#9 Touchstone

Friday, May 21, 2010

Two weeks ago Friday we went to bed with winds tearing past the house at 25 to 35 miles per hour. Rain pounded down on the metal roof. In the 12 previous hours the temperature dropped 20 degrees to the high 30s. The weather forecast was for five to eight inches of snow on Saturday. My three week stay was ending with some drama. Three o’clock in the morning the hot buttered rum had run its course. The rain had turned to large heavy white flakes. The wind still whipped through the trees. Even the house was still comfortably warm there was a coolness in my heart knowing that I had to leave Shelter Island and Hugh in seven hours.

Saturday morning though out breakfast we watched the large waves in the bay try to hide behind the intermittent fog. They foretold of a possibly rough and definitely wet ride. Winter parkas and waders were donned after breakfast. My luggage and our dry shoes were stowed in plastic totes and trash bags to weather the boat ride to the Drummond dock.

Shortly after debarking from the Detour ferry the snow stopped and the sun tried to peak out, as it should on a fine spring day. We had plenty of time to have a leisurely lunch and drive to the Sault Ste. Marie airport. When I checked my bags in to go out to Michigan, the ticket agent looked at my destination and inquired where Salt Saint Mary was. She had never heard of it in the three years she had worked for Delta. “It’s on Michigan’s upper peninsula. Near Canada.”

“Oooh.” She replied with a feigned knowingness, .

The departure monitor was the first stop on my arrival in Detroit. The connection was supposed to have been an easy hour layover; enough time for a quick, water in/water out, followed by dinner and a gate change. “Albuquerque, Anchorage, Baltimore…” The red writing glared at me as I glared back at it – “CANCELLED”. I scanned the board for other cancellations, telltale signs of inclement weather that may have followed me down from up north. Baltimore was the only one in the red. “Crap!” Silently but loudly I muttered my dismay. It was the last flight to B’more. Being a seasoned traveller I knew that time was of the essence. I needed to find the nearest gate agent to determine what the cause was and what my new ticket was saying I was to do. I was now in a race against everyone else who was supposed to leave on that same flight, for the first available seat from Detroit to Baltimore.

My reissued ticket was for a 7:28 AM Sunday morning departure, a good 12 hours after I was originally supposed to have arrived in Baltimore. I would arrive at 1:30 PM after flying west to Minneapolis then east. I had things to do and nothing to wear but the clothes on my back. Spending another day traveling was not what I wanted to do. Surely there was some other way. My next task was to call Delta SkyMiles. Hopefully my membership would get me some help.

“We can get you on stand-by for a flight to Dulles. Or you can leave in 50 minutes for Reagan in DC.”

“Okay, what do I need to do?”

“Do you have any checked bags?”

“Yes.” I knew that my answer was the deal breaker. They wouldn’t let me fly stand-by or short notice because I had to have my checked bag on the same flight that I would be on.

“We have a later 8:30 PM flight to Reagan. It gets in at 9:45 PM.”

It was tempting. “I’ll have to call you back when I figure out how to get from DC to Baltimore.”

How would I get to Baltimore? I made quick and frantic calls to Kelly, my housemate, and best friend Christina. I left a message for Kel “Can you pick me up?” Christina was my backup if he couldn’t.

Finally after catching the 8:30 PM flight to Reagan, I arrived at 10 PM to learn my bag had been scanned and supposedly put on the plane but it didn’t show up on the conveyor belt. No one knew where it was. Kelly missed the quick turn into the airport, which caused a 45 minute rerouting. Finally I arrived back at the house about 12:30 AM. What a long day. And it was to be the start of a whirlwind, adrenal exhausting jam packed two weeks.


Sunday morning Kelly and I were to go out for breakfast. The kitchen was still under construction. No sink or stove meant meals were still eaten out of cardboard or styrofoam. “I have to write something before we go, before I loose it.”

“When I arrived here last night I found myself looking around at all the stuff that I have here. I realized that something was missing. Very little of any of it has any true meaning; it’s just stuff. I began asking myself “Do I need this?” The answer was almost always “no”. Sometimes I would say “Well it’s nice…” or “It’s pretty…” and there are some things that have sentimental value, like the ceramic teddy bear I made in 4th grade. And yet it too is just stuff.

I realized that none of this had any meaning in the greater scheme of life.

Yesterday morning (Saturday) as I was doing my last packing I put in my pocket a very small puddingstone as a “touchstone” to the island. When I picked it up this morning I felt something that I did not have the words to in the last three weeks. Being on Shelter Island, and with Hugh, helped me to find a large part of my spirit that had gotten lost, deeply buried. It was so good to have connected with myself again. (I had gotten a glimpse of it when I was in Belize.)

I have not even been back in B’more for 12 hours and I’m feeling smothered by everything and feeling that part of me trying to hide to protect itself. And in particular I’m feeling a lack, a huge lack. Lack of meaningfulness in life. Yes, my work is very meaningful to me, and it brings me great pleasure. But the lack that I am specifically referring to is on a deeper more spiritual level that being able to have a connection to nature nurtures in me. I missed getting up this morning and taking a walk down to the lake, hearing the wind and the water and the birds and encouraging the garlic to grow.

Yes, I miss Hugh very much, but I know I’ll talk to him soon. But I don’t want this part of me that I have found again to get lost. Even if Hugh wasn’t in my life, I don’t think I could continue living here, the way I’ve been living here, because that very important part of me would get lost again, which I don’t want.

So I’m glad that Hugh loves me as much as he does and didn’t want me to leave and wants me to come back to him and Shelter Island. I have my pictures of us and voicemail messages to listen to when I can’t talk to him. And even if my bag that has my other island stones in it is completely lost, which I doubt, at least I have this every so small touchstone to the island and a link to that deep important part of myself.”


The last few days of my three weeks in Michigan had me thinking about the things that I had missed while on Shelter Island, dancing, my cat, my piano, my friends. What would it be like, after three weeks to play again my piano or play with Agate, and know that I wouldn’t be able to do so, were I to return to Shelter Island? I had plans for each night — dinner at wonderful restaurants with girlfriends, dancing at Glen Echo or Lovely Lane, a shiatsu session, a haircut and my CranioSacral Therapy study group. I had symphony tickets for Friday night. Would I realize after hearing the BSO play an incredible concert of Romantics – Schumann, Brahms and Strauss, that I might not want to give up access to the wonderful happenings of the big lights and big city?

After having two weeks of lots of fun with my friends, would I want to leave B’more to return to the remoteness and intellectual isolation of the Upper Peninsula? To get my fill for a month, I would dance my heart out and my feet sore, twice each at Glen Echo and Lovely Lane. Whole Foods was a long, long, long way from the ferry. Would my love for Hugh be enough to say good-bye to all that I had come to enjoy in the life that I had created in the last three years?

Knowing how connected I felt to Shelter Island, I believed that I would enjoy my time in B’more and be quite ready to return after two weeks to the elegant simplicity of island living. Would I actually feel the same way after two weeks of being back “home.”

“Welcome… um back, I guess. I almost said ‘Welcome home’ but from your emails it seems like you don’t consider B’more home any more.” This is how Victoria answered my phone call. I thanked her for being astute and sensitive.

“No, this doesn’t feel like home anymore, but as much as I want to call Shelter Island home, I can’t until Hugh asks me.”

Many more friends echoed this “welcome back.”

I was so glad to have sent my emails to friends and family. It was nice to not have to tell the same stories over and over again. And there are more stories that have yet to be told. I wanted to hear what was going on with my friends and not monopolize the conversation. However, what I continually got asked was “So when are you moving?” or “So are you two making plans to get married?” and “Are you going to start a practice up there?” My clients wanted to know if they were going to loose me. “You can’t move, you can’t leave you’re too good.”

Honestly, I’m feeling uncomfortably split in two with no home. It is an awkward and uncomfortable feeling. Shelter Island feels like home more than any other place I’ve lived. B’more is where all my stuff is and where my work is. I love my work and my clients. They appreciate what I have to offer, more than my clients in Madison did. It’s nice to know that my talents are not going to waste.

However, my heart is in the Upper Peninsula with Hugh. (And no, he’s not going to move to B’more this winter when the weather gets bad.) I’m having a difficult time not knowing what I’m to do. If I am moving to the island, a couple things have to happen. First Hugh needs to ask me. Then, second, I need to figure out how I’m going to make a living. My writing hasn’t gotten to the point yet where I can draw a paycheck, so I still need to rely on putting my hands on people rather than a keyboard. That means networking and establishing a practice somewhere in the UP. Where I don’t know. There’s lots to do to develop a practice to the point that it actually makes money. The where and how to do it in Michigan has a lot of scary unknowns. And a part of me thinks “It would just be easier if you were bi-costal. Live on the coast of Lake Huron and every four weeks return to the eastern seaboard for two weeks of clients.”

It’s expensive to travel like that – plane tickets aren’t cheap by any means. Then there’s the situation of a car – do I keep it in the UP or in B’more? I’d have to rent a place for my two week stay in B’more along with rent an office. And on top of all that there’s the question of “what do I do with my stuff?” We/Hugh doesn’t really need more furniture or kitchen stuff in the house. I have a good amount of furnishings, practically a whole house full. I’d have to rent a storage place or sell most of it. Then what do I do with my piano and Agate? Questions, questions, questions… With these unknowns there is anxiety. I know that in time they will get figured out. Knowing what direction I’m supposed to be going in would be nice.


One afternoon, during this stint of seeing three and a half weeks worth of clients in two weeks, I experienced a very new sensation. I was working with a client and felt an intense pulling in my body at a cellular level. At first I did not know what it was. It took me a little while to determine what it was — I missed the island. I missed it on a deep, visceral level. I have travelled a lot over the last ten years – taking classes all over the country, taking care of my mother twice while she was in hospice (one period was for three months straight) and two visits to Madison for a week each to see clients after moving to B’more. During these past years I also had a few great vacations – a ten day honeymoon in Hawaii (with my now ex-husband), eleven days in St. Lucia, three weeks in France and Holland, a whirlwind trip to England and two weeks in Belize; most of which, by the time the end of the vacation rolled around I was ready to go home. But I hadn’t missed home. I had looked forward to returning to my normal routine, my own bed and my friends. But I didn’t long to be home.

That day last week, I longed for the island and Hugh. The island had seeped into my blood. I could feel it calling me back to it. Was it my pocket puddingstone speaking to me?


I’ve seen his life on the island. A couple months ago he was very concerned that I might have a difficult time with what life on the island meant. Were I to not want “that” type of life, it might have negative impact on our relationship. I’ve sat with my feelings of isolation and felt the stillness of the crashing waves from Lake Huron. I’ve struggled with cooking a full dinner, including oatmeal raisin cookies on a wood cookstove. I’ve contemplated my navel asking me “After you go back to Baltimore, do you really think you’ll want to give up all the wonderful opportunities that Maryland has? Will you really want to give it up to chop wood and rotate the composting toilet and walk an hour out to the truck when the lake freezes over?”


It’s Friday night. My two week visit to B’more has ended. I’m now in Detroit. The last two days I was counting down the time until I saw him in increments of clients. Thursday morning it was ten clients and a class. Now I’m counting down hours. It is about seventeen hours until I am with Hugh again. Tomorrow I take a(nother) class. This time I am becoming certified to be an CST examiner. That means I will be able to test and certify other therapists in CranioSacral Therapy. Then Hugh is picking me up. We’ll have some dinner, I’ll change into a skirt and we’ll go contra dancing in a nearby suburb. It will be the last time I dance until I return to Baltimore in a month. For Hugh it will be longer. When he will dance next is a complete unknown. We are looking forward so much to being together again. Monday night, as we were chatting on the phone, I asked him what he was doing.

“I’m sitting on the porch missing you. It’s beautiful and calm here. You should be here.”

“Yes.” Yes, as I felt my pocket puddingstone, that is where I belong.


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, Contra dancing, Drummond Island, Michigan, Puddingstone, Shelter Island, Travel, Water and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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