A Walk on the Edge – Jenna Gaudet

A Walk on the Edge
Thunder Cove, Darnley, PEI
Jenna Gaudet

I sent a buddy of mine a picture while I was at Thunder Cove today. He immediately replied with, “looks like frozen hell!” To which I responded in my head,
“no, frozen paradise”.

This place is beautiful, even in the winter. The wind is cold, but the scenery makes up for the bite. It’s one tiny piece of the edge of this magical island, and in my mind it is mine, but still somehow shared with all the others who love it.

I’ve been coming to this beach since I can remember, in every season. Since I was 3 years old, and possibly before. I know this piece of the island, of our planet, better than any other. As good as my own backyard where I grew up. It’s my favourite place on earth, besides my bed on a stormy day.

I’ve come here before in the early spring only to find all the sand washed away from the cliff that everyone clambours down to get to the beach. Just a pile of uninviting red stones left behind. Only to return in the early summer, before beaching season, to find the sand had returned, waiting to be churned up from brown to red by visitors’ eager feet. I’ve come in the winter before, but never on assignment, so I’m seeing the beach with a new perspective.

What will I see today? What will I write about?

Here on the cliffs above the beach, you can look behind you at the row of cottages – once all small and somewhat rustic, now mostly new and much bigger. You can look to the right and see rolling hills of dunes that are covered in marram grass in the summer, and other cottages in the distance at Penderosa beach. Looking left, you scrubby bushes and cliffs stretching towards Twin Shores. And looking ahead, you see nothing but sky, sea, and an uninterrupted horizon. At this part of the north shore, you’re looking straight out into the gulf, no land masses within view.

Being here now feels peaceful – parking on the frozen rutted road, just me and one other car. Finding some loose sand to sink my boots into – it isn’t all frozen yet. Hobbling down the cliff to the beach and churning it up red as usual. A set of footprints left behind by two humans and a dog. Feeling the wind bite at my face and tear my hair away, and still loving it here today so much. I’m glad I remembered my mittens! Smelling the salt air but it smells cold, even though cold isn’t a smell.

Walking all along the beach, keeping an eye out for what would make a good picture, and deciding everything I see would make a good picture!

Admiring the beautiful red cliffs with their weird little caves and cube shapes.

Watching the water swirl in a small pool as the waves come in.

Standing in one of the alcoves in the rock. Wanting to light a fire and stay here forever, just like I wanted when I was young. Wishing I lived on the beach, with not a care in the world, just watching the waves and the people come and go. They also are not worrying about a thing.

Savouring the time I have here before I go back home

It really does feel like the edge of the world.
The edge of my world, anyway

I have memories of this place from almost every year I’ve been alive. As I walk along the crunchy snow and sand, the memories run like a snapshot reel in my mind as clear as if they happened yesterday.

My parents packing up the big black “box van” to take me, my sister, and cousins or visiting friends from off-island to Thunder Cove for the day. Not even bothering to take shoes.

Finding a spot to park on the narrow bright red road. Stumbling down the cliff and running across the dry sand because it’s too hot to walk on (why didn’t we bring our shoes!?) Then finding a cooler, damper patch to inhabit for the day.

Playing in the sandstone caves down the left side of the beach as a child, my sister and cousins and I each picking a “room” inside the cave to call our own. Collecting crabs and shuffling them all into a small pool inside the cave for us to keep as pets for the remainder of the day.

Thinking this amazing cave will last forever, and one day realizing that it shrinks a little bit more every year.

Scooping up globs of the bright orange clay that would collect in puddles in the shadows under the cliffs. Rubbing it on our hands and legs then washing it off in the water, watching the waves turn red around us as the mud settles to the ocean floor.

Sitting on the elephant rock past the caves, waiting for giant waves to splash up all over us like a theme park ride.

Squatting in the shallows and playing with the wet sand, piling it on our legs and dribbling it into little piles (castles, to be more precise).

Capturing poor jellyfish in a net and mushing them up with a rock to make “jellyfish soup” – I have a feeling I’ll be coming back as a jellyfish or some other poor helpless creature in my next life.

Digging giant holes that a bunch of us could sit in, to have our parents bury us so just our heads were sticking out.

Having to find a discrete corner to pee in for lack of public washrooms.

Burying our legs in sand and shaping it into mermaid tails. And adorning our tails with rocks and shells we had collected. We still do this even into adulthood – the cool sand feels so good on the legs, and it’s exfoliating, too!

At the beach, your imagination just roams free, at any age.

Staying at the “MacDonald Cottage” with friends and family visitors from off-island. That being the highlight of their summer. Sleeping in the bunk beds in the little red wooden cottage and writing our names on the underside of the top bunk. Watching “Ghostbusters” on VHS while we eat cereal for breakfast before heading down to the beach for the day. Then, years later in junior high, finding out that my friend Ellen’s father, friend of my own father, is of the MacDonald Cottage MacDonalds, and the “ellen” written in Sharpie on the underside of the bunk was hers all along. Talk about an island moment when we figured that out!

Sometimes, finding a cool surprise on the otherwise familiar beach… A giant, bleached driftwood log standing straight up pointing into the sky – someone has taken the time to dig a hole and bury the driftwood so it will stand up until the wind or waves knock it back down. A huge dragon built out of sand by long-gone visitors. A washed-up body of a stingray, reminding us of the friendly creatures that might bump into us while swimming. Today, a giant triangle made simply from three driftwood logs on the beach. It reminds me of alien crop-circles.

Playing in the warm, slow-flowing water of the little river that runs from a small estuary out into the ocean. Noticing how the course of the water changed each time we visited, carving new paths in the soft sand.

Climbing the big dune to the right, towards Penderosa, to take in the view of the sea of grass. Perching at the top and feeling the wind whip our hair and sand into our eyes. Rolling down the sand, or running and trying not to trip over our own legs (which we did many times!) Later in life, learning that you’re not supposed to walk on the dunes because it dislodges the marram grass, causing the dune to slowly shrink and dissolve into the sea. Feeling so guilty for spending so much time climbing up and down the poor dune over the years.

Spending endless hours playing in that amazing water with my sister, cousins, and friends. Always freezing at the beginning, but once you dunk your head under, it feels like bathwater, really! You have to run in, otherwise it will take you forever to finally go all the way under. Playing mermaids, swimming between each other’s legs like little bridges, and finding a bright white shell to throw far away and then try to find again underwater.

Those special days when the waves would be HUGE and crashing, making the thunderous sound for which the beach is named. Playing in the waves, even as adults, letting them knock us over, diving into them, sitting backwards waiting for a big one to crash over our heads.

Calmer days walking in the surf, wading into the shallow pools between the sand bars that had warmed up to become almost hot. Floating in the calm shallows letting the waves wash over our feet again and again, and feeling the tide slowly come or go.

The water has a way of washing any sadness or stress away…
At least for a little while

The animals we’d sometimes see… A fuzzy orange caterpillar hanging out in the dune grass. The occasional fox searching for its next meal. Plovers and other shore birds. The golden retriever that used to walk the beach day in and day out. The dog would roam the beach, visit the beach-goers, for years on end, until one year we stopped seeing it.

When I got older, playing beach volleyball and frisbee with friends and scraping my knees all to hell in the sand but not really caring. Spending nights there in high school and the summers between university semesters. Building campfires, setting up our tents, drinking beer, singing, and watching the stars. Swimming in the water that held onto the day’s warmth longer than the air surrounding us. On special nights, there would be shooting stars, food to cook over the fire, and bioluminescent plankton in the water that would light up when we splashed around.

Only to wake up the next morning at the crack of dawn hot, sandy, and sticky in our tents, having forgotten to save any fresh water for the morning. But even in those conditions…

…nothing wakes your soul up more peacefully than the sound of ocean waves nearby.

The countless hours spent walking those soft sands with loved ones… talking, laughing, sharing troubles and sharing dreams. The ocean has heard all of our secrets and been privy to our deepest moments.

Going alone on my days off in the summer when I had a different schedule than all my friends. Laying in the sun for hours reading and forgetting to put on sunscreen (and now observing my newly forming forehead wrinkles with some regrets).

Even in adulthood, still not bothering to put on shoes when going there. You can walk down the rocky dirt road to get to the cliff if you’ve run around outside enough to toughen up the soles of your gross feet.

In more recent years, my family from New Brunswick renting a cottage at Penderosa one week every August. This is when I get to visit with my little cousins. Every year they’re taller and smarter and can do all the things we used to do on the beach – except we don’t let them mush up jellyfish. We make mermaid tails, play ball, build castles, and paddle in the shallow waves on their paddle boards.

Helping my grandmother walk the path from the beach to the cottage through the prickly grass and bushes. I think she’s already had her last visit to that beach because she’s not as steady on her feet anymore.

Basking there in the warm sand and the hot sun, everything feeling peacefully muted and far away, looking out at the great big ocean with not a thing in the distance except for sky and water. Being reminded that we’re just animals on a beach, trying to unwind and escape for a few hours from the busy world we’ve created for ourselves.

Lately, watching the cliffs erode so much that fences are hanging off of the tops of them, and the road is whittling away so much that it’s not safe to park there anymore.

Watching our little MacDonald cottage and other cottages get torn down. More and bigger cottages and beach houses being built around with “private property” signs popping up. People with money to spare claiming a piece of this paradise for their own. I don’t blame them.

Walking the beach every spring and quietly pointing out how much our favourite rock formations have changed. Our beloved elephant rock lost its trunk a few years ago and is now a teacup.

This place is all of these memories to me and so much more. It is the place I envision in my mind when trying to go to sleep, when trying to meditate (not with much success) and when trying to calm myself.

I hear the waves when I really listen,
no matter where I am.

It’s one of the first edges my feet ever touched. It’s where a piece of my soul lives now, and it’s where I will live on afterwards, I hope (probably as a jellyfish destined to get mushed up by a manic child).

I think anyone with a deep love for a piece of an island can call themselves an islander.

It’s this love for a place that compels islanders to move back after being gone a long time; that keeps visitors coming back, makes them buy a piece of this place, or move here ‘from away’ to live out the rest of their lives.

I consider myself lucky to have a place like this in my life. It feels like a family member. I know a lot of people aren’t so fortunate to have a place they’ve gotten to know all their lives, so I’m thankful to have grown up here and thankful for my parents taking us here so much. I’ve never written about my love for Thunder Cove in such great detail, but I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I asked my Mom to go through some old photo boxes to find some pictures of us at Thunder Cove through the years – she found too many to include and she was delighted to relive the memories with me.

I’m not unique in my love for this place. Thunder Cove is beloved by a lot of people for a lot of reasons, and I am sure it will continue to be for a long time. It will continue to change and slowly crumble into the sea – but even long after we’re gone, it will always be a special place in our island hearts.

Jenna Gaudet is a Graduate Student in the Master of Arts in Island Studies program at the University of Prince Edward Island.

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