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Dispatches From Down East: Where Weather Watching is a Hobby

Anywhere you go, from the Eastern tip to the West, Islanders are unusually preoccupied with discussing the weather. And for good reason. How many places can boast that the weather in the front yard is different from that of the weather in the back yard?

One thing we like to talk about on the Island is the weather. It is a source of endless speculation and variable prediction. Most conversations at the cash register or the bank begin in this way, "Beautiful day out there today!" or "Some cold out there." I am sure if you are Canadian, you can relate to this experience. But on the Island, it is a genuine conversation-starter. How many places can boast that the weather in the front yard is different from that of the weather in the back yard?

Although it may happen to be so in other parts of Canada, we Islanders make discussing and predicting the erratic weather conditions here on Prince Edward Island not only a conversational piece, but also a hobby. On the Island, the weather can change from beautiful and sunny, to rainy and windy at a moment's notice. We can go from double digit highs to below freezing in a matter of days. It is the Island way.

The following memory I will share from last summer is one such example of our variable weather conditions. On this particular day, we spent a lazy afternoon and evening on the Mill River in Western P.E.I., where we were picnicking with family. While the adults sat to let supper digest, the children waited impatiently for a promised game of soccer-baseball to begin.

"Come play with us," they call out from down the field. On this perfect, balmy evening, we share with siblings and cousins a perfect dessert of strawberry shortcake smothered in cream and ripe berries. A mug of coffee laced with sugar and milk completes the meal. We sit at the picnic table and laugh easily at the antics below us.

The older crew sorts out teams for the soccer-baseball game, while the younger set steal their dump truck bases when the organizers' backs are turned. Below the sporting action, the river smoothly winds its way around the land, eroding the red clay inch by inch from the rugged cliffs. A few motor boats move along in a hurry, tracing paths up and down the waterways, taking care to steer clear of dangerous sandbars. The water roughly laps the shore, edging its way closer to the tree line as if to mark its obvious and eventual possession of the land.

We sit.

The quiet that tags along behind the supper rush is gratefully upon us. The blur of supper is a fading memory of hands reaching for hotdogs, hamburgers, buns, ketchup and the like, of contented hums from little ones whose bellies are being filled and the buzz of chatter. And then, the quiet, peaceful adult time when the kids run off to play their games and work up an appetite for more. The hope of an evening snack later on, perhaps.

They call to us again, and we are caught up in our own conversations. " a minute," we holler back. But there are distractions that sideline us. One last bite of dessert, another scrape around the bowl for just one more taste of the sweet cream, dialogues that are just getting started.

We finally acquiesce to their pleading. A pair of shoes is located for the one wearing flip-flops (me!) and another finds her sneakers. We pause again in the kitchen to check on tomorrow's weather, as the forecast has not been promising. The act of checking, just another delay to the young ones. Children are waiting below, time is ticking.

Precious minutes fade away.

We eventually meander down to where the game is, now on the verge of beginning without us. Teams are decided upon, and the adults will contend with the nine children for the illusory golden laurels. The brother-in-law takes first kick. Home run. The children scramble to chase the ball and find it in the thicket.

I am next kicker, and I launch an air ball over first base. I arrive with enough time to hold my position. The next two players follow suit, and it is clear the children are discouraged at our prowess. I rally the troops, and call for a switch. Children will kick next, adults are playing out.

The sky overhead is ominous. Dark clouds hang low in the north-west. We, the adults, are watching for now, but the children will not be swayed by the looming weather. There are nine kickers, and each must have a turn.

The first kick by the oldest is caught as he runs to first. The second, third and fourth also strike out. By five and six, the wind begins to blow the dark clouds directly overhead.

The temperature is shifting, and the air is frigid. We all agree that the storm is almost upon us, but is there time for the last three to kick the ball? My youngest delays, and holds the ball impishly. We coax her to play fair, and she eventually submits to the urging of her teammates. Kicker number eight is up and really does not care whether or not he launches the ball, as he is more interested in playing with the dump-truck bases.

The wind is whistling.

One lone boy stands behind home plate. His chin quivers, and he looks to be on the verge of crying. He wants his turn and he will not be dissuaded. His Dad calls out, "Thomas never kicked ye."

But, is there time?

The wind sounds a roar of jet engines, and rain is drizzling for the moment. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Clouds are moving in. The ball is pitched, and Thomas kicks it with all his might. There is no time to run bases. Thomas chases the ball, and everyone sprints for the house.

A china pitcher used earlier in the evening for milk, a coffee mug and a camera are all flung from the picnic table. The wind lashes at the red-checkered table cloth that now looks to be a sail. We desperately grab all that is essential, and make a mad dash for the house.

We are on our way in the door as rain pelts down upon us. An unexpected summer storm unleashing its fury has come upon us, a show of lights and sounds that dazzles the senses.

Later, after evening stories and prayers, the two older children at our house are sitting on the window seat in the upstairs alcove. "Come see," they call out. Husband and I come this time on first call and are rewarded with the view of a gorgeous rainbow, complete with all the colours of the spectrum. Full and high, it is a promise arching across the sky.

It is the calm after the storm, and I feel blessed.

And that little memory may shed some light on why we Islanders take notice of the weather down East. One thing we can count on: our weather is predictably unpredictable.

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