HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

July 28, 2008
Implication for the Long Run

Developments Last Week

John Turner


In the Wilds
July 24, 2008

I'm traveling this week -- to a rather remote spot on the coast of Newfoundland, so my postings will be spotty, depending on where I can find internet connections. This comes from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, from where I catch the ferry for a hundred mile ride to the island.

I'm not sure what I'll write about this week. I feel fairly well cut off from my regular subjects, even though I can still consult the news. Truth is, here it doesn't seem very real. That I think is a psychological function of culture.

I'm moving from human affairs into nature, and nature seems little concerned with what humans care about. And since it is, I guess I am too. What is George Bush in Newfoundland? He's like a mosquito. I know that back in the human world he's more than a mosquito, but that's what he appears to me this early morning before the ferry.

I almost wish it could be always that way.

In any case, I'll try to post more thoughts once I'm settled in Cow Head.


Newfoundland Journal 1
July 25, 2008

We arrived at Cow Head about 8:30 yesterday evening, and found our little cabin with no difficulty. The drive from Port aux Basques was about 240 miles and took five hours.

Cow Head is a bigger village than I had expected, with the main part of the town lying on either side of a road that runs down from the highway. But our cabin is out on the Cow Head peninsula itself, right at the end of the settled area. From the back yard you can walk through a field and over a ridge to a rocky beach to look out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Across from us, more than a hundred miles away is the eastern coast of Quebec.

Being here feels very far from our normal life, which is what we wanted. We have no TV and there's no phone in our cabin. Our cell phones don't work. I don't know where the nearest internet connection is. I've been told there's one at the library in Rocky Harbour, which is twenty-five miles south. If that's, indeed, the closest one, then I probably won't get this posted for at least a couple days.

Whenever I come to a place like this I begin to wonder what it would be like to stay here forever. Truth is, I have no idea. It might drive me nuts, but, on the other hand, I might come to love it so much I would never want to go away.  One thing seems fairly clear: my thought patterns would be modified. I probably would become less fascinated by newspapers informing me about a frantic world.

It turned out that the ferry from Nova Scotia did have an internet hookup, so I sat and read the papers until my battery ran out. One item that caught my attention was an article in the Washington Post by Libby Copeland about the intellectual condition of the American public, which is very lethargic as far as politics are concerned. Or, to put it more frankly, most citizens of the United States know virtually nothing about what their government is doing, and don't appear to care unless it affects their lives in a way they can't ignore. Is that healthy, or not? God only knows. In any case, I may begin to approach that condition over the next two weeks. I'll try to let you know how it feels as the days go by.


Newfoundland Journal 2
July 26, 2008

The geographical feature, Cow Head, is an actual head, or spit of land, oval shaped, jutting out into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and joined to the mainland by a rocky isthmus about six hundred yards long. All the residents used to live out here where our cabin is located, but over the years, according to the local librarian, people began to build themselves winter houses on shore and to live on the head only during the summer. Then gradually, the winter houses became dominant, and the summer houses were abandoned. Now, almost all of the latter are gone. There are only a handful of houses here, whereas the town, which is now on the mainland has a couple hundred at least.

We discovered during a long morning walk yesterday that the town has two stores, a post office, a combination gift shop and snack bar, a fair-sized motel with a pub off its lobby, several bed and breakfasts, a summer theatre, and best of all, for me, a small library whose router is never turned off, even though the library hours are quite limited. Even though Cow Head is remote, it's not primitive.

The Cow Head coastline is marked by large boulders which geologists say were disgorged by the earth about five hundred million years ago. If my grandson Jack were here, he would tell me that's older than the dinosaurs, who didn't come on the earthly scene until about two hundred and twenty million years ago.  I find myself thinking of ancient times here more than I do normally. We humans tend to be arrogantly focused on our own history, which hasn't stretched out very long, probably no more a million years. The earth was here a long time before us, and that raises the thought that it may well inhabit this minute sector of the universe well after we are gone. If and when that happens, what will it mean that we were here? For that matter, what does "meaning" mean? I assume it's a human concept that doesn't occur to the sea gull who comes to perch right outside the window where I write and screams at me in an attempt to make me bring bread outside and drop it in the bird feeder.

When I consider that all things human may well pass away and leave no trace behind them, it causes me to feel a certain loneliness. About a week ago, I read in Nietzsche that "what once has moved others is like an insect in amber, enclosed and immortalized in the generational intertwining of all that exits." The passage gave me a certain comfort when I read it, but now, only a few hundred yards away from the five hundred million year old rocks, I'm not so sure.


Newfoundland Journal 3
July 27, 2008

The weather in Newfoundland is, to say the least, changeable. Yesterday we had bright sunshine, fog, rain, blustery wind, and each not only once but several times. So far as temperature goes, however, it has been moderate throughout.

We drove up the coast to the tiny town of Daniel's Harbour, and clambered out on the rocks by the wharf. The town, which rises up from the sea to the highway above, is definitely not a center of luxury. In fact, it presents itself to the visitor as fairly scruffy. But all the people we encountered -- mostly fishermen -- were friendly and hospitable. One guy, sitting in a fish shed, offered us his cat to take away. But we declined.

I can't help myself. Whenever I visit a place like Daniel's Harbour, I fall to wondering what it would be like to stay there forever. What would it do to my mind? Maybe deepen it, or wipe it out altogether? And would that matter, anyway? I have always told myself that the best place to live would be where the mind would be most enriched, most original, most fertile. But even after all these years I still don't know where that would be.

In a guide book, I found a list of prominent Newfoundland writers, and was chagrinned to discover I haven't read any of them. Now I feel guilty and have resolved to take some of them up. But, I've made such resolutions previously, and most of the time have failed in my resolve. In case you don't have Newfoundland writers at the front of your mind, here are ten you might want to investigate: Bernice Morgan, John Steffler, Patrick Kavanagh, Joan Clark, Wayne Johnston, Lillian Bouzane, Gordon Rodgers, Al Pittman, Mary Dalton, and Agnes Walsh. Now, just suppose that I, in a Newfoundland mania, should actually read every book published by each of them. How would it modify me? How would my sense of reality shift? Or would it change at all?

Back in Cow Head, in the late afternoon, we decided to follow the footpath across the head to the small lighthouse and to the promontory known as the point of the head. On the map, Cow Head is a tiny polyp. But walking across it turns it into something more expansive. It's at least a mile and a half from our cabin to the point of the head, most of the way along deeply-shaded, not altogether smooth forest trails. But the sight at the end is worth the effort -- great fingers of stone running far out into the tumbling waves. Water smashing on rocks is always a compelling sight. Why it fascinates us so much is a mystery, probably having something to do with our tendencies towards destruction and chaos. In any case, it's a phenomenon that can be looked at for hours.

It was beginning to get dark when we returned to the cabin, making it into more of a haven than usual. And then a quickly stirred up peach cobbler caused civilization to seem even more noble. I ate more of it than I should have, but consoled myself with the thought that I had walked considerable distances during the day. I had intended to read Nietzsche into the night but, somehow, bed seemed superior, so I chose creature comfort over philosophy, which is not always a bad decision.


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