Re­cep­tion Com­mit­tee on the Point

The Compass - - OPINION -

Last Satur­day was the an­niver­sary of the as­sault on D-day, June 6 1944. Re­cently I was in North­ern France, in Pi­cardie where you can­not drive far on the ru­ral high­ways without pass­ing a mil­i­tary ceme­tery. In Pi­cardie the ceme­ter­ies mostly host the fallen from the ap­palling slaugh­ter of 19141918. Most well known among them are the bat­tle­fields of Beau­mont Hamel and Vimy Ridge. Those bat­tles were mur­der­ously costly to both New­found­land and Canada. The unimag­in­able loss of life caused op­ti­mistic souls to re­fer to this four-year blood bath as “the war to end war.”

None­the­less such is the ca­pac­ity of the hu­man race to for­get the fol­lies of their his­tory that a mere 30 years later land­ing craft were com­ing ashore on the beaches in nearby Nor­mandie, and sol­diers from New­found­land and Canada were once again hurl­ing them­selves into a driv­ing rain of ma­chine gun bul­lets.

This is prob­a­bly com­ing to my mind be­cause D-day is the mo­ment each year when Lisa and I get aboard our boat and be­gin the 200-me­tre voy­age that will bring us across to the Point. Like the in­va­sion force pre­par­ing for the as­sault that was code named Over­lord, ex­haus­tive plan­ning is re­quired for our land­ing on the Point. Gro­ceries for at least a week, cloth­ing that will keep us warm and dry un­til the end of Septem­ber, com­put­ers, printer, draw­ing and paint­ing ma­te­ri­als, all must be pulled to­gether, checked and dou­ble-checked, then loaded aboard our fleet of one 19foot speed­boat and a punt be­fore the cross­ing takes place. As we mo­tor across the har­bour, just like those aboard the land­ing craft 65 years ago, we ap­proach a beach of smooth gray shin­gle ris­ing to a bank topped by white painted build­ings.

In Sal­vage, there is a ceme­tery in the field be­yond, filled with white head­stones. That wasn’t so in Nor­mandy in 1944, but to­day, the fields above the beaches named Juno, Sword, Gold, Utah and Omaha are crammed with thou­sands of graves. The land­ing craft 65 years ago were filled with thoughts of ter­ror and dread and pray­ers for sur­vival in the five-minute scram­ble up the beach. Our speed­boat and punt in 2009 are filled with joy­ful an­tic­i­pa­tion of the peace and beauty that awaits us as the sum­mer un­spools over the next three months.

On D-Day the Ger­man oc­cu­py­ing force waited in their pill­boxes atop cliffs and sea­walls.

The en­tire coast was for­ti­fied with im­mense bat­tle­ments cre­ated from mil­lions of cu­bic me­tres of con­crete. The Ger­mans watched in hor­ror as the hori­zon of the English Chan­nel filled with hun­dreds and hun­dreds of on­com­ing Al­lied ships.

In June 2009 the two black­backed gulls who, each spring, take up res­i­dence on the aptly-named Gull Rock stand atop the one-cu­bic me­tre con­crete rem­nants of Sandy and Lizzie-Mary Dunn’s home lob­ster can­nery and watch as a sin­gle white fiber­glass speed­boat tow­ing a punt ap­proaches. Ac­cord­ing to what hap­pens next, the two birds may be ev­ery bit as fright­ened as the tens of thou­sands of Ger­man forces were in 1944.

As they both scream in uni­son, one of the gulls takes flight. It speeds to­ward the on­com­ing boats and swoops low, cir­cles and swoops again like a fighter plane. With each pass the screams from the birds be­come louder and the bird that is straf­ing us passes ever closer to our heads.

When this first hap­pened years ago, we were ner­vous, but af­ter years of be­ing wel­comed in this way we rec­og­nize this is only a warn­ing: Stay away from our nest! In­side the small con­crete fire­place, now open to the sky, the other bird sits on the eggs and screams for us to give her a wide berth. We do. Once we pass by Gull Rock the birds qui­eten. The one im­i­tat­ing a fighter plane re­turns to base. We land the boat safely.

Later on, sit­ting in the rock­ing chair and looking out at the black­back pair on Gull Rock, it oc­curs to me once again that we may feel ut­terly at peace here, but among the crea­tures out­side the win­dow there is an on­go­ing war. The black­back eggs are in peril from ma­raud­ing hawks and ea­gles from the air, and the stealthy mink by land and sea. The black­backs them­selves will soon be looking for food for their newly hatched youngsters. An easy source is the to­tally de­fense­less spot­ted sand­piper chicks who will shortly be scurrying up and down the beach. They will make tasty morsels for the black­back new­borns. The only pro­tec­tion the young sand­pipers have is their fa­ther’s warn­ing cries to hide them­selves from im­mi­nent at­tack. That and the chance that a watch­ful hu­man will hear those warn­ing cries and jump up from his rock­ing chair, rush out­doors and scare off the threat­en­ing preda­tor.

That’s one dif­fer­ence be­tween D-day in Nor­mandie in 1944 and Sal­vage in 2009. War is go­ing on in both places at both times. The dif­fer­ence is the role of hu­man in­ter­ven­tion. To take the lives of our fel­low man or save the lives of our fel­low crea­tures.

Peter Pick­ers­gill is a writer and car­toon­ist, who re­sides in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. His col­umn ap­pears on this page ev­ery other week and re­turns June 23. He can be reached at: pick­ers­

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