Downhome Magazine

The Way it Was

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I was first taken out on the waters of St. John's harbour and beyond, by my father in 1939. It was an exciting ride for me then, just a 5-year-old boy. It was made in a 20-foot cod skiff powered by a single-stroke Grey marine engine that made a funny put-put sound as we went along. After first enjoying the sights and smells of the harbour, we passed through the tiny slit of opening that forms the narrows and leads out into Freshwater Bay and the open Atlantic beyond.

Overhead out there, sea birds in the thousands - puffins, murres, kittiewakes and gulls fly about creating a steady uproar of shrieks, between dives into the sea from nests high up on the towering cliff faces all around the bay to feast on large schools of capelin that are just arriving to spawn on shore.

Later, perhaps at around 12, somewhere between Bell Island and the little cove of St.Phillip's in Conception Bay I find myself rowing alone in a small punt, disobeying the stern warnings of my dear aunt Eliza never ever to do this. I delight in experiencing the roll of the sea out here, the excitement. There are experiences out here like no others so I'm held fast and cannot break away for the safety of the distant shore.

Perhaps it is the life that lies here beneath the surface that excites me so. I sometimes feel its presence even though unseen as it slides beneath the bottom of the punt, to appear seconds later, a few metres away, a huge presence. It rises up to inspect me with a curious eye for an instant, before descending again into a more comfortable zone. I do not know what it is that I see.

Perhaps its a basking shark. I had seen a big 25ft one recently lying dead on the beach tangled in a fishing net. If so, that's good, because the fishermen tell me that it's harmless. And the pilot whales are harmless also , unless they come too close and accidentally capsize the tiny punt that I'm commanding. What am I doing here anyway? Oh yes! I remember now. I'm chasing after the older teenage boys who I admire so much. They always come out here jigging for fish, and I want to join them.
When they see me they shout out at me.
"What're ya doin' out 'dere alone in dat boat b'y? Your aunt Liza's goin' to be some cross wit us, if she finds out 'bout dis. Ya'd better be some careful in dat boat dere and not turn 'er over, b'y." I very carefully row back to the beach again.

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