The Labour Day weekend is here, marking the official end of summer for most Canadians. On PEI there is not the same agreement. Although all would agree that September and October are magnificent months, with warm days and cool nights, most people argue that summer finishes as the winner of the Gold Cup and Saucer Race crosses the line on the third Saturday in August, an event which marks the end of Old Home Week. This is a ten-day period of harness racing, agricultural and RV displays, and a large midway with rides of varied severity and rows of carnival activities. Lots of neon lighting and the smell of candyfloss and corndogs overload the senses, and those fortunate enough to live close to the event grounds happily have visitors park on their lawns at $10 a car. Personally, I think this is an urbanized view of summer.
The weekend after the Gold Cup and Saucer Race is the Dundas Plowing Match, an old-fashioned country fair. Here fancy breeds of poultry are proudly displayed, a raucous mix of chickens, geese, ducks, pigeons and doves. Some are for sale, and this year we acquired two prize-winning buff ducks to join the flock. In the other barns are cattle, sheep, goats, and rabbits; a small stage hosts a series of local musicians singing gospel and country songs; and in the community hall examples of baking, jams, fruits and vegetables are displayed and judged. Teams of oxen pull plows across an adjacent field, old red tractors huff and wheeze their way around the grounds, and pairs of huge horses show off their strength to pull wooden pallets loaded with concrete slabs along a dusty track. There is a midway, but here the rides are mainly for young children and the Ferris wheel only takes passengers 15 feet above the ground. There are sausages on a bun for sale, and ice cream by the scoop, but no neon lights or candy floss to be seen.
For me, the final heavy horse pull at Dundas marks the real end of summer, which this year was praised by tourists and beach lovers but of concern to farmers. There was a three-week period where we had no rain, the ground turning hard and dry and difficult to weed, although that didn’t stop Nesinake and Hadil from getting everything looking beautiful for the garden party. It was delightful to see these two working together – Nesinake is from Papua New Guinea and was a student in my early years of teaching, while Hadil is an international student from Syria who was in the last graduate class I taught. Nesinake now lives in Melbourne and came over for my retirement party; afterwards her husband Neil and I installed a 1200 litre (320 gallons) water tank to collect the rain from the roof of the shed, but it was purely a decorative feature for much of July.
The dry weather did make it easier for Gavin, a good friend who visited from Calgary for two weeks, and me to drive the cedar posts and fix wire panels so that the ducks and chickens, or chucklings as one woofer affectionately named them, now have a huge fenced area in which to roam. The ones that are going to overwinter are starting to reach egg-bearing age; the ones that aren’t are starting to get measured for the freezer.
In the garden the first tomatoes have ripened on the vine, and the drying beans are beginning to pod on the tall wicker tripods, only one of which has fallen over into the squash and pumpkin plants. The early garlic has already been pulled and stored, the rest are ready to be gathered this week, and the leeks, onions, beets, parsnips and carrots are all filling out. They were helped in this regard by the remnants of Post-Tropical Storm Erin, which in late August brought some wind and a fair amount of rain, and temperatures failed to reach 20 degrees Celsius for the first time since I retired.
The pond is holding water well and the recent rain has topped up the levels to the stone edging we laid earlier in the month. The edge of the liner around the top of the pond is still an exposed eyesore but must stay until the spring, when it can be removed and replaced with strips of sod and wildflowers. The dragonflies don’t seem to mind the unfinished nature of the pond, cruising around over the single, white, water lily flower and the shade it casts for the goldfish beneath.
The small scale moai from Rapa Nui gazes benignly over the sunken garden, a tangled mass of weeds which lies firmly on the ‘do next year’ list of tasks. The massed ranks of Black-eyed Susan in the surrounding meadows have started to fade and will be cut this week to encourage new growth, and to provide a broad swathe where we can snowshoe in February. The formal flower beds are red and gold in late summer hues, the roses are on their second or third bloom, and the bounties of the herb garden are slowly transitioning from flowers to seeds. The fruit trees in the orchard are starting to shed their leaves in readiness of the winter to come, and the posts for the vineyard are laid waiting for me to get organized enough to get them in to the ground.
The past two months have flown by so quickly that it is only just sinking in that I don’t need to go to the office on Tuesday. I suppose that I shall now have to turn myself to the myriad of small household tasks that never seem to bubble to the top of the to-do list, the things that are so boring and/or repetitive and/or uninteresting that they get left until someone else gives in and does them first. Or the tasks so herculean that the mere thought of starting them brings palpitations and cold-sweats – the dozens of bankers boxes full of photographs and carefully preserved black and white negatives which need to organized and archived; the filing cabinets with old research notes that have to be kept for a precise number of years prior to being shredded; the diaries and notebooks that will one day be fictionalized into short stories and perhaps a novel.
But on this first day of September it is another warm Sunday on the Island. The sun is shining, the soil is still workable, and the harvest continues to burgeon. Time enough for those other tasks to wait until the rains and snows of winter keep me indoors. Time still to procrastinate on the to-do list, and instead to eke another day of summer from the year.