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Historic photo exhibit

The City of Charlottetown has partnered with the Prince Edward Island Regiment Museum to create a hi [ ... ]

Royal Winnipeg Ballet auditions

Until January 25, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) School Professional Division will hold auditions a [ ... ]

Perspective

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe story of our winter so far: bare ground, skiff of snow, wind, rain, plus ten, minus fifteen, wind, rain, snow. Stoves and furnaces putting in long hours, working overtime, greedily gobbling up fuel. Frosty air stealing in all night long under shingles and between floorboards, and barging in through doors that open for a single moment. What a time. The Strait is completely filled in with ice—something we haven’t seen for years—and somehow that feels good, like the welcome visit of a long lost friend.

No matter what the weather we try to spend some of the day outside. Ski conditions haven’t been great, but there’s often been enough snow to scoot along on the edge of fields. And the frozen fields themselves have been perfect for long hikes—although clumpy plowed ground can get tedious.

And is anything better than an outdoor winter picnic? Yesterday we had an impromptu birthday party for our neighbor’s daughter who was home after working as a chef in New Zealand for two years. (Yes, Culinary Institute grads do find work around the world.) This proved once again that the very best conversations happen at the seaside. The food tastes better and amenities can be kept to a minimum (though blankets under the butt are a must). Our friend’s birthday scones—made with cream, not butter—merited lengthy discussion. As did recent dental procedures, the mountains of ice at Cape Traverse, and American politics.

Why are we so blessed? We live in this wonderful place. We have friends, food and firewood. When our garbage bin was blown into the ditch and lost a wheel, all we had to do was fill in a form on-line and presto! a replacement bin magically appeared in our driveway. Sure, sometimes we have to wait in the hospital emergency room longer than we wish, but we do eventually get seen—and we aren’t charged anything.

I’m reading Hilary Clinton’s book How It Happened and it’s almost unbearable to think of the serious problems our American neighbors face. There are 33,000 gun-related deaths a year in the USA, or 90 deaths a day. That’s just crazy. Now there’s the opiod crisis. And the racial tensions that never seem to go away. And wildfires, and mudslides, and hurricanes …

Of course everything’s not perfect in Canada, but at least we don’t have millions of handguns in our houses. And we all have medical coverage and don’t need to worry about losing our homes if we get sick.

So whatever kind of winter we’re having, whether it’s cold one day and warm the next, or snowing or raining, we really have nothing to complain about. Our roads are cleared, our power comes back on, we get a new garbage bins when the old ones break—and The Buzz has come out each month, rain or shine, for twenty-five years. That’s amazing.

I mean, how lucky can we get?

Needles and cones

The Cove Journal

by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe winter solstice has come and gone. We’re on the up-swing now! As the sun rises higher in the sky, every day grows a little longer. Thanks to everyone in the countryside who put up colored lights for the holidays. What a lift they give us during this darkest time of the year. I suppose they wouldn’t be such a treat if they were up all year.

The same holds true for Christmas trees. They quickly lose their charm once their needles start traveling around the house.

During a recent walk, my friend Kay mentioned that we know almost nothing about the trees that we so eagerly invite into our homes in December. They’re evergreens, yes, but what kind? And what’s the difference between a fir and a spruce tree?

Here’s what I learned.

The tree that was in our house, and is now out by the bird feeder, is a spruce. Like all spruce trees, its needles (leaves) are 4-sided in cross-section and grow around the stem out of little wooden “pegs.” All spruce trees produce cones that hang down a short distance from the tip of the branch. Our little tree is too young to produce cones (seeds), but its full-grown parent trees dropped their cones all over the driveway in autumn, so it’s safe to say that it’s a Picea glauca or white spruce. Picea mariana or black spruce hang onto their cones all winter.

Our tree was definitely not a fir. Fir trees have flattened needles, blunt at the end, that are attached to the stem by what one might call suction cups. Fir cones grow upright. When they mature in autumn their seeds fall off, leaving behind lonely abandoned spikes.

The fragrant Balsam fir, Abes balsamea, is our most popular Christmas tree. When its needles become hidden in the carpet, they pierce stocking feet less aggressively than spruce needles. In fact, a pile of fir boughs makes a fairly comfy mattress.

Spruce and fir trees are more than just ubiquitous shapes in the Island landscape. Spruce extracts have been used for healing wounds, soothing sore muscles, treating scurvy, easing arthritic pain. Rotted spruce was dried and pulverized to make baby powder. Spruce resin became a commercially popular chewing gum.

As for fir trees, their resin was used as a fire-starter, a salve, an adhesive. Today if you have a bad cough, you can still buy Buckley’s Cough Syrup. One of its tasty ingredients: balsam fir extract. Yum.

Kind of makes you appreciate that tree you dragged to the side of the road, doesn’t it.

Summary. To tell fir and spruce trees apart, remember that fir needles are flat, spruce needles are square; fir cones grow up, spruce cones grow down.

The old year is behind us and the New Year tingles with possibilities. Never chewed spruce gum? Maybe 2018 is the year to give it a try. You may learn to like it. We have plenty of spruce trees in the Cove and we’re always glad to share a little sap with our neighbors.

Happy New Year!

Hello winter

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonWell, hello winter! One day we were blithely raking leaves in t-shirts and shorts, and the next day we were bundling up against a fierce north wind and brushing snow from our doorsteps. It would be nice to blame Daylight Savings Time for all this, but of course that can’t be true. Fortunately our stunningly beautiful fall weather gave everyone, from farmers and gardeners to road crews and roofers, plenty of time to “finish the job properly.” And I must say the Island looks very smart and trim as we head into December.

I can finally tolerate hearing Christmas music in stores. In fact, I find myself humming along with everything. Christmas is the one time of year when we all know the first verse of dozens of songs, and even adults who protest “But I can’t sing” can sometimes be persuaded to open their mouths and make a joyful noise.

The Cove is bursting with seasonal activities including, for one last time, a drive-through Living Nativity at the Jenkins’ farm. Chrys, Gordon and Jamie are hanging lights and stars, building a shelter for the choir, lining up guest livestock, and generally preparing a one-of-a-kind nativity show. Who would put all that effort into such a big funky unlikely light-up-the-sky event? Well, Chrys and Doreen and all their friends in the Cove, that’s who. It’s the most cheerful way ever invented to raise money for Santa’s Angels.

When the Living Nativity is over there’ll be the Christmas Concert at the old school featuring local talent young and old, a homemade play, a visit from Santa, and lunch of course. (Can you have an event in the country without lunch?) Tucked in here and there are a half-dozen Open Houses when neighbors gather at various homes to discuss the events of the day and have a bite to eat. Do we get tired of seeing each other so often? Not at all. We’re filling up with warmth and happiness to tide us through the long cold months ahead.

While we humans snack on fruitcake and chocolate, our local wildlife is also enjoying the bounty of the season. Two flying squirrels have taken up residence in our woodpile, conveniently close to everything they like to eat: butternuts, chestnuts, spruce cones, lichen. Northern flying squirrels are as cute as rodents can get, with their shiny round eyes (for nocturnal vision), fluffy flat tails and little round ears. We’re going to let them live out the winter just where they are. It’s amazing to see them soaring from tree to tree, flat as frisbees: they can glide up to 300 feet! 

Along the capes, bayberry shrubs proudly display their waxy grey-blue fruits. Scarlet winterberries glow in the afternoon sun. Down at the shore, periwinkles snuggle into sandstone cracks, prepared to sit out the vagaries of winter weather. The final season of the year is here and we’re ready.

Little Drummer Boy, Il est né le divin enfant, O tannenbaum: Welcome December!

Clear skies

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonIt was one of those clear calm evenings when you could feel the temperature dropping as the sun sank below the tree line. We picked all the cucumbers and squash, wrapped a blanket snugly around the climbing tomatoes, and reluctantly went indoors. Time to face the music and start a fire in the woodstove.

Sitting by the stove with a glass of wine felt just right; but a long dark night—one of many to come—was staring us in the face. So we decided to walk up the hill and pay a visit to our hilltop neighbors. They’re the kind of people who love to have friends drop in unannounced, and no matter if it’s day or night you’re always assured of a cup of tea and a freshly baked biscuit or piece of pie, or in our case a slice of gumdrop cake. Hospitality like that is a real gift.

We had a lovely time eating cake, discussing our respective Thanksgiving celebrations, and making plans to start a jigsaw puzzle in the near future. Then we said our good-byes and headed into the night. The moonless sky was filled with stars that clearly spelled out, “There will be a frost tonight.” No matter: we’re used to the changing seasons. We have all the clothes we need to keep warm, we have boxes of our own potatoes in the cellar, and our freezer is full of delicious things to eat. So with flashlight in hand we marched cheerfully down the hill.

But then a coyote howled nearby—although you can’t really call it a howl for it’s more like other-worldly speech. Then other coyotes joined in. Yap yap yap! It sounded like a lot of them. Our pace picked up.

It’s strange how sometimes distances seem so much greater than at other times. We passed Susan’s where here was a light on in the kitchen: that was comforting. But how distant the next house seemed! Still, with every step the coyote chorus receded, and then we were at our neighbor’s barn with its welcoming yard light, and finally we were home. What had we been worried about anyway?

When the sun rose the next morning it was evident that indeed there had been a heavy frost, for every blade of grass was encrusted with a shimmering white coat. Down at the Cove everything was hushed and still. The tide had crept in and out overnight with scarcely a ripple, leaving the sandbars perfectly smooth and pristine. Gulls and crows were carefully examining glistening clumps of rockweeds and kelp fronds scattered on the beach. Some plovers or sandpipers scooted along the tidal pools enjoying the breakfast buffet, and perhaps admiring their own feathery reflection in the tranquil waters.

It had been a clear night and now it was a clear day. The sun’s warmth melted the frost and warmed our hearts, and wild creatures of the darkness seemed very far away.

Painted Ladies

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonOur cat Huckleberry didn’t come home the other night. We called and called but no gray cat with handsome striped tail showed up, so the lights were turned out and we went to bed. The next morning he still wasn’t around. Our various neighbors hadn’t seen him and it was suggested we go along the road looking in the ditch. No cat in ditches, fortunately, or in culverts.

In the late afternoon we walked to the meadow across the way. Pushing aside sun-warmed pockets of cottony fireweed and goldenrod blossoms nodding benevolently in the breeze, we moved into a clearing when suddenly hundreds of Painted Lady butterflies burst into the air, flitting hither and yon as only butterflies can. Everywhere we looked we saw more of these lovely creatures clinging to goldenrod petals or balancing delicately on silvery fireweed leaves, their wings pulsing gently.

Why hadn’t we noticed them before? I guess we’d been worrying about our cat Huckleberry and feeling generally down, what with the news about hurricanes and earthquakes and other global malaise; but when we looked up, our Island world was full of Painted Ladies. Back home we watched butterflies swooping over the treetops from the northeast and dipping through the yard before heading purposefully south. What would happen when they got to the shore? We went down to the Cove to watch, and it was amazing: hundreds—thousands—of butterflies zooming over our heads in some sort of mass migration and heading out to sea as if to say, “Amherst, here we come!”

How little we know about the life around us. We humans think we’re busy right now with our harvesting and preserving and getting ready for winter, but Painted Ladies live perhaps two weeks in the butterfly stage, during which time they have to flutter around and look beautiful, mate, lay eggs, and have some sort of meaningful experiences (one hopes). Butterflies and all the other creatures great and small must not like hurricanes any more than we do, and one wonders why Painted Ladies showed up in such numbers just now.

But back to Huckleberry. Hours passed and still no cat. The only place we hadn’t looked was the freshly harrowed seagull-filled field behind our house. Kitty kitty!…What was that? A tiny meow? Kitty kitty! Sure enough, a gray cat was wa-a-ay up in a tree, looking and sounding mighty pitiful.

So the cat came back, and we can relax.

Geese are passing noisily overhead. Mountain ashes are drooping with bouquets of waxy orange-red berries, and spruce trees are absolutely laden with cones: our neighbor said that she heard spruce cones popping open! That seems impossible, but I looked closely at a sappy spruce cone and sure enough, it has to pop open. Check for yourself.

A few Painted Lady butterflies linger among the golden fall flowers, reluctant to leave this beautiful Island; and who can blame them?

The Other Side

The Cove
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonLocal folklore has it that when you can see The Other Side clearly, it’s going to rain, which must be because the air pressure is falling and there are fewer molecules of dust and moisture over the water to impede your view. At those times Nova Scotia looks close enough to reach out and touch, and it’s easy to imagine our earliest people making the trip across the Strait in their delicate crafts, no problem.

From the edge of the Cove, the other side is a strip of soft blue that beckons enticingly. Funny thing: when you go across the bridge and look back at the Island, our own strip of land is bathed in the same gentle light. It seems that the grass isn’t actually greener on the other side of the fence (or in this case the Strait): it’s merely remote. That tantalizing remoteness is so powerful that once again we make our way over to the campground at Amherst Shore.

The first night a quiet duo from Québec is nestled down in the next campsite. In the morning they pack up their little orange tent and head on their way. A few hours later an SUV pulling a utility trailer rolls in, and a mom and dad and three children proceed to colonize the area. Cheerfully but noisily. Two enormous tents (one for sleeping and one for the table) are laboriously set up, and a huge tarp is strung up over the space between the two tents. I never thought I would see anyone bring an extension ladder to a campground, but that tarp needs a long rope tied up high in a tree so along comes Dad with his ladder. “No help needed, just leave me alone.” Impressive by any standards.

A campground is an intimate window into life. People party enthusiastically into the night. Voices carry. Tempers boil over. Children scream, laugh, run, tumble, and are encouraged or reprimanded as the case may be. Small children share their parent’s toilet stall and discuss every detail of the proceedings. A campground is not for everyone and sometimes a little goes a long ways.

The next morning it’s raining so we throw everything in the car and head home. Has the Island ever had so many summer visitors? The traffic on the bridge is non-stop both ways. Some guests of ours insisted we go to Cavendish last month and I must say the North Shore is a world away from our own Cove reality. Where are all these people coming from?

It’s good to be back. Our roadsides overflow with Queen Anne’s lace and Black-eyed Susans, and the potatoes march in straight lines to the horizon. Being away for even two days makes me appreciate the beauty of this place. Now that all our guests have departed, there is the garden to rediscover, the grass to mow and the friends to visit.

But that strip of soft blue on the horizon still beckons, and we’re already talking about another trip to The Other Side.

Summer lunch

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe crows wake me before the sun comes up. Are there more crows this year or are they just noisier? Might as well accept the fact that I won’t go back to sleep; and that’s a good thing, for today our friend Marjorie is coming to lunch.

I told Marjorie that I would make a quiche: so simple, no trouble. Actually quiche is a fair bit of trouble, but it doesn’t matter because Marjorie is worth it. So at 6 am I am rolling out piecrust, and thumbing through the Moosewood Cookbook to find the no-fail quiche recipe that calls for a bottom layer of the gruyère cheese that we just happen to have on hand. We also have beautiful fresh brown eggs, sweet Island whole milk, and new onions from the garden. Bonus: a handful of chanterelles that were growing alongside the park road.

By ten o’clock the veggies are fried, the eggs are beaten, and the quiche is ready to pop in the oven. I also whip up a batch of corn sticks made in an old-fashioned corn mold. (Lodge Ironworks still makes them.) This is going to be good.

Promptly at noon Marjorie and her cousin/chauffeur-for-the-day Valerie drive up the lane, all smiles and hugs. I should mention that Marjorie is a wisp of a woman in her 90s, who has finally accepted the idea that a walker is a wonderful invention. Well! That walker takes her all around the yard—and she knows more about peonies, chickadees, and potato bugs than I’ll ever know.

Eventually we gather in the front porch, out of the sun and away from mosquitoes. For our summer luncheon the table is set with a colorful cotton tablecloth, crocheted placemats, my mother’s good silverware, glass plates, and a vase of frilly bachelor buttons. I think even the Queen would approve. The quiche is a big hit, as is the garden salad of tender new greens, and the cornbread is crunchy and golden. But maybe the best part of the whole event is the conversation. Is there anything better than sitting around the table after a delicious meal, exchanging stories?

We “younger” folks talk about hippie days and the houses we lived in; we discuss bird populations, and touch on American politics—but quickly veer away; then settle into a favorite topic: the Olden Days. Marjorie tells of eating shorts porridge (like semolina) for breakfast every day. Walking to the one-room schoolhouse. Cleaning wool in the carding mill with her mother. Sitting through long revival services of the Macdonaldites. Life was no simpler a few generations back: it was just different.

The sun starts peering through the west windows and the porch gets hot. Time for a change of venue. Shall we do this again? Of course. Good-bye friends! See you soon!

It’s quiet in the yard now. The crows are somewhere else, probably down at the shore. The tide’s coming in: why don’t we go for a swim? And we don’t need to cook supper. I’m happy to eat quiche again.

Small things

The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson

Artwork by JoDee SamuelsonThe news is full of big things going on in the world. Elections, hurricanes, tornadoes. Flooding in Quebec. Fissures in Antarctic ice shelves.

All these big things began with tiny events. Even that iceberg floating down from Greenland past Newfoundland must have been the result of a “final straw”: one last ice crystal melted and boom! the glacier started to crack.

Perhaps the fluttering wings of the ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder started the hurricane in the Atlantic, for its wings beat more than fifty times a second. Surely that’s enough to create a small storm somewhere. Maybe individual actions do have consequences. 

Our woodman, who takes great interest in small things, tells of seeing a hummingbird pluck two fluffy dandelion seeds and fly off with them in her beak to use in lining her walnut-sized nest. A hummingbird nest is constructed from such things as moss, lichens, feathers, hair, cotton threads, leaf fuzz—and dandelion fluff—all bound together with super strong elastic spider silk that allows the nest to stretch as the hatchlings grow. (By the way, hummingbird nests are built entirely by the female, and Dad doesn’t help raise the chicks either.)

Hummingbird legs are so short that scientists classify them as Apodiformes, which means “without feet.” I don’t know how hummingbirds feel about this. They get back at us by having great vision and being able to see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which is something that we humans can’t do.

Here in the Cove we focus on small events like hummingbirds and dandelion seeds, apple blossoms and fresh lettuce, and even some insects—honeybees, for example. (We’re not so crazy about ants and mosquitoes. The good news is that bats have been sighted again and I do hope that some will move into our yard soon.)

This month we’ll be serving fresh strawberries at our Strawberry Social. Each berry started out as a five-petaled white flower that was visited by some small insect, and after a few weeks of glorious sunlight and gentle rain, it was totally transformed. For our social we’ll mash thousands of plump red strawberries, add a little sugar, and serve this delicious mixture in pretty bowls with biscuits underneath and ice cream on top. And the ice cream started out as a drop of milk, and so on.

Dreamily meandering out in the lush green meadows, the cows pluck a flower here, nibble a blade of grass there, and turn it into milk for our ice cream. The hummingbird returns to the feeder for another drop of nectar. Down at the shore the snails make their way across the tidal flats one sand particle at a time. From a distance, life in the Cove looks small and simple. Up close it’s complicated and intricate—it’s plenty big! 

So we keep an eye on the news, but mostly we concentrate on the small manageable wonderful things happening right under our noses.

Events Calendar

November 2018
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