National Geographic : 1941 Jul
Newfoundland, North Atlantic Rampart Along the near-by water front nearly every house has its own fishing stage and store, and a boat or two at anchor. Most of the stages are perched precariously on stilts to keep them level amid the jagged rocks. They seem to be striding up the cliffs. None of the houses boasts shutters, for sun shine is always welcome, but nearly all carry ladders on their roofs, because there is no fire department in the isolated villages. Oranges and apples are seen only on special occasions, if at all, and a balanced diet has yet to be achieved. Red Cliffs, Blue Sea, Challenge Artists No artist could be in a village five minutes without wanting to set up his easel or unstrap his camera and get to work. He might see a lighthouse shining whitely against rugged red cliffs, with a little tan-sailed schooner coasting along and the deep blue sea beyond. What a fascinating color is the Newfoundland sea! Or he might happen on a group of big booted, canvas-jacketed fishermen "barking" nets-boiling them with spruce bark in a large black caldron to preserve them. He might see granny, a colored handker chief over her head, fetching in a back-load of firewood, or a little lass "spillin' a turn o' crunnocks"-an armful of kindling to help mother bake bread. Older children, rosy-cheeked, tousle-headed, with kettles and pails, are off to pick the lus cious blueberries and partridgeberries that cover the hills in the fall. Fields of wild flowers brighten the landscape-roses, scabi osa, bog myrtle, rhodora. Inquisitive billy goats wander about, wearing triangular yokes painted red to identify them as so-and-so's property. These features are common to the fishing villages of the coast, but there is really no typical outport. Circumnavigate the island, and the human scene as well as the landscape continually changes. Each bay is different from the one preceding. Here in Bay Bulls on the southeast coast nearly all the villagers have Irish names. About 1814 thousands of Irish emigrants flocked to Newfoundland and all settled in this southeastern area. They probably were so exhausted after the arduous ocean crossing that they seized upon the first available acres of free land. Every family in this village has enough land to grow sufficient potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and beets for its own use and perhaps enough hay for the cattle's winter feed. The fields are rocky and uneven. Compared with most of the terrain, northern Vermont is a fertile garden, yet local vegetables have as sweet a savor as the best that grow. Some villages are not so well off for land as is ours. The next hamlet down the coast, for instance, has no land suitable for gardens. The people's livelihood has to come entirely from the sea. They sell or barter their catch of dried cod for food and other necessaries. A small catch of fish coincident with low price is disastrous for families thus situated. During summer the short, wiry ponies that have worked so hard all winter pulling home loads of firewood are loosed and wander in companies over the barrens. The cows, too, are allowed to range. Barney, the little boy who brought our milk, walked four or five miles every evening to catch his cow. If there is any leisure in the outports, it is during winter when the days are short and outdoor work is restricted. If the summer has been profitable, people live well: if not, they scrape along until the next summer and hope for the best. The winter food supply is supplemented with game-rabbits and grouse -while good catches of speckled trout are taken from the frozen lakes. "Fish and Brewis" a Favorite Dish A characteristic Newfoundland dish is called "fish and brewis." The fish, either fresh or salt-cured, is boiled; "brewis" is made from cakes of hardtack soaked overnight and brought to a boil. Served with butter sauce or pork fat, it is the Sunday breakfast. Or as an old fisherman once said to me: "Us fel lars, we loves it; to we it's what espaghetti is to the Eyetalians." In winter the men are kept busy overhaul ing and mending their nets, building new boats, cutting and storing firewood for present use and for the following summer. Day after day, load upon load swings down the narrow trails through the snow. The low catamarans sleds with two high runners fastened by cross bars and uprights-are piled high with spruce and fir logs. The bells of the ponies ring merrily. In northern Newfoundland Eskimo dogs are used in place of horses because there are no roads as there are in the Avalon Penin sula. Wood is burned both for cooking and heat ing. Coal at $12 a ton would unbalance the family budget. The village housewife bakes her bread in a large barrel-shaped oven that sits on the top step of a stove made in three low broad steps to burn long logs and have a wide heating surface. This is important, for it is the only source of heat in the house. Often the kitchen, being the warmest room, is the center of all family activities.