From my aunt's house where I lived it was difficult to believe that Newfoundland has a semi-thriving forestry industry. You take a look in on The Barrens, and you find the word fully and completely apt. There are trees, but mostly shrubbery of the type that is difficult on cloudy fall days to trudge through. Barren. There are bushes to snag pantlegs on, bogs to ruin your boots in. It's so hard to tell what's bog and what's not--even though the pitcher plants are a dead giveaway. Chances are, if you are marvelling at the simple beauty of the pitcher plant, that your shoes are wet. In Newfoundland, we wear rubber boots a lot.
The Trussel is a mile-long stretch of dirt road barely wide enough to fit a car through. It seems to me, in retrospect, that ATVs are almost naturally fitted to the driving task, sort of like an old pair of gloves, conforming perfectly to one's hand. We called them bog bikes so frequently very few people knew what an All-Terrain Vehicle was, and they were a perfect fit. Historically, I have always tried to avoid bogs with an ATV, especially trikes: they just don't have the balls necessary to free themselves of the deep mud. The reek of peat is the perfume of nature, a smell so real one cannot help but enjoy it, its inconstant presence. But it's hard as hell to extricate your bog bike's tires if you managed to stop in a particularly deep bog. It is fitting to come home after a long trek trouting, smelling of the peat bogs, rubber boots not fit for the floor. We take them--and, most likely, our socks--off and leave them out by the door, where they can dry, and we cook our catch ourselves.
In the late summer we would massacre what trees there were for the next winter's firewood. Like clockwork we would go, with the scent of snow stinging the air, right behind the house and chop the winter's worth of wood, well inside of a week. I'm no good with power tools of any sort, so my responsibility would inevitably be the same every season. I would be relegated to several hours of stripping the boughs off of the pine trees, for placement around the house. Boughs are the branches of an evergreen tree, cut to an amiably small size. Wrapped around a house, it provides excellent winter insulation. Electricity is expensive in outport Newfoundland, and we cut corners like any sane person: why use electric heaters when boughs and firewood are clearly sufficient?
We've stripped the forest more or less as far back as Harold's house. After we jacked up my aunt's house and put up the two-car garage, it took maybe two months of the late summer and early fall to get his house finished. Imagine a dozen or more dirty men and women working all day, raising a home from nothingness and chopping trees to survive. We never considered the ecological impact of our actions. Despite Newfoundland's "Rock" moniker, the plant life that does exist seems to have adapted so well to the environment and weather that, within a few years, most of the life that has been taken from the land returns in full force inside of five years or so. Thus, we still feel at peace with the land, and we can still raise our own vegetables; Clayton's potatoes always end up a little hard, but fresh, and flavourful. We still catch our own fish for fish and brewis. Every so often we would pull in a big lobster that got stuck in a trap. Lobsters are a stereotypically expensive and lavish meal at a restaurant, but they truly taste much better when you've caught it yourself. When you tell your arrogant city friends that you pulled the lobster in yourself, the meal you provide for your family tastes infinitely better than anything you can buy.
Fall in Newfoundland is a busy time, because there are people working in the crab plant; scouring the woods for good lumber; finishing up the season's fishing. Caplin have already rolled, spawned, and found their way out to sea. We still have very little cod, but there are other fish to be had. There is squid too, but they don't stay near land during the fall; like the caplin, they migrate out to deeper waters after coming close to shore in June and July. As a whole, the ocean off Newfoundland's east coast is warmest during September, but quickly cools with the weather. Because of this, mainlanders never knows what to expect with Newfoundland weather. I've seen snows in July. This is why we rush to prepare for winter before the snow hits, because we never truly know when it will come.
After The Barrens, we enter the areas owned by windblown, toughened coniferous trees. They are accompanied by proud junipers hardened to the tough climates. Over their tops we see the rocky hills lining Conception Bay's inland. Newfoundland's autumn is tones of gray, gray clouds and gray rock dividing the ponds from the trees. Behind us we can see the cold crashing of the gray ocean. From here, we are too far from the ocean to feel its salty spray on our faces, but we've only to take a fishing skiff out on the water to take in the Atlantic's sweet smell. As months pass the possibility of icebergs emerges, but by now we have fallen without fail into spring. The winters that lay in between brighten the land but it is cold, so cold. The summers are short and sweltering, as long as the winds come from inland.
But The Barrens were the source of countless adventures for a boy just entering into his teen years, directly before the full onslaught of puberty turned his eyes to breasts and their companions, girls. While the grown men shuffled along, pulling out trees in the back of anyone's truck, the kids would leave early. Our minds would wander, or we were too tired for work (or too energized to play). As the next generation, we loved the work. It was in our hearts, our genes. We knew that we could bring home dinner straight from the boat. We knew that a new home could, and most likely would, rise from the rubble of the old one. In small towns like ours, everyone's business is everyone's business, and we all played together. Whenever a house was going up, you did not need to worry about it being finished: there was always a readily available labour corps at your fingertips. Place a phone call, drive down the shore a ways--hell, even such conventions were not a true requirement. The truth is, as I said, that everyone's business is everyone's business, and chances were good that the community knew about your desire to build a house before you did. Of course, you'd have to ply all comers with song, and beer, and rum, but that was okay; that was one hundred percent all right.
My mother, having moved back, says people stop by the house now and ask her to play a few tunes on the guitar. They visit late at night, after work.