Yes, I know. “Is it almost November already?” is the indignant cry as the shelves at our local stores fill up with Christmas stock. The children are deep in the throes of the school year, post-secondary students have already finished mid-term break, the animals are building up their king hair for the winter and very soon we will fall back into darkness with the hope of re-emerging with all our faculties next spring.
I’m an autumn baby and I love the fall season. Leaves are turning their brilliant hues, falling to the ground and crunching underfoot and the air is full of the smell of ripening fruits and damp grass, still crunchy from the morning frost. Dawn and dusk bring that raw, crisp, invigorating chill that leaves one eagerly anticipating your hats, scarves and finger or trigger mitts and that first cozy mug up curled up by the roaring fireplace.
For some, autumn is a time to start preparing for hibernation, it’s the time of year when energy dissipates and we reminisce about or perhaps even mourn the summer days now passed. For others, it is a time of hard work what with the harvest and woodcutting to be done; time to start planning for the winter and even next spring and summer when old Mother Nature will hopefully be much kinder to our crops.
In years gone by, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would have experienced the fall of the year very differently. Some of us are too young to remember that time, long ago, when the fishery was in full swing. Prior to the dreaded cod moratorium in 1992, when March to September was fishing season, fall importantly marked the start of the fall fishery for fishermen throughout the province when the cod or fall fish were big and fat.
These days, we have the food fishery (cited in Strowbridge, Newfoundland Tongue, 2008, p. 115), often called the “recreational groundfish fishery” by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and news sources like the Telegram. The fall fishery, once a great tradition and an important part of the livelihoods of many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, has now been reduced to about a week on the water (September 24-October 2 this year), with a daily catch limit of 15 groundfish per boat of three or more people. It’s still an open wound that may never heal for many fisherpeople of the province. Visit the Heritage website or CBC archives for numerous stories on the impact of the collapse of the cod fishery.
Spring and summer fishing was largely done by trapping, but fall fishing, according to the 1933 Nfld Royal Commission Report was done by fishermen in an open boat like a dory, skiff or a motorboat with bultows, or long buoyed lines with baited hooks set at close intervals in the sea-flow. Some residents who weren’t lucky enough to have a boat went out on a flat or rodney, canoe or kayak.
As anyone who has lived in Newfoundland and Labrador knows, the weather on the open water is unpredictable all the time, but it is markedly stormier in the fall. Fish swim further off shore in this season too. Both of these factors force fishermen to put away their cod-traps till the spring of the year. Fall fishing was the time you could catch the best cod but even when cod-stocks were good, you mightn’t have a good season. From the point of view of a fisherman, there were two seasons: the caplin scull (earlier in the year) and the fall fishery. Reflections from fishermen in the 1960s indicate that one or the other season was good to you; you typically didn’t get a good haul out of both. To save one’s spring meant to end off the fishing season with a moderate profit.
Late fall brought the fall run or autumn seal migration from around November 20-December 10 but the fall trip or the fall voyage brought bankers (see sense 2) offshore. This would be their last chance to fish before the making of ice.
Many fishermen went into the fall fishery hoping they would get enough fish to sell so they could get their stamps. In days gone by, sometimes fishermen would be given liver notes instead of money. They could use these as currency.
Finally, at the end of the fishing season, there was the fisherman’s holiday. This holiday also marked the exodus of the migratory British fishing vessels moored in our harbours all summer long. At the end of the season, once the fishing, processing and selling was done, it was time to break collar or come to the end of the employment period.
Today it seems like everything we put into our bodies comes from some grand warehouse or factory somewhere upalong where every morsel has been processed over and over before making the long journey from where it came to our rock in the Atlantic. Sometimes we forget that it wasn’t always this way; not so long ago, we couldn’t jump in the car and go to the nearest grocery store for any little thing that we might fancy.
During the Newfoundland fall, land, sky and sea were ripe for the harvest. On the land, vegetable gardens and fruit trees excelled despite the rocky soil. Numerous species of beautiful birds like the Eskimo curlew chirped and sang overhead as they started out on their migratory path or started in on the new supply of seed and suet in the birdfeeder. On the water, fish and seals were big and fat from their summer gorging, chock-full of healthy oils like cod liver oil. As we enter this season with all its bounty, let us remember not only where we’re going, but also where we’ve been.