I am beginning a writing retreat with my friend Holly Robinson at her house in Prince Edward Island, Canada…but getting there, from Maui, is not a simple matter. It’s planes, trains and automobiles! I broke up the epic 6,000 mile-plus journey by going to San Francisco first, but the day had finally come to fly to Boston, Massachusetts, where Holly was picking me up.
She took me into Boston, and around the old haunts I remembered from my stint at Boston University in 1983. The city was unchanged, and so golden-energetic-beautiful in the coppery summer sun that several times, overwhelmed by a sense of time contracting and colliding, I found tears filling my eyes, unable to believe it had been thirty-one years since I was eighteen in this special place.
Holly took me to walk beside the Charles River first thing, because running beside the river on the Esplanade had been my favorite thing to do back in college when my knees were good. We went to the Common and saw the swan boats, and to the Boston Public Library where soaring spaces filled with books—you guessed it—brought tears to my eyes again as I re-experienced the reverence of sitting down at the scarred tables with their green lampshades to study. The library felt timeless, a sensation like being a leaf spinning on the current for hours and years, and somehow returning to the same place.
The next day, after visiting with Holly’s family and seeing her wonderful home and work space, we got on the road. We drove and drove. Prince Edward Island is twelve hours away if you drive straight through, and we didn’t. We stopped a lot, ate at a great diner, counted roadkill, and spent the night in Saint John, New Brunswick, where we took in an interesting event, the Busker’s Festival. Yep, it was crowds of very polite Canadians and many street performers doing everything from fire eating to chalk drawings, and collecting with hats afterward.
Today, more driving—increasingly varied landscape, from just hours and hours of trees, to the lush beauty of Prince Edward Island where Holly has a 1800s farm house.
The light here on Prince Edward Island has a powdered quality to it, gauzy with a bridal veil of moisture. The air lies soft over the gentle slopes of the island, gleaming velvety-gold with wheat like the haunches of a well-groomed horse. The fields, immaculate as the yards of the tidy houses, are bordered with ribbons of red clay road.
Holly’s farmhouse sits on a silky shawl of lawn studded with tiny white clover flowers, as inviting now as it must have been a century ago. Blue, square and solid, unapologetically creaky and dignified in its old age, it beckons me inside, but outside calls me more.
Near the weathered silver porch, a horse chestnut tree raises five-fingered leaves like so many waving green hands. The shiver of wind in the nearby silver birch grove has a pattering shush to it like the rush of surf on a beach.
We walked a beach just a mile or so from her house this afternoon. Acres of squeaky white quartz sand rolled into the distance, shimmering like shaved diamonds.
“The thing I hate about Canada is all the crowds,” Holly said, deadpan, and I turned with my mouth open in surprise to join her laugh as we looked at the empty beach. The ocean, calm and trackless, smelled briny and different from Hawaii. Clusters of loose, unfamiliar seaweed, chartreuse, pine green, and the crenellated white of cauliflower, rolled in gentle waves punctuated by translucent amethyst corms of dying jellyfish.
We jumped in among the jellyfish and the water was fine. The Northumberland Strait, in July, is shallow enough to heat up near the shore. A couple of feet of warm amber water welcomed us on top, while below, even in the height of summer, a chill current hinted at the freezing depths of the Atlantic that move beyond the gentle barrier of nearby Nova Scotia peninsula.
I could walk that tranquil white beach forever. It looks like forever too, beach, sea and sky fading into an infinite horizon without a line, trimmed in lacy white cloud.
Back on the porch of the house, cool evening sunshine, tilted low by the slant of spent daylight, casts long shadows from my pen onto the page. Meadowlarks sing, their trills and furbelows punctuated by the grating caw of shiny black ravens calling each other home to roost. Sheep baa-ing at the neighboring farm add a random comedic note.
There are no cars, buses, trains, whistles, or grinding machines here. I sink deeper into my Adirondack chair, feeling my bones melt into the peace. I know why Holly is happy to drive twelve hours to get here.
A tiny wind swivels the glimmering leaves of the birches as the rush of invisible evening air takes form. It reminds me night comes, even to a magical place like Prince Edward Island. But, tomorrow promises to be another precious glassful of hours filled with two of my favorite things: writing all day, and walking the beach for miles with a dear friend.
Sounds amazing. What gorgeous descriptions. Makes me want to run away to Canada. Haha, I never thought I’d say that 🙂
Yeah me neither but I’m a convert!
Toby, I love your descriptive writing, makes me feel if I am there beside you. Love the porch on the farmhouse, I know you will spend precious time sitting there. Such memories you are accumulating, take plenty of pictures for your travel albums.
Keep up the wonderful blogs!
Your Florida Friend,
If I could I’d just drive around and write travel blogs! Maybe someday…
Looks like the perfect place for a writer’s retreat. From your blog, I can tell that it is working!
So true, it’s already been awesomely productive.
What an idyllic place to write and rejuvenate. Your lyrical descriptions have me ready to pack up and fly back East. Enjoy your special time there!
Thanks for joining me on the journey!
PEI is and always has been my favourite place on Earth. I’ve vacationed there every summer since I can remember. I’m fortunate that for me it’s only a four hour drive, not a 6,000-mile epic journey like it was for you. (And I understand about the trip, having done it in reverse — New Brunswick to the Kona surf.) Arriving on “The Island” is always a visceral experience for me. As soon as I catch sight of those rolling farmlands you mentioned, I can literally feel the stress just bleed out of my body. It is my place of great relaxation. If you ever need a “local” writer to fill out the roster of retreating scribblers, just let me know.
Dear Andrew, what a lucky man you are to have had this place in your life for so long. Thanks so much for sharing, and YES if I ever come this way again, let’s get fish and chips at Rick’s or something!
Love your descriptions. PEI is also a place I’d like to see. I have friend that’s sort of in the area –Nova Scotia, but my geography sucks. It is a lovely part of the world. I’m a New Englander in my bones and love my family’s long history in Massachusetts (not too many have a 1670 tavern their story. First place preserved by New England Preservation in1911)
May these beaches deepen the understanding your beaches on Maui and all beaches of the world. Keeping them clean for the generation.s
Thanks for popping by to comment. Nova Scotia is a nearby peninsula. Thanks, walking the beaches of the world is a great idea!
Always a joy to read one of your posts. Felt as if I were there…
Thanks for letting me know! Much aloha and thanks.
Having lived on the west coast all of my life, the eastern coastline has always been a mysterious place in my imagination. Your description is indeed lyrical and lovely.
It’s a definite must-visit!