SUNDAY July 4, Day 11 of PEI trip
Last night we heard three island-grown musicians: Mark Haines, Teresa Doyle, Gordon Belsher. Right now we’re driving down the road toward the ferry, which we’ll catch at Wood Island. Once again it’s 10:00 on Sunday morning, church time, and I am not at church!
The ferry was very full, we had to wait for the next one, so the whole operation took about 3 hours. Fortunately I was able to do some writing while we waited. Once on the ferry we tried to make some plans for Nova Scotia, as we have done absolutely no advance planning for this part of the trip. People tell us that the most beautiful part is the east side of the island, both above and below Halifax, which is about in the middle on the coast. We’re thinking to spend 2 days camping somewhere along that coast, hopefully Doug can use his kite, then we’ll cross to the west side to Digby to catch the ferry back to St. John’s. Then drive home lickety-split.
Driving across Nova Scotia, there were very few towns and no establishments were open. No gas, no groceries, no restaurants. It was extremely overcast, to the point of fog. It was one of the low points of the trip. We wondered if it was worth it to have detoured to Nova Scotia in the first place and felt ill-prepared in terms of camping equipment and notions of what to do. On top of that, Doug accidentally punctured the air mattress when he closed the trunk. He patched it with a bike patch, but we had no surety that it would hold. We might end up sleeping on hard ground.
We finally happened across a place called Murphy’s Cove: Oceanfront Camping. We pulled in, and found they had plenty of tent sites and they are, indeed, on the ocean. Our spot is high, overlooking a rocky coast. The fella who runs the place is Brian Murphy and he is very congenial. On his advice we went up the road to a family run restaurant called Family Fries for supper. Haddock and halibut. Since there is no potential for breakfast and the restaurant will be closed, we got rice pudding to go, for breakfast.
Then we came back for the campground wide campfire, right on the shore in a circle of chairs. Every night Brian cooks a pot of mussels for everyone. There’s also a nice Sailor’s Rest where he cooks coffee every morning. We met the other campers and had a good time. A father/son from England. Two men from Ireland. A family from Switzerland with 2 young children. Another family from Germany, also with children. And a whole lot of seasonals who spend a good bit of time at Murphy’s in the summer, and have done so for many years. A young boy played his fiddle, then when we finished applauding, pulled out an accordion.
Our spirits had risen considerably since we arrived. I was thinking about the nature of hospitality and how one successfully extends this precious gift. What does this place have that the church doesn’t have, I wondered as I sat there.
We decided to go out on a scenic boat ride the next morning at 8:00.
I woke up at 5:15 to watch the sunrise but the whole area was socked in by fog. I went back to bed thinking, maybe tomorrow.
By 8:00 it was still very foggy, so foggy that we could have opted to skip the boat ride. But there was another couple, from Ontario, Wendy and Kevin, who were also interested. Kevin said, I didn’t drive 1500 miles to look at the walls of my tent and I agree. So we went out in a Baby Cape Islander, which was a perfect size for four passengers and a captain. The wooden boat had a small cabin, maybe 8×8, and an equal sized deck area. If one person crossed the boat, it felt like it would tip over, but it didn’t. We were supposed to be gone an hour and a half. Yes I heard the theme song to Gilligan’s Island “a three hour tour” play in my head.
Captain Brian took us around 8 or 10 islands in about a 3 mile radius. The views were beautiful in a soft-edged way. It’s a good thing I genuinely enjoy mist, pine trees, rocky coast, because that’s what we had. We spied ospreys hovering over their nest. At one point we stopped to fish and we all caught a fish, even me. This may have been the first fish I ever caught, I don’t recall. It was a pollock about 6 inches long, and we got a picture which I will have to find some excuse to show at church.
Then we motored to a rock where many seals hang out, and saw about a dozen of them. We turned off the boat and they came quite close. Then we were off to see an eagle nest. As we were using the binoculars and snapping pictures, we realized that a pair of porpoises had come right up to the boat, too. The dolphins were fishing, so we threw the lines back out and Kevin caught 3 mackerel in a row which he threw back for the dolphins, who seemed to appreciate it. They hung about, got very close to the boat. Brian thumped the side of the wooden boat to call them back and invite them to play, which seemed to work. Brian said it was the closest he had seen dolphins so far this year. It was just marvelous. Meanwhile we were also keeping our eye on the eagle nest and tracking the movements of a young eagle. What a lot of wildlife to keep your eyes on. Just spectacular.
By the time we returned, we had been gone for almost 3 hours and Captain Brian had a big grin on his face. I think he likes his job.
We headed farther south and had lunch at a brand new, rather upscale restaurant at a marina. More haddock and a nice salad. Then down the coast to Martinique Beach where people sometimes surf. It was a beautiful sandy beach and there were even a few brave souls in the water. Doug got out his kite for an hour or two.
I want to write down the name of the place we passed: Musquodoboit Harbour. When the locals say it they pronounce each syllable and it rolls off the tongue.
Now we intend to eat one of Brian’s lobsters for supper, he says he likes to teach people how to eat the entire lobster, and this really appeals to Doug. We stopped at a grocery store today, so will be able to round out the meal too.
Well, Doug was quite the pioneer. We aren’t set up for cooking, so he made do with the cookstove we borrowed and one pot. Besides the 2 live lobsters he had half a stick of butter, a bag of spinach and some potato salad from the deli. He boiled the lobsters in sea water, then let them cool and picked them apart. Then he melted the butter for the lobster and poured it in a styrofoam cup we salvaged from the car. Then he cooked the spinach in the hot pan with some of the butter. We ate the whole business straight off the vinyl tablecloth without benefit of silverware. No pictures of this part! We did have plastic spoons for the container of potato salad.
At the campfire Brian asked if we had eaten the lobster bodies and we confessed that no, we hadn’t, we had just tossed them.
So we salvaged them from the garbage, they had been tidily tied up in a plastic bag and were intact. We went into the Sailor’s Rest under good light and got a lesson in eating lobster bodies. Basically you can scoop everything as long as you’re careful not to puncture the stomach. The green is liver and the red is eggs and there are also big hunks of fat. The pieces of meat he picked from the tops of the legs were actually sizable hunks and very delicious. Then he showed us how to use your teeth to chomp all along the legs and suck the meat out of those.
Why do we eat lobster in white tablecloth restaurants? It’s more like picking blue crab if you do it right.
Brian says that he saves the body for the next morning, and puts that whole mess in a frying pan, with eggs, and it’s his favorite breakfast. The next time we have lobster at home we’ll try it. Meanwhile, the two guys had no problem polishing off what they picked.
We went back out to the fire where the little boy from the Swiss family had proudly grilled two fish he had caught on the evening cruise, one pollock and one perch.
TUESDAY July 6
This morning we went on another boat cruise. The day was much different, with good sun and choppier water. The other cruisers were a young couple from Germany. We took a different path, but hit the same high points of the nests and seal rock. Today Doug and I did not catch any fish, only the German man did. We did not see any dolphins. But the seals were more visible in the better light.
I steered the boat for quite a while so Brian could tell his stories to the German couple. I liked the rules:
- The Captain is always in charge.
- Respect the sea. The sea is so big and my boat is so small.
Later, getting a final cup of coffee before we packed up to hit the road, I asked Brian how he ended up running the campground. I suspected he had had a career of some kind earlier. Indeed, he did. He had worked as an architect, in Halifax. The advent of computers was not something he took to, and meanwhile the family business was not doing well under his brother’s hand, so he decided to move up his retirement plan by 10 years, and take it over. He is obviously doing well at it. It also explains why he enjoys his life. He has the good sense of knowing what he has. Too often people do the same thing for too long, then they don’t know the beauty of what they have.
I wanted to record a story I heard from a man named Lionel. He spends the whole season at Murphy’s. He is a matched set to Brian, they are both short and barrel-chested, with white hair, always wearing a cap. But Lionel had his arm bandaged and I asked about it.
Twenty years ago he worked on engines. One night he was working a bit late to finish a job, alone. His buddies went out for a few drinks after work. I don’t quite understand the logistics, but he was between a truck and a welder (a welder being a piece of equipment rather than a person). Someone else didn’t realize he was there and moved something to shut a door. The hitch of the welder caught him up in the groin and reared him against the truck and pinned him there before he could drop the pin and get free. Numerous bones were crushed. His neck was twisted. No one knew he was there. He was able to drop the pin to free himself, pull himself up along the seat of the cab of the truck, then passed out. Hours later, one of the other mechanics stopped by after drinking, a bit looped, and went to shut a door, not realizing he was there, but he woke up enough to cry out.
Here’s what gets me. He said I was an idiot. I went home and went to bed for 3 days. Then he had to get back to work so he pumped himself full of pain meds and toughed it out. I suppose his body healed up some and he was young and he managed. But 5 years later he started having all kinds of pain, and finally saw a doctor and got x-rays and there were all these bones that had broken and healed in strange ways. The thing that took the longest to surface but which is the most hopeless, has been his neck. He didn’t even have an x-ray until a couple of years ago. But there is nothing to be done. The nerves are all shot. The doctors said he should have been in a halo brace. So the surgery in the arm was somehow connected to relieving the pain in his neck. But from the look of his face, it has not worked. He has the visage of a man who lives with pain, although he does so with humor and grace.
Back to the road. As I write this we are traveling a route along the water, headed toward Halifax. I got an online reservation at a nice hotel for tonight. I did it through Expedia, where you don’t know which hotel you’re reserving until after you give them your money, isn’t that crazy? But I tried it, and we got a very great rate at a very nice hotel (I hope).