Wednesday, 3 October 2012

And we're back

Well, that's it. Field school is over and we're back in St. John's. Saturday night's sendoff was a great success - our presentation was well received, and a time was had by all. Thanks to Rick Pardy for getting the music going, and to all the fiddlers and accordion players and mummers (yes, mummers!) for making it a night to remember.

And now back to the books, to the rain, drizzle and fog of town, to city shoes, traffic and bus rides. To classrooms, libraries and grocery stores.

Thanks to everyone who made the first Keels Field School such a success.

We'll always have the music...

Wince playing Alvin Hobbs' accordion. (Photo: Jerry Pocius)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Avoiding Snares in the Field: Reflections on Fieldwork

Fieldwork is not some static line in the sand defined by the absence of any shifting tides. You can't just wake up in 'the field' and say " I am going to do fieldwork", and in the next moment " I am finished with fieldwork." Fieldwork doesn't end. Today, just when I figured that I had finished collecting data for my paper, I found myself gathering vital information this afternoon.

Rodney Byrne showing me the rabbit trails.

(Photo: Ed Millar)

One moment, I was returning a photo of young Rodney Byrne's first hare. The next, I found myself drinking a cup of tea; followed by mussels, lasagna, and bread. Before I can grasp the importance of these exchanges, I am off with Keels' own wilderness expert, Rodney Byrne, on a tour of the rabbit trails near  Harbour Pond. In only an hour, Rodney taught me how to spot rabbit trails, where to look for them, how to place the snare, and prepare the slip. He also demonstrated some moose and coyote calls from on top of a ridge. Rodney invited me to record and photograph our trip this afternoon, and as a result I gained even more useful information for my own use, for archival use, and  for any other future users of this data. All this, in an afternoon which I had previously planned to eat some left over rice porridge in the fridge and look at an Excel spreadsheet.

Perhaps this misconception of a 'finite fieldwork' comes from the assumption that because the written product pours forth from our pen, fieldwork must then stem from us. Well, it doesn't. Fieldwork emerges in that liminal space of the interaction between ourselves and the outer environment, whether they be people, places, or things. While we do hinge on the assumption of the self when conducting fieldwork to identify the 'outer' from the 'inner', we often forget that all life is in motion. Our lives spin like whirlwinds gathering experiences, emotions, and beliefs as we make our way through time and space. As we cross paths with one another, they intensify each and leave in their wake a base of information: fieldwork. In this way, fieldwork constantly expands.

Will our fieldwork here end when we leave Keels?

Well, I guess that is the big question all this raises. Does fieldwork end when we leave the field?

I wouldn't make it as a rabbit.

(Photo: Ed Millar)

The simple answer to that is, I don't know and I don't dare to answer.

But I hope one day I will have the clarity and sense of mind to approach the answer.

Perhaps I could ask Rodney Byrne to help me find the path...and hopefully I won't be the one snared.

Ethnographic Lesson No.1: Expect the Unexpected

View of the community stage and wharf in Keels, NL
 (Photograph: Noah Morritt)
Throughout high school and university I was taught the importance of planning ahead - of keeping on schedule and working toward a solid goal. Well, after three weeks in an ethnographic field school I think that I now have a new perspective on goal setting. I am not saying that planning and goal setting are not important - because they most certainly are - but in fieldwork you have to expect the unexpected and be prepared for deviations. Ethnographic research is about everyday life, people's beliefs, values, and lived experiences. When you enter a community you ultimately become part of that pattern of daily life, and you can never really know what is going to happen.

Phonse Ducey with needles and cards used for
knitting nets (Photograph: Noah Morritt)
You never know who you are going to meet on the street, or who is going to invite you in for tea or unexpectedly invite you to join them on an afternoon fishing trip. This is the reality of ethnographic fieldwork: you think you know what you want to know, and your informants have their own idea of what they think you should know. After three weeks my advice so far - go with the flow and be as flexible as possible, because the insights gained from these impromptu meetings can really help you adjust your approach and improve the questions you ask.

My problem now, however, is what do you do when you have embraced the unexpected and suddenly the end product of your research - the essays, floor plans and metadata - demand immediate completion. It seems that even when you set aside a good block of time to work on those last few paragraphs someone knocks of the door with an opportunity that you just cannot refuse. As a result, you have to slot in work time whenever you get the chance and hope that you can meet the deadlines at the end. In hindsight, I did not mind the busy work schedule or moments of frustration in the midst of trying to finish some assignment, because these past three weeks have been full of great experiences and important lessons, and without question, flexibility is one of the most important things I have learned.   

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Fond Farewell

Hard at work on our presentation

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Tomorrow is the day we students make our presentation to the Keels community and show them just what we’ve been doing since we arrived.  The six of us have been sitting together for hours, going over photos, videos, and interviews.  It is, in short, a time for summing up.  I’ve spent quite a while thinking about what I should include in this, my final blog post.  Honestly, I’ve been struggling to make a decision.  The last three weeks have been so full of new places, new faces, and new experiences that it would be impossible to create a complete picture in the space that I have here. 

I could focus on the people I’ve met…

A gathering at Jerry's place

(Photo: Jerry Pocius)

Revelry at the beach in Keels

(Photo: Jerry Pocius)

Or the sights I’ve seen…

Bonavista lighthouse

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Keels shrouded in mist

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

I could write an ode to the mighty codfish, in all its forms…

Cloth cod created by Hope Clark, Ryan Premises, Bonavista

(Photo: Claire McDougall) 

Our day's quota for the food fishery

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Cod tongues and cheeks

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

I could wax poetic about the past…

A historic fish stage in New Bonaventure

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

An abandoned root cellar in Keels

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Or pose questions about the future…

John Ducey's speedboat, Keels Harbour

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

The Twine Loft restaurant in Trinity

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

The truth is, though, I’ve yet to make sense of it all.  I have no grand statements to share…and if a picture is worth a thousand words, this post is already far too long.  What I can say is that I’ve met some wonderful people, and been welcomed warmly into a community.  I have seen many beautiful sights.  I have enjoyed cod in many different forms.  I have learned a little bit of the rich history of Keels and the Bonavista Peninsula.  I have heard people speak about their fears and hopes for the future.
It has been edifying and exciting – a true privilege, and a wonderful adventure.  Thank you Keels!

Sunset off Keels

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Rooting Around in Keels

Who knew such a small, humble structure could cause so many headaches?
Photo: Kristin Catherwood
When it came time to choose which buildings we wanted to measure, I originally had my heart set on documenting one of the fishing boats used in Keels. When that was no longer possible, I decided I wanted to measure a root cellar. Another student wanted to do the root cellar as well, and it came down to a knock-down, drag-out, nail-biter of a draw.  I drew #1 out of the hat, while the other student who wanted to measure root cellars got #2. I carried my sense of victory around for the next day or so, until we arrived at the cellar in question and I realised what a nightmare it was going to be to measure. I had thought measuring individual 2X4 studs in stores was bad, but that was a walk in the park compared to trying to figure out how to accurately measure a building which is composed in large part of a big pile of dirt overgrown with grass and trees enclosed by four uneven walls of vertical boards.
Me, in a posture of defeat while trying to draw the cellar.  Photo: Edward Millar
Thankfully, my teammates, Erin and Ed, knew what they were doing, because I certainly didn’t. Perched on a board wrapped in an old potato sack atop a prickly juniper bush, I had never felt like a bigger loser as I tried to do basic math to figure out how to get the lines to meet on the drawing board. I was definitely regretting that #1 I picked out of the hat by the end of the day. However, several frustrating hours later, I had a drawing of a root cellar, and it even looked semi-presentable. Despite the difficulty of documenting the building, I am now very glad that I did get the chance to do it. I was finding measuring buildings the most challenging aspect of the field school so far, and I still don’t feel like a “natural” by any means, but after the crash course presented by the root cellar, I feel much more confident about my ability to measure buildings, so much so that I’m considering writing my thesis on a topic that would include a lot of measuring of difficult buildings.
The final result.  Photo: Kristin Catherwood

And through all the frustration, I had a lot of fun working with Ed and Erin, and I can only hope they did, too. With a bit of good humour and an acceptance of less-than-comfortable working conditions, spending the day outside measuring an old building is actually a wonderful way to learn, all the while doing the important work of documenting a historical artifact.

I also feel that the root cellar, by definition a humble building, is an archetypal example of vernacular architecture. We have been learning here in Keels the importance of vernacular architecture in that it reveals much about a culture’s ideals, beliefs, means, and desires at a given time. Dr. Pocius refers to vernacular buildings as “fossilized thoughts.” Root cellars are buildings that hold the produce necessary to feed a family through the winter. If one digs a little deeper, more questions are raised. Why was this root cellar built above ground, while others were subterranean?  What kind of vegetables did it hold? Where did the vegetables come from? If grown locally, who did the gardening, and where? Why aren’t there many gardens around anymore?

In a way, “rooting around” in a root cellar is a sort of metaphor for fieldwork in Folklore. We dig around in unexpected places. People may wonder why we’re so interested in that old fish store, or that house which is "just an ordinary house". But we want to dig deeper, to show that “old things” and “ordinary things” are very important, that they tell us a great deal about a certain place, a certain time, a certain way of living. They tell us about people, and what was important to them. And after a bit of rooting around, it’s inevitable that we can find something extraordinary. 
From the road, one would have no idea that such an extraordinary structure exists in this grassy hollow. This root cellar, built by the Fitzgerald family  more than a century ago, evokes a sense of the medieval in modern Keels.
Photo: Kristin Catherwood

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Ocean Goods

I love being on the water! Somehow, I manage to forget that love often, and go months or years without stepping foot in a canoe or boat. The fact that I'm not much into fishing--or fish--is partly to blame for that. My extensive reading in adventure stories and Reader's Digest real-life horror stories is also to blame for that.(I've definitely read enough terrifying accounts of freak accidents, drownings that shouldn't have happened, storms that weren't expected, waves taller than skyscrapers, angry/capricious sea-gods, disgustingly large fish [read: Jonah and the Whale] and badly timed undercurrents.)

Alicia (me) on the water--a little windswept

Photo: Alicia Farnham
But once I'm out there on the water my naturally fearful nature, like the stink of decaying fish, is blown away by that pure wind you only ever come by on an open body of water. It's a glorious feeling. It makes me feel invincible, like I'm accomplishing something magical--I'm on the surface of a liquid! And not just any liquid! It's sparkling in the sunlight, or shadowed in mysterious ways by a cloudy sky. It (generally) exudes latent power and strength; there's a mixture of adrenalin that I'm risking my life with such an unpredictable entity, and rush of freedom and camaraderie with the vast world around me. The last time I was on the ocean was two years ago, whale watching with many good friends on my birthday. The last time I was on any water at all was this summer, canoeing with my parents. Remembering these times, I'm amazed that I could forget how awe-inspiring and exciting it is to be on the water.

Yesterday, all of that came back to me, taking a trip out of Keels Harbour with June Fitzgerald and my fellow student, Kristin Catherwood. The intention was to jig for cod, since this week is the food fishery. I'm [only a little] sorry to say I soon lost interest in this particular ocean good. I couldn't help but feel bad for the stupid fish that swam so thickly below the surface of the water that they could be caught within seconds of lowering a line. They didn't even fight! But all of this was lost in my enjoyment of the boat speeding over the waves. It was a beautiful sunny day--so sunny it even got fairly warm on the water. The spray brought up by our boat cooled my face on occasion and the breeze whipped through my hair. It was a glorious feeling!

Being out on the water elicits something beyond freedom, something more like blissful trust in the elements. Having gradually gotten more and more panicked about the page-long list of things to do before Sunday morning, I felt like an hour-glass, the sands of stress gradually pouring out of me to be replaced by the empty gleefulness that comes from literally throwing my fears to the wind. What a cathartic experience for my last week in Keels!

And speaking of my last week in Keels, this happens to be my last scheduled blog post, so I want to take my last sentence to thank all the residents of Keels for their kindness and hospitality. Thanks for letting me (and my class) invade your home and helping us all learn the art of fieldwork! I've had a wonderful time!

Fishing for information

It occurs to me that conducting interviews is a lot like cod fishing. You put some bait on a line, throw out a question, and hope that you pull in something interesting. What comes up can be a bit of a mixed bag.

After Claire and I finished our last scheduled interview yesterday, we went out handlining with John Ducey. It was a sunny afternoon, a lovely day to be out on the water. John steered us to our first shoal, baited up our hooks and we were off. Not long after, John was reeling in his line. Sculpin! An ugly, spiny fish. Not the face you want to see on your hook when it's cod that you're after. Try again. John got a couple of codfish, and Claire got her first. Nothing for me. Off to the next spot. And then the next. And the next. Sculpin were outnumbering the cod at least 2 to 1. I was having a hard time figuring out when my line had hit bottom, and what did it actually feel like when there was a fish on the other end of the line. I pulled it in a couple of times thinking I had something, only to find my forlorn bit of bait looking back up at me. Finally, I was sure I had something. Sculpin. 

My first catch - a spiny old sculpin. (Photo: Claire McDougall)

Determined to make our quota before the sun went down, we headed back to the place that we started. And all of a sudden, the cod were there. We made our quota in no time (I caught 3!) and got to see a beautiful sunset as we sped back to Keels.

Now that's more like it. (Photo: Claire McDougall)

I've made my interview "quota" for the course so to speak. My Minimum Allowable Catch of audio recording minutes. But there are a few sculpins in there. A few places where I wasn't sure where my line was or if I'd gotten anything. I'd love to have a few more days out on the water, testing out the grounds, and trying my chances for the big one. But our time grows short and I will likely have to make do with what I've got. We'll see if I can make a good sculpin stew out of it.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Hauling the Lobster and Jiggin' the Cod: A Landlubber's Odyssey


I get seasick. Even on the Prince Edward Island ferry. But I figured this was my once in a lifetime opportunity to jig for cod, so I popped a gravol and took off in Ster Welcher's speedboat. Merrily I hummed a Rankin Family tune --- "Fishermen's Son" as we bounced along, pleased in my seafaring adventure.They tell me it was calm seas, a beautiful day, but I was turning green and wishing for solid ground the moment we threw the line over side and started to bob on the water. I caught a cod fish almost immediately, managed to haul him to the edge of the boat, but refused to touch him, promptly turned around and remained in the bow of the boat, my head over the side, ridding myself of lunch. Sprays of brownish gravy-like fluid blew by the side of the boat as we motored around. I was in utter misery. Junior Fitzgerald was having a good laugh from across the way in our companion boat, Ster was concerned about having to potentially clean up vomit.

I guess I am a disgrace to Bluenoser's everywhere. The farmgirl from SASKATCHEWAN(!) was jiggin' cod like a pro, and me, a born and bred Nova Scotian, was a wobbly, vomiting mess.  

I was reassured when we pulled up to the wharf that lots of folks get seasick, even fishermen's sons. Perhaps so. But I failed miserably in my fishing expedition. Ster took pity, hooked a cod on Jerry's deep sea rod, and said I could pose with it. I'll go to sea no more.  

Kristin, Junior Fitzgerald and Alicia jig for cod.

My trophy fish.

Mr. Cod and Alicia

The farmgirl and Mr. Cod.
The perils of cod jiggin': tangled lines.

Junior and Annie Jane gut and fillet our cod.

Glamour shot.

Making waves in Junior's speedboat.

Jerry, looking windswept, and Ster
Ster and Rodney at the wharf.

Ster, with John Ducey, splitting the fish. Ster says its near impossible to buy a splitting knife now.

Ster and Jerry managed to haul in 10 fish, and our companion boat the same. The food fishery for cod lasts until Sunday. Those who wish can head out in their boats, catch 5 cod per person or 15 cod per boat, per day. Usually, the fish is filleted and frozen or split and salted, and eaten throughout the winter months.    

Netting for Cod

Tools of the fishery, including a needle used for
net making (centre) (Photograph: Noah Morritt)

When I decided what I wanted to study in Keels, nets and net making seemed like a straightforward topic, but after some preliminary research I realized what I was in for: I was about to receive a crash course in the cod fishery. Net making, as I soon discovered, is a fundamental skill for any inshore fisherman in Keels, connecting the modern fishery with the traditions of the past. Although the hand knitted cotton nets and traps used before the mid-twentieth century have now been replaced with nylon twine and pre-made mesh, traditional net making techniques continue to play an important role in both the cod and lobster fisheries.

Lobster Traps in New Bonaventure, NL (Photograph: Noah Morritt)

In the past, fisherman would spend the off-season winter months knitting their nets from cotton twine purchased from local merchants. This was time consuming work, but the nets and cod traps they produced were the fundamental tools of the trade. This pattern of net making and repair during the winter is still very much part of the Keels fishery. Today, however, twine is made from nylon, and machine made mesh is cheap and widely available.
Net making and net repairs continue to remain an important part of off-season preparations, and these traditional skills are being applied to the modern fishery in interesting ways. With the decline of the cod and squid fisheries, catching lobster has become an important source of income. Local fisherman prefer to make their own traps rather than buying commercially made ones, and often build new ones as older traps become damaged. This process involves knitting the mesh to fit semi-circular frames made from local timber, and lining the openings in the netting. This continuity in net making skills demonstrates the resiliency of local fishing traditions, and how they have been adapted and incorporated into contemporary fishery.

Worry for the Future: Peering Beyond the Horizon

“What do you plan to do once you finish here?”

I dread answering that question, and all like variants of it. It has less to do with the question itself, as it does with the answer. I don’t know. It seems that all my aspirations for the future always find themselves firmly lodged in the back of my throat when I attempt an answer. This morning I was asked that question, and my broken record squeaked out an anxiety-laden “I don’t know.” Some days I find that answer to be comforting; other days, it is petrifying. 

You can't see past the horizon: 

Do clear skies or stormy waters await?
 (Photo: Ed Millar) 

This morning, I was faced with that question before the dreaming sickness had fully left my body. 

When I try to imagine myself a year, two years, three years, or any other time down the line, I tend to see only where I hope to be. I know what I want to be, but I am afraid in providing that answer, as both I, and the inquirer, know that will most likely not be the case. Maybe that is what the question really means; “Where do you hope to be?” Yet we, including myself, tend to phrase that question in the expectation of an affirmative answer. Well the truth is I don’t know if I will ever have an answer, and if I did, would it be one worth giving? Or would I be too embarrassed to admit I ever had one? I know for certain some parts of that answer, but I will never know all the parts, and I don't believe I ever will. 

As our last week in Keels is winding down, we have spent the majority of our time in interviews, and wrapping up whatever work is left. Today while chatting with John Ducey after our interview, we spoke for a bit about the future of the fishery. John is worried that it won’t hold; certainly not in the direction that it is heading now. This morning in Noah’s interview, Phonse showed us how they made cod traps and nets, and stated that soon there won’t be anyone left who remembers how these things were made. Last night in Trinity, Jerry mentioned that traditional outport life is collapsing all around us. Many of these fishing communities are gradually becoming subsumed into the world of gentrified summer residences. 

Everyone’s worried of what the future might hold.

Yet in spite of this worry, we find ourselves soldiering on towards whatever dark and foreboding future we fear. Because we are not made of the sort of stuff which would bend so easily under panic, stress, and worry, that we would throw up our arms and proclaim our surrender.

As Donna Butt stated: there will always be people who want to live here, and there will always be people who want to reach that future. 

Not all paths reveal their end, but I think

 I know where this one leads. (Photo: Ed Millar)

Life will show us where it will.
I hope it is the one I had in mind.

A View of the Ocean

I’ve grown up with some very romantic ideas about the ocean, loving tales of adventure on the high seas.  A view of open water is magical to me, completely humbling and completely beautiful.  From childhood I’ve seen the ocean as a place of mystery and wonder, somewhere the imagination can roam at will.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard these sentiments echoed; I’ve encountered more than one fisherman who spoke of his love of being on the water – of the sense of freedom it brings.

Boats moored at New Bonaventure

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Things are never simple, though.  In communities that are closely tied to the ocean, and dependent on it in many ways, relationships with the water are necessarily complex and multi-layered.  A conversation I had a couple of days ago really brought this home to me.  Two women described their intense aversion to the water.  One cannot bear to watch when her son goes down to the wharf.  The other has lived in Keels for thirty-eight years (her husband was a fisherman for twenty-one of those) and, in her time here, she has been out in a boat twice.   

Keels Harbour

(Photo: Claire McDougall)

Their comments struck me very deeply.   I’ve been trying to imagine living my life, constantly facing something that was a source of intense fear, and I’ve found it very difficult.  The ocean has the power to provide (great bounty at times) but it also holds the power of life and death.  It seems this power is easier to accept when it is being faced directly.  As in so many things, that which is unknown is the most frightening… it is the waiting and not knowing that is difficult to handle.

My time in Keels has given me plenty to think about so far, and a new way of looking at the sea. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Going Away/Wanting to Stay

“Going away” is a common phrase here in rural Newfoundland. People here often leave for lengthy periods of time to work elsewhere. This is not a new phenomenon. During the nineteenth century, many people left their home harbours to work in the Labrador fishery, sealing or catching fish in that most rugged of locations. During the twentieth century, several men around here left to go work on the “lake boats” – cargo vessels hauling various commodities back and forth across the Great Lakes. Several local people still do that. And now, there is a great exodus of people who head West to work in the oil and gas and mining industries. If one goes on the websites of WestJet or Air Canada, he will find that it is possible to get a direct flight from St. John’s to Fort McMurray, Alberta. What is notable about many of these people is that they choose not to relocate permanently to the places where they earn the majority of their income. Instead, they maintain their homes here, with money earned far away.

It seems to me that many people go away so that they can stay in the places where they were born and raised, in their homes. It is probably also true that many of them simply don’t want to pay the higher price of living in other parts of the country, and find that they can stretch their incomes further by maintaining a permanent residence here. But certainly there are some people who simply cannot bear the thought of going away permanently. To go away is a means to an end, that end being the ability to stay in the places they call home.
From the living room of my host house in Keels. Photo: Kristin Catherwood

This is not merely one of my romantic visions, influenced by my own close attachment to the place where I was brought up. I witnessed it firsthand on my flight to Newfoundland (a direct flight from Calgary to St. John’s). The passengers were overwhelmingly Newfoundlanders, most young men, returning home from several weeks or months of working in Alberta. As the plane finally touched down on the runway of early morning St. John’s, the sense of happy homecoming was palpable in the stale air of the cramped airplane. Several people craned their necks  for a peek out the window, a glimpse of their home soil. I heard several comments like “feels good to be back” and “it feels like forever since I’ve been home.” In the airport terminal, there were many happy reunions, young couples embracing each other, fathers being accosted by their young children.  I couldn’t help but compare their happiness with my own sadness. I was coming to a foreign place, far from home. I wondered if how I felt was the way they felt on the other end of these cross-country trips, when they arrive out west for another stretch of work.

The folks who picked me up at the airport remarked upon the phenomena, commenting on how happy these people must be to be home. In my pre-KFS ignorance, I thought this practice of going far from home to work was a new one, something that had grown out of the collapse of the cod fishery and the booming of the oil industry in the west, developments that rather neatly coincided. But here in Keels, I’ve learned that “going away” is not new at all. Newfoundland families have long faced the reality of leaving home to find work. It does make one wonder: why not just move away? Why not leave permanently and find stable employment somewhere else? Some have, and do. But many choose not to. For them, some of them right here in Keels, this place is home, and there is no other like it.

A view of Keels from the west. Several people from Keels must go much further west to find work. Photo: Kristin Catherwood

Monday, 24 September 2012

Actually Facing the Field

Let me just start with: Conducting an interview is hard!

Today saw my induction into the art of the successful interview. I wouldn't say it went badly. The recording device didn't run out of batteries. The memory card was definitely big enough. I didn't forget my notes, and my informant didn't clam up from nervousness. I was lucky that my first interview was with a friendly man who has been offering since our group first arrived to tell me anything I need to know for my fieldwork. There were certainly no disconcerting disasters, but there are many aspects of it I really wish I could do over.
An Interview Setup
Modelled by Kristin Catherwood

Photo: Alicia Farnham

The challenge lay in holding myself in check, trying to remember and follow all of the tips I'd been given repeatedly in the last two weeks of classes and conversation with experts in the field. I have discovered, as of this morning, that where many people nod or make some sound of agreement in regular conversation, I giggle! After listening to twenty minutes of it, I now despise giggling! It was painful to listen to myself as I wondered, if I had stayed quiet at that moment would he have said more? If I hadn't made that horribly corny joke (that he did laugh at), would he have said something himself much more worthy of the memory space? If I had braved that awkward silence for two seconds more, would he have thought of something else  to add? Did I take over the flow of the conversation too much with my giggles and prompts? Did I let him tell his own story, or did I shape it too much with leading questions? Reviewing the resulting audio is proving to be a roller coaster of self-confidence, doubt, and criticism.

My conclusion? Interviewing in the field is not for the faint of heart. I wish I could snap my fingers and go instantly from a green graduate folklore student reading about interviewing skills to being an experienced fieldworker who speaks little, listens much and comes out of an interview with a treasure trove of information and only half the self-recrimination. Only one more reason to be thankful for the Keels Field School experience: I can start out in a less informal atmosphere as a newbie making mistakes and work toward excellence without the pressure of a thesis or a doctorate hanging in the balance. What a relief!


A fog of lace. (Photo: Erin Whitney)

I could spend hours looking out through these lace curtains. A different view through each small hole – a patch of grass, a pink clover, the tip of the wharf, a lazy soaring gull. Shift focus back and a fuller picture emerges but not quite clear, fuzzy clouds of lace obscuring my view. It's a drizzly day, the air warm and close, wrapped around me like a blanket and keeping me from feeling fully awake. I drift along the roads and paths of Keels, walking right through the puddles, rubber boots sinking into the soft wet grass.

It's a day that is resisting getting things done. A few doors knocked on this morning, appointments made for interviews tomorrow, one set for this afternoon already put off. Tomorrow will be busy, but today remains soft and open, keeping afloat in milky tea, reading, writing, preparing, thinking. Maybe I've still got some fog in my lungs from my hike along the Skerwink Trail in Trinity East yesterday morning. The springy comfort of forest floor underfoot, gulping in the scent of pine, moss and juniper like an addict, fog so thick it would catch you if you lost your footing on the cliff.

One more week - do we really have to go back to town? To the concrete and crosswalks and coffee and classrooms? I want to offer my surrender to the bay – to the boats and bogs and berries and bonfires. Maybe I'll bring these lace curtains back with me. Wear them over my head like an errant mummer, a fine foggy filter between me and that dirty old town. 
A day obscured. (Photo: Erin Whitney)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Facing "The Field"

Our time is quickly slipping by. During this last week, we are all working at linking place and people, faces and friendships, insiders and outsiders. We learn about these dichotomies, we sometimes try to keep boundaries clear, but realize they often become blurred. Ethnography becomes that messy business where we end up wondering about this field work. Work that is play, work that is learning, work that is frustrating, rewarding, exhilirating, terrifying, or fun. We are in a place far from the familiar, a place different. But soon the reality of this place will become memory, and our memories of these three weeks will be of sounds and conversations and faces. We will write about our time in academic ways, but we will know how inadequate that way of writing often is. What will remain will be these faces from our field.

All photos Jerry Pocius

Ed, Kiyomi, Kayla and Ster

Kristin, Erin, Claire and Wins: accordion heaven

Alvin with treasures

John supervising Kristin, Ed and Erin


Noah getting the details from Alicia and Claire

Alicia and friend at The Cape


Percy and another kind of fish at the Ryan Premises


Wilson Hayward remembers: three pies

Phonse at the nets

Noah records, Phonse describes

Bonavista Social Club: the new NL