In the morning, about nine or so, after coffee and tea and a cinnamon bun baked fresh from the local bakery, we just gaze out onto New London Bay on Prince Edward Island. It’s morning reading time, but the spell of the Island has already cast its net. We stare vacuously from our cottage deck perched high on a cliff, one hundred feet above the rocky shore. We are so mellow that we slip into a communication that we call "hum-speak." It’s sort of a sub-verbal vocabulary that we utilize when scenes are too awesome for words or contentment is so warmly present. Our delectable stupor is suddenly interrupted when an osprey flies directly in front of us, stops in flight, stutter-flaps in a helicopter fashion, and then plunges straight down into the water to successfully grasp a fish that had ventured too close to the surface. The osprey lifts its catch, adjusts the head of the fish so it faces forward to reduce air drag, and flies away, wary of the local eagle that we have seen snatching fish from the talons of ospreys in mid air. And then we settle back to reading and serious gazing, only to be startled once again, this time by the droning motor of a lobster boat, smartly painted in green and white, returning to Stanley Bridge Harbor around the bend. Ah, this is a Prince Edward Island morning. What a pleasure for the mind, the senses, and the soul.
Marsha, my wife, and I have been visiting and exploring the Island for sixteen summers. We discovered this vacationers’ paradise years ago en route to Cape Breton Island one summer, but that year we never made it to our original destination. We suspended our journey when we encountered the Island. We were captivated by the charm, beauty, and the endless possibilities to explore the coast line, rivers, bays and ponds with our canoe. The allure of PEI has never diminished. Our love affair with this tiny province has only grown. Our original youthful excitement now is a more mature relaxation and comfort that wells up from deep personal places, much like the fresh water that endlessly bubbles from Island pond springs.
PEI is a perfect place to visit for any age. Young families with children frolic in the warmest water north of North Carolina and build castles with the fine sand of the world-class beaches. Others visit Anne of Green Gables landmarks. Bicyclists tour and golfers putt, but as we have aged, nearing our 70s, we have grown to appreciate the Island’s quieter nature. PEI is a small island, only 175 miles from tip to tip. Driving on the Island is pure pleasure, for every turn exposes another photographic opportunity. This is not stressful highway driving, but the kind of slow “Sunday driving” many of us remember as kids. One hardly loses sight of the water and coastline, while the rolling pastures and potato fields, with their distinct shades of luscious greens, patchwork the countryside. Unpaved red clay roads lead to places that have not changed in 50 years. Farm houses and barns, some weather-beaten gray with time and salty air, dot the panorama. Often, country roads lead to the water’s edge where oystermen’s pick-up trucks and boat trailers beckon the visitor to stop and explore. Everywhere on the Island, bird watchers and photographers are seen with binoculars and cameras.
Exploring the Island by car, bicycle, or foot is most satisfying, but for us, being on the water in our canoe fulfills our yearning and satisfies the delectable madness of being addicted to paddling. We love to paddle, and even though kayaks seem to outnumber canoes on the Island lately, we feel comfortable with our yellow 16 foot Kevlar Wenonah that is always perched on our roof rack. We have paddled the Island’s waterways every summer. Getting down to sea level drops us landlubbers to a proper proportion and perspective. Looking up at the sheer red cliffs of the North Shore prompts understandable humility. We have paddled parallel to coastal shores, up the far-reaching rivers that terminate in wide bays, and on quiet ponds. We have observed the variety of animal life of the Island, seeing herons, ospreys and eagles, muskrats, beavers, foxes, and even coyotes. We have explored the channels of salt marshes and carried our canoe over beaver dams.
PEI is rich in natural history, but the social history is equally colorful and fascinating. It is exciting to learn about the people’s past through reading and visiting Island museums and interpreter centers. Islanders have always been an independent and pesky lot, like most Maritimers. Today’s descendants of those rugged settlers are warm and welcoming. They love to share their homes and stories, and love to sing and dance. I think every extended family has its own fiddler. As we travel around the Island, we look for signs of Acadian dikes and remnants of vanished ship yards and water-driven mills. All this is done at a pace that would be more suitable to the 1800s than to our own frenzied computer age. That slowing down is what the Island does to you. It lures you into quieter times and soothes the nicks and razor burns of the 21st century.
Bob Gillette is the author of the newly published Falcon Guide, Paddling Prince Edward Island. He and his wife, Marsha, have been paddling for 49 years and still love their water-dancing together. The couple has retired to Lynchburg, Virginia. Their license plates say it all: Bob’s is ICANOE, and Marsha’s is IKANU2.
Visit Bob’s website at www.paddlinginfo.com