November 2018 / Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
An Emigration Story Part 2:
Adventures In Ireland
by Andrew Scarry
Read Part One here: https://www.bluffsmonitor.com/an-emigration-story/
Staying in the B&B was a real comfort compared to the harsh beauty and splendor of work on the fiord. I’d wake each chilly morning to the sound of my small, transparent blue plastic, square, battery-operated alarm clock that seemed to be able to rouse me whatever adventure the night before, or sometime the morning of my wakeup entailed.
Life was good, as I walked down the carpeted stairs while the fragrance of frying bacon barreled upstairs and into my nostrils. Ah, bacon, forgive me while I revel in it for those of you who’ve never, won’t or can’t eat it – just replace it with your favourite food fragrance so you can enjoy this moment with me…
I imagined a dog sticking his snout out the car window at 100 miles an hour…and imagined my lips flapping, nostrils barreled wide while that food fragrance seemed to inflate me like a balloon.
While I sat down, a veritable mess-tent of food would parade from the kitchen onto the space between my cutlery on that little table…I had four slices of buttered toast, an endless pot of strong Irish breakfast tea, a bowl of corn flakes with milk, steamy scrambled eggs, a hand of sausages, well….just the fingers I guess…slices of crispy-creamy black pudding, fried button mushrooms, a tinned tomato, four pieces of b-a-c-o-n, and a generous bowl of Irish oatmeal with warmed milk and honey. That was only the first helping! I don’t think I could afford that meal now, even if I could eat it all.
Off then I went as I dashed away from empty plates into the passenger seat beside the wild-haired tall man and a few more mates from nearby who worked on the salmon farm with us. The air was cold and damp, the seat was warm and strangely, also damp. Hmm. Whatever, I was dressed in layers. The air from the grills was warm and dry.
Off we sped along the field-stone walls past pastures, rivers, a famous girls’ abbey school – alas, I never met any of them, and back to that fence and the Rhodesian Ridgeback hound with teeth bared, tail wagging and a nip on the shin every morning just to show me who was boss.
The farm was busy with the morning activities on the production line where the salmon were handled from harvest to packing with labels for destinations around the world where these prized salmon would end up in tartar, sushi, on cedar planks, and creamy pasta dishes around the world. The ladies there all knew me by now…
“Ahh, would you jist look at de ‘oon-yun’ now, all dressed up sure!”
I smiled – I was The Onion at the farm, because I had as many layers as an onion…t-shirt, long-sleeved turtle neck, flannel shirt, thick, lets say, thick-thick hand-knit Aran sweater my mother made for me by the work of her hands and heart, and a padded flannel over-shirt, covered entirely in a slick yellow rubberized knee-length raincoat and Wellingtons.
If I was cold, it was because I was swimming in the fiord, which never happened.
Each morning, we lads would go to the feed shed and work to fill the carts with 25 kilo bags of fish meal, wheel them over to the edge of the dock, and then toss them down into the low deck of the boat to take out to the fish pens in the middle of the fiord, its’ oily black waters hiding the pens, nets, salmon, and clever seals endemic to the area because of the easy food on the inside of the nets.
The boat would take us out and then we’d hand-bomb about 300 kg onto each pen, and out I would get to start working on my tendonitis. The routine was simple. Stand bag up, tear seam on top, take plastic scoop from pocket, scoop pellets, scatter in a wide arc with a swing of the arm and swift flick of the wrist to fan the pellets as widely as possible for all the fish to have a chance at reaching their meal before it sank to the deep floor of the fiord. Repeat until all bags empty and packed into the first empty bag. Ends a few days later with – develop tendonitis.
As the sun rose up over the edge of the landscape to the east, the freezing Atlantic Ocean roiled and rolled, its salt spray dashing upon the coast a mile or so away from us who were on the fish pens. A few days, the winds and clouds conspired to carry that sea-spray over and rain down on us until we tired from the weight of the feed, and the force of the rain against our rubber raincoats.
Across from the salmon farm, was the short-cropped grassy landscape sloped ever upward from the edge of the fiord into the clouds. That slope beckoned me each morning, daring me to climb it, for no other reason than because it was there.
One afternoon as the boat chugged over to collect me from a pen, I said, “I’d love to climb that hill over there.” The lads looked at me, looked at each other, looked at the hill, smiled. “What for? There’s nothing there but sheep shite.” (Rhymes with ‘right’ but means ‘poop’).
We laughed, so I laid out a challenge. I said I could climb it in an hour, or I’d pay for a round of pints. With that, the bet was on, and we agreed to come out on the Saturday and they’d ferry me across the fiord.
That Saturday, I jumped from the boat onto the firm coastline and told the lads to start the timer. With a turn, I stepped into the incline of the landscape and made my way at a swift pace and oblique angle to zig-zag up and up the mountainside.
The fiord fell away below me, the boat became smaller and smaller as it motored across the fiord back to the jetty. The cool air filled my lungs to keep me pacing comfortably. I checked my watch from time to time. I sped up over easier slopes, slowed down at rough scrabble not to slip. The peak was above me and visible in the mists. The ocean was a mirrored grey with deep blue and bright flashes of reflected sunlight.
As I reached the summit, a strange feature met me – it looked like a mushroom cap on the top of the mountain. Topped by a cap of grass, an earthy ring was trodden and rubbed until it formed a rough circle. The sheep who sometimes sheltered there from the fury of the Atlantic wind and rain formed it over the years to shelter in.
I looked at my watch – 57 minutes! I hollered for all to hear and everyone to ignore. Nowhere to go but down, which was often a frantic effort to keep my nose above my heels. I had visions of rolling down and down until I hit the edge of the water and disappeared into the icy depths of the fiord without stopping. With my luck, I’d probably keep rolling down past the bottom and up the other side until I rolled right up the jetty and to the feet of the Rhodesian Ridgeback for a stern nip on the shin.
The Monday morning, everyone was laughing about the onion that climbed a mountain. “Onion!”, they called, “What will ye git up to next?” The hound sat erect and gazed at me. I said I’d think about it.