A Bat and Other Distractions

I’ve become greedy with my time. I admit it. I’ve never experienced such blissful solitude as I have these last days on the Island. I find I need little else than hours to think and write without distractions. That’s hard to find in the life I lead. I just found out that family will be arriving here on the Island tonight and more relatives are visiting at home where there will be a house with four girls and a guest dog visiting when I return. Seems I can’t escape.

Being on the Island is an existence diametrically opposed to the one I have known all my life as a performer and most recently as an executive director. There’s no reason to do any of that without people around, other artists, audiences, students, staff and peers. I find myself craving this quiet like I crave coffee in the morning, a glass of wine at night, chocolate in the afternoon, popcorn, grilled burgers in summer and hearty stews in winter.

The news of the nephews arrival with wives, toddler and two dogs in tow–though I love them all deeply–leaves me feeling claustrophobic. I felt it at the beginning of this trip when my nieces popped in.  I needed some time to myself and now I’ve gotten used to it. Talking takes energy. Listening takes concentration. I get fatigued. But it’s not my cabin to claim–though it feels partly like it is. I talked Dad into taking down the for sale sign. I built the path to the water. I plant the flowers and herbs each year, clean out the shelves and toss the outdated food. I make sure Mom’s things are put back where they belong and help Dad repair what others have damaged. I keep the black ants from invading and destroying the place for crying out loud. Do I sound resentful?  Well, I s’pose. Selfish?  Maybe. Okay, I’ll get over it.

I wanted to be here when the rose opened. But maybe it’s perfect as it is–leaving just as it’s ready to come to full blossom. A symbol of how one should always live one’s life and that now, with that gift, it’s time I take my leave.

Rose bud

Rose bud

But not before I tell you about Belfry.

Samsung 062713b 002Belfry is the Bat that lived in the umbrella on the deck. He tucked himself up under the wooden supports so you couldn’t see him. You had to look carefully to know he was there.  Last summer when we opened it, he fell splat on the hard wood and laid there for a bit–like you or I would have. I thought he was dead. I cared. Just as I was ready to get the shovel to bury him he got up and flew off. I smiled. Belfry. Good for you. We didn’t see him again though. When Dad opened up the umbrella this summer he said he wondered if the bat was still there. I said, no, he had flown off last summer and had not come back. It took a while to get the cords untangled to lift the big blue wing of a thing but we did and there he hung–Belfry–upside down with his little eyes staring at us.

Belfry the bat

Belfry the bat

I went outside this morning and stood looking at a small patch of daisies. Such innocent  flowers, growing and blooming unaided by human hands.

Samsung 041I heard a buzz and felt a swoop over my head. It was Belfry. We share this space just fine. Bats usually travel in packs. Belfry likes his solitude. Like me. He does his thing and I do mine. I wish it were that easy with people. Wait a second.

I can’t believe it. The rose is opening before my eyes.Truly amazing. I told you this place is a little piece of heaven.

Roseslet

It is indeed time to go–with a grateful heart–and let someone else come and enjoy the magnificence. Goodbye little bat, goodbye little rose, goodbye sweet cabin. You’ve been great company and I’ll see you next time.

Bloom

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Timeless Island

Washington Island is a little piece of heaven–packed full of memories. Kids have grown up, some have passed on. Each year I come back, I am older but the Island never changes and when I’m here, it has a way of feeling like we’re all together again.

Sam and me at the Ferry dock

Sam and me at the Ferry dock

On a clear blue day in June, my husband, Todd and I drove up from Milwaukee for a long weekend with my parents. We would be celebrating their 60th anniversary, and two birthdays–Mom’s and mine. After a three and a half hour drive you get on the Ferry. Sitting on the deck, the wind whips at your face and the waves either rock stress out of you or puts it into you, depending on the weather. In summers long gone, the old red Ford truck would be waiting with family greeters.

Gang hangin’

We had spent many summers on the waterfront having a great time with little more than a foldout camper, canoe, picnic table, port-a potty and make-shift shower. As my siblings, Ed, John, Joan and I got married and had kids of our own, additional tents would be set up at strategic points on the property, turning the landscape into a magical mansion of sorts.  Eventually, Dad designed a cabin for Mom.

Camper and the shell

Camper and the shell

Because of the shore-land and wetland setback laws on the Island, the build-able part of the land was a small area shaped like a triangle. Marsh was on one side and the lake on the other. Dad designed the house to fit into the land perfectly with open aired closed-in porches on two of the three corners and a deck across the front facing the water. By the time he was finishing the house, the lake had moved away about 50 yards. The area that had been beach was now sand, rock and wild grass. The water became harder and harder to get to from the house, particularly for my parents. The views were still beautiful but the lake just wasn’t quite as welcoming as it had once been.

Cabin complete

The cabin

We woke up on Saturday morning to perfect weather and sat on the deck drinking coffee.  The temperature was close to 80 but Dad sat with a sweatshirt and jacket on, shivering.  He had, had heart surgery two years before and his lungs had been weakened by the procedure. His doctor told him if he ever got pneumonia it would be over. When he couldn’t get up out of his chair, Todd transferred him to his desk chair, wheeled him inside and we convinced him to go with us to the hospital in Sturgeon Bay. The diagnosis was just that– pneumonia. He was there for days while we feared the worst but prayed for the best.

Dad checking out his pills

Dad checking out his pills

Dad’s pneumonia began to improve with antibiotics, he returned to the Island and everybody else had to get back to work. I stayed on, cooking and making sure he took the right pills at the right time. He had become unnervingly weak and I lived each day with the fear of losing him.

As Dad and I sat on the couch after dinner one evening, light danced across the living room, teasing for my attention. I looked out at the water and wasn’t sure if what I saw was a sunrise or a sunset. An enormous globe was edging its way up from the horizon, transforming in color and size from a fiery magenta to a big golden ball before finally becoming its bright white face staring down at us. “Moonrise,” Dad said, “that’s the moonrise.”  I had never seen one before. Most breathtaking, was the reflection created by the light on the water. Unlike the reflection of the sunrise which prances across the water’s surface, the moonrise creates a straight path from the shore to the sky, leading you to a place unknown.

I spent the next days on the beach resurrecting a path Dad had once made, hauling and laying rocks that lead from the top of the sandy beach to the edge of the rocky shore– reminding me of the moonrise. The path eventually covered all 50 yards of the rocky brush and filled in where the water had once been. By August, Dad was doing better and Mom had joined him back on the Island. They would walk up and down my path together. When the sun would set and the moon got ready to rise, they were often there at the water–side by side. I came home from work one night and Dad had left me a voicemail saying the path had connected them back to the water.

“We carried chairs down and sat at the water’s edge this evening.  We just love it!”

 

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the path

The Ice Man

I want to tell you about the coal men and the ice men.  They’re really two stories so I’ll start with the ice men.  When I was a little kid, there weren’t any refrigerators – we had ice boxes. They were kept in the hall so the icemen wouldn’t have to come into the houses to fill the icebox.  Everybody had an ice card — which had a front and a back, a top and a bottom — that you could turn over and around to let the iceman know how much ice you wanted. We usually got a 50-60 pound chunk which would last us the week.  The iceman had his route, he’d look for his customers and know how much ice to bring in.  He used big tongs to pull the ice out of his truck.  He’d put a pad on his shoulder and throw that ice up on top.  I remember it would start melting as he carried it in and up the stairs.  I don’t remember how he got paid but he always kept the icebox full.

So, it was a simple process.  The ice-house was on the east side of the river and the north side of North Avenue – now there’s a dormitory there – Northwestern Coal and Ice.  Originally, they would cut the ice out of the river and then store it there.  We had an ice pick and when we wanted some, we’d just pick it off.

Washington Island did that up until recently.  They would cut blocks of ice out of the Lake and put it in the ice house.  They had big beds of sawdust to put the ice on so it wouldn’t melt.

Dad, I remember always having an icepick around when we were growing up.  You would use it to make an extra hole in our belts.

Right, later on when we moved from Humboldt to the farm, I got a hole punch to use when I needed to tighten up the horses bridles.  After that, I used it on our belts. It made a much cleaner hole.