Bears are Fast, Really Fast
Beethoven has always been my favorite composer and pianist, music in general a passion. Not being able to play a single instrument myself, I appreciate those who can and just enjoy listening. I was introduced to Beethoven for the first time after relocating to Marystown, Newfoundland. This was 1970, the same year James Taylor released Fire and Rain. Moving around was not unusual for me, my father’s work took us all over the world. Marystown was different for me though, she changed me, opened new worlds.
Shipbuilding and fish processing were the economic forces of the town in those days and the reason we were there. My father was a marine engineer, he specialized in hull design. But his true expertise, and why they needed him, was his ability to analyze and correct balance miscalculations. Newfie fishermen were notoriously optimistic, boats routinely listing into port.
Located on the south-east coast of the Burin Peninsula it was the perfect location for a fish processing plant, with the Grand Banks just around the corner to the east. Being selected the evacuation site for the Royal Family if the German’s ever landed in Britain during the war was the town’s only true claim to fame though. Being part of the Commonwealth had its prestige.
Newfoundland, Canada. Seems like such a long time ago, I wouldn’t want to live there now from what I understand. There are no more ships and the plant has closed. Everyone is leaving or has already left. But at the time for a nine-year-old it was great. Warm summers, bitter cold, and snowy winters. It was easy for a kid to keep occupied or get into trouble. Endless rolling hills of lichen-covered rock for hiking and climbing pitted with small lakes plump with trout for catching or trying to catch. Moose, lynx, and rabbits were common sights, and the floral emblem of the province is the Pitcher Plant, its carnivorous; that was cool.
On the warmest summer days we used to race our bikes to the dump when the fish and other refuse were ripest. Located at the edge of town, in a clear-cut between a gravel quarry and a forest of Yellow Birch mixed with some sort of spruce, it was the obsession of the local black bear population seeking convenience food. I could watch them for hours.
Spontaneous inspiration or death-wish. Willy Roads, one of the older boys, had the bright idea one day to throw a rock at a nearby bruin while it was shining the inside of one liter can of Mama Mia’s spaghetti sauce with its tongue. Bears are fast, really fast! At the moment that rock hit the can that bear had plans for Willy. Willy had Ben Johnson speed that day, without the disgrace, as both he and the bear went screaming down the road before anyone had sense of what happened.
After about twenty minutes or so, gathering our wits and courage, and gaining no sign of that particular bear we hopped on our Huffys and cautiously peddled the path leading away from the dump and towards our last sighting of Willy. Within minutes we encountered the bear sauntering back up the path, not minding us at all, with what appeared to be a pair of Levi’s clenched in his sauce-covered snout. Willy did make it home safe that day but was never seen at the dump again and the jeans were never fully explained.
Winter was full of learning to skate on frozen ponds and sheltered inlets, all the kids played hockey, and clearing driveways for pocket-money after each snow. This snow was deep and measured by body-part. Ankle deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and so on, and the trick was to do the driveways before the snowplow came by. If you dallied at all, rather than the fluffy white, you’d be clearing a six-foot-tall monster of compact snow, ice, and gravel, the stuff that gave grownups heart attacks. And then there was sledding!
Our house was utilitarian and looked like all the rest, a company house, a box. 77 somethin’ Street, I don’t quite remember. What made it different and the hub of activity was the hill. Out the back door, across a rough cement porch and straight up it seemed. Approximately thirty degrees over ninety-four meters or so, you could get up a bit of steam, leaving you with about fifteen meters as the slope leveled out to brake, jump off or slam directly into the back of our house. And that’s what I did; hit the house face-first at whatever version of light speed a kid can attain on a plastic saucer.
System failure I suppose, mechanical or mental, I really don’t remember a thing from that point on except the sound of a colossal wave breaking inside my skull and feeling a light so bright it had to be a glimpse of heaven. Now, fortunately, from clearing a walkway around the house, the snow had been pushed up and piled against the foundation which typically protruded about a meter above the ground. Even though it served as a mini launch-pad, it was protection from the concrete.
Opus 77, Fantasia for piano in G by Beethoven was the first thing I heard when I woke up. I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time of course, but the original score is now part of my collection, sharing space with the patent papers for the Wright Brothers ‘Flying Machine’.
Turns out I was really pretty lucky. Fortunately, the siding on the house had given enough that I didn’t split my head wide open. And the hematoma that went out rather than in making my face look like it was buried in belly fat meant no brain damage. I spent two nights in the hospital and then went home. Recovering at home was boring, though I did manage to avoid two weeks of school. Friends would visit, but I was pretty useless at that point and they didn’t stay long.
It was when I was asleep that things got interesting. I had a series of extremely vivid dreams, perhaps hallucinations, crisp and clear not the wispy astral. As with most dreams though, they were soon forgotten. Except for one. A night when Beethoven invited me to stay at his place if I ever made it to Austria. Of course, I accepted the invitation, and down the road, at some point, I discovered what the dream really meant and met the man in person. It was my first trip to Vienna; when I first discovered I could travel back in time. My first experience, but not my last.
Over the past twenty-three year’s I have traveled the world past to present; to an untold number of countries and regions in their finest and darkest times, but never into the future. That’s impossible of course since it simply hasn’t happened yet. Officially inventoried at seven-thousand three-hundred and twenty-one items the fruits of my journeys are extensive and impressive. In fact, it was considered to be the largest private collection of historical artifacts ever recovered at the time of my arrest. A common thief had entered my home and helped himself to a few of my souvenirs. Just try to pawn an Eighteenth Dynasty Heart Scarab and see what kind of attention that brings.
Seven years in prison is the tariff on my collection. It’s hard to convince a bureaucrat that most of the items were gifts, a few were purchased here and there, maybe I did lift one or two. I won’t be spending even one night behind bars though, there’ll be some long faces in the morning when my absence is discovered. I’ll be off when my head hits the pillow. Zimmermannsche Kaffeehaus, located in Leipzig, Its doors closed forever in 1741, but I like it there.
One winter was enough, we moved the following Spring, returning to Seattle, Washington. I took away a working knowledge of the Canadian Parliament, learned Montreal was not the capitol and could sing O’Canada. Lessons learned in trade for not taking French, in which I was years behind. My final memory of Newfoundland is the flight out of St John’s. From a window seat, banking starboard, the pilot’s voice over the intercom pointing out the icebergs off the coast below. I remember wondering if there were any penguins looking up at us.