#14 Well Behaved Woman

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I’ve been in a peculiar mood the last two days. Yesterday, Wednesday, morning it was raining strongly. We had torrential downpours very early in the morning. Because it didn’t look like it was going to clear up anytime soon Hugh didn’t go to work at the saw mill. After breakfast we walked to the north dock to pump, by hand the early morning’s rain out of the jon boat. It was over a hundred gallons. The walk, exercise, and fresh air had helped clear my head for my morning’s work. I wasn’t going to be much company, as Tuesday I had gotten my period and still was having strong menstrual cramps and muscle aches.

“As much as I’d love to do something with you sweetheart, I have to get some work done.” I have a book signing next week and a dissection class and a dialoguing class the beginning of August. I had to do some marketing for them. Generally I’ve been asking myself “Why is it that when I have the motivation to do something I don’t have an internet signal available or there are more important things to do? And when I do have the time or signal available I don’t have the motivation?” Fortunately yesterday was a “have signal, have time, have motivation” day.

Looking out on the gloomy day, I was glad that I didn’t have to face the dilemma of “do I stay in on such a beautiful day?” I kept looking out the windows thinking “What a cruddy day. At least I’m motivated to work.”

“If you think this is cruddy weather, you haven’t seen anything yet!” quipped up my inner critic.

“Okay, okay, I know. It’s me, not the weather.” After the third time of thinking about how cruddy it was outside, I realized that it really wasn’t all that cruddy. I was the one who was cruddy —  I felt physically achey and emotionally scattered. Had I been feeling my normal chipper self I would have been happy to give Hugh a hand with whatever project he was working on, even if it was outside. I would have enjoyed putting on a rain jacket and pants and gone for a walk. Each type of weather, just as each season, reveals some different beauty of the island. It wasn’t cold outside, just grey and drizzly.


“Dinner should be ready in about ten minutes.” Hugh puts the fish cakes in the fry pan.

I had spent almost the entire day online posting information about my upcoming events. My mind was fried and mentally spent but I felt good. I had accomplished a lot. Over dinner of fish cakes, fresh biscuits made from scratch and salad I told Hugh a bit more about my day’s work of updating events listings online about my book signing and classes.

“I’m in a strange mood.”

“I can see that.”

“I’m both excited and not to be going back to Baltimore.” This is nothing new. It’s what I felt in May after being with him on Shelter Island for three weeks, my first trip out. Tears began to well up in my eyes. “I’m going to miss you and the island very much. I’m going to miss the serviceberries and blueberries ripening. I’m going to miss new flowers blooming. And I’m happy and excited to go to Baltimore and pack my stuff and in two weeks be driving a U-Haul van out here and make this home. Make this home with you.”

I’ve been here almost four weeks now. I leave for Baltimore in two days, on Saturday. In May I was going “back” to Baltimore but it no longer felt like home. Even though, my spirit had found Home during my first visit here, my sense of homelessness had intensified. I didn’t “belong” in Baltimore anymore. While being in the country, in the remoteness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my spirit had been able to breathe again. Hugh and I knew that I’d be back two weeks later for another visit. It would be for a visit. I couldn’t call Shelter Island Home because Hugh hadn’t asked me to make it home.

Three weeks ago, Thursday, the first week of this visit, Hugh told me that he’d like me to make this home with him. Our love for each other is unquestionable and deep. His previous uncertainties about my willingness and ability to live remotely and off the grid had been removed. He had no question that he wanted me in his life. I thanked him with tear-damped kisses. Now, going to Baltimore is “going for a visit to B’more.” I’d be going to visit B’more and coming home to Shelter Island. My psyche has been able to rest and breathe knowing that my spirit has a home. Shelter Island is truly my home.


Yesterday I was excited thinking about my various belongings that I would pack and bring when I returned in July. Some things are practical like my clothes and popcorn maker. Yes, popcorn maker. On my first visit here we made popcorn a couple of times for dessert. It was a muscle exercising production. The first time we made it with very old blue popcorn in a large pot, sliding it back and forth over the propane stove flame. No matter how pretty the blue popcorn looked, it was two decades too old. We nibbled on the small, slightly popped and semi-burnt kernels. The second time we tried to make it in the wok. The fresh bought popcorn had the oomph to burst open and jump out past the ill-fitting lid. The effort to keep the lid on and the wok moving and the popcorn in the pan was strenous. Even though it’s electric and noisy, a popcorn maker is definitely a vast improvement over trying to make it the old fashioned way.

I plan on bringing other practical things like my books and cds, both of which I have a lot of. I plan to sell on Amazon ones that I don’t want anymore and the cash will be helpful. My mountain bike, snorkel gear and wetsuit will definitely come. I could have used the wetsuit on Sunday. It was a nice calm day and Hugh needed to straighten the new dock extension. It had gotten moved around by the large waves generated from last Thursday’s big rainstorm. As he worked on redoing some bolts, I collected fist-sized and larger rocks to put in the watering trough. He had made the dock extension using two watering troughs; think what a cow might drink water from. In each trough he put two pipes in upright and filled in the rest with concrete and rocks. Once they were set and dry he dragged them into the water and put them in place, one for each end of the dock. Cross pieces were attached to the upright pipes, upon which the wooden dock extension was placed.

“Splink. Splunk. Plunk.” One of the troughs was not completely filled with concrete so I added more weight to it by filling it with more rock. The first few inches of the lake was a decent temperature. The seventy degree weather with full sun again tried to beckon me into the crystal clear water.

“What is the water temperature?” I asked Hugh. He keeps track of the water temperature, lake level, monthly rainfall.

“It’s warm on top.”

“Yes, but what’s the temperature of the rest of it?” Last week he had mentioned that it was about 55 degrees. I grew up swimming the start of the season in 60 degree water.

“Well the first six inches are warm.”

I knew that past those six inches it got colder. And most of me is thicker than six inches. The sun felt good; too good to remain in jeans so I went inside and put on shorts.

“Could you help me put a rock under while I lift up the trough with the pry bar?” Hugh was up to his chest in the water with his waders on. He’s used to doing things by himself that require three hands. I was glad to be a third hand. Over the weeks I’ve continually offered a third and fourth hand and encouraged him to ask even when I haven’t offered.

“What do you need me to do?”

“I need you to perfectly toss a rock down into the water so it lands on that rock there. Then it is to bounce off and slides under the trough.”

“Okay…” Yeah, right! We both knew that he was asking the almost next to impossible. I had a couple of rocks and chose a decent candidate.

“Plunk!” We watched it sink and hit the specified target rock. Contrarily it slid the other way. Harrumph. That didn’t work. What next?

“Well…” Hugh thought out loud.

“Splash!” There was only one option. With shorts, t-shirt and shoes, in I went.

“Brrrr!!!” I had been waiting for my invitation and excuse to jump into the lake, regardless of temperature. He wasn’t surprised at my unprompted action to help more directly. There was only one way to do this easily and that was for both of us to be in the water. He pried up the trough while I played soccer with stones. The task was quickly accomplished with a couple well placed stones. (Thanks Dad for encouraging me to play soccer. It’s still paying off.)

Now I was wet and cold and there wasn’t anything to do but go for a quick swim. Off came the watersport Keens. Hugh’s eyes widened when I handed him my shorts. When I peeled off my t-shirt he realized I was still decently clad in my bathing suit. Skinny dipping around here is the norm, but we had company, his best friend Andy. (Andy was taking a nap and probably wouldn’t have shown up before I could skedaddle to the house.) I swam a few strokes out into the lake as Hugh shook his head in amazement at the crazy woman he loves.

“I can’t say that I truly went swimming unless I get all of me wet.” Those six inches were kind to my face as I ducked my head under. That was enough, time to get out. I was able to uphold my reputation of being the last one out, even though I was the only one in. Next time a wetsuit would probably be warmer, but by the time I come home with my wetsuit the water will be warmer. Then it will be time for diving off the floating dock!


This morning I woke up thinking about all that I have to pack in the next two weeks. I thought about all that I have to organize for my move out here — storage of my piano, rent a storage locker, rent a U-Haul truck, find a place to park my car off-street and possibly even buy a Jeep 4X4. My plan is to sort and pack all my stuff to leave after work on Friday, July 2. Kelly is being very kind and has not asked me to leave by any certain time, but I won’t be renting from him anymore. He’s even generously offered to be Agate’s caretaker, since I can’t bring her here and she’s comfortable with him and Duffy.

I thought about driving my car out here to Michigan and rent a car each time I come back to Baltimore to see clients. Yes, I’m keeping my practice in Baltimore. I’ll be there two weeks out of six. I love what I do and I love my clients. I have no work here, yet. So I’m making sacrifices, willingly, to keep doing what I love and what my clients appreciate.

And I’ll be asking really nicely if anyone would like a guest for two weeks at a time when I’m in Baltimore. (I have references that I’m a very easy guest to have. They will tell you that I’m no work at all – I keep my room picked up, I make dinner, I’m a good conversationist, etc. Or if you know someone who needs a house sat, that would work too.)

So, I had planned on renting a car each time I came to B’more, but it would cost me at least $500 each time. That’s a lot of money. We’ve decided that I’ll find a place to park my car, off-street somewhere, so I can keep driving it in Maryland. And we’ll buy me a Jeep 4X4 for use up here in Michigan. It will be handy during the winter when we have to walk/drive off the island over the rocks, boulders, ice and snow and on rough roads; stuff my car just wouldn’t do.


I began crying, as I lay in bed this morning thinking about what will go or not in my “take” boxes. “Take” will definitely contain clothes, books, work related items and a small amount of my treasures to help bring some of my energy into Hugh’s house. The “stay/sell/pack” will contain items that are redundant — metal kitchen mixing bowls, stapler, hair dryer and kitchen chairs. The obvious to stay is almost all of my furniture.

But what about the not so obvious? What about those things that are valuable, but only to me? The items that have sentimental value? Hugh’s house is not very large and we don’t need much space. I don’t want to clutter the house with things just to have stuff that is pretty to look at. But what do I do with my teddy bears? I have my first bear, as well as my mother’s and her father’s bears. I have a three foot tall doll, JoAnn. My mother got it for Christmas when she was 5 years old; she and JoAnn were about the same height. When Rachel was pregnant Mom had hoped that she’d have a girl who would then play with JoAnn. Trains are the toy of choice for Joshua, my nephew; I know JoAnn is better loved by me in her storage box than by him.

What do I do with all my other stuff that I have memories attached to memories or would one day enjoy having available?

This morning Hugh and I sat on the dock extension eating a breakfast of cold cereal and tea. It was a peaceful warm morning with calm waters. It was the type of morning that we speak about that would be good to go canoeing when the sun was beginning to stretch its rays out from under its night clothes.

“Do you mind if we talk? Or would you prefer to enjoy the beauty?”

“We can talk.” Hugh shakes his head indicating he doesn’t mind. He knows I have a lot on my mind.

“My plan is to bring what I need and put the rest in storage. It’ll stay in storage through the winter until we figure out if we want spending our winters here or that we need a second home somewhere else.”  I continued, “I’ll keep it stored until you then either ask me to marry you or I move out.”

He nodded with agreement and understanding. This year we are spending the entire winter here. This will be the first time for Hugh to spend the entire winter, as previously he’s been on a boat job elsewhere or house sitting somewhere warm. We had talked a couple of time that putting my stuff in storage would be a good idea should we decide after this winter that we don’t want to live here year round, we’ll have then have my belongings to furnish a house. When he asks me to marry him, I’ll then sell what’s in storage that I really can’t live without. This all seems logical.

“Have a big day!” He gives me a kiss and a couple waves goodbye.

“I love you. Be safe!”

Camera in hand, but no particular destination in mind I go for my morning walk. A beautiful day is in store and I still have much work to be done — phone calls to make, more marketing for classes to do, posting of photos on microstock photography websites and writing. I’m finally learning to go for a hour or so walk and enjoy the beginning of the day. The light is better for photographing when it’s not directly overhead. Then when my feet are happy I then go to work.

My feet take me down the well travelled and defined paths. Familiar flowers and birds abound. I look out for new ones that have opened up with the new morning. Last night was a large mayfly hatching. Their castings are floating in the water and wash up on the shoreline. What else is new?

Spider webs are strung across the path, glistening like holiday garland with the remnants of an early morning’s rain. The spider webs catch my thoughts along with the midges and mayflies. Someone has spent time and energy weaving these almost perfect webs. To disturb them seems malicious. I try to walk around them, but avoiding one often means disturbing another. My pants are quickly sticky with telltale signs of where I’ve been.

If the bejeweled strands were thicker I’d quickly become entangled. A fitting metaphor in many ways of my current life. Teddy bears and JoAnn, sitting in their white whicker chair of my childhood, home of my memories, would soon be inhabited by spiders. The house is cleanly decorated. We don’t have much dust but with too much stuff sitting around we have spiders of all sizes taking up residence.


About six months ago, before seriously considering moving to Shelter Island full time, I read an article about an elementary school girl. She announced at the dinner table one night that she wanted to sell all her stuff and she wanted her parents to sell their McMansion home. With the money that they would get she wanted to donate it to people who were really needed it. Her mother dismissed it as a lovely naive idea of the young; her father embrace the idea. A year later they had completely downsized.

I thought it was wonderful that someone had done something like that. I wasn’t in the position to do such myself. And I questioned what I would do with those precious things that have dear memories, like the ceramic teddy bear that I made in fourth grade. I knew that I could simplify and downsize my living quarters and basic needs, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to divest myself of my cherished belongings; accumulated over forty years.

Yesterday I received an email from Repower America. It began,

“Dear Julie,

Last night, President Obama addressed the nation about the Gulf Coast oil spill. He laid out a crucial plan for recovery in the face of this unprecedented environmental disaster, and he called on Americans to seize this moment to end our addiction to fossil fuels and embrace clean energy….”

Amongst other things, the email went on about the immediate need to clean up the spill and the need in the near-future to enact legislation for clean energy. My thought was “What about each and every one of us being responsible for changing our lifestyle to reduce directly our dependence upon fossil fuels?” I’ve been driving a car that gets 40 miles per gallon. I’ve been driving it for the last nine years, long before hybrids were the responsible car to drive. I’ve always recycled, chosen bulk foods over highly packaged and organic food. I share a home and work close to home. My carbon footprint comparably is small. There’s not much more I could do to reduce it further, except to live off the grid and with less stuff on Shelter Island.


Now I am faced with a decision that will have a huge impact on the rest of my life – professionally and personally. In two days time I fly to Baltimore, to where I have lived for four years, where my life has been. I’ve created a wonderful life there — lots of incredible friends, a thriving and highly respected practice, and a wonderful housemate who happens to be my best friend. There’s lots of potential for me to build on in B’more. I’m lucky. Am I ready to give it all up?

Am I ready to look financial burdens in the face, knowing that even though I can continue to see clients two weeks out of six, I’ll incur a $1500 monthly deficit unless I find work in Michigan? It will mean a lot of travel back and forth. Am I willing to be away from Hugh for so long, so often?  Am I ready to seclude myself on an island with very little social interaction, except for the occasional visitor? Am I willing to give up all my treasures?

This is the price of having this man’s love. Is it worth it?

A dear friend emailed me a couple weeks ago, expressing concern that I not give up too much of myself. She was concerned that I might get hurt, should the relationship not work out. There are no guarantees about how a relationship will or won’t work out. I am very willing to be fully in this relationship with all my heart and soul. I want to live life to its fullest, withholding nothing.

Ever since I was eighteen I have searched for ways to live a meaningful life. I’ve searched for ways to live in harmony with nature. To live in a place such as Shelter Island, to make it home and become one of its stewards is something I have always wanted to do. I have always known that I did not want to and could not live in the city. My first visit here reconfirmed that. No, living here would not be giving up too much of myself. Quite the opposite; living here would be nurturing a very large part of me.

My love for Hugh is strong. I’m willing to make many sacrifices to be with Hugh. What I’m not willing to do is uncertain. It’s just a question of how do I go about in the world so I don’t make a sacrifice that I later might regret. But then I have yet to get my crystal ball from Santa, so I don’t know what the future might hold.

Often I’ve asked myself the question of “What would I do differently, all else being the same?” These last three weeks I’ve examined my answers and determine if any aspect is applicable to my current situation. I don’t find any past “mistake” that I think I might repeat.


As I walk down the trail my pants get dirtier and wetter. The spider webs continue to bind me with their midge-stuck strands. I come to the wise old cedar. I gaze up at her. She leans and is leaned into by another.

We walked past her last night on our way back to the house. She hasn’t changed, but I have. I have decisions to make. In two days time I could say “Hugh, I love you but the sacrifices are too much. Each by itself is bearable but all together is more than I am willing to bear. I love you, and good-bye.” And with that return to Baltimore bags in hand, heart torn apart but know that I could have an easy and enjoyable life.

Or I could say in two days time, “I love you, I’m scared and nervous. I’m willing to give it my all. Life is meant to be fully lived, otherwise it is not worth living. Hugh, I love you, my one clay. Be safe. I’ll be home in two weeks.”


Last night on our walk we followed the driveway to the north dock, through the woods and back to the northeastern shoreline. We crossed the otter trail but saw no signs of activity. Upon rounding the north end of the island, we scanned the grasses for sandhill cranes. No geese and goslings, no cranes, no sandpipers. It was a very inactive evening.

“Which way?” I asked, wondering if Hugh had a preference of continuing around following the shoreline or to return home by the inland trail.

“I want to check out a possible campsite a little ways up the shore. People have used it in the past and I want to see if it’s still suitable for the gang to use it.” About fourteen friends and family are coming the first weekend of July for a week. They will be camping out on the sandy beach on the north end of Little Shelter Bay.

We continue on a little bit.

“There they are!” I loudly whisper and point at fuzzy movement on a boulder in the water close to shore.

“Don’t point.”

Initially, I thought I saw the pointy head of two otters peaking over the rock. About fifty yards away we see four fuzzy black-masked rascals finishing their evening bath. They’ve not yet detected us as they check to make sure they washed behind their ears and properly groom their whiskers. Two of them crawl cautiously up and back down the boulder that is out in the water. They join their two other siblings and head closer in on shore. Their noses wiggle and twitch back and forth having caught an unusual scent. Mom is not insight so they meander here and there over the rocks, coming closer to us. Eventually three of them turn away from us and go off into the shrubs and trees.

Where is the fourth little coon?

The boulder is still wet and fuzzy.

“You’ve left me behind,” someone squeaks for help and company. Little One is unsure about getting off the rock even though we slowly walk by in full view. “If I just stay here and act like I’m invisible, Mom will know where I am when I don’t show up with the others.” Little One’s black nose turns to follow us as we walk by.

“Be safe, Little One.” I whisper. Then to Hugh I tell him “I want to live here forever with you.”



My socks begin to dampen matching my pants as I continue my walk down the inland trail past the Camel, the outhouse. I come to an opening that beckons me to go off trail, towards the eastern shoreline.

I hear my aunt’s advice, “Explore the island on your own, find places that Hugh hasn’t shown you.”

“But we try to stick to the trail so as not to disturb any plants. The soil is not very deep, only a few inches, and roots are closer to the surface than one realizes.” I reply back. I walked gently upon the earth, cautious of where I tread.

My feet leed me through the clearing, breaking through more spider webs and past trees that I have never said hello to. I think about how this is much like my life now — time to go off the familiar trail, to explore what is unknown and uncertain.

“Well behaved woman rarely makes history” — my aunt, gave Rachel and me each a bracelet a few years ago with this saying by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on it. Did she give it us me because I’m too well behaved, all ways have been and should break trail? Or to say that it’s okay to not be normal? It’s okay to live life to the fullest even if it means breaking new trail and taking the road less traveled.


This morning as I was quietly crying, Hugh began our morning routine — he put the kettle on for a morning cup of something hot.

“Can you come give me a hug?” I softly whimpered from under the covers. It was shortly after 6 AM and the sun was already up.

“What’s the matter?” His eyes sadden with concern that I wasn’t happy.

“I’m scared and nervous.” I told him of my financial fears and personal apprehensions, none of which were new; we had talked about them during the last few weeks.

“It’ll be okay.” Tenderly he held me and kissed my tears, warming my heart as the sun filled our home with warmth.


Yes it will be okay. JoAnn and the three bears will come to Shelter Island and be visited by me occasionally in the attic. What exactly the rest of life will be like, I don’t know. I, this well behaved woman, choose to cast my fate to the wind and see where the sails, full of life, take me in my new life with Hugh on Shelter Island.


About juliemckaycovert

I am a therapist, teacher, photographer and published author. I am a lover of life and nature. My husband, Hugh, and I live off the grid on a remote 40 acre island, Shelter Island, just off of Drummond Island in the far eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This blog is about my life, a life I thought I'd never be able to live. This blog is about dreams and ideals being manifested. It is about daily events with a backwoods twist. It is about the simple pleasures and wonders being brought forth. I invite you to be inspired and even, as some friends have, live vicariously through my words.
This entry was posted in Baltimore, Insightful Body book, Jeep, Michigan, Nature, Off the Grid, Photography, Shelter Island, Upper Peninsula, Water and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to #14 Well Behaved Woman

  1. eremophila says:

    Beautifully and honestly written.

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