(Originally published Friday, June 11, 2021)

I went to the beach last night to shoot the Milky Way. It was my first attempt – the first new moon since I finished my quarantine here in Fortune, and the sky was perfect – dark and clear.

Last night was step 1 – shooting the sky with a tracker (a mount that matches the movement of the night sky with the rotation of the earth). I’ll probably go back soon, during Blue Hour, and shoot the foreground, and then I’ll composite the images together.

It took me a while to figure out how to set up the tracker, and to get the camera settings right and everything framed just so, and every few minutes standing there at the water’s edge the waves would lap over my boots and I would jump back, knock the tripod, and have to start again.

But the night was cold, clear and lovely, and the longer it took, the more the day’s worries drained out of me and the more confident I became – and soon enough I could see the first shots in my viewfinder, and I thought I might well be on the right track.

These shots are all long exposures – 4 to 5 minutes – so there is lots of standing around time, and lots of time to just watch the sky. I was working with a red headlight so my eyes eventually became very night-adjusted and gradually I could see the night sky as I have rarely seen it before.

And just then – on my third or fourth exposure – a shooting star blazed across the sky – right where I had been looking! – and burned its smoky trail down, coming from high above the northeastern sky, cutting right across the heart of the galactic centre of the Milky Way, and ending over and behind Abell’s Cape. I gasped – I’m pretty sure I used extremely colourful language – and then I thought of Michael.

They buried Michael today. It was a lovely service – warm and loving, full of affection for this kind and sweet man. Michaela, his daughter, spoke at the end, and told the story of how they had been separated but then finally brought together again, here in Fortune. There was so much about Michael that I didn’t know but I was grateful to have this chance to sit and listen and hear about his dedication to Michaela, to Nancy, to his church, and to this community.

A few years ago, we had a party here and Michael brought his guitar. Toward the end of the evening we set a chair for him and he started playing. He had a lovely deep, warm and rosy voice – like warm caramel – and Celtic music came naturally to it. Toward the end – maybe it was his last song, I can’t remember – he played Farewell to Nova Scotia. But he played it as a dirge – slow, solemn and reflective – even mournful. I’ve heard that song hundreds of times, but never like that – and I was stunned. Floored. It was a completely different song, a completely different story, and – as I discovered later – entirely improvised in the moment. I still don’t really know how that happened, how he did it. Michael completely inhabited that music – I suppose it was just in him. Maybe that was how he was feeling that night, I don’t know. It was in him, and he revealed it to us that night.

I got to hear that song one more time. Last year, as I was celebrating my 60th birthday in Fortune, alone in quarantine and far away from everyone but with them on Zoom, of all things – Michael came to the door at Vicky’s invitation, and under the porch, tucked in from a downpour, he played it for me again. And then, with his Michael laugh and little shrug of his shoulders, he packed up and was off.

Through his long illness, Michael was on Facebook. And everything he shared resonated with me. I was seeing every day how this man’s politics, sense of humour and attitudes were so very much like mine. How he laughed at what I laughed at. How he was quite obviously a friend I had never really properly met (when we are here we are always either busy working or busy with family). So a couple of weeks ago I emailed him to say that I was finally out of quarantine and could we get together for a visit. Of course! Come by when you can! But again – there just wasn’t enough time. There is never enough time.

I will miss Michael. Fortune is different to me now. But I am really glad I went out last night to watch the stars.

I love this photo essay by our friend and PEI summer neighbour Louise Savoie about our summer lives.  These shots were taken at my cousin Paige’s summer place – I’ve written here about those days before. (yes, the hat is a tell – I am in there in a couple of places.)

My best meals of 2012

January 5, 2013
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2012 changed the way I think about food. Good fortune happened. Life happened, I suppose – but now, looking back, it all feels like serendipity. Our lives changed in ways both large and small. We met too many new friends to count, and old friends wove their lives even more deeply into our own. Our […]

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Dinner at Farmhouse Tavern, The Junction, Toronto

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Whenever I go to Farmhouse Tavern (original post here) I leave feeling that I need to run naked across a moor and howl at a full moon. Everything about this place leaves me feeling primal, and deeply satisfied. I’m always dazzled by the vibe, the food and the service. Darcy MacDonell has done a superb […]

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Sunday Dinner at Paige’s

July 18, 2012
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One of my favourite experiences during our summers here on PEI are the Sunday Dinners hosted by my remarkable cousin Paige. They are marvelous, epic, and a wonderful opportunity to connect with family and friends. Video of the entry, and a photo gallery, below.

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Sending Michael O’Connor Clarke a bouquet of fish

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The Inn at Bay Fortune, Fortune, PEI

June 21, 2012
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During the first week or so of any visit back to Fortune we always find ourselves at the Inn – last night was this year’s first visit. We know it well – it’s just across the Bay, and it hosted both of my sisters’ weddings (then Chef Michael Smith cooked for both). We’ve been regular […]

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3030 Dundas West, The Junction, Toronto

June 13, 2012
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3030 is a new opening in The Junction and already one of our favourite places to eat. It’s a tapas menu served at dinner, for now, as well as brunch Saturday and Sunday. The kitchen is putting out exceptionally intensely flavoured dishes – try the pigs tail torta and the duck leg. The venue has […]

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My First Macro

June 13, 2012
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A few months ago I bought my first macro lens. Several months before that I had discovered and met The Lens Doctor and was regularly reading his eBay store updates, looking for something I could use with my Nikon (his is mostly a Canon shop). Finally, the opportunity came: a refurbished Tamron SP90mm macro, modified […]

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The Junction Flea

June 10, 2012
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With every day that passes the Junction becomes a more perfect place to live. We’ve now been here for almost 15 years and this has been a game of inches, certainly. But we’ve gone from near-zero to awesome in a very short time and the future looks very bright indeed. Much is responsible for this, […]

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Farmhouse Tavern, the Junction Triangle, Toronto

June 9, 2012
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I’ll post more on this newly opened restaurant shortly, but for now here are some shots I took during a morning walk (which evolved into brunch) today. It has a terrific vibe, and you have to admire the effort that’s gone into transforming this into an urban farmhouse. Expect very good things. Update: I’ll periodically […]

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Scenes from a neighbourhood – The Junction

June 8, 2012
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A few shots from the area. This neighbourhood is a delight for the eyes.

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