HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

July 28, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


Being away from my normal haunts, I don't have my regular stimulants to thought. They've been replaced, though, by other provocations.

Yesterday, walking on a wide beach, my attention was drawn to thousands of tiny mollusks clinging to rocks at the water's edge. For some reason they made real for me the proposition that life emerged from the sea. There is, of course, an elongated evolutionary path between a mollusk and a human being. But as extensive as it is, it seems almost as nothing compared to the distance between no life and the mollusk. It's not hard for me to imagine how people came from mollusks, or other simple forms, but I have immense difficulty thinking about how the mollusk arrived from no life at all. How many eons of sloshing about in warm sea water did that take?

Once life is underway, however, it just seems to go, go, go. I'm not sure how mollusks are generated, but it's for sure something is at work to keep them coming. And along with them, millions of other things. When I stare down into a tidal pool and see all the stuff that's there it makes my head swirl.

I find myself seized by all sorts of questions that usually never come to mind. How long does a crab live? Where do seagulls usually go at night? Do clams sleep, and how can they tell they're awake? I even have thoughts that, perhaps, I should have become a marine biologist and that would have provided me a richer life than the one I've had.

I read in a guide book that 71% of the people here see themselves as, primarily, Newfoundlanders, whereas 22% see themselves as Canadians. The remaining 7% see themselves as equally the one or the other. Newfoundland has been a part of Canada only since 1949, so I guess you could say the people here haven't settled into their new identity. The vote for affiliation with Canada passed by only 52%, with 48% against. The main reason for the pro-Canadian vote seems to have been the assumption that social services would be improved. And that appears to have been the case. Still, quite a few people here still think it was a bad decision and that Newfoundland would have done better to remain an independent element of the British commonwealth. If I had been a Newfoundlander, I'm not sure how I would have voted.

The population of Newfoundland and Labrador together is slightly less than the population of Vermont -- 552,000 in 2001. Vermont has a little over 600,000. But that half-million plus is spread out over immense territories, many times larger than Vermont. A glance at the map tells me that the two parts of this province are about three times as large as all of New England. So, it's not a densely peopled place. Most of it is completely uninhabited -- by humans, that is.

One curious thing is that I have not seen a cow since I came on this island. I suppose there must be cows here somewhere, but the price of milk in the grocery stores -- almost double what it is at home -- tells me that there can't be many of them. I don't know why that it. It seems like a perfect place for cows.

I'll be here for ten more days, and then I'll catch the ferry back to Nova Scotia, perhaps never to come to Newfoundland again.  But it's not the sort of place I'll easily forget.


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