Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Strawberry Children

My eldest was born on June 26 and from an early age loved to pick the strawberries that ripened at the time of his birthday. For his very first birthday, we actually invited friends and had a strawberry-themed soiree.

When my second child was 9 months old, I discovered I was pregnant again. I had had plans to take the two boys strawberry picking and then I did the test. Once I realized I would soon be the parent of a three year old, one year old and new baby, taking two toddlers to mash red berries into their clothes felt like a piece of cake, and a necessary stretch: I was going to have to learn the art of multitasking in a big way, and I might as well start right away, crouched down in rows of straw, inhaling the candy-sweet smell.

Picking strawberries has always had a child theme in my lfie: I recall being a child and being left with my sister in a patch to pick while my mom picked up our other sister. I remember that it was hot work.

My own kids don't usually balk at strawberry picking: by June, the idea of unlimited, accessible fresh fruit has great appeal, and strawberries fill a pail quite quickly, as compared to, say, blueberries. My daughter came with us a couple of weeks ago when the news spread that the fields were open. Today, I tried to persuade the eldest to pick with me -- I only wanted enough to make jam -- but he had plans with a friend to work out at the gym. He said he did want to pick, but another day. And maybe that day will come and maybe the berries will be done.

Either way, he's not a kid anymore anyhow. But alone in the field, under a gentle rain this afternoon, I watched and listened to other moms with their small people. I know there are umpteen studies that talk about the calming effects of being in nature, but I suspect there is something more about picking berries en famille. Because every mother I saw and heard had kids who were running and picking, making observations and needing to go pee -- and every mom spoke calmly and patiently to her offspring.

It made me feel very glad. Glad to be part of a group who showed their kids where food comes from. Glad to see moms with better skills than mine. Glad to listen to the sounds of small voices discovering the perfect berry. Glad to have big kids who still, gym date notwithstanding, don't mind coming along. Glad to connect with the land and to pick food and later to preserve it so that even as the seasons change, there will still be summer sunshine and gentle warm rain by the delicious spoonful.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

All Greek to me

I went through a French Immersion program in school and came out fairly fluent in the language. When I went to Mexico, I could pick up bits and pieces of the language, and when we studied Italian in advance of our trip to Florence, the French helped me out immeasurably.

But, in my fourth year of university, one of my roommates was from China. Her boyfriend -- whose name was Bean -- was a Chinese student living in the US. They had a tumultuous relationship and she spent many evenings in her room on the telephone. Screaming into the telephone in Cantonese. Overhearing her wasn't optional; understanding her was impossible.

And yet, I tried. Having learned new languages somehow made me believe -- not consciously, not rationally -- that if I tried hard enough, concentrated hard enough, I would be able to catch a hint of what she was saying.

Suffice it to say, I could not.

As a writer, I inhabit other people's heads. One of the nicest, if weirdest, compliments I ever had about my fiction was when an older male friend of mine told me I had a remarkable grasp of adolescent male sexuality and psychology. Recently, I had people tell me my portrayal of grieving rang very true for them.

But, just as my reach exceeded my grasp with languages beyond the Romance group, so there are definite limits to my understanding of other people's psychology.

I came up against those limits with a thud this week. Because I can fairly easily imagine myself into very different lives/genders/characters/persona, I fell into the trap of believing I understood how some -- real -- people thought. And I was arrogant to do so, and wrong to boot. These are people who might as well be speaking Mandarin for all I can understand them.

It's humbling. I like being able to imagine how different people think because it generally gives me sympathy for points of view other than my own. It also adds colour and flavour to my own life, and lets me try on new ideas for size. But what this experience has shown me is that it's all been imagination and guesswork, that even with the equivalents of French, Spanish and Italian, I will never be a native speaker, and with Cantonese-like people, I may have to sit and listen to the music of their language and life, and quietly live my own.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'm not exactly complaining

My calendar says that the kids go to school until Friday June 29 -- and that between now and then, I have about five work contracts to finish. All well and good. Except that today one child is sick, the rest of the week will see another child in exams, and the third home with permission while most of his classmates go to Quebec City and Ottawa.

Let me say that I have always been a mom who loved summertime, who loved having my kids home and grieved when September rolled around.

But that was before a few things changed. Thing 1 was that my husband took on a now-two-and-a-half-year secondment from teaching to work at the Perimeter Institute. In his new role, summer is the busy season, rather than the off season. Last summer, I did not anticipate this change well -- and the kids went to various camps, all at different times. It meant that no two weeks were alike and I got interesting combinations of children, but no week when everyone was occupied. It just meant that by the time September rolled around, I breathed a tired sigh of relief.

This summer, there's another change, which is that my new business is thriving and it ain't really a seasonal one. So, I've committed to work throughout July and August, with the exception of our family holiday week.

I am deeply grateful that the business is doing well and that I made the decision to be self-employed over fulltime employment where I would be committee (trapped?) inside for 40 daylight hours a week. I am also glad that my kids will soon be home. They are tired after a long school year and ready for some time off. We have a nicely paced summer in terms of their activities -- and this year, there are two and a half weeks of camp/program overlap.

But there's another change too, and that is that as my kids have approached adolescence, their pace has changed. Two of the three are now Kids Who Sleeeeeeeeep In. It used to be that summer meant we'd get out early in the morning and do something fun -- and then we'd putter in the afternoons, allowing me time to work. Now, work shifts to the morning and hopefully that will be enough. They are also plenty old enough that I can leave them on their own -- but at the same time, left to their own devices, free time devolves into technology time of one sort or another. The other part of this adolescence thing is a tendency to rush from sports to collapse, or work to indolence, leaving piles of laundry, refuse and general stuff in the wake. (Honestly, they were more able at cleaning up after themselves a few years ago. Pesky adolescent brain...)

The worry is that Mama won't be able to do it all -- the work, the tidying up, the keeping kids oocupied, the enjoying this short sweet season. I really want to make sure that last task doesn't fall off the list, because my kids are growing up fast. The fact that they leave detritus behind them, that they need too-frequent chauffeuring, that they sleep till all hours -- these are really beside the point. It'll take some renegotiation of roles and responsibilities, like any change does, but I want to make sure to enjoy them and the summer along the way.

So that's the plan.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Accidental Stalker

I didn't set out to be a stalker on our trip to Newfoundland. It just kind of turned out that way. And I'll blame small populations spread over a large area.

Let me explain. Last Saturday, we had driven down the length of the coast of the northern peninsula, back into spring sunshine. We had nearly run out of gas -- and then found a gas station. We had made better time than we had expected and the air was warm and soft as we turned off onto the secondary road into the mountains that would lead us to our final stop on the trip. We saw a sign to a scenic lookout and stopped to survey the beauty of the valley we would stay in that night.

As we got back into our car, we noticed a small portable sign advertising the local radio station. We tuned into VOBB -- Voice of Bonne Bay -- and as we drove into and along the curves of the sunlit bay, funky, mellow jazz music filled our car. I could not stop smiling. At the conclusion of the second song was a short commercial, advertising a French program hosted every Monday night by Sebastien and Cedric. They talked about how they had found each other, two ex-pats, and how they brought the music of France and Quebec to the people of Newfoundland once a week.

The next morning, we drove all the way around the bay -- a drive of an hour -- to the Tablelands, a flat bronzed monolith that stood directly across from where we had stayed. Our goal was to climb the mantle rock. We went into the vistors centre just before a bus of high school students from Nova Scotia arrived. We paid our admission and looked at exhibits while the students were given a crash course in geology. We had been offered a GPS unit as a tour guide: as we walked up the Tableland, it would offer us short videos or readings to tell us what we were seeing. Before we left the centre to drive to our hike, we went back to the counter to pick ours up.

We spoke with a different staff person this time, a young man with a French accent. I glanced at his nametag: it read Cedric. Quickly, I did the math: in a tiny community, how many francophone Cedrics could there be? To his surprise -- and Dave's -- I asked him whether he had a radio show.

"No," he said. "I mean, yes. Yes." He asked how I had heard of it.

When we saw him, an hour later, leading the students on the mantle, part of me wanted to explain that I wasn't a stalker -- just as I wanted to explain to the Viking chieftain at L'Anse aux Meadows that we weren't stalking him a few days before, when we took the shortcut to the cove where he lived. Our reason that time was that we had been told there were icebergs in the bay there -- and there was a massive monolith -- and that it was one of the prettiest bays (which it was). It was only when we were driving past its 50-odd houses that I recalled the story that had been told in the sod hut, that a couple of years before, a polar bear had actually wandered into that town, shredding two of the chieftain's sheep. I wondered aloud which house might be his, and Dave pointed out the only one that had livestock.

"You're a Viking stalker," he said.

And maybe I was.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What we left behind

We had stopped at The Arches to see limestone rock formations and to stretch our legs. A sign directed us through a Tolkienesque forest of white-bleached trees to the toilets. These were a pair of airy outhouses at the top of the hill. I went in one and Dave went in the other. Suddenly I heard him gasp.

"Oh no."
"What is it?" I called back.
"I dropped my sunglasses down the toilet."

I looked into my toilet and, frankly, I could not even see the bottom. When I finished, I gallantly offerd to hold him by the ankles while he reached down into the murk, but he declined.

The rest of the day was largely overcast, but whenever the sun broke through, I made sure to remark that it was too bad the driver didn't have sunglasses.

I think he smiled the first time I said it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Tickle: A narrow salt-water strait, as in an entrance to a harbour or between
islands or other land masses, often difficult or treacherous to
navigate because of narrowness, tides, etc; a 'settlement' adjoining
such a passage.

Pretty much everywhere we went in Newfoundland, we saw notice and evidence of the Dark Tickle, a small company that made artisanal jams and spreads using Newfoundland berries. The directions on their website suggested you get to Deer Lake and then drive 430 kilometres north. It made me laugh, but since we were taking that drive anyhow, we decided we would stop in along the way.

It was more than disappointing. We had driven past Gillian's Jams and opted against buying jewel-filled mason jars at The Hut, where we did choose a pair of hand-knitted green socks, met a dog and talked about the dying art of knitting on The Rock. We went into the economusee of the Dark Tickle and found that while there was a glass-walled exhibit of the jam-making room, the space was far more filled with teeshirts and Christmas ornaments than jam itself. And from the attached cafe came a dreadful smell that drove us out of the place sooner than we would otherwise have chosen. At first, we wondered why the woman behind the cash register was ignoring what smelled like burning frozen pizza with the plastic wrap left on -- cheese and petroleum were predominant smells -- but eventually we realized that actually we had arrived on Oven Cleaning in the Cafe Day. With all the windows closed. We quickly picked up a tiny jar of cloudberry jam and another of partridgeberry, and beat our retreat.

We stopped at the liquor store in St. Anthony -- after driving around thinking that the town was still dry after the temperate Dr. Grenfell who had established the town as a medical outport -- and revealed ourselves as Complete Tourists by buying partridgeberry wine (Sweetness: 3) and a tiny bottle of screech for my babysitter-father.

We visited the Grenfell Mission store and bought a children's grab bag for our daughter (which contained a beautiful scarf -- sadly made in China), a 1917 Newfoundland penny for our coin collector, and a book about survival on the barrens. And a tiny pair of snowshoes -- maybe 2 inches in length -- to hang on our Christmas tree.

We considered buying a small bag of savoury at a convenience store -- it was a key ingredient in the codcakes -- but Dave thought it looked dusty.

On our return trip down the coast to Deer Lake, I knew that what I really wanted was to bring home a rock from the rock. We stopped outside a small town for me to slide down the embankment to a stoney beach. There I selected a rock, dull gray and criss-crossed with glacial scars, and carried it in my lap. I also tore a few pages from a water-logged book I found in the seagrasses. Its title: Written in the Tide.

But that was not all. We spent our final night in Newfoundland at an inn on the edge of a tickle. There was a boil-water advisory and the power would be interrupted for a few morning hours but these were negligible compared to the beauty of the place. It was extremely hard to imagine that we would wake in such a place and would be home before dinnertime. The water that lapped at the shore below us dropped quickly to a depth -- we were told -- of 250 metres and contained whales and eels and capelin. I had tasted the water the night before as we walked down to the shore: pure salt. And so, on that final morning, I brought home something nearly as invisible as memory: I walked down to the tiny spit of sand one last time, rolled up my sleeve and dipped my entire forearm in the icy water. I love the sea, the smells of salt and fish, the freshness of the air, the blast of wind, the treasures that arrive with each new tide, the rise and fall of the level. By supper, I would be landlocked, away from this. I suspected it would feel like a dream. And so, I wanted something real, something I could taste that said that this body had indeed been tickled on the rock by the sea.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Elementary, my dear

A counsellor friend once talked to me about the importance of creative people getting grounded. We talked about how to do that, how to literally anchor oneself in the present, concrete moment. It was very good, last Thursday morning, to be surrounded by mountains and rock formations because I needed grounding. I had known it would be strange: to be a single parent for a few days while Dave worked in Newfoundland, while at the same time getting myself excited about going away for four days of holidays with my husband afterward. What I hadn't factored into the equation was a sudden and persistent infection, antibiotics that did not kick in until a day into our trip, and the need for consultations with medical professionals about whether or not travel was wise. I had also not factored in the strange feeling of dislocation I experienced when the flight to Newfoundland was far shorter than I had expected. I sat in the car last Thursday morning, kind of dazed: I had been home at supper time the night before, spent just over two hours on a plane, and then there I was, suddenly in Newfoundland, suddenly on holidays. Rocks, I told myself. Rocks and mountains. Rocks and mountains and water. Breathe.

Our one son had done a geography project on the geology of Newfoundland and had told us that Newfoundland was the product of the collision of three continental plates, of what is now North America, Europe and Africa. Within an hour of driving on Thursday morning, we were at the western edge of Newfoundland, on the northern end of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with what is called the Long Range of mountains on our right. It was partly sunny and that seemed like a good reason for us to stop and hike out to the Western Brook Pond, a deep glacial chasm carved into the Long Range.

We followed a more or less straight line from the highway inland, over gently undulating and incredibly varied terrain. Early on, a sign explained to us that the Long Range itself was the product of the smash-up collision between two plates, with the eastern side ending up rising above the western, forming the range. And then, a zillion years later, the glacial action sawed into the range, forming a deep fjord with sheer cliffs rising above water that was deeper than the CN Tower. (You get less dizzy when you take portraits, I tell you.) We walked over little hills that were glacial deposits, past lakes stained as dark as weak coffee or strong tea by decaying plant material. We walked on boardwalk above carnivorous plants (Newfoundland's provincial flower is the treacherous pitcher plant) and bogs, with many deep animal tracks around us. We walked past weathered trees. Then we found ourselves walking uphill and across a platform built across a peat bog. The uphill part was explained by a sign that told us that the peat was four metres deep, expanding deeper and wider each year.

We stopped after another hour's drive at another rock formation, a series of stone arches, caused by wave action under rock that had been upheaved by another collision of continents. This one was exactly at the edge of the Gulf and we walked under one of the arches, balancing on egg-shaped rocks of every colour imaginable.

And then, we drove and drove. The sun went in and out of clouds, shadows creasing on mountains that accompanied our journey. We never wearied of the scenery on the drive, which was good because scenery was the main thing. There were mountains of 700 metres in height that had water-marks well more than halfway up. On one of these mountains, I saw what looked like a row of terracotta soldiers all looking out to sea. On others, snow lay draped across the top, and still others had swaths of coloured rock and new growth of scrub near but no trees.

We did not realize we had driven north of spring until late in the day. I had closed my eyes for a few minutes and when I opened them, I honestly thought the world had gone black and white. The sun had gone in and the trees were not yet in bud. The coast was bleak and poor, shale and shanty. We had had a hearty breakfast at the bed and breakfast that morning and so we had foolishly skipped lunch. Granola bars and oranges were no longer cutting it, but there was nothing other than a very occasional gas station at this point.

I found our guidebook, looking for some small diversion. Flower Cove was near where the road swept inland and east toward our destination of St. Anthony. It was one of the very last villages we would see. It was also home to thrombolites, unusual rock formations. We decided to stop, if only to stretch our legs.

The wind was strong and the air was biting. We walked on a raised wooden bridge, with planks slightly too far apart for comfortable walking. We walked above sea grasses, bent down by tides and wind. It was more than desolate, but I was fairly sure someone was gleefully watching us, someone whose job it was to count tourists and whose work was not arduous. We reached a newely-repaired gravel path, saw men shoveling gravel into winterworn holes in the path, and burning seaweed on the beach, in advance of the start of tourist season. We kept walking.

And then, we spotted the thrombolites and the sign that explained that these were microscopic creatures, somewhat like coral, that formed colonies, that there were only two known places on earth where the formations were found: here, on the desolate coast and off western Australia. These colonies were calcified, we were pretty sure, and they looked like nothing more than massive canteloupe halves, pocked and ribbed, sitting on the shale beach. We could walk on them or around them and we did, tasting the salt water once more.

On the way back to the car, to what would be the longest-feeling part of our whole trip, I was glad to be there, to bear witness to these rocky structures. I didn't care if the locals were laughing at us or not. I was definitely grounded, definitely taking mental and actual photos of the landscape, tasting the water, the sky and the rocks.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

For Tony Steinberg

If you read enough, watch enough, listen enough, remember enough, it's funny what comes back to you at different times. Some people can recite chunks of poetry, swaths of the Bible. For me, last Friday, driving into the mist at the end of the world, it was The Far Side and Taylor Mali.

I remembered as we drove down the splintered highway, the world closed in on either side by leafless bushes and staunch tuckamore, I remembered The Far Side cartoon where a dog had made signs to lure the cat to its doom by promising 'cat fud.' I remember the dog, hiding behind a door frame, muttering to himself, "Oh please, oh please." I wondered aloud if we were the cat in our scenario, whether we would suddenly find ourselves submerged in the North Atlantic, tricked by signs promising Valhalla.

We had spent the night in the small outport of St. Anthony and had woken to a foggy morning. We turned north, north of this northernmost town and headed to the very end of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, to the place we had been told Vikings had had an encampment a thousand years before. We had the ocean on our right as we set out, but soon we could sense that the ocean was on our left too. We saw a moose and realized that the moose did not have far to go on either side of us. The fog deepened and the ponds turned to dark tea around us. We drove more slowly and the road became more fractured. We entered the grounds of L'Anse aux Meadows, which we had read might have been a mishearing of the French version of Medea, after whom many old ships were named. We stepped out of our car and wrapped ourselves in every layer we had. There was snow in the crevices of the rocks.

We had talked before about why Newfoundland was familiarly known as The Rock. It was not hard to see why, to see the outcroppings of rock everywhere, to see the electrical posts that could not be buried to any depth and so were held up with cribs filled with massive sea rocks, aboveground. But, too, it easily could have been called The Ponds. In another place, a warmer place, perhaps, there would have been faery stories about the creation of all the ponds, big and small. Here, survival was still a pressing matter. And again, it could have been called the Woods or the Barrens, for the stunted and spare trees bent into the wind, or the wide open arctic plains.

We went into the main visitors centre and the machine they needed to process credit card payments was down. Women were unpacking souvenirs from boxes in the gift shops. It was June 1st, the very first day of the season.We had wondered whether we would be the first visitors of the year and whether Viking hats would be issued to the lucky keeners. We were not the first, but about the seventh car to arrive. We had followed a car in that had come from Saskatchewan, and slowed as they slowed when we all saw the moose. It would be awful, we had said, to have driven all the way from Saskatchewan, only to be stompled by a moose two kilometres from the end of the world. They were not and we were not.

We walked about the Visitors Centre and I felt a bit tired and headachy. I thought of one of my kids who hates museums and only wants to learn in situ. We watched a National Film Board movie about the discovery and excavation of the site, by a husband and wife team. We talked with the chatty staff. We saw a fragment of a hundreds-footlong tapestry that told the story of the northern coast.

And then we decided to climb down to the grassy hummocks below. I will confess that I had low hopes. My dad had told me he really enjoyed L'Anse aux Meadows but I wondered if that was all relative:that maybe it was the most interesting thing on the coast but...

We walked through seagrass and stepped between clearly marked raised grassy outlines of ancient structures, houses, workshops and outbuildings. Ahead of us in the gloom was a wooden fence surrounding recreated sod buildings. It made me think of Laura's sod house in the Little House books. I heard voices in the biggest house so I stepped into the doorway.

And that's where everything changed.

Outside it was cold with a damp that seeped through wool and waterproofing and into bones. Inside there was a fire and benches and a fully recreated Viking chieftain's hut. I sat on rabbit skin, next to an elderly man and listened as a man with iron grey hair waving around his shoulders and boots lacing up his legs and homespun layers of cloak and tunic sat, spinning a tale. As my eyes adjusted to the inside of the hut, I could see that there were more than half a dozen people sitting around the fire, listening and interjecting. Four of them were apparently costumed interpreters but all of them knew far more about Vikings than I ever did. I felt very much like I was catching fragments of a history and a people, trying quickly to make it into a whole, to put it into any context I knew. By the time Dave came in, a smile had settled itself over my face and Taylor Mali's story of Tony Steinberg: Brave Seventh Grade Warrior was in my head.

"He died with his sword in his hand and so went straight to heaven."

We talked of heaven and hell in the hut, of how Viking hell was not hot but cold -- how people dread the extremes of the climate they live in -- but that it was not so bad as there were women there, and there weren't in Valhalla. They talked of how Vikings, unlike the British of a thousand years ago, bathed weekly and how the British reported on this with disdain, adding that the clean Vikings then attracted the British women "by their novelties." We learned that the Vikings were tall thanks to a healthy diet --a full foot taller than the average Britisher. We learned how Irish monks in their coracles had landed in the lands of the Vikings and how the folk religion and Christian religion had mingled. We talked of Vinland and dyeing of wool, of privies and burial sites, of eating fish and not shellfish. That women were fully educated. That storytellers were prized.

There's little I like more than to learn the domestic details of a people. And here, the sagas were told by people who were not rusty after winter but instead were bursting with stories, and with the rough burr of a pirate could switch from Viking lore to current archeological research, quoting anthropologists.

Inside the visitors' centre, there had been signs that said Please Touch. Here it went further. I was allowed to put on an iron helmet and to hold a Viking sword in my hand, and then to trade it for an axe, much lighter to wield in battle. I was told that a sword was more of a rich Viking toy -- that an axe was useful for taking an opponent out at the knees.

And then after an hour of wonder, talk shifted to the present. The youngest of the Vikings asked if we had been hiking at Fisherman's Cove the other night. We had. He had been there with his wife and dog, and thought he recognized us. It was early enough in the tourist season that we stood out. (Later that evening, a woman at the next table at our restaurant got talking with us about L'Anse aux Meadows and how they had seen the chieftain at the Foodland the night before.)We asked them about Parks Canada cuts, feeling that the very best part of the park had been the people and their ability and passion for bringing history to life. They were cautious in their reply, but said that they had done all right, far better than other places. The woman Viking asked us if we were newlyweds.

There were no cartoonish Viking helmets or goofy teeshirts anywhere to be found. Maybe you don't mess with Vikings. Or maybe at the end of the world, you respect such tenacity and life.

We did.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Newfoundland Part I

You've heard of the guy who left his heart in San Francisco? Now you know the woman who left her jeans in the Deer Lake airport. And no, it wasn't an overenthusiastic patdown by security.

I like to travel light, partly so that things don't go missing in transit, partly to make a quick exit from an airport and partly to prove that it really is the kids who need all the stuff. Both Dave, who spent a week in Newfoundland, and I, who joined him after his work in St. John's was done for four days of fun and exploring brought one pull-behind-you-carry-on bag and one other small bag. I will note that Dave's contained hiking boots and a camera, two jackets and all the warm clothes he would need, and mine had a hot water bottle, heels, several books and all the warm clothes I would need. The only thing I didn't use was the skirt I brought.

It's hard for me to know where to start in telling all our stories of just four days, so I'm starting at the end and working my way backward. It may be a series of posts.

We traveled the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, driving 1200 kilometres of mostly coastline. We saw Labrador from up close and it made my heart stir. Labrador is to me something almost mythical, the Remote North. And there it was, only a channel away. Suffice it to say that there was not one single McDonalds and that the mall in St. Anthony contained a grocery store, a liquor store (we went for screech and came back with partridgeberry wine), a drug store, a government office, and a bargain shop.

Nevertheless, despite the blessed relief from retail opportunities, we did manage to purchase the requisite souvenirs. (An aside: I hate souvenir shopping and the pressure to find something for people. I much prefer the approach of finding something perfect for someone and bringing it home. The problem then is that the hard-to-buy-for or the never-found-the-perfect-thing people end up feeling sad.) We also stopped at a small coastal beach on Saturday afternoon -- not in a national or provincial park -- and I chose a good-sized gray rock to bring home to plant in my garden.

So, space was at a premium. I had brought a book to read and review and didn't like it, so I left it behind in our hotel room. I had brought fresh fruit along -- we had been told, wrongly, that fresh fruit was only occasionally found in the north and that the cost would be astronomical -- and we ate it. And then, Dave noticed that two seams in my jeans had been thoroughly frayed to the point of no return. It was he who suggested that we could acquire space if the jeans stayed behind.

And so, yesterday morning, once we had finished the super-scary beach cliff hike to see where two continents once collided and two kinds of rocks in one cliff tell the tale, and once we had walked on the earth's mantle (the earth's mantle, people! The rock beneath the surface. The rock that is visible almost nowhere on the planet because usually in tectonic collisions the mantle slides beneath the other guy) for a couple of hours, we returned to the visitors centre, where casually and ever-so-gracefully, I stealthily removed my jeans and replaced them with a pair of yoga pants.

We had planned our morning well, but the walk took about ten minutes longer than we had planned, and we hadn't calculated on one last restroom visit, and moose lined the highway to bid us farewell and to keep us from speeding, so suddenly there was some possibility we would miss our plane. I was not altogether unhappy about this prospect but there was a dreadfully homesick child at home who might implode if we announced we were staying away another night, so we sped as quickly as we dared along the road, paid the penalty for not filling up our rental car, checked our bags, went through security (where Dave did indeed get selected for the dubious honour of a parting Newfie pat-down -- which he said functioned as a nice massage after a morning of hiking) and had five minutes to spare before boarding. It was there that my jeans and the plastic water bottles we had toted around the island found their final resting place.

And then we were in the air on our way home, leaving more than just jeans behind and taking more than just a rock in exchange.