There is a weird phenomenon that occurs typically in remote villages, rural enclaves and tiny islands, a kind of information sharing system that transcends all documented forms of communication. It is known in the tropics as the “Coconut Telegraph”, in the Sahara as “Le Vent de Desert”, and in Prince Edward Island as “The Spud Network”. It works something like this:
I was driving to PEI one spring not long ago. I had not told anyone I was coming, and I was at the helm of an anonymous car (my grey Honda Civic sedan, of which there are thousands just like it in both shape and color, plying the roads of eastern Canada). Before I get to my place, I have to pass right by the house of my cousin Florene. As it happened, she was gardening in the front yard that morning, so I thought I’d pull in her driveway and surprise her. After all, I hadn’t seen her in close to a year. She glanced up at me, registering not one iota of astonishment, and said “Hi Bruce, I heard you were here.” How the hell did she know that, I wondered. So I asked her. She shrugged, pulled a perplexed face and said “I guess Vel told me.” Except I hadn’t told Vel I was coming either. Hmm. Florene and I went inside for a cup of coffee, and I asked if I could use her phone, to call Vel, naturally. I identified myself, and Vel said “Oh hi Bruce, I heard you were here.” Who could have told her? “Must have been Florene,” Vel offered. Nobody ever ‘fessed up to being the source of the rumor, and there I let it lie, writing it off as another example of The Spud Network.
Fast forward a couple of years to this past weekend. I am on my way back from a short trip to Montreal, scheduled to arrive home around 3pm on Saturday. This will give me time to give the guest room an unhurried once over, as I have company arriving on Sunday. On the home stretch I see a handmade road sign I look forward to every autumn, a sign that wasn’t there when I left for Montreal: MacPhee’s U-Pick Apple Orchard is once again open for business. A small (4km) detour is in order, because Rick MacPhee, orchardeer extraordinaire, offers apples truly worthy of Snow White, starting in late September and finishing up six delicious weeks or so later. I can just about smell a home-baked apfelstrudel in my immediate future. I wave as I pull up, and Rick greets me with a grin and “Hi Bruce, when did you get back?” (How does he even know I was gone?) He follows up with “Did you find your friend?” Okay, now I am thoroughly puzzled. “What friend?” I ask. “George Campbell came by here yesterday afternoon looking for you,” Rick replies. Oh dear, I wasn’t expecting him until the following day. And why would he be looking for me at MacPhee’s orchard? “I brought him over to the house to see if we could track you down,” Rick continues, and offered him supper and a place to stay for the night, but he didn’t want to impose. He asked me if there were any B&Bs close by.” Okey-dokey, I’d better get home and hit the phone, and see if I can figure out where George might have gotten off to.
Not far, as it turns out; he is stretched out in his car in my driveway, seat comfortably reclined, catching some late afternoon rays through the sunroof as I pull up. “Hi George, I heard you were here,” I say nonchalantly, realizing that with those seven simple words I have just inadvertently become one small new synapse in the Spud Network.