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Monday, 30 January 2017

Winter light

Seasonal affective disorder, SAD, is a yearly visitor at my house. I miss the light this time of year and want to retreat from social occasions. I lack enthusiasm and energy for regular events, could stay inside for weeks and never feel the desire to venture out. But, in spite of myself, I have embraced the outdoors this winter.

On a gray January day, light has a quality of twilight which has always been my favourite time of day. However, it feels wrong all day long. This winter though, I have spent more time outdoors than in recent years and appreciate winter light.

The quality of the light, depends on the cloud cover, or lack of it.


The light reflects off the whites of the environment, the snow and the ice on the harbour. 


With massive blue-gray clouds, reflected light creates magic.


Further down the boardwalk on this day, the young man who owned this smelt shack, had to dig his shack out of the ice. The quality of the light was unusual, but beautiful, for the mid morning hour.

We are six weeks from the time change which heralds the approach of spring. The vernal equinox is less than two months away. While we can have a great deal of winter in that time, I can see an end to SAD and a return to the fullness of life outdoors. Meanwhile, I'll appreciate that winter light in spite of myself.

Friday, 27 January 2017

To the Point

The sky was low, gray and heavy, the kind of day when it feels like the ceiling is just above your head. It was -1C with a breeze making it colder as we parked the car and walked the old dirt road to MacCallum's Point. The area is in Lower Bedeque, across the harbour from Summerside, Prince Edward Island. It was quiet except for the sound of snow under our boots and the clicks of our cameras as we walked along. 


At road level, we couldn't feel the wind, thanks to the protection of the trees.

I have come to appreciate the wonder of deciduous trees in the winter. The bare branches reach to the sky 


and all the branchlets, covered with leaves in the summer, are visible this time of year in all their intricate glory. 

Overhead, a hawk circles and floats on the breeze. Further on, an owl crosses the road numerous times in pursuit of food. The birds are busy hunting.


The snow shows rabbit activity, with footprints in and out of the trees on either side of the road. No wonder the birds are so busy. 

However, raccoons are busy in this area as well. Fox tracks are common too. Predators like this area.

MacCallum's Point opens before us, red cliffs of sandstone on the edge of the ice-covered shoreline. 


Here, the full force of the wind hits us as we leave the shelter of the trees. 


Bedeque Bay and Northumberland Strait beyond have open water in spite of the bitter cold.


As we take pictures our hands become numb! Our visit is a short one. 

On the way back, the shelter of the woods is welcome as mitts warm frozen fingers. Looking off into the woods, Robert Frost comes to mind,

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
  But I have promises to keep,"


after a cup of hot chocolate.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Island moment

This time of year, when the harbour freezes, the smelt shacks appear on the ice just off-shore in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.


They look like tiny sheds or out-houses, driven onto the ice by brave residents, willing to take the chance on the ice with their vehicles. 


The goal is to fish for smelt through the ice in the relative comfort of your shack.

The structure, as small as it is, is a great wind break, making it possible to spend more than a few minutes in the cold temperatures. The most luxurious have stoves, 


making longer fishing excursions possible. At various places around the harbour, villages of these smelt shacks are usually busy over the weekend.

Last Sunday, we walked by the bay to get a closer look at the shacks. I questioned one man walking back home about one hundred meters away. He'd lit the fire and scraped the ice in front of the shack, making a hockey rink for his kids. They had their day planned.


This young man grew up in Summerside, and fished for smelt since his youth. He spears the fish, rather than use a line preferred by some. He fries, bakes or smokes them, but eats them as sushi as well. 

The smelt fishery occurs late fall or through the ice in winter when the fish are at their best. When smelt are spawning, they aren't as tasty and a fishery at that time would affect the stock.

This wonderful tradition is one of the reasons I love our island home. However, you couldn't pay me enough to drive onto that ice.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The cell

Cell phones are on my list of Things I Don't Like. I haven't become a fan of this technology. How did we ever manage in the days when people weren't available twenty-four/seven? Before cell phones, how many life-changing phone calls did people miss over the one hundred plus years since Alexander Graham Bell said those immortal words to Mr. Watson? We managed, but not any more!

Do we even turn off the devices now? I am fearful on the roads due to distracted drivers texting or talking on these phones? What message is so important you put your own and others' lives in danger? Then again, people continue to drink and drive and that danger has been known for decades. The self driving car may be the only solution.

Convenience is the key. It's not necessary to find a public phone or a phone booth since you take the cell with you. It is easily accessible and can be the connection to a world of knowledge via the internet. There is no need to wonder about anything for very long. Our need for instant answers and instant communication drives many of us.

I bought my first cell phone about ten years ago when I travelled regularly over the highway in Newfoundland to visit my mother. The phone was for emergencies and I only turned it on whilst on the road. Even today, it is rarely on and when it is, I forget to turn it off. When I need it again, it's dead. This phone is not a priority.


Conversely, there is a new app which encourages users to stay off their cell phones, to speak to others rather than tune them out. Someone is making money by timing how long we are not using our phones. I wonder if children raised today will have issues with absentee parents who were physically present but on their phones?

Meanwhile, my issues with cell phones continue. Is there an app for that?

Friday, 20 January 2017

From the back seat

Our granddaughters sat in the back seat and discussed their day as we drove home. Caitlin, three, had been at day care. She told her sister about the police officer who visited that day. She related how he caught the bad guys and kept people safe. 


Sylvie, five, asked her sister numerous questions about the police officer and his work. Finally she asked, "Did he bring a bad guy for you to see?" 

 "No," said Caitlin.

Wouldn't it be great if we could easily tell who the bad guys were? It's never that easy.

In the dynamics of relationships, how do we teach our girls to recognize the bad guys? They need to know the warning signs, the possessiveness, the imposed isolationism, the resentment, the sense of superiority, the jealousy, to name a few. It is not as easy as spotting a certain look. The girls must learn everyone has dignity and deserves respect, which includes them.

We taught our daughter these lessons years ago and as a parent, with her husband, she will do the same for her girls. We will support them in this work, as our parents supported us. As we listened to our granddaughters, the weight of the work ahead felt overwhelming. But, that work has begun already with how we, the adults in their lives, treat them and each other. However, we cannot do it alone.

Tomorrow, women around the world will march to highlight the need for equality and respect. Attitudes and actions must change and it starts with each of us. Our children deserve better.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The view from the bridge

A stream flows under the boardwalk into the harbour of Summerside, Prince Edward Island. One can pause on that bridge and look out to the harbour. Squirrels and birds stop there as well. While the setting doesn't change, the scene looks different throughout the year with colours indicative of the time.

The view from the bridge in June:


August view: 





I love all of them. Which is your favourite?

Monday, 16 January 2017

Island perspective

Born and raised in and around St. John's, Newfoundland, I've seen the fog moving in from the Grand Banks over the coastline. That fog can be so thick, it's as if it obscures everything but the tip of your nose.

When I first saw the recent time lapse video of the smog advancing over Beijing, it reminded me of the fog of home. However, that wall of white wasn't as benign as fog. This smog is deadly in its effect on the millions of people in that city. It is easy to take our clean air for granted.

One day recently as I drove to the store in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, the sun was out and the sky was clear. From the car it looked like a lovely winter day, but the appearance belied the reality. The temperature was -16 C and the high wind made it feel like -27 C, (3,-17 F). At ground level, the wind gusts blew the snow around causing drifting in open areas.  The walk from the car to the store became a run.

On the way out of the store, I stood with two other seniors, a husband and wife, as the sliding doors opened to the wind. We were blown back by the gust coming into the lobby. The man said, "That's a fresh breeze." I laughed at his reframe of the bitterly cold wind.  

But, you know, it was.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Freeze and thaw

It has been bitterly cold with temperatures in the minus teens and windchills of minus thirties Celsius. It is a damp cold that feels as if it cuts to your bone, going through jackets, hats, mitts and pants as if you were naked. However, I couldn't resist a visit to see if the harbour was frozen. In the few minutes I was there, my hands felt close to frostbitten.

Last Friday, January 6th, I posted this picture of the harbour channel, taken the previous day.


As of Wednesday, January 11th, this is the harbour channel.


Meanwhile, the temperature has risen and will be near 5 degrees Celsius for several days. There may be open water again. 

There is often a January thaw but this year, another freeze and thaw cycle is forecast. We live in curious weather times!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017


The animals that live along the boardwalk in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, are admired by the many walkers along the trail by the harbour. During the work day, retired citizens frequent the trail, often stopping to watch the animals and speak about them.

On one of our recent visits, people were concerned about an area of the trail which, up until recently, was a favourite haunt of squirrels and numerous other animals. 

Finally, one gentleman came along who reported about a white weasel that had taken up residence in this area, causing the regular residents to scatter.

As we walked further along the trail, another area of the boardwalk had numerous squirrels 


and chickadees where none had lived before.


Our grand-dog, Georgie was fascinated with the squirrels 


and would have stayed to watch them if we had not coached her along. 


The squirrels, accustomed to leashed dogs, ignored her. 


Unleashed weasels on the other hand...

Monday, 9 January 2017

Georgie and the tapioca snow

It was mild overnight, above zero and as the sun rose, it looked like the overcast skies would clear. By breakfast, bits of blue showed through the clouds. However, the temperature dropped a few degrees, just below freezing and the wind picked up.

While we read the news after breakfast, the golden grand-dog was getting anxious for her walk. 


Georgie's idleness lets us know it's time to hit the road or trail for that daily adventure into the great outdoors, regardless of the weather.

"Watch the black ice," my husband warned. "It was icy in spots early this morning." The local weatherman warned the same on his twitter account. I put on the footwear with the most traction but not the ice grips. I was not prepared for the flash freeze.

As we headed out, it started to snow from a huge black cloud over the neighbourhood. Tiny snowballs fell all around and covered us. This type of snow is known as tapioca snow or graupel. 

With the wind as it was, drifts of snow crossed the road making the ice more difficult to see. The pavement was a tapioca covered skating rink.

I gave Georgie some lead so if I fell I wouldn't land on her. That was all she needed. She pulled and when she did, off I slid, propelled by the wind at our backs and the brute strength of a golden retriever. Georgie had no trouble negotiating the ice as her claws dug in with every step. 

As I slid past the houses I was terrified. Frantic, I watched the road and the dog, hoping no cars would happen by as I was forced to go where my slide dog took me. In a panic by now, with images of the emergency room in my head, I looked for a way out of the dilemma and noticed the lawns looked safe. As Georgie swung by the curb, I jumped onto the grass. We walked there until we reached the house behind ours and crossed home through the backyard. 

Georgie, my heroine, slept most of the day. A well deserved rest!


Friday, 6 January 2017

The harbour ice at low tide

The ice in the harbour at Summerside, Prince Edward Island this time of year is fascinating.


During our last walk there this week, ice was left behind by the retreating tide, aground and fractured. 


Pans of ice are piled on each other in places and have a hint of red colour from the island sand.


They abut the shoreline near the range light and the beach along the inner part of the harbour. 


The ice stands out against the red rock which prevents erosion along the shoreline.


Meanwhile, further out in the harbour, along the shipping channel, there is open water. 


The port has been busy this week ahead of the freeze up of the Northumberland Strait.

Soon all will be frozen for another winter.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The damage

We had a wind and rain storm last week, with sustained winds over 100 kilometers an hour. We lost shingles from the roof and siding off the shed. Our neighbourhood is strewn with bits of shingles as roofers make repairs before the next wintery blast. 

Meanwhile, the trees along the boardwalk by the bay show devastation 


in the wake of the storm. 


The boardwalk has been cleared of debris but the greenbelt has not and the damage is obvious.


I fear there will come a day when the boardwalk will not be lined with trees because all will have been destroyed by high winds. 


We have another wind and rain storm today.


Monday, 2 January 2017


One of my favourite Christmas experiences is to sit by the fire reading, 


or to sit peacefully in the evening, with the Christmas tree lights, the fire and a few candles lighting the room. 

The evening is a great time for reflection, to consider the past year and whether to make changes for the year ahead. In the last year, it surprised me to discover things about myself I did not realize. It is as if my conscious mind caught a glimpse of the self my spirit always knew.

My husband and I spent time this year exploring places new to us on our island home of Prince Edward. After the tourists left, the trails, beaches, and heritage roads were empty. We didn't meet another person during our explorations, as if we were alone on the planet on these occasions.


At such times, the stillness of nature will envelope you if you permit it. Allow it to enter and you become one with the breath of the earth, the rhythm of the living world. 


The cycle of life from new to old unfolds all around you. A river or stream babbles so as to report its delight in its condition and by its motion reaffirms the cycle.

We have walked busy streets in various cities around the world, such as New York, London, Sydney, and Paris. We enjoyed the hustle and bustle on the streets, the opportunities to explore and experience new things. We may do it again.

However, I have learned that for me, nothing compares to the feeling which comes with time in nature, walking a trail or beach and sharing a beverage, often a thermos of tea, with a loved one. The tea is almost a sacrament, a symbol of the serenity which bathes the body and inspires the soul. The air is fresh, and the sounds of the water, the birds, the wind in the trees all soothe the mind and body. 


Self discovery is an important part of aging. Better late than never.