Gentle Giants of PEI

Our tandem kayak is a giant tub of a boat, difficult to manage and incredibly heavy. But it was free, and it carries both of us, so without looking a gift horse in the mouth, my husband and I step into the cold Atlantic, gentle waves sloshing up around our calves, climb in, and venture off the furthest Eastern coast in Souris, Prince Edward Island. It is one of those pricelessly perfect days where the cliched blue sky stretches  to meet the end of the world. Deep salty inhales clear our heads and we push off in silence, listening to the rythmic lapping of water as it navigates the curve of our paddles.

We follow the coastline down one of PEI’s many tidal rivers. To our left, powerful red rocks climb out of the sea, a looming fortress for the fields of purple lupines beyond them. To our right, on the northern shore, farms slope down gentle, kelley green hills to meet the freshly-plowed red soil. This is purely farmland. Four and half percent of all PEI-ers live on a farm–three times the national average, and this area is lined with many of the 1700 farms on the island.

There is not much to say to one another right now. We have been working too hard, have three busy kids in a house we are trying to build ourselves, and are strained to the point where our seams are stretched and filled with petty resentment for and unnecessary disappointment in one another. Marriages ebb and flow much like the tidal waters of Prince Edward Island. We know this.

We coast easily through the afternoon quiet until something ahead on a far beach flashes in the sunlight. It is a large heap that looks like silver plastic, and it continues to catch the sun in curious, uneven patterns of reflection.

“What do you think that is up there?” I ask aloud, breaking the first content silence between us in months.

We continue to paddle ahead, curious about this unnatural sight that lies ahead of us, but as we get closer, the heap begins to move and undulate. I pull up my paddle and squint harder, reiterating my question.

And before our eyes, twenty seals rise from the beach and slide themselves effortlessly into the water, one after another. Playfully, the large beasts skim through the water, their curiosity as great as ours, as they make a line towards our boat. Their heads bob in the gray waters, their eyes lock on ours, and then they dive deep, only to come up closer to our kayak. Within moments, about twenty of these beautiful creatures overtake our vessel, and we are completely surrounded. I can reach out with my paddle and touch one, if I dare, but the bull seal whose large brown head and loud snorts resemble a wild stallion, remind me that we are being watched and that he could easily overpower me. The bull swims up next to our boat. He swims around the boat.  He goes back to the other seals and tells them about us. He is terrifyingly huge and we bow to him.

I turn and look at my husband, who glances from the bull to me. His silhouette is stark against the potato crops in the distance, but when he looks up, his eyes are filled with wonder: for the seals, for the ocean, for the sounds of gulls and waves, but mostly for me, and I am reminded that the mundane things we argue about–those little naggings of life–exponentially multiply when we don’t take time to wonder at that which is greater than us.

And these seals are greater than us. They don’t care who loaded the dishwasher last or who takes care of the laundry. They want to dive deep down and feel the current’s pull. They want to raise their whiskers to the wind, close their eyes, and breathe the sea. They are curious about a blue bathtub ungracefully making its way into their inlet–enough to slide themselves out of the lazy, warming sun.

We sit for what feels like hours–us and the seals–observing one another, curious and respectful of each another’s power. The tide pulls us closer inland. There is nobody on shore. Nobody else in a boat. I don’t even have my camera with me. It is truly just my husband and me and twenty seals under a stretched sky, and it is suddenly clear that the stress of a strained marriage and a long school year feel frivolous when you look in a seal’s eye and see compassion.

The Mi’kmaq people named the island Epekwitk–cradle of the waves–long before this small island would be tugged between French Acadians, New Englanders, and the British with mighty war ships sitting in the harbors. It was as though they knew: peace emanates from the strong ocean and red sand. We will always be cradled by the waves. We will always be serenaded by seagulls. We will always be given the chance to look deep in a seal’s eye and rediscover ourselves.



*photograph courtesy of TT News Flash.

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