Was it really two weeks ago now? It seems like yesterday when I was traveling aboard Adventure Canada’s new ship the Ocean Endeavor. Little did I know when I signed on for the voyage around Newfoundland and then up the Labrador coast that on board there’d be a “floating book club”. Kathleen Winter was one of the two Canadian authors presenting their works and discussing the craft of writing on afternoons when the ship repositioned to another port (the other author was Terry Fallis).
Kathleen was perhaps best remembered for her little black books, mini journals in which she often made notes. Later she revealed that she had hundreds of similar journals on the shelves of her writing space. And though they were for the purpose of recording musings on people, snippets of conversation, song, sound, or other sensory input, Kathleen confessed once she filled a notebook, she never consulted it again. Somehow, for Kathleen, simply jotting down the experience was sufficient.
I had read her novel, Annabel, about a hermaphrodite or in today’s parlance an intersexed child. I set aside the offputting subject and disturbing cover of the novel to read the book and was rewarded with beautiful prose that gave some sense of the woman behind the words.
The work was all that more tantalizing because the story was set in Newfoundland and Labrador and the author’s love of the barren and demanding landscape (she once lived in St. John’s, Newfoundland) and the effect such terrain has on its people is evident and is central to the story. To me, it was also a story of gender and identity and the struggle of people who are different and living in generally unforgiving and intolerant cultures.
Experienced Newfoundlander that she is, you could spot Kathleen on shore by looking for the sensible hat netted against the annoying black flies and other biting insects. Besides lecturing, as part of the ship’s visiting staff, Kathleen helped direct groups of passengers to hikes and spots of cultural interest.
Open to discussing what informed her writing, during one of her lectures, Kathleen mentioned the death of her husband, which made one passage I had highlighted all that more personal and telling:
“I think a lot of grown women hide a lot of different kinds of sadness.”
And so too, the following gained new perspective for me, getting to know the land and through the many shipboard naturalists, a geologist, a culturalist, and a musicologist, I hope I came away with a sense of the people as well.
“A lot of Labrador was like that. Dull and frozen and in the dark one minute; bursting with sour and sweet and red and green when you did something with it. Labrador was a place where the human touch meant everything”