by Shauna McCabe
They are all over: cues as to how to see the landscape. Monuments and cairns, historic plaques, interpretive signs-all try to draw out the trace histories that lie along the furrows and roads of this Island.
It is a given that places themselves, our physical surroundings, affect experience. But our experience is also shaped by the way places are framed, the words used to describe where landscape has met biography.
Bubbling Springs Trail.
A key source of these cues on Prince Edward Island is the National Park. A coastal park, it extends along a 40 kilometre strip of sand dunes, beaches, saltmarshes, bays and cliffs. And though the beaches are abandoned to the shorebirds as the weather turns colder, much information awaits quietly around them. On Prince Edward Island, the coastline is history; in it are layers of natural as well as cultural residue.
The old Stanhope community cemetery was once part of an active farm community. Over 160 years of history are buried deep...
Lifting these stories from the landscape with respect and holding them up so we can see them is one role of the park. Its mandate is to protect areas in an unimpaired state for future generations, as well as for public understanding. In the summer, interpretive programmes offer cultural campfires, guided hikes and walks, and presentations about the natural environment and the cultural resources found there. As winter approaches, programmes shift to focus on the winter landscape: walks examining animal tracks and changing animal and bird patterns, school visits, as well as activities such as pond skating and moonlight skiing.
Some of the stories stay the same across seasons. Evidence of historical change, altering settlement, and age old natural processes, is always there. Along walking and ski trails, words are maps. They bring into view these marks left on the land, still and silent as fossils, visible if you know what to look for.
Ancient fences Along this trail several clues of past settlement are still visible. Long mounds of earth, now lower than in the 1800's, are called dykes. At one time, these dykes marked a farmer's field.
Sometimes such words direct your perception; sometimes they bring something completely new into vision. Beyond the number of visitors it attracts, the park has established a reputation for the quality and integrity of the stories it tells-about the human experiences that physically created this landscape out of water and wood, soil and sand, as well as the natural forces at play.
Long pond was once a sheltered bay fished by early Acadians. Over time, the onshore winds and waves have pushed offshore sandbars inward forming the coastal dune system and this "barachois" pond.
Though everything is always changing, there is always something left behind. The park is a good place to learn about traces. Beyond revenue or tourist numbers, the park offers one shape of landscape memory.
For more information on winter programmes in the National Park, call (902) 672-6350.