Retreat

Today we pack up our things to begin the long trek back to Happy Valley-Goose Bay from Mary’s Harbour. We’ve spent the last almost-week here developing a 5-year vision for the eNuk application, complete with a list of proposed papers, student projects, and a rough sketch for a grant application to support said vision.

While we have spent most of our time huddled for hours in various positions around the dining room, perched in front of our computers, stretched out on the floor, snuggled up under blankets on the daybed, or swaying in the rocking chair, we’ve also spent a significant portion of our week laughing until we were crying, sharing stories, eating extremely well1, consuming all the chocolate, and drinking our weight in tea and coffee.

All told, it was a rather productive week.

But the week wasn’t all about work. One can’t simply come to Mary’s Harbour and not take the time to enjoy the views, the land, the peaceful solitude of this tiny village. Advertised with a population of 474 and no cellular signal, the once cod-dependent town now relies mainly on crab fishing. It’s quaint and quiet and full of friendly neighbours who drop by when you’re out working on the dock just to say hello, and perhaps to figure out what all the goings-on are about.

The houses in Mary’s Harbour are beautiful and what I would suggest is typically maritime. Across the harbour directly from where I sit is Jellybean Point. I’m not sure how it was named, but I imagine it has something to do with the brightly coloured sheds that punctuate the shoreline, contrasting with the typically softer palette that I’ve come to expect of the Labradorian environment. It’s also the view that I have from the kitchen table every morning as I sit and sip life into me. Ashlee and Jamie recently painted their shed a bright red, and I smile every time I imagine that in some way it sits on our side of the harbour happily waving at its friends across the way.

It’s amazing how much joy something as simple as a brightly coloured shed can bring.

The views are amazing.

A post shared by Dan Gillis (@dangillis) on

Of course, the land and water and sky here can’t be ignored. Even the grey skies seem more impressive than the overcast days at home. Perhaps it’s because there is so much to see that the grey skies simply act as a supporting canvas, allowing the viewer to focus on things they might typically ignore. Granted, I have no idea how one can ignore any of this. Every where I look there’s a feast for the eyes.

As if to drive this point home, yesterday we boated across the harbour to Captain Jack’s island to go berry picking. I’d like to say this was a team building exercise, but really we just needed to get out of the house and spend some time breathing the salty sea air. The boat ride was uneventful save for the odd spray that coated our glasses and lips with salt water. The air was brisk, but it felt great against my face.

After landing, we began wandering the island in search of berries. Or at least, that’s what we were supposed to be doing. Instead, I found myself captivated by the views. In the distance, I could see Mary’s Harbour dotting the shore. Around me were fields of lichen and moss, stunted shrubs, and weathered fir trees that looked as if they have battled countless winters and gale force winds – bent and twisted, but still proudly standing their ground as they stretched towards the sky. Underfoot was a mix of colours – intense greens contrasted against the off white of the caribou lichen and a muted purple moss. Combined with the smell of the trees and faint sweetness of decaying materials around me, it somehow reminded me of Christmas.

As I walked in search of berries, but mostly absorbing the sights and sounds around me, I stumbled on shells and remnants of sea life. So many discarded sea fragments, that it seemed to me that the gulls or terns that circled overhead must have destroyed an entire colony in an epic feast. Crab shells and sea urchins, bleached impossibly white from the sun and the salty air, were scattered all around me. They were beautiful and haunting – a fitting tribute to their former selves.

The island offered an incredible bounty of blackberries, blueberries, crackerberries, and our prize game for the day, bakeapples. Known elsewhere as cloudberries, we managed to gather about two gallons of these sweet, slightly sour treats. I may or may not have sampled them as I worked my way through each of the clusters I stumbled upon.

I’m not sure how long we were on the island. Time passed without notice. I was out of my head, simply enjoying the world around me. It was calming and peaceful and altogether perfect. Eventually, however, we made our way back to the boat and across the water toward home. I was slightly tired, a little sore, and completely content.

More bakeapple goodness. #GetInMyBelly

A post shared by Dan Gillis (@dangillis) on

As I mentioned, this morning we’re going to begin our long trek back to Goose Bay. While I’m ultimately looking forward to making my way back to Guelph for a short visit, I’m going to miss the quiet of Mary’s Harbour. But not to worry, it won’t be long before I find myself back here.


1 Thanks in no small part to the culinary skills of both Ashlee and Jamie2.

2 If you’re wondering what my contributions were – I chopped some veggies one day, shared the tea and coffee making responsibilities, cleaned up, and complimented the chefs. No one really wants me cooking.

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