Essays


 

Where the Winter Birds Go


 

 

 

I go. Or went. Well this one time anyway. I can spare you the air events. Airports make me weary. Oh so weary. I kept all my change and my belts and my other personal belongings. Into the gray trays and back out. Canadians don’t care if you take off your shoes or not through their security torture zones. It is odd. American air security certainly insists. Chicago to Toronto, a city over which I have not flown and above which from the air is just a massive spreading metropolis. My comment from the air was millions, wow, I said, with side roads from the lakeside downtown sprawl sprouting their own skyscraper rows—spokes on the great wheel. Canadians, oh Canadians, I find now that Toronto has 2.5 million in the city and 5.5 million in the surrounding area. Good Lord. Who knew? (2.5 being more than Arkansas’ entire population.) Chicago has 2.6 and 9.8, we suburban Americans clustering even more, well, let’s say dependently, to our great city centers. Sigh.

 

On to Halifax which from the air is just absolutely surrounded by green. Arkansas was already appearing burnt and brownish when we left (99, 100, 102). Halifax being green and greener and a 390-thousand-humans kind of place. Something like Little Rock only with oceans and bridges. They keep their airport 15 miles out of town. Smart planning if it was planning. They have moose crossings on their road signs though I saw no meese. They have roadkill Porcupines and surely the densest Raccoon population on earth from my random roadside victim count. The city itself is bicycle crazy. A good thing. Camry taxis. No trash. The oldest looking graveyards and gravestones I have seen since England. The ancient graveyard down the road from our hotel has a daily guide who stays there. Benches and green green grass. Seagulls soar over. I find a Herring Gull walking among black rainworn gravestones. Herring Gulls are huge by the way. In Arkansas one gets adapted to our wintering Ring-bills. In Halifax, the Herring reigns. And they make Ringies look like pigeons. You can hear the big gulls at dawn out the open windows in the cool air. And they make some very odd noises. I laughed out loud several times. Thinking I had overheard a dawn drunk, a rooftop belch. Ringies having a fairly shrill and standard repertoire; Herrings are chatty. And they rip open people’s trash on the street. I never saw a stray dog in town. Herrings seem to do the stray dog work in Halifax. (Don’t drop your lobster roll on the boardwalk is all I am saying.) The only real bird songs in town being Herring chortles and barks and groans and moans along with Song Sparrow territorial song and the mournful Rock Pigeons and ragtag Crows. And of course, the Starling, already with their young fledged birds afoot. I note the larger Ravens seem to limit themselves to less urban areas, at least in Halifax. I judge cities by their local bird sound. I know it is wrong. It is what it is.

 

We are beyond Maine, if you needed orientation, in the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Halifax being the major city in Nova Scotia. And remembered by trivia nuts for its wrecks. Specifically Swissair flight 111 and, um, the Titanic. Swissair had an in-flight fire that got out of control and the plane went down in the bay SW of Halifax near Peggy’s Cove, five miles off shore. It came down from ten thousand feet or greater and disintegrated on impact. The Titanic of course, went down southeast of Halifax after that unfortunate iceberg incident. The Titanic dead who could be buried are mostly resting now in Halifax graveyards. Many were buried at sea after being located on the cold, cold water or buried at sea by not being located at all. There is a museum in Halifax that seems to focus on this most famous of maritime disasters. I could not go in the place. I stared through the windows. And then once we wandered in the lobby during a short rainstorm. Lists of dead. Washed up items. “Unknown child’s shoes.” “Mrs. Astor’s life jacket.” I would choose the sinking ship over the airliner plunge, certainly. But still. We do not get to choose. Otherwise I would pick planet slamming into planet in some great galaxy merge. Who could number the dead? Starlight blended, stardust to stardust. Just say you understand. I don’t know.

 

Waterside in Halifax is a long boardwalk, meant for bikers and shoppers and joggers. It seems to be the place where people go to eat. I walk and look for seabirds. I find more Pigeons and the Herring Gull toughs who rule the boardwalk. I think I see a tattoo on one bird. Double-crested Cormorants are the major birds flying out in the saltwater scape beyond us few humans. Now and then a delicate looking Common Tern comes by. Or a less delicate jogger. The Canadians believe that 60 degrees Fahrenheit is shorts and t-shirt weather. I have three layers on with the sea breeze in the early hours. They seem to love ice cream and hand held snack foods. And I have to agree on the panco-crusted Haddock bites. Around me the pigeons are amorous in the salty air. But when are pigeons not amorous I suppose?

 

I sit on the steps out in the front of my hotel at dawn with my hot cup of coffee and watch Herring Gulls work the rooftops. I want to be a gull working the rooftops. I am surrounded by flower gardens. Bicyclists wheel by. And some very clean looking recyling trucks. The Blues bar across the street looks like it stays up late. Though I don’t see any casualties on the streetside. I can smell some breakfast cooking from someone’s window. I walk eastward past the beautiful graveyard and up a hill. Some kind of masted monument looms there. More bicyclist whiz around. The city falls away toward the bay and the boardwalk. I am up before most of the traffic. Another city gull nearby tears at a large bag of trash. I think he has it open. That surgical beak. Do they have a sense of smell? I forget. I walk up close and he gives me the eye. The cautionary eye that suggests what he can do to my shins.

 

Tracking north out of town we bump up against rain and the north coast of Nova Scotia. The roads are bird quiet mostly. Raptors less active here. Porcupine roadkill would take a specialized raptor I think. And vultures are unseen, rare on the lists. Grackles and crows, a passing Raven pair or two, the ubiquitous pigeon. My wife being a knitter, we see a sign for a yarn shop, a family farm of sheep. And my daughter is constantly on the look out for animals to touch or gaze upon. I T-turn back and we rumble up to barns and a lovely farm landscape. A pond of Black Duck parents and ducklings, Bobolinks singing. Goldfinches make their familiar goldfinchy noises. Waxwings wheeze, more Starlings chase and pass, disappear into uncut fields. The store is full of yarn products, and though I am an amateur shopper compared to the girls, I find I want these lovely socks, these warm winter hats. “Can we go in the barns?” (The only thing better than shopping in my daughter’s mind.) “Sure.”

 

And off we go. The place is sheeped up. Rich with hay. Apparently the sheep are sheared only once a year. The closest youngsters look semi-fluffy. My daughter stretches outward from the fence as far as she can reach. The young sheep stare at her like she is defying some shepherd rule we do not know. I can still hear Bobolinks outside, though my daughter is oblivious to them. Pigeons coo and shuffle in the barn roofing. The sheep chew and stare. More of those two leggers, they think. They feed me, then they tear off my hair. They minister, they hurt. Ah, relationships. Back in the store the girls pile up more booty. Socks and yarn, scarves and blankets. I imagine our suitcases later on, if this is just the first stop in the countryside. The young clerk, obviously a family member of the owner, is watching us with growing amazement. He has never seen such shoppers. His father, or at least a father figure, comes in and whispers something about bringing him some Chinese food, sweet-and-sour something. “Not now father,” he nods towards the tower of goods. I can only wonder where in the Holy Canadian landscape does one get Chinese take-out?

 

Rain and broken storm light leads us to the passage across to the island. To some manmade wonder of a bridge that is barely twenty years old or so. Before that it was all ferry traffic or direct flights to Prince Edward Island. Drizzle and fog takes us onto the bridge and it is a lonely crossing with not another car in sight on our side of the span. We seem to just lift onto a ramp into the low sky and speed across miles and miles of ocean (actually eight miles). The bridge apparently stays open all winter. Or on most winter days, I am guessing. The competing ferries have to stop service with the vast water icing over each winter. The island, I presume, completely losing contact by automobile in the past from December to April. The bridge opened in May of 1997 and cost someone one billion dollars to build. The toll, which is levied only on exiting the island, is 45 dollars for a standard passenger car. Just on the opposite side of the bridge is a small “bridge village” including a liquor store. Anyone driving over this thing in the rain has a definite craving for a stiff drink. We pull in. They do not sell drive-through shots. They do sell bottles of wine. I am armloaded, staggered back to the car and happy.

 

The island itself is green. Rain and sea breeze moisture is never a problem I am guessing in the spring and summer. It is not a problem certainly on the day we drive in. The rain does find a stop before we arrive on the northeast portion of the island. The main city of Charlottetown is wet as we pass. The bay at St. Peters initially fools me. We near our destination. I see thousands and thousands of white and black objects bobbing on the bay. My brain tries to make them all into ducks and seabirds. They discern themselves into floats arrayed over almost the entire bay. Mussel cages. Mussels being a major product of this island and its sheltered bays and coves. In reality only a few cormorants perch and dive in the bay. The Inn sits overlooking the bay with the individual rooms facing mostly west and northwest toward the sunsets. The place is floral abundance with very green lawn interspersed. And constantly in my ear from arrival onward Song Sparrows and Yellow Warblers sing. I see and hear many years worth of Yellow Warblers in any given walk around the place. Robins haunt the green grassiness. Osprey cut and stall in the breeze over the bay.

 

Greenwich point is a preserved landscape jutting out northwest of the mouth of the bay. It is one of the reasons I am staying at this particular Inn. It is a short 6 mile drive to the parking area there from our room. I see Gray Partridge and Sharp-tailed Grouse in the fields on the way. These are exotic things for me. A small check-in shack at this National preserve is empty on all the days I arrive. I go each morning at dawn before the girls are roused for breakfast. The trail is wide and well kept. Ferns and black spruce greet me. The bird song is amazing. No where else on the island will the bird song come even close. I am amazed at the number of American Redstarts. They flutter down to the ground. They all seem to be singing. Along with Swainson’s Thrushes. More Yellow Warblers. And out in the open, away from the trees a song I don’t know at first. Anymore, this is my greatest of world pleasures. Bird music I cannot place. I smile. And then up pops the sparrow that makes it. It is our wintering Savannah Sparrow. What a lovely high and whispered song. It is mixed in here and there with the local and scattered variations of so many Song Sparrows. I want to sit down and cup my ears to the bayside world. Who knew Songies were so variable even in one great long swath of island territory? And woven in are the open patchwork territories of Common Yellowthroat. The bandits I know. When I pish, the Yellowthroats come, the Songies come, the Savannahs come. I am eyeballed as evil. It is the world of upthrusted songsters, golden and brown. Everyone scolds me for being such a boor.

 

Down the track the path cuts back into spruce and fern. Into a layer of short plants that look like miniature Dogwood. I have no idea. The woods are shadowy beautiful. Cut with the song of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers. It is magic, with mosquitoes. Dark whirling mosquitoes that like my ears and the back of my neck. I wave my hat. They are a torment only in the spruce cut and then are gone when I emerge into open sky. Before me: a long back bay marsh with a gray wood boardwalk rolling away from me into dawn light and broken cloud. It floats, wobbling with my walking across the water. Possibly the world’s only place to watch distant Gannets while listening to Hermit Thrushes singing in the woods I leave behind. I hear a Red-winged Blackbird. It is like a sudden friend. The water is rusty rich. The light plays over the dunes and the marsh stretching out to the east. I am the only human in this world. The boardwalk goes up over the dunes toward the morning sky. And there I find a great stretch of beach.

 

Walking the beach, it is the kind of forever beach that appeals to me. I see no one. Truly the only humans on this patch of earth are fisherman and musselmen out in the sea. They and I are constantly surrounded by Gannets and the mind grows used to the idea that all the white birds going by are Gannets. No Pelicans. Only scattered gulls. The soil here is red and it sheds red into the ocean. The beaches are colored with red stones and red sand. Making for an extraordinary beach coloration in some magic shiftings of the light. The stones are rough and rounded, sandstone textured. From the air later I will note the rivers run bloody smoking roils out into the blue water. The clouds run over with the light punching through here and there like random revelations. Look here; look there. A spotlight that makes what was just a nice green dune into something more, something accentuated just now, in my presence. One must look.

 

And on the shore I look for juxtapositions in my short lens. Men have been here. Or men have been crushed in the sea and washed ashore. You search for something in the riff-raff, the drift up, the broken stones and fallen trees. Unexplainably, you expect a skull or a femur, whitewashed and alone. If you don’t look, you will not see. Zen or hippy, I am not sure. Solitude and the camera make you pay attention. Crab cages, rope, castaway knick-knacks I cannot quite define. This beach is known for its Piping Plover nests but I see no shorebirds. The Plovers are out. Sand fleas hop. Jellyfish are purpled here, beached and dying. Nothing seems interested in scavenging dying jellyfish. The place is trashless other than what the sea brings from the workings of fishermen and lobstermen. Apparently rare dune foxes come out at night. I look for their footprints. I could lie down and wait for dark but I would be missed. (Thank God, for this day, I would be missed.) The Herring Gulls, I know now, from local experience, are all in Halifax. They would not care anyway whether I was down or not. Above me, standing or down, the banks of red sand tower straight up and I am chided by teams of swallows. Many of them are Bank Swallows, the rare passage bird in my own country. They have a distinct chatter which I have never heard. Tree Swallows join them. When I stand near the tops of the dunes they stitch around me, always the obstacle, jutting skyward. On the way back over the boardwalk, I meet an oriental looking lady who runs up and almost grabs me.

 

“Oh you must have seen such beautiful birds!” She is waving towards my binoculars. She does not carry any herself. “I saw a Yellow one and a black and red one,” she adds.

 

I nod, about to try and name them, but she seems so happy without a name affixed to what she has seen. I open my mouth, confused. She asks where I am from and I tell her.

 

“Oh,” she says, laughing, “we are from South Carolina.” Her quiet husband is walking up behind her. And I nod and wish her a good day. I don’t tell her all these same golden and red birds come to South Carolina too.

 

On the landscape of the Inn there are several Maine Coon cats. Or at least cats with some Maine Coon DNA in their blood. They keep my daughter’s animal fix filled when we are not out on the roads looking for others. The male Tom named Jack is a huge cat. Feet like a small bear. He comes to our porch and even strolls inside the place when we leave the door ajar. He makes himself comfy on the bed. The smaller local orange Tom who apparently just recently appeared at the Inn is cautious around Jack but also comes in when the door is open. He goes and checks the bathtub first for water. I find him once next to the cabin outside slapping a freshly killed shrew around. I never saw any of the cats mobbed by birds. The eagles floating by might consider a try for a smaller cat but Jack, I think, could take an eagle if it came down to it. The eagles here, like most, are scavengers I presume, patrolling the shorelines . The cats must take an occasional Yellow Warbler. Hell, I could have caught a few myself. Though the small vocal warblers are hardly a Jackovian meal. Jack, I think, dreams of taking down an Elk.

 

Down the road east, rain drizzles and wind blows. We pass a distillery that seems to want us to stop. Like a roadside attraction. My God, drive-by friendly distilleries? I wheel around. I may be in some sort of heaven here. Perhaps they will let me help shovel the makings of some exquisite clear liquor into great warm flasks? Off with the OSHA mask. The fumes will make me dizzy. Inside a girl at a desk stands, expecting no one, she smiles at us.

 

“What are you spotting with your Nokulars?” she asks.

 

“Birds,” I tell her, “mostly, but now a distillery.”

 

Bottles of clear liquor sit on shelves, behind the desk a menu of shot samples and ice cream. (I think it IS heaven.) They make vodka from potatoes. And Prince Edward Island is known for its potatoes. They have like fifteen or more varieties of the sweet lumpy root. Surpassed, I suppose, only by fields of the Andes. I enumerate: this island makes potatoes and vodka and mussels and cheese, fresh cream. My mouth waters. They have vodka that they also make from grain, she says, grown just thirty or so miles away. (Much more than thirty and you are back in the sea I think.)  They finish this grain vodka off by infusing it over and through great mounds of island blueberries. Those are the damn blueberries I want on my ice cream. Do you have any of those? Can I go back and put my head inside the great vats? Can I stir the mash? Can I cast myself upon the fuming potato brewmass? I must have a small glass of this vodka for tasting. I have some gin also. I fumble out my American dollars. I forget it is raining. I forget I am in Canada. I think someone slaps me.

 

At the end of the days I sit on the porch of the Inn. The food there is sometimes overwhelming. Like a separate exploration of a faraway place: the mussels fresh from the sea in bacon and cream sauce. They are like no mussels you know from anywhere else. I don’t know what to say about such things. On the porch though, with wine in hand, Ospreys work against the wind in a stall and they are always stunning. Like mythical beasts. The Osprey is a world bird. A fishing bird that spans the globe. I could watch them in Norway. I could watch them in Japan. One wants to total up a life-in-the-eye of Osprey time. Of Kite time. Of Peregrine time. Seagull time. It is the currency of a watcher’s life, of living visual and awake. I close my eyes on this same porch and listen to the Yellow Warblers and the Song Sparrows. They are the auditory staff, the almost subliminal aura; the foundation. Eyes open again: the light towards the west plays tricks on the mind. Sunsets or bursts of late brightness strike the sea plane, the far north bay inlet, the keyhole to the cold rolling sea. A rainbow comes once, arcing like a gift. I try to take this curving colored thing with a camera and the camera seems so inadequate I want to dash it against the rail. The beautiful arc seems to point over and down onto one far off house. An unknowing place, they sleep or read inside I think, wondering why they suddenly feel so shivered and dreamy. Hurry. One wants to feed some unholy occipital wiring directly into the back of the head, cables burnished with blood and gaining touchy cerebral contacts that shimmer the truth directly over a line out to a memory chip and then onto the truly watching world. The eyes ache. The head would surely bleed and weep. It cannot be. It cannot be. The color washes away as I watch. Too late.

 

On the far east point and the end of the road, we wanderers jut out into the sea. The prow of the island facing northeast, water crashes on both our close shores. In the waves to the north, a thousand Gannets have found targets and are folding and folding into the water like white kamikaze boomerangs. They look like graceful death and not just simple spikes of seeking hunger. They look like arrowhead Olympians forsaking all. Not even terns have anything on the grace and danger of a Gannet going down. Over the edge of the eroded land the world falls again to red seaside. West floats a great brotherhood flotilla of Eider in varied plumage. One dark perfect Black Scoter among them. They roll and vanish, roll and vanish in the hurried liftings of the Atlantic. Oh for the ride. Oh to bash the ocean like a Gannet. Cormorants wing by looking gangly and unfortunate in the lottery of bird skills. The land beyond the lighthouse itself is dizzy down. And another duck gang works the rolls. These are all Black Scoters, perfect oranges and blacks. Where to turn and look? The girls have wandered into the restaurant. I cannot focus on food. Clouds are ripping over. Distant boats bob. One wants to raise the arms and direct all this motion that surely does not care what you do with your arms. Somewhere out there is a destiny I cannot know today.

 

Lighthouses frankly dot the map on the whole island. And usually the places they are located are vistas, windswept, slightly out of the way. My daughter likes them, ranking them just after any nearby warm-blooded animals anyway. Most of these aging light sources can be ascended by narrow stairs into the towers where the big bulb sits waiting for darkness. I am not sure I would want to push up into the tops of these things when the light is on, without my welders glasses anyway. All those angled reflective surfaces, the powered beam tremendous enough to reach the ships out there where I am not. We climb one tower, pulling in our shoulders, puffing on the second stage, banging our heads slightly on the low entrances that squeeze us upward. I can only imagine the view in winter. The metal on the upper level is mostly rusted away, the outside ring of simple lights now gapping with socket hits and misses. The salt spray obviously comes up here from way below us on the red rocks. It is a crashing great coldness I cannot see in my head. Out the window, up top, my daughter spots horses across a field. Perhaps we only climbed up these things to be able to locate animals better. I never caught on to that. She socks me in the arm for not remembering the camera.

 

I maneuver over on the back road to the fence line where the horses were spotted from the latest lighthouse. One great beast is already at the fence line. He gives my daughter a look. They are impressive horses, looking Clydesdale-dimensioned but more golden brown and less shaggy on the legs. I don’t know enough about horse breeds to name them. My daughter pets a flank and a nose and pronounces them the largest horses she has ever touched. (Hell with lighthouses, she has a beast under hand.) The field they run in is very close cropped. They overlook the sea here with room to run. In the ditch next to me some tall clumps of grass. The kind I imagine horses long for. With my back and my legs I work the clump back and forth and manage to jerk a big spire up. I hand it over to my daughter and the closest horse is on it like it is sugared apples, like it is the grass featured in flying horse dreams. The white teeth clomp and it spaghetti’s the whole length of grass inward towards that great grasping horse tongue, towards all that massive processing stomach. Soon the whole herd of four great grass-eating beasts has surrounded my daughter. I am passing root-heavy clumps of ditch grass across as fast as I can dislodge them. Some of them seem to be connected to the very core of the earth. My daughter laughs. She is surrounded by lovely animals. She is happy. As happy as she gets in the spontaneous moments in our lives when we are away, adrift, from where we belong.

 

On our last day we head south. We are charting towards a place where another family has established not only a farm of woolen beasts, but a worldwide machine exporting business. Some family mechanical genius has designed all the machinery one needs to process animal hair from start to finish. They sell their machinery in 60 countries. Their little ads in the local traveler magazines have intrigued my wife and after I look at the details, they intrigue me. The great map I bought of the island allows me to chart the last zig-zag path past this wonder. And then straight on to the ferry service south from Woods Island. Rural farmland roads with no traffic lead us down and south. Churches that seem too old and too large for any kind of local population dot the roadsides. Some of the churches on the island make me want to stop and go in. Like the churches in Poland or Russia. They are marvels whatever you have decided to believe. These things spire into the sky like they are directly connected. The road to the Mills is otherwise like all the other side roads. We swerve down to a gravel lot and long fences. This one seems to have more cars in the lot than the usual family farm stops.

 

Animals everywhere. My daughter is quickly looking for the Llamas which were in the brochure. These guys process everything including Yak hair from the arctic. They are the same Musk Oxen we have seen on BBC Nature programs. They have no local Yaks however. Or I don’t spy any. They would likely spontaneously combust so far south. Inside, the bespectacled lady demonstrating the machines has all of us hold a small coil of yak down in our hands and it actually heats up from our hand warmth, like it might indeed burst into flames. Apparently it is the most exquisite of natural protection from cold. I think with a knitted yak sweater, one could walk to Antarctica. This woman appears to know everything about all these extraordinary devices from direct and daily usage. I want to turn them all on and stare through their fiberglass walls into the workings. They are like great hair wielding clocks. The big mixed platters of fine hair ready for the pressure of the felting machine are my favorites. They are as soft as anything I have ever lifted against gravity: a floating mat of weightlessness. They have some magic formula of three or four hair types plus some bamboo fibres added to make the perfect weight and weave. They even process certain kinds of dog hair. Again, only the species with excellent cold tolerance. Damn, it must get cold up here. (Who are these people? Can I stay and work?)

 

In the kitchen at the mills, they make lunch. (What?) Home made soups. Fine breads. Local cheeses. I look for items on the menu with animal hair. I find none and I am somehow disappointed. The girls work in the kitchen right next to us. They have the true strawberry shortcake with the real biscuit-like cakes and fresh island strawberries. Did I say- who are these people? We buy another suitcase full of items in the woolen shop. I want one of the pressed felt images on the wall. But I have no way of taking these great lovely things home.

 

We rip south to the ferry point. Arriving to see that the time on the sign at the booth for departure is precisely at hand. It is one hour and fifteen minutes until the next ferry. I had taken one short wrong turn. I am beginning to regret it. The booth maiden takes my credit card as we also read the ferry fee is $67 US dollars for a single car. I had guessed maybe 40 bucks. They frankly could have charged us whatever they wanted after we had reached this far southern point of the island. The road back to the big bridge was long and winding. And there we would be charged almost $50 US to cross back over the bridge. We were hostage to these ferry Gods. She takes my money and talks on the microphone. Someone agitated answers. A worried pause. And then we are waved on quickly ahead. I, the amateur, try to go up the car ramp but some patient Canadian steps out from down below and waves me ahead to the lower ramp, to the underhold where the great large trucks are stashed. We seem to slide into the very last slot that any vehicle could have fit into. The gate comes up behind us.

 

It is a huge boat. We step out of the car looking lost, the Jonah family inside the mechanical whale. Forward, past the trucks, we punch a button that seems set to open a door and indeed a door whooshes open, sealed against some ungodly event I don’t even want to think about. We climb several flights of interior stairs. The lobby is scattered with people already sitting and reading newspapers or eating. This is the mundane for them: an afternoon jaunt across a Canadian sea. A father plays video games with his child. My daughter with her fear of seasickness sits quickly and leans on her mother’s shoulder. I wander outside on the deck. You can see Nova Scotia in the distance as just a dark line on the horizon south. I take the smoker’s platform where no smokers linger for now. It is sheltered from the wind and facing east and north as we plow south and west. A bare cable fence keeps me just a tucked pike-and-a-half-twist from a cold surrender. I see no signs that warn against unattended children. I see no unattended children. I have no idea if one can ferry pets across. But I worry about them anyway. My Visual World Atlas actually shows another tiny red line here over the sea where this ferry crossed. It is an imagined road. An obvious Rand error that would cost someone another billion dollars to duplicate or to remedy as it were. I doubt anyone has ever noticed. The sky is impressive over the water stretching away to my east. Mostly birdless, I do see the occasional motion of a Common Tern, delicate and light. Now and then a Gannet in a hurry. The wind wants my hat even in the shelter of the downwind side. 

 

I walk the full circuit of the lower outer deck. The wind blasting me on the far side. I see people up on another higher deck, laughing in the wind. I fear up there for everyone’s hat. I look back at Prince Edward Island, the place that the shiny new map in my head covers. It is the new decorated mental map edition. The red shoreline pulls away. I would like to come back to the island with a bike and run those open highways end to end. There are so many bed and breakfasts, I think you could easily sleep in a new bed every night. It is a green world with churches and sheep. People living much less complicated lives. I don’t even recall a Doctor’s office anywhere. Perhaps in Charlottetown with all its pubs and used bookstores. I must have seen one. It is nationalized care. Maybe you just show up at the big hospital complexes. And I recall the other family farm we visited, or one of the several others, somewhere inland. A tiny young lady seemed to Lord over the place. Exceedingly pleasant. I almost applied for a job once again. Animals everywhere including the herd of sheep they kept. Horses, chickens, goats, rabbits, cats, dogs: my daughter whirled like the proverbial dervish. And the owner was telling me about the process, the trade details of wool sale and blanket making while I stared out her back window where three male Bobolinks were fighting over a singing perch among some cedar branches. I think I stopped her mid-sentence.

 

“You seem to have quite a few Bobolinks here in your uncut hay.”

 

She stopped suddenly. “Oh yes,” she smiled, perhaps forgiving my distraction, “when we first moved here I saw them flying around back there and had no idea what they were. I had to go look them up in a book. They were Bobolinks. Exactly.”

 

They fly through my landscape for a week, the briefest of pleasures, once a year in spring. They are headed up here for the long summertime in the island hay.

 

And there was the other lady behind the counter at the mini-mill. That place not too far north of the Ferry stop where we brought another haul of objects up to yet another check out area for purchase. (I still have no idea how we got it all home.) She is surrounded by exotic woolens and woolen products including those dazzling paintings made of pressed felt. From some local Van Gogh of felt coloration. Seriously, these were not some hokey portraits or childlike images of farm life but truly “Birches in the Night Woods.” Or “Moonstruck in the Far Fields.” Amazing and way bigger than our suit cases. Anyway, the lady picks up the object of interest, the one we are buying.

 

“I make these,” she says. And she holds it in her hand. “I pick up the shells on the seaside and I have to polish them for, oh, forty five minutes or an hour or so.” She turns it toward us. “And then you have to carefully pack the felt inside.”

 

Indeed. It is a white polished shell. And smoothly packed in a flat placement across the mouth where the mollusk went is a colored whirl of felt, like a rainbow galaxy. And she has placed a few white-headed pins to inform the uninitiated, the foreign suburbanites that this is a pincushion. It is a whirling galaxy pincushion in a shell. The two pins like randomly chosen stars making their way in the multi-colored universe in your hand.

 

Back on the boat, now and then a Gannet wheels close by. I keep my hand on my hat. I can see the yellow shining on the head and neck of these seabirds. We are moving away from all I have seen this week. I will miss Gannets. They are like giant tern-pelicans. The ferry driver somewhere below me, makes a long S turn when we close on the dock at Nova Scotia. I wonder what a night ride would be like. I wonder if they even run after dark here in summer. The red soil and rocks stain the sea again ahead of us. Cormorants find every pier and point to perch upon. The sky is scattered with white puffy bursts, popcorn cloudlets, so blue otherwise. We are ordered to our cars. And everyone disappears down stairways. Big trucks rumble forward and we have the daylight. My daughter is happy again with an intact stomach, the sea now behind her. The island over our shoulder is now itself just a dark horizon line to the north, in the past. Relegated already to memory, beginning already to pop and fade, like film stock in some warehouse where I used to live not too long ago. Like a daydream I had with gannets and ravens, with wild horses standing over a raging sea.

 

 

 

        HR

 

Thanks to the Inn. To Karen and her hospitality. And her chef, who certainly rivals a fine Ritz-Carlton level of cooking in a small inn.

 

       

Hit Counter