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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!

Wild Mushrooms

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonMushroom lovers have noticed that there has been a remarkable dearth of chanterelles this year, also boletus, puffballs, and meadow mushrooms. What a pleasure, then, to find the shaggy manes pushing up in our neighbors’ backyard. With shaggy manes (Coprinus comatus) there is no time to lose: they must be picked, cleaned, cut up and fried immediately before they start to turn black. Don’t fry too many at a time. They’re watery and need a good shot of heat, and never get as crisp as you’d like. Use on pizza, in tomato sauce, or as a delectable side dish.

What is it about mushrooms that makes them so special? They have an interesting texture and they’re probably full of trace something-or-other; but really, I think we love them because they’re free. My mom and dad loved all free food. I was going off to university in Edmonton (we lived in Alberta) and my parents had heard of a basement apartment in the home of some retired missionaries, so we made the three hour trip to the city to check it out. The apartment was fine and my parents liked the missionaries, so it was agreed that my sister and I would rent one of the rooms. Unfortunately, as we were leaving the house my big toe caught on the back of my sandal and flipped up my toenail. Oh yes, it was painful! Now here’s the mushroom connection. On our drive back home we passed a whole hillside of shaggy mane mushrooms, so what did my parents do but stop and pick a few buckets full, while I waited in the car with my sore toe. Somehow those memories stick with one.

And has anyone seen a magic mushroom lately? Everyone who lived here during the ’70s and ’80s must remember the pickers from Québec who swarmed over our cow pastures and golf courses every fall. Is it possible that they picked every single paneolus mushroom on the whole Island?

Some things we miss more than others.  In short supply are wild apples, and the few that are still on the trees are hard, sour and spotty. I suppose we can thank the blossom-destroying wrath of Hurricane Arthur for that. Fortunately there are plenty of delicious apples in the stores and market gardens, so our freezer is gradually filling applesauce…that will then get buried under everything else until spring. It’ll be a treat then!

No complaints. It’s been a gorgeous autumn and the purple asters have been spectacular. The firewood is in. Gas prices dropped a few cents. The weather has been perfect for the potato harvest. Those huge cornfields are finally whacked down, leaving the fields looking like a 1950s brush cut.

I guess we can live without chanterelles for one year. Or who knows, maybe they’ll pop up after the next rain.

The Still Night

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThere’s a frost warning tonight, so we spread old blankets and shawls carefully over tomatoes and beans, and look nostalgically around the yard at the many tender flowers and herbs that might be gone by morning. The heat of the earth rushes past us into the clear sky while the sun drops below the horizon and night descends.

We hover around the campfire, poking the glowing coals and making small talk when suddenly the harvest moon rises above the trees. We’ve been expecting it, but even so, its size, its brightness and mastery of the sky is thrilling, and humbling. All human activity seems small and insignificant. As if to emphasize this point, the crows stop cawing, and the lawnmower across the road shuts down.  Children at the corner are called in to bed by parents whose voices are soft, tender, hushed. “Look at the moon!” they say to each other as if they have just discovered it for the first time.

The moonlight creates dark crisp shadows on the ground. Delicate silhouettes of leaves and branches are outlined against the starry sky: one black leaf quivers slightly as an insect, perhaps, crawls along its stem. The air is so still that you can almost hear the breath of the sleeping birds. Now a cricket breaks the silence—and what is a country scene (in a movie, play, book) without a cricket? Later a frog chimes in with a mellow crrroak.

In the middle of the night a flock of unnamed birds suddenly begin talking all at once. It’s chat chat, chat chat chat, one-syllable cheeps that sound like no bird I recognize. Then they stop. Later they start again, though they are less vocal this time.

In the distance a car speeds down the big hill. I hope the driver knows there’s a corner ahead, unlike the vehicle that ended up in a neighbor’s yard last summer. The sound dies out, or perhaps I fall asleep. I awake to a scritching outside the cabin door. It’s that time of year when mice make their move to warmer quarters, but it’s not warmer in this summer cabin. Go away! I bang on the wall. This wakes me up, so I take a flashlight and go outside to commune with nature.

The moon and stars are more spectacular than ever. Such a busy universe, everything in its place—even the moth that appears out of nowhere to dance around the beam of my light. It’s too cold for you, little moth. The ground is wet but not crisp and frosty. That’s good.

In the morning the moon is still visible in the south-west. I hear the white noise of distant waves washing into the shore, which means the weather is changing and the frost warning is off. For today.

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.

Events Calendar

January 2019
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Some Upcoming Events

Bluegrass at the Carriage House

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

Roma

January 25–28
City Cinema 14A, coarse language, nudity, mature subject matter
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Rolston String Quartet

February 21
The Mack The Rolston String Quartet is bringing a storm of classical music to The Mack t [ ... ]

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