A Family Portrait

A Family Portrait

The influence of early physical surroundings has much to do with individual destinies, and not infrequently gives color to their whole lives—so, for our story, we invite you not only back to the ‘50’s, but to the far north British Islands, in 61 degrees north latitude—parallel with Hudson Bay—near neighbor of the Land of the Midnight Sun,–where in winter the sun scarcely gets above the southern horizon, and in summer scarcely gets below the northern.

On these weather beaten islands, their heather covered hills are bleak and dreary enough in summer, but in winter storms they possess an incommunicable charm.

When the heavens are charged with impending tempest, when the sun is obscured, and the mighty swell of the Atlantic Ocean, rolls in on the ragged and jagged coast line, leaping from peak to peak with its irresistible force, until it dashes its mass with thundering roar against the vertical rocks.

Under these ancient volcanic-rock islands, are subterranean caves of great extent, and where a mouth of a cave corresponds with the tide line of the ocean, the Atlantic swell closes the opening and the immense weight of the in-rushing water compresses the air in the cave; when the ocean swell begins to subside, the compressed air ejects the water, as an enormous volcano does its lava and cinders, with appalling force. The ejected water is caught by the storm and carried up the vertical rock wall, in a pillar of cloud, to a height many hundred feet above the cliff—500 to 1,000 feet above the cliff. An awe inspiring spectacle!

But when the hurricane has passed, and the stars come out to look down on the desolate scene, the glorious Aurora breaks forth over the blue vault with its blushing light purpling the sky in soft tranquility, the voice of its rushing currents being audible like the roll of a mystic sea on mystic shores, a phenomenon recognized by the ancient Norse, as the lights of the Valkyries riding forth to carry to Valhalla the brave from the battlefields.

Thus the ghosts of the storms are driven to shelter in the graveyards, and thus the voice of the Great Creator is brought home to the hearts of the people.

In these Islands few of the able-bodied men remain during the summer. They are following their seafaring vocations, but flock back to the Islands for the winter, as the sparrows flock to our cities. They are sailors and fishermen from instinct as well as from education and experience. Many of them trace their ancestry to the old Vikings who made these Islands their chief rendezvous in their historic raids, carrying the Red flag of Odin with its black Raven, from the Baltic to the shores of the Mediterranean. They yearn for the sea and its dangers, and yearn to return for the winter evenings to tell of their experiences and fortunes in foreign countries.

Stores and other meeting places in the long winter nights become veritable story-telling, folk-lore, exchanges, strongly tinctured with romance and a spice of piracy.

Their stories are as alluring to the youth of the Islands as the other side of the moon would be to the members of this Club.

Such was the physical and mental environment of the young—such the atmosphere breathed, to nourish and vitalize their youthful imaginings.

– C.D. Robertson, March 18, 1911; “On the Way to Vancouver,” written for the Cincinnati Literary Club


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