Downhome Magazine

The Beauty of Outport Isolation

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by George Slone
Barnstable, MA

A certain beauty exists in isolation - the absence of human racket - weed-whacking, lawnmowers, and loud-blasting mufflers. I found that beauty in Francois, Petites, Gaultois, Great Caribou Island, and Indian Burying Place. Newfoundland and Labrador are quite special in that sense. Now, I was focused on going to McCallum. Several years ago, I'd made the attempt from Francois, but the ferry was cancelled due to rough winds. Now I was in Hermitage, but hurricane winds cancelled the ferry. So, I had a few days to kill on the Bay d'Espoir in the hope the next ferry might go.
In Furby's Cove, a small resettled community, I talked with a former constable, who'd worked on the southern coast and mentioned he didn't think there was a B&B in McCallum, but said they usually didn't lock the sheds there, so I could easily sleep in one of them for a night or two. I picked a lot of blackberries, which were covering over the cemetery. Then I spent some time at Harbour Breton, walked up the Gun Hill Lookout. Wonderful views! Then I drove down to Seal Cove, thinking maybe I could drive on the dirt road to where you could see resettled Pass Island, but a guy on an ATV there told me I'd never make it.
Anyhow, two days later, the MV Terra Nova left at 12:15 pm. I paid $3.75, then sat in the small room for travelers and talked to the other person there, Reverend Robin, who was a traveling minister, who went to McCallum once per month to present a sermon. She kindly made a phone call and got me a room in what they called the 'Apartments.' Soon I got seasick horrendously, laid down, then hit the small bathroom and dry vomited a handful of times. I sweated profusely. I was KO, just sat on the pot and hugged the sink. Then eventually I walked back to the room and laid down. An hour and a half later we arrived in McCallum. Robin noted that all the houses on the left side of town were now empty and only about 25 people lived in McCallum today. She also told me she vomited twice, so I felt a bit better, knowing I wasn't the only one. Anyhow, I slowly recovered.
At the 'Apartments,' which had two bedrooms, a woman took my $100 bill, said there was some instant coffee and potable water in the fridge, then off she went. I laid down a spell, then headed out with my camera in hand, and walked for quite a while up and down the boardwalks. No roads of course. Down by the incinerator end, I talked to a handful of people sitting outside on the porch. One lady was from Germany and had been living in McCallum for 11 years. A man there told me blueberries were on top of a hill and the trail to it was just a couple of houses down. "Nice view up there," he'd said. Later, I'd end up doing that.
At the other end of McCallum, where the houses were uninhabited, I walked and eventually traipsed up to the top of a high hill. The outport was in a mountainy area and quite a bit smaller than Gaultois and Francois. One of the last houses was not locked, so I entered: tons of fishing gear, ropes, nets, twine, buoys, etc. filled all the rooms. I talked to a friendly couple on the boardwalk. They said they left now and then, went to St. John's or elsewhere just to get out for a spell. The guy was a fisherman.
Back in my room, I opened a can of herring, toasted some bread, and made a sandwich. Then I boiled some water, opened a can of Carnation milk and had a cup of coffee. No internet. Robin had mentioned that. I borrowed a few old Reader's Digest from a guy several houses down the boardwalk. Later, Bill Newbury, the guy who told me about the blueberries, knocked on my door and invited me over for a barbecued burger. How nice! He was living with his wife and two little daughters in the teacher's apartment, which was in the same building as the Apartments. So I walked over. Bill had me try a peach beer. We talked about NL and its outports. His wife was from Alberta and the new teacher/principal. She said, there were only three students at the school, one of whom was older and basically worked online. Bill kindly gave me the password for his internet. Later, alone again, I stepped out into the blackness of night and walked around taking photos.
The next day, I walked again all over. Then at 5, I packed up, concerned the ferry wasn't gonna go because of the wind, but a guy told me the wind was going in the right direction, so there wouldn't be a problem. I walked down to the government wharf, then walked to the end of the boardwalk and found some blackberries, so I picked and ate. Very friendly people in McCallum. At about 5:45, the ferry was arriving. When it did, I paid and this time sat outside on the deck. I was the only passenger! It was windy and got cooler as the ferry headed out into the ocean. A vastness of uninhabited mountainy land and granite cliffs passed by, as big waves broke and the water rolled right on to the deck. I watched the outport slowly disappear. Well, I'd learned my lesson. No seasickness this time! Finally - it was long sitting out there alone in the windy cold - we arrived in Hermitage.

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