How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Island Adventure

“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am so glad to be alive in you.” - Anne Shirley (L. M. Montgomery)

After seeing Prince Edward Island for myself last week, I can more than ever agree with Anne’s statement in Anne of Green Gables. Thanks to God and three dear friends, I fulfilled my longtime dream of visiting P.E.I., the small, northeastern Canadian province that’s only the size of Delaware but wrapped in a rich legacy of beloved, true-to-life fiction.

L. M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors. She wrote twenty novels and hundreds of short stories, and all but one of the novels is set on Prince Edward Island. She was born there, lived there for years, and even when she moved away to live with her minister husband, she visited frequently. Her writing revels in the beauty of nature and the quirks of human beings, so it’s no wonder that her books make her dedicated readers yearn to see the setting.

Although we were on the island for only two and a half days, my friends and I had a wonderful time. We visited all four of the major Montgomery sites, Charlottetown, and the northern seashore. We also got to experience the comforting familiarity of visits to Walmart and Tim Horton’s (a popular Canadian coffee and doughnut chain). To think that the Summerside of the classic Anne of Windy Poplars has a Walmart!

Sometimes dream locations disappoint you when you visit them in person. P.E.I. did not. I was prepared for it to be more modern, populated, and touristy than it was 100 years ago, but I was delighted to find it was less so than I expected. The island felt homey, safe, familiar, and idyllic. Tourism, agriculture, and fishing are its main industries, after all; you can’t get friendlier than that. Since we visited off-season, the sites and attractions blended into the character of the island instead of sticking out like busy anthills. I may have been expecting more striking beauty (Montgomery’s descriptions make my mouth water), but P.E.I.’s beauty crept quietly, warmly into my soul. 

L. M. Montgomery was born in this house in New London in 1874.

Her mother died when she was 21 months old, however, so her grandparents brought her up in the house that stood on this foundation in nearby Cavendish. Her father relocated to Saskatchewan when she was seven, but she never lived permanently with him again. 

Through a walk in what’s called the “Haunted Wood” (after the name Anne and Diana gave it in Anne of Green Gables), the actual house that inspired Green Gables can be reached from the Cavendish homestead. The couple that lived here during Montgomery’s time adopted a little girl – much like Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert adopted Anne. 

“where scores of white birches grew, upspringing airily out of an undergrowth suggestive of delightful possibilities in ferns and mosses and woodsy things generally." (Anne of Green Gables)

One more site is the grand home where Montgomery’s aunt and uncle and cousins the Campbells lived. Today it’s the Anne of Green Gables Museum. Just across the road is the lovely natural mirror, the Lake of Shining Waters, that inspired the special body of water in Anne’s stories. 

Historic downtown Charlottetown, P.E.I’s capital and largest city, is quite a charming specimen. Life picks up a little more speed here, just like it did years ago.

This was my first visit to the ocean. Though it was cold, I got right in and let the experience literally wash over me. It was so incredible to gaze out at the horizon and realize there’s nothing but water for miles and miles and miles. The red sand and rocks were lovely. Just look at that sea grass! The only thing that wasn’t how I imagined it was the taste of seawater – I actually found it rather good (in small sips, of course). On this island, you’re never far from the sea.

“On the left were the steep red sandstone cliffs.... Down at the base of the cliffs were heaps of surf-worn rocks or little sandy coves inlaid with pebbles as with ocean jewels; beyond lay the sea, shimmering and blue, and over it soared gulls, their pinions flashing silvery in the sunlight." (Anne of Green Gables)

Visiting Prince Edward Island greatly enhanced my understanding of Montgomery’s books. No wonder they are so colorful – P.E.I. is full of color, from blue skies, jewel sunsets, green grass, red dirt, reflective water, rainbow flowers, and painted houses. No wonder the books are so cozy – P.E.I. is home to friendly people, close-knit small towns, old-fashioned homes, and industries that rely on nature. The island today is a gratifying descendant of the island so loved by L. M. Montgomery. Have you ever wanted to visit Prince Edward Island? If so, I encourage you to pursue the possibility. You won’t regret it!