Fate in Newfoundland

Tail Flip

Last week I returned from a ten-day trip with two friends to Newfoundland. We drove to Montreal and from there flew via Halifax, Nova Scotia, into St. John’s. Given that Newfoundland is so large and there is so much to see, we limited our itinerary to the southwest peninsulas, spending most of the time on the Avalon peninsula, exploring places along the “Irish Loop,” the provincial highway that circles it. I will definitely return to Newfoundland in the future, but mid-way through this trip, we drove five hours to the Burin Peninsula and took the Cabestan Ferry to St. Pierre, a little island territory under French control. There, all people and things are French:  Euros, pastries, cuisine, architecture, cars, you name it.

We stayed in France a day, returning to Newfoundland on much smoother seas, thank goodness, and drove another five hours to Whiteway, a little village on the southeast coast of Trinity Bay.  There, the cold weather broke and during our last two days, we were able to experience the beginning of the beautiful Newfoundland summer that comes just a wee bit later than it does here in Vermont.

Fate in Newfoundland

The waitress said, “When
the capelin leave, the cold
weather will follow them.”

Capelin-cold, we wore
wool hats and fleece at the Ferry-
land light house: the sacrifice
for watching whales in the bay.

Thus we became acquainted
with at least ten whales
in Tor’s Cove and Bay Bulls,
heard of more than 50
congregating between
St. John’s and Witless Bay,
and still more sanctifying
the southern coast of Avalon;
each leviathan purging
20 hours of every
day on multitudes
of four-inch capelin.

Three days later, sixty
miles into the sleeve
of Trinity Bay, aboard
The Irish Mist, eagles’
wings glinted in
unexpected sun
until a small fishing
boat, keeping vigil
over two humpbacks
in New Harbour, summoned us.
They waited for our arrival,
stayed another hour,
and the two great baleens

glided to the edge of our boat,
skimmed under the hull
and circled the craft in ceremony,
their white flippers glowing
turquoise  below the surface;

they raised their noses far
out above the water
like bell towers jutting
above lowly plains,
and hung in the air to look
at us before dipping
gently back in. Great
barnacles anointed their chins.

They rolled over, exposing
themselves, and blew a trail
of bathtub-sized bubbles
that rose along the boat,

played follow-the-leader
taking turns to arch
their backs before their silent,
slow-motion flip
of tail-wings. They opened

their blowholes, close enough
for their explosive breaths
to bless us with the sea,
and chattered back and forth,

so I could not help
but contemplate – could not
help but fully believe –

they were planning it all,
squealing jokes, exclaiming
their recognition, singing,

“I’m here,
and I still love you.”

The Epigraph

From www.merriamwebster.com:
1an engraved inscription
2. quotation set at the beginning of a literary work or one of its divisions to suggest its theme

I once took one of my poems with an epigraph to a poetry workshop. I had used a line from one of Walt Whitman’s poem’s to open my own work. The professor’s response to it was that the poem must live up to the epigraph. I got the message: if I am using a quote from someone like Whitman, what follows better be pretty darn good. So what if I use the words of a waitress to open my work? Does this mean that, given the set-up, regardless what follows, can only be quotidian?

I hope not. I found the comment the waitress made fascinating. She gave such power to the capelin. The order of the events in her statement shifted logic: the capelin don’t leave due to warmer waters after the weather changes; instead, they leave and the weather follows them. It reminded me of the following haiku by Sally Anderson:

The geese flying south
In a row long and V-shaped
Pulling in winter

Like the geese, I love the image of capelin pulling the weather, taking the cold and rain out of Trinity Bay as they leave. But beyond that, I love the way the waitress’s statement – whether intentionally or not – reorders things. It got me thinking (again) how things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface, how realities shift, how they can be re-interpreted, are as dynamic as the ever-changing world we live in.

In the essay, “On Epigraphs” in the on-line magazine The Millions that covers books, art and culture, Andrew Tutt asks, “Should epigraphs be thought of as part of the text, a sort of pre-modern, post-modern device, like tossing a newspaper clipping into the body narrative? Or are they actually a direct invitation by the author, perhaps saying, ‘Look here, for from this inspiration came this tale?’”

And here is Tutt’s short answer (but please read the entire essay as Tutt makes many good points and discusses a sampling of epigraphs, some effective, some not):
“Epigraphs must count as part of the text because they affect the way the text is read, and therefore are tied more to the text than to the author. They belong to the text, regardless of the way the author feels.”

I thought about doing away with the epigraph in the poem above, and I may do so in subsequent drafts, but it actually was part of my inspiration for the poem. The main inspiration was the incredible experience itself, of course, but the waitress’s casual comment at our dinner after the whale encounters allowed me to accept different possibilities of the experience. That little bit of information and how she delivered it confirmed what I thought was happening, which was the celebration of life.

RELATED LINKS (Poems, Places, Books, Videos, Events, etc.):
The 25 Greatest Epigraphs in Literature (at least according to one source).
What a Whale Sees – very interesting article on whale eyes.

And some of my photos from the trip. Click on each to see the entire photo:

Humpback Whale Playing

Whale and Barnacles


Fox Island, Newfoundland


Light House at the Narrows, St. John’s Harbour, Newfoundland

St. John’s Newfoundland.

Whale at Boat