‘How About You? A Life­time of Tempt­ing Fate’

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Compass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net.

“Dur­ing our life­time,” au­thor John Kitchen ob­serves, “al­most all of us ex­pe­ri­ence some un­usual and fear­ful events.”

For ex­am­ple, per­haps we have been in­volved in an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent, lived through a fire, fallen from a cliff, met up with a wild an­i­mal, had a close call in­volv­ing wa­ter, or suf­fered a sport in­jury.

Per­son­ally, I once had a close call in­volv­ing wa­ter. I re­cently wrote in this space about the time my eight-yearold son and I top­pled into Gil­bert’s River in Labrador. That event was both fear­ful and un­usual.

Kitchen him­self has had what he calls “ad­ven­tures of what might be con­sid­ered as ‘near tragedies’ or ‘close shaves.’ ”

He writes about many of those in his most re­cent book, “How About You? A Life­time of Tempt­ing Fate.”

A sea­soned au­thor, the Miller­town na­tive has al­ready writ­ten sev­eral books, in­clud­ing “All Afire!: Ore Min­ers of New­found­land and Labrador” and two books about the Beothuk. In “The Beothuk Way,” he tells how they lived in New­found­land be­fore the ar­rival of Euro­peans. In “The New­found­land Beothuk,” he writes pas­sion­ately about what he refers to as the “ter­mi­na­tion of a tribe.”

In an­other book, “By the Sweat of my Brow,” he de­scribes the life of a New­found­land log­ger, cut­ting trees, trans­port­ing them to the wa­ter­ways, driv­ing them to the mill, cooking meals, build­ing dams, team­ing horses and op­er­at­ing woods ma­chin­ery.

“Theirs was a hard life,” he says, “hav­ing to work in all kinds of weather, ex­ist­ing in of­ten prim­i­tive con­di­tions, tol­er­at­ing the cold, the heat, the mos­qui­toes and the lice, eat­ing rough foods, with no leisure time, and no hot wa­ter to keep them­selves clean. Just work, eat and sleep.”

Now, in “How About You,” he re­calls 30 or so in­ci­dents of or­di­nary and, in some cases, ex­tra­or­di­nary, per­sonal events.

“It’s sur­pris­ing,” the oc­to­ge­nar­ian says, “how cer­tain things that hap­pened over time re­main vividly in one’s mind for ever, es­pe­cially those that were fraught with dan­ger.”

The chap­ter ti­tles give a fore­taste of what the reader can ex­pect:

• Fall­ing into a pack of semi-wild dogs • Shoot­ing at a metal ob­ject • Fall­ing from a mov­ing trac­tor sled • Hy­pother­mia, Lost in the wilder- ness • Ex­plod­ing gas stove and fridge In one of his sto­ries, Kitchen re­calls the day he and a friend and his fam­ily met a bear while blue­berry pick­ing.

“As we ap­proached the area,” he writes, “we came face-to-face with a black bear which rose up on its hind legs to see what was dis­turb­ing its feast.”

Even a hun­gry bear will avoid hu­mans but, Kitchen con­tin­ues, “if the meet­ing takes place in the spring­time when the mother bear has cubs with her, then the sit­u­a­tion would be dif­fi­cult and danger­ous.”

To their great re­lief, the bear, see­ing so many peo­ple, “quickly dropped down on all fours and quickly scur­ried away.”

Kitchen is now on a mission to pub­lish yet an­other book.

“If you also have ex­pe­ri­enced such hap­pen­ings, I would ap­pre­ci­ate it if you would pass them along to me,” he tells read­ers, “as I hope to put to­gether an­other sim­i­lar book, but this time I would write about other peo­ple’s events.... It should be a very in­ter­est­ing book.”

Kitchen can be reached by email at john.kitchen@nf.sym­pa­tico.ca or by snail-mail at 23 Kil­mory Place, St. John’s, NL A1A 5V8. His phone num­ber is (709) 722-3287.

“It’s only upon look­ing back that we can laugh and be amazed at how we could have lived through such ad­ven­tures and with­out overly seri- ous in­juries. It’s as if there was a guardian an­gel in­volved. It’s said that a cat has nine lives. Per­haps hu­man be­ings also have many lives. I cer­tainly did.”

A se­ries of inim­itable and com­i­cal draw­ings, in­ter­spersed through­out the chap­ters, “add to the read­ers’ amaze­ment,” Kitchen sug­gests, “even though at the time of oc­cur­rence some of those events were any­thing but amus­ing.”

His other book is “Come walk with me,” a de­scrip­tive and in­for­ma­tive ac­count of his back­pack­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, com­ple­mented by nearly 300 full-colour pho­to­graphs.

Among his ad­ven­tures is a crossis­land trek in 1982, hik­ing in Eng­land in 1984, and a St. John’s to Har­bour Grace jaunt via the now-de­funct rail­way tracks in 1985.

Jules Verne ev­i­dently said, “To go afoot is ideal trav­el­ing. Go­ing afoot al­lows a man to see all that there is to see. Who goes afoot is sat­is­fied with by-paths when the highroad is no more. He may pro­ceed as the hu­mour takes him ... and scale the moun­tain tops.”

John Kitchen has had his fair share of foot travel, some of which has no doubt been hum­drum, while more has been hair-rais­ing.

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