Terre Neuve, Part One, the Trip Northeast

August 7, 2010

In an odd confluence of circumstances, as of early this summer I had visited forty-nine of the fifty US states, and nine of the ten Canadian provinces. I had had every intention of picking off the remaining state, North Dakota, twenty-some years ago while on a cross-country trip with my daughter Jenifer. She really wanted to see Mt. Rushmore, though, and our time was growing short, so we diverted southward, skirting North Dakota altogether. I haven’t had the occasion to be back in that part of the country since. On the Canadian side, I had made the trip from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island on a couple of occasions, which takes in eight of the ten provinces, and I had visited (my) number nine, Nova Scotia, countless times over the years. Newfoundland, however, requires a commitment. It is the easternmost of the provinces, and it is not really on the way to anywhere. It is a destination unto itself, and one that for some reason had not resonated with me until reading The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx’ 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which is set in a small Newfoundland village. The barren water’s edge landscapes depicted in the book (and later in the film of the same name) are a homing beacon to anyone born an islander.

As I said, it takes a bit of dedication to visit Newfoundland. There are basically three ways to get there: by air, and by one of two car ferries. I investigated all three (1: air, hugely expensive, and requiring a rental car at a whopping $140 per day, plus a kilometer charge, and get this, that price is for a mid-size Buick!; 2: ferry to Argentia, on the east coast, fourteen hours each way, also pricey, after which there is a long road trip across the island’s interior), finally settling upon 3: driving from Prince Edward Island to North Sydney, Nova Scotia, and then taking the shorter (five hours, more or less) of the two ferries to Port-aux-Basques, on the southwest coast of Newfoundland. From there I would drive several hundred kilometers north to Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It is said that getting there is half the fun, and nowhere does that ring truer than in the Maritime Provinces. Leaving PEI by ferry on a sunny day is an experience not to be missed. The seventy-five minute-long boat trip to Caribou, Nova Scotia is just long enough to avail oneself of the homemade (well, ship-made) breakfast in the deck-level cafeteria, then to go topside for immense lungfuls (lungsful?) of fresh salt air. Heading eastward through Nova Scotia, you pass through the college town of Antigonish, home of St. Francis Xavier University, and the oldest continuous highland games in North America. Cross the Canso Causeway, and you are on Cape Breton Island, the only place I have found in North America where the road signs are bilingual, in English and Gaelic!

The scenic highway winds its way alongside Lake Bras d’Or, passing through the impossibly charming village of Baddeck, where I had the pleasure of meeting Tucker, the Flying Black Lab. Tucker was capable of repeatedly launching himself from a wooden dock into the chilly waters of Lake Bras d’Or to retrieve a rope toy he had fetched in similar fashion only moments before. (In the background can be seen the uber-spendy yacht belonging to the owner of the Tim Horton donut shop chain, a staple of every town in Canada, and making inroads into the US as well.)

Baddeck is also the home of the Alexander Graham Bell museum; Bell retired nearby at the end of an illustrious career which included not just the invention of the telephone, but also the metal detector, the development of a practical hydrofoil boat, and the aileron (a means of controlling the roll of an airplane, which is still in use in contemporary aircraft).

An hour or so northeast of Baddeck is the port city of North Sydney, where we would wait (and wait and wait and wait) for the ferry, a very common occurrence, as I would come to find out. But first we would pass through someplace that no red-blooded man should miss; I believe the sign just about says it all:

Note: as is often the case, thanks to Saki-chan for the great pix; any blurry ones are undoubtedly mine, and the good ones are hers!

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Hiroshima Day

August 7, 2010

Today in downtown Charlottetown, a small but dedicated group of peace-loving folks gathered outside Province House to memorialize one of the defining moments of the 20th century, the detonation of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. I was not quite the baby of the group, but judging by appearances, most of the people in attendance had at least been born by the time the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay released its deadly payload over the unsuspecting denizens of Hiroshima. Many in the ranks carried signs, some protesting the current Canadian involvement in Afghanistan; a trio of elderly men hefted a large poster-board with a picture of the Hiroshima devastation, underscored by a quote from recently deceased activist Howard Zinn: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people…”  The final part of the quote was omitted, whether from space limitations or ideological differences, I couldn’t tell: “…for a purpose which is unattainable.” Whatever else one might say, however, the purpose was not unattainable; the intent of the bomb was to speed the Pacific front of the war to a close, to bring the Japanese government to its knees, and it did exactly that with the utmost dispatch.

I have had two tenuous connections with Hiroshima over the past several years, one firsthand and one a very near second-hand. My first-person experience with the city was as a member of a Japanese bus tour to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial; I was the only non-Japanese aboard the bus, and feeling distinctly like a koi out of water, as you might imagine. Never mind that I am Canadian (the Canadian armed forces did most of their fighting in the European Theatre), and born well after that fateful day, I was still the closest available representation of the hand of destruction, and more than a little aware of that fact. When I took my turn to strike the large bronze peace bell, the ice began to break. It melted completely when my leaky eyes betrayed me in front of the statue of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who survived the bombing, only to contract the “atom bomb disease”, leukemia, a few years later. Believing in the old Japanese legend that one who folds 1000 origami cranes will be granted a wish, she embarked on the task, succumbing after completing only 644. As the story goes, her friends completed the 1000 cranes, and they were buried with her. Even now, Japanese school children fold origami cranes in her memory, and the colorful creations can be found throughout Hiroshima. I challenge even the crustiest of curmudgeons to remain unmoved in the face of Sadako’s statue.

My other Hiroshima connection actually dates from a few years earlier, to perhaps 2000-ish, at which point I attended the fifty-something reunion of the engineers who worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. My stepfather, John Carroll (Jack) Pennock, was one of that august group, a young officer with little notion of the magnitude of his assignment, just that if it worked, it could in some form or fashion dramatically affect the outcome of the war. Over the years, we had had our differences (occasionally loud ones) regarding the use of nuclear weapons, with Jack taking the position that the early end of the war actually saved countless Japanese lives (and American lives as well, of course), while I championed the “Give Peace a Chance” stance, firmly asserting that Pandora’s box should have forever remained unopened. Now that it has been opened, however, I have a huge difficulty seeing how it can ever be closed again, despite the fact that a nuclear weapon-free world is a laudable goal, at least in the abstract. One problem: if the US were to give up its nukes, how do we all ensure that some rogue fundamentalist faction plays by the same rules? I’d like to be optimistic, truly I would, but history seems to side with the pessimists at every turn.

I read a great story, probably apocryphal, sometime back, about a CNN reporter who was sent to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to interview an elderly rabbi who unfailingly said his prayers there on a twice-daily basis. He had been engaged in this ritual for some fifty years, and was quite the legend in the holy city.

“What do you pray for?” the reporter asked, holding the microphone toward the rabbi to catch his reply.

“Well,” he said, considering, “peace between the Jews and the Arabs, a safe environment for our children to grow up in, an end to the hatred and hostility that has plagued our people for generations…”

“And how do you feel it is working?” the reporter asked.

The rabbi gave her a resigned look and said, “It’s like I’m talking to a #%@%# wall.”

Still, human frailties notwithstanding, we have managed to go sixty-five years without detonating another atomic weapon in anger. Let’s raise a glass to the notion of another sixty-five, shall we?