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September Farewells

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

“Sun print” by JoDee’s granddaughter JeanThe terns are busy fishing in tidal pools as we walk across the Cove with our departing children for a final time.

We bid farewell not just to them but to the carefree exuberance of summer, to joyful reunions and reluctant partings, spontaneous house guests, and fridges filled with mysterious left-overs; trips to walk-in clinics for sudden bumps and ailments; fireworks, cook-outs and sing-alongs. Farewell to sweet green peas in the pod, squeaky yellow beans, delicate leaf lettuce, crisp dark spinach, fresh dill, spicy radishes, and tender baby beets and greens; to fresh strawberry pie, fuzzy Ontario peaches, enormous Washington cherries, and watermelon so cold it hurts your teeth; to soft ice cream dripping down your arm, iced tea, popsicles, and frozen mint chocolate pie.

Farewell to babies splashing in warm tidal pools, to frisbees, sandy potato chips, hermit crab races, dead jellyfish baking on the beach, tank tops and flip flops and salty beach towels that never dry; to fat lazy house flies, ubiquitous fruit flies, ants in the bathtub, dehumidifiers going full tilt, frost building up in the deep freezer, and summer shoes building up by the door; wet shower stalls, toothbrushes in odd places, tents in the back yard, and sand in the bed sheets.

Farewell to hummingbirds buzzing by your ear, cedar waxwings (drunk on honeysuckle berries) flying into the windows, and grackles pooping on lawn furniture. Farewell to ditches overflowing with delicate bedstraw and Queen Anne’s lace waving gracefully like an old friend, to the deluge of daylilies and plethora of poppies, to rose petals drifting gently onto the grass, to hawkweed, St. John’s wort, lacy wild carrots, fireweed, dandelions.

Now with the days growing noticeably shorter it’s “Hello!” to wasps buzzing around the picnic table at the first sign of food; to juicy red tomatoes and BLT sandwiches for lunch every day; plums and late raspberries; chanterelles appearing magically overnight in the undergrowth; purple asters, goldenrod and nasturtiums; dry rattling poplar leaves and a hint of red in forest canopies. Hello to the unmistakable drone of school buses, to potato harvesters and combines, to sensible shoes, long pants, and faithful old woolen sweaters.

Life is a continual story of meetings and partings, arrivals and departures, and changing seasons. Fortunately most things in life are comfortably predictable.  Smelts will make their way upstream next spring. There will be another Strawberry Social next summer. This fall people will stack their firewood, and in winter they will burn it.

We’ve been living here long enough to have a sense of continuity and we treasure this. Down at the shore the tides continue to rise and fall as sea creatures move through their life cycles. The terns that bob in the tidal pools may be the same terns that were bobbing there last year, because terns can live for many decades. Soon they will be heading south, but when they return next year we will welcome them, as we welcome all our summer visitors, with open arms. “Hello hello!”

A Spellbinding Show

Anne & Gilbert

Review by JoDee Samuelson

There’s a nice buzz on the streets of Charlottetown, almost a European flavour. Maybe it’s the full moon, or maybe it’s just summer. We join a cheerful crowd going into The Guild for the evening performance of Anne & Gilbert: the Musical.

Many of us remember The Guild building when it was still the Royal Bank.  We have watched as one small transformation after another has changed it from an impersonal space into a vibrant cultural centre. So tonight we gratefully settle into comfortable seats on high risers, where we make the acquaintance of our neighbors, a man from Minnesota and his shy but very excited seven-year-old daughter.

As the orchestra tunes up, the village of Avonlea waits expectantly in front of us. Then onto the stage dance six girls in pinafores and ribbons, singing, “Mr. Blythe, Mr. Blythe, the best-looking teacher on PEI!” One girl steps forward, and lo and behold it is the real Josie Pye (Karina Bershteyn) who puts all other Josie Pyes to shame, with attitude to burn and the hots for Gilbert: “If only Gilbert gets over Anne.” The whole cast pours on-stage and belts out the theme song “Anne of Green Gables loves Gilbert, and Gilbert loves Anne of Green Gables.”

It sounds pretty tame when put into words, but it’s not—it’s pure fun. Disbelief has been left at the door and all we want to do is sit back and be held in the spell of the theatre. Marilla (Carroll Godsman) has a poignant solo full of regret for lost love. She takes her time and holds us emotionally in the palm of her hand. What’s the rush? It’s summer, we’re warm and contented, the singing is excellent, and the lyrics are clever and fun. The dancing is skillfully choreographed, and considering the tiny stage and the number of actors, no one is holding back.

Anne Shirley (Ellen Denny) is a beautiful woman—maybe a little short on freckles—with a clear sweet voice, while Gilbert (Patrick Cook) is appropriately handsome and gentle. On-stage fiddler Moody MacPherson (Aaron Crane) can really play the fiddle and is not just going through the motions; Mrs. Lynde (Robin Craig) has a pleasingly sharp edge; and it’s nice to see the versatile Paul Whelan on stage again. Young Paul Irving (Nathaniel Ing) is amusing with his facial contortions, but self-satisfied Diana Barry (Brieonna Locche) gets the best laugh of the evening when at her wedding she grabs her rather timid husband (Andrew German) and plants a big smacker on his lips. Love triumphs, shadows are vanished and rosy futures beckon.

Everyone can enjoy this show. I know that the little girl from Minnesota was spellbound, and so was I. Congratulations to everyone involved: director Martha Irving, talented musicians, cast, crew, Campbell Webster, The Guild management, everyone. Thanks for a memorable evening. We all left smiling.

Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt’s been raining all day and we’re tired of being indoors, so it’s a perfect evening to attend the Victoria Playhouse. Everyone has been saying good things about the play Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun. The synopsis on-line reads: “A pregnant young woman and a disabled man meet at a bus stop and begin a friendship that will change their lives forever.” Sounds a little heavy, but everyone says it’s great. Let’s find out for ourselves.

Here’s the story: Robert (Jeremie Saunders) lives with his widowed mother and works at a print shop doing odd jobs.  He is one of the most loveable characters to ever appear on stage (and potentially one of the most exasperating); also, he has brain damage. His relationship with his mother Claire (Cathy Grant) is at the core of the story, and there’s something about the way Robert says “Mom” with two syllables (mä-äm)—the second syllable falling in pitch—that speaks to the core of his existence. “Mom” is the centre of his universe, the fountain of all knowledge, the rock.

Actor Jeremie Saunders has obviously studied his character and we recognize the truth in his delivery. His smile, the tilt of his head, the way he holds his hands, the way he reacts to being hugged, his walk: we all recognize a person who has suffered brain damage. And we immediately love him. His mother loves him too, but she’s apprehensive about his continued well-being after she’s gone. Cathy Grant as mother Claire gives a convincing performance of the tired caregiver almost at the end of her rope, whose prayers consist of shaking her fist at heaven: “You should be ashamed of yourself, God!” Her doctor (Mark Stevenson) is vaguely compassionate but has limited time and imagination.

It is just chance that Robert meets vivacious red-haired Holly (Rebecca Griffin) at the bus stop. It seems unlikely that anything can come of this chance encounter, but isn’t life like that? Holly is a fully developed character who doesn’t miss a beat and it is a pleasure to share her world. Her boyfriend Simon (Mark Fraser) moves briefly in and out, much as he has moved through Holly’s life, and we’re not sorry when…I say too much! You must see this play for yourself, but be prepared to shed a few tears.

Playwright Norm Foster’s dialogue is true as an arrow, funny, poignant, thoughtful, witty, human and up-lifting; director Ted Price has taken the script and given it life; and Scott MacConnell’s minimalist stage design allows the actors to move in and out with simplicity and grace.

Victoria Playhouse continues its long tradition of presenting the best theatre and music on the Island. Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun ends in early August (2014), so book your tickets now. And I suggest you don’t wait for a rainy night, but go visit the lovely Victoria-by-the-Sea any time.

The Golden Hour

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsomThere is a time in the evening just before sunset—not every day, but a clear day with a little dust in the sky—when the whole world is briefly bathed in soft yellow-orange light. Photographers call this the “Golden Hour,” and if you’re down at the shore when this happens you feel extremely special. The red capes literally glow, and everything pauses while the sun blesses the earth with a final goodnight kiss.

How fortunate I am to live in such a place as the Cove where each day is filled with a variety of golden hours. The other morning we were walking through the new marsh grass along the edge of the inlet, when my beekeeper friend accidentally brushed against a spruce tree and the air became misted with pollen! Spruce trees produce pollen! It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was.

Around the corner we went stomping up to our ankles through a thick layer of fresh crisp seaweed, dulse and kelp and Irish moss, all that good stuff—and there on top of the mountain of seaweed was a dead cormorant. Or was it a cormorant? Only the head remained intact. It had a beautiful orange patch under its hooked black beak, and none of us ever remembered seeing orange on a cormorant. (We checked it out later in Peterson’s Guide and sure enough, that’s what it was.)

I’ve noticed that our tourist brochures show images of happy families on sandy beaches admiring someone playing—yes—a violin. Now, I have never seen anyone play a violin on the beach. I suppose it’s possible that someone has, but I’m just saying that it’s not common. I myself play violin and I wouldn’t want to get sand in my case or on my beautiful instrument. The thing is, there are plenty of wonderful things to see at the shore without anything extra, such as: seagull feathers floating on tidal pools, moonsnails, hermit crabs (called Herman crabs by grandchildren), and enough Irish moss for a pudding; some interesting driftwood to haul home, an encrusted spike from a mystery ship, some petrified wood; and, most likely, a completely live cormorant skimming across the horizon.

Then, as if all the Island’s normal beauty isn’t enough, there’s the Golden Hour; and in this brief gentle period we become young and beautiful and radiant, calm and introspective, accepting and generous. We breathe deeply of the rich sea air that is so nourishing and perfect, and realize that, for this moment at least, we do not wish to be anywhere else, or do anything except what we are doing.

The cottages along the shore are literally overflowing with contentment, the laughter of the swimmers sounds magical, the children are perfect, and—shhh, did you hear the loon? Oh, lovely lovely. It feels like life is turning out just the way we hoped it would.

Digging Dandelions

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLast month on Mother’s Day I naturally cast my thoughts back to my own mother, Constance Victoria Swanson, who was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, just before the beginning of World War I. If Mom knew I was writing this column, she’d be so proud. She’d be telling all her friends about me, and sending me ideas every week.

Mom was a woman who believed wholeheartedly in Mother’s Day, and who can blame her?  She exchanged her dreams of being a full-time artist for the reality of being a full-time wife and mother, and she expected some recognition of her sacrifice.

Mom was old-fashioned and sentimental. She was also highly practical. This time of year she would have tomato seedlings lined up on every windowsill, vying for space with the geraniums she had over-wintered. She’d have houseplant slips of every description rooting in jars by the sink. She’d be sorting through all the seeds she’d saved from last summer.

When it came to foraging for edible wild food, Mom was right in there with Euell Gibbons. In spring she’d be out in the yard digging up dandelion roots to make dandelion coffee—just for the fun of it, mind you, because it takes buckets of roots to make even a little coffee, and the roots are dirty and twisty and small…try it if you like. And did you know that dandelion sap is supposed to heal warts? We didn’t have warts in our family, but Mom liked to pass on this bit of folklore to other sufferers.

She harvested raspberry leaves for tea.  She picked chickweed and tangy sheep sorrel for summer salads. When I was a child I thought everyone drank elderflower blossom champagne, and spread their toast with rosehip jam.

I’m thinking of my mother not just because of Mother’s Day, but because I recently finished a new film, Women of Confederation. The film ends with the narrator proclaiming, “We are standing on the shoulders of our mothers!” I truly am standing on the shoulders of my Mother. Thanks Mom.

I admit that I’m not as fond of dandelions as she was. I have a trowel that is just the right size for digging them up, and I don’t keep the roots.

It would be nice to call Mom today and tell her about the twin black lambs at the neighbor’s farm…about the bright green beach grass that is pushing its way through the old brown hair of the inlet…about the Perennial Sale at the Cove…how the garlic is up, and some arugula seems to have seeded itself…how soft and beautiful the harrowed fields look along the Shore Road…about our first campfire and how good the scrambled eggs tasted with a few fresh chives.

Well, that can’t be, so I’ll have to tell you. Happy Summer!

Oh Joyful Spring

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe winter tires are put away, the snow blower man has been paid in full, and the tomato seedlings have their second leaves. It must be spring.

As snow melts back from the walkway, the first flowers to appear are dear little crocuses, spreading their six petals into the sun during the day, closing up protectively at night, asking nothing of anyone except, “Please do not step on us.” In various countries, parts of some crocuses are considered edible. In fact, true saffron comes from a variety of crocus. Here are a few definitions from Webster’s New World Dictionary:

Saffron: A perennial old-world plant (crocus sativus) of the iris family, with funnel-shaped purplish flowers having orange stigmas; the dried aromatic stigmas of this plant used in flavoring and coloring foods…

Stigma: The tip of the style of a flower on which pollen falls and develops.

Style: The usually slender part of a pistil, situated between the ovary and the stigma.

One definition leads to another: you can look up pistil yourself. All I know is that crocuses have six petals, they’re easy to grow, bees love ’em, and they are the joy of any yard in spring.

Although the snowmelt is filtering steadily into Mother Earth, it’s not moving fast enough to suit some people. A neighbor who lives at the bottom of the hill has two sump pumps going steadily, “With maybe a ten second pause till one or the other kicks in.” The Department of Highways backhoe was out last week to un-plug his culvert. Thank heavens for our great highway workers! What would we have done without them this winter? It would be back to the Stone Age for most of us.

Here are some signs of spring in the Cove:

Melting snow reveals the winter’s tossed coffee cups. (Roadside Clean-up is Saturday May 10). Poplar buds are all a-swelling-oh.

Grackles are building nests like mad, flitting about with twigs in their mouths—and when their mouths are full they can’t squawk in their very squawky manner, so I say build away.

Blue herons are fishing in the shallows. Canada geese are joyfully honking overhead. Male goldfinches are turning yellow.

There is a sweet smell in the air (and a certain aroma of manure from local farms). Flies are buzzing lazily around the house. A mosquito had the nerve to bite me.

The sun wakes you up early. Peepers keep you awake at night.

Children wait at the bus stop wearing shorts and t-shirts. Dogs are roaming more than they should. Shaggy matted cows, with their leaping baby calves, are hanging around muddy barnyards dreaming of green pastures. Cats want to be outdoors.

The last jigsaw puzzle has been finished. Seed catalogs claim a permanent place on the kitchen table. Sheds are being cleaned out, windows washed—hey, we made it! And so did the crocuses. Let us all rejoice.

Attitude is Everything

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt is the middle of March, and while open water beckons over the horizon, the land remains imprisoned by ice and snow. Three weeks ago we made a snow-woman down at the shore. She is still plump and bossy. Today is overcast and she does not need her sunglasses, but they look good on her, she thinks. Besides they’re frozen to her nose.  Which is to say that she is cool with everything…unlike we humans who are fussing over yet another storm.

I have beside me a Farmer’s Almanac that says: “As a rule of thumb, plant potatoes before the vernal equinox. Harvest them before the summer solstice.” Maybe some place, but not PEI, not this year.

“Prune fruit trees from the time they are dormant until spring buds swell. Prune maple and birch trees after they leaf out.” In other words, get busy.

“Lupine, morning glory, and sweet pea seeds benefit from having their coats scratched before sowing.” That’s why our sweet peas never sprout. There’s so much I don’t know; but I’m going to keep learning. This year there will be fabulous blooms on trellises all around the yard, thanks to Farmer’s Almanac.

While waiting to prune our maple trees and scratch our sweet pea seeds, many of us have been seeking warmth and sunshine off-Island. I recently came back from Québec and Vermont…okay, neither place was warm or sunny, but they had different snow. And the mountains of Vermont—what can you say. They are genuine mountains. People pay $84 a day to ski down them. If you add on the cost of skis, boots, helmets and goggles, beer, burgers, bedrooms and BMWs, it’s clear that downhill skiing is a sport I can’t afford. However, my friends and I did snowshoe on a trail alongside a ski lift, eight hundred breathtaking vertical feet up and up, with a beer at the end: that much I can afford. A happy memory.

Which is to say, sunshine and warmth aren’t everything. On the other hand, there are a plenty of sun-browned people at the airport these days coming home from Jamaica, Mexico and Florida, looking mighty pleased with themselves as they hug waiting relatives, text their friends and check the weather on their iPads.

The very tanned woman I sat beside on the plane—she was wearing black and white flip-flops—was met at the Charlottetown Airport by a handsome man and a child. “My son,” she told me proudly, “and grandson.” Our bags had not yet arrived. By way of conversation I asked, “You have one grand-child?” “Heck no, I have twenty-five!”

Wow. Again I am reminded of how much I don’t know. You can’t tell anything about a traveler by the colour of her flip-flops, or anything about a snow-woman by her leopard-spotted sunglasses; but one thing’s for sure, you’ve got to admire their attitude.

The Lonely Hunter

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLong blue shadows stretch across the field as the lonely hunter zigzags through the snowy countryside, dragging his tail behind him. Perhaps he is the same fellow who swings through our yard as part of his daily regimen, stopping by the bird feeder to dig in the snow for fallen seeds, then wandering over to dig through the compost pile to find some edible morsel. He’s not fond of banana peels and coffee grounds, but he’ll eat potato peelings, perhaps even eggshells, and he’s welcome to them. We draw the line at letting him eat our cat.

Meanwhile, the mice and voles must be having a field day, living out their little gray lives under thick blankets of ice and snow amid roots and straw and family fun. But woe betide the rodent who pokes its head out into daylight! It will find that suddenly and rudely it must bid farewell to all it holds dear, for a hungry fox on his lonely rounds will certainly not be far away.

It has been a long cold challenging winter. Our ancestors must have anxiously studied their root cellars, haylofts and woodpiles this time of year. How did anyone ever make it through these difficult Canadian winters? Of course we’ve had many days when the hoarfrost has been stunningly beautiful, and others when a clean blanket of snow has turned the Island into picture postcard perfection. On one such day we decided to pack a picnic and ski down the Fox Road.

The unplowed section begins at the top of a steep hill, so it was “let ‘er go” right from the start. An hour later we were at the other end where a little lane leads down to an old millpond, and there we turned in. Although the dam was out and the water was low, there was an aura of authenticity and history to this spot. I laid mittens and scarf carefully on my skis and settled down to enjoy bread, chocolate and an orange. The sun poured down into our hideaway, the brook babbled, a squirrel scolded…and a butterfly flitted by. Wait—that’s not a butterfly, that’s a bat! Oh dear, it shouldn’t be out on such a day, but there it was, hovering lightly, then zooming away with erratic nervous flight.

So this was the dreaded white nose syndrome in action. (White nose syndrome is a fungus that grows on the wings and noses of bats.) Our little bat, coming out of hibernation, would either starve or freeze to death. I held out my hand with a crumb of bread as it seemed to be attracted either to our food or our heat, but I couldn’t get it to stop.

The sun shone a little less brightly as we packed up our gear and left this idyllic spot. There was some comfort in thinking that perhaps the bat’s body will make a meal for some hungry fox.

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