Thursday, July 21, 2011


It’s been four weeks since we landed on Prince Edward Island – which was 28 years to the day since I first set foot on this island and planted my flag declaring “home.”

On June 23, 1983, how could I be so certain? I who had lived all those other places: first Ontario, then British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, then again in Ontario then back to BC, then the Yukon, then Ontario again (21 schools under age 21)… before finally turning left instead of right on the TransCanada Highway and ending up on Prince Edward Island by accident. How, at age 24, could I know this island was home?

All those thoughts wended their circuitous way through my brain as we made our slow descent under a sky that had been scrubbed clean. The short flight from Montreal brought us along the North Shore where we could see New London Bay and the seemingly precarious spit of sand separating the bay from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I tried in vain to pick out Elaine and Allan Hammond’s summer cottage at Stanley Bridge, knowing they’d probably be there by now, meaning that summer could officially begin… We followed the fingernail of beach, bright white sand edging polished blue, before turning inland at Brackley Beach and over ochre-red fields so freshly plowed they looked like they’d been swept just for us.
Through the haze of exhaustion, and the beginnings of a hangover (those three rounds of margaritas in LA where we had an amazing Mexican supper with Thane and Carol were exacting their revenge), the end of our 40-some hours of travel was in sight. 
We’d begun in Katoomba the previous morning, taking the train into Sydney, collecting two of my bags that I’d shipped by Greyhound from Hobart, and catching the shuttle out to the airport. At our snowy dinner the night before, we’d had our first inkling from a fellow diner that the Chilean ash cloud was wreaking havoc yet again on its second pass around the world. And the buzz on the train was confirmed when we saw the newspaper headlines at the bus terminal screaming “20,000 stranded in Sydney.” When we arrived at the airport, our fears were confirmed: our flight, which was supposed to come in from LA, had been cancelled. Fortunately, the wonderful folks at United (I’ll never again play “United Breaks Guitars” onYouTube) were able to book us on a Qantas flight only three hours later.  They apologized to Mike that they couldn’t promise the vegetarian meal he’d requested. No worries, mate…

On the flight from Sydney I had even managed to get a bit of sleep – actually for eight of those fifteen hours – and I slept so soundly and so still that the woman next to me said she had to check every couple hours to make sure I was breathing. (Thank you, Sir Atavan!) We barely had time to make our connection in Montreal, but our bags – all FOUR of them – mercifully kept pace. We got home, eventually found the keys inside one of the bags, and collapsed. We are definitely looking forward to the day when “Beam me up, Scotty” isn’t just a TV show on reruns.
In these intervening weeks since I’ve been back, I’ve been acclimatizing to the new routine. I didn’t dare drive until the jet lag passed about two weeks ago: my brain was still wired for driving on the left-hand side of the road all those months. Even now the windshield wipers invariably go swish-swish when I signal a turn.

I’m back to my early-morning walks around Victoria Park, remembering how it looked when I was home at Christmastime and being thankful for my 29th Island summer. 
I’m seeing familiar faces from last summer: the two 20-something sisters who run together every day – they MUST be basketball players, they’re so tall; the bleached-blond suntanned woman with her three poofy slipper dogs and her black SUV; the dressed-up woman striding purposefully to work in her sneakers, shoebag firmly in hand. Edging the boardwalk is Charlottetown Harbour, rising and falling in the same old way.
I’ve been to the Farmers’ Market where my faithful coffee cup, purchased in the summer of 1993 when my girls were a particularly whiny seven and three, was waiting for me on top of the cappuccino machine. 
I’ve been to the Churchill for trivia and two-for-one curry night (chicken korma, half-and-half) and a few pints of Rickards Red.
I’ve gone for a bike ride along the North Shore, and hung out on Victoria Row with friends.
I’ve answered lots of questions about how Tanzania and New Zealand were. I think I’ve met everyone who knew I was away, with variations on a theme: “Tasmania was fantastic – SUCH a great experience.” “No, I’m not moving to Newfoundland.” “Yes, I plan to go back.” “No, I don’t have to go back to work right now.”

I’m not homesick for this Island anymore. But what HAS surprised me is that I’m missing Tasmania so much: Monday cake day in the Geography tea room, coffee in Sandy Bay with Millie and Anna and Catherine, my meetings with Pete and trips to Bruny with him and Anna, Maddie and Harry and Denbeigh and Stewart, hearing about snow on the mountain… 

Is it disloyal to feel this strongly about TWO islands? Or is it just part of the human condition to always be looking back, to never be satisfied with what you have?

* * *

The first week we were home we felt like Charlottetown was putting on the dog just for us. First it was Canada Day July 1, with fireworks and concerts and a general party atmosphere celebrating the country’s 144th birthday. But, ironically, it was all just a warm-up for the REAL celebration: the Royal Visit July 2-4. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will and Kate, had people camping out overnight just up the street to get the best view of the newlyweds on historic Great George Street… complete with the RCMP on trusty black steeds riding shotgun. I know that THIS household was more than a little relieved when all the helicopters were gone, and we could get inside our door without having to beg our way through the barricades.
Their visit seemed like a bookend to my arrival 28 years ago, when the City scrubbed up for me the first time… or maybe it was for that other Royal Couple, Prince Charles and Lady Di…