The Best Laid Plans, by Xaiver Michael Campbell

November 2022

The summer of 2019 was our summer of young love. I had been with my partner for a year and in the past six months we had physically merged lives, becoming even more intertwined. We kept both can openers and vegetable peelers. Because of him, we have a kettle and an extensive tea collection. It was a no brainer that the only room with ceilings high enough to facilitate the bowing of the violin became his studio. Our soundtrack on loop. The big room painted sunshine yellow, now our bedroom; it had the better view anyway.
It was my twelfth year living in and being in love with Newfoundland. My partner’s third, most of which spent in the University’s Music School practice rooms. I like to believe we both knew our lives would never be the same that Shabbat night we met in a friend’s animated kitchen over a bowl of fruit. It was the first service his violin schedule had allowed him to attend. Our informal Jewish matchmaker informed him of my baking prowess when she saw us talking.
We both lived for summer. I took him to the ponds that warmed up first with the sweetest jumps; live crabs; the cliff perch with a bird’s eye view of feeding whales; I loved showing him my favourite secret berry picking field overlooking the ocean; where I foraged for mushrooms as the summers waned. Lobster season. The expansive unmanned meadows of wildflowers where no one monitored the number of stems cut. We never strayed too far from town. It felt like my city to show. But I needed it to be ours. I wanted to trap this big city boy from the mainland in my little seaside town; we swam, we ate, we loved.
As the sun signaled the dawn of a new day, we planned to do one of the litany of things we enjoyed. Swimming a must as the humidity cleared its throat. But where: pond, river, Beachy Cove? I wondered if my old haunts were getting repetitive though he never complained. He’d slide into a body of water and squeal before dipping his goggled face to explore the depths. Each time he surfaced, his teeth on display behind an asymmetrical smile. I admired his courage, that curious mind. He’d swim to me and tell me what he’d found. This feat of bravery, I’d never dared; the depths of dark ponds filled me with despair.
Google’s targeted marketing, the very opposite of serendipity, offered a suggestion. The article, long forgotten, and ironically now ungoogleable, the words “sandy beach,” “five hidden,” “Newfoundland” still bang in the lobes of my cerebellum. Spoiler alert, none of the beaches were hidden, as they had been frequented by people ages before we set foot on the island.
Apart from the often visited, frigid Northern Bay Sands, neither me nor my partner were aware of any sandy beaches. Five new opportunities to share. Our first big road trip. We made playlists, downloaded podcasts, packed up and fueled the car and headed off the Avalon. The coastline awaited. It was time to shed the city.
We knew not every small town was eager to paint a rainbow crosswalk during pride. We’d stick to ourselves as much as possible. Assess our surroundings before engaging in excessive PDA. Caution carried forward from his life in that big French metropolitan city.
Our road trip plan was simple in theory: follow the map, visit the beaches on the list and then make our way back to St John’s. In practice, the plan was multi-layered at best. Swim and camp the first night. Ferry, swim, and camp the next day. Swim and camp the next couple days. Ferry, swim, and camp. Home. Layers. We planned to spend nights in random spots, have dinners by the light of the campfire, fade into the night fumbling through the constellations all the while listening to the waves wash over the beaches. It was going to be perfect.

We got off the Trans Canada near Gambo, 69 minutes to dreams coming true. We wound the windows down and were greeted with that calming drug that is a textbook summer day. It was the ocean in all our senses. The road down to New-Wes-Valley was a lonely two-lane highway, it felt unfrequented and forgotten. As such, it was barely maintained. I drove the rest of the way on the left side of the road, and in the middle of both lanes, to avoid the deep ditches on the right. Wind swept his curls above his head as I swerved. I deemed summer a no hair cut season for these reasons. Mostly because I loved how his hair grew into a head of lush thick curls. And as his primary hair care provider, he said it was my call to make. He hung his head out the window with a freedom I never see in the city. I slowed down so he could bask in the light breeze and sun. When our eyes met, I knew he was as deep in the moment as me. It felt like we were one and I think he thought that too. He needed the waves to serenade his toes as much as I did. I love him, I thought as I squeezed the steering wheel. Twenty kilometers more; evergreen curtains on either side. I prayed he would love everything we were about to do and see.
Lumsden North Road, and the car’s sunshade was no match for a sun that stood in the sky without opponents. All we saw were blinding rays and powder blue skies. I could hardly see; I sank my hands into my partner’s leg. Then the sandy coastline became visible. The never-ending beach of white sand, no rock in sight, gentle waves rushed to shore. My little Jamaican heart throbbed. The rest of the landscape was distinctly Newfoundland, the salt box houses on the other side of town and the cluster of RVs parked at the first sign of sand. A sun that burns. I wished all this was enough to keep him here with me on this island.
We scurried away from the scant sets of people gathered by the RVs, further down the beach. Selfies expressing PDA were taken. He played in the sand with childlike fervour while I took more pictures to commemorate our first big excursion. Fingers interlaced, he counted. We ran into the clear blue ocean on ‘go’. The water was frigid. Northern Bay Sands vibes. He still squealed as the water rose to his waist. I loved that sound. We got in twice because it is always better the second time. Still too cold to get ears wet.
The wind whipped the sand like bullets towards our feet. We were not prepared for this onslaught, like the others, tents already set up all down the shore. It was war.
A jarring reminder we were still in Newfoundland and this beach was on a peninsula jutting out into the North Atlantic. Not in a cove, where some level of protection is offered from the wild open ocean. We retreated, regrouped, and rerouted to behold the next sandy beach. We were looking for warmer water, or at least less rambunctious surf, and gritty, abrasive sand. There was more sunlight left in the day and we wanted to make the most of it.
A beach that stretched for kilometres, maybe eternity. In Newfoundland. I pinched myself. Our eyes met. The green in his complemented the lushness of the flora. He opened a pack of peach rings and put some into my mouth even though I frowned at his request to purchase them in the store.
The elaborate, rich blue skies littered with tufts of translucent clouds, reminded me of driving the backroads to Hellshire Beach with my family as a little boy in Jamaica decades ago. It felt surreal to have such an intimate voyage with the man I’d fallen in love with. Every few minutes little sand covered roads turned us toward the alluring beach. It was the same now as then, the excitement level and deceptive distance to the beach in Jamaica and Newfoundland both. I have loved the ocean, beach, all water for as long as I can remember. Did he too have such fond memories of swimming? Was he reliving them right now? His head back out the window. He told me about the large flies at the beach that tear chunks out of your skin on the mainland. I reminded him the winds kept them occupied. Google maps pointed us to a specific road further along, but we figured we were smarter. The tires began to spin in place as soon as we turned off the highway. Sand roads in Newfoundland were not built for sedans. Who would have thought?
There was a snow shovel in the trunk buried beneath all our trip supplies. We dug. Took turns using the shovel and our hands as scoops. Turned the car back on. Slammed on the gas. Skid. Nothing. Skid. Nothing. We dug. Changed tactics. Nothing. The sun and waves taunted and cheered us. Was this still magical enough? He complained once or twice but so did I. Our methods hadn’t put a dent in the sand under the wheels. The more we dug out the tires, the more sand rolled down to surround them. We were stuck, but he was in it with me. We had seen only one beach and had barely gone swimming. This was not a successful trip if it was already over. He pulled his hair in his usual way, and I knew what he wasn’t saying. I was more nervous than I let on. Could he love this place with its lack of amenities if this trip wasn’t the best trip in the world?
The lack of traffic didn’t inspire much hope for hitch-hiking, but in the name of love we were saved. Two cars, smartly perched on opposite sides of the road. Their drivers sat, one of them on the other’s lap. Nestled on the hood of the royal blue car parked closest to our spectacle of a situation. He pushed me to speak for us, and I did. Then they spoke. They’d met half-way between their two towns for a date. In the middle of nowhere. They both drove sedans and had no way of helping – there was service, they said, but the nearest tow truck company was hours away. We were glad we didn’t need to make the ferry that night, but we were trapped.
Three kilometers before our impulsive turn off the highway was an RV campsite filled with vehicles larger than ours. The couple was more than willing to kiss each other goodbye and assist us. I sat in the front seat, so he didn’t think anything of us. Generosity of spirit and an enormous double cabin pickup dragged us out of our hole. Sweet freedom at last.
We followed the map carefully to the next beach in the town of Musgrave Harbour. Our pull to the ocean was greater than anything else now. He turned on the radio in search of a song that was as light and airy as we felt. Classic upbeat summer tunes filled the speakers, but the reception was shoddy. He restarted our playlist. The white sand blinded made us again, we wondered why we lived on the Avalon. There were so many landscapes on this magnificent island.
He grabbed my hands as we neared the edges of the rolling waves. It felt like we were the only people in the world and that was absolutely fine. The water was the same. Freezing. He squealed and jumped. Then dove to the bottom, head and all, submerged. I followed suite; I hoped this beach was his mikvah, conversion complete. We got in more than twice and stayed in longer. His face disappeared into the bobbing ocean. His contagious wide smile greeted me each time he surfaced. This was everything. He was everything. There was no need to seek reprise from the wind. We basked in the sun and watched the tiny clouds float by as the waves succumbed to the changing tides. Now everything was perfect. I hoped he was sold on the island.
The sun was sinking. We wanted to wake up beside the sea. This was the spot. We unpacked the car. Food bag. Sleeping bags. Tarps. Cutlery. Tent bag. Pole bag? Not a pole in sight. We warmed our hands by the raging fire, a light wind kept the mosquitoes busy. Four plus hours back to town. A premature end to our trip, we’d only seen two beaches. It was another sand road. We were stuck. Again. We tried not to get to the bottom of who was responsible. In retrospect, we could have tried harder.
Eventually we realized even if we found the undisputable truth as to who was responsible for the tent poles, the answer would be of no use to us now. He was eager to change the subject.
The nearest Canadian Tire was in Gander. It was closed. The one in Lewisporte was open for another hour. We were at least two hours away. ATV after ATV whipped by us on the beach. The residents of Musgrave Harbour were gearing up for a celebration. The music in the air calmed some nerves. More ATVs headed down the street. We walked silently, away from the revelry. Our anxieties weighed heavy on our tongues. He wanted to walk next to me, I wasn’t sure he should. We stuck out enough for being new in town and on foot in an ATV paradise. The only way out of our plight would be the kindness of strangers. People, Newfoundlanders, the true warmth of the island, the sun here often missing in action. I didn’t want anything to risk us getting help. He understood, big city survival thinking.
The occupants of the first house we encountered had absconded from the town soiree. Their own in full swing. We asked if they had a tent and they pointed to their massive RV. No one tents around here they said, the man’s left hand scanned the countless RVs in most driveways. We thanked them for the information but decided not to let it deter us. What choice did we have? Down the road and past many more RVs, but we hadn’t seen another soul. I wanted to grab and him and cry into his neck. Beg for forgiveness. As we neared the end of the road, we contemplated the dangerous dark, moose-filled drive on the highway back to town. Neither of us wanted to do that. We couldn’t help but play another round of whose fault was it. He knew he could have been at home practising orchestra excerpts. I knew this was a long stretch without his violin. I’m glad he never mentioned it.
Another ATV neared. Its rattle shook us as it passed. The rattle screeched loudly to a halt. The ATV backed up towards us. It was a perfect time to pause our game.
“B’ys looking for a tent?” The driver held out a faded red and grey bag. “Haven’t used it in a few years though. Heard you needed one.”
We couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t a thank Google moment at all. We accepted his generous offer, relieved we didn’t have to drive anywhere in the dark. The night was saved. Everything else will be dealt with in the light of day. We hugged, kissed and celebrated as we pleased when we were alone, tucked between the dilapidated Fishery Museum and the beach. We rekindled our fire and heated up a couple cans of beans. The spot was still just right and the sand beneath us comfortable. No need for added cushion. The wind meter read low, we didn’t stake our tent. The sand was not the most conducive medium regardless.
“This is so great. I’m full. Thank you for taking us here.” He leaned back into the sand.
“I love you.” I spoke into the air as I laid back to meet him.
The new tent was massive and a cinch to set up. We wondered if we needed to return it in the morning or five days from now when our trip was over. The thoughts of an early morning drive to Lewisporte to buy another tent loomed. As soon as we finished dinner by the crackling fire, we watched the weather change in the distance. We were bundled up, feeling safe under the bright moonlight.
The sound of the gentle waves and dying party music began to lull us to sleep. He kissed me goodnight, so deeply that it also felt like a thank you too. Our bodies mingled underneath the joined sleeping bags. The lightening was first, suddenly it struck the ocean before us. Pattering rain followed. A squall pummeled the fly trap allowing water inside. Finally, the wind uprooted our tent and sent the night into disarray. It was as if the tent had no poles. Wet fabric flopped on top of us. He squealed the wetter he got. I screamed through it all. Inescapable chaos. We spread our limbs to the edges of the tent, no match for the wind. Defeated, we wrapped the tent and everything inside it into a massive ball and pushed it behind the driver seat. We spent the night huddled in the hastily packed up sedan. He slept reclined in the front passenger seat. I sat behind the steering wheel, limited comfort due to the balled-up tent behind my seat; I wondered about his dreams the whole night. His breathing was as steady in this car as it is when we are cuddled in our bed at home. This would have been enough to turn most people off camping, Mother Nature, Newfoundland. But the sun rose the next morning and we had to make serious hay.
“Hi.” He looked at me, the sun bursting through the window behind him.
I knew he was still with me; I leaned over and kissed him as deeply as he had kissed me.
We had a ferry to catch, a tent to return, a tent to buy, and a day to forget. Only thing we knew we wanted from this trip was to keep swimming. The couple that dips together, stays together. We went on to do four of the list’s five sandy beaches that summer. There were many opportunities to throw our hands in the air and go home. We persevered and let the cold ocean heal every road trip malady; we threw our plans to the wind. The next year, we swam in the sandy beaches along the west coast of the island, as far up as the Northern Peninsula. He doublechecked for tent poles. The year after that we explored the kilometers of sandy bewitching Burgeo beaches. He doublechecked for the tent poles. I love that he still pops his head out the window as we drive, he loves it, I know. We haven’t been to every sandy beach on the island, and I selfishly hope we never do. That way there will always be another summer and sandy beach for us to uncover.

Born and raised in Jamaica, Xaiver has considered Newfoundland and Labrador home for over a decade. These islands are quite different, but Xaiver feels that living in Jamaica, prepared him for life on the Rock. Minus the snow, sleet, and lack of sun – the people are equally warm and friendly.
His fiction has been published in The Malahat Review, Riddle Fence, and the anthologies Us, Now and Hard Ticket by Breakwater Books; Release Any Words Stuck Inside You III by Applebeard E. His second play One Name is currently being workshopped for production by Halifax Theatre for Young People. Xaiver’s non-fiction work concerns the lives of enslaved and freed Black people in early Newfoundland settlements which can be found in the CBC podcast series Unearthed, which he also narrates. His first children’s picture book A Single Dreadlock is scheduled for release in Fall 2024 by Groundwood Books.

This is the third of an ocean-focused series, made possible by The Big Splash Fund. The next piece will be posted in three weeks.


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