Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 18, 2024
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Last Word: Heading Home

Home is about place, not simply real estate, but a physical relation to history and landscape — the limestone outcrops, the tilled fields, the pull of the Big Lake.
<p>The Way Home by Donna Walker. (Karen Valihora/Gazette Staff)</p>
The Way Home by Donna Walker. (Karen Valihora/Gazette Staff)

I punched off the audio book as we approached the bridge, the final disk of a Grisham thriller about a forced confession in Missouri. I wanted to give the Skyway my full attention. We had spent the month of February in South Carolina, and we were almost home after two long days of driving.

The transition from the Tyendinaga Reserve on the mainland to the rural landscape of the County is at its most dramatic at the height of the bridge span. The unfurling of the Prince Edward landmass as an island makes a bold statement of separation. It felt good to be back on Canadian soil. I wanted to pull over and savour the view. It is said that we should pause on the threshold before making a crossover. Except on a bridge. And never on a bridge under repair.

It was the same thrill of anticipation I had experienced the first time I had crossed the Skyway many years earlier on my initial exploration of the island.The wave of nostalgia I felt driving into the County heartland got me thinking about the meaning of place and the never ending yearn for home.

My twin brother Deo frequently teases me in the ironic tone he has patented. “What is it about home that holds you,” he probes. “You are obsessed with place, and comfort.”  He loves his home as much as anyone, and is equally invested in all things domestic, but he’s just not as forthcoming as his Bro.

“Our houses are who we are, and how we have lived,” I counter. “They become a love story.”

It may seem obvious that home is about shelter and a space where we feel safe and settled, but in the chaotic ways of our world these days, this is so often not possible.  It is because of this privilege of home that I was thinking about how lucky we are.

For a quite a few years now, Covid years excepted, Joanie and I have driven south on Interstate 81 for February, usually the most wintery of winter months. We get in a road trip mentality, with audio books, pillows, and a hamper of healthy snacks for our many stops and exercise breaks. Phones turned to airplane mode to avoid roaming.

At first it was Florida, but the heat and craziness got to us.  We joined the ABF camp (Anywhere But Florida) and shifted north to Charleston. These days any trip to the US comes with protocols and strategies to deal with the political culture down south. We have friends who refuse to even cross the border. Joanie and I have chosen the option of holding our noses, never talking politics, and staying under the radar while enjoying the many charms of the Charleston area. Canadians are appreciated as the polite, elegant folks who slip in unnoticed and don’t cause a fuss. “Canada, that socialist country,” is often the refrain on introduction which pivots to awe in recognition of our health coverage and tolerant civil society.

When I was negotiating with the owner of the house we rented on the marsh, she opined enthusiastically “you had me at ‘older Canadians.’” At the end of our stay, she declared “you’re the best tenants I’ve ever had. You left the house better than you found it.”

On one of our first outings through the fine neighborhoods of the Isle of Palms, we met a fellow out for a morning walk. Turns out although he had lived in South Carolina for many years, he was from Peterborough and attended York University. “I can’t talk to my neighbours, he railed. “They support Trump and don’t care about the world. I am desperate for a Canadian fix.” Bill instantly became our best friend.

As we crossed the bridge in the late afternoon calm after a month away, we looked forward to a return to our domestic routines and quiet life in the woods @Waldhaus, just past Lake on the Mountain.

A few nights later we had drinks with friends on County Road 7. We brought them tales of the Low Country and photos of the grand white-columned residences of historic Charleston. They knew how pleased we were to be home, and noted forcefully that there had not been much winter to escape from. “Next year why don’t you forego the angst of US travel and stay put in the comfort of your own home,” they encouraged. “There is a lot going on in the County in February and there’s only a few degrees difference in warmth.”

Frank Power, a farmer of Hessian stock, gave me the best insight into the meaning of home after my dog was killed on County Road 8 the first night of my purchase of the old Roth farm past Waupoos. I was prepared to abandon the dream of restoring a crumbling house on the waterfront. “Once you have buried a family member, you have put down root,” he assured me. “You have to stay.”

Putting down roots, and community belonging are part of the emotional pull of home. Along with the safety of a shelter and a good roof. Home is about place, not simply real estate, but a physical relation to history and landscape  — the limestone outcrops, the tilled fields, the pull of the Big Lake. Fundamentally home is a sense of connectedness and permanence.

Perhaps the ultimate test of home is where we want to bury our bones. A few years after Frank gave me that message from an idling truck, I purchased a lot at the Rose Cemetery, a pioneer burial ground in the heart of Waupoos. The plot sits on a rise under a towering shagbark hickory. We visit from time to time to picnic, and hike the escarpment overlooking the endless horizon of Lake Ontario. It will be a lovely spot to tuck myself into one day. Not just yet, but when the time comes, it will be my place to rest.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 14 edition of The Picton Gazette
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