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Sunshine season

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonWe had a big discussion at our community meeting this month about when to hold the Perennial Sale. Our Cove beekeeper insists that spring (i.e. warm weather) will arrive three weeks earlier this year than last, and we’re all willing to fall in line with this idea. Accordingly, the Perennial Sale will be held the third week in May instead of early June.

Now the planning group must spring into action. Things to consider: Are there enough heavy bags for the manure? Can we get manure from the same farmer this year? Where can we get mushroom compost? (Freetown?) Can we use Steve’s half-ton truck to fetch the compost? Will Bill bring his two excellent camping shelters? How about the canteen, the raffle, the plants?

As we dig up and separate our perennials we realize that we are truly bidding farewell to winter. We shall meet again, but not for at least five months…let’s not think about it. We have now officially entered the Season of Sunshine. To put things into a pleasant perspective here are some statistics from

May 1 sunrise: 5:58 am. Sunset: 8:22 pm. (14.5 hours of sunlight). 

June 1 sunrise: 5:25 am. Sunset: 8:56 pm. (15.5 hours of sunlight—which will continue for the whole month of June.)

This should be enough sunshine for everybody. Nature is certainly getting excited just thinking about it. Fat houseflies are banging into windows; sleepy ants are climbing out of the wet earth and rubbing sand out of their eyes; skunks are roaming the countryside with tails dragging in the grass; and one lonely ring-necked pheasant is sending his imperious “come hither” call resonating across the fields.

In our backyard, grackles (a group of them is called “a plague of grackles”) have set up shop, and as long as they don’t poop on the clothesline they’re welcome to build nests and squawk away. Grackles are large blackbirds with blue-black iridescent feathers and yellow eyes, who hold their tails in a “keeled” (vertical) shape when resting—something I myself have not been able to accomplish.

Across the road a hungry weasel has eaten eight of our neighbor’s plump hens plus one rooster. A beautiful black-bellied fox is on the prowl for the rest of the flock.

Along the roadways pussy willows are bursting from the tips of glistening yellow-green twigs, while scarlet-stemmed dogwoods decorate the ditches. In our garden, dressed in their finest spring greenery are shoots of daylilies and daffodils, columbine and chamomile, parsley and pulmonaria, irises, mojito mint, Johnny jump ups, bee balm, oregano, and rhubarb of course—all of which, thanks to the generosity of Nature, will make their way into the Perennial Sale.

In the spruce trees the grackles squawk, “No time to lose! No time to lose!” The sun peeps through the window and taps me on the shoulder, murmuring, “You were waiting for me, and here I am.”

Undaunted spring

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonOn April 18, 1801 in Hallowell, Maine, a midwife named Martha Ballard planted 165 “cabbage stumps” in her garden. (These “stumps” were cabbage roots over-wintered in the cellar.) In her diary she records that two weeks after planting, she was serving young cabbage shoots for dinner, which would be the family’s first green vegetable of the year. And those cabbages would go on giving: Allowed to mature they would provide seeds for sowing the following summer. [p. 323, A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Vintage Books, 1990]

Imagine planting and caring for 165 heads of cabbage, all for one family. We consider ourselves lucky if cabbage butterflies do not totally destroy our cabbages and broccoli while our backs are turned. Up until now it never occurred to us to save cabbage roots, but it’s never too late to change old habits. I fully intend to be reporting on the progress of my cabbage sprouts this time next year.

Spring in these northern climes has traditionally been a hard time of the year, as supplies in house and barn begin to run out. These days most of us put on weight in winter (how wrong is that?) thanks to Netflix, jigsaw puzzles and Happy Hour, and to the excellent—albeit fragile—food supply system that faithfully brings ice cream and snack food to our doors. I don’t want this system to go away, but I want be more self-sufficient, and I’m kind of excited about the idea of cabbage sprouts.

Speaking of fragile: Our walking group has been taking coffee to the shore more often than usual recently because the mornings have been so darn beautiful. Sitting on flat sandstone boulders, we ponder the large and small questions of life (which you can do so much better while sipping hot coffee and eating cranberry muffins). The crumbling red capes with their thin floating layer of topsoil remind us that we are here for a good time, not a long time.

One morning last month a Search and Rescue helicopter flew low overhead on its way to the Bonshaw Hills. The whole Island was holding its breath waiting for the dear doctor to be found; then things turned out the way they did. What are we to make of our short time on earth? Cliffs disintegrate, rising seas crash over our breakwaters, political storm clouds glower south of the border, and yet … here come the Canada geese, here come the blue herons. Grackles are building nests, robins are pulling worms out of the ground. Clamworms and periwinkles and barnacles will soon be mating (however they do it) and tiny cellular life will be swimming around the ocean looking for a place to call home. Clearly nature is undaunted by the things that daunt the rest of us.

Oh, I just remembered it’s time to pull up those parsnips that we left in the ground last fall. Yum. And look: the parsley is still healthy and green. Martha Ballard would approve.

Thin ice

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe ice is setting in around the Island and it finally feels like winter. But what is an average winter here? We’re always setting records of some kind. In the delightful Letters from the Manse, author Joan Colborne writes (March 3, 1949): “Even the people who have lived round [O’Leary] all their life have been impressed with this series of blizzards.”

I remember the winter of 1991, skating on sheet glass ice from West Street in Charlottetown across to Rocky Point, and returning via York Point. Has there been ice like that since then? I don’t think so.

At one time, the Island’s frozen rivers became its highways. In the Cove, a farmer with horse and sleigh and a load of potatoes or firewood to sell would head east across the fields and down onto the ice at Long Creek. From there it was a simple glide into Charlottetown—avoiding, of course, the thin ice.

Many of us rely on books and photos to inform us of by-gone days. If we’re fortunate, we have friends who were around in those times who can tell us how to avoid the weak ice. How we hate to lose these friends! In the past few weeks, two elderly mothers of people in the Cove have passed on, carrying their memories with them. Last year we lost our beautiful and generous local historian, Florence MacCannell.

And recently our neighbour Steven MacKinnon died. Steven was not an old man, but he was an old soul, and a storyteller. Last fall he came to our house with ten pounds of hamburger from a steer he’d had killed. He stood in the doorway talking for a good half hour before placing the hamburger in my hands. I learned all abut how he had fed his animals, how they came when he called, how he grew his grain, how he never sprayed chemicals on any of his fields. “When I go home,” he said, “I’m going to take a handful of this hamburger and fry it up just as is. That’s going to be my supper. I can’t wait!”

When he left, I said, “Let’s fry up some of this.” Without any question, that was the most delicious hamburger I ever ate.

We won’t be getting any more of Steven’s hamburger, or his stories. One day as we were walking down to the Cove, two bald eagles flew overhead, and it seemed like Steven might be one of those eagles. He liked big things and big ideas, and when he got going his ideas seemed to soar just like those eagles.

There is a wind turbine in Steven’s farmyard—a serious machine atop a hundred foot tower. Every day when I look up the hill I can see that turbine with its white blades flashing, and I wonder how can it keep going without Steven?

Things do keep going though. Winter turns into spring, and if we’re lucky we don’t fall through the ice.


The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThis morning we decided to walk to the school to change the notice on the marquee. Crossing the bridge we all stopped at the same time and exclaimed, “How lovely!” for the tide was coming in, the marsh was blanketed with snow and the whole scene was harmonious and perfect.

The bridge we were standing on crosses a modest waterway called MacEachern Creek that served historically as an aboriginal portage route: Travelers from the mainland arriving at the Cove would canoe upstream, dodging branches and toppled trees, then carry packs and canoes the remaining few kilometers through the woods to the West River, one of the Island’s great waterways. Today MacEachern Creek is used by ducks, blue herons, kingfishers, the occasional muskrat and a few trout, but has become so silted-in that no one can canoe even as far as the bridge. Bullrushes love it, however.

Our creek runs all year. Over time it has carved out its own little valley, and in the middle of the valley you’d think that the water should head straight to the sea, but no, it meanders happily as all waterways do, even the Mississippi. Say there’s a heavy rain: silt run-off makes a little mound in the stream, the water hits the silt and changes direction; or a boulder rolls into the stream causing the current to move around it. Flowing water hits the bank straight ahead and turns, but not before eroding it a little, then this silt moves along and settles a little further on, and so on, something like our own lives…

At one time there was a dam in the creek with a road that went across the dam, and there was a sawmill that operated in spring when there was plenty of water. It’s fun to poke around in these places and look for artifacts, but the water laughs and burbles and keeps its secrets to itself.

MacEachern Creek is one of two waterways that feed into the Cove. Together over thousands of years these streams have made their way down to the sea—water of the land joining water of the oceans—wearing away the soft sandstone edge of the Island grain by grain until a lovely cove has formed. And what is a cove? A cove is a small bay or inlet along the coast where waves attack and break down weak rocks to form inlets. (Bays are larger, gulfs are larger still.) Streams like MacEachern Creek do their part to enlarge the inlet and make it less salty.

We love our creek, and we love our Cove. The Cove is a place of protection and introspection, a state of mind as much as a physical entity. Plus it is a fascinating destination. The other day the water was starting to freeze, and great slushy breakers were swelling in slow motion like moving sand dunes. Meanwhile, taking no note of any of this, MacEachern Creek in its chosen channel flowed unobtrusively into the sea.

Winter shadows

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThis early-winter light casts long beautiful shadows. In the middle of the day I stand on one side of the yard and my shadow reaches to the other side, making me tall and slim and elegant.

The world of horizontal light causes visual illusions for all creatures. At eight o’clock this morning as the sun was peeking over the big hill, a mourning dove flew into one of the east-facing windows with a terrific thud. I ran over to look, expecting to see a bird lying on the ground, but happily the dove flew off to a perch in the old apple tree. There it remains, trembling and troubled and reassessing its plans for the day. We must hang something up in the window so that in this particular light birds do not try to fly through our house.  A few years ago a partridge flew into that same window and fell to the ground, crumpled and still. Efforts to revive it failed for, alas, there is no cure for a broken neck. We carried its beautiful body to the woods and placed it gently on the snow where a fox or coyote might find it.

So we enter another year. The sun comes up, birds flock to the feeder and some fly into the window, the skies are threatening one day and clear baby blue the next. We bring in firewood and carry out ashes, take a walk along the tree line, admire apples clinging determinedly to frail-looking twigs; while in the house the cat sleeps by the stove and dust settles in the corners. Meals are dutifully prepared, dishes washed, fancy Christmas tea towels stowed away till next December…and in a few short hours the sun goes down.

We don’t need anything extraordinary to happen in the New Year. In fact we want things to continue in the same old way with the same things to eat, same cozy bed to sleep in, same smiling faces at the store. We may learn a few new tunes but will mostly play the old ones. Oh, we’ll take a few amazing trips, but will want to come home to our same old friends. Need some excitement? Don’t worry, we’ll have politics and weather, plus life and death (the usual suspects) to keep us on our toes. And we’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice being generous and open to change.

The mourning dove has left its perch in the apple tree. I hope it is all right. When it hit the window it was flying so hard that it left a print of its beak, body and outspread wings on the glass. A star now hangs in the window to reduce further casualties. Meanwhile my long shadow keeps me company throughout this brief day, reaffirming my presence on this lovely earth.

Here’s an Irish blessing for you: May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night, and the road downhill all the way to your door.

Happy New Year!

Season's Greetings

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIn a few days we will put up our Christmas tree, and lights and fragrance will once again fill our lives with joy. I remember as a child sitting by the Christmas tree staring in a trance at my reflection in the glass balls. What was I thinking about? I’d love to know. (That’s me in pajamas, above.) The tree was the heart of the event, and as we lived in the bald prairies I have no idea where the tree came from. All photos indicate a thin but hopeful spruce tree.

It certainly wasn’t a perfectly shaped balsam fir like the ones we get from our neighbors in the Cove. These are modern trees, efficient, with needles that dry out slowly and stay on the tree longer than the needles on a spruce tree. (Plus, if you’re lost in the woods, a mound of flat-needled fir boughs makes a comfy bed, whereas spruce needles poke upwards in all directions and keep you awake.)

A few years ago I wrote some poems about traveling to the moon. Here is one called “Christmas on the moon” that brings me back to the beloved Christmases of my childhood.

Christmas on the moon is a very quiet time.
There is no tinsel.
I brought an ornament along with me,
a blue plastic snowflake that was on our tree
when I was a child.
I had nothing to hang it on of course so I
propped it on top of a big rock.
I made a sort of base for it out of little rocks.
There it sat twinkling its blue plastic twinkle
in the light of the sun.
I used to watch it for hours.
It made me moody thinking about all the
Christmases in my childhood:
the time I was given a violin and my brother
was given a table hockey game;
white lacy blouses my Aunt Margaret sent
without fail, and quite often a necklace;
the smell of my mother’s baking, rye bread,
sweet bread, thin bread;
the Christmas Concert at church with the
young people’s play and the verses we had
to memorize, and always at the end
that wonderful brown paper bag filled with
homemade fudge (never enough),
a popcorn ball,
a rice crispy square in wax paper,
more hard candies than you could eat in one
day, and a large red apple.
I preferred the candy, but the apple was nice
when everything else was gone.
O Christmas Eve supper! Will they ever
think of freeze-drying such a feast!
Pickled herring, head cheese and vinegar,
potato sausage, olives, homemade root beer,
brown beans, sweet bread, fruit cake,
spritz cookies, mandarin oranges;
and a tree glowing in the corner of the next
Could you freeze-dry a Christmas tree?
Would you want to?
My little blue plastic snowflake sitting there
on its rock, sort of holding hands with me,
thinking of all those times together.

The Wreck of the Flora T

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe cold blustery winds of autumn can chill you right to the soul, and many a ship has gone down in a November squall.

On just such a morning as this, 102 years ago, November 1, 1913, the cook at McFadyen Brothers’ lobster cannery in the Cove was looking out to sea when he spied a ship in distress. To quote a newspaper of the day: “Hector Jerrold who lives at the cook-house on the shore and his wife and family are said to have seen the vessel go down. When the vessel disappeared Jerrold’s children commenced to cry.”

“Another man, James E. McKenzie, who was engaged in pulling turnips in a field is reported to have seen the ship disappear.”

Word was communicated to the Marine Office in Charlottetown and after several hours the rescue steamer D.G.S. Brant, with lifeboat and rescue crew in tow, set out for the Cove. Captain Walker “scoured the horizon in all directions” but there was no trace of a wreck. The lifeboat proved useless as it “turned turtle” and the lifeboat crew barely escaped with their lives.

“Several well-known nautical men are inclined to the belief that there was no wreck at all: there was a snow storm raging at the time and they say that it is possible that the schooner might just have been lost to view in the snow squall.”

However, “All doubts were set at rest when the D.G.S. Brant made her third trip out to the scene to look for traces of the disaster. The topmasts of a submerged vessel were sticking out of the water to the extent of eight or nine feet. The vessel is lying in eleven fathoms of water.”

“Yesterday an oar was picked up on the shore. It is painted red and is supposed to be an oar belonging to the boat.”

 On November 3, 1913, a schooner with Captain Charles Trenholm in command left Port Elgin with a cargo of lumber, arriving at Charlottetown Harbour in the course of the day. Captain Trenholm was surprised to find that his son’s schooner, the Flora T, was not in port, for he had been present when the Flora T left Pugwash laden with a cargo of bricks to be used in the construction of the new Cathedral (St. Dunstan’s burned in March 1913).

It gradually became apparent that the ship that had gone down in the Strait was the Flora T, owned by Captain Trenholm and commanded by his son, Bliss Trenholm. “The captain is almost prostrated with grief over the loss of his son,” states The Examiner on November 4, 1913.

“A telegram was sent to the Captain’s family at Port Elgin yesterday notifying them of the sad affair.” Young Philip Arsenault of Summerside also perished in the disaster.

Today as we walk along the shore I pick up a brick half-buried in the sand: is it a brick from the Flora T? I like to think so.

Quotations are taken from The Examiner and The Guardian, November 1, 3 and 4, 1913, newspapers on microfilm at the Provincial Archives.

The $100 Get-Away

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonDuring the recent heavy rains, the potato field above us became saturated, sending water rushing down the drills in a babbling brook that ran straight through our yard. At the same time, wasps by the dozen were getting into our living room and creating havoc. Time to get away!

Although we think of the Island as the most desirable spot on earth (when we’re not being flooded out, or dive-bombed by carnivorous insects), on the other side of the Strait there are some places that are just about as beautiful as PEI. And do the folks over there ever appreciate it when you visit and spend a few dollars at their gift shops and grocery stores. It doesn’t cost much either: $45.50 for the bridge and $56.00 for two nights at a campground. If you bring your own food and beverages you can have a $100 ($101.50) vacation that feels like you’re in a totally different place, which of course you are.

Have you ever stopped in Port Elgin? The hardware store has photos of Port Elgin in its glory days as a shipbuilding/woodworking/train and shipping centre. Next door is Cole’s Groceries with vintage cans of brown beans (we bought one, and the beans were delicious). Continuing through the village you come to the Baie Verte corner store, now lovingly converted into a Bistro. Then there is Winegarden Estate where, if you stop, you will buy more wine and apple schnapps than you had counted on. At Tidnish Corner a sweet little restaurant with fresh blueberry pie beckons you in. Turning left around the bay is Bev’s Wood-fired Bakery featuring hot-out-of-the-oven oatmeal-molasses bread. Then you come to the site of the Chignecto Ship Railway (which we should all know about). There is a new discovery at every turn!

After two days of highly excellent camping at Amherst Shore Provincial Park (Nova Scotia), we drive back along the Upper Cape road. I’m not going to say too much about this highway because it must be one of New Brunswick’s best-kept secrets. (Woops, I’ve said too much!)  Along the way is a decommissioned United Church, the perfect spot for a picnic, and a stroll around the old cemetery thinking deep cemetery thoughts—you know the kind.

As I study the old stones I think about traveling, and how it should make us more educated, tolerant and appreciative.  I think it does. I hope so, for I’d like to justify the luxury of being able to get up and go wherever I want. And I ask myself how is it possible that I am flitting around eating blueberry pie when millions of refugees on the other side of the ocean are frantically trying to find a home? There is no answer.

Meanwhile, back in the Cove the wasps are settling down, and perhaps the farmer will build a berm to divert the run-off from his field. Our problems are small, and we like them that way.

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Some Upcoming Events

Fräulein Klarinette

Piano and clarinet recital at UPEI’s Dr. Steel Recital Hall January 26
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Bluegrass at the Carriage House

February 3
Beaconsfield Carriage House Janet McGarry and Wildwood, a favourite PEI band, will be fea [ ... ]

PEI Symphony Orchestra

Guest conductor Dina Gilbert will lead  February 24
Zion Church  The PEI Symphony Or [ ... ]

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