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Playing with Choir: Fall Term 2018

Playing with Choir is an opportunity to come together in a large group to learn simple 3 part harmon [ ... ]

Auction 45 card parties

The Star of the Sea Seniors' Club hosts weekly Auction 45 card parties on Tuesdays at 7:30 pm. It in [ ... ]

Heatwave

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt’s been a long dry summer. Leaves are crispy and brown around the edges, slugs have gone into hiding, and mice are moving into basements to sip droplets of condensation from water pipes. 

Summer cottages at the Cove feel more like saunas than places of retreat. Then lately we’ve had nasty thunderstorms that remind us of the power of riotous unbridled nature.

Weather is a reality that connects us all, though we deal with the heat in individual ways: air conditioners, table fans, swimming, walking on the shady side of the street, iced tea, gin and tonics. My heart goes out to those hardy sunburned souls who work outside painting, roofing, repairing roads. Last month, while traveling along the Airline Highway in Maine (Calais to Bangor) we waited impatiently in a construction zone for our turn to proceed, and watched workmen following a machine that was melting the asphalt—with actual roaring flames—as the new pavement was laid down. That certainly isn’t a job for the faint of heart.

We hope that this heat isn’t a taste of things to come. I mean, a small amount is fine but it’s hard on everyone, and occasionally I find myself thinking about my mother and other elderly friends who have passed on, how they felt a sense of relief knowing that they could stop worrying about the future. For those of us who expect to be around for a while at least, there are practical matters to consider: Is our sump pump up to snuff? Should we get a generator? When you have a basement, water always finds a way to get in.

The heat has been a good reason for cold suppers. The other evening a friend brought out a watermelon and I thought that was just fine. However, she proceeded to cut the watermelon into thick slices and drizzle a tasty marinade over the top; then she fried strips of halloumi cheese till each one was crispy and golden brown; lastly, she lovingly laid two slices of the fried cheese on each portion of watermelon. Then with knife and fork in hand we proceeded to devour this delicious salty sweet spicy appetizer. Try it yourself: the recipe is on the Internet. Buy a watermelon and impress your friends with something entirely different.

Something reliably the same is a bag of new potatoes. Each little earth-flavored gem is a gift to humanity. Boiled with skins on and served with butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper, or wrapped in tinfoil and roasted in the coals: there’s nothing better. Perhaps new potatoes are just as good in other places—I hope so—but I’m sure that they can’t taste any better than ours. When you have a vegetable garden you feel like a rich person for a few months. Almost everything on your plate is from your own garden. And then you have too much and you wonder what you were thinking about?

The fireweed is giving way to goldenrod. We welcome the cool of autumn as much as we enjoyed—and survived—the heat of summer.

We hear the sea

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe sea roared all night, the rain pounded down, and in the morning the shore was strewn with broken crab bodies, flecks of foam, stranded jellyfish, and seaweed tips of brown algae fucus serratus. A cormorant lay dead in the sand, its fluorescent orange hooked upper mandible (beak) clamped perfectly closed over its bottom mandible, its sand-filled eyes staring blankly into space. A beautiful creature. You rarely find deceased birds before the crows and gulls get at them, so we get the idea that they are invincible; but no, birds run into trouble just like the rest of us.

The ridges carved onto the sand by the retreating tide were sharp and unfriendly underfoot and we humans exclaimed, “Now that was a proper storm!” The barnacles yawned and said, “What’s all the fuss?”

In the middle of the “moderate gale” (30 knots or 55 km/hr) the last blossoms blew off our chestnut tree and every single pink and white petal headed straight for the roof of the house. When water started sloshing over the edge of the eaves, remedial action was required to clear the downspouts of those otherwise gorgeous chestnut blossoms, which involved ladders, screwdrivers, bent coat hangers and a certain amount of cursing.

Even after the wind died down the waves could not relax and the rumble of the sea lasted into the afternoon. Finally, silence descended on the Cove. Exhausted flags fell limply, birds and insects came out of hiding, and folks fired up the barbeque; but after an hour a breeze came up from another direction, for the air and sea are never still.

At dusk we went down for a swim. There is no rip tide in the Cove, but all the same, after a storm you can feel the water at the bottom being pulled out to sea and you don’t want to swim out over your head. You merely want to jump into the unruly red-tinted waves and have them knock you back.

In the morning we went back to the shore. Three boys were standing in a tidal pool catching flatfish and they told us how to do it: Find a pool where there are lots of flatfish—you will know this if you walk in the water and feel something go “swish” under your feet; try to see where the fish came from by the cloud of sand its “swish” left; then stand in that spot with your feet close together and wait—for apparently a flatfish will return to its own special spot in the sand, and if your feet are the right distance apart and are on the exact spot, the fish will swim back between your feet and you can reach down and nab it. Sound unlikely? In cupped hands one young lad proudly showed us his catch: a little brown flatfish with eyes on top.

Sunny day, stormy day, tide in, tide out, the shore remains a place of mystery and delight.

We heard the sea again last night and wonder what this day holds.

—This is JoDee Samuelson’s 93rd column for The Buzz. Two of her animated films, Mabel’s Saga and A Brief History of Charlottetown are being shown at Projections on the Plaza in August.

Meet the Cleavers

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonEvery year we add manure to our garden and every year we get uninvited wildflowers as part of the package. (“Wildflowers” sounds gentler than “weeds.”) 

This year a healthy crop of Galium aparine, or Cleavers, is springing up. If you have these guests in your yard you need no description from me. Scratchy stems covered with recurved (down-pointing) prickles make Cleavers memorably unpleasant to the touch. That said, the tiny tender leaves are edible and can be steamed and eaten like spinach, or can be added raw to salads—although if you’re not careful you will spend a lot of time picking out prickly bits of stem and laying them aside.

Common garden variety Cleavers (the name is plural) is a member of the bedstraw family and is related to—of all things—coffee! In a month of so, if you have time on your hands, you may collect the minuscule Cleavers seeds and roast them to make a coffee substitute. Of course you can also dig up dandelion roots and roast them for the same purpose. A person can do all kinds of things and it’s good to try doing something at least once. When you have scrubbed enough dandelion roots or collected enough Cleavers seeds to make one cup of beverage, you can return to your real dark roasted coffee beans with renewed appreciation and enjoyment.

More Cleavers lore: Cleavers is called Goose Grass because geese are fond of the leaves. The dry matted foliage of the plant was once used to stuff mattresses. Greek and Swedish farmers used the barbed stems to strain milk. The roots make a permanent red dye. And most importantly, Cleavers is a tonic for the lymphatic system, used to treat swollen glands such as tonsils and adenoids. Isn’t it humbling (and a little annoying) to find that most of our weeds have valuable medicinal uses? Once I learn about them I almost hate to rip them out of the ground; but I do it anyway.

Now here’s something entirely unrelated to Cleavers: Our neighbor Floyd came to the door with a bug in a jar. Good grief! We have earwigs, slugs, mosquitoes…and now Belostomatidae? (That’s Latin for Giant Water Bugs.) Floyd’s specimen, which he found in a Charlottetown parking lot, was a black five-centimeter-long bug with nasty pincers and a devil-may-care attitude. None of us had ever seen anything like it and we’re not sure we want to see another one. Although these creatures are fried and eaten in Asia, a single bug would not make a meal and none of us wish to experiment.

Down at the Cove the periwinkles are all nicely lined up sunning themselves in cracks in the sandstone. Blue herons wade in tidal pools, patiently waiting for dinner to swim by. A seagull cries, “I’m hungry! What did you do with that Giant Water Bug?” A dozen Canada geese skim over our heads honking imperiously, “Where are those Cleavers you’re talking about?”

This is JoDee Samuelson’s 92nd column for The Buzz. 

One thing done

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt feels good to be out raking this time of year. You can look at your pile of leaves and say, there, that’s one thing done.

Little by little we push off our winter quilts of inactivity and slip into lighter summer shawls of sprint to the finish. But it’s a slow start this year. Although the sun rises higher in the sky every day telling us there is no time to lose, the snow on the ground forces us to take things easy, stretch one muscle at a time, do little things like examine our garden tools and paint their handles if needed, sand and oil rusty spots on shovel blades, dig out rubber boots, throw away gardening gloves with holes in the finger tips and buy new ones.

A garlic shoot is coming up under the mulch. Hurrah! That whole area of the garden was under water for months and it seemed like the garlic might not…let’s not talk about it. What an unsettling winter we had with all that water sitting around, all those frozen ponds. So much ice. The Cove still fills with ice when the wind is from the south, then the next day it’s gone somewhere else and we observe that the water along the shore, usually so clear, is now colored a vibrant crimson from topsoil and sandstone washing down from fields and cliffs. A friend who grew up on Cape Breton told me that when she was a child they knew that spring had arrived on Prince Edward Island when they saw the water turning red.

On the hillsides, migrating geese by the hundreds engage in boisterous discussions about food and weather, while blue herons cruise slowly overhead, eyeing the landscape. Our birdfeeder is still in demand by our resident bird population, the mourning doves, blue jays, chickadees, goldfinches, sparrows, juncos, nuthatches and woodpeckers. A few red-winged blackbirds have joined the feeder queue, along with the grackles who are setting up shop in spruce trees around the yard. We love the grackles’ iridescent green heads, their bright intelligent eyes and their self-confidence.

And for the first time ever, a pair of gray partridges has appeared and they are obviously very much in love. They remind us of that highly visible royal couple, Harry and Meghan, always touching and exchanging meaningful glances. Our partridges, however, are practically invisible against the dead grass, and can only be spotted when they duck in and out of the low bushes. Possibly their nest is nearby, safe (we hope) from hawks, coyotes and foxes. When Mother finishes laying her 10–20 eggs she will settle down and incubate them for three weeks, and they will all hatch on the same day! Then things will really get busy for Ma and Pa. Partridge chicks only eat bugs (high protein) so that’s good for all of us, isn’t it?

I like to think of partridges looking at their nest full of chicks and saying, there, that’s one thing done.

Spring lamb

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonNothing says spring like a lamb. Its little bleat declares: “I’m alive so let’s go!” A Swiss family in the Cove has a whole barn full of sheep, so I thought I’d visit them and get fully charged with a dose of spring lamb.

The Mäders’ new barn has a domed plastic roof and plenty of room inside. Fredy and Elsbeth and son Levi cut trees from their woods, milled their own lumber, put in the posts (we all admired how perfectly straight they were), boarded in the barn, purchased sheep…and now their 30 ewes have given birth to 50 butting, bleating, prancing lambs.

I ask, “Are you happy with your barn?” Fredy: “The sheep need Vitamin D and the plastic roof gives lots of light so that’s good. But it’s humid inside and the roof drips on a day like this. We leave both ends open for ventilation. Those old wooden barns were drier and warmer but this one is cheaper. It’s a work in progress. We brace something different with every strong wind!”

“Will the sheep go outside in summer?” Elsbeth: “The ewes go out, but not the lambs. There are parasites in the soil and the lambs might die. We tried medications but the worms are resistant to them. After two years the ewes get along okay.”

Fredy: “Also there are coyotes. Their footprints were all around the barn—”

Mirya (daughter, in shocked voice): “They took our big orange cat!”

Fredy: “—but the worst is the bald eagles. They’ll pick up a lamb and that will be the end of it. Maybe they kill bigger sheep too. I don’t want to find out.”

“What kind of sheep are they?” Elsbeth: “The ram is a purebred Dorper. [A South African breed, the name being a combination of Dorset and Persian.] They’re supposed to shed their hair and they don’t need so much grain.”

Fredy: “In Canada farmers feed a lot of grain to their animals but in Switzerland grain is expensive. Here we buy about 8 tonnes of mixed barley and supplements a year.”

Elsbeth: “The ewes are Rideau Arcott, a Canadian breed that has lots of babies. All of our lambs were twins or triplets. We keep them until they weigh 50 kg and then they go to the slaughterhouse at Truro. I think Sobey’s buys them.”

Fredy: “We shear the flock in July. We hire a lady with big muscles who can shear 30 sheep in an hour and a half!”

I notice a pen with pregnant ewes. I ask: “How do you know when a ewe is about to give birth?” Elsbeth smiles: “When you see a head at the front and the back!” We both laugh. As I’m leaving, the ewes have finished their breakfast and as if on cue they all lie down and start chewing their cud. No more nursing for now, so the lambs do what babies do: they take naps too.

Bon courage

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonFebruary’s slush is giving way to March’s … slush? I recently heard an elderly lady remark that “This winter has been very unsatisfactory.” We have certainly experienced water in a variety of liquid and solid states. At present our garden is under water, but the ground is frozen so it’s possible that the garlic will survive.

The forest has also taken a beating. Many tall spruce trees, slender soft-hearted giants, found that the freezing rain and blustery winds were more than they could bear. One lies sprawled on the frozen ground, undignified, naked roots up-turned and exposed like a maze; while another has toppled onto its neighbors and is being held up by a gnarled apple tree, veteran of a hundred years war with nature.

The farmer goes along the hedgerows clearing the deadfall, his chain saw screaming and echoing across the landscape. No farmer has ever been able to say, “Now I’m done, I can relax.” Even in winter there is always something to do.

Whether you are a farmer, or a grand old tree living out your life on the edge of the woods, life in Northern climes has always required a special kind of courage. In an interview during the Olympics, freestyle mogul silver medalist Justine Dufour-Lapointe said something like this: “I’m proud to show the strength that Canadians have, to withstand the cold…” We don’t have one word to describe this, but maybe we should.

At the supermarket checkout recently, a magazine headline caught my eye: “Beat the winter blues with Swedish Happiness Secrets.” I wonder what those secrets might be. I am Swedish and spent my whole childhood surrounded by Swedish people, and I’m pretty sure that none of these worthy folks thought they had any happiness secrets. Life was hard in rural Alberta and everyone was just making the best of things.

For Christmas you may have been given “The Little Book of Hygge” that lets you in on Danish Happiness Secrets. Denmark consistently gets #1 world ranking for happiness so the Danes must know something. Hygge is “the intimacy you create several times a day, on purpose, in order to make life bearable or even very good.” It involves a lot of food, candles and warm slippers.—Hey, on the Island we do hygge pretty well.

The Finnish people talk about Sisu: “Stamina and courage held in reserve for hard times.” It’s a great word, although not exactly a Finnish Happiness Secret. I think that most Canadians possess sisu in abundance, as does our flora and fauna. Certainly those fallen spruce trees had plenty of courage until—well, it wasn’t their fault that they blew over. Their feet were wet, the ground was soft, then along came a nor’easter and over they went. Very unsatisfactory.

But the earth will dry up soon. Baby spruce trees will appear as if by magic to take their parents’ place, and this winter will become a distant memory. Hang in there! Bon courage!

Perspective

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe story of our winter so far: bare ground, skiff of snow, wind, rain, plus ten, minus fifteen, wind, rain, snow. Stoves and furnaces putting in long hours, working overtime, greedily gobbling up fuel. Frosty air stealing in all night long under shingles and between floorboards, and barging in through doors that open for a single moment. What a time. The Strait is completely filled in with ice—something we haven’t seen for years—and somehow that feels good, like the welcome visit of a long lost friend.

No matter what the weather we try to spend some of the day outside. Ski conditions haven’t been great, but there’s often been enough snow to scoot along on the edge of fields. And the frozen fields themselves have been perfect for long hikes—although clumpy plowed ground can get tedious.

And is anything better than an outdoor winter picnic? Yesterday we had an impromptu birthday party for our neighbor’s daughter who was home after working as a chef in New Zealand for two years. (Yes, Culinary Institute grads do find work around the world.) This proved once again that the very best conversations happen at the seaside. The food tastes better and amenities can be kept to a minimum (though blankets under the butt are a must). Our friend’s birthday scones—made with cream, not butter—merited lengthy discussion. As did recent dental procedures, the mountains of ice at Cape Traverse, and American politics.

Why are we so blessed? We live in this wonderful place. We have friends, food and firewood. When our garbage bin was blown into the ditch and lost a wheel, all we had to do was fill in a form on-line and presto! a replacement bin magically appeared in our driveway. Sure, sometimes we have to wait in the hospital emergency room longer than we wish, but we do eventually get seen—and we aren’t charged anything.

I’m reading Hilary Clinton’s book How It Happened and it’s almost unbearable to think of the serious problems our American neighbors face. There are 33,000 gun-related deaths a year in the USA, or 90 deaths a day. That’s just crazy. Now there’s the opiod crisis. And the racial tensions that never seem to go away. And wildfires, and mudslides, and hurricanes …

Of course everything’s not perfect in Canada, but at least we don’t have millions of handguns in our houses. And we all have medical coverage and don’t need to worry about losing our homes if we get sick.

So whatever kind of winter we’re having, whether it’s cold one day and warm the next, or snowing or raining, we really have nothing to complain about. Our roads are cleared, our power comes back on, we get a new garbage bins when the old ones break—and The Buzz has come out each month, rain or shine, for twenty-five years. That’s amazing.

I mean, how lucky can we get?

Needles and cones

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe winter solstice has come and gone. We’re on the up-swing now! As the sun rises higher in the sky, every day grows a little longer. Thanks to everyone in the countryside who put up colored lights for the holidays. What a lift they give us during this darkest time of the year. I suppose they wouldn’t be such a treat if they were up all year.

The same holds true for Christmas trees. They quickly lose their charm once their needles start traveling around the house.

During a recent walk, my friend Kay mentioned that we know almost nothing about the trees that we so eagerly invite into our homes in December. They’re evergreens, yes, but what kind? And what’s the difference between a fir and a spruce tree?

Here’s what I learned.

The tree that was in our house, and is now out by the bird feeder, is a spruce. Like all spruce trees, its needles (leaves) are 4-sided in cross-section and grow around the stem out of little wooden “pegs.” All spruce trees produce cones that hang down a short distance from the tip of the branch. Our little tree is too young to produce cones (seeds), but its full-grown parent trees dropped their cones all over the driveway in autumn, so it’s safe to say that it’s a Picea glauca or white spruce. Picea mariana or black spruce hang onto their cones all winter.

Our tree was definitely not a fir. Fir trees have flattened needles, blunt at the end, that are attached to the stem by what one might call suction cups. Fir cones grow upright. When they mature in autumn their seeds fall off, leaving behind lonely abandoned spikes.

The fragrant Balsam fir, Abes balsamea, is our most popular Christmas tree. When its needles become hidden in the carpet, they pierce stocking feet less aggressively than spruce needles. In fact, a pile of fir boughs makes a fairly comfy mattress.

Spruce and fir trees are more than just ubiquitous shapes in the Island landscape. Spruce extracts have been used for healing wounds, soothing sore muscles, treating scurvy, easing arthritic pain. Rotted spruce was dried and pulverized to make baby powder. Spruce resin became a commercially popular chewing gum.

As for fir trees, their resin was used as a fire-starter, a salve, an adhesive. Today if you have a bad cough, you can still buy Buckley’s Cough Syrup. One of its tasty ingredients: balsam fir extract. Yum.

Kind of makes you appreciate that tree you dragged to the side of the road, doesn’t it.

Summary. To tell fir and spruce trees apart, remember that fir needles are flat, spruce needles are square; fir cones grow up, spruce cones grow down.

The old year is behind us and the New Year tingles with possibilities. Never chewed spruce gum? Maybe 2018 is the year to give it a try. You may learn to like it. We have plenty of spruce trees in the Cove and we’re always glad to share a little sap with our neighbors.

Happy New Year!

Events Calendar

September 2018
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Some Upcoming Events

On the Bright Side

Barra MacNeils come to Harbourfront with new album October 5
Harbourfront Theatre  The Barra M [ ... ]

ACT to present Rainbow Valley—An Island ...

November 8–10 & 15–17
The Guild ACT (a community theatre) has announced a family musical, Ra [ ... ]

Pink Floyd tribute at Harbourfront

November 2
Harbourfront Theatre PIGS: Canada’s Pink Floyd will come to Harbourfront Theatre in Sum [ ... ]

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Drawing the line

Profile: Sandy Carruthers by Jane Ledwell Retired for a year now after twenty-five years teaching  [ ... ]

Filmworks Summerside

Film series is back for 7th season Filmworks Summerside opens for their 7th season on September 12  [ ... ]

An Island wish

On August 23, 4 year old Cooper Coughlin will arrive on Prince Edward Island soil for a once in a li [ ... ]