The Ravens of Shoe Cove

“Would you take the dog for a walk, please?” my farmer asked, hoping to encourage me out of myself for a couple of hours. Not having slept well for two nights, I wasn’t really in the mood to face the overcast day or the chilling winds, but I had no excuse.

“Come on, Nina,” I said. “Let’s hike to Shoe Cove.”

The dog needed no further urging. She was already at the door, her tail signalling enthusiasm for the proposed outing.

The entrance to the Shoe Cove trail, at the Pouch Cove end, faces the ocean. Today, waves crash against the rocky shoreline. A few scattered snowflakes are frozen on the muddy trail. Nina and I enter the trail slightly intimidated by the weather, which has a sinister feel to it this time. On our left, a sheer descent is at times only a metre from where we tread, and because we’ve had rain in recent days, there are many streams racing across the trail and down the cliff side, making our footing treacherous.

Nina runs ahead once we get into the overgrowth, fragrant with cedar, larch and balsam, and bright with a lush mossy carpet everywhere. I too relax, remove my gloves and hat, and unzip my jacket. The wind is blocked behind the scrub brush and the sound of the waves is muted.

My steps slow down now that the dog is off leash, and my mind wanders back to the previous evening. After dinner, my farmer had asked me something startling.

“Would you like me to read your runes?”

“My runes?” I said, unsure whether I’d heard this normally unsentimental woman correctly.

Runes are the letters that pre-date the Latin alphabet for Germanic languages. They’ve been retained for specialized purposes in various cultures, including divination. It felt too hocus-pocus for me, but I could hardly tell her ‘No’.

Putting a dark, cloth bag on the table, she directed me to pull three stones from it. I was careful to place them in order of selection, on the table. I had selected Laguz, Ing and Isa.

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My first rune, Laguz, literally means water or lake. The Atlantic Ocean, I thought. What I’ve been staring at out my bedroom window for a month. That’s interesting!

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“Laguz means intuitive knowledge,” my farmer explained. “No matter what troubles beset you, you will be more than capable of dealing with them.”

Ing or the God Ingwaz means something almost always positive.

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My farmer was delighted with these first two runes. “Ing indicates that the force is available to you at this time to complete any projects,” she said. “You can expect a successful conclusion.”

My final rune, Isa, represents ice.

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When I pulled this rune from the bag, my farmer sighed. “I don’t like this one at all,” she told me. “It means a freeze, or a cessation. Put all plans on hold for the moment. Expect delays and frustrations. Be patient.”

Back on the trail, Nina was by my side, patiently hoping for a biscuit. Optimistically, she sat in front of me, her eyes watching my hand.

Because we had stopped, I took a moment to look around us, more aware of our surroundings suddenly. Nina broke her biscuit apart and stooped to collect the first half. On the path beside her biscuit was a black feather. Picking it up, I realized this was no crow’s feather. It was a larger bird, like a seagull maybe, but black. A raven.

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Two weeks ago, I was experiencing some uncertainty about my role in Pouch Cove. Our neighbour Dan had sensed my concerns and invited me to his deck for a coffee. He suggested I lean back and close my eyes, and then walked me through a visualization exercise.

“Imagine everything you want in your future, to as fine a detail as you can,” he suggested.

I’m terribly pragmatic by nature. Still, I like Dan and wanted to please him, so I did as I was told. I imagined living in a neat little wooden structure by the sea, with a cat and some chickens, a totem pole in the yard, some good friends and even a long-term companion. It was a pretty picture. Not very likely, but pretty nonetheless. I opened my eyes feeling some satisfaction just as a bird called above us. A large, black bird, circling and calling assurances.

We get ravens here in Pouch Cove. It hardly seems possible, but I’ve seen them, and so have the neighbours. Our neighbour two doors down stopped me one day to tell me that he’d watched a raven make off with one of our baby chicks in its beak. I wasn’t sure whether I could become fond of such barbaric creatures. My farmer was more circumspect.

“We have too many chickens anyway,” she sighed. “Let’s hope it was a rooster.”

Nina and I continue our hike as I ponder all these moments from my time in Pouch Cove. Only a month here, yet it seems so much longer. I’ve learned to tend chickens, but also goats.

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I’ve painted an entire barn, and then mucked it out. I’ve assisted with the Bed and Breakfast, and done lots of entertaining. I’ve harvested three kinds of potatoes, including the lovely blue heritage variety.

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And I’ve foraged for mushrooms and rosehips and more types of berries than you can shake a stick at, as they say.

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St. John’s has become dear to my heart already

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and I can’t imagine a week without a hike along the East Coast Trail.

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It’s been a busy, productive month, but not without its worries.

We come to the path that leads down into Shoe Cove, a sheltered area where the wind is blowing the waves madly against the walls, foam spraying up far above our heads. Nina scoots down the embankment ahead of me and disappears into the woods on the other side. We’ve reached our destination, so to celebrate this small victory, I sit on a large rock to watch the waves come in and to ponder again my future plans. What should I do? Should I stay and try to contribute to the community?

“uuuuUUCCGGG,” something screams above me. I look up. Two ravens are circling above the cove.

“uuuuUUCCGGG,” the other bird screams in response.

I’ve never seen a raven before: I wonder why there are so many raven portents in Newfoundland.

Standing up, I realize time is passing; the farmer has asked me to be back by 4 p.m. to assist with Hallowe’en. Tonight is a time set apart for spiritual journeys. Perhaps also for spirit guides, like ravens who’ve witnessed many of my Pouch Cove doings.

“uuuuUUCCGGG,” says the raven again, a final salutation before they disappear out of the cove.

Before I left Toronto, my friend Josh had warned me that I might at first feel overwhelmed at the amount of solitude I’d face on the farm, that living in such an isolated community would have its challenges. He held me close. “You’ll get through the first month somehow, and then everything will come together. It’ll be amazing.”

I’ve come through the first month affected deeply by the magic of the landscape and the ocean view, moved by the warmth and honesty of the people and embraced into a community that wants to include me in some excellent projects.

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Even better, I feel completely accepted by a very agreeable band of madcap animals who take turns lying on my bed uninvited, chirping and purring in my ear, baaing for handouts and growling for walks. My chores are punctuated by head noogies and bum rubs, raspberries into cat bellies and clucking noises into a one-legged chicken’s feathers. Suddenly, my mind is made up.

“Nina, come!” I shout. “Time to get home. We’re wanted at the farm!”

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Foraging Like a Graffiti Artist

In my travels, I see a lot of graffiti. One of the things I’ve noticed about graffiti is that the artists sometimes choose to leave their work in challenging locations, called heaven spots. Wikipedia describes it like this:

Heaven spots are pieces that are painted in hard-to-reach places such as rooftops and freeway signs, thus making them hard to remove. Such pieces, by the nature of the spot, often pose dangerous challenges to execute, but may increase an artist’s notoriety. This term also encompasses a double-meaning as the locations are often very dangerous to paint there and it may lead to death, thus, going to heaven (also known as “hitting up the heavens”).

As Thomas and I followed Elke along the coastline this afternoon, and listened to her description of the foraging activity she had planned for us, I was reminded of these graffiti artists. I wondered momentarily whether Elke had tired of our services. You see, we were collecting Newfoundland cranberries today, and cranberries only grow in remote, hard-to-reach locations.

“They only grow along the cliffs where it’s wet,” she explained as she descended a narrow, muddy trail that led down the side of the coastline.

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Just the descent was treacherous. There are no trees or shrubs to cling to, so you’re left with grasping any nearby grasses and praying they’re well anchored. As with all the foraging exploits we’ve been on so far, I began this one full of doubt but reliant on Elke, whose experience in all things foraging surpasses my craziest notions.

“They grow underneath, so you have to uncover them,” Elke told us.

Halfway down the trail, Elke pointed.

“Here,” she directed me. “Here are some berries. You see them?” And with that, she wandered off to another part of the coastline, leaving me to my own devices. I leaned tentatively to where she pointed. Seeing the berries, I suddenly realized I had tufts of long grass clasped firmly in one hand and a large plastic container tucked under my other arm. Picking cranberries with both hands occupied and my body clinging precariously to a nearly vertical descent was the next mystery I had to untangle. However, I knew that cranberries are one of my very favourite fruits, and I’m a pretty determined gal.

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How others manage this feat, I don’t know. Thomas got the hang of it before I did, but for  me it meant setting the plastic tub down in a rocky nook nearby, planting both feet against solid rock and keeping my centre of gravity low.

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The first five minutes were apprehensive, but I overcame that quickly when I realized how plentiful, how tart, and just how magical these cranberries were. They looked exactly like the cranberries I’ve been buying in plastic bags at the supermarket all these years!

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“We look like typical Newfoundlanders,” Elke commented on the way home. “Almost everyone around here goes out with a container on the weekend and collects berries,” she mused. With that comment my foraging heart felt terribly at home, even though the adventure involved a little of the old “risking life and limb” to accomplish our ends. We’d walked two minutes from the farm house, descended the magnificent but incredibly unforgiving cliff face, and foraged a most welcome Thanksgiving treat.

ah, Cranberry and Orange Loaf!
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
chopped walnuts
1 egg
grated orange rind
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup oil
1 cup cranberries
Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately, then add to dry ingredients.
Bake 45 – 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

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