An Island native and his family find solace in Seaview, PEI.
“Here about the beach I wander’d
Nourishing a youth sublime
With the fairy tales of science
And the long result of Time.”
–Alfred, Lord Tennyson
For seven glorious days, the chatter of nesting red-winged blackbirds and their marsh neighbours would be our natural alarm clocks. Our Island vacation was here at last.
We unloaded our duffle bags into the little cabin next to the beach in Seaview, on the Island’s serene north shore.
Each morning we woke up to an eclectic greeting: the sound of waves rolling onto the beach about a stone’s throw away; chirping swallows; and cranky, hungry gulls. Every now and then a hawk would swoop down searching for food in the marsh by Adams Pond.
There are three other similarly-sized ponds along this stretch that have fed the Gulf of St. Lawrence for centuries. Along this shore, European settlers made new homes after their weary passages across the Atlantic. Early maps showed the name Third Pond where Seaview is today. The little village is tucked conveniently between Malpeque and Cavendish on route 20 along the north shore.
The Adams ancestors on my mother’s side settled between here and the New London area in the late 1700s. Relatively unblemished by the tackier tourist gimmicks to the west, Seaview is pretty much the same as it was when we visited as kids, apart from newer siding on old homes and the brick mansion of an aquaculture millionaire.
We spent our childhood summers here. Dad took me fishing for trout, smelts and eels. He loved early morning starts. “Yessirree, that’s when the buggers bite…before sun-up,” he’d say. He taught me how to tie a bobber onto the line and how to set the bait with a fat, juicy dew worm.
To this day he laughs about the time I landed a two or three-pound trout in Brander’s Pond and got so excited that I forgot how to reel it in. In a panic, I grabbed the rod and ran up the hill into a potato field, pulling the rod, creel and fish behind me.
Seaview visits have become a family affair. This visit includes my wife, two teenaged sons and my mother, who grew up here in the 1940s. As I unwind from four hours of highway driving, the familiar sights and smells become a warm poultice for my soul. The flashbacks come easily. Trips down a red country road. Childhood clam digs. Memories of searching for witches in the deserted house beyond my grandparents’ rhubarb patch.
I miss my grandparents T.C. (Caseley) and Hannah Adams. My sister and I would stroll up the lane to check their mail. Then take a little wagon down to Murphy’s corner store for fizz sticks and lime pop. The feel of oats running through our fingers in the barn loft. The smell of salt cod in barrels. The sound of a grinding wheel in the shed as I threw sparks by ‘sharpening’ the old man’s tools. His booming voice as he chased me from the shed: “Come back here you scallywag…don’t you be ruining my tools!!”
My mother’s memory is even more precise. Point out an old farmhouse and she’ll know who used to live there and who lives there now. “There’s Darra’s house,” she’ll say. “He was my teacher and went on to be an officer in the military. Smart man.”
On our last night at the cottage, Shelley and I took two lawn chairs, some books and mugs of cocoa down to the water’s edge. The clouds broke, instantly warming us with the bronze glow of the setting sun. A light breeze passed over the marsh. It was Mother Nature’s tag team – the warm breeze flanking us from the left and the noisy surf to our right. Gulls cried farther up the shore. The blackbirds were noisily defending their turf in the bullrushes.
The north horizon, where the gulf meets the sky, is a perfect line, broken only by a lone navigation buoy. It’s a ‘red-right-returning’ buoy that guides fishermen back to the Darnley wharf. My eyes catch a triplet of low-flying blackbirds almost directly over the flashing red light. Two young gulls, grey and white with bobbing heads, poke for food in the shallows.
The sand is now a champagne colour, mottled by the late afternoon showers. The sun has dropped behind the ironstone bluff at the end of a neighbour’s property. Like other Islanders, he has also sold shore property to come-from-aways who can afford to summer here. Large chunks of cliff the size of pickup trucks lie at the base, helping us gauge the depth of the tide. Two plump gulls fly side-by-side into the wind, rising with each powerful stroke.
Shelley is a study in serenity. The declining sun brings out the beauty of her features even more. She stares at the ocean, turning her head only when the gulls cry for attention or with each subtle shift in breeze.
We can smell the freshly cut hay from the field up beyond the cottage. The hay was knocked down that afternoon by Leighton Coulson, now eighty-eight. He has farmed and fished here his entire life, along with wife Vivian and their family. Leighton loves the harmonica and seems to know but one tune – Once There Were Four Mary’s. Each summer, on departure day, he’d give us a solo concert in their living room. Despite Vivian’s protests (“Quit playin’ the fool Leighton…they’ve heard that before) he belts it out anyway. “After all,” he says, “they ask me to play it every year at Reuben’s Jamboree. Boy, they keep dancin’ and dancin’ ‘till I can play no more.”
Back on the beach, the breeze has cooled. The vibrant tapestry of sand, water and sky has given way to that duller, almost-nighttime feel. I breathe deeply and whisper a quiet reminder to never forget this place. And promise to come back every summer with our boys and – who knows – maybe even grandchildren someday.
They too will need to meet the gulls and red-winged blackbirds and walk the lane through the sharp beach grass, to smell the salt air and touch the sea – the long result of Time.