Solitude on Prince Edward Island

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I’m going through my 2017 photography files, cleaning out photos I know, after a few months’ distance, I will never publish or print. One of the criterion I use is whether an image impacts me emotionally – some have really nice memories associated with them.

This was a beautiful August morning on the southern shore of Prince Edward Island where we were camping. I put my morning coffee into a travel mug and took a short walk to the edge of the small cliff overlooking the Northumberland Straits. The sun was just coming up, weakly warming me against the cool morning wind. And the world was quiet.

Personality of PEI from Stories

 

We were exploring the western side of Prince Edward Island and pulled off the main road into an area around a small fishing port. We have seen a lot of these on PEI and in Nova Scotia and they seem to be the backbone of the fishing industry that includes a fleet of independent fishermen who own their boats.

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I was taking photos of the boats and noticed this man going into the cabin of his boat so I thought I could sneak a photo, being obscurely hidden behind my camera. “Should I smile?” I laughed in acknowledgement and snapped a couple of photos. Then we started talking. I’ve read that portrait photographers should get to know their subjects first then ask, but that feels like I’m manipulating them. If people notice me I’ll ask if it is okay – but sometimes taking their photo seems to open the door for conversations for this introverted photographer.

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It was Sunday and I asked if he was going out today; he replied, “No, not today, but I’m getting ready for tomorrow morning.” I asked questions and he freely answered. He offered that he is third generation of fishermen, his father and grandfather fished. He added that he is doubly so, on both his father’s and mother’s sides. ┬áThe past couple of years have been good but he wasn’t happy with increasing regulations, the increased size requirements, and the lower price per pound.

He looked away as he said he wasn’t educated, and I responded that he seemed educated about the facts of fishing and the ways of the tides (this is Bay of Fundy area with very high tides). Deep in his soul I don’t think this knowledge counts because it is so common among his community. Everyone on PEI knows about fishing and lives by the tides.

He ended the conversation saying he had to get his work done because he has a family reunion to attend.

I walked on to other explorations and photographs but his story remained with me. How important personal stories are for understanding culture and locations, and of course the people who live there.

That night we were fixing supper and had CBC on the radio. They were talking about a PEI author who had died and about the stories he had written about growing up on the island. I was listening with interest but not working to remember who or where or when. Then they read one of his stories and I really listened. He started by saying that when he was growing up there was a norm that everyone had the right to enough food no matter what their personality or circumstances. The author remembers fishing down on the beach with his father and all the other men of the village. A young girl who they all knew would come and stand on the edge with a pan in her hand. After a while, his father would say, “Need a fish, Annie (I don’t remember name used)?” She nodded. He would pick out a good eating fish, clean it and put it in her pan. She said thank you but didn’t leave. After a while he said, “Need another fish, Annie?” He knew her family was big and one fish wouldn’t be enough. She nodded. He cleaned another and put it in her pan, she thanked him, and turned for home.

I was moved by the gentle, nonjudgmental nature of his words. This is the way his community lived, they watched out for each other. It seemed to confirm my observations of the day that I wrote about in this post, that there seems to be an equality among people on PEI, not extreme disparity of wealth that is evident in the U.S. Social values change very slowly, they are held and passed down through examples of daily living. They seem to become a part of our stable understanding of how our world works and what is good and bad. There may be people who have been treated unfairly in the past, probably their First Nation people. I know some of the religious and economic histories that make people judgmental and withholding of basic rights and needs, but I don’t understand why people choose to adopt hard-nosed thinking.

I will continue to be perplexed as I read arguments against universal health care (either single-payer or multi-) and now how disaster aid should be dispersed to Texas after the devastation of Harvey given Texan congressional leaders voted against aid for Hurricane Sandy victims on the east coast of the U.S. I just don’t understand why people aren’t willing to share for the common good.

Northumberland Straits

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Our last few nights on Prince Edward Island were spent at a provincial park on the Northumberland Straits, next to the beach, looking over the water. A very beautiful setting and we had full hook-ups. What more could we want. Here are some images that brought a smile to my face and will give you a taste of the park.

 

We visited past high season but a few swimmers were brave enough to wade into the cold waters. I think the job of life guard can get very boring because he spent some time practicing cart wheels and hand stands on the grass when there weren’t people to guard. He needs a lot of practice.

Personality of Western PEI

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We spent two nights in the northern part of the Central District of Prince Edward Island at a delightful, quiet, secluded, small campground with full amenities (electricity, water, sewage dumping at our site).

DSC_0084Our agenda was to go around the western portion of the island. Without the trailer we are able to explore interesting little back areas and even a few dirt roads. We visited PEI about 40 years ago but my memories were very dim, I guess most of my energy was focused on meeting the needs of our three young children. I am also older now and have learned how to appreciate and study local culture. Age does come with benefits in addition to discounts (we appreciated the young man smiling at us at a park in NY who smiled warmly and said that we looked old enough to get the senior special day pass – go have a fun picnic).

This is a beautiful island, but no more beautiful that the other beautiful places we have visited. So my mission, with camera, was to try to discern what is common and unique to this area – what seems to be a part of the common culture and what are the unique aspects within the common. Isn’t that what we want from others when we want them to know us – to find those characteristics that define who we are, that are stable, but to also identify how we are unique. I hope I can portray through words and images the personality of Prince Edward Island in this post and a few more to come.

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This is a province of primarily farmers and fishermen. What struck me is that there didn’t seem to be the wide disparity of wealth that is evident in the U.S. Of course there were larger farms and smaller farms, farms that were well kept and farms that weren’t but all that we saw seemed somewhere in the middle. Well maintained and productive. Potatoes are the primary crop and they were starting to harvest them, although wheat fields were also being harvested and there were dairy farms.

 

I forgot to mention the wild blueberries. How could I miss that fact after eating buttermilk whole wheat blueberry pancakes with Vermont maple syrup for breakfast. Can life get any better than that? Oh, yes, and the locally grown sweat corn that snaps when we bite it off the cob and melts in our mouth – flavored by butter and a little salt. The true taste of late summer in the northern part of the midwest and east coast.

 

The drive along the coastline went past many small harbors, with fishing boats and associated structures. There is an allure about fishing boats and the lives of people who make their living from the sea. I’m sure reality isn’t as idyllic as my fantasies.

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What struck us is how well maintained the boats are. Everything about this island seems to be neat and tidy. I want to say quaint, but without the negative undertones that I can be associate with quaintness – like old fashioned or not modern.

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Fall and winter must be coming quickly because this boat was headed for the launch ramp where a truck and trailer were waiting to haul it out of the water. Many boats were dry-docked in side yards of homes waiting for the warmer waters of spring to return, a clue that many of the nicely kept ranch-style houses along the highway were homes of fishermen.

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I think the winter winds must be harsh coming off the Northumberland Straits to the south and the vast Saint Lawrence Bay to the north. Most structures are clad in vinyl siding or steel and many have tin roofing. But many still have the cedar shakes with the north side bleached or sanded of paint. Maybe it is the PEI version of showing direction, like moss growing on the north side of trees in the woods.

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Funny how certain things stand out as different. You have been there; your eyes see a difference but your brain can’t quite figure it out. On PEI it was that many of the hedge rows consisted of evergreens instead of deciduous trees and bushes. It seems these would break the bleakness of the black and white against grey of winter when living close to large expanses of water.