The lazy, hazy days of summer have special meaning this year. A late spring on the Tantramar has made the season all the more priceless. As I write, my view from a cottage window fronting the Northumberland Strait will be familiar to many readers.
Marking the horizon in the far distance is the dark blue outline of the coast of Prince Edward Island. This divide between sea and sky forms the backdrop for a group of sailboats tacking back and forth on the choppy waters of the Strait. There is just enough wind to fill the billowing sails. As the boats dart about, they become punctuation marks on an ever-changing sea.
Nearer at hand, a field ringed on two sides by spruce trees, is filled with masses of sea grass and daisies; while in a secluded corner there is a patch of wild strawberries waiting to be picked. A squirrel is performing acrobatics as he jumps from tree to tree. Overall, there hangs the drowsy tempo of summer, so characteristic of the season in the Maritimes. Was it always so?
The first people to enjoy this setting (minus the sailboats) were the Mikmaq people. Following a winter spent in the forest and upland hills they gathered at the seashore during the summer to play games, partake of lobster and other shell fish and enjoy the warm salt water. All that remains of these summer colonies are a few middens or refuse heaps of shells. Occasionally, a stray stone implement or arrowhead may be found.
We do know that the more venturesome of the Mikmaq crossed the Strait by canoe to spend summer on the land they could see on the horizon. I am certain that the majority of people who today travel the Confederation Bridge are unaware of these very first tourists to Abegweit. Later, as autumn approached, the Mikmaq would return to the mainland from encampments on the shores of Malpeque and Bedeque Bays. Significantly, both locations still bear their original Mikmaq names.
One of the first Europeans to praise the wonders of a Maritime summer was the French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491–1557). During the course of his voyage to the New World in 1534, he entered an uncharted bay. Captivated by the scenery he decided to land and explore the area.
What Cartier witnessed is best told in his own words.
The climate is more temperate than Spain (and the landscape)
is the finest it is possible to see.
In between wooded areas he found
wild wheat as well as peas, as thick as if they had been sown and hoed; of white and red currant bushes, of strawberries. of raspberries, of white and red roses and other plants of a strong pleasant odor. Likewise there are many fine meadows with useful herbs and a pond with many salmon…
This description would fit some locations on the Northumberland coast of Westmorland County; however, Cartier was a bit further north. He wrote:
We named it Baie des Chaleurs — the bay of heat — on 10 July 1534.
By now, readers who are
critics of summer and cottage living must be thinking:
What about the
downside of the season?…
Has he forgotten those rainy days when the universal refrain is always:
Theres nothing to do? Or equally important, can we just dismiss summer afflictions, such as black flies, wasps and jelly fish, to list but three possibilities?
The answer is that its all a matter of perspective! Rainy days at the cottage are meant for reading books, building driftwood fires in stove or fireplace, and playing those board and card games tucked away in the attic. Not to be overlooked is an ancient Spanish proverb designed for such bad weather days.
Always take the opportunity to rest and do nothing afterward.
During the course of some recent research I encountered an interesting account of one of the principal pests of a Tantramar summer the mosquito. It takes us back to the 18th century and James Metcalf, then a recent Yorkshire immigrant to the region. In a letter to his fianc Ann Gill, still at home in England, he described his new farm and urged her to join him the following spring.
The tone of Metcalfs letter was upbeat, for he did not wish to emphasize the rigors of life in the New World. But on one point he was candid.
There is a little flye called a miskeeto that bites like a midge. Even here he was able to be positive adding:
The trobelsome miskeetos can be kept out of the house by smoke pots, and they will in any case disappear when the wild meadow grass is cut. Ann Gills response was positive and the following year, long before
the wild meadow grass was cut she arrived at Fort Cumberland. On June 1, 1773 Ann and James were married.
Time passes quickly in summer and my historical reverie was ending. I returned to the scene before me. Little had changed. The sailboats, although fewer in number, were still there. A further reminder of the time occurred when I spotted a pair of blue herons, standing like sentinels, on a reef now exposed by the receding tide.
Then, without any warning, the late afternoon peace was shattered. Two racing speedboats appeared. Fortunately, they were soon lost to both sight and sound as they roared beyond a nearby point. What is sometimes described as
the silence of a summers day returned.
Suddenly my attention was drawn to a blur of movement in the spruce trees. No more than a few metres away stood a deer, a doe with ears cocked intently. Soon the reason for her caution was revealed, as out from the low shrubbery there came a white-spotted fawn. Somewhere the doe sensed danger and in a flash she slipped back into the woods, followed closely by the fawn. A bonus sighting for a summers day!
From a nearby bookshelf I picked up a book of poetry. While browsing, I discovered that Douglas Lochhead had captured, as only a poet can, the essence of this season.
In one of his
randoms or poetic essays he wrote:
Towards the sea (the wind) moves with grasses, daisies and strawberries One could say there is a constant agitation about all of this. Music comes closest to it. All of its moods. The wind changes and I read its notes in the leaning grasses. Out there, waves come heaving or gently in to counter it. Or to play There is much to learn by watching and listening to the field of wild grasses, daisies and strawberries.