Chapter 8: Spring in Prince Edward Island

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“April Showers Bring May Flowers.”

Beautiful beyond description.                                            Photo: E.D.Stanley

Witnesses to this scene in a field of Queen Anne’s lace will be tempted to overlook the wildflowers, overshadowed by this youthful beauty!

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The calendar tells us it is spring. But anyone in PEI has only to look out the window to refute this fact. Mounds of snow still linger, residuals of numerous snowstorms throughout what some say was one of the longest winters they can remember. With the official spring here I would be remiss if I didn’t blog about spring in PEI of the not so distant past. After moving here, spring was one season I had forgotten about. So over time I made notes about this wonderful season. A season of awakening and new beginnings.

A Typical Spring in PEI

The last remnants of winter snow and ice has melted away. Winter boots and skis are stored away once again, and finally, spring arrives on P.E.I. After ice and snow storms ravaged P.E.I. for four months, spring is joyfully welcomed. April’s heavy rains, and rare days of sunshine bring the first vestiges of green, and new life forms appear.

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Bald Eagle                                                          Photo: Paul Arsenault Photography PEI

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Raccoons are plentiful in PEI.                       Photo: Paul Arsenault Photography PEI

The month of May arrives with small animals appearing in droves. Skunks and raccoons return, as if by magic, to steal young daffodil bulbs, or to hide in compost bins to await their next feast. Bald eagles hover overhead, ready to dive into the shallow waters to feed on fish now visible since the ice has left.

Young red fox cubs are often seen scampering across the fields hunting mice and moles that have come out of hibernation. Food is plentiful now. Mounted on windows throughout the countryside, hummingbird feeders stand replenished, awaiting their first visitors. Islanders love their wildlife! Finch birds that seemingly hibernated in some areas are back singing their spring songs on top of the feeders. They mimic our joy of seeing sunshine and some green grass.

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A young fox cub ready for play.                  Photo: Paul Arsenault Photography PEI

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Squirrels and bluejays often compete for the same food.                         Photo: ELR

Canada Geese dot the cornfields and hay fields feasting in preparation for their young. Ganders stand at attention making their arrivals known with incessant honking. Squirrels and Blue jays fight over nuts and sunflower seeds heaped in feeders.

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A Blue heron swoops in for a landing on the shores of the Montague River where fish are plentiful. A welcome sight, they signal the official arrival of spring in P.E.I.

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A Blue Heron is almost invisible in these surroundings.                                         Photo; ELR

Fiddleheads (young fern not yet unfurled); now abundant near damp and mossy low lying areas are a delicacy for those who relish the earthy flavor of this natural wild growing plant. Fiddleheads are rich with nutritional value and if I was to liken them to anything, I would say they taste like spring!

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Fiddleheads about to unfurl!

In the woodlands of Naufrage, near streams rich with damp soil, other delightful signs of spring are sprouting. You might mistake this wildflower with its large bright conspicuous leaves for buttercups, but a closer inspection of this five-petal flower reveals leaflets similar to a strawberry plant. The “Silverwood” wildflower is related, as they are both of the rose family. This plant provides seeds for small birds and mice and is named for this silvery underside of the leaves. The leaves were believed to relieve the pain of sore feet, if stuffed into the soles of your shoes.

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Silverwood flower commonly found near streams.                                             Photo: ELR

The spring brings the clothes out to the clothesline to capture that ‘fresh air’ aroma that cannot be mimicked no matter how hard they try. The earth is still very damp and the moist clay is ready for planting. We have very fertile soil here in PEI and of course the potato (which should almost be our provincial emblem) will be sprouting everywhere in the countless farmer’s fields from East Point to West Point.

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Rubber boots – a ‘must have’ in the spring. Photo; ELR

The four seasons are very distinct here. One does not blend into the other as I often experienced in another province whereby one day we were wearing boots and the next day, open toed shoes. We wear clothing appropriate for all four seasons and it is prudent that a resident of PEI be the owner of a pair of rubber boots!

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Soon I will back on the shore, enjoying our spectacular sunsets, beach combing and well…just sitting.

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“Just Sit”                                                                        Photo; Paul Arsenault Photography PEI

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

Deck the Halls…Keeping it Simple

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“Deck the Halls with boughs of Holly, falalalala, la la la la.  ‘Tis the Season to be Jolly…”

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Our front hall…silver water pitcher with Holly cut from our bushes

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.

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My Dad had a box sleigh similar to this one

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 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.  The scent of a ‘real tree’ would linger through our house over the next few weeks.

We didn’t have a lot in the way of decorations.  A lot of them were homemade and my older sisters made a delightful Manger out of paper Mache.  Today it would be priceless.  I was thrilled to have a manager because it was the most important part of Christmas to me.  Dad would lop off the excess branches at the bottom of the tree and like a scavenger I would select the best ones to prop behind the Manger and voila…the Nativity scene would be complete and the Christmas season would begin.  I used the remaining branches to decorate a little corner shelf that was above my Dad’s rocking chair.  I had the decorating bug even then and of course at Christmas it was a perfect opportunity to try all things creative and I was given free reign.  Nothing much has changed.

“Away in a Manger, no crib for his bed; The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head…”

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A miniature Manager

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My own creation

This year I was inspired by a Facebook site called Beach-gemming Sea Glass to Inspire.  They posted a picture of a Christmas tree made from sea glass and driftwood.  I added my own twist of course and used a real starfish for the star and burlap for the background to enhance the rustic/organic theme.  A photo frame that had been tucked away in the back of a closet was the perfect backdrop with its length of 24” allowing me to have a tall skinny tree.  It is prominently displayed in my front entrance with an antique table below draped in a burlap runner.  Pine cones and rustic candle holders completed the country Christmas theme.

Over the years we buy local trees and if weather and time permits we head out to a tree farm to cut our own.  It is always a surprise to see how huge the tree is once it gets inside – the woods have a way of dwarfing even the most majestic trees.  The first year in our seaside home, we gave in to the temptation of putting up a 14 ft tree.  With 20 ft ceilings, it was majestic indeed!

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Cutting the 14 ft tree = frosty hands and feet!

This year I have decided to keep it simple.  After forty years of collecting, decorations now come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  I have to consciously NOT go over the top.  I made a plan and I am sticking to it.  For reasons I will explain in another blog, I will keep things ‘seasonal’ as opposed to ‘Christmasy’.  Oh yes, there will be the Manager and of course the Tree, but instead of transforming our house into something where you will need a compass to find your way out, it will hopefully have a simpler streamlined look.

“Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

How lovely are thy branches…”

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Santas tucked deep in the tree and Gingerbread man cookies

So here goes.  All the decorating experts advise to start outside and work your way in.  While the weather was still balmy, the lights, floods and urns at the front door were duly decorated and ready to go.  I have never blogged earlier years decorating themes but that is okay.  This year will be the first.  Our grandson is at the perfect age.  Christmas will hold a new meaning for him this year and with his extended vocabulary I am certain HOHO will be replaced by many more words of wonder.   In keeping with his youth, Nannie’s tree will have HOHO’s on it …and plenty of them.  It’s only right.  I will need to dig really deep to find those Santa ornaments but find them I will.

“On the First Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…a partridge in a pear tree.”   Well it wasn’t really a partridge, but a red cardinal will do just fine!

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Beautiful red cardinal nestled in a snow globe

Each year I treat myself to one new thing (okay, maybe two new things).  This year I was obsessed with red cardinals.  My Mother loved birds and red cardinals were one of her favorites.  When she passed away, I kept a little ceramic red cardinal ornament.  It makes me smile every time I see it.  On a shopping trip with a dear friend, I mentioned I was looking for a red cardinal for my tree.  There were birds of every feather to be had…but no red cardinals.  Feeling disappointed we continued on.  My friend said not to worry, she was certain all we had to do was turn a corner and we would find one.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  Tucked away behind a plethora of other Christmas decorations was a red cardinal sitting tall and proud in a snow globe.  Well then!!  I picked it up; my friend and I stared at it in disbelief.  I own it now and this year it is my new prized possession.  It is the first thing you see in my entrance. On our way to the Christmas parade, my husband and I took a shortcut through a Mall downtown.  We passed a gift shop and I had the strongest urge to go in and window shop…just for a few minutes I promised.  It took only a few minutes because there …in all its splendor was the most glorious red cardinal tree top.  I gently removed it from the tree and passed to my husband.  We both laughed and he said it was destined to be mine.  So cheers to red cardinals this year!  My Mom would be happy.

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A spectacular red cardinal sits proudly atop our Christmas tree.

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A twig tree with feathery friends lights up a corner in the dining room

Nature themes were always a favorite so it’s no surprise to see a bare-branched tree in my house.  Over the years I had ‘nature trees’ of sorts so this year it will be more seasonal and will stay around for several months.  My son willingly swung an axe and the tree was made to measure.  A mixed collection of birds and owls adorn the branches.  A beaded mini light chain will illuminate the branches mimicking a snowy winter night with owls hooting to their friends.  A small display at ‘little people’s height’ surrounds the base bringing the ten foot branch down to their size.

It wouldn’t be Christmas by the sea if I didn’t have a Nautical Christmas display somewhere.  It all started with a bottle.  A friend presented me with this gorgeous bottle with a clipper ship embossed on the front.  I placed it on my mantle…and the nautical look took over from there.  An antique ship’s wheel (it has been seen in different places in our house throughout the years) found a new resting place atop the mantle.  Antique glass floats from my husband’s father and of course a token piece of driftwood from our shore completes the look.  A few branches gently pruned from my holly bushes and mini lights behind the ship’s sails transform the mantel into Christmas and after the season, twigs and lights once removed, the mantle can remain ‘as is’ until Spring.

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A Nautical theme mantelscape with sprigs of Holly = instant Christmas

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A closeup of the bottle that inspired the mantelscape

This year battery operated candles are corralled in one place for a more dramatic effect.  They are on timers so it is a display that’s easy (and safe) and took very little time to arrange.  Oversized Jack pine cones and fresh pomegranates fill the floor length mirror used to cast extra light on the arrangement.  When the candles are lit they give off a soft vanilla scent.  Not bad for fake candles.

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battery operated vanilla scented candles and fresh pomegranates…yum

Christmas centerpiece kitchen

A round tray holds an assortment of antique crocks and amber glassware.

A kitchen nook centerpiece is the result of an inspiration from a Holiday Cottage issue.  It is not exactly like the one shown (it never is) but it was my source of inspiration.  Plus it allows me to display antique crock pieces I received over the years as gifts.  It is also practical and with a few ‘seasonal’ additions, (the jack pine cone and poinsettia), it too can stay there long after Christmas is over.

My dining room table is usually the last thing to be decorated.  I begin in November to think about what I will do for the centerpiece and place settings.  I started a list. Again, I never have to go far to find what I want because of ‘stuff’ I have collected over the years.  Inspiration usually starts with one thing.  My favorite color setting other than the traditional Christmas colors is amber.  It all started with these inexpensive reproduction amber glass goblets I found at Homesense in October.  They were perfect and exactly what I had been looking for.  Paired with a taller crystal wine glass they will be perfect for providing a little more sparkle to the table.  It was my one ‘new’ thing for the table this year.

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My fav find – amber goblet reproductions

ice bucket arrangement

An ice bucket (circa 1970’s) is the perfect vessel to hold a seasonal arrangement for the tablescape.

Almost forty years ago we received a silver ice bucket as a wedding gift.  I was ‘on the hunt’ for a vessel for a tablescape.  It was a delight to find it tucked at the back of the china cabinet.  Black with tarnish, it didn’t really look festive, but with a little buffing and polishing it was perfect.  Filled with a mini Poinsettia, and crystal beads, the bucket can be kept filled with water to keep the arrangement fresh for days. I love rustic as well so the table topper is made of jute (or burlap).  It was used as a tree skirt in years past – so it found a new life and purpose this year.  Mixing old and new, traditional and antique, the table has an eclectic feel and look.  Bon Appetit!

Each Christmas Eve after our little family has attended mass for the children, we arrive back home hungry and happy.  We have our traditional Christmas meal and exchange presents.  It is a magical night.

“Silent Night, Holy Night…All is calm, All is bright”

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Poinsettia, crystal reindeer; silver stars and Christmas tree side plates all together a Christmas table make.

Merry Christmas to all and to all…a good night!