Red Bay

Rifling through old peices for another post, I came across some fragments that I'd written about Red Bay in Labrador. 

We spent a few days on an island at the northern tip of Newfoundland at a lighthouse. En route, we visited Rocky Harbour where we'd stayed many years before. I remember looking at the town and thinking about how long it had been, but even that memory is twelve years old now. We visited Anse Aux Meadows and saw the ruins of the Viking settlement there. A race memory, this time. On Quirpon island we watched humpback whales from the tops of the cliffs and then, on a long walk, one of the great beasts came a little way out of the water on a steep shingle beach and looked right at us.

On the way home, we decided to cross the water to the nethermost part of Quebec and from there drive into Labrador. Some way up the coast there is a small town called Red Bay. It's an old mining town in a tiny part given over to the kind of touristy things that work when you get one or two tourists a week. Across from the town there is a beach and some old industrial ruins.

On the beach there are bones. Lots of bones. More whalebones than a human being can safely look at and not feel ashamed. I'm ashamed to say that I couldn't even bear to look. 

I hadn't forgotten that short side trip, because it burned me, but I had forgotten the details until I looked back at what I'd written after that visit. Like a scar that is always there, part of your identity, with the details of how it got there faded into the background.


Patterns in the Deep Cold

A couple of years ago, I seemed to spend a lot of nights in London on different trips, as though some strange harmonic had imposed itself temporarily on my life. Indeed, I haven't spent a night there since. A few weeks ago I left the Night Planted Orchard in the grips of February warm spell and headed for Minnesota. Minnesota was deeply cold. Cold and dry to the point that the night air scratches at your scalp and stings your lungs. There was deep snow on the ground and the temperature never rose above minus five centigrade. Long icicles formed all over the car, a thing I don't recall ever seeing in the fens.

I came home expecting to find spring. Instead I found it equally cold. Unnaturally cold for England. We had the same snow on the ground. The air scratched at me and burned me when I took a breath. Icicles grew on the car. It was as though I had physically moved from one place to another, but someone had forgotten to change the weather. 

A most strange symmetry.


The Hunter

The hunter is not so small now. The white hairs under his chin have spread around the bottom of his muzzle. He still loves to play, but sometimes avoids heavy rain and wind. When he rises, he's a little slower than he was. He won't lie in his bed if he's still damp from the river and frets a little if he's cold and damp. He has escaped from the garden a couple of times in the last few months, taking himself for a walk, meeting and greeting in his own unquiet way. 

When I try to fathom that he is in all probability past the mid-point of his life, my mind will not confront that idea.



It is the last day of August. There is dew on the ground, the morning air is cold and mist clings to the fens. May was intensely hot and the summer was wet between long bursts of sunshine. The fruit which survived the blast of late frost is early this year. The orchard is a teeming factory of small creatures. The new mulberry is all new shoots and leaves, having been left for dead by the frost. There was a single mulberry on it earlier, but some creature stole it. Beyond that the medlar which seemed to have ignored the frost, lost all its fruit later. There is a gala apple tree which I have saved from a cancrous stump, now beautifully shaped. Its fruit are bigger and cleaner than before. Beyond that the Old Laughing Lady is fat with plums. We can't reach it's upper branches even with our tallest ladder, so it mocks us. Dragonflies rattle about its branches and there is the first hint of how this place works. The Night Planted Orchard is thick with dragonflies. Great fat beasts who patrol the branches like little foremen, taking out the small insects that we can hardly see. They are the first hint of the source of the rude health of the orchard. Tucked inside a hedge is another, a box for a fat snuffling hedgehog. The hedges are trim and let in light and wind. We have dug a ditch to take away some of the water. A new pond is coming when I have the time and energy. I have reached the clay, the rest of the digging will be hard. There is a tribe of robins here, including one who has followed us day after day from the time it was fledged. It had no fear of us before it even grew its red feathers. 


The Corpse-like Copse

There is something about a grove of quaking aspens that makes you look twice. Perhaps it's the striking pale bark against the dark interior of the forest, or the uniform ranks of trunks like a small, tall army. They seem somehow apart from other trees. They meet in huddles, like gangmembers, huddled together but each individual stiff and erect. Close up they have a corpse like sheen, white touched with yellow-green, slashed with black scars. In bright sunshine their bark has a touch of white gold, or perhaps another, rarer metal. Their broken-off lower branches are framed in smooth ridges which make them look like eyes. The growth ridges on the trunks look almost like the tree is wrapped in bandages, like a mummy in a black and white movie. Saplings push up from the mountain earth, rising from a single root system. A thousand trunks, one tree, making this the largest organism on Earth and one of the oldest too. Groves last tens of thousands of years.

A quaking aspen is rightly a white poplar. Near to the Night Planted Orchard there is a grove of native black poplar, vanishingly rare now.