of pirates, the origin and design of the Flag of Labrador, a global tracking of the Leatherback Turtle, “the most widely travelled of all.”  A plunge into the Ice Ages, plural, considers the erratics (who doesn’t love the term?) strewn in NL’s fields and barrens. Other topics include the Cormorant, birds sometimes called “Shags,” and local Weather Lore, like “A warm Christmas, a cold Easter.”

Then come some songs from the Gerald S. Doyle Song Book (editor Doyle is a grandson), and recipes, with Pan-Fried Battered Cod nicely aft to Fish Tacos with Pico De Gallo (from Mike Wozney of Soul Azteka Restaurant).

The overall arrangement and flow can feel a little arbitrary or random. And small parts of the content should have been edited out: for example some dialogue in Jones’ interview is dated, discussing his upcoming work which actually occurred last summer and fall. But, more importantly, this is accompanied by one of Jones’ wonderful Letters From Uncle Val, “Wolves, Ghosts, and Corpses”:          

 “People still talk about the devil but nobody ever meets him anymore — how many stories did you used to hear of people having the longest kind of a chat with a handsome well-dressed stranger — then they look down and see he had cloven hoofs; that was always the scariest part of the story when they’d see them hoofs.”

And then we have the real weight and heart of the Almanac: weather archives and forecasts. As with the rest of the volume, there are some really nice photos, as well as graphs and maps, also in full colour. This section is both accessible (“Most of us enjoy a warm sunny day ...”) and enjoyably esoteric (“Newfoundland is characterized by a mixed semi-diurnal tide.”). And it is freakin’ informative.

For example, “The names of tropical cyclones are already set by the World Meteorological Society and are recycled every six years (unless a name is retired due to loss of life and property).” The upcoming nomenclature is comprised of Alberto, Helene, Tony, and Valerie. “If more than 21 tropical cyclones form within a year, additional names are drawn from the Greek alphabet: Alpha ... Epsilon ... Iota.”

This is good writing, with a learned, but not talking-down-to, tone. The 2018 forecasts are clearly and cleanly graphed and explained: “First developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1960, the USDA hardiness zones present a geographic template (tied to minimum winter temperatures) within which specific plants may be cultivated.” Suggestions for further readings are also given.

The Almanac’s layout is not especially imaginative, but is functional, and heightened with generous use of full-colour photos on glossy pages. It’s a nice size and shape, too, and with a slim heft to it.

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.

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