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Despite the attractions of the Supreme Court clerks’ reunion (written up in a previous post), one of the clerks in my wife’s year failed to make it.  We decided to catch up with him in Prince Edward Island.  He had just returned from Nunavut, Canada’s youngest territory, attending the graduation of the first 21 women to earn graduate degrees there.   The University of PEI had put together a program that helped bring higher education to the Far North.

Despite his busy agenda, he welcomed us when we broached the subject of an actual visit.  Neither my wife nor I had been to to the island for years.  My wife’s last visit was over fifty years ago, when she was a child.

You can actually drive all the way now, which seems strange when you are going to a  large island that is nearly thirteen kilometers (eight miles) away from the mainland of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  The Confederation Bridge, which opened twelve years ago, is the longest bridge in the world over salt water that ices up in winter.  It is long, but it isn’t high enough to be scary and they only charge for the return trip to the mainland.  We took the ferry back.

For years, PEI has been known for three things– potatoes, the  “Anne of Green Gables”  books by L.M Montgomery, and its place in history as the birthplace of Canada.  The potatoes are still there in abundance, but PEI’s historical significance has been eclipsed by Anne,  the lovable orphan who wormed her way into so many hearts through books and television.

We had the chance to meet the  artistic director of the Montgomery Theater (now housed in L.M. Montgomery’s old church) and  dropped into Avonlea for a brief visit.  The grounds are chock full of historic buildings that have been moved to the site as well as reproductions of old buildings and new shops that simply look old.  It is a tiny, rural Disneyland drawn from the Anne books and stories.

In the summer, PEI does its best to take advantage of the tourist trade, luring big name artists to Charlottetown and staging musicals that have little to do with the rural landscape or the sensibility of Montgomery’s day.  In a way, I think I blamed Montgomery herself for the “tourist trap” aspect to PEI, but this visit made me think a little deeper about my flip reaction.

Montgomery was no Disney, manufacturing dreams of childhood; she was a highly accomplished, complex woman, dealing with the challenge of forging an independent position in Victorian times, which was not particularly favorable to smart, strong women.  As my wife once wrote in a college paper, Montgomery was dealing with profound human issues of belonging and dislocation, with the metaphors of orphans and islands (which are orphans, in geographical terms).

In a very quick trip, we attended the opening of a new art gallery, visited a talented artist, saw the set of a theatrical venue in progress, a farm market, a university campus, two fine restaurants, and the mesmerizing, rolling  countryside of red earth and green leaves.  We got rained on and fell asleep under a gibbous moon.

The “bedrock” of P.E.I. is coarse, red sandstone.  The early settlers built homes and dykes from this easily hewn stone.  Its erosion over the eons have created endless, beautiful beaches.  The gulf stream does its part to make the beaches idyllic, bringing up warm seawater from the Carolinas.

Even with the dismal summer weather that followed us to the Island, we could not resist a visit to the beach.  There were rare, spectacular, parabolic  dunes and sand and sky that seemed to reach forever.  It was magical.

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