Sunday, February 22, 2009

Polar Bears

Honestly, I never even considered this possibility when I first conceived of The Grey Islands. However, when I got my grant results back from the NLAC and it hit me that I was actually going to go through with this I suddenly realized I might run into a polar bear. Suffice it to say, that week I didn't sleep much - thoughts of living alone on an island with a polar bear were, well, terrifying.

It's not unusual for polar bears to make it as far south as Newfoundland while hunting seals on the sea ice. A search of news releases from the Department of Environment and Conservation shows three Polar Bear Advisories on the Northern Peninsula from the past year alone. Most alarmingly, the Sea Duck Joint Venture, which conducts research on eider nesting sites in the Grey Islands, reported that one of its study areas was ravaged by a polar bear in 2007. Fortunately, most of these incidents seem to occur between February and April, and I certainly won't be heading that way that early in the spring. But there is at least anecdotal evidence that shows polar bears have been found in the area as late as June. I have much research left to do.

And preparation. I need to talk with wildlife officers about the likelihood of an encounter. I need to create a strategy to keep myself and my belongings safe while I'm out there. I need an emergency escape plan in case something goes terribly wrong. I've decided to learn to shoot and to bring a gun with me to the islands. And, in the unlikely event that a bear encounter seems imminent when it comes time for me to head out there, I have selected a backup island on the south coast where I know I can safely go.

Curiously enough, this isn't the only bear-induced anxiety sleeplessness to affect one of my art projects. A couple years ago during my Bicycle Rehabilitation Project I had some pretty anxious moments while camping. When you're alone in a tent in the Rockies and are woken up by snorting and stomping coming from the forest in the middle of the night it's not easy to fall back into a peaceful sleep. And another night while camping in a small town in the Canadian Shield a local resident made a point of coming to tell me about the size of the black bear that was in his backyard "just the other day". Bears. Fucking bears.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Little Off Topic...

Just now while I was researching transportation to the islands I came across this line on the "about us" page of a website of an outfitter in Roddickton:

"Mayflower Outfitters is located on the Great Northern Peninsula in Moose Management Unit 40."

For years I've wondered why Newfoundland is not broken down into smaller political units - counties, townships or something of the like. I remember first moving to the town of Perth in Lanark County in eastern Ontario and being astonished that I was always nested three layers deep "in" some place, even when I was miles out in the country on my bike with nothing around me. I suppose we have bays, but it's become less and less frequent to refer to places like Harcourt, Trinity Bay, or Westport, White Bay, for instance. Also, a bay is obviously not a functional division of land - which bays would Buchans or Wabush be in?

So my proposal is to institute the Moose Management Unit as the official division of land within the province. Imagine the delight of receiving a letter addressed like this:

Alphonsus Bucket
12 Fishgirdle Row
Harbour Bay
Moose Management Unit 27
Newfoundland and Labrador

I'm sure the surveying and boundary making is already done so it wouldn't represent that much of a logistical challenge. And certainly most residents already know which MMU they reside in. And yes, it's perversely idiosyncratic, but so is having our own little time zone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I never knew this existed, but apparently it does:

Islomania on Wikipedia

The Islomaniac

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dinner For Strangers

Another project interested in the more conceptual aspects of craft practice:

Service: Dinner For Strangers

Saturday, February 7, 2009


In the past few months I have met no shortage of people who have ancestry from or experience with the Grey Islands. Although the communities have long been resettled there is a definite cultural memory of the place that generally has to do with hardship and isolation.

Take for instance a story I heard at a dinner party a little while ago, about a child who stepped on a nail and died after infection set in. There were no medical services on the island and no transportation to the mainland was available for several days because of bad weather.

These are the kinds of stories people tell me when they hear about my project. They don't necessarily do it to discourage or to scare me, but more to get a feel about my commitment level to the project and how I can justify what I'm doing both artistically and personally. I've always believed that art (and craft especially) relies upon the viewer living vicariously through the artist. If, for example, an urban dwelling professional romanticizes about the back-to-the-land movement but can't figure it out how to make it work for herself she might be happy enough to buy a dinner set from a nearby country potter. And I expect The Grey Islands will be no different - there will be an audience for this piece that projects its (usually third-hand) experience of the place onto my actions there.