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.

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