One of my very favourite places on Earth is Signal Hill in St. John’s. For those of you unfamiliar with this place, imagine a hill. A very high hill. A very high, steep hill. Now add rocks. Lots of rocks. Lots of big rocks. Rocks you can climb over. Throw in some cliffs. Not just little cliffs…the if-you-fall-over-you-will-die variety of cliffs.
Now picture a castle-type tower atop of the hill. Not your Once Upon a Time fairytale type of castle, but a sturdy, industrious, I-have-a-job-to-do castle. It’s still pretty, but functional.
Close your eyes and imagine standing on this hill. Oh, I should add that it’s likely windy. And I’m not talking a refreshing gentle breeze here. I mean the hair whipping in face and sticking to your lip gloss kind of wind. A wind so strong that if you actually climb to the very top of Cabot Tower and go outside, you may have trouble opening (or closing) the door. (True story: When I was a youngster, there were days when my mother wouldn’t let me out of the car at Signal Hill for fear I’d blow away…)
Open your eyes. On one side of the hill sprawls the city of St. John’s before you, stretching out for miles and miles, and showcasing its now iconic (but once secret) pops of colour.
This is Signal Hill.
Growing up in the St. John’s area, I spent so much time standing atop this hill. From Sunday afternoon drives with the folks (sometimes I was even allowed out of the car) to long chats about life, love, and post high school plans with friends as teenagers. Whether walking around the area or parked…I spent a lot of time looking. Just looking. And thinking. And being.
And it is simply glorious.
Returning to the Rock on various trips back, one of the highlights for me has been to introduce this place to my husband and children. The awe in their faces is something I cannot quite capture on camera or in writing (tho I try), and it reminds me that, yes, this place that is so very familiar to me is spectacular and worthy of the awe it inspires and creates.
On a recent trip back, I took a few moments to wander around Signal Hill by myself. I looked down over the city landscape, noting all the places that had once been a part of me—pockets of my youth that, while no longer are, are still very much stained into the uniform of me.
I then turned and gazed out into the frigid Atlantic Ocean and thought about how much of my very being is made up of water. Not just biologically (that, too), but the culture of water. From the songs and stories I know as intimately as prayer to the rules associated with it. I need water to live. To quench my soul. But I also have deep respect for water…I know its limits, its boundaries, what it accepts, and what it will chew up and spit out in a heartbeat. You don’t mess with this type of water.
I tried once living in a place where I couldn’t see the ocean…it didn’t go well for me.
As I stood there, the wind whipped around me, causing my ponytail to cover my eyes, temporarily blocking my view. I closed my eyes and listened. And in the strain of that oh-so-familiar wind, I could hear the tune of my childhood.
I could hear home.
My husband told me once that there are places that centre us. Actual physical places that call some of us more than others, for whatever reason. We feel connected and grounded when our feet touch the soil of these places, and Signal Hill is certainly that for me. It’s not lost on me the symbolism here…one side showcasing the rugged nature of the cliffs and ocean, a nature that has been there thousands and thousands of years and is hearty, refusing to budge even when the sea throws itself against it (quite the metaphor for life, isn’t it?) …the other side, is present-day St. John’s, “modern” but also steeped in so much history, it can’t totally embrace that word. In the middle stands Cabot Tower, which is actually a new edition to the hill, having only been built in 1897.
Like the hill, I, too, have history in this place. I may have moved away, and I may often feel torn between the two Islands I call home, but right there, in that moment, the wind and the ocean and the city spoke to me. They told me that I was home. That this place would always be home. That I have a history and a presence here. That it didn’t matter how many months had passed since this very same wind tore through me or how many more months would pass before it would, once again, envelop my whole being, threatening to knock me sideways…it would be here, waiting. For me.