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.