The Tune Dick Learned from the Fairies
It’s a quiet day on the red point. The snow is falling as snow only ever should, gently, calmly and without its great tormenter, the wind, blowing it around! The cornerstone of Branch , the hardy Hager’s Rock, is barely visible through the veil of snow and Branch, too, is struggling to be seen through what may soon become a wild Winter squall.
While my view of the Hagers is fading in the thick squall, my mind is wandering there this morning. For anyone who has ever had a birds eye view of the Hager’s Rock from the meadows above, it is an awe-inspiring sight. The high cliffs that act as a dramatic backdrop for our famous rock are a mysterious mixture of rock and sand and gravel. They lead up to a labyrinth-like series of meadows edged by a jungle of low, springy tuckamore in all shapes and sizes. From these meadows, Branch appears to be a faraway kingdom of colourful little houses surrounded by the sea, the kind of place people have loved and protected for centuries, driven by the sheer power of belonging.
There is a sense out there in the Hager's Meadows that there is something happening, a mysterious and magical awareness of more. During my visits, I have always commented to Chris, “This is a fairy place.” The strangely shaped spruce, the ever-present, undisturbed breathing of the wide bay, the sheer slice of a clifftop, the cloak of fog that invades Branch in every season …a perfect place for fairies to make a home.
Now, I realize I may have lost some of you here with passionate talk of mysterious little creatures. You may assert "There’s no such things as fairies”. I think the same was said about the roundness of the Earth, dinosaurs and more recently, climate change.
I do admit that I believe wholeheartedly in the existence of fairies. The stories that have been passed down from generation to generation, starting with our Irish ancestors, leave me a believer. I remember my mother telling me how her own mother warned her not to leave her infant unattended at any time, in fear that he would be replaced by a changeling. She told me this story many times, always ending by saying that the fairies left Branch when electricity arrived in the late 1960s. I was also transported to the world of fairies through my many years of working with Tony (Power). As we drove to the Cape each morning at 9 km/h, he would tell me stories his mother had shared with him of otherworldly encounters.
I’m sure that you, too, have all heard the marvellous tales. What about the time someone went to feed the cows before dark and saw the fairies, dressed in red and white stocking caps, in the meadow? Did you know about the two little girls who were walking to the Church with their mother, when she fiercely warned, "Don’t look behind you". They did, of course, only to see a pair of fairies following closely behind.
The stories are numerous and not unique to Branch. All over Newfoundland and Labrador, fairy stories abound. In Ireland, there continues to be a great belief in fairies with fairy rings being protected by government decree. I remember seeing a fairy tree on a mystical place called the Magic Road near Waterford. The tree was growing on a lonesome hill, surrounded only by rocks and fog and adorned with messages to the fairies.
Within most of the stories there is one distinguishing feature that always leaves me a bit curious, the fact that fairies are portrayed as mischievous, malicious creatures always out to play a trick on someone in the name of mean-spiritedness. I choose to cast a positive light on humans so I’ll offer the same kindness to fairies, seeing them as mysterious, interesting, curious and intriguing creatures. Yes, I’m sure they played a scattered trick and gave a little fright.
My favourite fairy of all was a friendly fairy. She brought the people of Branch, Point Lance and the Cape Shore the gift of a song that was brought to life by Mr. Dick English.
Dick English lived alone in a little house in Wreck Cove, an alluring Cove located between the Hagers and the Fox's Knob outside of Branch. One night, he heard his door open and then, his tin whistle being removed from its usual place. The next thing he heard was a beautiful song that he had never heard before. The next morning, he took his whistle and miraculously, was able to play that same melody.
Now that was a pleasant fairy, not only because she brought this tune to life but also because, I am happy to say, she has led me to jump further into the world of writing. I am writing a children’s book based on that enduring story, "The Tune Dick Learned from the Fairies”. I can’t say anything about the fairies, only offer them my gratitude. Their stories have helped open my mind to the possibilities of a bigger world, more interesting and more captivating and they have given me my first book! The enigmatic artwork pictured above was painted by talented artist and illustrator Wayne Maloney of Bay Bulls.
So, if you believe in fairies, or if you believe that you don’t believe in fairies, do take a moment to think of them the next time you look out at the meadows above the Hagers Rock, or stroll along the winding Bear Path or even walk down to Beckford Beach. You could hear laughter, a few low whispers or even a song. It's like anything in life, be open to the experience and you will be richer for it.