Tuesday, May 4, 2010
These last two plus weeks have not gone entirely how I expected them to go. They have been much more difficult in some regards and much easier and more enjoyable than anticipated. It’s been almost a week since I last wrote anything. So much has been going on that I’m finding it difficult to find time to write. Writing helps me get the thoughts that are constantly running around in my head out. Again it’s a beautiful morning and I’m so glad to be here.
Hugh has taught me how to tie some knots. And it’s been a good thing. He’s so patient with me when I ask “What type should I use? A rolling hitch?” Or after tying the boat to the dock I’ll doubt myself and ask “Does that look right?” as I show him the two half hitches I think I just tied. We were working by the north dock. Out in the bay, he had me tie a buoy to a line where the mooring for Gypsy Meltdown. Again I showed him the lines I had just tied together doubting myself. “Just pull on it and see if it renders or spills,” he says as he backs the boat away from it. I’m still holding the line to the buoy. The knot stays and if I don’t let go my shoulder will be the one that gets out of joint. That was a week ago. Each time we go there, at least once sometimes twice a day, I breathe a sigh of relief to see the buoy still afloat in the right place.
My other questions still come but not as often. Now it is questions more for confirmation. Pointing out the waterfowl that just took flight, “Is that a merganser?”
“Good job!” I feel like a little girl who just got a gold star from her teacher.
He’s teaching me to drive the (motor) boat. “Does it have a name?”
“Not really. Someone referred to it as the African Queen. So sometimes I call it that but with a different spelling.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“I spell it Quean. Slightly different meaning, that fits the boat a bit better.” That night he played the word queen on a triple word score in Scrabble and wound up beating me by about 190 points. Ouch!
“I really appreciate your patience in teaching me how to drive the boat.” He lets me back out of the slip and park the boat when the waves aren’t too big or we don’t have anything hooked up to the winch. He’s teaching me how to turn the boat around in place – reverse the motor (backing out of the slip), turn hard to port then at the right time put the motor in neutral while simultaneously turning it the boat hard to starboard and again at the right time engaging the motor and take it forward. Finding the “right” time is the tricky part. I got to practice it in the middle of the bay a couple of times in a row. And I will need more practice.
“I hope you are learning something and that I’m teaching you okay. It’s second nature to me.”
“I am, thank you.”
We’ve been having a lot of fun. Each day definitely brings a new adventure or enjoyment, even if it is simple or small. And we’ve done so much in the last week alone. He’s been working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That means I get the most “work” done on those days, having it to myself. I had hoped to write about four hours a day on my book, the client version of “The Insightful Body”. It was also my intention to do yoga about 4 or 5 times a week. Neither has happened. And it’s been a little disappointing that I’m not farther along on my book and that I haven’t been sticking to my exercise regime. Oh well, the distractions have been well worth it.
The excuses for not doing yoga are simple – the travel yoga mat does not provide enough cushioning for the hardwood floors of the house. For most asanas it works great, but for stuff laying on my back it is not thick enough. It’s only a thin piece of cloth with a sticky rubberized backing to keep from sliding. So the real yoga mat is on the list to bring in May. I also have a difficult time justifying being inside, during the day, when it is gorgeous outside. I could try to do yoga outside but there is no flat spot that is large enough that is not a rock. We have no “front lawn” here. That means there’s no grass to mow and no place to do yoga outside.
The other excuse is that when I’m not doing something productive/enjoyable outside then I’m writing or cooking or Hugh is home. When Hugh’s home we are generally doing something together. Part of me was concerned that we would tire of being together 24/7. I haven’t thus far, but that is my nature. I could be with him day in and day out and not get too much of him. I know that he couldn’t and that’s fine. So it’s good for him to be working a few days each week at the mill. On the days he’s home we will often spend most of the day doing everything together. And there have been many times when he’s had something to work on that either doesn’t fully interest me and or that he doesn’t need my help and I have something else to do – write or cook. So we’ll happily do our own thing for a while until one of us misses the other.
Yesterday I was writing and started feeling a little melancholy about going back to Baltimore. So I stopped, got myself a cookie (more about that to come) and took him one. I heard him making noise outside but I didn’t know what he was doing so I went to find out, give him a cookie and get a kiss. That made me feel a bit better. He was sanding the bottom of a little sailboat that leaks. He’s anxious to be sailing and has mentioned a couple of times it would be fun to take the small sailboat out; even if it leaks (a little). Gypsy Meltdown needs some painting before she goes in the water. But warmer weather is needed to do that. So working on the small sailboat is a quicker way for Hugh to get sailing again.
Last night while I took a bath, I was enjoying soaking in the warm water and watching the swarms and flags of midges flying around outside the bathroom window. It was about 8:30 PM and Hugh was tuckered out from an adventurous day. We had gone for a boat trip to Canada with a picnic lunch (for a later time.) He was reading online on his Blackberry. I don’t know how he does it. Anyhow, I told him that we need two tubs because I didn’t want to get out, but I knew that he was tired and wanted his bath. A little while later he wandered in and sat on the lid of the toilet.
“Hi, what’s up?” I asked.
“I just couldn’t stand to be in the other room any longer, away from you.” He looked at me dearly.
“Aww, you’re so sweet.”
“Well, so are you.”
Then, after I had acknowledged his sentiments I let a little sarcasm in. “I know you’re just trying to hurry me up, so I’ll get out of the tub.”
“If I wanted to do that I’d just have come in and started brushing my teeth.” He jibed back.
We’ve developed a nice mix of sincerity and playfulness in our communication that wasn’t there before. My aunt once asked me regarding a previous relationship, if he made me laugh. Hugh definitely makes me laugh. We both share the same taste in sarcasm and puns and have fun bouncing the humor back and forth, but knowing when to stop long before feelings get hurt.
So I haven’t gotten to doing yoga nearly as much as I’d like. I haven’t been writing on my book nearly much as I like because I’ve been writing these memoir entries or doing stuff outside. I had two intentions for this trip. The first was to spend time with Hugh, experience his life and experience our relationship in a different environment. Check! Definitely had lots of opportunities to do that. And it has been very rewarding. Our love has grown deeper and more solid. He’s more comfortable with us seeing how happy I am being here, in the middle of nowhere. My other intention was to write my book. Well I’ve only written a couple hours at a time on it about four days each week so far. I’ve gotten the most done when Hugh’s working at the sawmill. Last week I lost a day of writing by going up to the Soo. Then last Thursday I didn’t get much done because I was being domestic all day.
It was fun though! I had had a hankering for oatmeal raisin cookies. Hugh and I both like oatmeal so we have it a couple times a week for breakfast. And on the lid of the Quaker oatmeal container is the recipe for cookies. When I was grocery shopping in the Soo I had in mind that I would eventually make some, in the wood cookstove, not the propane stove. Thursday was to be the day. It was a glorious day. After walking Hugh to the north dock, the one farthest from the house, I decided that it was going to be laundry and cooking day. Before that though I got side-tracked.
Wednesday night we watched a DVD of Andy Goldsworthy and his art in nature. As I walked along the shoreline back to the house I got a little distracted in my own art project. There were a lot of goose feathers caught in the wild grasses, “weeds” and among the rocks. (I call them weeds simply because I don’t know yet their proper name.) The rising sun backlit them, making them an angelic pure white. The beauty was belied by the clear indication of certain death by coyote or wolf. There must be something creative and interesting that I could do with them; what would Andy Goldsworthy be inspired to do? I looked around and realized that the answer was under my feet – the solution holes in the shore’s bedrock. I gathered in my Life is Good cap feathers of all sizes – from downy fluff to five inches long. Then I filled the holes with feathers. After a capful were placed it didn’t look like art. More feathers!
Another two capfuls and a couple of rearrangements of the initially placed feathers it looked worthy of a beginning student. That was fun! The sun was higher and meant time was ticking away. And the breeze was kicking up a little and trying to catch the feathers even though I had tucked them in holes. Would they stay for nine hours until Hugh came home? Probably not completely. Camera time!
My camera was now in hand and the true exercise for me began. How was I to capture and show through an image what my mind saw? How do I convey the essence of what these feathers in rocky holes were for me? What did these feathers in holes mean for me? Was this “art” or just something placed inside of something? I sounded like my instructor from my master photography class. I knew that the camera did not see the same thing I did. This thing that I had created was really just a thing – feathers in holes in a semi-pattern. Looking through the viewfinder I began to see things I had not previously seen.
Not only were feathers caught in the plants, an indication that life had ended for a goose, there was more. While taking pictures of these backlit feathers the auto-focus showed me what it saw — spiderwebs stretched between the plants. The sun was still low enough to glint off the silky strands. And caught in the strands were midges. More premature death. Had the midges been able to mate before they succumbed to the spiders? Death of a goose and death of midges.
I now had art on the rock as well as on a digital memory card. Was my “art” now a telling of destruction of life? Wasn’t art supposed to be pretty and beautiful and joyful and uplifting? Goldsworthy’s art was inspiring and creative. But mine was the telling of the end. Just as the images were that I had taken years ago of the dead cat in the gutter in St. Lucia. It was part of life there in that third world country. The telling of the end; just as the images I took of a two-lane country road being turned into a four-lane highway in the name of progress. Progress perhaps, but it was at the expense of life too. There at the edge of Wisconsin farmland lay a dead cat, struck and flattened by a car. I had taken the cat’s picture. How is it that my art often tells of death? Or is it the expression of cycles of life that sometimes we do not like to look at?
All these thoughts ran through my mind. It was not what I had set out to do that morning. I snapped away, changing my aperture and shutter speed, hoping that the computer would tell me when I downloaded the images that I had come across the right combination of lighting and focus and subject that I had created art. There it was, the answer, before I got to the computer, while I was still snapping away. The art.
“That’s good. I like that,” Hugh told me last night as I was sorting pictures. “Can you send me a copy?”
On a feather, holding ever so still and not being timid at all was a spider. A few days earlier Hugh had told me about these guys. “They act like they are dead. You can pick them up and they won’t move. They aren’t afraid of anything, so it seems.”
There he was, a spider sitting on a feather that I had stuck in a solution hole. He had to have been on the feather the whole time — from when I picked it up to when I put it in the hole. Amazing! I snapped away at other angles of the feathers in holes. But my art was to be just a portion of the larger work, it was the spider that made the difference.
And the morning had just begun.
My creative and problem solving juices were really flowing after working with the feathers. Now what could I do? Cookies and laundry were calling me but it was a glorious morning and I wanted to fully be in it. I had almost asked Hugh to play hookey with me as the lake was calm and the sun was warm. There would have been many things we could enjoy doing together.
Monday we had found a drift log on the beach by his friend’s cabin. “What shall we do with it?” he asked me.
“We could make a bench out of it.” Referring to the fact that it was sawn in half length-wise, and weathered nicely; it would blend in with the landscaping well.
Two days later he asked me as we were walking to the house, “Where shall we put it?” referring to the drift log.
“How about right there?!” With childish-quirkiness I pointed to the first place I looked, regardless of the feasible or practicality of actually putting it where I pointed.
“Makes sense.” He replied.
I had been half-joking. And it did make sense because there wasn’t any bench on that side of the bay. And when I thought about where I had pointed it seemed to be a good place.
The log was by the east dock, a good hundred yards away from where it would sit as a bench. It was about ten feet long and heavier than I could carry myself. How would I get it to where we wanted it?
“What would I do if I were Hugh?” Last January I met a friend of Hugh’s, who greatly admires Hugh’s ingenuity and creativeness. He told me that if there was reincarnation that he had always thought he’d want to come back as an otter, as he liked otters. After he got to know Hugh though, he continued, he decided that he wanted to come back as Hugh. The man is amazing in so many ways. I figured the easiest way to get the large log to where I wanted it would be to think like Hugh. That worked!
I’d get the waders and a rope from the workshop. I put the waders on, tie a rope around the log and drag it into the water. With a rope securely in place I walked in the water and floated the log the hundred yards up the shoreline. From there I dragged it up to the area of the chosen spot. That worked great and the chosen knot worked very well; it didn’t spill or render and I was able to tie it to have a loop handle to move the log easier. Yes, I was a bit proud of myself. And I had a good teacher.
Now what do I rest the log on so that it is stable enough for a person to sit on the flat side? I walked to the other side of the island, just a couple hundred yards to examine the two benches Hugh had made. Each bench was a flat rock sitting on tree stumps. That example wouldn’t work because they were flat on flat and I had round needing to rest on flat. As I walked back to my log I looked at where I wanted to put the bench and had a “Eureka!” moment. Just a couple feet further up towards the tree line were two large flat rocks, they looked like they were part of the bedrock. One was slightly higher than the other. Would that work?
Sure it would! One end of the log was a little thicker and could rest on the shorter rock, the thinner end could rest on the higher rock, which happened to be exactly how the log was already oriented. It worked perfectly! It was level and almost completely stable as it rested in solution holes. Wow! Now to shim it a little to fully stabilize it. A few small rocks under the edges of each end prevented it from rocking. To gain more sitting height I selected to remove only a few of the small loose rocks that were next to the big ones. That worked well and revealed a bit more art fun to be had.
The rocks here are of an unyielding variety of patterns and colors. In addition to a puddingstone, I found a couple other fun rocks and made a small stack of three or four rocks balanced on each other on top of the bench, acting as “arms” to the bench. I tried to rock the bench, but my shims held and the rock stacks stood. The bench was solid. Yay! Neat! Fun!
“Julie’s bench” — it was the first mark I put on the island that was “me” and hopefully the first of more.
Now it was time to get to some real work, not play.
The previous week we had done laundry together, so I knew how to run the washer. I figured it should be a piece of caked doing laundry and baking — while the wash was agitating away I’d get the wood stove heated up for baking. While the clothes were rinsing, I’d start measuring out the ingredients. Do a part of the laundry — wash, rinse, rinse, drain, hang and in between instead of twiddling my thumbs I’d scamper upstairs to the kitchen to keep stoking the firebox and mixing up cookies.
The recipe was for “Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies” but I turned them into Oatmeal Barley Double Raisin Walnut cookies. We had a bunch of barley cereal flakes that had no particular use. I figured they would work well instead of part of the oatmeal. And we had both regular and golden raisins, hence “double raisin,” so why not? And Hugh likes texture to his food and we both like nuts so I added some walnuts even though the recipe didn’t call for it.
I thought we had brown sugar, but that was not to be the case. I seemed to remember reading somewhere that you can “make your own” by adding molasses to white sugar. That’s all brown sugar is anyway. Hugh doesn’t have any regular cookbooks, like the Joy of Cooking, (on my list for next trip) or such so I figured I’d improvise anyway. I started off with a cup of white sugar. Yes, Julie was cooking with white sugar; sometimes there is no substitute. And I added a tablespoon of molasses. And mixed and mixed and mixed. And what do you know? My memory served me well. It worked.
I was on a roll with improvising and cooking in the north woods. Well at least I was once I had figured out that morning that the fire needed to be continually fed to keep the oven hot. I was able to get it up to 350 degrees and keep it there once I figured out the trick was more wood, not just hot coals. And I was able to quickly learn, without burning the cookies much at all, that the trick to even baking is rotating the cookie sheet periodically. Only four cookies had to be disposed of due to poor quality control by the cook. I willingly made the sacrifice to fully realize what the consequences of not rotating the pan were. (They were still yummy!)
I started at 9:30 AM and two and a half hours later I had three dozen cookies in and out of the oven, two loads of laundry hung in the sun and got in a phone call to a girlfriend.
What a morning!
Our morning routine has become Hugh making a voyage to the outhouse, then coming back in, starting a fire and hot water for tea (me) and Ovaltine (him). Then he’ll make us breakfast. During the week it’s usually eggs, bacon and biscuits, or hot cereal of some sort with dried fruit and maple syrup. He likes to put cream cheese or cottage cheese on his cereal. None for me thank you, I’ll stick with soy milk. On the weekend he’ll make pancakes. The other morning he brought me my mug of tea as usually and opened the pantry for the oatmeal. We have two Quaker oatmeal containers. One with the oatmeal in it, the other marked in black Sharpie marker “Pretzels.” The pretzel bag didn’t want to stay closed so I used an empty oatmeal container, which happened to be the perfect size, to store the pretzels. Can you see where this is going?
I saw him pull an oatmeal container out of the pantry and it looked like the one from the lower shelf, the one with the pretzels. The water was boiling on the cookstove and just as he is about to pop the lid off and immediately pour the ingredients into the pan I said, “Make sure it’s not the one with…” He pulled the lid off and his eyes widened! Confused and bewildered he quickly realized that I was correct “…the pretzels.” With a mischievous grin, laughing at himself he put the lid back on and pulled out the oatmeal.
After breakfast is the all important question of “What do you want for dinner?” In Baltimore it’s easy to say “Let’s go to the pub for dinner, I don’t feel like cooking.” Or “Let’s order Chinese take-out.” One summer when friends visited Hugh here the dinner question was asked. A discussion then began about what might be open. Someone said “Oh, we don’t have to go out we can just get some take-out. That would be fine with me.” Well, there is no take-out here. Not here on Shelter Island and not on Drummond Island either. You either cook it yourself here or you hope that one of the three restaurants on Drummond are open. So lunch and dinner have to be planned.
Hugh has no microwave so thawing something from the freezer needs to start promptly first thing in the morning. Otherwise improvisation is really necessary, often meaning breakfast for dinner. Dinner Thursday night was to be whitefish that he had netted off the dock. By the end of the day, I did happen to get some writing on my book in that afternoon, before I started making dinner. Along with the fish, I cooked local wild and long grain rice with baked and steamed squash. What a day of being domestic!
Sunday night after dinner we’re chatting a bit before going for our evening walk. “So, she can canoe, cook, do laundry, make cookies in a cookstove, and tie knots. What do you think?”
“I think she just might be a keeper.” He said.
“How will you know?” I inquired.
“A little birdie will tell me.” He replied.
P.S. Today is our six month anniversary. Six months ago I asked Hugh to dance. I had been told by one of the other contra dancers that Hugh was new. It’s customary for the regulars, men or women, to ask the newbies to dance. I’m so glad that he sent me the email and text message that night asking me to come see the boat he was on, the schooner Liberty Clipper.
Even though I’ve wiled away the last four hours writing this I have gotten something done. Two loads of laundry are on the line and the sun has taken my request into consideration. It is shining out rather than hiding behind clouds with a 40% chance of showers.
Since I’m still feeling domestic and festive, there’s a small blue glass vase with tiny light purple flowers on the dining room table. And after lunch and some more book writing I’ll start cooking soon. Tonight we’ll be having curried chicken masala accompanied by veggies and orzo. Dessert will be tapioca pudding and fresh Oatmeal Barley Double Raisin Walnut cookies. You’re welcome to join us!