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PEI Sociable Singles

PEI Sociable Singles is a non-profit, non-denominational, social group with members age 40 and over. [ ... ]

ACT Audition Notice

ACT (a community theatre) will stage 12 Angry Women in the round at four Island venues April 26–Ma [ ... ]

Gifts of the sea

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonAll night long the wind blew out of the southeast and the surf beat against the capes with a steady thundering roar. In the morning, long swells began to deposit seaweed and shells ripped from the sea floor, and soon the beach was piled thickly with a mélange of fresh sweet seaweeds: kelp, sea lettuce, Irish moss, twig weed, leaf weed, knotted wrack. In the olden days farmers would rush down to the shore at low tide to fill up carts and wagons with free organic fertilizer; but today these gifts of the sea are largely ignored.

Seaweeds and their ancestors have been filtering toxins, producing oxygen, and providing food and shelter for sea creatures since the beginning of life on earth. Some storms wash in mostly eel grass, or Irish moss or kelp, for each seaweed has its own position in the water world and is vulnerable to different forces.  Occasionally we find laver (porphyra), a soft broad-leafed reddish-brown seaweed of single-celled thickness. Rachel Carson writes: “[Porphyra] resembles nothing so much as little pieces of brown transparent plastic cut out of someone’s raincoat.” Washed, shredded, molded and toasted, it becomes nori, the flavorful wrapping around sushi. Japan produces about 7 billion sheets of nori annually: that’s a lot of sushi! Most seaweeds are perfectly edible and can be nibbled for a salty snack, or chopped and boiled in water for nourishing (but tasteless) soup.

Identifying seaweeds can be a challenge. Even the Peterson Guide has a section titled “Confusing Brown Seaweeds.”  Irish moss is easy to pick out of the seaweed beach salad because it turns translucent glossy white and feels like it might dissolve in your hands. People up West (Summerside and beyond) make custard and pie out of it. Here’s a recipe:

Rinse a handful of Irish moss thoroughly in fresh water to remove all sand and debris. Heat 1 litre milk in the top of a double boiler and add the clean moss. Cook 30 minutes (above the boiling water) stirring frequently. Strain mixture through a sieve, add honey or sugar and a little vanilla, then pour into a dampened mold. Chill, turn out of mold—and this is important—serve with something flavorful like rhubarb or strawberry sauce, or a splash of rum, otherwise this blancmange might seem (as it does to me) a bit too bland, slippery, and, well, seaweed-y. But give it a try.

Incidentally, if you happen to be walking barefoot through a pile of fresh seaweed in the Cove this summer (being mindful of sharp shells buried underneath), you’ll notice that your feet get a massage from tiny jumping crustaceans called beach hoppers. Don’t worry, they’re perfectly harmless. Heck, they and their kind have been hopping on beaches for millions of years and they aren’t interested in humans at all. They love seaweed, and a big blow with a high sea is just the thing to make their day.

Following the plow

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe Island spring is like a reluctant suitor moving much too cautiously in the pursuit of love, warmth and happiness. All the same, there is no turning back. Warmth and happiness—and hopefully love—are just around the corner.

The soil is finally dry enough for the farmer to be out on his land. And following the plow is the inevitable flock of seagulls with feathers glowing pure white against the deep-red overturned sods. Most of the gulls in the Cove are herring gulls or ring-billed gulls that live and travel together in large groups or colonies. At this time of year they may be nesting on St. Peters Island or some isolated beach, for their nests are on the ground and they must be built far away from the prying eyes and feet of humans.

During the nesting period, the parents forage on land for seeds and earthworms: hence the following of the plow. Later on when their chicks are grown, seagulls spend more time at sea, cruising above the Strait at 35 kph, or bobbing cheerfully on the water with webbed feet propelling them forward. They have special glands that flush salt from their systems, allowing them to drink salt water and stay away from land for long periods of time. Now they dine mostly on crabs, mollusks and small fish—whatever will fit through their knacky unhinging jaws.

Because they will eat almost anything (including other dead birds), gulls (and crows) help keep our beaches pristine. They are sort of the Women’s Institute of the shoreline. When a gull is full of clams and minnows and tasty bugs, it stands on one leg dreamily staring into space. This stance is not an effort to look nonchalant, but the gull is merely warming up its leg by pulling it up next to its nice hot body.

Seagulls on a sandbar all seem to stand facing the same direction: into the wind. No one is organizing this. They like to face into the wind to provide a quick take-off, for as all air pilots know, it takes less space and time to get airborne if you are already facing into the wind.

Now here’s something! Humans have three types of cones in our eyes that allow us to see the three primary colors. Gulls have four cones. This fourth cone allows them to see infrared color, which means that gulls can see heat. Imagine. I think this is something that could be the basis of a very compelling Super Gull comic series.  (Feel free to use this idea.)

Gulls are monogamous, which means that they apparently stay in love their whole lives. A herring gull can live for 49 years. That’s a lot of love. I think it’s safe to say that seagulls are not reluctant suitors, and our Island spring could learn a lot from them.

Getting away

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt was the end of March. According to the calendar, spring had arrived. Trembling, we crawled out of our snow-bound cave and turned our eyes to the heavens. Sun, hast thou forsaken us? Whither the crocuses and daffodils, the freshets, the elderflower blossoms?

Time for a change of scenery. We put the summer tires on, filled up with gas at Borden, and headed south to visit friends from the Cove who spend the winter in Lake Worth, Florida.

Florida is far away. 3000 kilometers away. We drove through Maine (snowy and cold), New Hampshire (old mill towns), Massachusetts (plenty of snow), Connecticut (nothing blooming), and on to New York (snowing) where we spent a few days with family. Boldly leaving winter boots and jackets behind, we crossed the stately Hudson River into New Jersey (crazy traffic), through Pennsylvania (big trucks, dead deer on roadside), Maryland (expensive tolls, first daffodils), Virginia (huge country estates), and North Carolina (green leaves!). It started to get warm in the middle of South Carolina (grocery stores selling interesting pig parts), even warmer in Georgia (Civil War mementos, gas $1.93/gal.), and finally (palm trees and oranges) we crossed St. Mary’s River into Florida.

In St. Augustine (earliest European settlement in North America) we had our first experience of fully-developed tourism, with old motels from another era, open-air tour trains, and peacocks roaming Ponce de Léon’s “Fountain of Youth.”

Near Cape Canaveral we stopped at Turtle Mound, a man-made 50-foot high hillock of oyster shells used as a lookout by native people 1000 years ago. The drive to this site paralleled an Atlantic shoreline that was hidden behind an astonishing array of pastel-colored housing developments.

Finally, Lake Worth and the comfort of our friends’ air-conditioned condo. Home-cooking, a swim in the pool, sauna and late night drink really set us up. So this is what it’s all about. Next day we put up a tent in the municipal park and joined hundreds of Canadians who, in winter, call this location home. Most of these people are from Québec. They live in elaborate motor homes with every mod con, and man, are they happy! They have their own newspaper, own radio station, and friends living next door.

The secret is the friends. Florida is a social destination. The weather is fantastic (except for humidity and hurricanes), but it’s the camaraderie that keeps people coming back. Our friends treated us like royalty. We met their friends. We sang, biked around the park, saw alligators and pelicans, toured a park in the Everglades, got bitten by Florida black flies, drank big American beer, waited at traffic lights… and all too soon it was time to head home, different route this time, just as far.

It sure feels good to get back to our own community. Everything is near-by, small, friendly. We have fresh air, empty spaces, silence.  And we’ll even have crocuses and daffodils, one of these days.

My friend Evelyn

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe phone rang at midnight, shocking me out of my deep mid-winter sleep. It was my brother Lee telling me that my friend Evelyn was dying. Lee could have waited till morning to call, but I guess he wanted to talk to someone. I’m glad he did.

Evelyn was a big-hearted woman. It was her heart that gave out at the last, having worn itself out doing things for other people. Last spring I visited Evelyn at her apartment in an assisted living complex. We had meals together in the group dining room, we took drives in the country, I tightened a screw in her walker, and then it was time to say good-bye. What a fuss she made over me! She had been my mother’s best friend, and when Mom died Evelyn took over in the mothering department.

Evelyn’s parents were German immigrants, and when she finished a few years of education in a one-room school she married a Norwegian farmer. It was hard work farming out in Alberta, as hard as it was here on Prince Edward Island. Her only child died in a traffic accident, and this could have soured her; but Evelyn was one of those people who carried joy with her and spread it around.

Evelyn was an artist in the kitchen. She could cook sauerkraut and pork chops like nobody’s business, make melt-in-your-mouth potato pancakes, and bake cakes and rolls that were worth talking about. In Evelyn’s honour I am sharing with you one of her favourite recipes.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

Evelyn’s Cinnamon Rolls

1 T yeast
½ c warm water
1 c warm milk
2 beaten eggs
4 c flour
½ tsp salt
extra butter
¼ c margarine or butter
brown sugar
1/3 c white sugar
[pecans, walnuts, raisins]

Add 1 tsp sugar to ½ c warm water, sprinkle in 1 pkg (1 Tbsp) dry yeast and stir. Let stand in warm place for 10 min.
Rub together, like making piecrust, the flour, margarine, white sugar and salt. Add the warm milk, beaten eggs, and yeast mixture. Stir and knead gently. Dough should be soft.
Let rise till doubled.
On lightly floured surface roll out a rectangle about ½” thick. Spread with soft butter or margarine and brown sugar—don’t skimp! Sprinkle generously with cinnamon. If you like raisins, scatter a cup or so of nice plump raisins at this time, also nuts if you wish.
Roll the dough tightly, and cut in slices 1” thick. Place rolls in greased pans so they almost touch each other. If you prefer a sticky bun, use more butter and brown sugar on the bottom of the pan, and sprinkle this with a generous layer of crushed nuts before placing rolls in pan.
Let rise ½ hour.
Bake in a moderate oven 325° for 20 minutes, and check often. The dough is so light it can easily burn on top and bottom before being done in the middle.

Smelt shack

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIs there anything nicer this time of year than a feed of fresh smelts? They’re sweet and delicious, and they only take a few minutes to fry up as crispy as you like ‘em.  

Smelts are a family of small fish, Osmeridae, found around the world in places as far away as Italy, Finland, Korea and Japan. In the spring, smelts swim upstream to spawn, and I remember netting them by the dozen down below the old mill in Clyde River. Those fish that didn’t make it into the frying pan were kept to fertilize our garden.

My neighbor Jim has a smelt shack out on the river by the causeway. It’s the only shack there—where did the others go? At one time there were fifty shacks in the vicinity. According to Jim, many landowners don’t want anyone hauling a building across their fields, so it’s hard to get your shack down to the ice. And then there’s the matter of the smelts themselves. Jim hasn’t had any luck fishing these past winters, and thinks seals are to blame.

Here’s how you catch smelts, if there are any to catch. You get your shack onto good solid ice where there’s about six feet of water underneath at high tide. Using a chainsaw you cut a hole in the ice two feet wide by six feet long. Dump in some crushed oyster shells to whiten up the river bottom so you can see the smelts. (You can also use a weighted white sheet, but a sheet can get washed away in the current.) To attract the smelts, sprinkle in some whole corn, cooked macaroni or spaghetti, anything with color; or you can make “mackerel dough” out a can of mackerel and some mashed potatoes and oatmeal all mixed together. Yum. Now sit back on your fold-down seat and wait. You might want to have a little drink at this time.

When you see the fish swimming around on the bottom nibbling on the mackerel dough, you spear them with the knacky smelt spear you’ve made out of a five foot length of half-inch dowel or bamboo, or in Jim’s case, out of a length of stainless steel welding rod. The pointy tip is the big challenge—and you have to be reasonably sober to stab a smelt in the first place.

If you don’t manage to fill your bucket with smelts, you can always fry up some bacon and eggs on your propane burner. If it starts to get dark and you want to play cards, no problem, because you have lights hooked up to a battery. If it’s cold and your little potbellied stove is cranking out more heat than you need, you step outside, look at the stars and listen to the ice snapping.

Oh good, here come your fishing buddies with more supplies. Deal the cards and pass the bacon!

Hot Mustard

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonYesterday we went cross-country skiing for the first time this winter. I love how a few centimeters of snow can smooth out all the rough bones of the earth, and accentuate the beauty of every vertical object. We make our way through the frost-covered wildflowers bordering the field—goldenrod, dock, mullein—and head up the big hill. Last summer this field was planted in grain, and since it wasn’t plowed in the fall we don’t have to fight our way over nasty bumps of frozen clay.

Through the hedgerow into the next field we come across an un-harvested crop of some curious grain. Remember those vivid yellow fields of canola last summer? Turns out they weren’t canola, they were hot mustard. All the potatoes in our district have felt the curse of the mighty wireworm and it seems that a few years of planting hot mustard might defeat this insidious pest. The mustard plants themselves are lovely, tall and thin, and it’s the most natural thing in the world to reach down, pluck a few seed pods, crack ‘em open and pop the tiny seeds in your mouth. Whoops! Wikipedia claims that “Mixing ground mustard seeds with water causes a chemical reaction between two compounds in the seed: the enzyme myrosinase and various glucosinolates,” which translates as “a burning sensation on the tip of your tongue.” Will hot mustard defeat wireworms? Wait and see. Skiing through a field of mustard is challenging because many of the sturdy stems have tipped over and turned into ski snares.

We cross the creek bed and follow the tree line behind the old school. The school is closed until spring, taking a well-deserved rest from all the busy events of the year.

What a crowd we had at our New Year’s Levee, including that bunch from Charlottetown—thirty hungry people in two vans—who polished off the last of the sandwiches and made a serious dent in the cookie department. Fun! We’ll be ready for you next year.

 

Back home, it’s time to put wood in the stove, make a pot of tea and read for a few minutes while the fire gets going. It’s a good time for adventure tales: Wild, The Journals of Tappan Adney, and A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador. This last book describes the impossible heroics of a small group of explorers who have to endure a Labrador winter surviving on food that has been stashed long distances apart. Now here in the Cove, when doing some outdoor activity and becoming slightly weary, our cry is “Only forty miles to the lard!” Fortunately we have plenty of lard if we want it. We could harvest some of those mustard seeds if we were starving, but we’re not, so let’s leave them for the wireworms to mull over.

Blessings

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLast evening within the space of a few minutes the wind died down, the sun plunged into the sea with a golden splash, and a full moon rose in the eastern sky. Soon the temperature began to drop and by bedtime we were thrust back into winter. In the middle of the night I rose to put more wood on the fire.  Stopping for a moment to look out the window, I saw how the moon now high in the sky was delicately outlining every branch and twig of the old birch tree. This is a tree that needs to be cut down, but what would take its place for full-moon nighttime splendor?

Nights like this remind me how fortunate I am to be living on this wonderful island on this amazing planet. To be sure there are things wrong with it, as we were recently reminded at the memorial service for women who have been victims of violence. But then there was the Tafelmusik concert at Confederation Centre with the musicians playing breathing moving as one, when I had to exclaim, “I feel proud to be a human being!”

So on New Year’s Eve, rather than make resolutions to defeat my intractable shortcomings, I want to count my blessings. Here are some of them: my wood stove! (Yes it makes carbon emissions, but so do I.) I love my soft feather pillow, sharp carving tools, song books, socks without holes; yellow potatoes gleaned from the field, Andrew Potts’ roasting chickens, Montreal bagels, homemade crackers, café au lait, maple syrup; jigsaw puzzles with no missing pieces, the Saturday Globe and Mail, sketch books, graphic novels, sharp pencils…no end to this list. Of course my most important blessings are family and friends who make everything possible and delightful. Your list will be different but equally long.

A list of things I could do without is another topic entirely, but would certainly include mice. In the night any unusual sound brings us instantly to full alert, for the darkness reminds us of our fragility and vulnerability. So when you hear something that sounds like a whole tribe of carpenters trying to saw its way into your cupboards you naturally investigate. Last night it was a mouse on the counter snacking on a hard pear. There are creatures out there that can handle the weather and eat mice to stay alive, so I wish mice would stay outside where they are of some use to somebody.

That’s all right. It’s now morning and I will soon be out walking with my neighbor women. We will go down to the river where the high tides of the full moon have flattened the marsh grass into hundreds of cowlicks, continue on to the Cove where the ice is forming daily, and I will be blessed anew with beauty and companionship. It’s going to be a good year.

Starry Nights

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe nights are long and black, and the season of stars has arrived. It’s Star of Bethlehem, Star of Hope, Star of the East time, and what’s a Christmas tree without a star on top.

Stars and Christmas somehow go together. But have you noticed that stars have invaded the decorating landscape all year round? Take a drive across the Island and call out “Star!” every time you spot a star on a building. I wonder if people would love their stars so much if they called them by their proper names: pentacles or pentagrams. Neighbor Smith to Neighbor Jones: “I just love your new pentacle! I must get one.” Neighbor Jones: “Yes, it’s a lovely pentacle. It was difficult to find a red one to match our house, but we put in an order with the pentacle salesman and we’re very pleased with the results.”

Greek mathematician Pythagoras held that the points of the pentagram represented the five elements that make up a person: earth, air, fire, water and psyche [mind]. Leonardo da Vinci drew a famous diagram demonstrating that the human body was divided into five parts. Pentagrams were featured in Neolithic, Mayan, Chinese, Hebrew and Egyptian cultures, and now North American culture too, for there are stars all up and down the East Coast, and who knows, they may be spreading West as we speak.

It seems that people have always considered stars a sign of quality, good luck, power. Remember getting gold and silver stars for perfect attendance (good marks, homework done, teeth brushed)? Five star hotel, four star general, star of the show, Stella Maris, Toronto Star, the list goes on. The Cove has its own share of stars—which right now seem to be procreating like mad. Stars on barns, stars on the schoolhouse, stars in windows, stars on trees.

In the prairie town where I grew up, during the month of December there was an illuminated star on top of the water tower. Those lights meant peace, completeness, dreams come true. (Well, maybe not dreams come true: I wanted every toy in the Eaton’s Christmas catalogue and that never happened.) The water tower star was an important Christmas symbol but we wouldn’t have wanted it there all year round.

Still, if a star brings good luck, happiness and possibly even peace and all you have to do is nail it onto the front of your house, why not get one? In fact, it feels like our house needs a star in that big empty spot under the eaves…but don’t give me one! I can get one myself if social pressure from the Joneses becomes too great, or if I feel I need an extra dose of star magic in my life.

Merry starry Christmas to all!

Events Calendar

November 2018
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Some Upcoming Events

Moving East tour

Jimmy Rankin at Harbourfront Theatre and Trailside Café November 22 & 23  Jimmy Rankin [ ... ]

Together Again

Kenny and Dolly Tribute Concert at the Confederation Centre November 29
Homburg Theatre  On No [ ... ]

PEI Symphony Orchestra with guest David ...

November 25
Confederation Centre of the Arts Following the fiery season opener Exquisite Fires & [ ... ]

Recent News & Articles

Acadian showman

Profile: Christian Gallant by Jane Ledwell Forty-six musicians and step dancers took the stage at  [ ... ]

Young Company headed to National Child W...

The TD Confederation Centre Young Company is hitting the road again. After a busy 2017 season that s [ ... ]

9th UPEI Chancellor

Honourable Catherine Callbeck installed The Honourable Catherine Callbeck has been installed as the [ ... ]