A Walk on the Edge – Alyssa Gillespie

A Walk on the Edge:
“Contemplations on the Cove”

Alyssa M. J. Gillespie

In my experience, going to the edge expands beyond the act of walking to the shoreline. It all begins with a need to “get away” from the bustle of living in the close quarters of an urban centre. In the summer this is followed by collecting the necessities for a day away from it all. In the winter, however, this is followed by a drive to Tim Horton’s before setting off to Canoe Cove, an edge on the South Shore of Prince Edward Island. There is a little red dirt road decorated with handmade signposts, advertising the families that populate the collection of cottages you will find if you should turn left. As I always do.

The winding dirt road is flanked by a series of small cottages, each a character in its own right. My favourite was the slanted cottage that’s roof was held up by exposed beams littered with signatures and notes from all who entered. But that cottage is gone now. Now I seek out the second last cottage on the cliff, still quaint and welcoming, though overshadowed by the newer cottages with all-season heating but without clotheslines in the yard.

On the edge of the cliff, these buildings seem to matter less. The sound of the waves and lone crying bird drown out the worries of the land. On the edge I can just make out where the sky meets the sea through the fog. I can let my mind roam wherever it may, I let it drift to ghost stories I was told as a child about Ghost Ships and romance disrupted by the call of the sea. I think of written stories like Emily of New Moon and The Road to Rankin’s Point where the cliffs are a stage for the characters to confront life and death.

To get to the shore line I must navigate the steep declining path, usually lined with slick rocks, by digging my heels into the snow and tip toeing around wet mud. I remember the wild raspberries that used to grow in the bushes lining the path, they had disappeared some years ago. On the shoreline it is cold, my usual seat is blanketed with snow so I stand. Part of me is waiting for some new perspective to set in, a new feeling imbued by the lessons of Islandness. The other part of me feels a familiar sense of hominess, feels the itching compulsion to write my feelings and thoughts until they make sense.

In the summer, the beach smells like sand and sunscreen. There are forgotten buckets littering the sandbars and footprints leading to the surf. Now the beach smells crisp like snow with a frosty bite. I am nostalgic for summers but I prefer the solitude of winters here. In the winter there is, as Anne Shirley would say, more “scope for the imagination”. Which led me to writing “Contemplations on the Cove”.

“Contemplations on the Cove” looks to the duality of place, specifically an edge of Prince Edward Island. This particular edge presents an opportunity to look at the duality of childhood and adulthood, summer and winter, as well as fact and fiction. Understanding the place as an island is relevant as well because, for me, islands embody the duality of ocean and land which is a vital tenet to understanding the concept of Islandness, as I know it.

Contemplations on the Cove

I have always known the edge, for every year I have grown it has receded.

The Cove’s edge was a summer haze:
dewy layers of salty sweat,
and mouth drooling with sour wild raspberries.

I once saw myself as seafarer, explorer, oceanographer,
chasing penguins on the horizon against the rising tide,
the magic washing away with each shoal.

Until I no longer collected seashells or built sandcastles.

Over time I removed myself from the landscape,
aligned myself with ghost stories of women standing on cliffs edge,
waiting for phantom ships to come to shore so their lives can begin.

I looked at the edge of my world, an island unto itself,
“everything ends here,”
a sentiment I find like sea glass in the lapping waves.

But today it is cold on the Cove’s edge,
today I remember the warmth of my aunts and uncles worn with age,
their skin reflecting sandstone cliffs,
I remember them rediscovering their youthful joy
baptized in the Atlantic.

I remember hours spent dissecting jellyfish,
my father building planes out of sand,
and though it is not summer anymore
(and summers haven’t tasted like wild raspberries for years)
I put my hand in the gentle swell.

At first it is so cold I feel
then the bite of winter comes quick,
and as soon as I want to stop, I find a seashell
resting on the finest of lines
dividing sand and sea.

Alyssa M. J. Gillespie is a Thesis Student in the Master of Arts in Island Studies (MAIS) program at the University of Prince Edward Island.

To learn more about Alyssa and her research, visit her MAIS Graduate Profile here.

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