Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cabot Beach Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island

I was prepared to say that I was disappointed by PEI, but that my disappointment was not the island's fault.  Weather, weather, everywhere.  When I checked in on Thursday, the woman at the entrance station asked me how many nights I wanted, I said three, and she said, disbelievingly, "Have you seen the weather forecast?" I assured her I had, but there wasn't anything I could do about it.

The storm (I don't even know if they call this a storm) showed up overnight and it made for some excellent electric blanket snuggles and a cozy morning with my pot of tea. When the wind and rain had simmered down to just wind, I hopped in the Jeep and did a half-tour of the north-central coast, but I was more interested in cemetery hunting than I was in Anne of Green Gables tourist traps.  

Cabot Beach Provincial Park is isolated from just about everything, but it's right next to a tiny village called Malpeque.  When I drove by the cemetery on my way into the park, I knew I would go back. I can't explain my love of cemeteries, but there you go. In the People's Cemetery in Malpeque, I expected to see more gravestones of red sandstone, but white marble with a peculiar green patina seems to be more common.  I have long loved cemeteries, believing that within a short time in a town's graveyard, I will know when it was settled, who the main families are, and in the case of the United States, when the language switched to English.  Within a few rows of this cemetery, I could tell the same, but this was a cemetery unlike any I have visited in recent memory.  I don't often project emotion--or believe I absorb any emotion--but here, I quite honestly felt like I was drowning in grief.  Suffocating--and this is something completely unlike my usual reaction to cemeteries.  This place was different. I don't know why, but it is.  This is a cemetery of disaster, of memories that cannot and should not be retained.

I have more.

Gravestone after gravestone, I found those words: Lost at Sea. Drowned. I've seen these kinds of stones in nearly every seaside village I've ever been to, those on the Irish coasts and elsewhere, and for some reason, I remain unable to build any kind of defense against those words. 

I stopped at the Historic St. Mary's church, which was also on my route, but something about it was disappointing to me. I couldn't figure out why.

On my circuit of the Anne of Green Gables drive, I disdained anything that either obviously or obliquely referred to Montgomery or the books. It's something to think that a great deal of the tourism that keeps PEI afloat is literary and down to one, singular author.  I avoided Montgomery's birthplace, Green Gables this and Green Gables that, mostly because the weather was still annoying and I didn't want to get out of the car and spend money to be disappointed, but also because while I enjoy Anne immensely, I am not the rabid kind of fan of Green Gables who makes this a pilgrimage. And I felt a little false about pretending I was. But there's a memory written onto this island by one woman, and it isn't written into her stone at Cavendish cemetery.

I parked across the road from the semi-circular wrought iron sign over the entrance to the cemetery that announced the resting place of L.M. Montgomery and a man asked if he could take a picture of my North Dakota license plate for his son who collects license plates.  And here, at Cavendish cemetery, in addition to Montgomery, her mother and grandparents, I found too many babies. Montgomery's own mother died at the age of 23.  We forget how dangerous pregnancy and birth is, we forget that it hasn't been very long since most mothers had lost at least one child, sometimes more.

As I came back into the park, I asked about the Moncton situation and was told that the man had turned himself in.  I said, that was not the outcome I was expecting. I was expecting that if he was taken, it would not be alive. And without being able to look at various headlines--or knowing grief--Moncton would be telling the stories of its fallen, preparing to write their stories on stones like these. How do we remember lives, rather than death?

Stay tuned for more on PEI...

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