The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
With 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.