These are gannets at St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. The dark birds are the young, by now as large as their parents. The one with the fuzzy head is even younger than the one with a smooth head. All this has nothing to do with gardens or with the post below, except that Chris works with these birds, and told me about the garden. In the post below.
This seems to be my week for error. Apparently, much of what I said in my first post from Newfoundland was, well, incorrect, to put it delicately. Aw shucks, let’s just say it: from garden drainage to the “best place in the world,” I got it wrong. Here’s the list:
1) Our B&B host at the extreme southern tip of the island kept saying, “Best place in the world.” That much I got right. But where I implied that he was referring to all Newfoundland, it’s become pretty clear that he had something much more specific in mind: his home town, Branch. I’ve got two pretty good pieces of evidence to support this claim.
First of all, he travelled and worked across Canada for two years after high school, but when he figured out what he wanted to do, he came back to Newfoundland, and when he’d gotten the degree that would let him do it, he came back to Branch. That’s home-town loyalty. Secondly, referring to the home-coming year CDs put out by Branch and the neighboring town of St. Bride’s, he averred that Branch’s singers were much better. (He’s one of them.) Me, I’m bowled over by the idea of reunions held by and for an entire town, and I think all the singers are pretty darn good. (Even if he is one of them.)
Chris and Priscilla continue to astonish me. While Chris was in university in St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, he courted a girl he’d known all his life, and married her. He eventually pried her loose from the university after she’d racked up three post-graduate degrees, returned to his home-town of several hundred inhabitants, and got a job in his field of wildlife management. I call that success. I also call it amazing. As for Priscilla, apparently she sorted through her various degrees, picked social work, and got a job in that field in the biggish town forty-five minutes up the coast. Then they built and opened the B&B. “It pays for her student loans,” he told me. Was that his tongue in his cheek? I’m not sure.
2) I was sure that Priscilla would know why the garden trenches went up and down hill, instead of being dug across the slope. Wrong again. She had no idea.
“The garden was my idea,” she explained, “and then Chris and his dad did all the work.” I had to laugh with her. Everyone down in the village had told her that nothing would grow way up on their hill (the place isn’t called The Cliff House for nothing), that there wouldn’t be enough sunshine, but her broccoli and cabbages proved them wrong. The one squash had never done well, though, and the lettuce in the first row had also been sickly and eventually died off. We shrugged, wondering why.
When I asked if she’d considered composting her household garbage, she leaned towards me with an almost covert excitement. As mayor, she said, she wanted to bring in an expert to talk to the townspeople about composting and recycling, “to promote how important this is, you know?” Then, the government (or an institution?) would actually provide composters for each household. Her glow, describing these composters, rivaled the enthusiasm other women might show as they described a necklace. I love it.
3) Actually, I was pretty sure I knew why those trenches ran downhill: to facilitate drainage. When I went back to Chris with my question, a rattle of syllables came at me. “What?” I asked, my usual response to anything he said. No one talks faster, or has more carefully preserved his Newfoundland accent, a curious blend of the broad, flat vowels common from Maine to Buffalo that make “pot” almost rhyme with “hat,” and pure Irish, at least in this area known as the Irish loop, which is the only place I’ve heard people say “he’s after going down to the coast.” Then there are elements unique to Newfoundland. Pointing at a picture of a bird, Chris said it was a “tick-bill murre,” which earned him my usual “What?”
“Tick,” he said. “Tick-bill.”
“You would say ‘thick,’ but I say ‘tick,’ and I always will.” Apparently, if he ever started saying “thick,” he’d have to renounce his Newfoundland citizenship. Why should he change how he talked? People adjusted; the photographer who stayed with them for seven weeks left talking just like him, he asserted.
“Poor woman,” Steve ragged him.
According to Chris, men adjusted to his speech quicker than women. “Your dad understands me. Don’t you, Terry?”
Dad leaned forward, all courteous attention. “I beg your pardon?”
As for the garden trenches, he repeated his answer for me: “It’s easier.”
“It’s easier than digging downhill.”
“But why not horizontal trenches?”
He shrugged. “That’s how everyone does it. And it’s easier to dig uphill. First one I did, I dug downhill—ooh. Hard on the back.”
So much for that theory of mine.
Then I asked why the garden was off a ways from the house. Drainage?
He shook his head. Another rattle of syllables, another “what?” another explanation:
“The soil’s better.”
Again I stared. The fellow must think me tick in the head.
This time I laughed outright, thinking of the pictures I’d taken and posted to show how stony the soil was, there in the garden.
“No, this is like beach stones here,” he said, pointing out the window at his “yard” and referring to the many beaches covered with stones rather than sand.
I was still gaping, but he’d gone on to explain that he’d fertilized the garden with seaweed, composting it over the winter, then sandwiching a layer between layers of dirt.
“That’s all natural, that is. No chemicals.”
Well, seaweed was best, I agreed. I had to buy mine, though. Chris said that in the old days, every yard would have a big pile of seaweed in the fall, composting for spring. Now, Priscilla told me, others grew potatoes in their back yards, but little else.
On reflection, I’m wondering whether lettuce and squash couldn’t tolerate the salt in seaweed, or simply the soil pH. Something to research.
I went off to watch gannets, reflecting that being set right by these folks was such a pleasure, I didn’t mind getting things wrong to begin with.