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  Field Notes From
Harp Seals

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From Author

Kennedy Warne

Harp Seals On Assignment

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From Photographer

Brian Skerry

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Skerry (top) and Marcia Skerry


Harp Seals

Field Notes From Author
Kennedy Warne

Best Worst Quirkiest
    I know that Acadians—the French-speaking people who settled the Magdalen Islands and other parts of Quebec (and also down Louisiana way, where they became known as Cajuns) are terrific musicians, so along with half a ton of scuba gear, I took my fiddle to the islands. On my last night, Bertrand Deraspe, the Magdalens' most acclaimed fiddler, came to the house where I was staying for a jam session. We swapped a few tunes, then I put away my instrument and just listened—which is what you do in the presence of greatness.
    Bertrand was amazing. He would lean forward on his chair, say something like "'Ere is a tune I learned from a woodcutter," and start into some soulful melody that gradually increased in volume and speed until both his legs pounded up and down on the wooden floor, beads of sweat stood out on his forehead, and the musical equivalent of sparks flew from his bow.

    Life in the warm temperate North Island of New Zealand (my home) affords little opportunity to learn the ways of sea ice. The day after I arrived in the Magdalen Islands, known as the Maggies, I drove to one of the most  northernmost islands, Grande Entrée, and took it into my head to go for a stroll across a frozen bay. It was dusk, and the setting sun was flaming in the windows of the gingerbread houses, which are such a feature of the islands.
    As I walked toward a headland I heard a cracking sound, and the ice started to split in front of my shoes. Nobody knew I was there, and I had visions of making an unscheduled ice dive, with possibly dire consequences. I must have looked faintly ludicrous, I think, tiptoeing my way back to dry land, like a teenager sneaking home after midnight and trying not to wake his parents.

    The festival of Mi-Carême (mid-Lent) was happening when I was there. It's a week-long party in the middle of the traditional season of self-denial (trust the French to have adopted such an idea). People dress up in outlandish masks and costumes and go door to door in their neighborhoods, disguising their voices and trying to avoid recognition. Being a French tradition, it is axiomatic that the proceedings require regular lubrication with alcohol. There is also a good deal of feasting. I joined a group of revellers for a supper of wild goose stew in somebody's garage. (I know it was wild goose because I kept having to spit out bits of lead shot.) The snow was thick on the ground outside, but inside the warmth of Madelinot hospitality was fantastique.


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