Following the Currents
‘Let’s meet at the Duke of Duckworth. It’s just down the street from where you’re staying. 5:30 sound good?’
It all sounded good to me. I could hardly believe that I was finally here and about to meet the two sisters for the first time.
Having come back to St. John‘s after a great week at the Bonavista Biennale, I waited in anticipation of what the evening would bring. This meeting was part of the reason for my first ever trip to Newfoundland.
Over 10 years ago, I stayed on the abandoned northern Scottish island of Stroma for a month. Every morning after breakfast, I would set out exploring the island for a few hours. Afterwards, I’d come back for my lunch and then spend the afternoon writing, drawing, painting....This was followed by a visit to the old manse at 4 PM where I had a cup of tea with the farmers that owned the island, and a walk back to the nurse’s cottage for dinner. In the evenings I had 2 hours of generated electricity when I could listen to the radio, charge up my phone, read, and get ready for bed before tugging the cord from the window into blackness and bedtime. Simple days with a simple routine.
One morning, during my explorations, I made my way down to the rocky coast near the lighthouse. I had been there for a little while and started for the grassy land above the shore when something caught my eye. It was a bottle - with something in it! I stumbled across the rocks towards it, hardly believing my eyes. But there it was, lodged between two stones. I picked it up, stared at it and then scrambled up the hill.
On my way back to the nurses cottage I noticed two of the farmers who were lambing on the island. I was practically running when I met the on the gravel road. Out of breath, I said,
‘Guess what I found?’
’What?’ they simultaneously replied.
’A message in a bottle!’
They looked astounded.
‘Never,’ they both said.
’Yes!’ I replied excitedly. ‘And guess where it is from?’
’Where?’ They both asked.
’Guess!’ I said.
After a few tries they then said, ‘Canada!’
’NEVER,’ they both replied emphatically.
’Yes, yes! Goose Bay, Newfoundland! Look here.’ And I showed them.
I wrote messenger, Lewis, a letter soon after - including some sketches from my journal, pictures of the bottle and where I found it, a short summary of the history of the island of Stroma, and my email address. Lewis’s daughter wrote an email response upon receiving my package, just as thrilled to hear from me. Her father had thrown the bottle out from the north coast of Labrador where he was a sailor for the Marine Atlantic.
The bottle sat on a shelf in my studio. Years passed. I’d think about it now and then - a reminder of that special time on Stroma.
Then something happened....
Two years ago, whilst scrolling through my facebook newsfeed, the title of a CBC article caught my eye. Initially I scrolled past it, but something made me look again and properly read the title of the article: ‘Mariner’s bottled message found in Ireland, years after death’.
On reading this I had a strong inclination to tap in one of the names mentioned in the article in my email search bar. Sure enough, there staring in front of me was the correspondence from those many years before. I could hardly believe it!
I immediately wrote one of the daughters, using the email address I had, on the off-chance that it might reach her. Much to my amazement, she responded. We wrote a bit back and forth.
In the meantime, I ended up in Ontario over Christmas this last year. A couple of artist friends from Toronto wanted to meet up - just the three of us. It was a bitterly cold evening, but we found a cozy pub to sit in and have a good catch up. During that time together the subject of Newfoundland came up - the Bonavista Biennale, names of mutual friends exhibiting there, and the bottle....
’Come! Put it down to research!‘ my friend, Catherine, said, referring mainly to the biennale.
And that‘s exactly what I ended up doing, with the research extending on different levels.
The sisters were lovely - so eager to connect and show me the letters. We ordered our cod and chips and had a wonderful conversation about their father, my letter and the time on Stroma. If nothing more, it was a wonderful connection to make and I felt I had gained two new friends - all through their father’s whimsical idea to throw bottles out into the Atlantic to see where they might land; through currents and tides.
What other connections have been made in this way? And what more will come?
I‘m going with the current - to see where it will lead.