We’re being torn apart and – eventually – if we don’t stop what we’re doing we will be swallowed up by the sea.” They were alarming words, particularly coining from your kayak instructor when you’re both a fair way from land. Around me, however, all was calm. The water barely rippled, the surface so flat it was hard to know where sea stopped and sky began. An osprey soared silently overhead. What Tim Nicholls was actually talking about wasn’t our current activity, but the land we were paddling around – the regally named red sandstone mass of Prince Edward Island, which sits in the Gulf of St Lawrence.
When we’d set out from the small town of North Rustico – all bobbing tuna boats, snoozing skippers and primary-coloured rooftops glowing in the sun – everything had looked quite idyllic. But there’s trouble afoot on this isle: one study has estimated that the coast is being eroded at a rate of 28cm a year, due to higher sea levels caused by climate change. As we paddled toward the headland on the island’s north shore, there was evidence of the attrition: the nose of a giant red cliff lay cracked and slumped on the beach, the base broken like a crumbled cookie.
I gasped sympathetically, but Tim looked unconcerned. “At least it won’t cost much to update the name when we split into three or more,” he laughed, “they just need to add an ‘s’ – we’ll be Prince Edward Islands.” With that he ran his hand through his matted, sun-bleached hair and smiled, every bit the laid-back sea dog. Born and raised in nearby Nova Scotia, lie’s a holidaymaker who never went home. Nothing seemed to faze him; not the wake from a passenger ferry, not the pesky terns dive-bombing us from above, and certainly not the fact that his adopted home was shrinking before his eyes.
Yet this laid-back attitude was a real PEI trait. I’d encountered it the minute I landed – in everyone from the friendly airport security to the relaxed barista who’d made my coffee at breakfast. And here, bobbing along on the tranquil waters, eel grass hissing as it swept beneath my kayak’s hull, curious cormorants watching from atop fluorescent buoys and seagulls gathered around the mussel baskets, Tim’s calm attitude was infectious. It was a truly serene scene.