Thursday, August 17, 2006


On those languid hot summer days, I’d listen to the children shriek with mock annoyance, recalling the delightful pangs of irritated adults carried from my own childhood. The sun was hot, and it beat down on the tin roof of the Dalmeny House known to us as ‘Sea Eagles’.

This place was as defining for me as holidays themselves. Sand in floorboard cracks, abandoned hand-me-down china and an expanse of green lawn strewn with eucalypt twigs that splayed awkwardly, giving way to the gravel that would hurt your toes on the way to the ever present even blue of the Pacific ocean.

My major focus should probably have been on re-capturing the exuberance of a forgotten summertime with my children. In truth, it was on surfing.

My mind was filled with transient snapshots of waves, frozen toppling into clear blue crystal arcs, or foaming lash-like streaks of spray blown up from the perfect off-shore winds. My mission that week was to catch another wave. It didn’t matter how big it was, or what shape it was – I just wanted to get out there and play with them, to capture more and more of these transcendent beautiful moments where geometry and wind and power and water were part of me. Paddling out, arms aching, chafed, burnt. Just one more…

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do that all day. The Australian sun was relentless, so I retreated back to the house. I picked up a book and collapsed into the couch in one motion. At some point in my life, books just disappeared. I’d forgotten the lure of a good book. The busy, chaotic, pseudo bureaucratic process of building a family, coupled with a demanding job had left me with so little time, that it wasn’t a very common occurrence to find myself holding a book of any kind, unless I was in the process of cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Almost reflexively, I began to read. The book was called ‘The Shipping News’, and it was written by a lady called E.Annie Proulx. The tale that unfolded from between my wet hands was intriguing, and frostbitten and sea-faring. It was Salty and Cold, and foul and enamoring and it captured my attention for nearly all the non surfing time I could find that week.

At one point, halfway through the novel, as I flopped down onto the ugly purple single bed in the blue bedroom, I distinctly remember exclaiming aloud:

“Seriously - Who in their right mind would ever go to Newfoundland?”

You know, sometimes the universe just sees you coming.

I’m writing these words from a Bed and Breakfast in St John’s, the largest city in Newfoundland.

I think today may be one of those days that are properly termed by locals to be ‘Sucker Days’ – The sun was toasty warm and shining beautifully off the harbor, the air was crisp and clear, and amidst it all, the strangest thing happened to me – I became completely smitten with the place.

Having spent the day at work, I spent the evening wandering around, cursing my broken camera, and trying to retain in my mind pictures of tiny boats streaming through the narrows, returning laden with cod, and ramshackle fishing huts, that look like ancient storks rising out of the water, fading paint revealing layers of fading paint. The hokey, cozy multicoloured townhouses of the streets of St John’s stretched out along the background of Signal Hill, and the haze from the Atlantic.

People who live in Newfoundland really live here. Sure they love to complain, and they’ll bitch and moan incessantly about it being too hot, like today (20 degrees), or having to shovel 4 feet of snow for a freezing hour in the dark at five in the morning, but only very rarely do they actually leave. As one local told me –

“I think we’re a bit like weeds growing on the rock – we have to put down really deep roots.”

But that’s not to say the people here are some kind of sheltered yokel-halfwits – they’re excellent, smart, well educated folk, who are really part of the natural place they live in. The entire attitude of the people here is different – honest. Coming from DC, it’s as refreshing as the sea spray that blows in on the west wind.

And in a way, there are a lot of parallels between that day and this one – Both of them have reminded me that living in the moment, as a creature of your surroundings – in harmony with the habitat in which you find yourself - is frequently the key to finding those golden little moments of serenity.

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