Born upon the bright blue sea

I knew that I was going to love Loyola O’Brien the minute I stepped on his boat and he gave the “little bit of a safety talk” and told us how to put on a life vest. “There’s two ways to put on a life vest” he told us, “The wrong way, and the right way, which is quickly me by’s, because she’s not a big boat, and if she goes down, she’s going fast.” Then he acknowledged that if the boat did go down, that the life vests would be of little help in the freezing North Atlantic, and suggested that if there were a little trouble, we put on the vests (the right way) and then follow him to the life boats in the back. The Captain, he advised us, would not be going down with the ship.


We sailed out of Bay Bulls, and as we did, Loyola sang “Fiddlers Green” into the waves as Greg sailed us out past the incredible rocks and caves carved by the surf, right past Witless bay, and out into the sea (big waves) to an ecological seabird reserve, all of us hoping to run into a whale on the way, and to out run the fog and the rain that are still dogging this trip. (I’m writing this on Sunday morning, and it’s raining again.)


The birds were really something. These are mostly common murres, known to Newfoundlanders by their two other names, according to Loyola. Some Newfoundlanders call them a Turr, and others use their more usual name, which is “delicious in a big pot of stew”.


There was boatloads of them. Just boatloads. They swooped and dove (more than 100 feet into the water for food) and I found out that they live for about 35 years, which seems to me to be a seriously good run for a life on the sea.


Those are puffin holes (and puffins, though they are a little wee in that picture) 60% of North America’s puffin population live on these islands off Witless bay, though only when they are breeding. The rest of the time they live all the way out on the open sea. Those burrows they make in the ground are .5 to 2.5m long (2-8ft) and the puffins use them like runways for takeoff. They dive and swoop and crash into the ocean, hunting up the capelin that they love to eat. Capelin is a little smelt fish that swarms by the millions and millions in the waters here, and are food for everything. Seabirds, squid, seals, cod….everything eats capelin, and when the capelin is running, the waters here are practically infested with every sea creature you can imagine, including whales at every turn.


This is a humpback whale, and I know the pictures aren’t very impressive, but the whale was. Huge guy. Massive. Maybe 14m long (that’s 46 ft). That’s his long pectoral fin above as he rolls in the water. He was travelling rather than eating this day, and he was fast. Loyola said that even though whales may seem to be alone, their calls carry so far in the water that this whale could have been answering a dinner call from his buddy whale two bays over, and in a whale context, they would still be “together”.


When the tail comes up like that it means that the whale is probably diving deep, just the way that your feet might come up if you’re going to the bottom of the pool. We followed this guy for a bit, and minke whales swam nearby us while we did.


That’s one of the three islands of the Witless Bay Ecological reserve. Chock full of those birds and whales and everything else, and not a single human.


That’s us. The sea looks still, but it’s not. Really not. Really not enough that even Joe took gravol, which shocked the snot out of me (and made me feel way better about being sort of green if I didn’t stay close to the water line.)


This is Greg, captain of the boat and all round good sport and fun guy. We had a blast.

Then it rained. (That’s starting to be really thematic.)

Regatta Day

I swear, this mobile civic holiday is the oddest thing. The whole province getting up at 6m to listen to the radio and find out if the weather is good enough to row on one little lake in Quidi Vidi – and if it is, the entire province closes and everyone has a holiday. Nobody goes to work, no mail comes, everything is closed….Newfoundland is a really big place, and every city, town, outport and village gets a proper day off on Regatta Day and the whole thing gets decided in the morning based on the weather. I’d say it was crazy but I’ve been living their weather for a couple of days now, and I totally get it.

This morning the sun finally came out a little, and the Royal St. John’s Regatta went grandly ahead after a two day delay, full of pomp, history and outstanding good humour. From the Grandparents backyard in Quidi Vidi we could see one end of the lake, and sure enough, rowers appeared straight away this morning, turning at this end before heading back to the party end of the lake. There’s a whole lot of races run all day, whittling down the teams until there’s only the male and female championships left to run in the evening, so we did some other stuff before heading down. I for one, finished a sock.


That’s the first of a pair of Hibiscus for Hope socks (you can get the pattern by sponsoring Ramona in the 60k walk that is the Toronto weekend to end breast cancer fundraiser) in the very pretty and pink “Rosebud” STR – lightweight.


I left the other half of the skein balled up on my chesterfield in Toronto, but Ken launched a rescue by sending it along to me here…

Unfortunately, today was Regatta Day and no mail delivery (and Saturdays don’t have mail delivery in Canada at all – never mind in Quidi Vidi) so I’m hoping it will turn up soon. Pretty single sock non-the less. Finishing that meant I had to take another sock on our hike today – but luckily, I am a complete professional who packed more knitting projects than clothes. (I admit, on some of the nippier days here, I have regretted the proportion there.)

While Old Joe took the ladies to Water Street for a poke about, Joe and I walked to the old village of Quidi Vidi and into the harbour (“The Gut”)


and had a beer and a black horse in the oddest little pub down the lane.


When we got back, Old Joe, Joe, the ladies and I, set up a nearby hill, on a hike that Old Joe assured me was perfectly safe and a “walk for old ladies”.


He’s simply out of his mind. I want to know how many old ladies per year that hike kills. It ended up being another hike that gave me cramps while I watched the girls cavort on the edges of yet more cliffs of doom – although in a moment that I am sure took years off of their lives, it was me who slipped for a second and flirted with death. (Ironically, this moment occurred because I thought Sam wasn’t being careful enough and stopped concentrating on my own footwork so that I could urge caution on her part. I feel that the planetary shove in the direction of the cliffs edge was just the earths way of coming down hard on the side of Old Joe and my husband, who think that a little danger is good for kids and I should lighten up. They’re likely right. The kids are steady as rocks out there.)


The team gave a big rock a shove…


Old Joe thinks that it likely moves a little each time they do this, and that after years of effort his various grandchildren will eventually succeed in pushing the thing of the cliff and into the sea. (He is not the sort of man who needs instant gratification.)


The girls think it’s a grand rock for sitting on.

(I think that shoving it to make it loose and then sitting on it while it’s tipped to the sea like that is madness. Joe thinks I should drink less coffee.) We mad our final assault on the summit, then wound our way back down, looking over Quidi Vidi Harbour, Quidi Vidi Lake (where the Regatta is) and St. John’s on the way.


When we were all the way down, we went the whole way around the lack and took in the Championship races. (Very Exciting.) It was more than grand, and I’m going to let the rest of the pictures speak for themselves – with just a couple of captions.

Click to embiggen any shot.

Smiles: Constabulary, dog, coxswain of the women’s champions.


food – Chips, gravy, dressing… samosas…. moose burgers.


The Lake side Motel (Aka Her Majesty’s Penitentiary) overlooking the whole Regatta.


Games of chance:






Row, row, row a boat:


I don’t think there’s anything like it. The soundtrack for the whole thing was the CLB (Church Lads Brigade) Band playing grand Newfoundlander classics wafting along the water.

It was worth the wait.

Way far away, with whales watching

Still too windy for the Regatta today, though I think most of the province suspects (as I do) that a Friday Regatta would be an incredible thing and didn’t really hope for a clear Thursday. We spent near all of today at Cape Spear, the easternmost point on the entire continent of North America, and one of my favourite places on earth, though when I am on Newfoundland I somehow find myself saying that over and over again.


When you are in Cape Spear, Ireland closer than a host of other Canadian cities (not to imply that Cape Spear is a city, far from it. Now that the Lighthouse is automated, I think the population is zero.


The sock. As far east as you can go on the continent without fear of a rogue wave taking you into the sea.

Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton, Calgary… hell, Vancouver is 5078 km away, but the green coast of Ireland is only 3000 km away over the sea…in fact, Cape Spear is closer to Greenland than to my home in Toronto 2112 km away.


This proximity to Ireland explains much of the place, especially the geography and – were you here to listen, the accent of the people. It’s a remarkable thing.

Newfoundland is hard edges and blowing wind and grey skies and a big fierceness that is moving to the core of you. Everything here is large and striving and it can kill you if you are a stupid city girl for even a moment, and it’s heartbreakingly, achingly beautiful.

Here, my Newfoundlander husband tries clearly to kill our children.. or at least that’s how it seemed to me while every internal organ I had cramped up… but I don’t even like them to stand too close to the edge of the subway platforms, never mind the cliffs of doom.


Joe’s right to let them do these things. Wild hikes, leaning over cliffs, searching for whales….


… even finding whales… a whole pod right off the cape, blowing and breaching in the intermittent sun. While I trail behind, trying hard to let them have an afternoon like his whole childhood, and trying to figure out how he lived.

Cape Spear is still an operating lighthouse, a newer automated tower sitting to the left of the old one,


but the original lighthouse is still there, restored to the way that it was when the only people who lived on Cape Spear were the lighthouse keeper and his family, and they lived in this building together, keeping a light on for ships aiming for St. John’s harbour. My friends… it is, like all of Newfoundland… a very knitty place.

There are sweaters draped over chairs and in chests, hanging by hooks near wool pants with garter stitch suspenders.




mittens drying by windows,


socks in the lighthouse keepers boots,


There were knitting needles spied in baskets in the lighthouse sitting room…


big baskets of roving and cards by the window.


Even what Joe thought might be okum, roving of wool – not the typical cotton you would find elsewhere… you can’t grow cotton in Newfoundland, waiting to be soaked with wax or tar to chink holes in buildings and ships.


There was even the famous Cape Spear Coverlet, which I have long dreamed of seeing.

There it lay


in all it’s glory, and it was worth every minute.


It must have been knit on needles no larger than 2.5mm – maybe 3mm if you wanted to be generous, out of cotton thread that must have been really dear at the time. The dude there to answer questions said that each little shell would have taken at least 45 minutes, and I think he’s about right. I don’t feel like guessing how many of them are there. It’s a testament to the length of the Newfoundland winters… right there.

There’s another…


and there’s something that makes teens laugh if you take them there.


Sperm WHALE. For the record. (It was used to fuel the light. Git yer minds out of the gutter.)

It was another grand and glorious day, and we loved the whole thing and wish you were here to see it. (More or less. I wouldn’t cook for the lot of yee.)


Tomorrow, all of Newfoundland agrees, has to be Regatta day, and since Quidi Vidi Lake is in the backyard, we’re sure to have a grand day. Truly.

(PS. Seriously. My hair in that first shot? The smallest it’s been in days. Scared straight.)

(PPS: I forgot to tell you. Through a twist of fate that involved rain (there’s a shock) I ended up at the Avalon Mall yesterday and wandered into a Coles. They had a bunch of my books so I signed the lot of them. If you were hoping for a signed copy and you live on the rock… there you go.)

Where the hagdowns sail and the foghorns wail

It did indeed rain here today, so in keeping with the rules, the civic holiday of Regatta Day, and the Regatta itself will be moved the next non-rainy/windy day. That left us with a day free and we knew just where to go.

There’s an iconic song here called “Let me fish off Cape St. Mary’s” and today Joe and I drove across the peninsula to find out about the place. Dudes, let me tell you, it was one of those days you file away in your heart or your head, one of those days that you tuck into the description of your days on this earth, and can draw on when you have to list out what you did while you were here. If I ever have to describe the earth to an alien, I’ll have to try and find a way to explain the things I saw this day.

First, a lesson. A couple of comments and emails yesterday let me know that I need to toss out a little more information out there if people are going to follow properly, so here’s a little background. We are in the Newfoundland part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I have thoughtfully circled it on a map of Canada that I have thoughtlessly boosted from the Government of Canada.


Newfoundland was the last province to join confederation in 1949, but has been inhabited longer than nearly anywhere else in North America… people have lived here since at least 7000 BC and St. John’s is the oldest English founded city in North America. The Newfoundland part is an island, far off in the North Atlantic.

Closer look? Sure. This is just the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I’ve circled the Avalon Peninsula, which is where St. John’s is, which is where we are. (Mostly.)


This is a map of just the Avalon Peninsula, taken in the car today, and it shows where we started in St. John’s,


and where we ended up in Cape St. Mary’s, about 3 hours away by car. (We hear it can be done in 2 hours. We aren’t sure how that’s happening, but we’re pretty sure it’s not raining when they do it. That this jaunt across a tiny piece of the province takes 3 hours also gives you an idea of how big this province is.) It was still raining when we got there, but it did let up enough for it not to be a miserable experience, just a damp one. Upon stepping out of the car there were sheep and and a lighthouse overlooking cliffs to the sea, which is just about as cool as I thought things could get,


and then we started walking. It was damp and muddy and I kept hoping that there would be something really excellent at the end of the walk, but by the time that both of my shoes squishing when I walked, I couldn’t imagine what it could be. There were irises growing in great swathes where we walked.


Rocks and cliffs are pretty to look at, very pretty indeed, but still a titch on the dismal side. I hate rain so much that it’s possible I may have been a cat in a previous life, so there was little joy in me as I walked, I admit it… especially as the grass soaked my pants to the knees. We walked some more, and far off we saw some birds.


Don’t see the birds? They’re the white on the rocks. Seriously. We walked more all the way around those cliffs… see birds yet? (Yup. Joe has short hair at present.)


Dudes. Birds everywhere. Birds on rocks. Birds in the air. Birds rocking on the sea.


Northern gannet, (gannet are huge, up to a 2m wingspan. That’s 6.5 ft.) black-legged kittiwake, murre, razorbill, double-crested and great cormorants, they’ve all decided that Bird Rock is the place to be, and its a swirling incredible thing. You stand on the edge of the cliff on a spit of rock that juts out, and the birds are on a sea stack right there in front of you.


The noise – I can’t even tell you about the noise. It’s like some sort of bird plane is landing.. or a bird train is running. There are calls and squacks and no end to the beating of wings and the cries over the ocean. Top that off with the foghorn going off back where we starting walking and it’s a cacophony the likes of which I’ve never heard. We were pretty stunned,


and then the rain picked up again, and back we went along the top of the cliffs through the grass and the iris to the lighthouse and the sheep, and drove back home along a road by the ocean, across the Avalon Peninsula, all the way back to sit in a wee house by the sea, drink tea (and wine) and see if the rain stops for the Royal Regatta.

I love it here.

(PS. If you have any knitted goods to sell, I have it on very good authority that a table can be had at the town festival in St. Brides (a stones throw from Cape St. Mary’s) for only $10.)

We found land

Here we are my friends, in drizzly Newfoundland, where yesterday’s sock picture was taken from near the overlook at Cuckold’s Cove, in Quidi Vidi (say “kitty vitty”) Newfoundland. (That’s Cape Spear in the distance. More about that another day.) Several clever knitters will be mailed a skein of sock yarn, since the magic words “Cuckold’s Cove” appeared several times in the comments. (I’ll email the winners when I’ve got a minute tomorrow.)


We are indeed (as another knitter guessed) in Old Joe’s backyard, more or less, since Joe’s parents split their time between Newfoundland and Toronto and we’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy their home here as base camp for a weeks vacation in what’s home for my Joe (Young Joe.)

Today we began our grand adventure, traipsing about St. John’s. Megan is really taken with the brightly coloured old row houses, and I was really taken with how taken she was, so I took pictures of Megan taking pictures of row houses.


The girls really were delighted, exclaiming each time they spotted another particularly bright one. A yellow house with purple trim and a bright pink door just about put them both into a fit of sheer joy. We went to The Rooms, which is a beautiful, beautiful museum here. It’s a gorgeous place, full of traditional Newfoundland things and art and animals.

The animals (we discussed it) are all dead.


Joe and Sam felt badly about that in the case of this eagle.

We were all relieved in the case of the giant squid though.


This is Meg looking it over. The thing was massive. Huge. Palaeolithic sort of enormous. They grow up to 18 metres, but this one was a rather reassuring 6m (that’s 18 ft.) Dudes. Gross.

There were whale parts:


and some very keen, very old sail makers needle sets, but I didn’t get a picture. It’s a fantastic place, and the price of admission (only $20 for a family) included this wonderful view of The Narrows and St. John’s harbour.


You will note the weather is still of a questionable nature, though it doesn’t take long here to get the hang. By the afternoon, when it was just gray and cold rather than cold and raining, we were all stomping about the downtown admiring fishing boats and saying “Didn’t it turn out to be lovely?”. My hair was huge. I think it’s the mist.

I think some of you have heard me talk about NONIA before, it’s the Newfoundland Outport Nursing Industrial Association, and it’s the only health care system in the world built on knitting. (You can read more if you click here.) We went by there this afternoon, and I poked around a wee bit.

I learned something interesting while I was there. See Joe’s arm?


Joe’s pointing at at many fine and sturdy pairs of good wool socks, most all knit from Briggs and Little wool, near as I could tell, and he was enchanted with them. Kept saying “Look at those! Those are good socks! Those are grand socks. Oh, yes. Those are socks that really know what a sock should be.” If I’d have known that worsted weight socks would thrill the man so much, I could have been churning out his sock supply a lot faster than I have been. Buddy’s got big feet.

There were sweaters and beautiful notecards I always buy there… and it was a lovely afternoon.


A lovely day really. Tomorrow is Regatta Day here in St. John’s, provided it doesn’t rain. It’s a provincial holiday (one of the only ones in the world that moves to the next day if the weather doesn’t co-operate) and we’re very excited. The Royal St. John’s Regatta is the oldest continuous sporting event in North America, and tomorrow 50 000 people will descend upon the shores of Quidi Vidi lake for a huge garden party the likes of which cannot be described. I will be there, and I’ll have a sock in progress.

Stand by.

Where in the world

We left Lake Huron, and flew to the next stop on our vacation. We knit on the plane.

My mother-in-law Carol knit on the plane:


Meg knit on the plane:


I knit on the plane.


(That’s STR lightweight in Rosebud, in the beginnings of a Hibiscus for Hope.)

The flight attendant laughed every time she walked by our row. Then we got here.


Where’s here? You guess. I’ll send a skein of yarn (when I get home) to the person who guesses where I was standing when I took this picture. Be specific if you can… the closer you are, the better your chances.

Simple interests

On the shores of Lake Huron, my eight year old nephew and I have a conversation.


We decide, he and I, to walk up and down, scrambling all round, in and out of the water, and between us, gather the most beautiful rocks on the whole beach, and then make an art installation of unparalleled beauty.


I think we did.


Then I knit on a sock.


It was a very good day.

Woman on fire

I’m moving at a thousand miles an hour today, having grossly miscalculated the amount of time it would take to get this family ready for a trip. There’s a wee one over the weekend to collect the girls from the cottage (and have a brief swish in the lake myself) and then Monday we’re off on a grand adventure. For reasons I can’t explain at all, I totally thought I could pull all of that together today. Boy was I wrong. Even hugely over-caffeinated (which I totally am, I can practically feel my hair growing) I’m still swamped with all the stuff that is my regular job, plus all the stuff that we need in the way of packing, plus housekeeping, plus shopping, plus, plus… It’s all yet another huge honking dose of “What was I thinking?” as I motor through an enormous pile of chores. On top of all of it, I’ll be away from home for more than a week, and I haven’t even chosen the knitting I’ll take with me yet, never mind winding it up and photocopying the patterns. (Wait! I heard some of you start to flip out there – Remember, it’s fair use of copyright to make a copy of a pattern you purchased for personal use… and totally a good idea, especially if you’re going on vacation and don’t want to lug the originals, or get them wet, or get sand on them, or spill a beer on them, or want to mark them up in a thousand ways with notes about how you’re knitting and what you’re changing. Photocopying for someone who didn’t pay for it = bad, photocopying for personal use when you paid for it = fair.)

I’ve got a couple of ideas, but you’ll have to wait and see because I’m nowhere near committed. There’s going to be a ton of knitting time over the next week though, so I’m choosing wisely and generously. One of the things I’ll be taking for sure is the Manon Cardigan that I’ve been working on all week. (Oh Norah Gaughan… how I adore thee.)


For this sweater, I’ve reverted to type and have substituted another yarn for the one called for (Berroco Pure Merino) which is a lovely yarn I quite like, but wasn’t lingering in the stash in sufficient quantities (of one colour, at least). What I did have was a whole bag of Valley Yarns Amherst (procured the last time that I fell down in WEBS and came home with three bags of three different yarns all in the same colour. I despair of my predictability sometimes.) This is one of my favourite colours in the world, a sort of burnt orange that reminds me of paprika – but is actually called “Cayenne” in this yarn.


I’m loving the cables and unique construction (I promise it’s going to work though it looks like an odd object at the moment), and if I had my choice of it, I would spend all of today knitting instead of going to work and doing all of my chores.

There are days when I just hate being a grownup.

PS. Have you seen the brand spanking new glory that is The Twist Collective? What I’m going to knit next just got way more complicated.