It’s so hard to say goodbye



1995 – 2013

The house seems very quiet today.
I keep thinking I see him out of the corner of my eye – for eighteen years I always knew where he was and what he was doing – partly because he always wanted to be up in my business. He weathered the moves and changes his humans went through with grace and dignity – cross-country road trips, camping, marriage, divorce, marriage, dog, house renovation, indoor living, and the sweet island life of lounging in the grass in the sunshine for the last year and a half. He loved lobster, and ham slices, and being carried upstairs to bed, where he would climb in and put his head on the pillow, then reach out to loop his paw over my arm as if to say, isn’t this nice? His roaring purr and the way he would press himself into me when I picked him up got me through sad times, and made me feel complete. I still keep feeling disbelief that the dreaded day, which always seemed so far away, finally came. It’s just so simple – he loved us, we loved him, and now, well, there is a cat-shaped hole in the atmosphere around here.



You know how they say that when you put something new in your living room you should live with it for awhile to see if you like it? Well, what if that something is a million pieces of artwork that you have made or collected, stacked in piles forming narrow corridors you have to squeeze through like you’re touring an underground cave? I guess when the art feels like it’s suffocating you, or removes skin when you crack your shin on it, it’s time to purge. And seriously reconsider ever making anything large again, unless it can live outdoors.
We have started working on our kitchen and bedroom – making two rooms one, upstairs and downstairs, pulling down the plaster ceiling in the kitchen and the wall in between, then the chimney. The bricks from the chimney will become our outdoor bread oven. This time around it’s quick and dirty – we are just tidying up, fixing plaster, painting, sanding and varnishing floors. We’ve lived in the chaos for a year now and are both craving at least one room that is clean and bright and pleasant to be in. Josh observed the other day that the house is not only crooked – every room has slanting ceiling and floor lines – but that it was not built square in the first place, it’s more of a trapezoid.



Suddenly it’s summer, after a couple of weeks of having to light fires at night, and coming home from work looking like I’d been mud wrestling (with rain gear on, of course.) With the long, sweet-smelling evenings comes the urge not to waste any of the summer because it seems half over already.
We are sitting in our makeshift kitchen eating globs of chocolate chip cookie dough from the freezer – ‘dessert’ – and planning a trip to the mainland with the car. Tomorrow night we are going over to Nebo Lodge to have dinner and celebrate our eleventh anniversary. We’ve only been once, but it’s fun taking the Nebo launch over to North Haven at night.
Mom has got the garden looking very fine and organized, with tidy mulched paths and more beds dug out, plus we put deer fence around it. If only it kept out flea beetles and other pests! The current star of her perennial bed is an iris so black it’s almost scary. We all have our favorite things we’re hoping to get – for me, salad turnips, daikon radish and yard-long beans; Josh loves the Brussels sprouts and Mom lusts after winter squash. And we all covet the tomatoes, though of course those are a long way off.
From an intriguingly funky yard on the Sands Cove road:



So several weeks ago I wrote a little post, and thought I had published it, and then was about to respond snarkishly to a friend’s email in which she commented on no post since January….and lo, there it was, languishing in draft status. So I just put it out there anyway, though it is quite belated!
It is evening and we have just returned from getting the rest of our stuff out of storage in South Portland and out here in a u haul. Though it has been almost a year since we moved to the island, it felt odd to be cramming the last thing in, closing the door on the echoing storage space, pulling the truck door down and heading north. We’re not that far away, but this time leaving Portland I felt a bit melancholy…but then spring always makes me feel that way, especially Easter. I was also wondering what on earth possessed me to save some of the stuff that was in storage, considering that we lived without it perfectly well all this time. Like a jar of marbles. Did we really need to pay ninety dollars a month to store that?
I’m not going to show you any pictures of the finished kitchen in the barn yet, because we are about to take some good ones with which to enter the This Old House Renovation contest which I will then post. We seem to have been bitten by the contest-entering bug, and we’ve already done most of the work, so why not?
Here are a few pictures from a walk on the Huber Preserve…







longer days, shorter attention span

Josh has been working an outdoor construction job, and he comes home for lunch to thaw out.  “I’m making some bacon, how many pieces do you want?” “Eight. Ten, maybe. It’s that organic kind that really shrivels up.” I once read about an arctic expedition – on dogsled or skis or something – where they ate butter by the pound to get enough calories – maybe he should bring some sticks to gnaw on for his coffee break?

If you had told me last spring that it would take almost a year to get the barn and ell done, you would have heard the kind of shriek that shatters glass. On the other hand, not being able to see the whole path and how long it will take to get to the end is probably the best way to approach the rehab journey. Ok, that was nauseatingly Zen-y, but it’s true. Pictures of progress have sort of fallen by the wayside in our final mad crunch to get Mom’s kitchen done, but I will rustle up a couple by the end of this post. Every time I’ve thought of picking up the camera I’ve then been distracted by some other thing that needed doing. I can’t even seem to read for more than a few minutes without my mind wandering. Sound like spring fever?

A day before March begins on Vinalhaven: no snow, raw wind, grey sky. Lilies thinking of coming up behind the shed. Mom’s seed order mailed off. The Sand Bar closed for a month. Not that we go there all that often, but it’s nice to have the option. Gathered mussels for dinner with Josh and cut wood with the chainsaw, my newest tool ‘friend’. But I’ve been careful not to let myself feel too studly, lest in my overconfidence I hack off some body part. It would just be too embarrassing to have to stagger over to the neighbors’ spurting blood, I’d rather just crawl behind the wood pile and die with dignity.

We put in the wood cookstove that Isaac brought over from VT, on the trip that did in his beloved Montero. It makes the shabby kitchen so much more cozy. I haven’t been baking in it like I thought I would, it fluctuates so wildly heat-wise and requires too much minding, but it’s great for heating things up on top, or warming up plates in the cubbies up top. And the cats think it’s just grand.

A couple days later, and we had a snowstorm with lots of snow blowing sideways. Can’t take it too seriously at this point in the year, but we did almost get stuck on ‘the other side’ (Rockland), thanks to heavy duty residual wind when we went in to run errands. Now we are back, and glad of it, but for a moment there we were a little disappointed not to be forced to stay in a hotel, watching lots of bad tv on a screen larger than a laptop for a change.

Mom is writing a m………..nope, sorry, it’s a SECRET. Perhaps you can guess what it is!

first winter

Yesterday was a two-cappuccino kind of day. My old diesel Mercedes needed a plug-in engine block heater to start in the winter; they should have something like that for humans. It was also one of those almost too-bright days when the best thing to do, rather than hide under your rock, is to get out and go running. I am lucky to have a stalwart running buddy who thinks it’s fun to run in ice and snow, and she knows the island really well. She got in the car armed with two maps from her dad – one from 1904, one from 1940-something, and led me on a run that went down tiny roads, through the woods and across a wide, frozen creek, eventually coming out on the estate where Josh has been doing a carpentry job. We circled around it, marveling over the landscaping, which looks like it was done with tweezers, leaving two sets of tracks in the pristine snow to puzzle the caretaker.

Today’s project: tearing out half the kitchen ceiling and some of the kitchen walls, so we can get ready to hook up the wood cookstove. Took the stairs out the other day. One set, that is. They were the kind that were so narrow you had to place your feet sideways to not kill yourself coming down. If you ever need to let out some aggression, attacking a plaster and lathe wall with a crowbar may satisfy the urge…it gives in easily, and in large chunks. I was hoping to find some sort of treasure – say, someone’s diamond ring that slipped down in a bedroom crack many years ago – instead there was a trap door under the stairs which I had no desire to open, partly because it reminded me of an H.P. Lovecraft tale my dad once recounted in loving detail when I was a kid (his idea of a good bedtime story, I guess!)

In the barn, we are working on the downstairs – and the stairs themselves. Mom is sleeping over there now. It’s cozy and full of light; can’t wait til the rest of it is ready, and I’m sure she feels the same way, especially since then she will no longer have to pick her way through a construction zone on the way to her bedroom. I’m feeling incredulous that we can actually check a big thing off the list. Upstairs – done!

I haven’t made any artwork for eight months now. I’m hoping that this odd period of suspended routine will result in something good – that maybe all the creative impulses and ideas I’ve had since we moved out here have been bubbling away in my brain and will come bursting out when my studio is done. I’m not bored though – still feeling like limited options makes you appreciate what you’ve got more. I am writing sitting on the floor in front of the heater, jockeying for position with the cats’ donut, which they both pile into every night even though it is only supposed to fit one cat. Soon we will crawl into bed and watch the next episode of Downtown Abbey on the laptop.

Most of the pictures below were taken by Mom. She claimed to be capturing the light in her new bedroom, but I think she really just wanted to brag on the good foam on her cappuccino. Jay Campbell, there are a couple nice messy ones for you….

addendum: woke up this morning thinking about Mom’s picture of lobster traps. Like it a lot. Especially when I consider how hard it is to get a good picture of something so iconic.

the North wind doth blow…

And it seems to come from every other direction too. Out here, your choices are limited. Exercise class? There is one, and it’s at 6:00 am. No deciding to sleep longer and wait for the next one. Need cash after bank hours? Better get to the market before it closes and use the lone ATM. Want a library book after noon on Saturday? Nope. And so on. For someone like me, who is easily overwhelmed by too many choices, this is a good thing. (Except for the library hours – I have discovered the guilty pleasure of downloading books on the iPad when I haven’t made it to the library.) It is beautiful now in that bleak early winter way – scouring wind, lashing rain and sleet, hectic skies. Sunsets bruised and ominous, dark at 4:30. How can we be only twelve miles off the mainland yet feel so far away? Josh and I went downtown for Community Night on the 17th. It was really snowing for the first time and we scuffled down in our winter boots. He remarked jokingly that people would be waiting for the parade in their parked, idling cars and sure enough, the street was lined with pickup trucks with dark head-shapes in them, exhaust clouds streaming up. We got cold waiting and ducked into the Sand Bar for a quick beverage. Then the parade: a fire truck, a small pickup with those inflatable lawn Christmas ornaments crammed in the back, two floats, one which paused for a brief performance, and a couple of ATV riders. We waited a bit, thinking more was coming, then it dawned on us that that was it. Then in Vinalhaven fashion it turned around and came back the other way. We may have to do a float next year.

The ferry run has been cancelled twice due to weather, leaving Mom on the other side. She is going to put an extensive emergency kit in her car with changes of clothes, etc. While we usually try to do Christmas with more family around us, it’s just the three of us here this year. Since I am a little lacking in Christmas spirit, this is just fine, though I will miss everyone. Oh, I do enjoy Christmas, but am generally lazy about decorating and making it cozy. My mother has obviously raised a changeling.

The barn has spiffy floors, sheetrocked cathedral ceiling upstairs (though cathedral ceiling sort of implies that it is larger than it is) and bathroom walls. We are doing v-match panelling, using the backside for small seams, which will then be stained white, not opaque. Ell has washer and dryer and utility sink up and running, thanks to Josh, and we finally got the power and water lines to the shed buried and insulated in their trench. One step closer to having a studio! Winter….I’d like to escape it, or just close up the house and go to sleep under many blankets til spring, Moomintroll-fashion. But since neither of these is an option I’m going to run outside all winter, in the hopes that out of perversity I will somehow cross over into accepting and even enjoying the dark winter months. On that note…Merry Christmas, everyone!

short days, long nights

Thanksgiving approaches and we have had a stretch of those glassy-bright late fall days. Things are really starting to come together. Having the roof on the barn and ell means we can work inside, mostly. Piles of firewood have appeared on neighbors’ lawns, and you can smell woodsmoke in the air. There is barely any dusk any more, it seems like one minute it’s daylight and the next night has fallen. My brain says it’s time to go to bed at about five o’clock.
Spending so much time outside has been invigorating. I guess I didn’t realize just how much I missed it until now, though we moved here in part for that very reason. I’ve had a peek at some amazing places out here, thanks to a temporary landscaping gig. I had been wondering about the other side of the island, which is where there are expanses of woods and fields sloping down to the sea, old saltwater farms with barns and outbuildings, owned by people who evidently have pots of money. I’ve yet to see anything very tacky – do they somehow screen people before they buy those places, making sure that they will keep things looking authentic, or at least classy? Or is it just not the kind of place where the tacky-rich like to vacation? I’m thinking the latter, but we’ll see. Most of the roads to these places are marked ‘private’, which always makes me think irritably, ‘Well, la-ti-da! Aren’t we special!’
My brother came over to help us out for a week, towing a wood cookstove that he offered us to replace the one that came with the house (which is handsome but ultimately needed a lot of repairs). His car began making funny noises before he’d even left Vermont, but he valiantly decided to press on, and arrived in time to make the last boat. Consequently, we have both barn and ell mostly insulated and even sheetrock on the bedroom ceiling, a trench dug for the water and electric to my studio, and a general feeling of encouragement all round. His trip home was not so lucky though: car gave up the ghost in Livermore Falls, and he had to be rescued by Andy and Ruby. He did not seem as put out as one might think at having to lurk in the Cumberland Farms in Livermore Falls while he waited, maybe they just have really good magazines there.