Saturday, September 29, 2012

Return to the homely Isle

I was born on Prince Edward Island.

It looks like this.
The smallest of Canada's provinces (for those who don't know anything about Canada) and almost the most remote, Prince Edward Island is an hour later than Ontario in time zones and about fifty years to the side in atmosphere. Using sophisticated instruments (a map and our fingers), mom and I discovered you could probably drive around the entire Island -- like circumnavigate it -- in ten hours. This is the kind of place where everybody literally knows everybody else; the whole Island only has a population of 141,000. There is a murder rate of ZERO. Probably because you'd never get away with murdering someone if they just smacked you and said, "Aren't you Mildred Gallant's boy? I thought you were raised better than that! Go on home!"

PEI isn't BEHIND the rest of the world, exactly; it's not like it's super conservative (it's full of organic farming hippies and elderly women who go to erotic movies, sometimes even on purpose) or technologically backwards (even the most remote corners of the Island have cell coverage, and I know some people who update Facebook while farming). It's definitely sideways. It's like PEI took one look at where the rest of the world was going and said, "No thank you, we'll just stay over here with our potatoes."

The biggest industries in PEI are potatoes and lobster. And now, apparently, Taiwanese Buddhist monks, who are quietly and enthusiastically building a monastery about half an hour outside of the only major city, Charlottetown (population 60,000, most of whom know each other on sight). It is a strange and lovely place.

I am totally catching lobsters RIGHT NOW. In my bathtub.
Since I was born here, I will forever be an Islander. I haven't lived here since 1988, but when people ask me if I'm from here, that's what they mean. My mother, on the other hand, who lived here before I was born and is now planning to retire here, will always be "from away" even if she spends the next thirty years here. We're long-lived in my family. This will probably happen. Owning property, living here year round through the brutal and solidarity-inducing winters, none of that makes a difference...BECAUSE YOU WERE BORN IN CONNECTICUT.

When I was seven or eight, the big controversy on PEI was whether or not to build the "Fixed Link": what's now called the Confederation Bridge.  The longest free-standing bridge in Canada, it's 13 kms and connects PEI with the mainland so those potato deliveries can flow more smoothly. Before the bridge, there was only a ferry, and in the winter, I remember seeing little ice breaker boats cheerily allowing us to get back home so we wouldn't be stuck in New Brunswick until the thaw. When I was a kid, winter lasted approximately 297 months of the year and it got down to -40. Now, probably because of the bridge and those DAMN FOREIGNERS, winter is milder and there's less snow, less low temperatures, more confused Canada geese who forgot to migrate.

A door on Water St. Of course there's a Water St.

As an Islander, whether I live here or not, whether I love it or not, this is my home. It's funny to think that in a whole world of wandering and travel, I might someday end up living down the road from my oldest friend. Not that she's the oldest -- she's the same age as me -- but we've known each other literally since we were born. My mother is looking at property that is literally down the road from where M will build her future house, and where her mother's house stands right now: the bizarre hexagonal fairy house that I grew up in, reading Archie comics and staring at the poster of cloud names on the wall outside the bathroom (cumulonimbus...cirrostratus...). 

For someone as crazily nostalgic as me, it seems fitting that I'm currently, literally, living in the past.

1 comment:

Transcendancing said...

This is beautiful... it reminds me of you and brings to life a place I've never really understood beyond 'it exists'. *loves*