At Home, Part Five: Up on the Hill

Just a bit past the barking kettle from the previous post you find  this gate. The garden beyond is atop the hill behind Alex’s house. There are outcrops of rock here and there but the part he uses is almost rock-free. Newfoundland soil tends not to be that way. Glaciers have, to a major extent, shaped the surface of our land. The soil, therefore is thin and contains all sorts of bits of rock that have been broken off, moved and deposited by glaciers as they receded.

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There’s a greenhouse up here. Strawberries, tomatoes–whatever strikes his fancy.

Another rock outcrop. No point in trying to remove it with anything less powerful than dynamite. The trees are mature and the odd one needs to be cut to prevent deadfalls. If you count rings you’ll find a few over a century old.

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In times past this land was worked by Alex’s ancestors. In all likelihood they were responsible for the relative scarcity of rocks here. Each stone was probably removed, one at a time, and tossed down to the beach far below.  Up until the recent past, though, the garden had been left to slowly return to its natural state as Alex concentrated his efforts in pursuing a living through the fishery.

With retirement he has had  some time to  rekindle his family’s age-old tradition of growing one’s own vegetables–a practice carried out by every outport family until around the 1960’s or so when ‘modern’ fishing methods and the associated economic model required more and more of an investment of time, and when store-bought vegetables became cheaper and more popular.

Over the past decade or so Alex has systematically reclaimed much of the original garden

The view from the garden is varied. On one side you look down into Bests’ Cove. The beach to the far right in the picture is a natural boat launch where Alex used to haul up his boats to conduct minor repairs and painting. If you click here you’ll see a picture I took around 30 years ago showing him and his sons copper-painting the “Bridget Josephine,” the boat he used from the 60’s until he and his son Brendan built the “Blue Dawn” (here’s a picture of her taken in March 2005) in the early 90’s. I’m the lazy one just watching. Copper paint keeps barnacles and other unwanted things from growing on the hull. A dirty hull makes for a slow boat. …and a slow boat makes for poor fishing.

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Here’s the view from the end of the garden closest to the beach. You can see the fish processing plant and Alex’s fishing stage. Alex has quite a few grand-children (Thanks, again, Madonna Delaney). They enjoy this place, too, whenever they visit. Always thinking of others, Alex has this fence in place, just in case.hill-05

Below is the view across the harbour from the side opposite to the one that faces Bests’ Cove. The beach is 10-15 metres straight down. The tide is out now. See the kelp? It’s often used as a natural fertilizer. Gather it up at low tide, spread it over the soil in the fall and nature takes care of the rest.

If you click the image you’ll see a flat beach straight across the harbour. We call it Brigade’s Beach. The story I got from Alex was that around 150 years ago a brigantine came into the harbour with most hands gravely ill. The dead were buried in the small narrow grassy meadow that separates the beach from the triangular-shaped Brigade’s Pond just beyond. He says if you know where and how to look you can still see the humps in the grass ctreated by the graves. They are unmarked and nobody knows the origin or nationality of the souls buried there. How must it have been for their families, living the rest of their lives not knowing their loved ones were buried far, far away. It is for this reason that I try to think of them from time to time–they should not be forgotten

Brigade’s pond is shallow. Based on what Alex told me I think the French buried their gold there. Someday I might just get some proper detection equipment and go looking for it. I’m kidding–sort of.  Hey Vince M.–tell your brother Danny I may need a lend of some gear some day soon…hill-04

Alex grows vegetables up there on the hill. Potatoes, carrots and turnips are staples. He’s been growing various other things, including radishes, depending on what he wants to do. Our climate is such that you generally have to wait until June to plant–else there’s too big a risk of frost.

Throughout June and mid-July we get a lot of fog here. Southern Harbour is located on a narrow isthmus separating relatively warm Placentia Bay from Trinity Bay, which directly gets some of the cold Labrador Current. The prevailing wind mixes warmer, moist air with colder stuff right about dead-centre on Southern Harbour. The next time you drive through the area and hit fog between the Doe Hills and Come By Chance note that Southern Harbour is about ground zero for it all! It’s not all bad, though. Ray Guy called them the “Beneficial Vapours” for a reason, after all! Those same conditions mean the area gets relatively mild, snow-free winters.

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But the growing season gets off to a slow start and you have to be patient and skillful if you want good vegetables.

This year one of the potato beds was not doing so well at all so Alex decided to do something unique.

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As you approach the vegetable patch you get a faint fishy smell. It’s caplin. Remember the casting net from the previous post? Alex uses it to catch them. Each year around mid to late June they roll ashore to spawn. On many of our beaches if you are there at just the right time, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of them rolling ashore with the tide for it is right there that they deposit their eggs. You can walk along the beach and just collect them–it’s a good thing to do as they will die anyway so you may as well put them to some good use. Alex uses the casting net to catch the caplin still out in the surf and brings several bucketfuls home.

For centuries the people here have used those tiny fish for both food and fertilizer. They are especially nice when salted and dried in the sun. Alex mainly uses them as fertilizer. All he has to do is bury them up in the soil and let nature do the rest. Of course the air is rank for a few days after.

This year he did something different. He placed some of them in a sealed 20 L bucket and just left them there in the sun. The crows, he said, all came around smelling something that, to them, was very interesting, maybe even tasty. They never did figure out what or where it was, though, thanks to the tight-fitting lid.

After a month or so he opened the bucket. And let’s just say that all of you should give thanks that you were nowhere near the spot when he did. I was, to say the least, ripe. “Was it bad?” I asked. He just laughed. He’s been around fish for all his life so this was nothing special. He took the “remnants” from the pail–it was a reddish liquid in case you are wondering–and blended it in with turf and other materials. This he spread over the ‘not so good’ potatoes.

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See–they’re just fine now.

I am particularly fond of his cabbage and look forward to some later on, around Thanksgiving.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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27 Responses to At Home, Part Five: Up on the Hill

  1. Tammy Picco says:

    Keep up the great writing Maurice…I look forward to reading this!!

  2. Really enjoying learning all about this lovely, rugged place. Thank you so much.

  3. Mjollnir says:

    The rancid fish sounds like something Norskies or Icelanders would leave for several years then eat as a delicacy! Never mind the Tatties! 😀

    • True!
      About a 10-15 years ago in a different fish processing plant, a separate contractor set up some space where he experimented with making a ‘fish sauce’ from capelin. I was intrigued. How would he cook it? I was more than a little surprised to find out.
      First an aside. While we have two semi-commercial uses here (food and fertilizer) they do have commercial value and some plants do process and sell them, primarily in Japan
      Commercially the females are the ones that are wanted–because of the Roe. I have vivid mind-pictures of the Japanese buyers picking up the little fish, squeezing them and squirting the roe right into their mouths! One form of quality control 🙂 The males are rejected by the buyers and so, are primarily sold in bulk to animal feed plants (yummy pet food!!! Seriously–most of it is used on farms).
      So this guy was going to make more profitable use of the males by making fish sauce out of them. Here’s what it entailed:
      1–get loads of the makes and puree them.
      2–leave the puree covered in a vat until it…umm…”cures”
      3–remove the remaining slurry and bottle up the remaining red sauce.
      That’s it!
      It’s ripe! It’s popular in places like Thailand but cooks only need a minuscule amount for flavour.
      I, ahhhh, haven’t “developed the taste for it.”

  4. Martin says:

    Thanks again Maurice for another glimpse into Alex’s life. I liked your statement about thinking of those brigand souls from time to time. I used to try bringing home trailer loads of kelp and seaweed for the garden. However, the smell got to my wife and I pretty quick! Cheers. Martin

  5. Really enjoying this tour. Alex must be a real character. You have spoken of his surroundings and his work (past and present) but you haven’t described him much. I bet he has lots of stories to tell. You should interview him and ask that he recounts something from his distant past. I’m sure there’s lots he could teach us. D

  6. jennypellett says:

    I can’t imagine how bad that fish fertiliser smelled. My father-in-law was a great grower of fruit and veg and he used to use a healthy dose of chicken manure to help his crops along. While we all complained at the horrendous aroma permeating up from his plot we never complained about the marvellous runner beans and raspberries that were produced year after year.

  7. Scot Ryan says:

    Great job Maurice! Really enjoyed the read and I second the motion to interview Uncle Alec. I’m certain he has many a story that would teach us a thing or 2. I will be popping by for some homemade bread and potatoes on my next visit! :-;

  8. johnlmalone says:

    reminds me of the time I put lawn cuttings in my green bin then ent interstate for eight days. This was in early summer when the temperature was already getting high. When I got back the smell in that bin was ‘high’, it was swarming with insects and ready to self combust! It took some cleaning up

  9. kanzensakura says:

    What a wonderful visit! I have enjoyed this immensely. The fish reminds me of Native Americans putting a fish in the hole when they plant corn, beans, squash. Alex’s place is lovely, rugged and true. Looks like a dream to me.

  10. kanzensakura says:

    No, I didn’t. I wonder, did the place make him or he the place? You are blessed to have someone such as this in your life – I bet he’s a great granddad.

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