From an island notebook

I. Reunion. Looking back from the ferry, I realized that even the most distant sloops and ketches in the mainland harbor were still well sheltered. Yet, when we passed them, they already seemed to be at sea, their moorings no matter: with names like Rebellion, Last Star, Endymion, they bucked through the waves low in the water, bows bright and sharp in the morning sun.

And all behind us. My sister and I move toward what is, on this trip, the bow, alternately standing full-face to a wind that makes us gasp, and retreating behind a bulkhead to speak. Though according to the charts we are crossing a bay, it is ocean's nearest kin: blue water, heaving and crisp, the island just barely coming into sight.

We are free to talk -- freer than we have been for ages, the ferry cutting more constraints than we know at first. Our lives, lived three thousand miles apart for years at a time, would connect in an occasional letter or telephone call; but now face to face. She does not need to account for the course she has taken, nor do i for mine; but we speak of the experiences here and there that show our lives full and seething, our few words as plentiful as the sun scattering all across the water. I, no longer a child, and she, now a priest, reach over distances that in the past seemed vast and difficult.

She has met resistance and mistrust in her work, as I recently have also. She has endured the threats of those who disagree with her and she has loved, with a passion and verve that make her words touch pain and confusion with extraordinary tenderness. These words she gives to me; and then we are silent, stepping into the full winds of the day, turning our heads aside to breathe, the island harbor finally in sight.

She is gifted at silence; her silence helps me to summon from myself a quietness I have known too rarely. From this deep, rough-winded peace, we draw toward the life of the island, our plans, our needs. In the midst of casual speech -- discussing the market, the house, the wood-burning stove in the kitchen -- we know the sustaining warmth of what we shared without words.

II. Home is a room with a view

It is hard to find a right-angled corner in this house.Walking slightly uphill and then down in the bathroom -- or the kitchen or the washroom -- is no great hardship -- more fun than anything else; but it reminds me inevitably of getting my sea legs on a large ship in the ocean.

But that, I think quickly, is the wrong metaphor. This island is not some odd intermediary between land and sea, some misformed thing jettisoned from the mainv land. It is itself mainland, solid and good earth, its houses and gardens as secure as those from where we came, its fishing boats and lobster traps as necessary and intimate as the ocean. The varied settings of the various rooms mean nothing if not the strength and resilience of this house, which has taken the calm, the sea breeze, and the hurricane for over a hundred years.

My two nieces, aged 8 and 10, are upstairs playing, doing the miraculous -- agreeing to give me an hour's peace to write if i will spend the next hour with them. Their quiet voices, an occasional loud bump or laughter, remind me of the two kinds of rooms in this house: sound rooms and sight rooms. My bedroom is upstairs, right under the eaves, with high dormer windows, too high to see out of unless you stand (or, in the case of my nieces, bounce) on the bed. Sometimes during the day, and at night, I will lie there reading or sleeping with the dormer windows open. I will see, if anything, only the miscellaneous furnishings of the room: an old chest, a chair, a dresser, a few old books, and small bits of driftwood on the window ledges. But I will hear the world: the bell buoy in the harbor, a car or two on the road, a sea gull rustling into flight from the pine tree just outside the windows, the drops of rain from the top of the window frame to the ledge. A few noises I can never identify. They come back to me sometimes, reminding me of how easy it is to blur what one knows , what one imagines, and what one partakes of without even knowing.

Now, though, I am in a sight room, the living room, with two normal-size windows providing a mirculously wide view of the harbor. The desk at which I write -- old, but steady if i lean hard on it -- is just below these windows, rich with the full light of the outside even on rainy days. The chair is spindle-backed, hard and comfortable.

Surrounded by this hard and gentle wood, I slip into musing about the hands, the people who made this furniture, this house, who first claimed and were claimed by this island. It is a risk I have grown accustomed to taking -- the risk of immense wondering. My eyes roam from this room out to the harbor, the fishing boats headed out, the windjammer anchored and rocking slightly, the dark stand of pine down by the light-house. I am so easily absorbed, like Melville's masthead watch, feeling most a part of the world when i am most apart from myself.

But here are my nieces; an hour is up and, with surprisingly little clatter, they rouse me to suggestions of things to do. What about walking to the stores I say, or tramping around Quarry Pond? We confer. And without knowing it, they bring me back, they take care of me even as I, the proverbial adult, take care of them.

Then we are in the kitchen, talking, laughing, putting on boots and rain slickers and hats. For today, we have decided, we will go down to the lighthouse.

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