From Away (EDITED)

If you've a moment, why not take a listen to a radio documentary I made for CBC Radio's Maritime Magazine? It's called "Islanders By Choice", and it's about the experiences of people who move to PEI (or anywhere in the Maritimes, really), from Away.

Go get it here.  (EDIT: Whoopsie. How'd that Carpenter's song get in there? Here is the real link.)

If you like any part of it, credit goes to producer Christina Harnett.

The Birds

Late summer 2008. We're eating lunch on the picnic table behind our house in the north end of Saint John.

A flock of unfamiliar birds flits to the boughs of a poplar tree in the centre of our yard. At first glance, they are grey with yellow tips on their tails. As we keep watching, we see their feathers hint at tones of peach and yellow.

Erin: Beautiful.

Me: What are they?

Two-year-old Henry: Cedar waxwings. 

We are not shocked at all. Henry, at age two, has devoured our copy of Peterson's Guide to Eastern Birds. Literally. The book is held together by his saliva and a roll of duct tape.

It's the only book he ever wants to read. We have leafed through its pages hundreds of times. I am not exaggerating when I say he has memorized every bird in it.

We wonder sometimes if it will be a life-long love of birds, or whether it's a passing phase fed by the ooohs and aaaahs of visitors when we trot out the book to display Henry's genius party trick.


This week. The kids and I walk around the campus at UPEI enjoying the spring weather.

A half-dozen small birds dart back and forth from the shelter of a bush to the limbs of an over-hanging tree. We stop and watch. A woman walks by.

Woman: Wow, neat birds! I wonder what kind they are.

Henry: Chickadees. 

The woman is impressed.

Woman: That's pretty good. Do you know a lot about birds?

Henry: Nah. I only know chickadees. And crows. They're black.

Hullo, Olive

It is a cold winter morning in Toronto, sometime in the mid-1940s. My grandfather clears the final few shovelfuls of snow from his driveway.

He looks at his watch. He is running a bit behind. If he doesn't catch the next streetcar, he'll have to drive to work.

He sees his neighbour's yard still full of snow. A recently widowed mother of one, she has to get to work this morning, too. Grandpa picks up his shovel and begins to clear her front walk.

Her door opens a crack.

"Good morning, Gerry!" calls the woman. She smiles. "What would I do without you?"

Grandpa stands and waves.

"Hullo, Olive."


Ten years later.

"No offense, Gerry," says Grandpa's boss, "but the prime minister and his wife are here to hobnob with the mayor and council, not us. Probably best that we keep a low profile at this reception."

Grandpa nods politely. He is a secretary in the clerk's office at the city of Toronto. A legendary fast typist, it's Grandpa's job to take the minutes at city council meetings. This fame isn't enough, apparently, to win an audience with Prime Minister John Diefenbaker or his wife.

"They're coming," says a voice from across the room.

The doors open. The Diefenbakers enter the hall. The prime minister is immediately snatched up by the mayor and a handful of councilors.

Standing demurely next to her husband, Mrs. Diefenbaker scans the room. Her eyes light up as they land upon a familiar face.

"Gerry!" she calls. "Gerry Trueblood!"

She makes a beeline past the waiting row of city councilors to my grandfather. She gushes over him as if he was the only person in the room. Grandpa's boss (and the row of snubbed councilors) looks on in shock.

"Hullo, Olive," says Grandpa.