Downhome Magazine

What Once Was

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by George Slone
Barnstable, MA

Few places exist where human infrastructure still stands, but no humans live there any more. The isolation of such places mesmerizes me, leaves me awe-stricken.
Once again, I found myself on the hunt for that beauty, driving all over on the Baie Verte peninsula from Westport to Fleur de Lys and La Scie. My favorite area was by Snook's Arm, where I spent the evening walking in resettled Round Harbour. Two cars were parked there and two houses had been spruced up since my last visit several years before. No matter. A wondrous full moon appeared, as the clouds cleared and full peace still reigned.
In the morning, I drove over to Snook's Arm. Over the years, I'd been there a number of times. This time, I wanted to walk up to the old school, which I'd never seen. First, I walked around a bit by the harbour, then as I stood by my car, a man suddenly popped out of his house. It was Lloyd! He invited me in for a cup of coffee. His wife, Barbara, was there and brought out some delicious pumpkin bread. We talked. Lloyd told me the school roof had caved in the year before. Then I mentioned Indian Burying Place. He'd taken me there about five years ago. It was also Lloyd who'd showed me the trail to it a year before that. And yes, I'd gotten lost trying to find that resettled outport. Barbara noted that the weather and water were quite calm. Unexpectedly, Lloyd got his gear, we sat on his quad, drove down to the wharf, got into his boat, and off we went! Was I dreaming? I really did not think I'd be visiting 'Burying Place,' as Lloyd called it. So, I was more than happy!
We sped past such beautiful high cliffs. It was hard to believe that once I'd gotten lost in the thick forest topping them. Lloyd said I was damn lucky because if I'd hiked the other way, I never would have gotten out - and nobody would have found me. It took about 20 minutes to arrive. The beauty of Burying Place was awesome. So many structures were still standing. Lloyd slowly brought the boat to the shore. With my boots on, I hopped off into the water and walked with camera in hand. Lloyd stayed in the boat and moved out a bit. For me, it was difficult to explain why I was so attracted to such rare places. In an effort to do so, I'd later write a poem.
And so I walked all over, up and down hills, through tall grass and marsh, taking photos. I stepped into a couple of the old homes. Outside, there were piles of graying wood here and there, flattened houses. In full solitude, I stood by the graveyard admiring it all. An hour or so later, I got back on the boat, and we zoomed over to resettled Bobby's Cove, just around the corner. And for the first time, I stepped off there and walked around, climbed up the hill where only three houses, two of them still partly standing. The ruins of an old store were on the other side of the cove.
Off we went. On the way back into Snook's Arm, Lloyd slowed down and pointed to all the places on the cliff side that were no longer there: his house, the church, the salmon plant, the old school, and even the bridge, which he used as a kid to walk over to the harbour and new school. Lloyd mentioned they used to walk from Snook's Arm to Burying Place to square dance. They'd even walk over to Round Harbour and Tilt Cove. Quite amazing. Even the crumbling old store, I'd admired last time, had now been swallowed up into oblivion. Everyone had moved to the harbour when they'd put the road in.
Lloyd invited me in for tea, and I ended up having lunch there too: cod tongues and cod britches, bread, black current jelly, pickled beats, and potato salad! What a morning indeed! Barbara handed me a jar of her homemade black-current jelly, and off I walked at 1:30 up to the old school. I walked around it a bit, then back at my car, I took off and somehow managed to drive up the steep hill back to the main road.

Of Tempus Fugit
The feeling - like no other feeling - when I visit a resettled outport
in Newfoundland or Labrador - tis one of absolute wonderment.

Walking alone down a pathway past boarded-up dwellings in Petites,
peering inside a dilapidated home in Round Harbour,
examining the crumbling stages and stores in Indian Burying Place,
picking raspberries in the graveyard at Little Brehat,
or hiking six long kilometers on a rubbly quad pathway
through magnificent primeval vistas to suddenly arrive
at an old cement foundation and a lone tricycle in Little Paradise,
or driving carefully on and on into the vast limestone barrens
on my way to Big Brook, past a lone fox and moose hunter,
or wandering endlessly on Great Caribou Island,
contemplating what once was a schoolhouse in Trap Cove,
and seven kilometers later, finally sitting at Indian Cove,
eating the sandwich prepared for me by a Battle Harbour cook,
or standing on the old flake taking photos of several decaying punts
there in Grandois, not yet resettled, though with an abandoned fish plant.

These places, for me, incarnate the very beauty
of where once people used to live,
of where once they went to school,
of where once they fished, danced, and toiled -
of their total obnubilation, as if never were they
and yet once truly they were...

 
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