A September day on Prince Edward Island hills; a crisp wind blowing up over the sand dunes from the sea; a long red road, winding through fields and woods, now looping itself about a corner of thick set spruces, now threading a plantation of young maples with great feathery sheets of ferns beneath them, now dipping down into a hollow where a brook flashed out of the woods and into them again, now basking in open sunshine between ribbons of golden-rod and smoke-blue asters; air athrill with the pipings of myriads of crickets, those glad little pensioners of the summer hills; a plump brown pony ambling along the road; two girls behind him, full to the lips with the simple, priceless joy of youth and life.
“Oh, this is a day left over from Eden, isn’t it, Diana?” . . . and Anne sighed for sheer happiness. “The air has magic in it. Look at the purple in the cup of the harvest valley, Diana. And oh, do smell the dying fir! It’s coming up from that little sunny hollow where Mr. Eben Wright has been cutting fence poles. Bliss is it on such a day to be alive; but to smell dying fir is very heaven. That’s two thirds Wordsworth and one third Anne Shirley. It doesn’t seem possible that there should be dying fir in heaven, does it? And yet it doesn’t seem to me that heaven would be quite perfect if you couldn’t get a whiff of dead fir as you went through its woods. Perhaps we’ll have the odor there without the death. Yes, I think that will be the way. That delicious aroma must be the souls of the firs . . . and of course it will be just souls in heaven.”
– Anne of Avonlea
What does dying fir smell like? My skin wants to know.
The tale of Anne-with-an-“e” is so deeply rooted in Prince Edward Island that I’m sure I’ve been there in dreams. It’s never “trees” in these books; it’s birches, poplars, fir, beech woods, cherries in bloom, maples on fire… Never flowers but mayflowers and violets. The wheel of the year turns six times in Anne of Green Gables (full-text) and twice in Anne of Avonlea (full-text), and with each season Anne sees and touches rapturous beauty. Even when she is in a “city” for college, Anne’s everyday life bursts with flowers and trees — and of course she knows the names of them all.
Anne and her rustic friends casually quote Tennyson and Whitman, as if having silver poetry at your fingertips is as natural as knowing how to bake biscuits from scratch. They walk to each others’ farms, and sometimes they “drive” (meaning, a horse and buggy). They sew their own dresses, though hats come readymade from the village milliner. Some girls sing and some girls play, but Anne’s concert talent is reciting.
Come for the fairy tale, stay for the self-sufficiency. Avonlea is more genuinely Walden than Thoreau ever managed. Although central heating and jets and microwaves are so nice to have, dipping into Anne of Green Gables highlights the price we’ve paid — “an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms,” as Harper Lee said so eloquently.