Tuesday, October 2, 2007


The other night I had supper and drinks with my old friend Courtney--on his way to PEI from S. Korea--et al. Courtney's from the west end of PEI, where my father's family is from, but we met in first year university, when we were both in residence at Radical Bay, King's College. Our don, and the Dean of Men, was Eddy Rix, also from the west end of PEI. Eddy figured he and I and Courtney were all related, vaguely. (I know, I know, aren't all Islanders related? Harhar.) Eddy would know better than we would, as he's something of an Island historian and an avid collector of its literature and lore (he's probably got the most complete collection of Zach Wells books and ephemera of anyone).

Anyway, Courtney and I got to talking about PEI and its roads. PEI has the most kilometers of road per capita of any province. This relates to Milton Acorn's observation that "since I'm Island-born, home's as precise as if some mumbly old carpenter, shoulder-straps crossed wrong, had figured it down to the last 3/8 of a shingle." (That was from memory; I've looked it up and this is how it oughta be:

Since I'm Island-born
home's as precise
as if a mumbly old carpenter,
shoulder-straps crossed wrong,
laid it out,
refigured to the last three-eighths of shingle.

Not bad, considering how lousy my memory typically is.)

I grew up on a red dirt road in central PEI called the Princetown Road, a couple clicks off Highway 2. The road, in summertime at least, rejoins the highway a few clicks further west. My uncle's house--next to his son's, which is next to my brother's (still unfinished), which is across the road from my grandmother's, which is up the hill from my parents'--is the last one on the road. In winter, the homeless section of road between his place and the highway doesn't get ploughed, as no one requires access to it. Between my uncle's and my cousin's place is a long-disused logging road called the Old Princetown Road. Not much good for driving on, but great for walks or snowshoes through the woods; unfortunately, snowmobilers use it quite a bit in the winter. (To their credit, however, I think it was the snowmobile association that rebuilt the bridge over the stream.) Just beside my brother's place is the Perry Road, which runs between the Princetown Road and St. Patrick's road. The Perry's a "heritage road"--meaning that it's not to be altered in any way, just maintained. The Perry has no ditches, but raised shoulders, is wide enough for one car, and is perfectly shaded in summer by the canopies of trees growing on either side. We used to go down it after rainfalls to pick scrumptious chanterelle mushrooms, which more often than not got cooked into crepes. It was a favourite cross-country ski trail in the winter, as the plough doesn't go beyond the two houses on the Princetown Road end of it, and it's perfectly sheltered from the wind. When I started working summers in Cavendish, I biked down the Perry Road just about every day on my way to work, as it cut several kilometers--and a couple of nasty uphill climbs--off the trip.

Confused? Here's a visual

Anyway, there are so many interconnecting roads on the Island that it's practically impossible to get lost--or at least to stay lost for long.

Then, going thru George Ellenbogen's new book, I read the fine poem, "Driving the Back Roads," which opens

The routes you choose seem aimless
at first, and the day--you've forgotten--
Thursday? A time to go nowhere,
when even hawks and crows forego
habits of swooping for the dead
or slow footed.

So roads have been much on my noggin. They seem often to be so, in one way or another. My new book-in-progress is called Track and Trace; travel and its various vias crops up a fair bit. Where Unsettled was largely about being a resident alien and started out in media res, as it were, T&T is something of a prequel, dealing much with home and departure. (A thematically reductive summary, but not untrue.)

Here's a draft of a new poem, possibly destined for the book, possibly for the dustbin.


Rennie’s Road, St. Patrick’s Road, Perry Road, Princetown Road
Roads like a lattice laid flat on the lawn
Roads like dendrites, arteries, scars
Roads sprouting chanterelles in the shade of their shoulders
Roadside ditches littered with bottles
Unploughed roads crisscrossed by fox-tracks and hare
Smooth roads and rough roads
Roads rucked, ruddled, riddled with ruts
Roads kicking up billows of dust
Roads frost-heaved, pitted and pocked with potholes
Frozen roads thawed to boot-sucking mud
Washboard roads and corduroy roads
Closed roads
Abandoned roads gone to alders and grass
Roads dappled with tree-filtered sun
Roads strewn with worm-lousy apples
Roads to hell
Roads over streams running through culverts
Roads for the tractor from farmhouse to field
Roads to nowhere
Roads up blind hills, roads into valleys
Roads ending at crumbly clifftops
Your road, my road
Low roads and high roads
Private roads
Roads like crazy-quilt seams between patches
Wide roads and tight roads, straight roads and bent roads,
forked roads and looped roads
Roads well-travelled and low-traffic roads
Roads leading to roads leading to roads leading to roads
Roads you can wander unsure of your bearings without being

UPDATE: I received the following response from Eddy Rix, which he has graciously allowed me to post here:

Just read your yesterday's blog. No small irony that you wrote those wonderful words on my birthday. I expect Courtney (who actually is my cousin - my Great-Grandmother Minnie Rix was born Minnie Matthews whose brother, Fred Matthews adopted my grandmother as an infant - yes, that mean's my grandparents Rix were first counsins, but only by adoption!) will be happy to be back in Elmsdale soon.
I know the Perry Road well...I used to turn left after the Bagnall farm (Mrs. Bagnall, such a sweetie, was still in the Legislature when I was a page in 1988) and my favorite Sandstone Cottage (who owns that place across from the Bagnalls?) and drive down your road all the time, just making that loop for the heck of it, especially when the leaves were turning. I recall a friend from High School saying "that's where Jane's cousins live" once while passing your place. Anyway, one day I decided to turn down the Perry Road and never regretted it. A thousand small roads cross back of fields and across streams all over the Island (there's one through our property from Howlan to Duvar and a wonderful one running through my uncle's farm in Miminigash from the Old Palmer Road to the Smith Road called the Tom Road that's pure magic. However, the Perry Road is wonderfully accessible where the others aren't.
Do you know the song "O'Holloran Road" ? Theresa Doyle recorded it a few years back and fairly butchered it, in my opinion. It was written by a great-great-great uncle of mine from Cambelton, Daniel Riley. In the familiy he is always "Uncle Dan" - one of his other songs, actually called "Uncle Dan" was recorded by Lennie Doyle a few years back, utilizing as a refrain a fragment of a song called "Let Her Go" by Larry Gorman, a more famous Island poet from the Western end of the Island. The two probably got put together because of their being recorded on the same side of an LP by the Museum and Heritage federation in the 1970's, call "When Johnny went Plowing for Kearon." It's quite hard to find now, but I bet your family has a copy. The artists were Tommy Banks and John Cousins (Andrew's Dad, who, again, is my mom's first cousin!). John's version of O'Holloran Road is the one to hear - just stunning. It's a song that was taught to John by His mum, just as her brother, my grandfather, taught it to my mother and her to me. I now sing it to my daughter Gwennie at least once a week at bedtime (she asks for it when she gets sick of hymns). I see it''s on the web in pdf at http://cfmb.icaap.org/content/35.1/BV35.1art6.pdf
It doesn't credit uncle Dan as the author! The text is mostly that which I learned, though "memories" was always singular in my version, the fourth line of the first and last verse omits "the" (the meter is improved by this) and the first word of v. 5 is "Just" rather than "But" as I know it. I think the music score is bit different too, but the old style of singing these tunes has alot more of what Dr. Sandy Ives always notes as "parlando rubratto." I recall Theresa Doyle's version reading "me father and me mother" in verse two. My grandmother's only comment was "uncle Dan had better grammar than that!" The over rustification of our folk-ways is such a sham!
Any way, your new poem is beautiful, I look forward to the new book and I appreciate the homage to my meager efforts to preserve the rich culture of our island. The blog, though I'm sure not intended, was a great birthday gift and I send you O'Holloran Road in turn.
With all best wishes,
P.S. I've picked mushrooms on the Perry Road too - sorry if I depleted your clan's stash of chanterelle!

P.P.S. Further to my yes...I realize re-reading my original and hastily written note that it's right that one turns off of Rt. 2 coming from Ch'town to go down your road and of course it was Lennie Gallant (not Doyle) who did the recording that combines "Uncle Dan" and "Let Her Go."

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