LITTLE FOGO, JUNE 2015
First Mate Mike dipped his fishing net as we circled an iceberg on our choppy ride out to Little Fogo, and I marvelled at this chance to hold and taste, a glistening 10,000-year-old “bergy bit”. Captain Ain navigated his Ketanja Tours fishing trawler around another half-dozen mini-bergs before we docked at Mike’s place.
Up until the 80s, the fishermen of Fogo spent their summers off this island off an island off an island, out here, a few miles off Fogo Island proper, many more miles off the north-central coast of Newfoundland — drive north from Gander and board the ferry at Farewell — the remotest place I can say I’ve travelled.
They’d bring their families out with them back then, lodging them in rough shanties and fishing huts, called stages, down along the water’s edge. They cherished their summers, awash in endless blue skies and endless blue waves (when they weren’t fogged in entirely), living on fish and lamb, foraged herbs and roots and bulbs, maybe the odd puffin.
Now Mike was building his dream house here, just up the rocks from the dock. “I’d sit up there on that moss for hours as a kid,” he said as we climbed up the dock ladder, “watchin' the sky and the sunsets, 'til I picked the perfect spot to build my place.”
The front of Mike’s place showcased a sturdy gray door, five gleaming white-framed case windows and a coat of dazzling red paint. But as we climbed up closer we could see that it was just the front wall and roof that were finished. The other three walls were just studs and beams, nothing closed in, no floors installed, the back half of what should have been the roof a gaping maw.
“It’s really tough findin’ time to work out here,” Mike apologized. “I’d get my buddy out here now and then to help me bend some nails, but it’ll probably be another few years before I have a house at this rate.”
Mike had been away awhile, working as a tour guide in British Columbia. Little Fogo kept calling him home, though. Today he’s one of a handful his age who remembers spending summers out here on the edge of the world. “Wind like you wouldn’t believe. Over on the backside of the island, you’d see the green hillside in the mornin' — littered in boulders by afternoon. I’d peek 'round the corner of the church [tiny, neat-as-a-pin St. Anne’s chapel, built in 1868] and the wind’d like to take my face clear off.”
When Mike did manage to find a day or two here and there for construction, he and his buddy would stay at Mike’s dad’s shack, its cramped loft just accommodating enough to sleep the two of them. Mike’s great-grandfather’s stage still stands as well, just a couple of boulders over, a study of defiant timbers smothered in a duvet of green and russet mosses.
Mike says his dad piloted over one day last fall for a look-see. “My buddy'd been pesterin’ me good by then. ‘Mike, when am I gonna get some meat out of all this here hard work?’ Well dad, he heard all that ribbin’ and a bit later we hear a few kapows — think yer gonna be havin’ some meat tonight, by.”
Another day’s nail-bending accomplished, the fry pan was on back at Mike’s dad’s shack. “Whatcha been shootin’ at?” asks Mike.
“Oh, anythin’ that comes along ya know…”.
Mike peeks under the lid and recalls, “It was two smallish clumps and a bigger clump, swimmin’ in butter. I’m thinkin’ maybe two pigeons and a seagull — and ya know my buddy, he licked up every bit.”
Nadine, our proprietor at Quintal House, our B&B back on Fogo proper, said she hadn’t heard that one before. But she was pretty certain she knew who Mike’s friend was — he had died the previous winter; cancer, nothin’ to do with pigeons or gulls.
I think of Little Fogo quite often.
I think, maybe we can get back out there soon; I think, maybe I could pack a hammer.