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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Perpetual E-motion

Physicists say that perpetual motion is a scientific impossibility so let me be blunt when I say I’m not completely convinced, in fact here in Newfoundland and Labrador we may be on the verge of proving that particular perception, among many others, absolutely false.

In general terms perpetual motion refers to the ability of something to put out as much, or more, energy than required to sustain itself. In other words it can continue to be active indefinitely, perhaps even gaining momentum, simply by feeding off its own energy output. Scientific principles tell us this is not possible but then again scientists aren’t known for their romantic views of the world and it seems to me that romanticism might be the fuel required to feed perpetual motion.

I may sound as if I’ve lost that last lonely marble rolling around in my hat holder but I can assure you I haven’t, and no I’m not referring to a romance between two lovers, though the concepts are similar. I’m speaking of the romance of a special time and place.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the perfect example. There have always been those who bemoan their life today while happily romanticizing the past. How many of us have heard someone speak, with a gleam in their eye, of the time when small fishing boats dotted the coastline, when everyone knew their neighbours and when even city dwellers felt no need to lock their doors at night. I freely admit that those were romantic days indeed but unfortunately, due to the often ignored realities of the time, most of us couldn’t appreciate them as they unfolded around us. Only in retrospect have we been able to recognize their appeal.

Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have always known how special this place is. A hidden treasure at the edge of North America, but it’s often been difficult for us to appreciate it, let alone convince others of the fact, while struggling to put food on the table or a roof over our heads.

Today, for a larger portion of our population than in the past, things are different.

Over the past several years Newfoundland and Labrador has changed, or perhaps more accurately, the attitudes of the people living here have begun to change and in doing so have helped alter the attitude of those outside our borders. It didn’t happen overnight and it’s by no means complete, but it has happened is continuing with each passing day.

When searching for a catalyst behind this change there isn’t one single thing you can put your finger on but rather a series of intangibles that together have conspired to encourage a monumental shift of attitude and a renewed sense of pride.

Our new found economic prosperity, higher level of educated citizens and lower (at least by NL standards) unemployment rates are by no means a barometer of our romantic status but those realities, along with many other factors, may well have served as the means by which more people than ever before have the “breathing room” necessary to nourish a romantic spirit.

With the daily scramble for survival taking a back seat, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are now finding the time to look around them at the amazing place in which we live. It’s a mindset that appears to be contagious and is leading us on an exciting journey of long overdue self-discovery.

If you scratch beneath the surface of any romantic period you’ll find it marred with a less than ideal reality. The same is as true today as it was in centuries past, with some in the province continuing to struggle, but while we find it so easy to romanticize our past, warts and all, our present, while different is no less romantic and that’s something many here and abroad are finally able to grasp.

For decades provincial tourism ads have struggled to shine a spotlight on the beauty and wonder of Newfoundland and Labrador. More often than not it’s been an uphill battle just to overcome the misconceptions of an uninformed audience around the globe, but not these days. Today Newfoundland and Labrador practically sells itself. It’s as if we’ve reached a tipping point where shear momentum has taken over, and when that happens, progress becomes almost self- sustaining, the perpetual motion of which I speak.

Our pride in this place, our positive attitude and our newly discovered self assurance allow us to blow our own horn in a way we’ve never felt comfortable doing in the past. This new attitude has sparked a keen interest and curiosity from afar. Those who visit here to quench that curiosity are seeing us through fresh eyes. They share their amazement with us and with others when they return to their homes. In doing so these visitors serve to reinforce our positive attitude in ourselves and our province which then stimulates even more interest from abroad and the cycle repeats itself again and again gaining momentum all the while. Perpetual motion, as described by physicists, was never as beautiful.

No longer is Newfoundland and Labrador seen from the outside as a “quaint” yet poverty stricken outpost struggling for survival in the cold North Atlantic. No longer do our unique accents and dialects lead people to mistakenly look down upon us as uneducated peasants worthy of little more than punch lines or pity.

Visitors today generally pay us the ultimate compliment of seeing us for what we are, a thriving and energetic people who have struck a delicate balance between the conveniences of modern life and a rare old world charm.

Where once we were seen as a dejected people we are now recognized as a friendly but dynamic and resourceful population. Visitors in recent years have also come to understand that we are a people who have the great fortune to live in a scenic setting worthy of poem and song. A people who are part of a distinct culture found nowhere else on the continent.

It’s this attitude shift, both at home and away, that bodes well for Newfoundland and Labrador as more and more people yearn for precisely those qualities in their own less idyllic lives.

On my recent travels, upon informing others of where I live, I was overjoyed to be met with excitement and amazement rather than the smirks and jokes of the past, or thankfully, by the old standard, “Newfoundland, where’s that?”

This shift in perception is palpable and it’s becoming more and more widespread.

These days the average response ranges from “Oh, that’s where the Titanic sank. I’d love to see the icebergs there”, to “I’ve read so much about it, it seems so wonderful.”

When high profile personalities like Russell Crowe, for example, spend their time “Tweeting” to the world about waking to the sound of seagulls, the fog shrouding Signal Hill or even saying St. John’s tap water is the best water in the world, who can help but stop and reconsider the most mundane aspects of their daily life here. And remember, for every Russell Crowe there are tens of thousands of “ordinary mortals” who visit Newfoundland and Labrador each year and share their stories around the world.

Locally our perceptions are changing as well, for while most of us are accustomed to complaining about foggy days, even the heaviest of fog and drizzle, when viewed in a new way, can take on a romantic hue.

Nobody would argue the romance of Rome, Paris or Venice, but remember, even in those great destinations someone has to pick up the trash every night or sweep the floors of the museums. With that slight change in perspective in mind, consider whether any of those destinations is truly more romantic than a leisurely evening stroll along the foggy coastline, hand in hand with the one you love, only to pause on a grassy outcrop and witness the ghostly shape of an iceberg emerging through the mist, all the while being serenaded by seagulls swirling effortlessly overhead.

Hell, throw in a humpback slapping the water and even Toronto columnist and social gadfly Margaret Wente would be forced sit in stunned silence, something many of us would pay good money to witness.

This place is truly one of a kind. Something many of us are finally willing to admit, not only to ourselves but to the world thanks to our broadening perspective and our own version of perpetual e-motion that’s growing stronger with each passing year.

Yes, there’s a bank of fog outside my window as I write this today yet I somehow still feel the brightness of sunshine surrounding me just the same.


Anonymous said...

Ahh this post ... warms my heart and makes me melancoly all at the same time...

I moved to Newfoundland back in 2006, came for a job and came for the lifestyle. My husband followed me in 2008. I gotta tell ya we love it here. For all of the beautiful reasons and imagery you've painted here.

Yet next spring we'll sell up and move to my ancestral home of Nova Scotia.... even though the earth beneath your feet doesn't breath the same life. And the reasons are hard for Newfoundlanders to understand - but as a come from away... the LIFE we fell in love with here isn't available to us. The farm properties on the sea - sure there's lots of em, but no one is selling them - they're holding on to em for when the kids come home. And the kids will come home.

Maybe it's our fault maybe we should have tried harder, maybe we should have dug deeper into local events and goings on, but even when we did - much as the people were warm and welcoming and gracious - we've felt like long term tourists.

It's a beautiful life here in Newfoundland, but it seems to be reserved for Newfoundlanders.

God bless ya all and we'll remember our time here fondly, but we need to find a home.

Republic Of said...

Well I have lived all around Canada oceansedge, and I can honestly say that I totally understand what you are saying. It’s been over 10 years now since I have moved away from home, looking for a job to keep myself alive.

We are all Canadian; until we go to a different part of the country to look for work, then we become an outsider. From my experience, no one has experienced this more than the hundreds of thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans that have moved to places like Oshawa, Hamilton, Brampton, and Cambridge Ontario. We have worked in the factories of Ontario, and the Oil fields of Alberta but we have never been accepted as Albertans or Fellow Ontarians. We have always been seen as “ the Newfie”.

Always seen as the one who doesn’t have the education to do that job. Always been seen as the drunk in the crowd who doesn’t want to work.

I myself have been a victim of this form of racism several times. Several times have I been told that “ OH My, I didn’t relies that you people were smart enough to do that work. Then when you tell them that you have an education from their precious schools, you seem to knock them off their chair. But, I never saw this from anybody from our province. I always thought that we were a more accepting people than those from other regions of Canada.

As for the people holding onto the best farms or aqua-culture, I can say that I really don’t blame them. I think that we have learned our economics, thru the school of hard knocks. So we now know what our resources are worth.

I myself am investing in the new resources that are coming into play in our province. Aqua-culture, and re-newable energy are going to be huge for Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s up to the individual to secure their future. And, as Nova Scotia has already learned, when you open your doors to the world and you place a “ Open for Business “ sign on your province, you are going to have people show up and drive the price of real-estate thru the roof.

85% of your shore line is owned by foreign investors is it not? Well I hope that you do find that one special place in your heart. I think that we all have one of those special places.

I think there is a reason why they call it “Avalon “.

As Always Patriot, a great piece of writing my friend.

“ Republic Of “

PS, It’s been a long time since you have written anything past Memorial Day. Have you decided to work this summer? ;)

Patriot said...

Well said "Republic of". I lived away from the province for a decade before moving back in the early 90's but was never seen as a "local" when I lived elsewhere, no matter how long I was there.

I also hope you can find a little piece of heaven for yourself "Oceansedge" but as the previous comment suggests, if someone has family land near the ocean (for example) they aren't likely to part with it easily. Keep the faith however, there's always that perfect spot out there.

On the topic of my "working" this summer, thanks for noticing "Republic of". Actually I usually take some personal time around late July through mid-late August. This year was no exception but there were a few things I had the urge to write about never the less, so naturally I did.

As always, all the best and keep in touch. It's always nice to get feedback and comments from NLers both at home and especially those living away, not to mention all those NLers at heart who recognize just how special this place is.


Anonymous said...

Seems I've offended, and that really was not my intent at all.

When I said that they're keeping the land for when the kids come home I meant no slight, or to somehow imply that I think that's wrong. Actually I think it's wonderful - a phenomenon it seems only found in Newfoundland. Because the kids will come home. Anywhere in the world it seems the one thing any Newfoundlander away from Newfoundland wants is to come home. And is the case with all islands, land is in limited supply. For us it would seem that our little 25-50 acre homestead by the sea doesn't exist here for us.

I'm sorry for the bigotry you've seen, I know it exists and it sickens me, but I also know where ever I've gone in the world who ever I've been talking to - you tell em you're from Newfoundland and they all have a story of the guy they knew/or the girl who worked with their wife/or - and the story is always the same "one of the best blokes I ever had the pleasure of knowing". That to me is the true reputation of Newfoundlanders throughout the world. That said, I didn't mean to imply that this sense of being a tourist was anyone's FAULT. No sometimes things just are. Some places a person feels more at home than others. Newfoundland is just a harder place to know than some others.

This isn't about being annoyed with or slighting Newfoundland or Newfoundlanders for it - but rather a wistful melancholy. Not blaming anyone, rather sometimes things just are what they are. When we do leave it will be sadly, we will miss the place and the people.

Patriot said...

I have to say "oceansedge", based on your comments to date you sound as much (or perhaps even more) like a Newfoundlander as any I've known. It's too bad you haven't been able to find what you were looking for here. Newfoundland and Labrador will be a poorer place for having lost someone with your outlook on life.

All the best and I hope you find something that works for you here before you have to leave us.