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Warm Waters

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Art by JoDee SamuelsonYesterday we were swimming in the Cove. Because it was an overcast day and the sea was choppy we were the only people in the water. Some terns were calling noisily back and forth as they sped overhead on their way to a destination known only to themselves. A pair of seagulls paced restlessly along the sandbar, lost in thought. We swam out further and there just ahead of us bobbing in the water was a lone double-crested cormorant, body submerged, head and neck held aloft. Every so often, wings flapping madly, it raised itself out of the water before it sank back down. This action was repeated so often that we started thinking that (a) its wings were waterlogged, (b) it didn’t have the strength to fly, or (c) it was dying. For surely cormorants must die too.

How seldom we see dead cormorants, crows, or seagulls for all that there seem to be so many around. This summer I found a dead crow on the road and took it home to hang in the cherry tree, having read somewhere that this might discourage other crows from landing there. It didn’t work. They avoided that particular branch, but my roadkill crow had been so thoroughly flattened by traffic that it did not actually resemble a crow any more. Maybe I needed a plumper crow. In any case the smell was undesirable all round, so with great difficulty I extricated the corpse from the tree and gave it a proper burial.

Returning to that struggling cormorant, which we had already started, mildly, to grieve. As we watched it thrashing about, something else caught our attention and we looked away. When we looked back the cormorant was in the air. As it skimmed across the horizon out of sight I marveled again at how little we know about our fellow creatures. That cormorant must have been fishing and may even have been somewhat annoyed at these humans invading its space. How will we ever know?

What I do know is that this has been an extraordinary summer. One day after another of tranquil beauty, sunshine and glorious wildflowers. We reluctantly bid farewell to the fireweed and phlox, Queen Anne’s lace, yarrow, and the many delightful roadside clovers. As we move into autumn everything changes, the sky, the clouds, the light, the colors. We can almost hear the earth heaving a great sigh of relief.

We too heave a sigh as we step back from the pleasures of summer and try to catch up on those jobs we’ve been putting off, like cleaning the fridge. (Woah, what’s this lump at the back? Have I been keeping that cold all summer?) Then there’s wood to move into the shed, crops to harvest, and for some, children to get off to school.

And first things first: we must make time for that daily swim. The water’s never been warmer and the cormorants can take care of themselves.

A Visit to Our Town

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonWhat with keeping the crows out of the cherry tree, chasing cabbage moths and weeding the garden, summer has been flying by. But all work and no play makes a long tiring day, so we decided to head to Montgomery Theatre in North Rustico for the opening of Our Town.

North Rustico is a fancier and busier place than “the crik” of the past, when fishermen were still filling barrels with cod and herring, Irish moss was drying in driveways, and bootleggers were open for business. These days Rustico has fancy houses, big restaurants, and the Montgomery Theatre. This amiable little theatre is up the hill from Fisherman’s Wharf, across from Stella Maris Church and next door to Star of the Sea Senior Citizens Club. You can’t miss it. The theatre isn’t quite the heart of the village but it’s a special place, a place where dreams come to life on a simple stage.

So here we are on the deck of the theatre, milling around, chatting with friends and strangers and enjoying the warm summer evening. Is there time to get a drink? Why not? Oh wait—we’re being called in. We settle into comfortable rattan chairs, ready to watch one of the most famous American plays of the early 1900s.

The stage is empty except for two chairs, and as the lights dim the narrator steps up to speak: “This play is called Our Town. It was written by Thornton Wilder and produced by…”

We are told the location of the play (Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire), the date (May 7, 1901) and the time (5:45 am). As other characters enter and become part of the scene, we soon realize that Grover’s Corners resembles North Rustico, or Kensington or Mount Stewart, or the Cove for that matter. “In our town we like to know the facts about everybody,” states the narrator. Isn’t that the way of small communities everywhere?

The cast moves effortlessly through this gentle comedy and we move with them. Our Town covers the big topics in our lives, birth, marriage and death, familiar themes to all of us and at the core of life no matter where we live. The most memorable scene is the final act in the cemetery where the dead speak about the living, and we were reminded of how precious life is even in its most mundane moments.

Of course we can’t go through life dwelling on every single second, but it’s good to remember that we should live in the present without obsessing about the past or fearing the future. Life and death are part of the same process, and it’s all good.

What a wonderful thing it is to go out in the evening and come home refreshed. A beautiful play! Thank you, cast and crew of Montgomery Theatre. Meanwhile, back to the Cove and the crows and the cabbage butterflies. Somehow I feel better about them now too.

Rob Roy stars as the Stage Manager in Montgomery Theatre’s production of Our Town, which is directed by Duncan McIntosh. Playing lead roles are Stephen Hair, Gordon Hecht and Laurie Campbell.

Ancestry PEI

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonHaving recently traveled to Sweden in search of ancestral roots, I return to this my chosen island and ask: what is it about Prince Edward Island that makes it unique? It is an island, yes, surrounded by water with all the distinction this implies. But there are lots of islands in the world, 30,000 islands in the Stockholm Archipelago alone.

Is it our potatoes? I think they taste better than most, but the potatoes in Sweden were delicious too. Is it our white churches dotting the countryside? Sweden has hundreds of white churches, some of them a thousand years old. What about our wildflowers, wild strawberries, lupins and clover? Guess what: other places have flowers too. The Swedish roads were lined with lilacs in full bloom.  (And the roads don’t have potholes!)

Is it our love of history here on PEI that appeals to me? Maybe we’re doing the best we can; but Stockholm has eighty museums, and the island of Gotland, which is smaller than PEI, has more museums and heritage sites than you can shake a stick at.

We pride ourselves on our hospitality, imagining ourselves to be friendlier than people elsewhere. True, Swedish people are rather formal and reserved, but we met a woman at the ferry terminal who smiled at us and ended up inviting us to spend the night at her place.

So, back in the swing of things here in the Cove I keep looking around to see what it is that makes me feel such affection for this place. Maybe it’s the red soil, so generous and easy to work, that appeals to the gardener in me. Or, being an artist, I am attracted by the complimentary colors of our landscape, especially now when our fields have been worked and new growth is pushing through. The reds and greens, blues and whites make a palette that is almost impossible to replicate.

And I do love our people. It warms my heart to hear my friends say, “I’ve missed you!” Down at the church folks are planting flowers in the cemetery on graves not of my ancestors, but of my friends’ families. It feels like the same thing. The church is all painted up and stands proudly facing the sea, as it has done ever since 1872. If the people of the Cove keep taking care of it, some day it too will be a thousand years old.

Meanwhile, our garden is almost in and everything is doing well. We’re eating our own lettuce and radishes and have high hopes for a successful tomato crop this year. Everyone is trading plants back and forth, and in fact we still have some extra cucumbers in case anyone wants them. I’ve been over at the old school where the carpenters (the nicest men I’ve ever met) are doing renovations to the porch and laying new flooring throughout. The old school is going to look fabulous for our Strawberry Social in July.

It’s good to be back.

Knowledge Economy

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Eggs by JoDee SamuelsonOur Island is suddenly green and sparkling clean. We have no time to look away or even blink now that summer is coming. Everything happens with such speed and intensity, one miracle following the next, dandelions, violets, elderflowers, and lupins before we know it.

Some robins have built their nest at eye level in a honeysuckle bush by our door. Any cat with a bit of imagination could easily turn this little homestead into a disaster, but so far the three blue eggs remain intact.

Down at the shore last month we came across the largest worm any of us had seen, about eight inches long, flat underside with red blood vessels running its length.

Research back home gave us its name: the clamworm. It comes out of the sand to mate in the spring, during the dark of the moon. That morning we found three clamworms. The next day I brought my camera and we found none.

Another spring miracle: rhubarb. The Rhubarb Social in the Cove is coming up, with an amazing assortment of rhubarb desserts. Rhubarb juice too. It’s easy to make: Chop rhubarb, cover well with water, stew till soft (only a few minutes). Strain, sweeten with honey or sugar, and chill. Serve in small clear glasses that do justice to its delicate pink hue.

Rhubarb stems became popular in the 1600s once sugar became affordable (New World/sugarcane/slavery etc.); but rhubarb roots have been used as a laxative for thousands of years. Years ago on the Greenbay Road we came across a field dotted with clumps of rhubarb. The field was a cow pasture by this time, but in by-gone days all that rhubarb must have been bound for a market somewhere.

Speaking of the olden days, the other day I visited my friend Marjorie.  She met me at the door with, “I remembered something that I wanted to tell you. Do you know how rug hooks were made?”  (No, I didn’t.)

“The wire part was made from the tine of an old pitchfork. You’d have a blacksmith cut it and shape the hook, and attach a handle. The handle was made just for you so you could hold the hook the way you liked because everyone hooked rugs differently. Hooking a rug is a good way to use up old coats and blankets.

“And did you know that when you make a batch of potted meat, if it’s too much to use at once you can freeze it? Of course when you thaw it out it will be runny, but if you bring it to the boil it will re-set.”

Thank heavens for knowledgeable friends! I feel like running to the store for a pork hock and whipping up some potted meat this very minute. But before I do that I suppose I should do something with all this rhubarb. I think I’ll make a crisp. And I wonder if those robin eggs have hatched yet?

Perennial Sale

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonOh you darling buds of May, how we welcome each one of you! Cheerful crocuses and daffodils, do not leave us so soon! Oh well, at least you’re here now and we’re going to love every minute of your presence. Spring is always a miracle. Life returning to these shores, sun ascending, red soil gleaming, fish jumping, children and puppies rolling in the warm earth, featherless baby birds falling out of nests. It’s all immediate and transient and wonderful.

But this is not a time to sit back and relax: we must get ready for our Spring Perennial Sale. Cove women, mostly, are potting violets, phlox, ribbon grass (beware!), foxglove, oregano, spearmint, rhubarb, peonies, sedum, matricaria, rose campion, jacob’s ladder, bee balm, lungwort, mugwort… How can anyone not love a perennial sale? Everything is cheap, and a perennial is truly a gift that keeps on giving. As for manure, how can you garden without it?

One of the Cove’s advantages for an event like this is that we have a cove. That sky blue (or grey) water is the perfect backdrop for green shoots and sprouts. Muffins and coffee don’t hurt either. Thank goodness for perennials! They ask nothing of us but occasional ruthless thinning. No one minds sharing a clump of daylilies—in fact, please take some more.

The road out from town is pretty good now that the frost heaves have settled and we’ve had time to get personally acquainted with this year’s potholes. How about spending that Bonshaw/Strathgartney Trans-Canada highway infrastructure money on pothole and bridge repair? A skiff of new pavement here and there wouldn’t hurt either. No one will object to these ventures and every politician will earn plenty of Brownie points.

Folks in the Cove aren’t quite sure what Plan B is all about. Is it to make things easier for truckers? Our small hills must seem modest enough to anyone who’s driven on Maine’s Airline Highway or through the Charlevoix region of Quebec or in the Rocky Mountains or along California’s Coastal Route. Truckers seem a hardy independent breed, not looking for sympathy. Surely fuel prices cause them more distress than hills.

We have one long hill leading down into the Cove. Sometimes in winter it can be a bit treacherous but we want to keep it. We don’t have enough hills! We wish they were higher! PEI had to build its own ski hill! In the good old days, horses had to strain to pull heavy loads up hills and there was some reason to complain if a road was too steep; but today every vehicle on the Island can make it up any hill that we can throw at it.

Does everything have to be practical and useful? To quote Zen master Zhuangzi (ca 300 BC): “All men know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless.” Are hostas useful? Who knows, but they sure can grow. See you at the Perennial Sale.

Nature Walk

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Art by JoDee SamuelsonWe take an evening walk along the shore, on the ice, still bright out, one week left till the Spring Equinox. The ice cracks below our feet: should we be walking here? “It’s low tide. We’ll only fall a few feet.” Ahead there is an open area where springs have melted the ice. We’ll give that a wide berth.

A large flock of geese flies overhead, the largest we’ve seen, each bird driven on by a force it cannot resist. In No Great Mischief Alistair MacLean writes (p. 260):
“When the Canada geese fly north in spring, there is a leader who points the way, a leader at the apex of the V as the formation moves across the land. Those who follow must believe that the leader is doing the best he can, but there is no guarantee that all journeys will end in salvation for everyone involved.”

How disappointed these geese must be to find the Island still snow-covered. Quite a bit of grumbling going on about the leader’s instincts this time. “It’s the same old story, we’ll have to make do with soybeans (ugh, hate ‘em), wet oats and frozen potatoes.”

Back on land I pass under a spruce tree, and an eagle flies out—right over my head. “Quick, look!” It all happens so quickly and I am walking eyes to the ground, so I miss everything, don’t even catch a glimpse of the eagle. Still, I feel very special and tell myself that I heard its wings.

A beech leaf is on the ground, then another. Have the beech trees actually dropped their leaves? All winter long the beech leaves shiver and rattle but remain firmly attached to their twigs. It seems impossible that beech trees were once the primary species in our hardwood forests, ours are so damaged and full of parasites.  It must have been spectacular to see a beech forest in winter, full of golden brown leaves dancing and visiting together.

When we returned from Halifax last week we crossed the Cobequid Pass, something like crossing the Great Divide with different seasons on either side. Dry on the Halifax side, snowing on the PEI side. Whatever the weather, it’s a glorious view. What a world we live in. Always something to look forward to: picnics, crocuses, lobster season, smelts, more eagles flying over my head… summer visitors have started writing ahead to warn us of their intentions.

Meanwhile, piles of dirty snow like dead sheep lie in mounds along the roadside. Cars park on the side of the road because driveways are quagmires.  The culvert is blocked with ice and the water sits harmlessly enough in a pond beside the road. No doubt we’ll get rain and then see what happens. The geese have settled on the field behind us and do not seem to be blaming their leader, as far as I can tell. The ice at the shore is breaking up.  Spring is here.

Without Prejudice

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Illustration by JoDee SamuelsonIt is a clear calm evening with a full moon, and the first Monday of the month. Some of us decide to walk to the Women’s Institute meeting at Alice’s house, two kilometres down the road. Alice has a large living room that can accommodate all of us, since our usual meeting place—the one-roomed school—is closed for the winter.

We are the first to arrive. Boots off, jackets piled on the bed in the spare bedroom, we gradually claim chairs or couches as others arrive. At 7:30 president Marylou bangs her gavel and the meeting begins.

Welcome everybody. I’m glad so many of you made it out. It’s a beautiful night tonight, isn’t it. Let’s begin our meeting with the reading of the Mary Stewart Collect:

Keep us O Lord from pettiness; let us grow large in thought in word and deed.
Let us be done with fault finding and leave off self seeking.
May we put away all pretence and meet each other face to face,
without self pity and without
prejudice…

Now we’ll turn it over to the secretary for the roll call. Vicky—present; Sue—present; Teresa—here… The minutes of the last meeting… The treasurer’s report… Old business (sleigh ride, new babies in community, letters of request or thanks)… New business (fund raiser for hospital/women’s shelter/school lunch program)…

It all takes time. Most women have opinions about everything and conversations head off into new and fascinating directions; until the gavel must be banged again to marshal the forces. Then it’s time for our guest speaker, who could be anybody from a member of the legislature, to a driver from Waste Watch. Usually one of our own members is the convenor, and we learn about the interests of people in our own community: beekeeping; working in a nursing home; traveling to Germany; cracker-making; crocheting; creating costumes for theatre; scrapbooking; dairy farming; or raising broiler chickens for Swiss Chalet.

Let’s give a big thank you to Louise for her interesting presentation on how to de-bone a chicken. (Round of applause.) We’ll all know how to do it next time, right? Well, maybe I’ll try it sometime when I don’t have company! I don’t think my knives are that sharp. Thanks Louise!  Now it’s time for lunch, so let’s say grace together:

We thank thee Father for thy care
Food, friends and kindliness we share
May we forever mindful be
Of Home and Country and of Thee.

There are some people who don’t believe in grace, or Thee, or Father. But no one can argue with sharing kindliness, or “putting aside all pretense and meeting each other face to face, without self pity and without prejudice.” I was one of those who was hesitant about joining the Women’s Institute, but I haven’t regretted it for a minute. Whole new worlds have been opened to me, within walking distance and often by moonlight.   

—Names in this article have been changed to protect privacy.

Charles and Myrtle

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Myrtle by Jodee SamuelsonOn this frozen winter morning with the north wind urging me to stay indoors, I decide to step out and visit some elder residents of the Cove, Charles and Myrtle MacNevin.

Charles MacNevin was born here, in the house where he has lived out his 84 years. I meet him coming out the door on his way to fetch firewood. “That’s okay, I can do it later,” he insists as he ushers me into the back porch. Myrtle is in the kitchen at the McClary kitchen range, deftly poking in foot-long chunks of split hardwood. “This stove is as old as I am,” she says. “I couldn’t do without it.” The oven door is open, a kettle hisses quietly, various clocks tick gently in the background. I step into the past.

So, I ask, what was winter like in days gone by?

Myrtle: “Snow, deep snow!”

Charles: “The roads weren’t open, everyone traveled on the fields and rivers. You had to be careful on the ice because of all the springs. Mostly you knew where they were, and of course the ice was bushed [marked with small trees frozen into the ice], but even so the ice could get thin. Maybe we went to town once a week, over the fields and down the river. We’d haul in a load of potatoes, or hay for the livery stables—there were quite a few in town those days. While you did your errands you’d leave your horse at the stable and they’d feed it a bite of hay, so those places always needed hay.”

Myrtle: “Charles could get a hot dinner at the livery stable, in the house. The wife cooked the meals and the husband looked after the horses.”

What about your daily routines?

Charles: “In the morning the water in the kettle might be frozen. First thing was to get the stove going, then feed the animals. Breakfast was after that. Oatmeal porridge, bread and molasses, tea and milk. We only milked one cow in winter, the others were dried up till they calved in spring.”

Myrtle: “We always had plenty of milk. And meat and potatoes, carrots and pickles and everything. See these carrots? I’m making copper pennies with them. They’re still good, but in the spring when carrots started to sprout, most people used to throw them out. Charles’s mother lived with us until she died at 98, and she showed me how to make copper pennies with old carrots. You slice them in rounds, boil them and put them in vinegar and spices. They’re some good! My own mother died when I was eight so I didn’t learn much cooking. Charles’s mother taught me everything.”

Charles: “And of course there was threshing that went on all winter, barley and oats. Everyone helped each other, one farm one week, another the next. No one kept track.”

Our conversation rolls on and on. The clocks ticks, time passes, but we do not keep track.

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

Projections on the Plaza

Until September 29
Confederation Centre Plaza The public is invited to enjoy two outdoor film screen [ ... ]

On the Bright Side

Barra MacNeils come to Harbourfront with new album October 5
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Miracle Man

Tomáš Kubínek brings his unique show to Summerside October 3
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Drawing the line

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Charlottetown’s Historic Squares exhibit...

The City of Charlottetown Planning and Heritage Department has created an exhibit exploring the hist [ ... ]