just a site…

In Cavendish, PEI, heart of Green Gables country, with its bus tours, souvenir red braids, Anne Shirley motels and carriage rides with Matthew Cuthbert himself, there’s a scruffy little path off an unassuming parking lot with a simple sign telling you the path leads to the site of the house that Lucy Maud Montgomery grew up in and lived for most of her time on the island. Where she wrote her earliest books. It’s where Anne of Green Gables was rejected a number of times and the only reason Montgomery didn’t give up submitting was because the post office was very near by.

A gem of a place.

dsc00232The path, all brambles and apple trees, leads to a garden and the foundation of the old farmhouse. Montgomery has written, in her journals or letters, about coming around this very corner, seeing the lights on in the kitchen and the feeling of comfort that gave her.

dsc00228 dsc00216-copyThere’s no hoopla. No Matthew, no Lake of Shining Waters.

What there is is a small humble building, part bookstore (thankfully no gift shop) with an excellent selection of Montgomery’s work, and others, mostly about PEI… and part collection of things to look at, photos and letters, etc., that belonged to Montgomery. And there’s a woman named Jennie Macneill who’s eighty something and whose husband is related to the grandparents who raised Lucy Maud. He grew up on this acreage and together they’ve preserved the site and put up signs and built the bookstore and Jennie gives brilliant and heartfelt talks on Montgomery’s life here.

She does this as a labour of love. She’s Montgomery’s biggest fan.

dsc00218-copyNot a whiff of faux Avonlea. No green gables. This is the real deal.

dsc00207-copydsc00205-copyAnd it’s this realness that may be why there are no crowds here. A few people wander in and then out again… One young woman even walks away from Jennie’s talk claiming she’s a fan of Anne Shirley, not the author. There’s a sense of wanting entertainment or to be whisked from one thing to another.

The faux Avonlea a few minutes drive away is busy; I saw it coming in. A bus tour was disembarking.

dsc00221dsc00204-copyNearby are woodland trails Montgomery walked to school, to the post office, to hang out with friends. Only a few people bother to walk them and those that do, speed through. One couple asks me if there’s anything to see up ahead. When I say, well, forest… they turn around and say they’ve already seen enough of that.

But first they ask me to take a picture of them smiling big, hugging. Then they hightail it out of there.

dsc00203-copydsc00202-copy dsc00196-copyJennie says that one of the apple trees is over a hundred years old, that it would have been around in Montgomery’s day. It’s still producing a few apples. She thinks that maybe its enduring nature is because the tree approves of what they’re doing here, that it feels their heart.

dsc00231 dsc00215-copyOn the way out I overhear a woman complaining that there’s nothing here, that it’s just a site… and I wonder what she’s looking for.

I’m sorry I didn’t ask.

yin yang, summer hols version


Allow me to use these ancient principles to illustrate the way that just when something annoying happens and just as you’re in the middle of being annoyed, poof!  the yin yang thing kicks in and makes lemonade.

(No metaphors were [unduly] harmed in making the above sentence.)

Maybe everything is yin yangly but it seemed even more so on a recent getaway, which begins early early in the morning at Toronto’s Pearson Airport where the two people sitting behind me cannot shut up about how there is no smoking area inside the airport and how they don’t feel like walking all the way outside even though the entire return trek might take 20 minutes. They’d prefer to spend an hour moaning about it instead. Also everything is apparently the government’s fault. Everything. Then I overhear one of them say something that tells me they’re on our flight. Yay. Always nice to be in the company of conversational wizards in nicotine withdrawal. = ↓

But… they don’t sit anywhere near me on the plane. ↑

dsc06988↓ Rental trailer not ready on arrival. Will be 45 minutes to clean.

↑  It’s a blue sky day and we’ve been on a Rouge  plane for hours and are therefore starving and possibly semi permanently scrunched up (thank you inch and a half of Rouge  leg room!) so decide on a walk, maybe find a bite to eat.

dsc06996↓ The only place, we’re told, is a Timmy’s just up the road, through the industrial park, next to a gas station.

We head in that direction but, before getting to Timmy’s, we discover another place and wonder why no one mentioned this oasis of deli with ten thousand options for the best snacks ever. AND a patio overlooking a zen garden of smiling bees and giant purple sage.

dsc07007 dsc07008 dsc07013↓ Is this our trailer???

dsc07015↑  Uh, no.

↓  The place where we get our fruit and veggies is out of garlic because we are told the farmers are asking too much for it. Too much?  How much is too much? And why is everybody willing to pay ridiculous prices for green tea coconut milk lattes but not locally grown garlic? Here’s the thing:  if you can, please pay farmers whatever they want for decent food decently grown so that they too may have a decent life. (And the answer to the coconut milk latte is *because they are frigging delicious*.)

↑  They do have lovely onions. Also pears.

dsc07019↓  The place we get our happy ethical meat and eggs from has moved and is now impossible to find even though we have the address.

↑  After a kind of Laurel and Hardy show involving calling the place three times because I refuse to use GPS, we find it. We buy ethical chicken wings and other delights then drive to our favourite IGA for staples like olive oil. Our camping rule is that we shop once. Whatever we run out of, tough. It’s an iron man camping challenge to use only what we have and to not buy more or have leftovers. It’s not possible to express how much I love this part of camping. Or this IGA.

dsc07086↓ The pub we always stop at for lunch is closed. As in forever. We aren’t surprised. The guy was a bit of a schmuck. And the patio was always closed.

We start a new schmuckless tradition.

dsc07023 dsc07028↓  At our remote campsite there is a copse of chokecherries. Also a mother bear and two cubs feeding on them.

↑  We move to a very nice trailer park.

dsc07035↓  We are warned about rattlesnakes in the area. Oh sure, we say. Pull the other one, hahaha! But on a walk we hear what sounds like a rattle. We don’t stick around poking shrubs and rocks to see what it is.

↑  We feel wise to not care to see what it is.

dsc07121dsc07131↓  The lake we are on is freezing cold.

↑  It’s also clear and sandy bottomed and shallow and the sun comes up over the hills that surround it. And the moon too. I swim every day.

dsc00042_1 dsc07137↓  We go to lunch at a swanky place but the sun is so hot  on the patio….

↑  Oh suck it up already.

dsc07168↓  I’m lost trying to find a road around the lake.

↑  The nicest people work at the Carmi Motor Inn. And they know directions.

dsc07081dsc07083↓  I go to a small town tourist info place and ask what there is to see. “Not much,” the guy tells me. He’s 81, he says, and has lived there for thirty something years and not much goes on and that’s the way he likes it.

↑  In the same town I find a small museum which is really just some pioneery things in an old house. My favourite thing is an old journal from the area that reads: “March 16th Not much to do all day… March 17th… Not much doing all day, not even basketball after school…  About a week ago I heard a meadowlark but haven’t heard one since… March 18th… A fine day but not much to do…”

dsc07095↓  The Honey BooBoo family moves in to the camp site next to ours. The children throw stones at ducks and are so addle minded that their poor addle minded mother must yell at them constantly to do the simplest things, like not fall into the fire, etc. When we suggest they do not use ducks as target practice the mother chimes in with YES!!! RILEY AND DAYTON!!! THAT’S VERY INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR!!!!  Everything they say is at a strange heightened volume as if perhaps they are used to living many kilometres apart and must communicate via open doorways and wind currents.

↑  When we ask if there’s another site we can move to, not only is there one, it happens to be the nicest site in the whole place. Thank you, Honey BooBoo.

dsc00052 dsc00022_1 dsc00013 dsc07117-copy dsc07071 dsc07067 dsc07077↓  We run out of olive oil. (And, in keeping with iron man rules, are not allowed to buy more.)

↑  My honey picks me a consolation bloom.

dsc00047_1↓  We run out of chips.

↑  We buy more at the canteen. Chips are the exception to the iron man rule.

↑  Then we find a little house in the woods that sells homemade perogies and once again break the iron man rule.

↓  We are punished by the perogies overcooking themselves into inedible mush. We are grateful for chips.

dsc00015_1dsc07135↑↓  On our last morning, the fridge is almost bare. (This is both good and not good.)

↓   The chips are gone.

↔  Our remaining iron man ingredients are lemons, coriander, two eggs. two slices of bread, a tiny crumble of blue cheese, onions, a few spoonfuls of yoghurt, one perfect pear.

↑  Breakfast, just before leaving — lemony eggs benedict without the hollandaise or the peameal. And a fruit cup.

dsc00050 dsc00055

Embrace the yin yang.


how to get to pei, road trip version, part two (aka the argument-diffusing power of a fundy beach)

Not so much an argument as Do you have to eat your chips like that???

But this comes later.

First, cross over into New Brunswick and go directly to the info centre to ask about restaurants between where you are and where you’re going. Info centre people hate this question and, it seems, don’t have an answer. BUT!!! they tell you with a certain amount of pride… there IS a zip line at Grand Falls.

Okie dokie, then. Remember to say thank you.

Don’t entirely discount the zip line. Afterall you enjoyed the one at your local Treetop Eco-Adventure Park.

At Grand Falls witness a fearful gorge and decide that, gee whillikers, if only you weren’t so darned hungry, thirsty, tall, short… or if it wasn’t so cold, hot, rainywindysunny or possibly on the cusp of a locust invasion, you might seriously consider doing some zipping.


(Notice a child being strapped in as you leave.)

Leave anyway.

Drive and drive and drive and drive and drive (it’s a long road through NB) until you need gas and then while at some obscure off the beaten track gas station, find the sweetest little place for lunch on the River John.

DSC04062 DSC04060 DSC04058

DSC04064_1Enjoy your meal because the friendly server is very possibly right when she says this is the best place to eat between here and St. John.

DSC04104And as lovely as St. John probably is, it’s not on the agenda this trip.

DSC04105Continue to drive and drive and drive with the intention of getting to the coast by nightfall. Don’t despair of having no idea where you will spend the night.

Read brochures from the info place and find a motel at somewhere called Deer Island, a short ferry ride off the coast.

Call and speak to motel owner Diane who says sure she has a room, come on over.

Don’t panic when you can’t figure out how to find the ferry.

Call Diane again who will give you directions via back roads.

Don’t panic because the ferry leaves at 6 p.m. and you can’t remember if Diane said to turn left or right at the place that sells propane. Have faith in your instinct.

Find the ferry with time to spare.

DSC04067The line up waiting to board is three cars long, including yours.

Enjoy the view.

DSC04072Do a jig if the spirit moves you.

DSC04069Find the motel and be happy with your tiny perfect room in this dreamy spot and who cares if not all the outlets work.

DSC04094DSC04075DSC04095 Eat the fish the even-lovelier-in-person Diane makes you for dinner because there is nowhere else on the island to eat and anyway, it’s excellent fish, caught by her son. And there is a patio.

In the morning walk to where there used to be a thriving fishing industry and now is mostly litter and emptiness.

DSC04084DSC04086 DSC04082 DSC04081Find a veggie place where you take what veggies you want and leave money in a tin can.

DSC04093Be happy when the veggie seller shows up before you choose your onions and carrots because it’s excellent chatting with her although what she says is a lot of sadness about the island losing funding for its once perfectly functional school, and that now there isn’t enough money to pay even a single teacher so all children are ferried to the mainland, every day, to attend school. Much of this, of course, is connected to the loss of fishing.

Notice the once lovely houses, ancient family homesteads and funky cottages going derelict. It used to be a thriving community the veggie seller says.

DSC04092 DSC04080DSC04099DSC04079Wonder aloud why all the houses are black and white.

Then find a book shop in one of those ancient family homesteads where the owners have lived and run the store for decades. They’re thinking of moving away. No one comes anymore, they say. Everyone’s moving.

DSC04096_1 DSC04097Leave some love on the island and think about returning one day.

DSC04100Driving along the Fundy coast at last… marvel at the beauty and (again) the lack of places to eat (and why didn’t you bring a picnic??). Decide to open a bag of chips to tide you over. (No pun intended. Honest.)  Make the mistake of asking your travel mate if they would like to eat some of your chips.

They would.

And they do.

(It’s not that you mind sharing, it’s just that they eat them…like that….)

And because it’s been a long day with beauty and sad stories and little food your hearing is unusually sensitive. Pull the car over and with as much exasperation as you can muster, say you need some air, to walk and breathe and be alone for a minute without the sound of chips everywhere.

Make sure it’s a beach made of small boulders so that you can’t actually walk very far comfortably.

Allow this to increase your level of crankiness.

DSC04106_1Find a rock that looks sit-able and sit there, staring out across the water and at the tiny tide pools at your feet.


There is magic in breathing and tide pools and rocks.

DSC04110_1When sufficient silence and magic has been inhaled walk back to where your travel companion is also breathing and take their hand.

Smile and breathe together.

Head back to the car but not before choosing a small boulder to take home, a reminder that in the greater scheme of things, chips–no matter how stupid noisy–are but small potatoes.


Part One, here.

Next: Part Three–PEI…!! Claustrophobia on the Confederation Bridge.




how to get to pei from ontario in three easy steps: the road trip

Step One: get to Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

En route, embrace the OnRoute rest stops, which, by the way, are not for resting. They’re for walking, dancing, jumping about; anything that gets you moving. You don’t need to rest, you’ve been sitting in a car. What you need to do is use the loo.

Also, buy some chips and stroll over to the picnic area. Every OnRoute has one. Not everyone knows this. You’re welcome.

Or keep the chips to eat in Trois Rivieres or, better still, eat them in New Brunswick as you drive the Fundy shore where they will cause you to have an argument with your travel companion, thus stopping the car in a snit at what turns out to be the most extraordinary beach ever.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Did you have the foresight to bring chalk? No? Then hopscotch is out. Just get back in the car. Break time’s over.

Actually, no, it’s lunch. So stop at Kingston because that’s where Pan Chancho’s patio is.

DSC03949DSC03948_1 Now put your happy full belly behind the wheel and drive right past Montreal. (That’s is a whole separate trip. Do NOT try and squish it in.)

Instead, go directly to Trois Rivieres. And no, you do NOT want to trundle along Hwy #132, aka Route des Navigateures and take a chance on finding the perfect little place to spend the night. Trust me. You don’t.

Because if you do it will be very late by the time you get anywhere.

DSC03951_1DSC03958Happy? I told you not to take the Navigateures. But did you listen, or did you just have to see for yourself that without a reservation there is nothing on the 132 that is a) available, b) reasonably priced, or c) not weird.

So, across the bridge in the dark to Trois Rivieres. Check into the first hotel you see and ask at the desk where you can have dinner (because the hotel kitchen has closed for the night) and be extremely grateful to be directed to a screened outdoor patio with excellent food. Have a glass of wine. Have two. Who cares that you’re eating dinner at 10 p.m. You’re cosmopolitan now. You’re in la belle province where only the pets eat at 7.

DSC03968_1In the morning, have a swim with a view of a bridge.

DSC03978_1Then get back on that bridge and back on the Route des Navigateures, because you like back roads. That’s where you find charm.

And indeed, you will find charming hamlets with a few buildings each.

DSC03950_1And trees.

DSC03985And a considerable number of tumbling down barns.

Think about doing a series…

DSC03991 DSC03989 DSC03986Then decide against it.

Discover an abandoned building that gives you the creeps.

DSC03992Residential school? Something about it says maybe… Say tiny prayers for who knows who, just in case.

DSC04002_1Do NOT take a side trip to Levis, thinking you will find the Tourist Info office and ask what other wonders are not to be missed along this stretch of bucolic roadway. You will only spend over an hour in construction and on one-way streets going the wrong way only to find the Tourist Info office is closed. Ferme. Moved. No one knows where to. Maybe it’s vamooosed entirely. I don’t care. Let’s get the hell out of Levis.

DSC04008_1Begin to think about lunch.

Ignore the gnawing suspicion that because you have so far seen diddly squat in the way of eating establishments on the Route des Navigateures, that there is probably diddly squat in that department. Refuse every instinct toward sanity and the main highway, the 20. Instead, insist there must be a place on the water… a bistro, with music and wandering Mexican minstrels.

By now it’s the cosmopolitan lunch hour of 3:30 p.m.

Before you give in to a burger from a gas station, glance up the road a bit at a place that looks closed.

DSC04027Go there and walk around back and knock on the falling off screen door and discover that the place is, in fact, open. Shout allo!  to get the attention of the guy who is checking his phone while very bad music plays too loudly. Double check that the place is indeed open and don’t bother trying to explain (especially in French) why you are un petit peu  surprised to hear the answer is mais oui,  just be happy there’s a patio overlooking the St. Lawrence and order a chicken caesar because apart from the fact that the service sucks and the food is awful, this is pretty much the sort of place you’ve been hoping to find all the way along des Navigateures.

DSC04015_1 DSC04016 DSC04019_1Beach walk and briny air clears your senses and you finally get on the main highway where you make the rest of the short drive to Riviere du Loup—a four hour jaunt which so far has only taken you all day.

In Riviere du Loup, thanks to a friend, you have the name of a dreamy hotel.


Enjoy the view.

Then get some Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Next up:   what’s with all the white houses? aka… hello, New Brunswick!









When people come to visit, I never know where to take them.


Inevitably, we find ourselves at this diner or that café or the restaurant that does the excellent veggie naan even though the server is a pill.

Almost always we walk. Through the ravine, downtown, around the ‘hood, the beach. I point out the tree with windfall apples I use to make a crumble each October. And the place where once the kids and I ate pistachios and played Daniel Boone eating pistachios. It’s not a high end tour but there are almost always stories that spring from it… mine, the visiting people’s.


We’ll go to the galleries of course. There are a lovely abundance of them here. The market. The bookstore. The emu farm.

A concert maybe. A slice of local theatre.

There’s a junk store I might think of taking them, depending on mood and whim and inclination, where you can barely move for the amount of crap and treasure and the owner’s hoarding instinct, which prevents him from ever wanting to sell anything. The only store where when you ask how much this is, you’re told it’s not for sale. You don’t go there to buy, you go there to do anthropological studies.


If it’s summer we’ll paddle a rented kayak and have fries from the best chip truck in these parts or sit on a patio in a trailer park luncheonette and drink iced tea with some not too bad grilled cheese sarnies.

If it’s winter we might stay home and light a fire. I might make a feasty meal or maybe just keep it simple, make an omelette… I’ll mention that final scene in the movie Big Night and I’ll put on the CD and we’ll talk about first times… first omelettes, whatever…

We might drive. To see the xmas lights or the country lights.


This is what I do… and sometimes I wonder: is it enough, these emus and sunsets? And then I wonder why I feel that way because when I visit someone this is exactly what I want. NOT the Eiffel Tower, not a string of organized entertainments, but the experience of actually living in a place… the small slices of everydayness.

(Although I will not decline a quick dash into the Louvre.)

So tell me… when visiting, what is it we want?

And by we I mean you.




this is not the road trip post

According to Wikipedia, Bertha Benz was the first person to take a long distance road trip (106 km at a maximum speed of 16 km/hour). 220px-Motorwagen_SerienversionShe made the trip in 1888 with her two sons and “without the permission of her husband”. Her reason was that she wanted to visit her mother although there are suggestions she actually did it to publicize her hubby’s brand new ‘Benz’ motor car. It worked.

A third reason (unofficial but most probable in my opinion):

road trips are jolly good fun

What I realized after a recent 3400+ km drive to PEI and back is that a road trip (different from getting somewhere as quickly as possible) taps into a sense of timelessness—the proverbial ‘journey’ versus ‘destination’.

There is still red sand in the car and in my shoes and I am in love with a rock I brought back and I keep playing the tape I kept playing all the way across New Brunswick and then Quebec and Ontario, right up into my driveway.

Laura Smith, it was. Not much of her music available online but if you like this, you will love her.

Something I learned: a good tape is an essential thing for a road trip. Just one. It becomes the soundtrack. (Would love to know your own road trip soundtrack if you’d care to share.)

Other tidbits of road trip lore and Things I Learned In Between the Fine Lines… to come. (And, I hope, to hear, from you…)


cue the theme from deliverance

So I’m driving home from lunch with a friend. Said friend lives way over yonder and I live here, and so we meet in the middle once or twice a year.

There’s a lot of countryside between here and way over yonder and it pleases me to drive through it.
But I’m late and there’s a cement truck in front of me all the way up one (two lane) highway, and then construction on the other (two lane) highway, so I can’t stop for pictures, except the ones I take while stopped, to prove there’s actual construction and that I’m not just rudely late. Not that said friend needs proof; but taking pictures is something to do while stopped.
Lunch is a patio, an endless strings of words, hugs and laughter. This person has been through much in the past few years, one of the strongest people I know. Yet she, in the way of such people, has no clue as to her own strength. It’s my pleasure to remind her. And to celebrate having come out the other side intact, more brilliantly herself than ever.

Driving back home, I’m in no rush and so decide to turn left here, and right there, venturing down the occasional country lane.
As a woman, I’m always aware of the potential for trouble in venturing down lanes. I take in the air and the sights. But I remain alert. I’d like to pretend this isn’t the case, to throw out some bravado, but it wouldn’t be true. Not that the ‘awareness’ stops me from the venturing, it’s just that I don’t do it casually, the way, maybe, a fellow would.

I suspect that every woman has a few dicey-situation stories to tell. Keeping one’s wits about one helps ensure they have happy endings.

But back to all that green.
DSC00921DSC00927 - Copy (2)DSC00926 - CopyDSC00929
And then, as I walk along the shoulder of a particularly untraveled road in order to get the optimal view of greenness, a car in the distance coming toward me.

Not especially noteworthy, except that I can tell it’s slowing down. A beater of car, as if the driver forwards and backs into walls as a matter of course.

I tell myself it’s a kind soul who wonders if maybe I’m in distress, but even I don’t believe me. I am very obviously not in distress. I am very obviously taking pictures. And the car is very obviously now stopping right in front of me. The window is lowered. Inside, a large man in a dirty tee-shirt. His stomach abuts the steering wheel as he looks me over before speaking, says so, what ya doin’, taking pictures?

He doesn’t care about pictures. I’m pretty sure he’s not big into the creative arts. My car is clearly visible, but it would take me a good minute to walk back to it. Long enough. There’s no traffic on this road.

I look him in the eye. That’s right, I say. See ya.

He continues to stare at me a moment and I stare back, give him the best f**k-you look I can muster. (It’s not hard.) And maybe it’s my age, or maybe it’s the look, or that it occurs to him that it’s only a matter of time before someone drives by (although no one ever did)… but he snarls a bit then steps on the gas and tears away in what feels distinctly like some kind of moronic snit.

I’d like to say that I was emboldened by all this, that my veins surged with a kind of f**k you, assholes who bother women, you can’t stop us from taking pictures on deserted country lanes, “superpower”. But the truth is I walked quickly back to my car.

I continued on my way, still stopping for pictures, albeit on less untraveled roads; I found a greenhouse and bought a fern. I was grateful for traffic. And I hated that this is the way it is for women. On empty country roads, on crowded city ones. There is an ever-present ‘lurking’ that goes on among a certain kind of men.

And it occurs to me how important the friendship of women, how its embrace is one of the few truly safe places. I’m equally grateful for friendships with good men, and it’s a sad thing that that particular bunch is so tarnished with the likes of so many others.

Mostly, though, I’m grateful for a good f**k you look, which I believe I inherited, quite by chance, from my mother.

The moral of the story? How’s this: ladies, teach your daughters it’s not always good to be polite.
And enjoy all the scenery you’re entitled to enjoy…