Thursday, August 12, 2004

Serious Homesteaders!

I also watched shows on PBS called "Back to the Sea" in which two families return to the outports of Newfoundland to live as their ancestors did in 1937, fishing for cod, having their survival supplies come in by boat only twice a year and having to stretch those meager supplies in all circumstances.

The men fish by handline with up to 400 hooks on a line to catch cod. They have to repay the Merchant who brings the supplies in their cod catch which can amount to tons of cod that has to go to the Merchant. If they fall short of the required due, they are then in debt to the Merchant against their next order of supplies. The men have to learn the nature of the Sea in all weather conditions and work from dawn till dusk.

Once the catch is in, all the families then come to clean and process the fish, using primitive tools and preserving in salt...exactly to specifications or the cod will be subject to rot, sunheat, overexposure, over-salted. The families work until the catch for the day is processed, late into the night and then when it is all done, they can all go and eat supper.

The women work primarily all day in the house, cooking (no refridgerators mind you and wood cookstoves), preserving, cleaning, gardening the vegetables that will sustain them through the seasons. It is demanding and draining work given there are few modern conveniences to ease the labor, so it literally beomes a woman's work is never done.

And if the family gets "relocated" to the mainland, they have to haul their wood structure saltbox houses down to the shore for loading on the raft that will float them to the mainland. They have to build the wood slat rollers that will the house will roll on to the shore and then with sheer brute strength, they all get together and pull the house on ropes over the slats down to the shoreline to then load it onto the raft.

It seems it is too expensive to try to build a new house on the mainland and so hauling and floating their own house becomes the option. That is how the houses that were there in 1937 have, over the years, gradually, all been hauled off the outports to the mainland. It seems that often families could not "make it" on the outports and the government offered to pay them $200 per adult and $100 per child to relocate. I'm not sure I understood the why of that, but that is what the show presented.

It seems as people came to the mainland they became more citified. Many yearn to go back to the outports where communities once stood, and this show had two families give it a try to see if they could be all that their ancestors were.

I like to watch these kind of shows, I've seen the Pioneer House (Canada), the Frontier (Montana homesteading) , the Victorian House replicating the Victorian era, this one Back to the Sea (Newfoundland) and there is one more recently that I missed seeing. Now I have forgotten what it was about, I had made a mental note to tune in but was not able to do so that week.

There was also a 1960's filmography of a man in his 50's who wanted to see if he could go it alone and live in Alaska wilderness for a year. He did, quite successfully, and stayed on in Alaska till he was 80 something years old when his health wore out and his brother insisted he come live with him in the United States.

We don't get to test ourselves these days in quite the same way, we seem to have more emotional types of stressors and circumstances to navigate, it seems to me anyway. I don't think we get to see, feel, experience as much satisfaction in ourselves in jobs well done as our ancestors who had harder daily lives to forge out.

In each of these shows that I have watched, there is a kind of personal transformation for the volunteers that gives them a renewed sense of connection to who they are to themselves, to their families and their sense of place in the world. And it also seems to me that in these shows, the volunteers who bring their families and children along for the experience find a deeper meaning to how to be family without the distractions we have so much of in our own modern lives.

I am intrigued always by these shows while at the same time knowing I lack the stamina to do half as much as what these folks do, but I always wonder to myself, if pushed to the challenge, could I?

No comments: