The large, colourful sign over the dirt lane leading off Route 266 read “Green Island Links #13 - Strawberry Fields”. There was a small group of people under it, milling around and partially blocking the road, and Hesperus slowed down to see what was happening. They too were colourful, no denying it - about 10 of them, I suppose, from a tall bankerish-looking man in a 3-piece suit to a chubby teenager in a day-glo orange t-shirt with “All your bases are belong to ME hahaha!” emblazoned on it, munching on a candy bar, to a couple of teenage girls with pastel shorts and bikini tops and big blond hair. Many were carrying signs and placards, different sizes and colors, some of which I could make out - “GAG’M - GOLF SUCKS!!!” “STRIKE DOWN GOLF!!” “WATER IS FOR DRINKING NOT 1,000 ACRE LAWNS!!” "GRANNIES AGAINST GOLF" - and more of the same sort of thing - for one reason or another decrying the game of golf.
A few minutes later I was strolling down a grassy hill to where I could see Hesperus with the GAG’M group standing looking out over the view from a small cliff above the river. It really was an amazingly beautiful vista - one of the reasons the place was chosen for the golf course, of course, was its scenic presence, and some intelligent and artistic landscaping had enhanced the natural beauty considerably. We were about a mile inland from the sea here, on the banks of the short in length but long on beauty Seal Cove River, on the southeast corner of Green Island. On a clear day you could look out through the estuary to the south and see the craggy peaks of the Cape Breton Highlands 30 or so miles away across the Northumberland Strait, but today, as so often, they were invisible through the light morning haze.
On the west bank, downstream towards the mouth, of the river, was the little village of Seal Cove, on the inland edge of which the golf course was located and which was certainly part of the scenic package with its wharf and fishing boats and gear and multi-coloured houses. Seal Cove had originally been a fishing village, one of dozens scattered around the shores of Prince Edward Island (as it was known formerly), but the giant draggers of Dominion Seafood had decimated the fish stocks all through the eastern waters of Canada (as their co-industrial fishing factory boats had in every ocean and sea in the world), and by the 1990s there were too few fish to support more than a handful of fishermen, and the Island had fallen on hard times, as had so many areas around the Canadian Maritimes where fishing had been one of the central economic activities. Things had not improved much, at least on the Island, by the time the Green Island government got elected, the ongoing influence of the owners of the fish factories being of more weight in political circles than any concern for the environment or ordinary folk - the hard times of the fishermen were, indeed, one of the reasons that they did get elected, for many of the Independent candidates in the election had local roots and ties all over the Island, and quite a lot of credibility when they put forward the new economic ideas that were currently, after only a few short yeas of implementation, turning the historically economically floundering Island into a modern Western (or Northern) Green Tiger, economically speaking - and given the same old same old hopelessness of the approach of the old parties to the problems of Islanders (“our bold new vision is to ask Ottawa for more money, more UI, and raise cigarette and liquor taxes (and our salaries as well, for doing such a good job in difficult times hahahaha - damn who left that tape recorder on!)”), many of the fisherfolk had voted Green, and were now reaping the rewards. In the true sense, not the ironic.
Such as Strawberry Fields, one of a series of new or revamped Island golf courses, which was one of the initiatives of the Green Island Citizen’s Councils, and their Green Island Revival Plan - locally owned businesses, run by local people, profits accruing to local communities, money staying on the Island, startup help if needed provided by interest-free Green Island Bucks.
I reached Hesperus and the group just in time to hear him starting the short description of Strawberry Fields I had heard him give a couple of times before to visitors. It really was a beautiful little 18-hole course, stretched out along the west bank of the Seal Cove River, winding through the trees and copses and over the hills and dales, a little creek winding through the area before joining the river and providing a scenic challenge on several holes, a couple of holes on a small island 75 or so meters offshore at one place just down the river from where they stood as I joined them, reaching into my shirt pocket for a Green Butt - locally produced cigarettes were now available, keeping more Island money on the Island rather than leaving to pad the coffers of the handful of multinational corporations that controlled most of the world's cashflow - one of the secrets of the new prosperity here.
“So as you see,” he was saying, “we have fashioned the course along the banks of the Seal Cove River here, making as much use as possible of the salt marshes along the shore and the rolling, woody terrain to make a beautiful and challenging Links style course. I don’t suppose most of you are too familiar with the sport,” he said, turning to them with a smile to show he was not being patronising but just explaining things, “but in the design of golf courses, there are many options. The modern American style of the last 75 years or so was to have fully manicured fairways stretching for hundreds of yards between the tee box, where the golfer first hits the ball, and the green, where he or she eventually putts it into the hole. In the more traditional “links” type of course, however, such as golf was first played on in Scotland, and still to be found in many courses in the British Isles and elsewhere, there are only a few semi-manicured areas on the golf course. The golfer must hit the golf ball from the tee box to one or more of these prepared areas, and then finally to the green - it is a much more challenging game that way, believe me! Anyway, here at Strawberry Fields, we have sort of a combination modern-links course - not as easy as the modern courses, but not as horribly difficult as the Scottish links courses either, as we have to contend with a lot of golfers here whose game is something less than professional, you might say, and it is not useful from a business sense to drive them all away by offering a course that is impossible for them to play, nor is it our goal to make golf so difficult as to not be enjoyable, which is, after all, the aim of an afternoon on the links! We want it to be sufficiently challenging for the fairly experienced golfer, but accessible to the high-handicapper as well, and we have various ways of achieving this. Look,” he said, pointing down the river, “you can see there ....”
“Humphh!!” a voice suddenly interrupted him, and we all swivelled our heads in unison from where we had been turning them to look down the river back to where the voice came from, somewhat startled - even I had been getting entranced in Hesperus’s explanation. A small old man, craggy bearded face, dressed in a grey tweed suit, red and black tartan tie, tam o-shanter and wearing, somewhat incongruously it seemed, what appeared to be golf shoes, leaning slightly on a dark, twisted, well-worn but sturdy-appearing walking stick evidently formed from a real tree root, stood there shaking his head with a somewhat stern look on his face.
“Naa naa there ‘Esperus me lad,” he said with a fierce sort of grin, “Ah’ve telled ye agin and agin, the course ye ‘ave ‘ere wou’n’t challenge e’en a wee lad in t’old country, naa, naa way.”
He took a couple of steps around to the front of the group, and continued, “See there, y’all naa,” he said, gesturing down stream as Hesperus had been about to do before he was interrupted, “Me lad “Esperus ‘ere, ‘e t’inks dat makin’ a patch of ground t'e size o’ a soccer pitch that e’en me granny could ‘it on one o’ ‘er baddish days - and ‘er these 200-odd years in ‘er grave y’see, no eyes nor muscles nor any o’ that there stuff y’see - is a “link”, y’see - but I fear I ‘ave to tell ye all, tisn’t so, naa naa, nat atall. heh heh heh.”
And he crossed his arms over his chest, walking stick swinging from his left hand, and stared at Hesperus with a not exactly challenging, but not exactly friendly either, sort of grin. Weathered Scotsman to the bone, I thought.
“Old Tom!” said Hesperus with a smile, “How good to see you again! I thought you’d - well - I don’t know what I thought! But you know we can’t have links like the Old Course, Tom, that ye - you love so well! The land just doesn’t set up for it - we don’t have the Dunes, we don’t have the North Sea Wind every day, we don't have the gorse nor the heather! You can find something much more to your liking, as you well know, on the North Shore of our Green Island now, the Stormy Crow Cradles or Tracadie Dunes Links would suit your liking much better - I don't understand why you insist on staying here, when you dislike it so much!"
Old Tom looked down the river to the Island, and perhaps beyond to where a few lobster boats bobbed in the small chop of the harbour beyond, a thoughtful sort of look on his face, as he reached into his coat pocket, from whence his hand emerged holding a golf ball and a golf tee, which he proceeded to stick in the ground at the edge of the bluff. He reversed the walking stick he was carrying, and set up in a golfing stance in front of the ball, looking down to the island, then down to the ball at his feet a couple of times, before giving a little waggle of his hips, then drawing back the walking stick-golf club, and bringing it down and around in a mighty swing. There was a thunking sort of sound, followed by a grunting sort of sound, and a large turf of grass leapt into the air before falling over the bluff into the river. A few seconds later the white golf ball, which had taken off straight up rather than straight out, could be seen following the clump of grass.
Nobody spoke - all eyes were on the strange man. Old Tom observed the falling ball for a second, craning his neck just a bit to watch as the ball made a rather ignominious "splat!" into the river below, and gave a small sniff. He reached into his pocket and repeated the procedure, but this time at the crucial moment the head of the club made better contact, and the ball took off in a long arc, eventually coming to rest in a small area on the island. It must have been at least 300 yards.
Old Tom then picked his tee out of the ground, and put it back in his pocket, before turning to Hesperus.
"There, y'see now," he said, nary a smile cracking that lined old face, "y'can do't if'n ye try."
And so saying, he turned his back on us all and began to walk away, stopping short after a couple of steps and turning back, raising his walking stick to emphasize his words.
"Ah yes, the north shore," he said, with a bit of a frown, looking not actually at Hesperus, but more to the side, off, I suppose, in a northish direction, "y'know all about that, ‘Esperus, y'know all about it. I dinna know why ye keep bringin it up, I dinna know indeed."
And so saying, he turned once again and resumed his walk along the banks of the river towards the island and his ball and game.
As Old Tom's back receded in the distance, the GAG'M crowd began to look to Hesperus, who looked from Old Tom and back to the crowd as well, a small quizzical smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
"Don't ask," he said, smiling a small smile and shaking his head, "just don't ask. He showed up one day soon after we opened, and never said a word about where he comes from or stays - we don't even know now who he told his name to, but we all know him as Old Tom. And when he stays around long enough for someone to ask him a question, he either pretends not to hear it, or gives a cryptic answer like you just heard. And now you know as much as I or anyone else does about Old Tom."
“Look," Hesperus said, checking his watch, "time is passing here, and I'm sure you all have other things to do, as do I - let’s just walk down along the river here, and we can get a look at one of the holes, and I can show you while we walk some of the things that make this course environmentally friendly, just the opposite of destructive,” he said, pointing down the hill to where we could see a little copse of trees, and just this side of it a slightly elevated, squarish sort of area with a couple of square white blocks set on one end, and a couple of squarish red blocks on the other. Following the direction indicated by the tee blocks led one across the small straight of water to the island, and a golf green rather noticeably in the shape of a heart, not too big, but not too small either, a small clearing around it but the rest of the island consisting of a small grove of trees and some rocky shores, with some flower beds around the green and a couple of sandtraps shaped like a broken arrow adding some color to the scene - altogether just about the perfect size for a Green of Hearts. We could see the form of Old Tom there as well, in a clear area near the green setting up for another shot, although how he got that distance in the few seconds since he had left us was a mystery.
“We call this hole the First Kiss,” he said with a smile, “you see, we have named the holes sort of after the stages of life - heh heh - it’s a bit arbitrary, of course, having nine stages in and nine out - but it works out pretty well. The First Kiss, having to make a shot across the water, kind of represents a challenge, a stepping out into the unknown, some sublime beauty, fitting for proceeding to a new life stage or something like that - you'd have to ask my wife a bit more about that sort of thing.”
“Bleaghhh!!!” came a sound from the crowd, and there was Aggie with her finger stuck in her mouth, leaning over as if to vomit. “What horseshit! You think you can really make this environmental disaster more palatable by packaging it like a Saturday mall holiday!?? Let’s go down there then, as you invited, and see what sort of chemicals you’re using to create this cutesy effect.”
And she turned and marched off down the hill, the rest of us following along. There didn’t seem to be a lot of animosity outside of Aggie, though - there were smiles on most of the faces, and I could hear a lot of admiring comments about what they were seeing, and some chuckles and speculation about the strange Old Tom as well - at least some of them were enjoying their visit here anyway.
A few minutes later, as Aggie in the lead got near the teebox, a small figure with long curly red hair dressed all in green from her baseball cap to her t-shirt and shorts to her sneakers, raced out to meet her, a most elfin figure indeed - stopped right in front of her, actually, and in turn forcing Aggie to stop, who did so in a bit of a surprised way.
“Halt!” said the small elfin figure, holding her hand out in the universal "halt" gesture, “Who goes there? And what is your business here? This is the realm of the Queen of the Green of Hearts, and all who enter here must have golf clubs and a daily pass! It is the Law of the Empress of the Field!”
I could see Aggie’s mouth on the verge of dropping open, apparently having no idea at all of how to deal with this small apparition. She was saved by the bell, or, in this case, Hesperus, who had been close behind and now stepped forward with a chuckle.
“Rhyss,” he said, “it’s ok, sweetie! I’m just showing a few visitors around. We’re not playing right now, just looking things over. So you can get back to your work, ok? And I believe the title was Princess, not Queen - we already have a Queen, right?”
The small figure looked a bit disappointed, but not overly so - she was maybe a bit under 5 feet tall and had not yet grown out of the pre-adolescent skinniness so common in many young girls, blue eyes in bright contrast to the reddish hair, with a distinctly mischievous look around them. She peered up at Hesperus for a minute, as if judging the words he spoke, then said “Okay! But I'll be a Queen someday!”, and turned and raced back to the tee box, where she had apparently been engaged in filling a water cooler from a wagon with a large red water container on the back.
“Oh, wait a second, would you, Rhyss?” called Hesperus, “would you mind taking our guests down and showing them what you are doing? It just occurred to me that that is partly what we are here for, and I think you have some things there they would be interested in, and they might be more interested in talking with you directly...” he turned to the rest of us at that point before continuing, “All of the holes are based on the same principles, you see, as far as being part of the natural landscape rather than separate from it, and looking after our land rather than hurting it.”
"Humphph!" snorted Aggie, in that age-old expression of disbelief, eyebrows still raised at what was happening, “that heart over on the island sure looks some natural....”.
“Okay,” smiled Rhyss, turning to wait for a second as we caught up, then smiling and skipping back the few remaining yards to the tee box.
“Okay - first, this is Johnny my friend,” she said, introducing an average sized man in pink coveralls with “Strawberry Fields” written up one side of it in florescent, multi-coloured letters, who rose up from where he had apparently been doing something behind the red wagon, that looked like an oversized golf cart with a large water tank on the back, “.. he works all over the course not just here, you know, but he drives around bringing us water and other things that are too heavy for us to carry, you know - "
“G'dye mites,” said the man called Johnny in a rather sharp English accent, stepping around to the front of the wagon while taking off his black sailor’s watch cap with a flourish and small bow, his long brown locks waving in the breeze, “welcome to Strawberry Fields. This is your first visit, is it?” he asked, smiling rather impishly, eyes sparkling through his granny glasses.
“Yes, it is,” responded Aggie, not yet ready to be too friendly, “and I’m not sure I believe you about the water - that’s really some kind of chemical in that tank, isn’t it, for spraying weeds or something?”
Johnny looked a bit shocked, but recovered quickly. “Well, in a way, I suppose,” he said, as Aggie looked back with a triumphant look, an “I-told-you-so” look - which lasted about a second as Johnny continued, “H2O is a chemical, I guess, technically speaking, one of the most important on earth - and the water in that tank is some of the freshest, cleanest, sweetest water on this here Island! Here, let me get you a cup, you can taste it yourself!”
And he reached into a small cooler and brought forth a stainless steel cup, sweating enticingly from the ice chest, and filled it from a spigot on the side of the tank, taking the first long swallow himself, eyes closed in pleasure. When he finished, he dumped the few remaining drops on the ground, wiped the rim with a towel hanging from one handle of the cooler, and refilled the cup.
“Anyone else?” he asked, offering it to us all. The young woman who had said she was thirsty before reached out and took it, and took a long swallow.
“Wow!” she said, “that really is great water - cold and sweet!”
Immediately there was a chorus of “Hey! Me too!”s, and everyone gathered around the little truck where Johnny, with a pleased smile, reached into the cooler for some more cups, filling them and passing them around, usually with a grin and some sort of funny remark - soon everyone was sipping on cold water and joking along with Johnny. Aggie was not the last one to drink, nor was she without at least the beginnings of a smile, and I noticed a thoughtful sort of look on her face as she enjoyed her cup of the sweet fresh water.
“So y’see,” Johnny was saying a few minutes later, with everyone’s thirst assuaged, and some even tasting his special treat, yellow summer beans, that he had a box of “fresh from the garden today! - I like to bring around a morning snack for the kids, y’see..”, “this here wagon is what we call an Island Wheels Model ‘Modified Local’, conceived, born and bred here on Green Island. It’s basically an electric cart that’s adaptable for many uses, fuelled from the Green Island WST (Wind-Solar-Tidal) Power Supply - you can see the battery box underneath here, which is good for about 10 hours.”
"But Johnny," said one of the Pastel Girls, blinking her eyes as if she was short-sighted or something, "I'm sorry, that's all very lovely I'm sure, as are you (blink blink), but we've all read and been told that all golf course water is completely poisoned, from all the chemicals golf courses use to keep the grass green and everything - why aren't we all writhing on the ground in agony?!? Is that water from here or somewhere else, really, Johnny?"
"Hahahaha!" Johnny seemed genuinely amused, eyes twinkling behind his glasses, "You're reading old books, you see, and this is a new place, and that is your problem, I think! Yes, in the old days, a lot of chemicals were used on golf courses to manage the grass and keep the weeds down - although I do think your books exaggerate the way things were even then, at least in most places - chemicals were and are expensive, you know, and many small courses just could not afford them! - but now we only build golf courses where there are certain local conditions prevailing, you see, one of those conditions being a good, sustainable water supply, which naturally keeps the grass healthy. We also build where there are lots of small woodlots, whose tree roots hold water, and usually near a river of some sort, with a natural flow through, and we don't have many water supply problems. And as for herbicides and suchlike, why, there are two responses - first, a healthy lawn or something like that naturally keeps weeds from developing, as the foliage is too thick; and, we DO use SOME chemicals here - but only in small amounts, and never enough to leech into the water supply in a harmful way. And also, being a natural sort of links course, we don’t mind some weeds - it’s part of the challenge!"
"But ALL chemicals are poison, Johnny!" said Pastel Girl, big-eyed, "and bad for everyone! You must stop that!"
Johnny smiled again. "I know that many people think that way, but it is the wrong way to think. We use chemicals every day - only a few of them are harmful - just look, from your pretty barrette to your glasses to your shoes - all based on chemicals! And your toothpaste and shampoo and dishsoap and hundreds of other things you use every day - all chemicals, and all ok to use, if in moderation - which we are careful to do here, we use nothing that cannot be fully neutralised in our own area in a short time, primarily through the salt marshes all along the river there. And the proof is in the pudding, as they say - as you can see if you look around, the place is a very healthy and diverse and strong environment - we have lots of wildlife here - more every year, actually, since before the new Green Island government took over, the farmers were using huge amounts of chemicals on their potatoes and other crops, killing huge amounts of wildlife - we don't do that anymore, here or on the farms."
As he spoke, Johnny was pointing around, to where many species of birds were flying and singing all around, and fish jumping in the river, and the squirrels playing in the trees. The truthfulness of his words - at least as far as the wildlife being abundant - was evident to all. And the horror stories of huge fish kills in the pre-Green Island government days were familiar to most of the people present, certainly anyone who had lived on the Island in those days would never forget the regular photos of great numbers of dead fish floating in sad circles in a pond somewhere that appeared in the Island papers every summer. It was a heavy price to pay for a successful farm sector - and everyone was amazed and thankful that we now had an even healthier farm sector along with healthier every other sectors - and a healthy environment to boot. So much was possible when a community was run for the people who lived there rather than foreign capitalists interested only in maximising their “ROI”.
As the small group stood looking around thoughtfully at the wildlife and absorbing Johnny’s words - even Aggie did not seem to have anything contrary to say for the moment - we heard voices coming through a path that led into the little grove of trees, and turned to see who was coming. A small, thin dark-skinned man appeared at the end of the path, an old set of golf clubs swinging from one shoulder. He was dressed, somewhat disconcertingly, in a long white robe, barefoot, bald, big bushy white mustache, a mouth full of big white teeth that seemed to be constantly smiling. “Ahhhh, my friends,” he said as he saw us, bowing from the waist, then catching the austere golf bag, with a bare minimum of clubs within, that slipped from his shoulder as he did so with an amiable laugh, “how nice to see you all again! And you Mr. Hesperus, and small Rhyss, and Johnny, and you Miss Aggie .....”
“Just a minute,” interrupted Aggie, “I don’t think we’ve ever met before, Sir...”
The sound of an electric motor starting interrupted us for a second, and as we looked up Johnny and the water cart were disappearing around the end of the small copse of trees, along a path that ran alongside the river at this point. He was singing something, head thrown back - “So we sailed up to the sun, til we found a sea of green - Captain!! Captain!! ah hah!! hahahahahaha!!!!!” floated back to us in a small cloud of fragrant smoke, “Is that you Lucy dear? Oh no!!! HAHAHAHAHA OH YES!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAAA CAPTAIN CAPTAIN....” - his voice faded as he turned behind the copse of trees, and we turned back somewhat bemusedly to our new visitor. Or visitors - a second figure had appeared beside the little dark skinned man, a somewhat larger, Caucasian male, dressed in shorts and a green Strawberry Fields golf sweater, on sale at the clubhouse for 10 Green Island Bucks - currently the most stable currency in the world, which was a huge irritant to various Washington-based international financial institutions who didn’t much care for anyone who dared to create a prosperous economy not in thrall to - or at the mercy of - their banks.
“Oh, Aggie oh Aggie,” the little man was saying, a big smile on his face, “there is noone we haven’t met before, by now! Hee hee - “
The little man didn’t appear to be in the mood for a lot of conversation, as he carried on preparing for his tee shot on First Kiss as he talked, the broad smile never leaving his round face, setting his bag on the ground, looking over the river and at the small sign identifying the hole which gave the distance to the flagstick on the heart-shaped green, and selecting a club. He then reached under his robes into some inner pocket, emerging with a ball and a tee, and mounted the small mound of the teebox, looking around for a few seconds, then selecting a spot on the ground between the white tee markers where he stuck his tee, ball balanced on top of it.
He settled back into his stance, looked across at the flagstick for a few seconds, then down at the ball, waggled a couple of times as golfers are wont to do, looked over at the flag again, then brought back his club and swung. There was a satisfying “click” as the iron struck the white ball, and we all watched as it sailed high above the river and across it, then began its slow fall back to earth. It struck the green with a solid “thunk” we could all hear a few feet behind the flagstick, rolled back - and back - and stopped just a few inches from the hole. Even Aggie joined in the applause - but the little man had a puzzled look on his face, and was looking down at his club.
“My my my!” he was saying, in a singsong scolding voice, “and how did we do that, now, my lovely little seven iron, eh? How indeed? That’s twice in the last hundred years you have missed! Maybe we better set up an appointment with your therapist or something eh? he he he he he!!!!” he laughed out loud as he looked up at his companion and spoke in his singsong voice. “Or was it the lovely Aggie and her lovely friends that distracted you? So long - and still so lacking in concentration, you silly boy! Hehehehehe!!!” he giggled happily as he retrieved his tee and stepped down from the teebox.
“Well! What are you waiting for lazybones? It is your shot, Flyboy! Don’t be delaying of the game, now you know! Old Mr. Tom said he would be meeting us at Easy Come Easy Go, the next hole the next time, which is now, don't you know? He he he!!”
“Hey, Mr. Vince, you know I was just waiting for you to finish!” said the other man, who went through a similar ritual as the small jovial man had a minute previously; although his ball was several yards from the flagstick when it finished, he looked considerably more pleased about it, dismounting the tee box with a large grin on his face, bowing in the direction of Aggie’s group, and singing “Love me tender, love me true, all my creams fulfil - hahahaha sorry ladies, that was “dreams” of course!” he laughed towards the GAG'M group, ready for a chat. The pastel girls were both blinking this time.
“Well - goodbye then, nice people, it has, I am sure, been so nice to meet you all!” said the little man known as Mr. Vince, as he grabbed his companion, who was by now doing some blinking himself, by the arm and headed for the shore of the river where the elfin Rhyss now waited. There was a little rope-drawn ferry there, just large enough for a foursome of golfers and their bags, with a couple of outriggers on either side for stability - soaking wet golfers were not a pleasant sight or sound - and we could hear their muted voices as they all played their various roles in getting the two golfers and their clubs across the small passage.
Nor were we the only audience to the duo crossing the river - a piercing cry from a branch near the peak of a tall dead pine on the far bank of the river drew our eyes to a bald eagle perched magnificently there, and in the water the head of a seal bobbed along beside the little ferry, seeming to throw back its head in shared laughter with the little robed man, whose singsong voice could still be heard. Such a beautiful place - no wonder, with the much increased leisure time available to Green Island citizens, that the sport was becoming so popular.
Aggie was the first one to regain her senses after the latest odd Strawberry players had gone on their way.
“Alright, Hester or whatever your name is,” she said, a scowl on her face, apparently determined still not to be happy about anything at all, "it’s just like I said before - a circus sideshow. But we’re not going to be distracted. Let’s have a closer look at this river here - all the chemicals you people dump, whether you admit it or not, there can’t be much life left - that seal is probably the last one in the area, I bet, you probably got it on a leash just for times like this.”
Hesperus looked at her, sort of a pitying look in his eye, I think - fortunately Aggie was looking elsewhere and did not notice.
“Aggie,” he said, with a gentle sort of smile, “why don’t we all take a walk down along the river - I want to take you to the clubhouse eventually, and that is a nice way to go - and you can see for yourself whether or not the river has life, or is dead - and look for any evidence at all of - oh - bad things we might be doing there. Ok? There's a lovely salt marsh along the way, too, with a small nature trail the kids built through it you'd all probably find interesting...”
Aggie looked over at him a bit suspiciously, but couldn’t think of any good reason to refuse, so nodded curtly.
“Alright then - but don’t say we didn’t warn you - we intend to expose this place, and your tricks won’t stop us.”
I could see a couple of the others looking a bit abashed - perhaps Aggie’s aggressiveness in response to the continued politeness of Hesperus and the rather obvious lack of any environmental problems - quite the reverse, as Hesperus had said - was wearing on them a bit. It certainly was starting to get to me, but I held my tongue - I knew Hesperus was more than capable of taking care of himself in these situations, insofar as anything needed taking care of. But Strawberry Fields also spoke most eloquently for itself, for those with ears to listen and eyes to see.
An hour or so later, as we climbed the steps to the clubhouse, set on a small hill near the river itself, a big lovely building constructed of logs and red Island sandstone, with a wide verandah around three sides, then sat at a grouping of three normal squarish tables pulled together to make one long enough for the dozen or so of us on the outside patio high over the course, looking out over the absolutely stunning vista of links and tees and greens and river and sea and forest and wildlife, Aggie wasn’t saying much - for much of the last hour, as we walked along the river and salt marsh, she had grilled Hesperus, her questions getting a bit more desperate and ridiculous as he had deflated every complaint she had had with answers obviously true, referring to what we could all see around us was a healthy land full of life, very obviously not poisoned by chemical misuse or anything else - indeed, as most of us knew, this area and every other was healthier under the Green Island government than it had been in decades.
She still had a stubborn look on her face though, and I thought she probably had one more shot in her at least. I was right.
The others seemed much more relaxed as they took their seats and laid their GAG’M signs on the floor behind the table, next to the railing of the patio, some of them whispering among themselves, although judging by the smiles and looks back over the links and river they were not plotting something unpleasant but sharing happy thoughts about what they had just seen.
“Ah Hesperus, there you are!” a voice rang out, and we looked to where a rather matronly sort of woman was emerging through the door to the interior of the clubhouse, slightly round, ruddy face smiling as she spoke. She was dressed in a country-style print dress, yellow sunflowers on a blue background, medium length blondish hair going to grey in places, and carrying a tray full of glasses of something that looked very invitingly like cold lemonade. “We wondered if you’d got lost! Just a sec lov and I’ll be right with you!” she finished, as she breezed quickly on past to another table where a group of golfers sat laughing and chatting, evidently, to judge by the pieces of conversation we could hear, having just finished a round. The smiling lady deposited the drinks on the table with the golfers, exchanging some words and laughter, and then returned to our table.
“So, luv, I heard you had some guests, and these must be them, eh?” she said, smiling around at us all, “So how about a quick introduction then? I don’t expect I’ll remember all of your names right off - the old memory isn’t what it used to be you know hahaha - but I’ll try to get to know some of you. I’m Harriet, by the way, but folks usually call me Harry - Harry and Hes’s Home on the Hill, you know hahaha - this did used to be a poor sort of potato farm a bunch of years ago - but now - well, it’s more like Harry and Hes’s Heaven on the Hill, if you see what I mean! hahaha - my my I do run on, Hes has ever said he could hardly get a word in edgewise some days hahaha - but he’s always been the quiet type anyway hahaha!”
After the little tour we had just had, I saw a few eyebrows raise as Harriet - or Harry - said that Hesperus was a quiet type! - but smiles also, as it was immediately apparent to all that Harry had a heart of gold, one of those salt-of-the-earth farm wives that this Island - and the world for that matter - had been producing for as long as time was reckoned. “Oh wait, before I sit, I’ll just order some cold drinks, shall I?” and without waiting for an answer she trotted back to the door, and shouted something through the screen before trotting back and pulling up a chair from an empty table nearby.
Hesperus - people person that he was - managed to get through most of the introductions (I won’t go over them all here, as we haven’t met them all and the names would mean nothing) - and as it turned out he introduced Aggie last. She wasn’t quite as angry-appearing as she had been when she first arrived, but it was apparent she wasn’t quite finished with her questions either, and evidently being courteous to this smiling lady wasn’t going to derail whatever agenda she had.
“So, Aggie, you don’t seem as relaxed as everyone else, dear - is something the matter, can I get you something else?” asked Harry, a concerned smile on her face.
“No, that’s quite all right thank you, and you really don’t need to ‘dear’ me either,” answered Aggie, having found the opening she was apparently waiting for, “I’m not actually here on a pleasure trip. I belong to a group called GAG’M - Linda, why are all the signs hidden? - “ she said peevishly, turning to one of the pastel twins, who said nothing but reached behind her and pulled up one of the signs, leaning it on the railing where Harry could see it - “... which stands for Global Anti-Golf Movement, and we think that places like this ought to be shut down, since they do great damage to the environment, and exploit the labour of local people so the Elite can live lives of luxury, as they always have. I .....”
As Aggie was speaking, I was watching Harry, who was losing her more of her smiling visage with every word Aggie spoke, and then her face started getting redder too. Had I been Aggie, and observing this, I might have been inspired to watch my tongue a bit - but then I wasn’t Aggie, and maybe that is all for the best. In any event, Aggie got no further with her brochure patter, as Harry - well, perhaps not quite exploded, but strongly interrupted her.
“Now you wait just one fine minute there girl! I’ll put up with your rudeness to a certain amount, as a guest of mine at my home, but I’ll not listen to nonsense such as that, that might as well be called outright lies, not in any home of mine, about things I hold dear! My word! Where'd you EVER get such crazy ideas??!! Now you just look around here - environmental damage - why what a laugh! My dear, you really need to start doing at least a bit of research before starting off with such wild accusations, and maybe even using your eyes a bit, and whatever the good lord gave you for a brain! The river has never been so chemical FREE as since the golf course opened here!, which has been a great improvement on the situation before that - of course, it goes hand in hand with the whole GI gov banning over 90% of agricultural chemicals, and doing as much as it could to reduce the potato monoculture that covered so much of the Island before - but if you have time, go take a walk by the river! I guess you don’t know how almost dead it was a few years ago, with hardly any fish, but now the Atlantic salmon are plentiful enough that we’re thinking of starting a fishing season next year! and the lab analysis shows them almost clean of toxic residues - and you can see the seals out there - for years we’d often only see one or two a year, now they’re there all the time, with clean water and fish to eat! - AND no fishermen shooting them whenever they got a bit tanked with their friends and were looking for some sport, as they called it - all that kind of stuff has been stopped by the GI gov!
"You just look around dear! It’s much more than just a golf course too, here - it’s a park! - look now, all the trails around, where people can walk, and enjoy a little picnic by the river, enjoying the beautiful view on a beautiful day!”
Aggie was taken aback by the ferocity of Harry’s attack, but was not to be overwhelmed that easy.
“Fine,” she replied, ready to match Harry word for word, “so maybe you have been taking care of the environment a bit - even the wealthy exploiters are starting to understand that they live on this planet too, and if they destroy the environment they destroy their own futures as well, so taking care of it makes sense. But what about the lives of the people - how are they made any better by this kind of thing? It is still the playground of the wealthy, and people like you are nothing more than poorly paid servants, no job security or anything - “
- and as if on cue, a small person, in appearance very much like Rhyss whom we had met previously, banged open the door behind us and struggled through with a tray full of glasses and a big pitcher of iced lemonade, balancing it all with some difficulty, but eventually making it to where we sat, placing it on an empty table beside us and starting to pour glasses of lemonade and hand them around.
“Look there!” said Aggie somewhat triumphantly, pointing at the new arrival, “child exploitation of the very worst sort! That girl should be in school, getting an education, preparing for a future as a doctor or something, not spending her childhood serving drinks to wealthy capitalists. She ...”
Again, Aggie was interrupted by Harry, who was again getting a bit red around the facial area - the conversation was having a toll on her normally sunny disposition.
“Stop that talk right now, girl!” Harriet cried, “right this very second! You haven’t said a single true thing! I really don’t know where people like you get your ideas, but you couldn’t be more wrong! For instance - who owns the place? - why WE own it, the people of Seal River! - the GI gov provided start-up money, an interest free loan which we will have paid back by next year, but it is a community project, all the way around, from planning to management - the Board of Directors is composed entirely of Seal River folk, and ALL profits are turned back into the community in one way or another!
“And look at all the jobs for Seal River folk here, and we see that they are all decent paying jobs too! - where only a few short years ago half of us were on the government dole - which would hardly support a family, let me tell you! - and now I don't think anyone here in Seal River gets any kind of government handout - we're all working, many of us here, many in other businesses that have opened since the economy is so much better! We look after one another here now, with the Green Island Dollars, you know, and everybody chips in to do the community work, and everybody gets some money to spend! It’s so much better here now, you can't really know if you haven't been here for years and experienced the changes - but I don’t think any of us will ever vote for the old parties anymore, now that we see what a wonderful vision Stephen Bigelow and the rest really had for us all! I tell you, dear, when we sit around and talk of an evening, there’s no little bit of anger sometimes, at how many years we were forced to live such poor lives, and our families before us - and all of it we see now completely unnecessary! - the few of them in their big fancy mansions in Charlottetown, living like kings on the money they stole from the work we did while the rest of us burned cow dung in our stoves for a bit of heat, and ate maggoty old fish heads at the end of the month when the money ran out! But now - why, it’s almost like some utopia, if you see what I mean, dear! So you’re right about the capitalist exploitation being a bad thing - but you couldn’t be more wrong - or more insulting! - to accuse US here of being part of that crowd!
“And accusing me of some kind of ‘child exploitation’ of my own family! Marion, my love, come over here for a minute dear!” she said, calling and reaching out to the young girl who had been pouring the lemonade, who finished the glass she was on and, one couldn’t say intentionally but the universe does work in mysterious ways, setting it in front of Aggie before turning to Harry.
“Yes, Mother?” she asked, smiling very sweetly, as young girls do, oversized teeth and all, “what would you like? Can I get you some pastries too?”
Harry ruffled the girl’s hair, smiling fondly at her while hoisting her onto her large knee.
“Now, you just hang on a second honey, while Mommy catches her breath and her thoughts,” Harry said, taking a couple of deep breaths as she did so, “Okay, honey, why don’t you first tell this nice lady named Aggie - “ she said, flashing a sort of teethy smile in Aggie’s direction - “just why it is you’re not in school today, and why you’re pouring lemonade for the guests here...”
"Oh - sure Mom,” she turned to face Aggie, “I and Rhyss my sister don’t go to school most days - only on Thursdays and Fridays. We don’t really need to go to school at all, you see, because we can learn everything we need to learn here at home, with the creche and all for all the families who work here which has about 30 kids all the time - but Dad and Mom say it is good to go to the bigger school and meet the other kids there, and sometimes we have special people visiting too - it was really neat a couple of weeks ago when some guy named Umbala or something was there and told us all a bunch of old stories from India or someplace - he had a bunch of pictures and some kind of movies - it was really interesting. But anyway we know about how kids used to have to go to school all the time and do really boring stuff like sitting there all day and learning ‘rithmetic and reading and history - but we do all that here, and lots better too, I think - a lot of the old folks who went to those old schools sure don’t seem to know much about a lot of stuff, Dad says they only had to go to school to learn how to go somewhere and take orders all day without asking too many questions and they did that pretty good, but I don’t understand why anybody would want to do that. And - what else Mom...?” she said turning to Harry with a smile, who hugged her, laughing.
“What a dear!” she said, “Yes, that’s fine honey - and about pouring lemonade?”
“Oh, right,” the girl named Marion answered, turning back to Aggie, who was watching it all with a fairly skeptical look on her face, “we’re just helping do the business - we all have to do something in the community to help out, and right now I just pour lemonade and get some food sometimes and learn how things work around here - but Dad says soon I’ll be big enough to do more important stuff too - like my sister Rhyss, who looks after First Kiss - she’s really lucky. Mom - can I get my own golf hole soon? You KNOW you promised!” she finished, turning back to Harry, eyes wide in supplication.
“Yes, pretty soon, dear,” Harriet began, but this time it was Aggie who interrupted her.
“Well, fine,” she said, a small sneer disfiguring her face, “now I’m really impressed. So you’ve managed to brainwash the kids too...”
- and that was as far as she got. This time Harry did explode, banging her fist on the table, shaking all the glasses and causing a great silence to fall over the patio as the chatter stopped all around and people turned to see what the commotion was.
“I’ve listened to all I’m going to listen to of your nonsense, girl!” Harry stormed, “Brainwashed, you say! Brainwashed, is it?! I’ve NEVER been so insulted in my life - and I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of drunken fools of fishermen who have done a lot of insulting in their own harmless stupid ways, let me tell you! But brainwashing my own children! Land sakes alive!! - These children are far, far, FAR better educated than the children were ten years ago - FAR better! Why my lovely here, at only 8 years of age!, can tell me about countries all over the world I have never even heard of myself! And she’s a whiz with the computers and the accounts here - does things in her head I can’t do nohow noways! And while she’s pouring the lemonade for our guests here, she talks to them about all sorts of things, learning about the business and life and all sorts of things! She’s LIVING girl, which is by far the best education, and which is a FAR better education than the kids used to get in their corporate schools - THAT was the REAL brainwashing, let me tell you! - as Marion said, and we now recognize to be true, the only purpose for going to school in the old days was to learn NOT to ask questions, and to take orders all day long - THAT was the real brainwashing, or brainkilling more like it!
“Brainwashing!! Hah! I think you better examine your own head a bit about “brainwashing” before you start throwing around accusations! We’re FAR more free here in Green Island than folks from away, we can see that now - now, it is, that the brainwashing has STOPPED!!! Look at you and your friends, now, coming to this beautiful free Island, and our Strawberry Fields here, heads full of total nonsense about chemicals that we never use, and exploited people, which is all complete foolishness, when we’re all some of the free-est people you’ve ever met living on some of the healthiest land in the world nowadays! Look in the mirror if you want to accuse someone of brainwashing, girl, to have a good look at someone who HAS been brainwashed! I never!!”
As she finished talking, Marion turned to her and put her small arm's around her mother's neck.
"Mama mama - it's ok, mama!" she said, with a concerned little smile, "Don’t get so excited! Remember how you told us that other kids weren't so lucky as we were, and we should try to help them? I think maybe Miss Aggie is a bit like those kids, mama? And maybe we could let her stay here awhile, and we could help her too, mama? I think she's probably a nice lady inside, but somebody was mean to her when she was small, and she doesn't understand some things some times - you know, mama, like that sad man John who came here last year, and stayed with us?"
Some time later we were standing around to the side of the clubhouse, where the lane to the main road ended in the Strawberry parking lot - with its bicycles and Green Island Vehicles of various sorts, and a Green Shuttle loading up for the short run to the Lobster Shanty spur of the GRIS-RT. We had said our goodbyes, mostly amicably, and Aggie turned and began to march determinedly up the lane.
Realising this, she turned back, to where the others were still standing around uncertainly.
“Well, c’mon!” she demanded, “what are you waiting for! We’ve done what we came to do, now let’s get back and make our report!”
“Aggie,” said one of the pastel girls, a shy but determined smile on her face, who was standing beside Marion, who was holding her hand, “I think maybe we’d like to stay a bit longer, look around a bit more, you know?” she looked around, and the others were nodding their heads, the banker man even pulling off his tie, with a slightly guilty look in the direction of Old Tom, who had reappeared from somewhere and was sitting on the outside deck watching with a look of disapproval, although what it was directed at wasn’t actually clear since he seemed to disapprove of most things; “You maybe ought to wait a bit, too, you know - I think we might be able to learn some good things here, Aggie! Most of us want to spend the night anyway, looking around some more, and working for our supper - seems like pretty healthy work Harry offered us! And then we could be sure we had seen all there is to see, as well as talk some more to the people here, which we all want to do....”
Aggie looked back scowling, although we could see her thinking - hard to come back, for sure, and maybe admit she had been wrong - but would it be even harder to carry on, and leave - and be wrong for a lot longer?
She took a step back towards us. “Well, maybe....” she said - “Say, does that funny little man we saw back there on that First Kiss hole give lessons? I think maybe I'd like to talk with him a bit more anyway....”
“Ho ho ho!” we all laughed together as she came back to join us, a somewhat small, but slowly, slowly widening smile on her face, which would get bigger and last longer over the next day or two as well.
“Which funny little man did you have in mind, Aggie?” asked Hesperus, to a renewed round of laughter.
Even Old Tom had a wee smile on his face, as he rose to his feet and disappeared again around the corner.