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Blue Heron Walk

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonWe had coffee down at the Cove this morning, and guess what: the Iceberg’s still there. It never left. I suppose it read The Buzz last month and decided that it would never get this much attention again, so why not stay. I understand that it plans to camp here all summer. My apologies for suggesting otherwise.

Today on our morning walk we observed that, right on time, the Great Blue Herons have returned to grace the Cove with their silent watchful presence. Not long ago, the scenic drive around Queen’s County was named “Blue Heron Drive.” Now it’s called “Central Coastal Route.” (An improvement? You decide.) Fortunately, the name change is not the result of the Great Blue Heron becoming extinct. Although they must feel the pressure of human presence in their nesting and feeding grounds, they are still plentiful, and not just in Queen’s County, but all along our coastline.

Great Blue Herons spend their winters leisurely enjoying the finer things of life in southern USA, the Caribbean, and Central America. When they head back to the Island in April, they cruise night and day at speeds of 32–48 km/h, in private groups of three or four; or there may be as many as one hundred individuals in the Super Deluxe Migration Express, complete with tour guide and running commentary.

Once back on the Island, Great Blue Herons choose an available condo at the heron colony—on Governor’s Island, for example. They take over and repair old nests, or build new ones (one metre in diameter); go through a short but meaningful dating period; and proceed to make babies. The pale blue eggs—a half dozen or so—are incubated for twenty-eight days by both mother and father, Dad sitting on them in the daytime, Mom at night. Once hatched, the chicks voraciously consume all the regurgitated goodies that both parents can stuff down their throats.  After ten weeks this noisy, messy business comes to an end, and the little Great Blue Herons leave the nest for good. Somehow along the way they have learned to spear and gulp down small fish, reptiles, mice, and insects.

We don’t want to talk about how Great Blue Herons leave the Island in early autumn, because we want to think about how they’re here now! And it’s spring! In the Cove we’ve already started planning for our annual Perennial Sale at the park, which is a huge amount of work, but oh, so satisfying, nevertheless. If you need daylilies, dahlias, or daisies, rudbeckia, ranunculus, or rosemary, sweet william, sage, or sassafras: we might have it, or it might be sold out. First come, first served. That goes for the hot cinnamon rolls too.

A bonus of our Perennial Sale is the location: capes, clouds, sand bars, sunshine, gulls, Great Blue Herons…and, possibly even, the You-Know-What. If it’s still there, don’t blame me.

The End of the Ice

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIf you missed seeing the Cove iceberg, well, you missed it. It’s gone.

All through February and March, curious people tried to drive down to the park, found that the road wasn’t plowed past the gate, and—possibly for the first time ever—got out of their cars and walked. At the edge of the cape they stood and stared, took pictures, and felt happy. Some even brought along a few beverages to toast the amazing sight.

Now, our iceberg wasn’t an actual iceberg; that is, it wasn’t a million year old chunk of ice that broke off some Greenland glacier. It was merely a cluster of ice cakes—our ice cakes—that clumped together to make an enormous mound of ice big enough to get snagged on a sandbar. Our sandbar. We thought of holding our first and only Iceberg Festival, with a bonfire, hot chocolate, marshmallows, and Ice Burgers; but it seemed like too much work. Better to stand back and admire the scene in peace, beverage in hand, and watch the ice floes ebb and flow, crackle and groan.

Highlights of the iceberg: One day it looked like an ocean liner proudly facing east. One day it was all lumpy, and the shadows were red. One day a crow perched on one end while a seagull sat on the other. Each day the sun shone or the rain came down, and the iceberg grew smaller; but it was still worth seeing. Then one morning it was gone. Some time in the night, the combination of high tide and wind dislodged our winter visitor.  Away it went, eagerly, hurriedly, to what it hoped were greater adventures. But alas, I fear it soon met its end, alone, and without the support of its adoring public on shore at the Cove. Adieu!

But that was then. Hello spring! Grackles are back, for better or worse. Geese are circling overhead, uncertain about where to relax, or wondering if they can afford to relax, since they still have so far to go. Robins are quietly going about their business as if to say, “So it’s spring, so what?” Any sunny day now the crocuses will be popping out to gladden our hearts.

Right on cue, the roads are breaking up. MLA’s are getting called at home to remind them of the potholes on the _____  ____ Road (fill in your own blanks). In the basement, potatoes are sprouting, carrots have turned into a shapeless mass of white rootlets and green tops and should be pitched, and the beets have shriveled to nothing. The squash needs to be eaten, but everyone is getting a little tired of squash soup. (Make a note: don’t grow so much squash next year.) The onions and garlic are sprouting. It’s time to dig out the garlic chicken recipe that calls for forty cloves of garlic.

Every living thing knows that winter is over. Ice anyone? Only in a gin and tonic, please.

In Those Days

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonA late winter morning with time to spare, I walk down the road to the home of one of the Cove’s matriarchs and knock on the door unannounced.

“No need to phone,” she says. “You’re always welcome.” She moves her knitting supplies off the rocking chair to make room for me. “Sit down. That used to be the cat’s chair, but he died last year. I wouldn’t have traded that cat for ten millionaires. He knew more than all the farmers on the South Shore.”

“More than your own father?”

“Maybe not him. Quietest man you ever saw, but when he put his mind to something, look out.”

“Where did he and your mother meet?”

“In the States. A whole bunch of them went to the Boston area around that time.   Mother was from the Island too. She was a seamstress, and what she couldn’t do wasn’t worth talking about. She could turn suits inside out, cut out dresses, reverse collars—five minutes and she’d have it all done. Used Dad’s razor blade to open seams. Opening seams took longest of anything.”

“We don’t make over clothes so much these days.”

“I guess not! Something gets old, you throw it away, buy something new. When I was young we didn’t go to the store from one month to the next. I guess we didn’t know the difference, we thought we were having a grand time. There used to be an old hall down at the corner, the old Orange Hall. Every Friday night a man from Montague brought movies and we’d have a Movie Night. Outside, there was a little building where they kept the generator, and they’d crank ‘er up and away she’d go. The hall was always packed, people lining up to get in. Now that was a lovely building, with a sloping floor and a big stage for concerts. They hauled it here from someplace else. For that matter, the church was hauled here too, up the Strait on the ice. Don’t ask me how they did it. They just did things like that in those days.”

“But you must have felt isolated, living so far from town.”

“Not a bit!”

“How about when you got sick?

“We didn’t get sick that much. And if we did, there was a doctor in the next community who could fix anything. One time, my husband cut off the tip of his finger on a potato escalator. It was just hanging by a thread. That doctor sewed it back together, good as new. The finger even had feeling in it once it was back on.”

“Amazing.”

My friend picks up her needles and resumes knitting. “I don’t know why I’m knitting these mittens. Winter’s almost over. Habit, I guess. Now you’re not writing all this down, are you?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Don’t quote me!”

“I’ll change things around a bit.”

“All right then.”

We sit companionably together, the click-click-click of the knitting needles playing a comforting rhythm in time with our thoughts.

Content with Winter

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe day is white on white, with the low sun well hidden behind thick white clouds. No shadows precede me or follow me as I tromp steadily across the crusty snow.

My wide track intersects with fox prints, so neat and clean. What can foxes find to eat in this frozen landscape? They know more about this land than I do. Two crows sit on an apple tree, picking at shrunken brown apples. As I approach, they raise loud voices in brief protest, and fly away. I salute their spirit and energy and their great survival skills. They must be young.

I was young not long ago, born, in fact, in February. My mother was taken to the hospital some miles distant, in a horse-drawn box sleigh. By box, I mean an enclosed box on runners, with a door, a tiny coal-burning stove and a bench inside for my mother to sit on, and a window in front for my father to peer out of while holding the reins. In family photos my father is wearing a black fur hat with flaps. Both my parents wear fur coats, for warmth, not for show. This was Saskatchewan in the 1950s. I find it amazing that my refined mother and my educated father would choose to move to such a remote, cold, part of Canada. Oh, it was cold on the Prairies of my youth. Rubber overshoes never kept our feet warm, and woolen mittens were either soggy, or frozen stiff. Still, we were outside all the time, shrieking and rolling in vast oceans of snow.

That was the way winters were then, and it was the same everywhere. On Prince Edward Island, the old photos show snow so deep that tunnels had to be dug for the trains. Horses found the way home through snowstorms by sixth sense.  Children left for school through upstairs windows because doors were snowed shut. Ice froze in kettles overnight. Mothers sat up by the stove at night until the fire was well and truly out, for fear of flue fires. And what about flue fires, those loud unwelcome snaps in the night, with children rustled out of warm beds, sparks fling out of the chimney, general pandemonium, and a sense of pure and unadulterated fear gripping everyone by the throat. Hard times.

Still, we’re nostalgic for winters “the way they used to be,” now that our winters are so changeable, and snow and cold are sandwiched between wet and warm. But what’s so bad about this winter anyway? It’s been easy on the firewood, and we’ve only had to have our lane cleaned twice. I love these long evenings filled with conversation, cribbage, crokinole, music, jigsaw puzzles, good books, movies, concerts, bookmaking workshops, drawing classes. Oh my word, we’re rich.

Some of the folks in the Cove are off to Jamaica, and Tobago. I’m happy for them, but I’ll stay here, contented. These white winter days suit me just fine.

To the New Year!

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLet’s end one year and begin the next with a walk along the shore. What has changed on this beautiful fragile island in the past twelve months? Is the water higher? Maybe. When we moved to the Cove thirty years ago the tide seldom came in past the bridge. Now it regularly floods all the way to the highway.

Along the capes, trees dangle over the edge and swaths of grass hang loosely like huge flaps of skin. In some places a metre or more of bank has disappeared into the sea this year. There is a cottage with only one cottage-width of lawn between it and… eternity. No one seems to be panicking.

Even the island fortress of England is susceptible to rising oceans. Madeleine Penney writes in the London Times (Eureka, June 2012 p. 31): “The East coast of England is disappearing. Made of silt, clay and sand, it shows little resistance to the waves, with the future of many homes and communities under threat.  Despite revetments, the cliffs in Happisburgh, Norfolk are receding at up to 12 m per year… A new policy of ‘managed retreat’ will see the village left to its watery fate.”

Managed retreat seems small comfort. But we must remember that change is the nature of the universe. “We’re here for a good time, not a long time,” as we used to sing in the ’70s. So in December, while water and wind nibbled away at our fair shores, the people of the Cove set aside their cares and woes, put on costumes, and acted out the Nativity Scene.

I imagine families bundling into the car and heading out in the dark, with the road getting darker and windier every mile—so different from driving to the beach in the summer. “Are we there yet?” ask small voices in the back seat. Suddenly the car comes down the big hill, turns the corner by the school, and there it is, the farm all lit up “like a present” as one child described it. And that’s what it was: a present from the people of the Cove to anyone who cared to drive in. What lovely smiles we saw, and what big eyes there were in the little faces as they saw the donkeys and shepherds and the whole panorama of light. Beautiful. We cling to these warm images as we enter the season of coldness and solitary endeavors.

Thank goodness for Christmas with its eating, drinking, visiting, tinsel and evergreen boughs. And the lights, and even the waving inflatable Santas and Snowmen. When we tell ourselves, “Let’s keep it simpler next year,” we know quite well that we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So the world continues to turn. The tide ebbs and flows, the days lengthen, rabbits stretch out in their burrows, foxes pounce on field mice, grass tumbles over the cape, and here we are. Let’s lift our glasses and toast to another New Year!

We’re Keeping Busy

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe season of gingerbread houses, eggnog and fruitcake is upon us. And craft fairs. Do we need this many potholders, aprons, wall hangings, scarves, bowls, mugs, earrings, wreaths, wooden potato bins, jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, squares and sugar cookies? No, we don’t need any of it, but since we want to support our neighbors, and everything looks so nice, we end up buying mittens, Christmas ornaments and potholders. They’ll make nice gifts for friends.

I also pick up a new book of Island history titled Afton: a place in time. Three cheers for the historians of the Rocky Point peninsula! They have put together a grand little book, full of wholesome nutritious facts nicely spiced with anecdotes and photographs. I am now considerably better informed about the lobster cannery on St. Peters Island, the starch factory at Westville, and lives of the Mi’kmak at Rocky Point. These tidbits may come in handy at a Christmas party when I am short of small talk.

Wait. This is not the time for small talk: there’s work to be done. We’re holding a Living Nativity in the Cove, and it takes time to line up all the angels, wise men, shepherds, and Josephs and Marys, plus put up posters, and arrange for choir practice. The donkeys and Tessa the horse were stars of last year’s Nativity and say they don’t need to practice at all. We’ll see. We hope that the goat has been told not to chew on the wise men’s sashes.

The Living Nativity is raising money for the Upper Room Food Bank, and our little one room schoolhouse. After all, what is a community without a place to meet, and where else would we hold our Christmas Concert? For we must have a concert, featuring as many kids as can fit on stage singing off-key. Proud parents will strain to hear a small voice reciting (in a monotone and without a break), “Tomorrow-is-Christmas-I-hope-there-will-be-some-presents-from-mommy-and-daddy-for-me…” There will be the usual step dancing, poems, skits and minor mishaps, Santa will make his appearance, the emcee will draw the winner of the gingerbread house, and we’ll all go home smiling.

This afternoon let’s put all that aside and head to the Cove. The beach belongs to the gulls and ducks, and to us, now that the geese and tourists have flown south. Last week the Cove was churned up by strong winds that washed in huge piles of seaweed and flotsam. Today everything is calm and quiet with the low sun casting long shadows and bathing the landscape in cool soft light. The coastline changes daily, yet remains the same. Like a good friend.

We walk below the cliffs on slippery black rocks where periwinkles and whelks snuggle together in cracks. Ice crystals crunch underfoot, reminding us that winter is just around the corner. We welcome this season too.

Woops! Better scoot home and get those shortbread cookies in the oven. Merry Christmas!

Old bones

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Illustration by JoDee SamuelsonWith the wind blowing impetuously and chestnuts in their sharp casings crashing onto the roof like small bombs, this is a good day to be inside by the fire. I’m kind of glad I’m not out holding a HONK sign on the Trans Canada.

I can’t help thinking of those folks who were camped last month down by the hemlocks on Peter’s Road. They had a lot of rain, and the campsite was damp and muddy. We brought them some cake and sandwiches and hung around by the old hemlocks for awhile, wondering what is it about hemlock trees that makes them special. Here’s what I found.

The Eastern hemlock, Tsuga Canadensis, takes 250 years to reach maturity and can live 400 years or more. These trees grow best in moist soil with good drainage, and have few natural enemies besides man. Hemlock bark is rich in tannin and was once shipped off Island by the barrelful for use in the leather industry. Imagine how many trees there must have been!

In olden days, hemlock beams were used for barn floors because of their resistance to rot. A tea made from the inner bark was used by native people as a remedy for colds, fevers, diarrhea, stomach troubles and scurvy. The bark was used as a poultice to slow bleeding.

When travel writer Walter Johnstone visited PEI in 1820, he saw hemlock trees 3 feet in diameter and 80 feet high. The hemlocks at Peter’s Road are smaller than this, but impressive nonetheless. They may be 250 years old which means they sprouted in 1760 or about the time that Europeans first settled on PEI.

Robert Harris wrote about the Bonshaw Hills (Island Prose and Poetry, 1973, p. 55). He was out with a team of surveyors who were cutting a line through the woods for proprietor Robert Stewart of Strathgartney when they encountered a threatening group of feisty locals coming “full tear up the hill waving heavy sleigh stakes.” Harris and his compatriots beat a hasty retreat.

I like to think that Robert Harris would have enjoyed the ruckus on Peter’s Road. He probably would have made friends with the protesters and painted a picture of the campsite.

Nature Trust’s booklet Scenic Heritage Roads of PEI has this to say about Peter’s road: “A sense of history, both human and natural, prevails on this pleasant country lane.” There was once a sawmill and furniture factory here. On top of the hill just up from the protester’s campsite is a small pioneer cemetery, the resting place for families stricken by diphtheria 100 years ago. Hopefully the construction won’t be disturbing those old bones that have already suffered enough.

It’s time to go down and throw another log on the fire. Supper will be simple tonight and it will feel good to turn in early.

Into Autumn

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonDid you ever see such a summer for apples? They’re everywhere, on the ground, floating down streams, and more importantly, in our pies and applesauce. How did the trees find enough water this summer to make apples, let alone make them delicious? On a similar topic, how did the cucumbers get so juicy when their roots are such little bits of things?

There was no cucumber shortage this summer. Women in the Cove are counting their jars of chow, mustard pickles, tomato sauce and dilly beans. My own mother was a great woman for canning. One year she put up seven hundred jars of preserves! I expect many of our mothers did the same, and this on top of all the other demands of life in days gone by.

Life still has its demands. Autumn brings people back together after the great summer scattering. Women’s Institute meetings are starting up, children are doing homework, evening classes are being organized. A certain quiet beauty descends upon the land. Some sounds we don’t miss: lawn mowers and dirt bikes. Sounds we welcome: school buses, the comforting rumble of tractors and potato harvesters working into the night, geese flying overhead.

Night closes in around us all too soon and we seize the warm bright daylight hours for chores that suddenly appear urgent, chores like checking the roof for loose shingles, cleaning leaves from the rain gutters, putting away gardening tools, and getting out warm socks and wool sweaters in the big summer-to-winter-clothes switcheroo.

In the crimson tinted woods the squirrels are busily stashing away chestnuts, butternuts, even apple seeds, while blue jays appear at backyard feeders demanding to be fed. Honeybees are in their winter beeyards snacking on sugar syrup, bumblebees have gone underground, mice are hopefully scritching at the walls, cats are fat and sleek. October is a busy happy month.

It’s also the month of our community bean supper. We had a meeting last week to plan the supper. We chose the date, had a cup of tea, talked some more, decided to ask Kay if she’d do the beans again. Can’t hurt to ask. She’s in Halifax visiting her sister, should we call her?  We call her. Yes, she’ll make them. Great! Next morning, we get a call from Kay to let us know that onions are on sale at the Co-op, two bags for the price of one. Will we pick some up for the beans? Of course. We’ll call people about biscuits and pies closer to the date. That’s the way things get done in the Cove and everywhere else.

Thanksgiving is coming up. Well, we have a lot to be thankful for. We had a grand summer, we didn’t get flooded like Truro, we didn’t have a blizzard like Iceland, we don’t have a federal election next month, and we have buckets of applesauce in the freezer. It doesn’t get much better.

Events Calendar

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A night to remember

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UPEI Winter’s Tales

Author reading series with A.F. (Al) Moritz October 1
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