Chapter 7: A PEI Christmas Tree Farm; in Pursuit of the Perfect Tree

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A frosty snow covered country road.                                        Photo: ELR

“It lifts existence on a plane of snow

One level higher than the earth below,

One level nearer heaven overhead,

And last year’s berries shining scarlet red.”

“A Winter Eden”  – by Robert Frost

Early to mid December marks the time in most households in P.E.I. to gather the family for a frosty outing to your favorite tree farm or tree lot, to choose the “perfect Christmas tree”.

Heading out to find the perfect Christmas Tree.                                         Photo: ELR

This tree farm in Cape Bear near Beach Point, P.E.I. does not have the traffic like most urban tree lots. The owner is a humble man, who remembers each customer’s Christmas tree preferences intimately. I suspect grooming the perfect tree for his customers is a ‘labor of love’, and nearing that magical time for Christmas tree hunting, you can be assured your tree is ready and waiting. It doesn’t get fresher than this!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Outfitted with hat, scarves, mittens and wool socks, we loaded our 4×4 truck with saws, ropes and an axe. There was a light snow falling and the ground cover was spectacular. The sun was working hard to burn through the frosty haze as we drove over the snowplowed country roads.

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Mr. Jordan expertly cut down a huge tree for us.                                                          Photo: ELR

Our wait wasn’t long. Bumping over the snow covered road, a pickup truck rumbled along. Mr. Jordan stepped out, proudly sporting a nifty chainsaw. I was ready for a lengthy trek through the woods, secretly hoping it would take a while as the scenery was breathtaking! Listening intently to my description of the ‘perfect tree’, Mr. Jordan, led us in a procession through snow laden branches, all the while chatting about his trees. Within a matter of minutes, he led us to…the perfect tree! It shouldn’t have been this easy, especially when I was prepared to look at various trees from various angles. The temperature within our snowy cocoon of trees had dropped significantly. Not wanting to stretch our host’s patience, we all agreed on a 15 foot spruce. Out here on the tree farm, a Christmas tree can be substantially dwarfed by the tall coniferous trees surrounding it!

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The perfect Christmas tree.                                                                                Photo: ELR

It was a bit of a struggle loading this green giant onto the bed of our pickup. While this chore was being expertly executed, what would a snowy outing like this be without some horsing around. One of my ‘tree hunting’ accomplices was about to come face to face with a snow bank!

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A little horsing around. Photo; ELR

On our way home, we took a short drive down to the Beach Point lighthouse for no other reason than a photo op on the beach with snow drifts mingled with sand. The wind was strong and the air a little frostier by the water, but it was well worth the trip.

Christmas Tree farm Beach Point

Beach Point Lighthouse                       Photo:  ELR

Rewind 50 years:

Photo: google search: Janie and Harry MacLean in their box sleigh led by a horse named Doll. Clyde River.

As a young child, my most favorite part of Christmas was riding along in the back of a box sleigh with our horse puffing giant clouds of steam out of its mouth. My Dad in his ‘parka’ would stand at the front of the sleigh nudging our faithful horse through the deep snow (and it seemed deeper back then) on the way to the woods behind our house. ********************************************************************************************* After a few hours of shaking snow off branches and fingers and toes growing numb from the cold, we would settle on the family Christmas tree. The trees were never perfect in shape, but to a child in the woods surrounded by nature’s bounty, every tree looked perfect. The scent of a freshly cut fir tree is second to none. On the way back to the house my sister and I would stare at the tree in awe…it looked so big taking up most of the room in the back of the sleigh. The tree did not disappoint. Decorated with a menagerie of ornaments handed down over the years, the tree was the focal point of our Christmas décor.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Christmas in the Country.                                                                                     Photo: ELR

Chapter 6: PEI’s Aboriginal Community: A Mi’Kmaq PowWow

If you are in PEI during the month of August, you are cordially invited to the Abegweit First Nation’s PowWow in Panmure Island on the south side of PEI. This spiritual/cultural event attracts visitors each year from Eastern Canada and the New England states.

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Panmure Island                            Photo: Government of PEI

It was a hot August day; a day when our Island Mi’kmaq community was hosting their annual PowWow. I felt trepidation entering this area of sacred ceremony. In all the years I have lived on this Island I had never attended a PowWow ; not one. I worried I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the occasion. I need not fear. This was a day of celebration. Cars were parked in a grassy clearing in an official parking space in the woods. I slid out the passenger side and was immediately embraced with hot, humid and breathless air in the spruce enclosed thicket.

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Ladies preparing for the ceremonial dance. Photo: ELR

I felt honored to be included… included in this day (weekend) of celebrations. Looking about I witnessed Mi’kmaq dress in various degrees. I didn’t understand. I wanted to understand what the beautiful dress attire meant – whether a beautiful decorated dress on a female or a grand headdress on a male warrior. Needless to say…I was in awe. And I had a lot to learn! ********************************

A Moment in Time

So …I sat and watched…and listened. When allowed… I took pictures, all too aware I wasn’t to intrude at various times during their celebration. There was a time for pictures…and a time to just sit and be present…and to breathe, listen, and be aware of the sacred ceremony taking place. The dancers came in all shapes and sizes from the very young to the elderly. A common theme was their pride in their dance and their ceremony. I was moved as a witness to this professional demonstration of pride in their culture.

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The ceremonial dance – this dress jingled as she danced.        Photo:  ELR

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A male dancer proudly wearing his ceremonial dress. Photo: ELR

A typical Mi’Kmaq PowWow begins with the ‘Sacred fire’ ceremony on the first day and setup of the grounds and exhibitors. The following day(s), traditional and inter-tribal performances and dances are performed throughout the afternoons. On the last day there are the traditional dances and ends with a PowWow feast (usually with Maritime Lobster as the main dish) and a closing ceremony. ************************************************************************************************* I felt at home here. (‘Here’ – is Panmure Island with the sheltered St. Mary’s Bay on one side and an ocean beach on the other). The Chief welcomed us and made me feel at home. I wasn’t a stranger. I loved the sights, the music, and the distant beat of drums as a group of young men in a drum band practiced. There was a contagious feeling of community and belonging. They are such a proud people. And I loved their ceremonial dress. It was indescribable…the time…the talent…and the history behind each ceremonial dress.

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An elder in full ceremonial dress.  Photo:  ELR

I was chastised for calling their beautiful dress…a ‘costume’. Kudos to an elder…for setting me straight- one of those times when I wished my ‘filter’ was engaged. It was not. I apologized. My earlier trepidation upon arrival had now returned.

 

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A wee girl dressed for the occasion caught my attention. She posed gracefully so I could capture her and her dress perfectly. No more than 3 or 4 years old, she is already embracing her heritage and pride in her Mi’kmaq culture.

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A beautiful little girl displaying her ceremonial dress. Photo: ELR

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Photo: ELR

Booths are set up with an array of wares. Handmade accessories; ladies and men’s ceremonial and traditional Mi’Kmaq dresses and suits; musical instruments including authentic drums; children’s toys and a booth selling bear grease – something for everyone! I choose to buy a leather bracelet with a peace symbol; one of my favorite things.

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Booths displaying everything from clothing, toys, and accessories.     Photo: ELR

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Beautiful traditional Mi’kmaq clothing.                                             Photo: ELR

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Bear Grease. Drum makers use Bear grease as a moisturizer   claiming it will keep the drum hide flexible and vibrant.      Photo: ELR

A traditional Teepee was erected on the site – a nod to their history and a clear demonstration the Island’s Mi’kmaq communities wish to preserve and pass on a part of their heritage and tradition. Historically the family teepee bison skin covers were richly painted and drawn upon. This teepee was adorned with powerful wolves howling to a large moon and the eagle, a Mi’kmaq sacred symbol soaring overhead. (For the Indigenous people the wolf signified strength, endurance, and Instinct linked with intelligence and family values and the eagle symbolizes courage wisdom and strength).

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A traditional Teepee.                                                                  Photo: ELR

The afternoon passed quickly and soon the sun was turning the orangy red color of early evening and the unmistakable high pitched buzz of mosquitoes could be heard. Reluctantly we took leave of this happy celebration promising to return another year.

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Wela’lin – Thank you for the honor and for inviting me to share your celebration!

Chapter 5: A Pioneer Cemetery

~ Gone…but not Forgotten ~

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In Memory of Sarah                                                                                 Photo:  ELR

“Many a fervid man writes books as cold and flat as graveyard stones.”
                                                                       …. Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If I were not watching closely, I would have missed the signpost pointing to this quaint little pioneer graveyard. Nestled behind bracken, weeds, and overgrown shrubs, on the north shore of P.E.I., St. Margaret of Scotland Pioneer Cemetery quietly stands. At one time it had been lovingly tended, as there are scarcely any weeds around the grave stones of all sizes and descriptions. These grave markers from yesteryear tell a myriad of stories.

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In Memory of John McIntosh  Photo:  ELR

A large stone marker bears not only the vital statistics of the deceased, but also a description of his accomplishments. The engraving detailed the deceased’s longevity. In memory of John McIntosh, died Dec 14 1881; Age 92 years; Margaret McDonald, his beloved wife died Jan 15, 1884; Age 100 years; Reqiuescant in Peace.

Engraved below the vital statistics, a small vignette proudly proclaims:
“He was for several years a member of Parliament and one of the pioneers of responsible government.”

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In Memory of Margaret                   Photo:  ELR

The graveyard’s stone markers had not fared well over the last century. In dire need of care, with some of the headstones tipping precariously close to the ground, I part the low lying scrub to view the simple memoriam inscribed on a headstone, almost totally obscured by the ground which seemed to be swallowing it whole.
The vital statistics were no longer visible (if they ever were) as well as the surname. I was intrigued by the lone inscription;“In memory of MARGARET”
A crucifix, with a sheep in repose is carved inside an engraved heart. Roses lovingly adorn the uppermost corners, and in spite of the absence of any other information, the message is clear; “Margaret” was loved.

Some of the grave markers were very grand.  There was a marked and vast difference between some of the simpler markers and the tall stately granite stones.  Some granite markers were flush with the ground and the grass, moss and bracken appear to obliterate them completely.

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A stately tombstone:  In Memory of Peter Angus MacPhee; Died Jan. 10 1868 Photo: ELR

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A humble and endearing granite marker flush with the ground…for a Mother Flora and her Son Hugh.                                                                                                                       Photo:  ELR

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Moss grows on this Sandstone marker engraved for Sarah McGillvray.

My visit to St. Margaret’s little pioneer cemetery was on a hot summer day. There was scarcely a sound, other than the occasional bee or insect buzzing around. Sitting on the hard weathered ground, I experienced a communion of sorts, with the souls buried beneath this hallowed ground.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below; Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”                                                                            …William Shakespeare

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In Memory of Angus McDonald                                                     Photo:  ELR

[A restoration project was completed on this cemetery since this post was written. For more information visit the site: www.peipioneercemetery.com

Chapter 4: A P.E.I. Farming Legacy

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Purebred Ayrshire cows grazing in the field. One had taken notice of the photographer. Photo: M. Juanita Rossiter

“Growing up on a dairy farm, you certainly learn discipline and a commitment to purpose.”                                                                                                Mike Johanns

Ayr Bay Farm St. Peter’s Bay PEI             Photo:  P. Rossiter -Ayr Bay Farm

The sign reads: Visitors Welcome. On the road to Greenwich P.E.I., the evening sun setting over St. Peter’s Bay casts a red orangey glow on the hay bales that are lined up neatly in the hayfield. A long red clay and gravel lane leads to the barnyard, with the customary farmhouse, barn, tractors, and other farm machinery. Sounds emitting from the barn are a mixture of cows bawling and machine motors running.

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Molly on guard.                                                Photo: P. Rossiter – Ayr Bay Farm

A black and white sheep dog, Molly patrols the yard, while numerous cats and kittens skitter about. Grazing in a field in front of the house, behind a single strand of electric fencing, a small herd of cattle slowly lift their heads to inspect my approach. Finding my presence boring at best, they resume their munching on the more interesting blades of grass and clover before them. This is no ordinary herd of cows. These brown and white beasts are purebred Ayrshire dairy cattle, born and bred to be show cattle, and the best in their breed of milk producers.

Ayshire cows grazing peacefully in the field.                                                                             Photo: M. Juanita Rossiter

The owners of this dairy farm are second and third generation. Their love for the profession and industry is evident is every aspect of the operation. Though humble in appearance, this is no humble operation. Ayr Bay Farms  is a modern day operation equipped with state-of-the-art milking and feeding machines customized to consider a herd of 80 cattle’s individual dietary needs with great care, according to their milk production levels or stage of lactation. This might be daunting work for one man, but this is not the case. The owner and overseer have been in the business for over 60 years. The father/son team shares the duties of the working day beginning at 5:30A:M to 8:00P:M; seven days a week. Only peak periods during hay season, or a short holiday, do they relinquish the care of their prize herd to hired farm hands. Otherwise, every day is a work day, with no complaints. The barn is a hive of activity. Parallel lines of stalls house an array of milk cows all busily feeding and occasionally looking up to watch the visitors.

Feeding time in the barn. An automatic feeder is making the rounds with a huge bale of hay.                                                                                                                            Photo: Angie Dunn

Young calf already registered and tagged. Photo: Angie Dunn

With all aspects of the dairy operation inspected twice a year, milk consumers should be comforted to know that such strict regulations are adhered to in this industry. As is tradition with purebred cattle, cows on the farm are given names at birth. You might be introduced to a Suzie, Cheryl, Glitter, or Happy Jodie. The inspiration for the names is not disclosed, but family and friends pay close attention to newborn calves ensuring their namesakes appear later in the show rings.

White kittens…the owners personal favorite.                   Photo: P. Rossiter – Ayr Bay Farm

A barn is not a barn, without a cat or two, or three. Peering out from stalls and hay bales, most are cautious, but the young run about totally oblivious to the huge cattle in the stalls, and the danger of being trampled. As a young girl, many a kitten I carried home from this farm. Years later my own children chose two kittens from this barn litter to become cherished household pets. The owners pride and joy are the white kittens who are famous mousers (likely due to the extra thumb). They have been a familiar sight on this farm for at least two generations. Living in harmony with Molly, the sheep dog, they play an important role in keeping the rodent population down on the farm.

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There is an air of contentment in this barn, for both the animals and their human keepers. Life is good on this farm. When asked why he chose this profession, my young host farmer, replied. “I think it takes a special person to be a farmer, not better, just different. If farming was supposed to be so easy, everyone would be doing it!”

And special he is; working a 7-day week unquestionably demonstrates his love for this job. Having the joy of watching newborn calves grow up to be show cattle, and other farms throughout Canada vying for their offspring, is his reward… for a job well done!

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Ayr Bay Farm’s C Sandy – 3 yr old.                                                                                    Professional photographer Vicki Fletcher.                Photo provided by Ayr Bay Farm

“Farming with live animals is a 7 day a week, legal form of slavery.”…George Segal

Winter at Ayr Bay Farm                                                        Photo: P. Rossiter – Ayr Bay Farm

Chapter 3: Lobster Fishing in PEI; Opening Day

“They that go down to the sea in ships….”
Psalms, 107:23-30, KJV

The dashboard clock reads 5:00 AM. On this small wharf in Sturgeon P.E.I., it is still dark; that darkest hour just before daybreak; with a fine drizzle and light fog shrouding the wharf. Fishermen are bustling about, with their small fleet securely tied at the wharf. Their diesel motors are idling, at ready, for the first day of lobster fishing. This morning is ‘settin day’. It also happens to be ‘opening day’ when they typically would be ‘haulin’ in their first catch of the season. Despite the delay caused by high wind and generally nasty weather, they are good to go.

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The fishing fleet is loaded and ready.                                                                         Photo: ELR

Ever wonder how the succulent lobster arrives on your dinner plate? Well, if you are on a wharf in Eastern P.E.I. on May 1st , ‘opening day’, you can witness firsthand the back breaking work and careful planning it takes to fish, and catch, the crustaceans that our nation covets.
The mood on the Sturgeon wharf this morning is light, and a feeling of excitement and expectation lingers in the air, as captains and crew ‘made ready’ their fleet. While some of the crew is having their first smoke of the day, a kettle boils rapidly in a fishing boat’s cabin, brewing the first morning cup of tea.

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The Kimberly Dawn                                                                                                            Photo: ELR

This is a family affair for most of these men. Generation after generation has fished the same lobster licenses on the same fishing grounds. One captain has his ‘first mate’ on board, proudly introducing her as his wife. It’s quite evident she knows the drill. She carries her load well, baiting the traps each day, and later, when the traps are hauled, she baits them again for their eventual return to the sea. On the same wharf, a young fisherman has his boat loaded and ready. His first mate, his son of 17 years, secures the lines and steps confidently around the bow of the Kimberly Dawn. Smiling and jovial, he makes mention that he has been fishing since he was in the ‘womb’. It is evident this young fisherman has inherited his love for the sea.

Lobster traps stacked neatly on the wharf.                      Photo: Sara Roach-Lewis

At first sight, there appears to be as many traps still on the wharf, as there is loaded on the fishing boats. There is scarcely room for the crew to move about. Each boat looks almost identical, bearing half their quota of 300 traps neatly stacked on board. Today, these traps, each weighing almost 100 pounds, will be set on their fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait on the south shore of Prince Edward Island.
The ‘corks’ or helpers are mingling on the wharf sharing stories of prior years, and lamenting on what this year will bring. The early morning air is cool, and you can see their breaths in the shadows of the dock lights. Their voices are muted, and I sense I’m witnessing a very intimate moment. Oddly, I feel like an intruder, stumbling upon some sacred ritual. Eying me suspiciously, with my yellow rubber boots and rain gear, they see the flash of my camera, and their mood changes. They snicker at the mere idea of a photo shoot in the early morning hours.
They are a proud lot, and I am honored, to be sharing this moment and space on their wharf on a chilly morning with temperatures hovering around four degrees Celsius. As the first light of dawn casts new shadows over this small fleet, few words are spoken. By some instinctive signal, the crews board their vessels, and in a quiet and unhurried pace, they perform their assigned tasks. Methodically, the crews untie their sterns and bow lines, and not once, did I hear a captain bark orders.
Within minutes, the entire fleet is untied, and underway, to their fishing grounds. While most Islanders were just waking up, lobster fishermen in this small community of Sturgeon were already well on their way out to sea.

This fisherman is no stranger to lobster fishing. Here he readies the traps for settin.        Photo:  A.Roach

Underway from the Sturgeon Wharf. It is 6:00 A.M.                                       Photo: A. Roach

A light fog slowly lifts off the water’s surface.                                                            Photo: ELR

So caught up in this sight, I was unaware for a moment I was standing alone, on the vacant wharf. The low rumble of their motors fade as they negotiate the channel, and hearing their distant laughter ricocheting over the water’s surface, I was awed by their camaraderie. As I watched them through the mist and low lying fog, I sensed that I was not alone. I felt the ghostly presence of many ‘fishermen past’, who fished these same waters for decades, and who like me, were feeling the same sense of pride, and excitement that thrilled these fishermen today.

In Western P.E.I., the lobster season is later in the summer.  In Malpeque Bay, at the end of the day the fishermen dock their boats with precision at the wharf.  A local P.E.I. photographer captured the breathtaking serenity of a sun setting on the wharf in Malpeque.

Calm night at the wharf Paul Arsenault

Calm night at the wharf.                                                      Photo: Paul Arsenault Photography

Chapter 2: The Old Home Town

Breakwater St. at sunset.                                                                                           Photo:  ELR

“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”                ~John Howard Payne

Souris Town Hall          Photo:Angie Dunn

 

At first glance, my old home town looked the same. Closer inspection showed the old, juxtaposed with the new. The grocery store, long since closed, where I once knew the meat cutter on a first name basis, had morphed into a mega store in the town’s east side industrial park.

 

 

 

Colville Bay, with its long expanse of white sandy beach paralleling the causeway at the entrance to the town is a breathtaking welcome.

A boardwalk allows residents and visitors to stroll the beachfront and listen to the magnificent ocean breakers. If so inclined this beach is popular for sea glass collectors, windsurfers, swimmers and sunbathers. Stop awhile and visit the seasonal shops showcasing local artisan crafts or grab a quick snack at the lobster shack on the boardwalk.

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Souris Beach on the causeway at low tide.                                                               Photo: ELR

It’s a town where everyone knows their neighbor. If you are looking for anonymity, you will quickly discover the locals have already pegged you as a visitor ‘from away’. Islanders, with their quirky accents, hinting of Irish, Scotch, or French ancestry are a trusting assembly of grass roots people. It’s an Island community with a distinctive personality, where front doors are sometimes left unlocked; the belief that locks are only for honest people.

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From the archives…………..

They say you can’t go back. Well you can. And I did. A yearly visitor for almost two decades was not enough, however, to prepare me for the culture shock of moving from a metropolitan area, to a small urban community. Each summer, with our two children, my husband and I made the trek home to P.E.I. The children immediately became enchanted, and referred to P.E.I. as ‘the vacation island’, long before they had any awareness of the tourism commercials. Their summertime experiences provided many hours of enjoyment; experiences their urban friends could only read about. Whether it was discovering secluded beaches the tourists had yet to find; deep sea fishing on large fishing vessels; clam digging on the numerous sandy beaches; or catching minnows in a net off the piers,  their summer pastimes were boundless.

Black eyes Susans growing wild.                  Photo: Angie Dunn

Wildflowers growing in abundance in the ditches, to be gathered later to adorn our tables, never failed to delight our children. One such afternoon, while driving by one of the countless country fields laden with dandelions, my young son remarked on how beautiful they were. While some residents spent countless hours and money trying to eradicate the pesky dandelions from their lawns and gardens, our little boy saw pure beauty in this delightful explosion of color. I have since become more patient with these pesky flowers, and have given up trying to rid our lawn of them.

The pump. Still standing after all those years.       Photo: Angie Dunn

 

A visit to my old homestead was laden with nostalgia. Some things had changed, while others remained the same. An antique pump proudly stands at ready over a shallow water well. Lovingly maintained for the past 70 years, it was no surprise that it was still in working order.

 

 

Returning to live in Prince Edward Island after all those years was a dream come true. It has taken me a few years to grow accustomed to this unique culture again, but once I did, there was no going back.

Life on this Island, with its red soil and fresh ocean breezes is akin to drinking a tonic. Until I returned, I had no idea what was missing from my life!

Home from away~                                                                                                         Photo: ELR

 

Home From Away: Introduction

A rocky path of Island sandstone leads you to a sandy beach.                                                                         Photo: Angie Dunn

“There’s a rhythm of life here on this Island; like a pulse, ever so subtle.” ELR  

For seventeen years, I dreamed of moving home. “Home” is an Island, and Canada’s smallest province nestled on the East Coast, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This book blog is about Prince Edward Island; my home. I have dedicated the content to showcase rural Prince Edward Island from my perspective alone. Born and raised in a rural community, near the little seaside town of Souris, it is totally my subjective, and personal view of life, people, and culture, in a place for which I have great affection.

Welcome to Souris!             Photo: Angie Dunn

I did not include the obvious, in other words, information you can find in a tourist guide. My aim is to take you on an adventure; to discover the things I love about this quaint little Island; through personal glimpses of century old graveyards, back roads, farms and fishing villages, and more importantly, the lives of local, everyday people. Look real close, because some of the scenes and subject matter may be in your own backyard!

Welcome to this “up close and personal” look at Prince Edward Island; where the quality of life is second to none; where people look you in the eye and say a friendly hello; or wave to you in passing; whether they know you or not. Far removed from metropolitan perpetual haste, the laid-back, unhurried pace is guaranteed to work its magic on your soul.

One of many stunning sunsets on the Montague River.                                             Photo: ELR

I had a dream. I am content. And I am, finally, ‘home from away’.

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Enjoy a  stroll on a sandy shore…no shortage of these on PEI.                                 Photo: ELR