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Discovering Prince Edward Island: Anne of Green Gables, a Fiddle Festival, and Four Kids in Tow

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I received the advance copies of Chance Harbor, my new novel yesterday. The publisher's box arrived at the perfect time: tomorrow I'm going to Prince Edward Island, where much of the book is set.

All of us carry our favorite landscapes inside us, whether they're the landscapes of our childhoods or our favorite trips abroad. Mine is PEI. Discovering this island changed my life.

When I was a newly divorced mom with two young children. I was determined to give my kids what so many other families have: a beach vacation. But I couldn't afford to rent a house on Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod, or even on most of the beaches in Maine. Then, one morning, I flipped open our morning newspaper to the classifieds section--yes, people advertised that way back then--and found a house for $300. For a whole week. The ad read something like, "A dreamy seaside cottage in Anne's Land."

Anne, of course, is from Anne of Green Gables, the famously plucky heroine whose adventures I'd loved as a child. And Prince Edward Island ranked as one of the Holy Grails in my family, since my parents had set out to take us there when my brothers and I were children. We never made it. My parents were on the brink of divorce, and fought so much that they made it only as far as Maine before turning around.

I called my friend Emily, another single mom facing a summer alone with two kids. "I have a proposition for you," I said, and read her the ad.

Neither of us had a van, so I rented one from a rent-a-junker place. It was the kind of vehicle bands use when the band members are still living in parental basements: no carpeting, no radio, one bashed fender. We didn't care. We piled into the van and started driving, tossing juice boxes and snack bags into the back seats for the kids as we made our way through the endless stretch of pine trees in Maine and crossed the border into New Brunswick.

This was over twenty years ago, so the Confederation Bridge connecting PEI to New Brunswick--an 8-mile technological marvel across the Northumberland Strait--had yet to be built. Between the kids needing to pee at different times, the ten hours of driving and the ferry, it was nearly midnight when we finally made it to the cottage. The island roads have few streetlights, and our directions took us onto some bumpy clay roads. We found the right house despite the inky black, starless night, unlocked the door, and fell into our beds without bothering to unpack.

I was awakened the next morning by fiddle music. I sat up and looked out the window, and was greeted by a pair of great blue herons standing on the edge of Rustico Bay. It was the bluest water I'd ever seen, but perhaps that's because there was such a dizzying array of colors around it: the deep red clay road, the pink and purple lupines, the white church across the water with a steeple striped in red like a barber pole. I felt like Dorothy arriving in Oz. If a horse of many colors had pranced by, I wouldn't have been surprised.

We threw cereal at the kids, drove around the bay to the church, and landed in the middle of a fiddle festival. Prince Edward Island became the home to French, Scottish, and Irish immigrants, so the tradition of Celtic and Acadian music is strong there. Every night, you can go to an Irish ceilidh if you want to--in town halls, on village greens, in pubs, in churches, or beneath tents, as we did that day.

That summer, I discovered some of the island's wonders for the first time: the red sand beaches and magenta cliffs, the flowering potato fields surrounding Victorian houses, fish and chips, strong steeped tea with biscuits and island butter, and shining water everywhere you look. And, yes, the Anne of Green Gables museums.

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I could say so much more about the island here. I have spent part of every year there since that first trip, and my husband and I now own a 1910 farmhouse on Prince Edward Island much like the one Anne lived in at Green Gables. We bought the house on a whim, without even stepping inside it first. But I'll save that story and others about PEI for future blog posts.

Right now I need to pack. Tomorrow I'm headed to Prince Edward Island again, and this time I'll be offering advance copies of Chance Harbor to the island's bookstores. This novel is my way of saying thank you to a place I love, for its beauty, peace and creative inspiration.

What about you? What landscape is your inspiration?