"If in Paradise you hear a voice
directly from your maker,
you still can't stay in Dead man's Cove
they have no undertaker." - Newfoundland and Labrador Dictionary
You rattle and shake down coastal roads - they lean to the water as your body leans to the cliffs. Guard rails (if there are any) are more of an ornament now than a safety barrier. They cling to god knows what at 30 degree angles. You get out of the car and take in the view - there is no traffic, just the rumblings of distant thunder storms and some drizzle. You've done this before on other roads and in other communities. Another preliminary survey to gain information. Follow the road - it always ends at a wharf.
Upper Island Cove. You don't drive out on the wharf. Cracked concrete, doors of storage units blown out, detritus from fishing gear and partying. You're told the boats are now over at Harbour Grace. Still though, you can see the town is beautiful. Old and new dwellings pepper the coastline - survivors - kids scream away at the local school in incoherent diction.
You stop in the local Mini Mart. Owners are priceless. You over hear some storm chatter as someone ahead of you buys an abstract amount of candy, chips, and pop. You're asked right away "where ya from" and "where ya stayin'" while you purchase India Beer with a lab pictured on the can - "Man's best friend". You can't resist.
You find your sanctuary by the sea. It's perfect. Framed by two dwellings, you meet one neighbour while unloading the car. His name is George and he informs you he is a mystic spiritual minister who once lived in Halifax. You have a long chat because that's what you do when in Newfoundland. The neighbour on the other side is invisible - you will only catch a brief movement from him in about two weeks - he is George's opposite. You just know you're going to love this place. You unpack art supplies, food and wine and beer.
Your saltbox is tall and dignified. From upstairs the window view is ocean without land, Hopperesque, you question whether you're not on a boat. Crows cackling out back - out front pilot whales - in the bay. You go downstairs and sit down with a glass of wine. Between the ceiling joists are sculptural fish swimming out of town. For the moment you've joined them.
You get in your wagon the next day and drift. This place finds you. You paint and yarn with him and it. You return to Salty to touch up, finish up a water painting on the places' dining table. Picture maker in Upper Island Cove - dining table makeshift easel. You prepare supper - it's cod fish night in Canada. Tomorrow you will drift up the shore to Ochre Pit, Old Perlican, Grates Cove.
In towns and cities one can generally rely on sound footing. Out here it's a step away from certain death. You get used to it. An uncertain demarcation, a crumbling sinkhole next to a cliff, gusty wind shifts, a boggy spot to upset your reality and balance and well... one joins the dust of fools.
But a crevasse when the tide is incoming is worth it, a nap on the stony edge while the tide sizzles its logic far down below brings you back to a watery echo chamber of dreams past and present. You're glad to be back. You're reminded there is a hurricane coming - you make a note to yourself "this ain't no disco".
You just know Larry's a bastard. He won't show himself by day - rather he comes knocking by night. Not like a Mummer, but as an invisible force. You wonder if George the spiritual minister knows anything about this stuff, but you chukle to yourself and have a glass of wine, it's just another category one to go through. You search for a radio in a packed bin in the basement just in case. You've secured the hatches and Larry arrives right on cue. The top floor rocks - you tell yourself: "go down stairs dude" just in case. You're on the sofa, with a blanket, listening to the roaring lungs of Larry creep through the stove vent. Larry vents till around five in the morning. At sunrise you go out to survey the damage - not so bad. You say goodbye to Larry and realize you don't even like the name Larry.
You just know it's a serious fishing town, so you make a picture of it. Or, maybe you call it - building without a window. You don't know. Further on down there are million dollar boats. You don't paint them ... too many thingamabobs. You always look for a gut reaction when entering a cove. So you walk around this red wharf building and can't find a window, just a door. You can't see in, they can't see out. You wonder how you can lose with a place called Grave.
It's Sunday so you drift on up to their church for the view. Time is suspended for a while, they gossip and banter as you note how they exit from the service and ponder your Bosox shirt and wandering expression. They really don't care. Believers or nonbelievers, it was peace on the rock and a momentary break from the grind.
The road to Argentia has mixed feelings for you. One being the love of a place you leave behind, the other being the love of place you imagine. You wake, you imagine, you dream, and then you encounter a check point. You press on. An over night ferry to Sidney is waiting for you. Your reconnaissance is over. You have a few paintings, some notes, a few drawings and numerous photographs You already are, as someone once mentioned to you, "Jonesing for the Rock." Next time maybe the western shore.
PS Salty by the Sea is a perfect place to retreat to or vacation. It is operated by Lisa Meecham
Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS