Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Newfoundland berries and theatre

From St. John’s we headed to the tiny community of Daniel’s cove (six houses, one seventy-nine year-old resident) where fellow Banff Science Communications alumna Rhonda Normore had offered us the use of her cottage. The whales that pass by the remote northern point of the Baccalieu Trail of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula did not show themselves (it was a bit late in the season), but we did see two crows dive-bomb and generally harass an osprey over the bay. Later the osprey (presumably the same one) was rewarded when we saw it swoop and grab a fish from the waves.

We walked over the hills, picked berries and sat and watched the ocean as the tide rose and fell. The best of the berries were the abundant blueberries, delicious on our morning cereal, but the partridgeberries, which we had never met before, were not quite ripe. In this picture you can see both, and a third one, the bunchberry, which is not edible.

Then it was on to Trinity, where we had hoped to take in some of the local music scene. No dice, the place was almost morgue-like, as it tends to close down after Labour Day. We did get to a moving and fascinating one-man play put on by the Rising Tide Theatre Company. It was called It’s Like A Dream To Me and was set as a storytelling to old black and white photos about the life of a now one-hundred-and-five-year-old ex fisherman. Author Bertha Thorne had written the story as a book about her father, and Frank Holden, who played the part of the old fisherman with great conviction, had then turned it into this play. Good theatre that gave us a real feel for the times and struggles of Outport life.

From Trinity we moved on to Gros Morne National Park where we stayed with storyteller and balladeer Anita Best (more about her here) in the fishing village of Woody Point. This too was a magical time. Anita is a fluently bilingual balladeer, and a storyteller who specializes in fairy tales. She had stayed with us in Saskatoon during the annual Storytellers of Canada conference (you can find out more about this group here) and it was great to see her again. Sticking to the theatrical theme of this blog we were fortunate enough to be in Woody Point when Newfoundland singer-songwriter Ron Hynes performed a solo concert in the Woody Point Heritage Theatre. Not quite solo. When he saw Anita in the front row he at once invited her to come up and sing with him. He chose I Never Met A Liar (I Didn't Like), which he had co-written with Connie Hynes. You can see the delightful lyrics here, but there is some sort of legal wrangle over the actual recording, which is called 11:11 - Eleven By Eleven Newfoundland Women Sing, (1999) so you cannot hear Anita’s lively and funny rendition. No wonder her web page describes her as
a true renaissance artist in the Newfoundland folk / traditional scene

Our final session of theatre-related fun was at the Gros Morne Theatre Festival, in Cow Head on the northern peninsula. We saw two shows. The first was A Rum for the Money by Berni Stapleton, directed by Jeff Pitcher and told the story of three men engaged in rum smuggling form the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon to Newfoundland in the not-too-distant past. The author had done extensive interviews with real people who had played a part in the action, and the entire stage was the inside of a dory packed with casks. Clever stuff. This was followed by a cabaret and music evening called Neddy Norris Night that had been arranged and directed by Petrina Bromley.

It’s great to see the encouragement and support of the arts in Newfoundland, and better yet to hear that premier Danny Williams has at once reacted to the national government’s massive cuts to arts funding by replacing all of them out of provincial coffers.

Trip to Newfoundland

Without doubt the biggest disappointment about our trip to Newfoundland has been the fishing.

As small stream trout fishing is my number one obsession when it comes to rod and line I was keen to get a chance at the famous waters on “The Rock”.

This photo was taken by similarly addicted Jim Oosterhuis as we fished a small stream in the foothills of Canada’s Rocky Mountains in July 2008 and this one was taken almost 40 years ago by Henk Faberij de Jonge below a waterfall on the Kazita river high up in the Mount Kenya forest. The best Kenya flies were undoubtedly a Royal Coachman in clear water, or a Kenya bug when there was some colour in the stream. The Mrs. Simpson was also a very good bet. Just for the hell of it I tried a Royal Coachman in Alberta, with success!

Here is a good-sized rainbow from those Kenya days which was used to feed a camp of four the day before I had an exciting encounter with safari ants – I even had some hair (not much).

Here is Jim with a nice brown trout about to be returned to Alberta’s Bow River in 2008.

But I digress. We searched for medical conference for Jo, and after finding a family medicine one in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, I searched “Fishing Newfoundland” on my Mac.

Of course I got lots of hits. After winnowing out almost all of the ones on the first three pages of the Google list because they simply wanted me to stay at their Bed & Breakfast places or hire them as a guide, I made a couple of calls and was told that the fishing season had closed last year in late September and that both trout and salmon fishing were readily available all over the island. I would be able to stop at almost any small stream and dip a line. The major hit that came up was the Newfoundland and Labrador official 2008 Traveller’s guide, and it was plain that I could write away for a copy, so I did. It turned out to be one of the most useless pieces of paper (425 pages useless) that I have ever come across. There was nothing in about fishing, fishing seasons, fishing licenses, or anything other than references to fishing museums or one “Fishing Point Municipal Park.”

Perhaps for Newfoundland residents, who know their way around the island, the index of B&Bs, hotels and restaurants is useful. For the stranger it is merely confusing. You can get so far, and even find a night’s stopping point with as many or few stars to its name as you want, but can you find out where it is? Not unless you know the island.

In some cases I was even wrong about local knowledge. At least fifteen times locals agreed with me about the muddled guide and urged me to write to the ministry of tourism. Some of those locals make their living in the tourist industry. They do not seem to be impressed with the brochure, although they told me firmly that it is light years better than the 2007 version.

When I finally got to St. John’s and went into a fishing tackle shop to enquire about local flies and good spots I received a body blow. “I’m not going to sell you a license,” said the proprietor. “The trout fishing closes tomorrow.” He then showed me the 2008 Angler’s Guide, which had not come up on Google, and there it was. All trout waters closed on Sept 7th. At least half the reason for coming to Newfoundland had just gone up in smoke.

I later learned two things. Last year the trout seasons did indeed last until the third week of September, which would have suited me exactly, and some restricted catch-and-release salmon fishing is available until early October on three rivers. I did manage to get two-and-a-half days of guided salmon fishing on the lower Humber, and we saw some magnificent fish surface, but never hooked one.

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.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Gorillas, Conservation and Trouble in Paradise

One of the very best sources of news about conservation and wildlife issues cannot be considered a mainstream source of such information, but it is very much a mainstream source of world news. It is the BBC news web site that you can find here.

Within the site it is easy to navigate to almost anywhere in the world, and two recent reports caught my eye.

The first is a well-edited film clip, is titled Turmoil Troubles Masai Reserve and its subheading reads “Kenya's tourism slump after the recent political violence is threatening the Masai Mara game reserve.” You can find the footage here.

It opens with a shot of a small group of elephants walking across the grassy plain but quickly shifts to an interview with a Maasai community leader who tells of his struggles to look after his family in the face of collapsing tourist industry income. The original post was made in March this year, and I do not have the most recent information about any recovery. Maybe a reader has more to tell us. Let’s hope it is less pessimistic than the clip.

My own shots from the Mara bring back happy memories of several visits.

The second BBC item can be found by going directly to at this URL, or accessed through the gorilla wildlifedirect spot of the blog here about the desperately difficult situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the park rangers who try to protect the Virunga area. They concentrate on two closely related things, gorillas and charcoal.

It is headed Diary: Protecting Mountain Gorillas and the sub reads “Two rangers share their experiences of protecting mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, DR Congo".

The most recent post on the direct blog tells of a horror story in a troubled land. The heading reads Ranger Shot 12 Times and Killed in Virunga by Rebels. Over to you.

On the lighter side, for a bit of what she titles “Tee hee hee” humour about my own blog series you can go to writer, director, actor and television host (not to mention award winner) Nicole Stamp’s blog.