Academic journal article Ethnologies

"There's Nothing like a Cup of Tea in the Woods": Continuity, Community and Cultural Validation in Rural Newfoundland Boil-Ups

Academic journal article Ethnologies

"There's Nothing like a Cup of Tea in the Woods": Continuity, Community and Cultural Validation in Rural Newfoundland Boil-Ups

Article excerpt

1. I would like to thank those residents of Cape Broyle who graciously completed surveys and answered queries pertaining to the boil-up tradition. Thanks also to Philip Hiscock at Memorial University's Language and Folklore Archives for allowing access to student essays. Appreciation as well to Diane Tye, Pauline Greenhill, Patti Fulton, Trevor and Ron Day and Dot and Andrew O'Brien for their encouragement and instruction.

Andrea O'Brien

Memorial University of Newfoundland

On a warm July morning a line of people weave their way toward an unstable wharf where a skiff waits to be boarded. They hand bags of supplies down the line and store them in the hold. A Coleman stove, an iron pot, a kettle, a guitar, cases of beer, potatoes, homemade bread, codfish, and crab legs make up part of the provisions. As all hands settle down, Paul starts the engine, steers the skiff clear of the shoal ground, and the trip out the bay begins.

The air is cooler now but tastes of sweet salt. Some seagulls fly overhead as pudgy puffins attempt their takeoffs. As the boat heads toward the open water, sprays of mist hover in the distance. The humpbacks are congregating in the mouth of the harbour to feed upon caplin and codfish. The huge animals surface around the boat, waving their flukes in salutation. They frolic for the passengers, perhaps innately aware of the delight it produces. The boat continues to follow the graceful animals out to open water, but eventually gives up the pursuit.

Now the skipper turns toward the land, following the shoreline until he reaches a place called Lance Cove. He circles the boat around a rock sentinel known as "Long Will," before dropping anchor. The passengers transfer to a dory which has been towed out behind the skiff. After three trips, everyone is landed safely on the sandy beach. In this sheltered place the coolness of the ocean gives way to the heat of the rocks which tower above. A smell of salt and caplin spawn rises from the hot sand. Each passenger takes a bag from the dory and lays the provisions around a smooth, flat rock, a perfect stand for the Coleman stove. Philip goes looking for water, Paul fires up the stove, Rhonda peels the onions and potatoes, Gerry tunes up his guitar.

The boil-up has begun.

The boil-up continuum: traversing time, age, gender and space

The Dictionary of Newfoundland English defines a boil-up as "a brew of tea, and sometimes a snack, often taken during a rest from work in the country or on a vessel" (Story 1991: 56). As a child growing up during the 1970s and 1980s in the small Irish Catholic fishing community of Cape Broyle, Newfoundland, a settlement of 700 located approximately 50 miles south of the provincial capital of St. John's in a region of the Avalon peninsula referred to as the Southern Shore, I was well aware of these types of boil-ups. I would watch my father preparing to go into the woods to hunt or cut wood, noticing the items which he would pack into his knapsack. He would include food for the break which he would inevitably take during his work, always making sure his sack held a kettle, mug, spoon, fork, knife, container of milk, as well as one of sugar, and tea bags. Sometimes he would have salt fish, a can of beans and homemade bread. When he worked as a fisherman for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a trip to the trap would not be complete without preparing fish stew during the steam back in the bay. As men in Cape Broyle continue to venture into the woods surrounding the settlement to hunt rabbits, moose, caribou and partridge, to cut timber to build homes and keep them warm, or hunt seabirds from the cliffs surrounding the harbour, the boil-up endures as a necessary and enjoyable break from work.

The boil-up has also been incorporated into leisure pursuits, such as weekend outings. Friendship and kinship units take to the wilderness and water, introducing children to the methods of the boil-up and familiarizing them with the landscape which surrounds their communities. …

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