Life Is the Berries

[Above Photo: Meadow in dawn fog.]

20 August 2017

I’ve neglected my blog this month. I’m not entirely sure why. In part it is that I don’t have the same novelty to write about when on Beach Island as I do when living in Blantyre.  Also, it is that many of my observations relate to family and, thus, are too personal for public space.  Plus, I’m experiencing much more than observing, as befits a vacation for me.

This post is being written in a Travelodge Motel outside of Bangor. We have just returned from the northern tip of the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick where we drove to see the tides. They are the highest in the world, with a 56 foot [maximum] difference between high and low. Imagine tying your sloop up to the pier at high water, going into town for a meal, and returning to find it hanging 30 feet above the water by two mooring lines. And all the locals guffawing. Shrink into the crowd, await darkness and another high tide, and hope for the best!

July on the island produced an abundance of wild strawberries, those tart, tiny red morsels best eaten lying in the grass with a friend as you chat. I loved Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” which I first watched in college, shown as one of the films in Eric Erikson’s course “Identity and the Life Cycle”. What a man! What a course! Ken Kenniston [some will know of him] was Erikson’s assistant and Margaret Mead made a dramatic appearance on a crutch fashioned from a tree branch. She showed a film documenting the total unravelling of a complex culture in east Africa within a few years after a group of successful hunter-gatherers were stripped of their traditional lands and moved onto a small, arid plot to farm. I recall a woman going into a hut where her husband sat listlessly on the floor, leaning against the wall, starving to death. She had found a root and was nibbling on it, concealing it from him beneath a bit of cloth. Children nursed until 3yo and then had to find their own food. Are we headed in the same direction, with our loud-mouthed, racist leader? It certainly feels like an unravelling of civil society to me.

As the wild strawberries finished by the middle of July, out came a bumper crop of blueberries. My three domestic highbush blueberry plants, bred for plentiful and large berries, are not doing all that well since I planted them a few years ago, but the little, close-to-the-ground wild ones in our meadow went crazy this year. As they passed, the wild raspberries ripened and, with a short overlap, we had a delicious raspberry/blueberry pie Linda made with Amelia (more later).  Finally, in our last days on the island, as the raspberries were fading, an incredible plentitude of blackberries ripened just behind the cabin. A berry, berry fruitful summer.

The centerpiece of the summer for me was 8 nights on the island with Linda’s two grandchildren, Amelia (4yo) and James (1 1/2yo). They are lovely, sweet children and very much individuals, as all parents and grandparents know.  James was content to throw rocks into the harbor for hours on end; at other times, all he wanted to do was what his big sister was doing. He has an arm, is ambidextrous, and the Red Sox had best save their dollars to offer him a good contract. Amelia has the sharpest eyes and was in determined pursuit of sea glass— “pirate treasure”— and pretty stones. I built them a teepee over which I obsessed. The ropes tying the poles together at the top looked cheesy, so I used thinner, dacron line. That didn’t look authentic, so I drilled holes in the tops of the poles and ran dowels through them. But the dowels I had were too slender for the stresses put upon them. Pondering, I stripped some 12 gauge Romex 3-strand and wired them all. Of course, the Navajo were stone-age and didn’t have copper, let alone 3-strand Romex, but….what the heck!  Then I draped the poles with old sheets and sewed them together with waxed sailors’ twine. It looked great. Linda painted a large butterfly on the front and I drew a pathetic picture of the blue plastic wading pool with the kids in it on another panel. The kids went in the teepee twice, I think; the second time was with Linda when she took a nap in there. It rained one day and the butterfly and, thankfully, my wading pool washed away. But I like the look of a teepee in the front yard and left the poles up for next year.

It was pretty exhausting, caring for them and keeping them safe and I was only the sous chef. At points I would find myself arguing over certain facts with Amelia—“The crab is dead. It’s safe to touch it.” “No, it isn’t. It’s just asleep and waiting for its family to come home.” “Yes, it is. You can see because I can pull off its legs and it doesn’t move.” Now crying, “Don’t do that. Its mommy will be very upset.” I realized how regressed and controlling I became when tired. Arguing with a 4year old? We mostly had a lot of fun and I eventually approached being a ‘good enough’ surrogate parent, letting minor crises pass. Like when Amelia cried out from the wading pool, “James just pooped in the pool.” Sure enough, he had. Wanting to conserve diapers, we let him run naked much of the time. You learn what diapers are for when you are examining shells with him on the porch and notice a characteristic odor and, upon closer inspection, a brown lump in the corner. This happened frequently enough that—-no, we didn’t clothe him—it seemed like no big deal.

The island is a perfect place for children. They can run and run and run. When older they can swim and row and paddle, as well. And build—boats, forts. They sleep like logs. Of course, we wouldn’t know if they didn’t, since we became insensibly unconscious by the end of the day and a gin and tonic each.

Island politics are complex and, while not rivalling the Borgias, have their moments. It is generally difficult to break into an established group in any setting. And it is not different there, especially when the newcomer, Linda in this case, is my partner and I’ve recently completed a divorce from someone who has had her own relationships with everyone for many years. I understand it, the need to find wrong, to take sides, etc. but it makes it unpleasant for Linda and stressful for our relationship. Thankfully, some were very welcoming, some guardedly welcoming, and some pretty neutral. All the friends and guests, devoid of knowledge of our rich and bittersweet history (I think of it as dark chocolate.), are warm and friendly. Kind of like the neighbor’s golden retriever. Lacking some situational intelligence but of such an overwhelmingly caring temperament that it doesn’t matter.

Linda was there with me, without grandchildren, for only a few days but, after ironing out some wrinkles, we had a fine time cooking, socializing, and paddling the kayaks. We even squeezed in a sail on my niece Deirdre’s Solstice, a very beautiful and capable, if ancient, Danish Folkboat. As my brother, Chas, says, “It’s like sailing a violin.”, referring to the perfectly varnished mahogany hull.

Chas and I worked like beavers demolishing and re-doing his porch. We always work well together, sharing ideas and skills, and the job turned out nicely. The only sour note was that I got on my high horse and reamed him out for not thinking like I do about climate change, health care, and politics in general. It was bad behavior on my part and I’ve both apologized to him and attempted to understand my passion. His is only one vote, unlike the Koch brothers’, and in our land he should be free to think and vote as he wants without his younger brother giving him grief about it. He is a kind person, even if we disagree. After our father died (I was 9, he 12yo) I looked to him, unfairly, as my protector, which function he served admirably. So, feeling the threat of a drunken idiot at our helm and seeing, still, the growing inequality for the poor, I react and blame him, just as we ridiculously blamed our parents for not being more politically active in order to prevent the threat of nuclear war. I can only imagine what my kids are thinking about me, given the state of our country!

I leave for Malawi at 6AM tomorrow, 22 hours off.


One thought on “Life Is the Berries

  1. Hope you have a safe trip back to Blantyre and hope it doesn’t feel too daunting to leave Linda or puck up up the demands of psychiatry in Malawi! Can’t really imagine you daunted by much but we are all only human!


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