Two of my favourite poems are by Coleridge. This Lime Tree Bower My Prison and the exquisite Frost at Midnight. Both are consummate pictures, nature cameos, meditations grounded in wonderful evocations of the scene. Of course, if you're pals with Wordsworth, romping great distances on foot every day through the Lake District, and a magisterial poet yourself to boot, than the ability to "catch a place" in words is not all that surprising.
I know where my favourite place is. And I could take the generic "you" there. I can locate it on a map, and even as I write this can see its serpentine coastline road in the eye of what I am pleased to call my mind.
Newfoundland's Cape Shore road, for the purposes of this selection, begins at Point Verde, a proud outport lighthouse town just outside Placentia, the ancient French capital of Newfoundland. Placentia is roughly 115 kilometres (highway distance) from St. John's. The Cape Shore ending in St. Bride's is, as the name indicates, a coastal road of about 50 kilometres, punctuated by a scattering of very small, or just small towns: Little Barasway, Big Barasway, Cuslett, Angels Cove, St. Patricks -- the jewel of which is not a town at all, but a cove, pure and simple, that of Gooseberry .
It is a small cove, and it has a beach, which Newfoundlanders are willing to claim is a sandy beech, though the effete who have tasted Florida littoral, or the great expanses of Tofino or Hawaii, might quarrel with the description. Sand in these places is small, smooth and sultry. Gooseberry Cove's sand is much more masculine.
It is a perfect cove. Cove means more than a coastal inlet. In Old English, it carries the cozy connotation of being an inner chamber, and with the proper attributive, it carries the meaning of spirit's chamber or breast. The word, like the place I refer to, carries with it abundance of quiet, "innerness." A cove is a spiritual condition as much as a geographical marker.
I cannot describe Gooseberry Cove, and Coleridge is dead. But I can tell you what it is like to be in that place, at evening or in the early morning. As I have said already, it is the jewel of the Cape Shore, and that is a diadem in a matchless crown. I can supply some measure of its transaction with the spirit of the visitor. Not in my own words of course, but those of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who, under a different imperative, wrote these lines: I have desired to go Where springs not fail, To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail And a few lilies blow. And I have asked to be Where no storms come, Where the green swell is in the havens dumb, And out of the swing of the sea. The effect of these lines is the reality of Gooseberry Cove.
I've visited in all seasons and all times of day. I've seen it buried in fog, the waves whipped up following a fall hurricane, in mauzy June and bleak December. No matter. The external climate is irrelevant. Gooseberry Cove is the very isolate of tranquillity.
The going to it, and the coming from it, over the splendid wilfulness of the Cape Shore road itself, is the only thorough justification for the invention of the automobile that has yet been hit upon. But the arrival upon it, and the staying at it -- well, weld your favourite Beethoven adagio to that tease of Hopkins above, and you have a foretaste.
Rex Murphy is host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup and a commentator on CBC-TV's The National.