05FEB2012 – “Colder than the breastular organs of a practicing Wiccan and louder than the first four Metallica albums.” I hit SEND on my infotext back to November Yankee.
I am standing on Cape Spear, St. John’s, Newfoundland, and right now I’m pretty gosh darned impressed by the sea. Each mighty surge of water is an unstoppable force rushing in to attack an I-don’t-give-a-fuck coastline; each wave is cruelly devoid of heat and louder than the last train out of Valhalla. I’m talkin’ about some serious waves here, dude.
The snow on the hills above is drier than an East German punch line and it crunches beneath my boots like the dead bones of the ancients as I clamber to the highest point of the land, wolfing down lungfuls of chilly air like an inlet manifold. I knocked on the door of the newer lighthouse (no one home but us ghosts) and peered through the windows of the older structure, my hot breath exploding on the glass. It was furnished. I wondered briefly what the original lighthouse keepers burned to stay warm. (Possibly other lighthouse keepers?)
Looking west, I could see a single road winding back into the dark distance like the long and angry scratch of a paint knife across a bitter canvas of loveless blues and bloodless whites. The road is decorated by a single set of taillights making best possible speed for the warmth of town. Looking east: Fucking nothing… Just wave after heaving crest of heart-stopping cold. Imagine falling into that — you’d have about ten seconds to say your prayers before they froze to your lips with a grinding shriek reminiscent of dry ice.
(Later, from the sheltering warmth of the rental 50 yards down the hill) I am dressed warmly by modern standards and still I was freezing. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live out here pre-central heating, pre-GoreTex, or pre-anything that could keep the cold at bay. Hopefully I’ll be back here in April; I’ve got to explore the battery down the hill, presently buried in snow…
“Wait, what? There was a battery there? Tell me more!” (Not this kind of battery, but the song kept running through my head…)
Construction of the Cape Spear battery was authorized by Canada for the WWII defense of Newfoundland, even though Newfoundland was not yet a part of Canada. Allied forces used the bunkers to protect against U-boat attacks, which at the time was a very real threat in the North Atlantic. This couldn’t have been very pleasant duty in the winter. I imagined Newfie troops wrapped in layers of sealskin and wool, twiddling the radio antennae every hour or so with nothing more than a pack of cigarettes and a deck of girlie cards to pass the time. Just waitin’ for ze Germans to show up…
Most of the military site was destroyed after the war, but the tunnels and gun emplacements have been stabilized. The huge gun barrels, known as disappearing guns because they could be lowered behind the concrete parapet for loading and maintenance, are all that remain of the war time armament.
Cape Spear is true barren beauty. The air is purer than a nun’s thighs and the sky goes on forever. This the furthest northeastern-most point of North America. I think back to those rugged hillsides in Scotland where the heather is a foot deep and the curvature of the earth is most visible… I remember the sense of forever I found in Dutch Harbor, where the eagles behaved as rats feeding from the dumpsters behind the hotel and the way-back whispers of war could still be heard from around the corners of buildings. “Here a ghost, there a ghost, everywhere a ghost-ghost…” Loneliness of geography is universal.
Pop song playing on the radio as we headed into town, listening to St. John’s 94.7 OZ FM: “Still alive but I’m barely breathin’/ pray to a god that I don’t believe in…”
Standing on that cold edge of nothingness stirred my on-again-off-again love affair for extreme solitude and remote locations, and I briefly entertained the notion of living out here all alone with my back to the world, tending the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s foolish, I know. I’d probably end up talking to snowflakes and generally behaving in manner befitting bat shit. But I’ve got my reasons. Or at least I think I do… Sometimes I feel like a telegraph operator adrift in space; frantically tapping out descriptions of the infinite fantastic before my O2 runs out. I swear I don’t know what makes me tick some days — when I visit places like this, I feel like I’m cracking the code of my consciousness, dialing up and down the dial for a radio station I used to know, half-hesitant for the strains of the first song but afraid to hear the rest of it play out. “When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares into you.”
06FEB2012 – Wheels up at 1000 for another flight. I ate my sandwich, dozed for about an hour and tried to read. Then I put my camera together and paced back and forth along the centerline of the aircraft, looking for shots I hadn’t already taken, studying the myriad of boxes, switches, dials, indicators, buckles, lines and hoses. I mean to tell you, the inside of this aircraft is fucking confusing. This is a bird with some serious infrastructure.
Presently, one of the spotters motioned me to the rear observation window and pointed down.
It had carved a swath through a bed of sea ice, and was easily the highest point of land for 20 or 30 miles. We swung low and slow and did a few lazy donuts to get a better look. I braced my elbows and knees against the industrial grey padding that lines the tail of the aircraft, wedged myself into place and leaned heavy on the shutter, bracketing wildly against the filth of the observation windows, the flicker of passing clouds and the strobe of sunlight until I got something usable. My first real iceberg…
After seeing this? I got nothing. Flying home tomorrow. I’ll leave you now with a link to some local expressions, my favorite being:
The Devil to pay and no pitch hot,