Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sounds of St. John’s

This piece was inspired by August Rush, the movie we saw while in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

I hark back to Friday, November 23, 2007.

Cape Spear: a thick fog clutches and grabs Canada’s most easterly point. The pervasive grayness obscures the Atlantic Ocean and reduces my vision to about half a kilometer.

It forces me to listen: one toot, and then another fills the air.

“It’s like they’re singing to each other,” my wife says.

As the professional photographer explores the scene for opportunities to capture visual memories, I tune into the horn section. The tuba-sounding blast takes center stage; its orchestrated performance lasts only about four and a half seconds, echoing into the fog for another good four seconds. But every forty-five seconds, it returns for an encore.

Mixed into this symphony is the seemingly un-orchestrated blare of what may be a distant boat, its origins impossible to discern for the fog. But that predominant foghorn sounds close-by. Where does it originate?

I walk north from the lighthouse, down a sloped path. The ocean is quiet—not like in the summer when the sound of blue-green waves crashing, towering ice bergs toppling, and whales surfacing have filled my ears—and calm. I approach a square white edifice.

Boom! The powerful alert emanating from the squat structure buckles my knees.

Later, I stand atop Signal Hill. I could see Cape Spear to my south on a fogless day, but not today. The fog is not as thick as it was on Cape Spear, but it’s unyielding, insisting me to eavesdrop on Mother Nature.

Facing The Narrows and beyond to St. John’s Harbour, I hear what sounds like a sail bellowing. A gull’s wings have rippled in the stiff wind. The bird joins a group flying south but then circles left before rejoining the band, which now approaches the harbor. The bird flapping to the beat of a different drummer exits stage right and then disappears into the fog. Alone.

The flock of seagulls flaps toward George Street. The band of birds is unaware that later tonight and into Saturday morning on St. John’s most vibrant street, my wife and I will dance to music from the 80s (and the 70s and 90s). “I Ran (So Far Away)” won’t be on 709’s (a super-charged cover band named for Newfoundland’s area code) playlist, and we won’t sing to each other. But our eardrums will get a workout.
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