Our Island Dunes

As I mentioned a few posts back the weekend of September 30 – October 1 changed the landscape of our Island. Urban, rural, inland and coastline has been altered, in some cases, beyond recognition. In day 18 of the aftermath there are still people without power and massive uprooted trees still litter the landscape both in the city and countryside. Slowly some thing are returning to normal but it that “new normal” that seems to be the expected in the disastrous second decade of the 21st century,

We are known for our beaches and the fragile dunes that border them. Sadly Fiona swept away much of the dune formations. (Below is a before and after of Cavendish Beach on the North Shore.) However in a recent Facebook post Kate MacQuarrie, professional biologist and old school natural historian, spoke of the rebirth of the dunes in the coming years.

Drag the arrows to see the vast difference

Kate MacQuarrie is a professional biologist and old school natural historian who writes fascinating posts about our Island flora and fauna on Facebook. She very kindly has allowed me to share her recent piece on the dunes and the future.

October 3, 2022 – Kate MacQuarrie

There is no doubt that the pictures from across PEI following Hurricane Fiona are heartbreaking. Iconic trees and local landmarks have been lost, and our world-famous sand dunes have been changed – temporarily. I think it’s important to know that this change is indeed temporary, and so coastal sand dunes are the focus of today’s PEI habitat highlight.

I think of sand dunes like a bank account: there are continual deposits and withdrawals throughout the year. Some happen on a seasonal cycle, others because of weather events. Fiona has just made a huge withdrawal, but – fortunately – our shores still have a steady and reliable income stream (offshore sand), which will be added back to the bank account over time.

1. Grains of sand forming a “sand shadow”

Offshore currents move sediment along the Island’s coast and tides bring it ashore. Where the beach is wide enough, the sand is able to dry out and wind takes over as the driving force. (PEI’s dunes are technically described as ‘aeolian’, meaning wind-formed). As wind blows along the shore it carries sand with it. Sand grains aren’t all the same size and larger, heavier grains require a higher wind speed to move than do smaller, lighter grains. When the wind encounters an obstacle – driftwood, a rock, or a plant, for example – its speed slows and the heavier grains drop to the ground on the leeward side, forming what’s called a ‘sand shadow’. You can see this on any Island beach at any time, and it’s the start of a sand dune.

2. Marram Grass (Ammophilia breviligulata)

Marram Grass (Ammophila breviligulata) is extremely well-adapted to its coastal habitat. The name Ammophila literally means ‘sand-lover’, and once even a small sand shadow forms, Marram Grass will take root. It’s the keystone species of our beloved sand dunes, and without this grass the dunes would not exist. Once Marram Grass establishes, it catches more sand; the more sand it catches, the taller it grows to rise above it. This process continues year over year, and even our tallest dunes have a skeleton of matted Marram Grass roots inside, holding them together.

3. A skeleton of Marram Grass roots hold this dune together.

Marram Grass is a bit of a paradox: both extremely hardy and extremely fragile. It’s hardy in that it thrives in a habitat with virtually no organic matter, little freshwater, constant salt spray and temperatures that can vary from 40C (104F) or more in summer to -40C (-40F) in winter. But it’s fragile in that just a few people walking over the same spot can kill it, causing the sand it was holding to blow away and creating a hole called a blow out.

It’s natural to want to help our landscape recover, but often the best thing we can do is give nature the time and space it needs. During Fiona, PEI’s dunes played the ecological role they were supposed to: they buffered inland areas from the storm. We can repay this service in two ways. First, by being mindful of where we put coastal structures such as docks and breakwaters, which can interrupt longshore movement of sand and reduce that steady, reliable income the dunes need for their bank account. And second, by staying off the dunes (including the tiny foredunes shown in Photos 1 and 2!) and leaving beach vegetation alone for now.

The word for October 11th is:
Dune \dyoo͞n\: [noun]
1.1 A hill or ridge of wind-blown sand.
1.2 A mound, ridge, or hill of loose sand, heaped up by the wind on the sea-coast, or rarely on the shore of a large lake.
1. 3 An ancient fort with a hemispherical or conical roof.
French, from Old French, from Middle Dutch dūne; similar to English downs.

More Yankee Hill

Well our vacation time and the peace and quiet of Yankee Hill came to an end on Sunday and been replaced by the cacophony of tourist central. Two cruises ships were in yesterday and to entertain them it appears the Port Authority booked a Willie Nelson impersonator. He contrived to delight us for over five hours yesterday. Let us sincerely hope that is not the lasting impression our tourist visitors take away with them.

Almost on cue the evening temperatures dipped on our last few days at the cottage but the days remained sunny if a bit cool. Our last full day we took one final stroll on the beach. I know you’ve been presented with these views before but for Laurent and I they never get old.

Here’s to next year at Yankee Hill and French River.

The word for September 7th is:
Stroll \ ˈstrōl \: [1. noun 2. verb]
1. A leisurely walk.
2.1 To go for a leisurely walk.
2.2 To walk along or through at a leisurely pace.
Probably German dialectal strollen, variant of strolchen, from Strolch, fortuneteller, vagabond, perhaps from Italian dialectal strolegh, from Italian astròlogo, astrologer, fortuneteller, from Latin astrologus, astronomer, astrologer, from Greek astrologos.

Yankee Hill 2022

As anyone who follows Larry Muffin must know by now we have escaped tourist central at Prince and Water Street and made our way to Yankee Hill/French River on the Gulf of St Lawrence. This is our third year at Cottages on the Cape and we have already booked for next year – in case we haven’t mentioned it we love it up here.

I know I’ve previously posted at least one video and countless photos of the beach up here but I have a new toy that has to be tried out. The iPad Air has the latest version of iMovie – yes I know it’s a mickey mouse app but it was one I thought I knew – and I wanted to try it out. Turns out that iMovie has moved on and I was left with some head scratching when I put this video together. Think of it as a rough cut – I’ll get better at it I’m sure.

We went for a stroll on the beach around 1900 last night – it was getting cool but still pleasant.

The word for August 26th is:
Video / ˈvɪd iˌoʊ /: [1. noun 2. adjective 3. verb]
1.1 A recording of moving pictures and sound, especially as a digital file, DVD, or tape.
1.2 A short film made to go with a popular song.
2. Connected with or used in the showing of moving pictures.
3. To record a programme from the television, or to use a video camera to film an event.
1935, as visual equivalent of audio, from Latin video “I see,” first person singular present indicative of videre “to see”. As a noun, “that which is displayed on a (television) screen,” 1937.

Crossing the Strait by Iceboat – a true account.

Well the past few days where the typical spring is sprung tease that happens every year followed by today’s major dump of snow. And despite it being an annual event it still catches us dumb Canucks by surprise. As often happens when there is weather like this the Confederation Bridge was closed for a period of time and the Mainland was cut off from the Island. This was followed by the usual bemoaning about deliveries, appointments etc etc. You have to wonder how we would have managed in the old days.

By old days I mean prior to the beginning of the first reliable winter ferry service in 1917 when the HMS Prince Edward Island ran between Port Borden and Cape Tormentine. Before then there were only the famous, or perhaps infamous, ice boats. Over at Sailstrait archivist and Island historian Harry Holman features an account of what sounds like a harrowing journey as recorded by an Anglican clergyman on March 8, 1883.


Almost all visitor accounts of travel to Prince Edward Island in the 19th century included mention of the winter isolation and the iceboat service which was a unique experience.  However most travellers came or went in the summer so their accounts were second- hand. What is rarer are those who actually experienced the icy passage. While there were a number of dangerous and prolonged crossings in the more than 80 years that the system operated most were routine although still cold and exciting. On a good day some crossings were made in under four hours from shore to shore.

Iceboat Service from P.E.I. to Mainland. Haszard & Moore postcard. Author’s collection

One of the most interesting and detailed is that of Father Edward Osborne, an Anglican brother of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist which had a monastery in Boston.  Osborne came to the Island in a mission in…

View original post 1,616 more words

Sunset for Two

Our friends Meriç and Oktay came for dinner last evening – well actually they brought dinner but that’s another story. As always we ate well, drank sufficiently (don’t get me started on the pleasures (?) of non-alcoholic wine), laughed a great deal and enjoyed their company.

After a stroll on the beach just before sunset we headed back to the cottage and a cup of tea. The mosquitos had discovered our presence and were sending on dinner invitations to their friends so we sat inside. But through the deck doors I spied two birds conversing at the top of one of the evergreens that edge the property. Meriç captured the duo and the glorious sunset that is pretty much typical of sunsets here.

The word for July 18th is:
Glorious /ˈɡlôrēəs/: [adjective]
1.1 Having, worthy of, or bringing fame or admiration.
1.2 Having a striking beauty or splendour that evokes feelings of delighted admiration.
Middle English: from Old French glorieus, from Latin gloriosus, from gloria ‘glory’.
The second definition definitely applies to Island sunsets.

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