Call The Governor of Tennessee…

Carole and I took an extended trip to Canada’s Maritime provinces (well, all except Newfoundland) in 2003. For the most part, we had a good time, although the mosquitoes in coastal New Brunswick were something we could have easily done without.

The high point of our trip was our stopover in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. Cavendish is known for a few things:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Every single church running a nightly “Lobster supper” to raise funds
  3. “Anne of Green Gables”
  4. Tackiness

Cavendish is a waterfront community on the Gulf of St Lawrence. There’s a Canadian national park there with campgrounds and some surprisingly nice sandy beaches. You can visit the house where “Anne of Green Gables” lived — albeit in a notional sense, since Anne is a fictional character. You can eat lobster until you burst — every single church in the area runs a lobster supper in their fellowship hall. If you want, you can take home huge bags of potatoes; they raise a lot of potatoes in the area.

But our overwhelming impression of Cavendish was that it was Canada’s answer to American tackiness. Imagine a hodgepodge of the worst American tourist dives you’ve ever seen — places whose sole purpose is to appeal to the part of the human brain that treasures cheap plastic souvenirs and t-shirts with lamely funny art and slogans — mixed in with Canadian politeness and wholesomeness. Evidently our neighbors in the Great White North had not wanted to be outdone when it came to letting stupid people behave stupidly. Every store advertised their “unique gifts”… all of which were exactly like the “unique gifts” sold at the store next door.

We arrived in Cavendish on Canada Day (July 1), 2003. We put up our tent at the national park campground at Cavendish Beach and went looking for a place to eat. Rather than partake of one of the church suppers — Carole was doubtful about lobster cooked in a basement kitchen by some half-trained former lumberjack named Beau — we wound up at a sprawling local restaurant. I say “sprawling” because fully half of its footprint was dedicated to a sizeable gift shop that had everything you could possibly not need: day-glo flip-flops, shot glasses with double entrendres printed on the side, weird hats, weirder shirts, ashtrays made from large shells with patches of glitter and sand hastily glued down here and there. They were leaving no stone unturned; in fact, all the stones had been painted to look like frogs, with googly eyes attached.

And lobster hats. Did I mention the lobster hats?

In fact, if you wanted to outfit your house with an entire suite of lobster-enhanced artwork of dubious taste and merit and fill your closet with lobster socks, shirts, sunglasses, swimsuits, bras, panties, flip-flops, thongs, you would not have needed to look any further. “I’ll simply back my car up to the door,” you’d say. “Throw it all in the back. If it’s got a lobster, googly eyes, or glitter on it, I want it. My neighbors at the trailer park may as well give up competing for the Most Beautiful award when they see me come home with all this.”

We stood there surveying the god-awful Grand Guignol decadence as our eyes adjusted to the dim light indoors. Dumfounded, I leaned over to Carole and quietly hissed “Carole — call the Governor of Tennessee. Ask him to check and see if Gatlinburg is missing.”

Carole dissolved in laughter. It was quite some time before she recovered enough to try to explain the joke to the perplexed shopkeepers. As it happens, they never did understand; they’d lived, surrounded by all that stuff, so long that it had become normal.


Splitting Firewood

Sometimes I miss splitting firewood.

When I was a kid Dad (Keith Furr) attempted to heat our house in the mountains of Virginia with a wood stove and blower system. (It didn’t work that well from my point of view; my bedroom was at the opposite corner of the house and in the winter it was not uncommon to get up and find that my bedroom thermometer read 58°.)

Our house outside Blacksburg was surrounded by woods; some oak, some pine, some poplar, other stuff too. Dad spent weekend days out in the woods with his chainsaw and we kids spent our weekend days hauling it up to the house. At a certain point in my teenage years, it was explained to me that I was perfectly capable of wielding a sledgehammer, axe, and wedges, and splitting the larger logs.

At first I didn’t much like it. I had the knack for wedging our two available wedges deep into a partially split log and then having to use the axe head as a third wedge to get the other two back out. But I eventually got the hang of it, and depending on the density and grain wood in question, I could usually account for a decent pile of split logs in the matter of an hour or two after school.

It was a small accomplishment for a kid who had nothing else to brag about: my grades were awful because I never did homework, I washed out of concert and marching band due to an abysmal lack of musical talent, and if I wasn’t at the absolute bottom of the “guys I’d like to date list” for the average girl my age, I was certainly close enough that I could ask the guy who was to pass the Clearasil.

My house in Richmond, Vermont doesn’t have a fireplace. We have an oil furnace and a ductless high efficiency heat pump (recently added). In other words, there’s no need for me to wander out back and spend an hour or two working up a sweat by a pile of logs. Sometimes, though, I miss it. I have to think it did some good to release tension and stress. And in any event, it was nice to have something I could avoid failing at.

It’s been pointed out to me that I could go get some logs, split them, and donate them to someone who needs them. The thought’s occurred to me, but I don’t own a pickup truck and thus I wouldn’t be able to get that many logs… not enough to make much of a difference. And in any event… due to my work schedule, I’m never around. I enjoy traveling for work as much as I do, but it basically costs me the opportunity to contribute via volunteering and charitable works. But, if I traveled less so I could pitch in locally, I’d lose the job satisfaction of traveling and doing my job well. I don’t know if it’s precisely a Catch-22, but it’s certainly frustrating.