Newfoundland doesn’t waste time flirting with you – its beauty drops your jaw to your chest at first sight. The flight into St John’s reveals the rugged coastline and the rolling ocean swells that define it. Cape Spear is easy to find with its old lighthouse and its newer replacement reaching up to the sky to greet us. Newfoundland is a rocky coast, much like Maine, Ireland, Portugal and other North Atlantic coasts that feel the wrath of the ocean. I feel at home here immediately. This is a place I could live in… or at least return to again soon.
Newfoundland is strongly associated with the Atlantic Cod, a lovely freckled fish that fed generations and once thrived in the ocean from here to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. So thick you could walk on them its said. At least until massive overfishing fueled by highly efficient bottom trawlers scooped up cod by the millions. Scientists were slow to sound the alarm, but eventually the entire fishing grounds were closed in 1992. With the closing of the fishing grounds the lives of tens of thousands of fishermen and their families were changed.
Almost 30 years later the cod are slowly rebounding. The fishing industry, which shifted to crab and shrimp but never fully recovered, isn’t there just yet. Cod offers a great lesson in sustainability, responsible self-governing, corporate greed, weak political leadership and tradition that dies hard, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. The climate change, coal and fracking debaters today would do well to look closely at the Grand Banks to see what happens when you aren’t open to facts that differ from your current point of view.
Cod tongue is a uniquely Newfoundland treat. I ordered it at a bar in St John’s Harbor just to try it. Frankly it was a bit fatty and chewy for my tastes, but I finished the appetizer anyway. I like to try new things, just as I like to visit new places. And I don’t like to waste food. Especially endangered food. Cod borders on mystical in the land of Alexander’s Map, and by God I was going to give it a go. It’s not really the tongue, more like the cheek of the fish. Kids would cut out this throwaway part of the fish to bring home to the family to cook. Over time it came to identify this place almost as much as the unique Irish-Canadian brogue identifies the people here.