Saturday, September 6, 2008

Newfoundland Storytelling

Just 36 hours into our first trip to Newfoundland, and I’m writing this from the comfort of our room in the Bonne Esperance House Heritage Inn, a heritage site in St. John’s which has been refurbished and where our hosts Brett D’Amelio and Regina Anthony make every effort to ensure our comfort.

Yesterday we did the standard thing and visited Signal Hill, the site where Marconi’s first transatlantic radio broadcast was received over 100 years ago, and where cannons mounted on the cliff tops made a waterborne invasion of the city virtually impossible, as the narrows are indeed so narrow that any attempt to enter the harbour through them would have offered defenders a chance like no other to the proverbial fish shoot in a barrel. The wind was fairly quiet – by local standards, with gusts up to140 km/hr. My hat only blew off once and luckily there was a retaining wall nearby. If there had not been it would have been rappelling down and crampons up to make the retrieve.

During the noon-hour Cross-Talk CBC radio show with host Ramona Dearing we swapped stores of wild life and wildlife encounters and I gave a brief version of how safari ants had ended my fishing trip on the Igoji river in Kenya when I stepped into a nest of them and they showed their objection by climbing up my legs and attaching themselves to tender parts. You can read more details here.

Ramona also asked me about the 4-gallon enema that I had to give to a rhino that had been involved in a lengthy and overzealous bout of foreplay. This account is also give in more detail in Wrestling With Rhinos and the picture and evidence appears in Nicole Stamp’s cheeky blog.

One of the callers who related his own encounter was John Thorne who witnessed a remarkable stalk by a black bear on an adult male moose. Every time the moose dropped its head into the water to feed the bear sprinted forward, only to drop down flat as the head started to come up. The moose was lucky, as it got wind of the situation just in time and bolted just as the bear jumped. The bear’s claws raked its rump, but that was all the damage, except no doubt to its overworked adrenal glands.

By a wonderful stroke of coincidence we had a mini gathering of attendees of the Banff Centre Science Communications course from 2007. Science writer, TV producer member of the Banff faculty Jane Mingay lives n St. John’s and we eagerly accepted her invitation to dinner that evening. By the oddest of coincidences fellow Banff student Alison Palmer was traveling on the island with her mother Pam and they too came to Jane’s house where we the centrepieces were a wonderful baked salmon followed by blueberries that Jane had picked herself and baked in a scrumptious pie.

At eight that evening I went to the Newman’s Wine Vaults as a guest of Dale Jarvis and had and hour to do a storytelling gig. My title was “A wildlife Vet in Africa 1965-2008”. I mixed folk tales and real-life adventures as I skip-stoned through 40-odd years of veterinary medicine in Africa. One account was how Kiboko the hippo king pleaded on behalf of his people with Ngai, the Great God who lives among the show-caped peaks of the mountains, to be allowed to live in the water because his skin was being so badly burnt by the hot sun. It was only after many requests that Ngai allowed it, but on three conditions.

First, Kiboko and his people must never eat fish again and must leave the water every night to feed exclusively on grass; second, they must wag their tails hard when they pass stool in order to show Ngai that there were no fish bones in among the droppings; and third, that during the day, when they were in the water, they must open their mouths wide to show that no fish bits were stuck there.

The evening ended up as Alison led us oldies on a pub crawl or sorts with a visit to O’Reilly’s pub where we sat enthralled as fiddlers, guitarists and a penny whistler entertained the large and happy crowd with a wonderful variety of Irish and local music.

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