June 16, 2009

Branch


Herds of sheep and packs of dogs wandered free all over town.

I just returned from 4 days in Branch, Newfoundland -a fishing town of about 200 people. It's where Leah's mom, Carmelita McGrath, is from. We stayed in her childhood home. No phone, tv, etc. I didn't check my watch for the duration of our stay. It felt like we were there for a year, or an hour. Leah said, "I told you, time doesn't exist in Branch."

Now I know how to live forever.

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Got drunk-ish Saturday night with Leah, Carm, and a middle-aged couple, Fred and Mary, from across the road. In thick Branch accent Fred proudly told us as many dirty jokes as he could remember. Mary was horrified, punctuating his wit with admonishments.

As our laughter grew the level of vulgarity increased. Eventually Mary was smiling too. By night's end I was gasping for air, holding onto my chair for fear of falling off. The next morning Leah told me she thought she was going to die.

Next day we drove through dense fog along a crumbling highway. Carm told us stories of how residents believed the devil appeared along that stretch of road in the brume -looking like a stranger in need. Legend has it that a young priest once stopped to help a stranger there. When he returned to Branch all his hair was white and he was completely mad. Carm laughed. Leah smiled.

That day, in the midst of the gray rolling vapour -with the barren fields and stunted trees fading all around us, such a tale seemed completely reasonable.

At the end of the road was a town. St. Bride's. Carm told of how it was rumored that in the past, in hard times, inhabitants would take lights out to the cliffs to lure in ships, forcing them to crash against the rocks. They'd rescue the sailors and take the loot. Carm says the stories are exaggerated, but probably based on truth.

Suddenly I remembered Fred from the night before, pulling me into his living room, beer in hand. He pointed at a gorgeous wooden mantelpiece above their fireplace.

"My grandfather got this," he had informed me, "from a shipwreck."

7 comments:

nathan davies said...

absolutely wonderful.

Boyda said...

Wow.


Folk stories are so powerful.

forrest said...

yeah whoa awesome. or as you put it "woe"

The interesting thing about Folk stories is that the life in them is so removed from ours - why?

When I hear Aboriginal stories I am captivated by the possibility that a world where divine and profane beings lived together, things changed shape, people walked in the sky... existed. I think it might have or still does and we dont notice anymore.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

"The life in them is so removed from ours."

Yeah. I know what you mean, Forrest. What has been interesting here in Newfoundland (I'm still in St. John's until the end of June -we just took a 4 day outing to Branch) is the way these stories DON'T feel removed from everyone's lives. They feel very immediate.

I think the "divine and profane beings" you mentioned are simply human imaginations. We know better now than to buy into any literal belief in men walking in the sky and other such things. Or at least I can't buy it -literally. But as stories they are incredible, sometimes. It does my soul good to reflect on these stories and let their mysteries seep into my bones.

I think we need to let the unexplained remain unexplained, and not make more out of it than we should; but maybe one of the ways we handle the immensity (or tedium) of existence, is by constructing these weird narratives with angels and demons and other supernatural personalities. We've got to be careful that we don't take them too far; but then, it is precisely in those areas where caution is required that I am most interested.

Like, for instance, old cowboys and outlaws -which I'm pretty intrigued by. Historically, they were just a bunch of guys, and we can explain their (mis)behaviour with sociology and whatever. But when they emerge in a Bob Dylan song or a great Western, their literal existence becomes secondary.

I'm rambling.

I love you guys. Every one of you.

Boyda, I'm SO glad you're becoming a regular here.

Boyda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Boyda said...

Matt, the pleasure is entirely mine.

I think it's true that something greater than fact emerges out of folk legend. I like what you said about caution, Matt: too much historical mining into those cowboys destroys the mystique, because their power lies in their effects, not in their origins. Forrest's response to the possibilities of aboriginal stories is exactly appropriate and indicative of the kind of questions they force us to ask - and just keep asking, without attempting to settle on any definites. And yes, exactly - the immensity, or tedium, of existence.

forrest said...

i posted but my internet died, and now I'm all tired in my brain synapses.