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Seniors Active Living Centre

Events continue at the Seniors Active Living Centre, Bell Aliant Centre, UPEI, Charlottetown: Novem [ ... ]

12 Angry Women

Upcoming play reading and auditions  Play Reading: On November 19 at 6:30 pm there will be a  [ ... ]

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.

Pheasants Are Pleasant

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe season of flannel sheets and down-filled duvets is upon us. Let us sing the praises of luxurious bedding. And fluffy wool socks. Next Christmas I am going to cut to the chase and buy angora-blend socks for everybody, because I finally realize that fuzzy socks are a gift that keeps on giving.

Speaking of Christmas, we’ve had special visitors at our bird feeder since late December. It was a big deal one snowy day when a male ring-necked pheasant appeared out of nowhere, and it was hurry! Get the binoculars, cameras, sketch books! Then there was a second male, and finally a female joined the feeding frenzy.

I say “frenzy” because during the storms of the past month, birds have been flocking to our feeders like never before. At the 24-hour diner out front, chickadees, redpolls, juncos, goldfinches and one lovely purple finch scarf down nyger seed. In the backyard, making pigs of themselves at the mixed grain-and-sunflower feeder, are bluejays, starlings, mourning doves, crows (I admit I chase them away), juncos, and our three glorious pheasants.

We love our pheasants; but in other times and other climes someone with a gun would dispatch these beauties in a jiffy. Royalty has been especially fond of pheasants. In a friendly competition over a six-day period in December 1913, King George V shot more than a thousand pheasants, but did not win the contest.

Pheasants have apparently been in Asia since time immemorial. They breed easily in captivity and are able to take care of themselves in the wild. In the 1880s they were introduced to North America where they joined the ranks of other successfully introduced species like starlings and dandelions.

In South Dakota, hunters bag over a million pheasants a year. On Prince Edward Island, a hunter in the Cove might kill three; but I hope he doesn’t. We want our pheasants to keep jumping at berries on the burning bush, pecking at the cracked corn under the feeder, and scurrying under the honeysuckles. The males are extremely handsome with their crisp white collars, iridescent green necks, red eye patches and white beaks. The tail of the smaller male is slightly tattered as if he got in some sort of scrap, but the other cock’s tail is perfectly tapered and possibly 50 centimetres long.

The female is, well, brown. She minds her own business and is less skittish than her companions. If she makes it through the next few months she will have a brief but meaningful affair with one of the boys and shortly thereafter lay 10-15 eggs in the tall grass. Three weeks later the chicks will hatch and immediately leave the nest. Then it’s good luck to all of ye!

If pheasants can survive this winter so can we…even with metre-high snow on the roof, ice dams, loose shingles, frozen pipes, leaks, black ice, glib ice. Just remember to sleep between flannel sheets, and you’ll be okay.

Down by the Sea

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt’s still dark out when the phone rings. “It looks like a beautiful morning. Should we have coffee?” “Sounds good.” I get out the thermos and start making another pot.

The sun is barely up as we make our way through the snowy woods to the shore. The steps down to the beach have been taken up, so gingerly we let ourselves over the bank, trying to find a foothold on the ice-covered rocks. Safe and sound we are soon standing beside the sea.

Now with winter well and truly set in, the sea should settle into a quiet routine; but no, it’s different every day. Today the water is slushy, like jello, and makes a slusshing sound as the waves ripple in. Tomorrow there may be a crust of ice that will snap, crackle and pop. There will be days with wind and waves so strong that the sea will feel like the enemy rather than a reassuring friend.

Today the sea is friendly. We find smooth picnic rocks on which to spread blankets and settle ourselves. The coffee is hot and fragrant and we savor its satisfying bitterness as we nibble on slices of pannetone left over from someone’s Christmas supply. The sweet bread tastes as good as if it had just come out of some Italian oven, and we discuss the complexities of making and shipping such a delicious yet reasonably-priced loaf.

The sun gradually, almost reluctantly, rises above the horizon, bright, yet cold and distant. Even so it has enough heat to warm the icicles that hang down from dangling roots. Soon all along the edge of the cliff a gentle drip drip drip is added to the soundscape.

I leave the others and wander along the edge of the water. There is more sand here than usual. One day the beach is scoured down to the bone, the next day an immense sandbar has washed up on shore. How do snails and barnacles and sand fleas deal with such upheavals? Survival of the luckiest I suspect. Today no small creatures are in evidence, although a seagull seems to be happily snacking on something.

A few years ago just about this time of year, at this very spot, a remarkable event happened. It was a special day of celebration, so we started the morning with—what else—a walk on the shore. Right where we were sitting today, a harp seal was sunning itself on a rock! Our own silkie. It stuck around just long enough to give us a blessing, and then it was off into the icy waters. There is no silkie on the rocks this morning, just some chatty women, special people, friends of mine. Seeing them also feels like a good omen.

At my feet the sea and the New Year stretch clear and uninterrupted, full of possibilities, surprises, perhaps some miracles, maybe some disappointments, but always lots of coffee and good conversation. Happy 2014!

Don’t Get Bogged Down

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonI was feeling a little blue today. My brother out in Alberta is not well and I got caught up in one of those loops of memories and mixed emotions that seem to have no end. My brother’s a motorcycle guy. He collects old tractors, puts bicycles together from scratch, brings home washing machines from the dump and makes them work again. I’m not sure if we’d be friends if we weren’t related, but we are. The thing is, he gave me my first guitar, lent me a motorcycle for my first summer job, and bought me a set of Samsonite luggage as a high school graduation gift. He’s one of the few people who knew me when I was a child, he’s part of me and I don’t want to lose him.

My mother always said, when you’re feeling down, get busy. So this morning I dug a patch in the garden for the new garlic, put away summer lawn chairs, did a laundry, shelled a quart of brown beans, cooked a batch of apple sauce… and went cranberry picking. In the bog, life comes into perspective. No one lives forever, but I’ve had a good life and I think my brother has too. Meanwhile, here I am sloshing in rubber boots through ankle-deep water, surrounded by exotic nature and wild berries free for the picking. I love this bog. In winter it is a fantasyland of mysterious shapes and lumps; in spring it becomes a rhapsody of rhodora; in summer it turns into a frenzy of fireflies; and now it finishes its cycle of loveliness with a generous outpouring of autumn berries.

I follow my little path into the bog past bayberry, rose and raspberry bushes, and kneel down in this glistening water world. The ripest reddest cranberries are out in the sun, but when I burrow my hand into the wet moss I feel the plump berries that have spent summer nestled in their own personal paradise. One by one they plink into my empty bucket. The sound of falling berries, accompanied by the voice of a chatty squirrel, provides a gentle soundtrack for my thoughts.

A potato truck roars by, heavily laden with fat brown tubers. A few potatoes bounce out, and I pick them up for supper on my way home. As I start cleaning the cranberries in the kitchen I notice that there is a phone message waiting: it’s time to plan the bean supper, and when should we meet?

Oh yes, the Cove has settled into its comfortable fall rhythm of pleasant social activities. The cottagers have gone home, school buses are coming and going on schedule, and people are starting to think about Christmas. Plans are good things. My brother and I are talking about getting together next spring at our niece’s wedding. He wants to show me the 1927 Case Crossmount tractor he’s rebuilding.

Bar Hopping

The Cove Journal Review
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt rained all day, a heavy plodding rain straight down without let-up or interruption. Cats and dogs curled up in their usual places and slept the hours away. School children yawned as they studied their books, teachers sighed and glanced anxiously at the clock, farmers went to town. Sump pumps kicked in and rain barrels overflowed.

Then at suppertime, as if by magic, a crack appeared in the leaden clouds and blue sky forced its way through. Soon after, I heard my name called with, “Tide’s out. Shall we walk down to the shore?” Yes, yes, let’s go.

There are many places on this island that are much like the Cove, some more dramatic or dangerous or developed; but to my eyes as one who lives here, the Cove sets the standard for beauty. And this early autumn evening—this gift after the dreariness of the day—raised the bar of seaside perfection.

The word “limpid” rarely comes up in conversation (limpid: clear, transparent, pellucid), but finally I have an opportunity to use it. The air that evening could only be described as limpid. The rain had washed it free of every dust particle and imperfection, and there was the Cove laid out for our viewing pleasure, perfectly calm and clear.

The sandbars were darker than usual, almost black around the edges, with the sand, finely pitted by raindrops, resembling the coarsest grade of sandpaper. Here and there mystery holes appeared as if someone had been digging clams, except that clams no longer live on these bars.

Under the cliffs, oblivious to human presence, long-legged sandpipers and plovers scurried, heads down, intent on supper. A flock of terns bobbed gracefully in a large tidal pool, conversing amongst themselves in their tern-y way, while occasionally dipping their heads underwater for a light snack. Out on the rocky point, cormorants and harp seals dried off in pleasant companionship. As for the seagulls strutting along the water’s edge, it almost seemed that they were admiring their reflection in the still water: “Is that us? My goodness, how handsome we are!” Right on cue a blue heron came gliding over our heads, its wings cutting through the air with strength and authority.

The water was warm and inviting, perfect for feet already grown used to cool weather footwear, and we rolled up our pants to savor the summer pleasure of walking right across the Cove.  Coming back, the tide had started to turn, bringing little silver fishes in with the current. Little fishes—beware!

On our way home, steam rising from the marsh bathed our whole little world in mystery. There was just you, me, and the sea. We were suspended in that brief time between the rush of summer and the darkness of winter, and we were trying to capture every moment of daylight and warmth that we could.

Irrepressible

Nunsense

The Cove Journal (review)
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonA new bridge is being built in the Cove this summer. What with the noise of jackhammers, compressors, and dump trucks coming and going, not to mention detoured traffic streaming down our usually quiet road, life seems a bit hectic. Let’s slip away for the afternoon and have a good laugh. Destination: Summerside, home of free parking, ball tournaments, Wanda Wyatt House, and a marina where the sun reflects so brightly off the boats it’s almost blinding. Beside the marina is Harbourfront Theatre, small, intimate and elegant.

Now imagine a play built around the premise of fifty-two nuns dying of food poisoning after dining on vichyssoise prepared by Sister Julia Child of God. With insufficient funds to bury everyone, four dead nuns are stored in the convent freezer, and the remaining living sisters organize a benefit concert to pay for their interment. Implausible, irreverent, irrepressible: it’s all Nunsense.

Right from the start, the audience is part of the action. The nuns, the Little Sisters of Hoboken, stroll down the aisles, with very nun-like pleasantries: “How good of you to come!” “Oh my, don’t you look nice!”  Then as we are asked to stand up and give some very un-nun-like cheers, the show ramps up. The five talented women on stage move effortlessly through their roles, each “nun” having her own moment in the spotlight. They all sing and harmonize beautifully, and their diction is precise with every word coming through loud and clear. The songs are largely unmemorable, but lots of fun (“I’m holier than thou”), and our toes tap along with every number. Mother Superior (Robin Craig) gets the biggest laugh when she sniffs a mystery drug that frees her of all inhibitions. Now just imagine a stoned nun hanging over a bar stool…

Religious jokes abound (Why did Moses wander for forty years in the desert?—Because he was a man and wouldn’t ask directions), but you don’t have to be a Catholic to enjoy Nunsense. There’s some classical ballet, puppetry, tap dancing, lots of singing, even a little movie. One of the secrets of its success is the skill of the musical director, Leo Marchildon. It’s worth going to this show just for the sake of listening to, and watching “Brother Leo” coax a whole orchestra’s worth of sound effects out of his lively keyboard.

At intermission there’s not much action at the concessions stand, even though the beer selection is huge and cheap at $5. After the show, refreshed from an afternoon of laughter and high spirits, people disperse quickly, for it’s Sunday afternoon and everyone’s anxious to get home and light the barbeque.

Our own drive back to the Cove seems especially pleasant. The highway winds through harvested grain fields where golden straw gleams in the late afternoon light, past silver poplars flashing showy undersides, while here and there, wild thyme covers the shoulders of the road with a soft purple mantle, and tall sprays of goldenrod nod gracefully in the breeze.

Back home, cold drink in hand, we wander down to look at progress on the bridge. Say now, it’s going to be one of the best little bridges on the Island! Why don’t we cook a dinner for the construction crew by way of thanks? After all, they’re a great bunch, and they drive here all the way from Tyne Valley every day. Let’s talk it over with our neighbors tomorrow. I know the Little Sisters of Hoboken would approve.

Almost Heaven

Having Hope at Home

The Cove Journal (review)
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonDown at the Cove for a swim, tide coming in, warm layer on top, no jellyfish, sun dancing cheerfully on sparkling waves, I once again count my blessings. Back on land, I remark casually to a young girl, “So what do you think of heaven?” She stares at me blankly. “What I mean is,” I continue, “this place, this day—don’t you think it’s heaven?” Her father, coming along heavily laden with beach items, replies on his daughter’s behalf. “Oh no, heaven will be much better than this!”

I bid the little family good-bye and head home. The air is scented by sweet clover and wild roses, the ditches are crowded with vetch and daisies in full bloom, and I can’t help thinking, “All the same, poor old God will have a hard time topping this.”

This sense of perfection carries into the evening as my friends and I join the audience filing into Victoria Playhouse for the production Having Hope at Home. It’s a mostly older crowd of men in polo shirts, and short-haired women in pastel blouses and jackets. Everyone is smiling, and the smiles continue all night long, for Having Hope is joyful from start to finish.

The play starts with a bang, or actually a shriek, as pregnant Carolyn (Breanna Moore) goes into labor. The crowd roars as Grandpa (Jack Wynters) cuts carrots for supper by snipping them with his teeth, pompous doctor (Mark Stevenson) jumps on a chair to lecture the family on the dangers of home birth, peace-making mother in three-piece fitted suit (Cathy Grant) “makes a scene,” and midwife (Charlene Reno) admits to having been a hippie. At the end, when new father Michel (Mark Fraser) falls asleep on the couch with newborn baby girl on his chest, the play is wrapped up, as it were, in a pretty pink bow. Congratulations to director Ron Irving and crew.

Victoria Playhouse is the dream child of local residents who in the early 1980’s converted the old Victoria Hall into a theatre. Founding artistic director was Erskine Smith, whose sudden passing in June left Victoria, and indeed the whole Island, reeling with shock. But wait, Erskine has not left the building! More than one person observed that Jack Wynter’s portrayal of Grandpa was uncannily Erskine-ish. It was somehow comforting to realize that the spirit of Erskine Smith lives on.

Of course, going to the theatre in Victoria is not just about seeing a play. It encompasses the whole village experience. In this small community, people still stroll the streets on a summer’s evening for the simple pleasure of admiring the majestic trees, the well-kept heritage homes, and the waves lapping at the shore. Packs of children bike furiously down the road, people come out of the chocolate shop with smudges on their cheeks, conversations strike up between perfect strangers, and the cares of the outside world fade into the distance.

It’s almost like, well, like heaven.

Events Calendar

November 2018
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Light Up the Dark

Confederation Centre holiday show December 14
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