“…in the literary sense.”

The Charlottetown Guardian from this date in 1921 had many mentions of off-island visitors, including a couple of some note, Rev. and Mrs. Ewen MacDonald:

Of course, Mrs. MacDonald was only famous “in the literary sense”, not in any way that really mattered! The writer could have ended with “famous” but just couldn’t help themselves from adding a true PEI cutting down to size of someone who had, even by that time, achieved worldwide fame and admiration.

That Mrs. MacDonald was able to achieve any of what she did was an absolute miracle if you have read about her personal struggles, and in the ridiculous atmosphere that women have endured for most of human history. Case in point, an editorial from the same edition, which starts promisingly and then, well, you’ll see:

It goes on, but we get it. Dear Mrs. MacDonald. Is it any wonder she created impetuous, outspoken Anne when this was what was said of the courageous and capable women who might stand for public office? Creating a mouthy, bold girl would be a relief valve to keep from screaming, I expect.

The sounds of the land

The upcoming merger of four PEI credit unions means the new entity will need a new name. I just completed a member survey where I was asked to rate and give my response to six possible new names…or, rather, five new names and the name of one of the existing credit unions.

The first two sounded like the names of cars, the next one reminded me of John A. MacDonald and colonialism (not a favourable association), the fourth was surprisingly light and fun, the fifth just didn’t sound good to me, and the last one was that existing credit union name. Choosing the existing name would make some members angry that they lost their local credit union name in the merger while other members got to keep theirs, confirming earlier concerns raised at public meetings that the whole process felt like a centralised takeover which would weaken rural voices. I found it an odd choice after all the acrimony.

Although there wasn’t a place to offer other suggestions, I wrote into one of the response boxes that I wanted them to pick a Mi’kmaw word. It is the language of the first people of this island, the real language of this land. It is a rich, living language, unlike the Latin and Latin-derived words the (probable) branding consultants chose. I don’t have a suggestion for what the new credit union could be called, because that should be up to the Mi’kmaq.

I have just started reading Isabelle Knockwood’s 1992 book Out of the Depths about the experiences of Mi’kmaw children who were sent to the Indian Residential School in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. Just an hour before the survey landed in my inbox, I had read this sentence about Knockwood’s memories of listening to elders telling stories:

The stories were ancient, and the language in which they were told was even older. According to my mother, Deodis, the Mi’kmaw language evolved from the sounds of the land, the winds and the waterfalls. As far as we know, there is no other language like it spoken anywhere else in the world.

What an opportunity to have the Mi’kmaw language more visible across this island, on the side of many branches of a new credit union, something unique, truly from and of Epekwitk.

[I’ve read many explanations of the difference between Mi’kmaq and Mi’kmaw, and am struggling to use the words correctly, so I welcome corrections; I would rather try and fail than not try at all!]

Secret Menu

I’m a fairly regular customer at Samuel’s Coffee House in Summerside, so felt bold enough last week to ask one of the staff if they ever considered adding cortados to their lineup. I fairly squealed with delight when she said they did make cortados, but it never made it onto their menu board, although they do have a button for it on their cash system. They don’t use little glasses like Receiver Coffee in Charlottetown, and I feel it’s a slightly bigger drink than Receivers, but it is completely delicious all the same. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask about it before, but the coffee drink you need will emerge when you are ready for it!

So now you know the secret, too, and are a Samuel’s insider. Tell them Thelma sent you.

Epekwitk Quill Sisters

Today two Miꞌkmaq porcupine quill artists, Kayla and Noella, harvested white birch bark from the trees in the forest where I live. Kayla is one of the Epekwitk Quill Sisters, with Cheryl Simon, and I’ve been listening to their podcast since it started in May. It was wonderful to meet Kayla and see Noella again, as I took a quilling workshop with her on Lennox Island First Nation a few years ago.

They have mentioned in the podcast that it can feel unsafe to harvest birch bark in public places, that non-indigenous people can harass birch bark harvesters, so I told Cheryl and Kayla about the birch trees around our house. I was happy they could get some big, beautiful pieces of bark, which is used as the base of their artwork. They may return to harvest cedar and spruce roots, too, and will be back for more bark in future years. The trees will heal over the next few years, and then can be harvested again in 15-20 years, perhaps by Kayla and Noella’s children or grandchildren.

Bark harvesting can only be done for a few weeks in the summer, after the trees have drawn up nutrients from the ground in the spring. Harvesters know the bark is ready when fireflies appear, though this is starting to be a less reliable indicator than it once was due to climate change. I got to pull a piece of bark off the tree, and it felt like damp leather. The tree didn’t bleed because the cuts don’t go deep enough to hit the tree’s vascular system. The cracking sound was unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.

While I was watching them harvest, I picked wild strawberries, wild raspberries and the first blueberries I’ve seen this season. The forest is full of traditional foods and medicine.

Some of the birch trees in the forest now look a little different, but this is Miꞌkmaꞌki, and this is what the landscape should look like. Now if you see a tree that has been properly harvested in a public place, you will know it is not vandalism – it is anti-colonialism, it is culture, it is resilience .

I invite you to listen to the Epekwitk Quill Sisters, especially the episode about harvesting birch bark and a very moving episode about family.

Harvested trees
Lots of bark to be shared with other quillers
No harm done

Opening and closing

Last time I bought paint, the clerk gave me a can opener.

Today when putting painting supplies away, I noticed this tool is also a paint can closer.

I assumed the flat end was the opener (which it is) and the other end was a bottle opener, for whatever reason in the 21st century when hardly any bottle cap needs to be pried off. Turns out the bottle opener part is for pushing down the can lid, using the sticking-out part as a lever. It works ok – probably really well on an unused can of paint – but I was dealing with a 19-year-old can, so a rubber mallet was more effective to get a good seal.

Paint Can Openers | Anthony & Co.
http://www.anthonyco.com/paintcanopeners.php

How to keep paint usable for two decades? Seal the can as tightly as possible, probably with a rubber mallet and not the closing tool, then turn the can upside down and store in a cool, dry area. The paint seals the lid completely. It will thicken over time, and can get sort of weird, but just strain it through cheesecloth or old pantyhose and you might be able to paint over a patch in a wall, as I just did. I bought what I thought was pricey paint for the inside of our house in 2002, and it still looks fresh and the leftover paint pretty much still matches after all these years.

One last tip: when you first invert that sealed paint can, put it in a cardboard box for a few hours to test that the lid is firmly attached and not leaking. Paint spilled all over your shelf and/or floor is the mistake I made so you don’t have to!

It’s the little things

I searched the Miele Canada website for a replacement part for our S7000 upright vacuum cleaner. They didn’t what I needed, but they do have 3D4U, a series of 3D printing files that anyone can download from Thingiverse. These are accessories rather than spare parts: an attachment to vacuum dust while you drill a hole, smaller-than-normal nozzle attachments for cleaning, a coffee bag clip that lets you add a pouring nozzle to your bag of beans, even an attachment to help you blow soap bubbles with your vacuum!

Miele say they are the first domestic appliance manufacturer to offer 3D printing accessories. That’s a great first step, and here’s hoping Miele and all other manufacturers of everything start making free 3D printing files of their spare parts available, especially for people like me who prefer to fix things when I can to keep as much as possible out the waste stream.

It’s impossible for companies to keep every part of every machine they have ever made in stock, but they could easily make the 3D printing files available. How many small appliances get tossed every year because a knob breaks or a little part cracks? I had to toss a stick blender last year only because a cheap plastic gear stripped after a few years of occasional use. I don’t own a 3D printer, but our public library system has some available, and perhaps printing kiosks could be a small business in future (if they aren’t already).

Zip ties to the rescue

I’m not going to call this post “Nice Rack”

Canadian purveyors of incredibly tempting woodworking and gardening stuff, Lee Valley, just emailed a link to plans for a clever tool rack designed by former store employee Charles Mak. With a free PDF of the detailed plans and lots of helpful photos, this should be something even I can make with my limited shop tools and rough carpentry skills.

December 1875

My great-great-grandparents were Martha (Ellis) and George Washington Sharp. They had 10 children, including one set of twins, my great-grandmother Eva and her sister, Florence.

It was only this evening that I realised Martha and George had three little girls who died within a few days of each other. They also had two boys aged 7 and 2 who survived. They went on to have five more children.

I had no idea what the girls died from, but I just found a death notice for the three little girls in the December 20, 1875 The Examiner newspaper out of Charlottetown. What unbearable pain.

The Examiner December 20, 1875 p3
Martha Sharp (1848-1928) circa 1927

Forever

I am slowly reading Wilding by Isabella Tree, an account of her family’s revolutionary transformation of the grounds of their English stately home from intensive farming to a wild natural landscape. The chapter I just finished saw them visit the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands to see how grazing animals were used to manage and improve the nature reserve.

Cattle, ponies and deer are allowed to graze freely at the Oostvaardersplassen, and the original idea was for the animals to be allowed to live and die as they would without human intervention. Some people were appalled at the sight of sick and dying animals, so a compromise was made that ailing cattle and ponies would be euthanized and their bodies incinerated, but the deer would be allowed to die naturally, their carcasses feeding foxes, birds and rodents, insects and bacteria, and the bones breaking down to release valuable nutrients into the soil.

When I think of my impact on the planet in my 54 years of being a consumer, the thoughtless way I have bought and discarded endless things, I am overwhelmed with the notion that in my infinitesimal amount of time on the planet, I have probably left behind more garbage than all the animals and birds and fish and insects that ever lived combined. Those creatures created nothing that would last forever, whereas I have purchased and tossed away thousands of pounds of plastic and metal that will probably never really disappear. I am simultaneously the most power creature in hundreds of millions of years and the most foolish.

I had the option to do good things with my life, to make good choices, and I chose to spend part of it creating a lasting legacy of greed and thoughtlessness, the sleepwalking loop of shopping and discarding, over and over. I think about this a lot. I wonder how I can do better now that I know better, and how can I make up for my past.

I can hear birds chirping their goodnight songs right now, the robins telling me about their day and their wishes for tomorrow, free of possessions beyond a temporary nest that will eventually dissolve back into the ground, and free of the shame of leaving behind things that never really mattered in the first place. Free to sing.

Trap smasher

I took my mother to visit a friend of ours on an extremely windy day last week, and our journey allowed us a brief glimpse of the ocean surf pounding against the Sandhills, the barrier sand dunes the protect our coastline at this end of PEI. It was a dramatic sight, and my mother said, “That’s what they used to call a trap smasher.”

I didn’t remember hearing that phrase before, but it makes sense, as those kinds of roiling seas will tangle lobster gear and can certainly end up smashing lobster traps. T.K. Pratt’s Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English includes “trap smasher”, saying it’s a noun frequent in Egmont (the federal electoral riding where we live) and is:

In lobster fishing, a severe wind storm during the fishing season.

So, technically, trap smashers can only occur along our section of the north side of PEI between May 1 and June 30, the spring lobster fishing season here. We, of course, ignore and never discuss the weather the other 10 months of the year (lol!).

My father and I bringing in unsmashed lobster traps circa 1980.