Monthly Archives: August 2021

The Plan

Even before the Canadian federal election was called, the leader of the Conservative party sent each of us in our household a separate letter outlining his recovery plan to fix everything that is wrong with Canada (except, it seems, our relationships with Indigenous peoples, the climate and the electoral system, my top three issues this election). Three more letters arrived this week. Waste of resources, waste of beautiful trees.

Thought I’d at least mine this dreck for art, so here are three found poems. I did try to construct a jolly sounding poem, but it wasn’t possible from the doom and gloom bricks I was given.

Mr. Vivian
Holding Heavily
Economic Vision

Digging clams

Our river once had abundant soft-shelled clams, and you could dig a bucket in a few minutes. There was no fishing license required, but you could only take ones over a certain size, so we carried a homemade gauge to ensure we only took legal ones.

I wouldn’t eat them as a child, but grew to love them later, and I spent many hours swimming and playing in the water while my mother dug them. Most people dig on the beach at low tide using a garden fork, but this wasn’t my mother’s method as she said too many get broken that way, and that’s true. Another less common method was to use a homemade plunger made from a section of a car tire attached to an old broom handle, and dig them in the water, which was less destructive. But she was the only one I knew who dug them the way she did.

At our favourite spot, just a 5-minute row from our house, my mother would walk with bucket in hand in knee-deep water, looking for the holes that clams make with their siphons. She would then sit in the water and pat a hole with her hand, creating a vacuum that moved the sand and would start to excavate a larger hole. When she felt a clam, she would pull it out, examine it to see if it was alive and the right size, and then put it in the bucket beside her that was kept in place first by the volume of seawater it contained and then, little by little, by the clams.

Once her bucket was filled, we would return home, but we never ate the clams right away as they were gritty with sand. My mother would tie the bucket to the railing of the stairs that went down the bank in front of our house and leave the clams submerged in the bucket in the river overnight to clean out, expelling the sand that was in their system.

The next day the clams were placed in a large enamel pot with no water or anything else, just steamed as they were until they opened. Those that didn’t open were discarded, and the rest piled into a big bowl and placed in the middle of the dining room table. Everyone got their own bowl of melted butter, fresh homemade rolls and maybe potato salad.

We might dig a feed of clams every couple of weeks in the summer, and there never seemed to be any fear of them being overfished. Then commercial fishers started working on our river using mechanical vacuums a couple of decades ago, a similar idea as my mother’s manual method except they could dig out an entire bed in a few minutes. The last time we tried digging clams would be over 10 years ago now, and there weren’t any left, just empty shells. It will probably take decades for them to return in the numbers that existed before the commercial harvest.

You can buy clams, but they never taste as good as my memory of them. It was the whole process: rowing to the digging spot, having a swim, hearing the neighbour’s cows or dog, watching the clouds passing overhead, waving at a neighbour in a dory coming home from fishing oysters, looking back at our house, the little waves lapping the shore, the birds, the sun. The tang of our river, deeply salty and briny, alive with eels and lobsters and crabs and fish. The feeling that this harvesting had been done forever and would go on forever.

Mom and I digging clams somewhere on Foxley River, 1969

99

Not many get to decorate a cake for a 99th birthday, but I was fortunate enough to do so for my mother’s birthday today. I made the buttermilk birthday cake from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess as it is foolproof, deliciously moist, and works well with gluten free flour.

I’m definitely not the baker that my mother, Vivian, was and still is. She is known for many culinary treats: butterscotch pie, lemon meringue pie, coconut cream pie (any pie, really!), orange chiffon cake, fudge, and lately, cookies, because they are easily made and just as easily given away. Any estimate of how many items she has produced over eight decades of baking would probably never come close to the true number. And, as we were only three in our immediate family, the majority of her baking was given away to our huge extended family, friends and neighbours, and for bake sales. At least once a week during my childhood, my mother would be baking for some charitable event or other, making sandwiches and sweets for a meeting, having people over for supper.

My mother has never complained about having to cook a meal, ever, and that’s not an exaggeration. True, she hasn’t worked outside the home for many years, but even when she and my father owned a general store, where she worked just as hard as he did, she cooked a hot noon meal for the two or three clerks they had working with them, six days a week. Dining out has never been a big thing for my mother, probably because we just never had many restaurants close by, so she has cooked most of her meals, and she prepares generally healthy things, which is probably how she has reached 99 without diabetes or high cholesterol!

She has been an effortless cook, an enthusiastic hostess, and a generous lady, even today sending a relative off with some brownies made yesterday. She baked cookies for a children’s event at her church this week, and next week has offered to make cookies for our local environmental group’s day camp.

Always looking outwards, finding a purpose for every day, never idle, always grateful, day by day by day for 99 years. It all comes back to her on days like today, with a steady stream of visitors showing her so much love, joining in the magic of a long and impactful life.

Hot enough to fry an egg

Finding our hens panting in their nesting boxes on this sweltering day reminded me I was going to make a screen door for the henhouse. Kind of late to start today, so found this mysterious screen from heaven-knows-what and stuck it in the door with clamps.

The henhouse started life as a smelt shack about 60 years ago and was my playhouse from about 1968 until I was probably far too old to be playing. It has been a henhouse for the past four years. It is in remarkably good shape for something that was basically ignored for three decades, with only a tiny bit of rot in one corner that I easily fixed with my basic carpentry skills. It could use a fresh coat of paint. And it still needs a screen door.

What comes after

I think the true nature of an elected official shines through not while they are running for office or holding a seat in a governmental body, but rather what they do after they have finished their elected role, especially if they have been an elected official for many years. That person who was a keen community volunteer just before they decided to run for office does not always drop off the other end of the political conveyor belt the same engaged individual.

Former United States President Jimmy Carter has been out of office for 40 years and has been busy writing books, promoting Habitat for Humanity, and working on many peace and health projects through The Carter Center that he and his wife, Rosalynn, founded a year after he left office. A recent episode of the BBC World Service podcast People Fixing The World looked at how the battle against Guinea worm disease is progressing (that section starts at the 14:00 mark). The answer is very, very well, and it is in large part due to The Carter Centre, who took the lead on the eradication effort when no one else wanted to deal with it. They are soooooo close:

In 1986, the disease afflicted an estimated 3.5 million people a year in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. Today, thanks to the work of The Carter Center and its partners — including the countries themselves — the incidence of Guinea worm has been reduced by more than 99.99 percent to 27 provisional* cases in 2020.

The Carter Center

The Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the body as larvae in drinking water and then a year later the three-foot-long worm emerges through a lesion in the skin. The condition doesn’t usually kill people outright, but it is debilitating and the emergence of the worm sounds terrifying and painful.

I have read about and heard programs about this disease before and remember a scientist saying that but for Jimmy Carter’s involvement in directing The Carter Center to take the lead on this huge eradication project, the Guinea worm would still be causing wide-spread suffering. It is far from being a glamorous cause, but Carter was told it could be eliminated, and they went to work to try to do just that.

I think Jimmy Carter has used his post-political years better than almost any other politician I can think of in my lifetime. I understand he and Rosalynn live quite modestly, and he has used his influence and energy to help others and not himself. A true hero.

“Splash Mi’kmaq all over Epekwitk!”

Chief Darlene Bernard gave a powerful speech this afternoon to start the last day of the 20th annual Lennox Island First Nation mawi’omi (or pow wow). I wish I had a copy of her speech to share here, but the one theme that jumped out at me was her assertion that the Mi’kmaq language must become more widely used on Prince Edward Island if it is to survive.

Chief Bernard’s request to “splash Mi’kmaq all over Epekwitk” wasn’t just a direction to her people but to all Epekwitnewaq (residents of Epekwitk), including non-indigenous settlers like me. I suppose since non-indigenous people are the majority population on PEI, her direction was especially for us.

So, if you are a settler on Indigenous land, please consider learning and using a few words in the language of the first peoples of your region. If you own a business here on Prince Edward Island/Epekwitk, perhaps you could find a way to add Mi’kmaq to your signage or website.

If you are a PEI government official, it is time that the Mi’kmaq language is used more widely across PEI and not just in token, select settings. The Mi’kmaq people don’t have the power to change signage and usage, but you do.

It’s not difficult to start using Mi’kmaq. When we reopened our Prince County Hospital Auxiliary gift shop in the hospital lobby in June 2020 after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was asked to make some signs for the shop, including one to thank our customers. I asked if it could be in three languages – English, French and Mi’kmaq – and the other volunteers said that was fine, so this is what we installed:

At first a couple of people thought wela’lin was Chinese for thank you, and that’s understandable because this is all new. At least a few more people have seen and learned the Mi’kmaq word for thank you. Maybe it has made a few people think about why they are only seeing this word for the first time now when it should really have been everywhere forever.

This language learning is probably going to feel awkward to start. Chief Bernard said that we need to be kind to each other as we learn, that we will make mistakes, and that’s ok. The important thing is to try, and the awkwardness will eventually pass.

When elder Junior Peter-Paul gave a blessing in Mi’kmaq today, the only words I knew were wela’lin and wela’lioq (used to thank more than one person). He used them many times to thank the Creator. I know that saying wela’lioq to the Mi’kmaq people isn’t nearly enough, but it is a small start, and things can only get better from here.

Wela’lin. Thank you.

Fanny Brice in Charlottetown? Hmm…

The Charlottetown Guardian from August 7, 1946 contained this little item:

To my generation, Fanny Brice was just the character played by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, but she had been a Big Deal in American entertainment in the first half of the 1900s. According to Wikipedia, Fanny was married three times, all ending in divorce. Her third marriage was to Billy Rose, and that divorce came in 1938.

So, the gal in this news item was either Fanny Brice pretending to be “Sadie, Sadie married lady,” or some Boston lady pretending to be Fanny Brice. Hilarious either way.

Kindness just happens

Last week I noticed something odd with the wood trim around our kitchen window. Our guest bedroom is above our kitchen, and on inspection I found some damp, warped hardwood floor and mould in the corner hidden behind a bedside table, sign of a radiator leak that had probably been going on for weeks, if not months.

All the gory details of how this is going to be fixed are not entirely clear or important. As the nice fellow from the disaster restoration company reminded me, there aren’t any problems with a house that can’t be fixed with time and money. We are all alive and healthy, and that is what is most important.

One of the tools I have gained from reading about Stoicism is the idea of practising how to deal with difficult people or situations. I try to remind myself each morning that I might encounter things through the day that will challenge and even upset me, and while I can’t control those things or people, I can control my reaction to them and attempt to remain calm and even-tempered, which is much better for me and those around me.

Sounds great, and sometimes I achieve that equilibrium during upsetting situations, but I got overwhelmed at one point this week and complained to Steven it was unfair and too much, that I try to be a good person and deserve better than having to deal with this complicated emergency renovation. He replied with something very helpful and profound: “This isn’t happening to you; it is just happening.”

That instantly put everything back into context, calmed me down, helped me step back and observe. These problems aren’t divine retribution, it’s just water being drawn earthward by gravity through our walls and flooring. Not ideal, but just the way water works on this planet!

While there is nothing much fun about having large chunks of walls and hardwood flooring ripped up, I am touched by how kind everyone has been, from the insurance company adjustor to the remediation company staff, building supply folks, our plumber arriving on a day off to repair the radiator, everyone helpful, gentle, good humoured, considerate. Not promising the world, not saying it is going to be easy, but saying it will all be fixed, and, most importantly, saying they will help. Kindness upon kindness.

Steven and I drove to Charlottetown yesterday to run a quick errand and escape the loud rattling dehumidifiers. We had so many pleasant interactions throughout the day, gifts literal and figurative, of time and talent and presence. It is when things aren’t going well that the kindness of others shines most brightly, and connects most deeply.

As we made our way home, we dropped into one of my favourite spots in Summerside, Samuel’s Coffee House. I was so happy to see A. behind the counter, a kind reader of this blog and an excellent writer herself. I ordered a cortado (now that I know I can!) and referencing my recent post on the matter, A. offered to make it in a glass. It was perfection, a gift just for me, made with kindness and caring. It tipped the world in my favour. Everything will be all right.

The best cortado.

Shooting Gallery Shore

With nothing else to do while waiting in my car yesterday, I hauled out a PEI road map and looked it over. At the west end of Summerside I saw something new to me: Shooting Gallery Shore.

Shooting Gallery Short

I would have bet my tam-o’-shanter that area is called Green’s Shore, and there is a park with that name at the foot of Greenwood Drive. And when I think of a shooting gallery, I think of those games at amusement parks where you try to hit targets and win prizes. As far as I know, that area of Summerside was never used for that type of entertainment.

When I got home and was poking around the Island Newspapers offering for August 3, 1921, this little notice caught my attention:

A rifle range west of Summerside – bullseye!