Monday, September 4, 2017

Salon with Joel Lipman

 It's good to have a collection of poets and poetry-lovers in your backyard on a sunny summer day. Joel Lipman ( )was the featured reader at my recent Literary Salon.

He brought 24 framed text-and-image pieces and distributed them around my living and dining room. Here are a few:

He also gave a short talk and reading from poems recently published in "Inland Seas: Quarterly Journal of the Great Lakes Historical Society." Here is one of them.


Oil wicks burn
spring’s chill drizzle.

Lanterns’ yellow mantles
light littered beach
along Highway 32
where Pike Creek
meets lake.

Dip nets rigged
with pulleys, ropes,
hinged frames.

Long seines belly out
across the stream mouth.
From each end,
hip deep dark water,
men pull net
and call quiet
across cold shallows.

On the bank, hands
reach into a mesh arc
where silver smelt flip.

Men smoke cigarettes,
sit on five gallon buckets
pearly with scales,
drink schnapps,
talk soft, spit, adjust
suspenders, boots, waders,
instructing kids
in the lure of currents
and chant of toss, sweep, lift.

Along a wave-lapped
shore pocket
where Pike Creek
and Lake Michigan mix,

twenty pounds of smelt
in a five-gallon plastic pail,
cookfire skillet sizzling.
                                          Joel Lipman, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Publication News -- Oh boy!

I'm happy to announce that my hybrid memoir, Space Heart. A Memoir in Stages, has been accepted for publication by Orlando-based Burrow Press for September 2018 ( The story juxtaposes the wild natural world of palmettos and beaches on  Space Coast Florida in the Fifties and Sixties with the cutting edge technology of Cape Canaveral. Those two threads intersected in my own body when I underwent open heart surgery at age eleven. I've found the perfect publisher for this book after eight years and five versions of work.

Burrow Press has published two of my essays (one long, one flash) on its on-line "Fantastic Floridas" literary journal. In addition to the journal and books, the press, which describes itself as a "nonprofit independent publisher," hosts a live reading series called Functionally Literate that features readings by contemporary writers.

When I was growing up, there was nothing literary about Orlando; I didn't find out until much later that Jack Keroauc wrote The Dharma Bums in a tiny house in the College Park section. (BTW: The Kerouac Project offers writer residencies at the house

Back then, Orlando was just the big city two hours away you went to once a year for Christmas shopping. They had real department stores like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. We'd start early in the morning in my father's Chevrolet, my brother and I alternately squabbling and playing nicely in the the back seat. The road through the interior was long and flat, a barren swampy stretch though gator country, the wide open sky interrupted only by hardwood hammocks of oak, red cedar, and cypress among other trees. Of course, my family didn't know the names of such things, but I knew the way the passing scenery made me feel -- bigger than I actually was and smaller at the same time.

On another note -- My poem "Flowering," which seems to have a life of its own popping up on various websites, is in the forthcoming anthology Poetry of Presence. An Anthology of Mindfulness Poetry to be out by the end of the summer from Grayson Press (
The anthology is an outgrowth of the website "A Year of Being Here," which includes what the editors call mindfulness poems from contemporary and historical writers. Other contemporary Maine poets included are Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum ( and Carolyn Locke (

I'm honored to be in such esteemed company, which you can see from the book webpage's complete list of contributors. I never thought I'd be listed as a contributor to anything just before Charles Bukowski (and I bet you never thought of him as a writer of "mindfulness poems")!

And one more thing -- At some point in the not-too-distant future, my essay "Security Clearance" (first published in "Fantastic Floridas" and earlier on this blog) will appear in an anthology called What I Found in Florida to be published by the University of Florida Press.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer Excerpt from "On Our Own Road"

"Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”

Late May, 1970: My friend Barbara and I packed up her Plymouth Valiant with our entire record collections including the British version of the first Rolling Stones album. We were going North. Looking at the map laid out on the seat, we decided to go “here”—a spot on the map, the end of the road, the tip of the world, Provincetown. We were Florida beach girls and our homing devices were tuned to the sea and the sand. 
Within a couple of days after arriving in town, Barbara and I met up with two other young women, Lynn and Dawn, to share a one-bedroom cottage like a tree house up a long flight of stairs while we supported ourselves as chambermaids, store clerks, and waitresses. The cottage was quite a find, just off the Provincetown main street with all the action, but hidden in the tree tops.
Our moldy front porch was the perfect place to kick back in one of those uncomfortable old-fashion metal porch chairs rusting under the peeling paint, and put our feet up on the railing while the sounds of town drifted up all through the night. We entertained quite a bit there. Ripple wine and weed were usually what we served, and Barbara made a mean macaroni casserole her mother always cooked with canned tomatoes and ground beef and melted cheese on top.
It was there we came up with our idea on an August night that had just the tiniest hint in the air that summer wasn’t going to last forever. It was even a bit quieter on the street. From inside on the record player we had brought with us in the Valiant, Jimi Hendrix sang about being experienced. Barbara passed me a joint that needed to be re-lit. I could tell it was a Lynn-rolled joint because it was so tight you could hardly get a draw. 
“Those dudes with the van were really cool,” Barbara remembered.
“Yeahhh,” Dawn said in her usual drawn-out way. “And they really appreciated us letting them use our shower.”
We all giggled. There had been four of them and four of us in the tiny cottage, although one couple slipped out to the van.
From below, someone laughed a little too loud, and then a glass broke.
“You know,” I started. “We could get a van like that.”
“Why?” Lynn asked. “We scored big with this place, and we’ve got it the whole summer.”
“No, I mean, we could buy a van and travel around like those guys after the season. They were going all the way to California. We could do that.”
“What about our jobs?” Lynn asked. “I’m supposed to be saving my tips for college so my dad doesn’t have to give me an allowance.”
“A van would be expensive,” Barbara added. “Especially one with a rug and stuff like theirs had.”
“We could buy it together,” I said. “We could all chip in so it would be cheaper. Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”
“Actually, I think only one person owns ‘Further,’” Lynn mused.
“So?” I was starting to like this idea. “We could all get jobs this winter and save up our money and then chip in on a van for next summer and take off. It would be awesome.”
A car went by blasting Bette Midler on its radio. After it passed, you could almost hear the surf off in the distance, a call you knew was there even if you didn’t actually hear it.
“Yeahhh,”  Dawn drawled.

After summer, Dawn and Lynn went back to school, and Barbara and I moved to Boston. In the spring, Dawn called to say she had found a Ford Econoline van with many, many miles on it at a telephone company used equipment sale. We had to act fast to get it, she told me, so I hitchhiked to New Haven to check it out with $200 worth of savings stuffed into my jeans pocket. Barbara wasn’t going; by then, she had decided to move to western Massachusetts to join an ashram.
The boxy van, a faded blue like an old police uniform, waited in the back lot of the phone company. On top were rusting matching roof racks for carrying phone equipment. The side door slid open to the empty back, bare except for grooved ridges running up the middle. “They took the radio out,” Dawn said, “but that’s cool. I hear you can get one installed.”
Two seats up front sat on either side of the engine well. Dawn unsnapped the clasps  on the engine cover and opened it up. She and Lynn and I stared at the chunk of metal in the well.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Dawn asked, cracking her gum. We nodded. For six hundred dollars, it was ours, equal shares.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Entering the Abandoned Grain Mill at Dusk, Portugal

 (My class, "Writing Place: Landscape, People, and the Natural World," on Whitehead Island, Maine, August 17 to 20 has only 2 spots left.

Entering the Abandoned Grain Mill at Dusk
               Allentejo, Portugal
It’s as if generations of bells accompany us – cow, sheep,
the rituals of being human. They carry the lengthening shadows
and are in turn carried as our small processional, like a band of peasants,
rings through. The trail is clear and we have only to follow.

We have only to follow, and the walk, not far, is far enough to move
through field, past barking dogs, along the road and into brushy woods
as the sun’s last red lingers on tree trunks and fence posts. We find the
approach through dried grasses has been swept clean.

The approach has been swept clean. Spent seed heads mark the edges.
We enter shyly. How will we touch loss, rambling architecture made only
by what was at hand? Rooms that once had functions and names now
spaces open to the sky, millstones still and silent, not a speck of grain.

Not a speck of grain. Everything that could be taken away, taken away.  
We each make our own associations here, layers of peeling white stucco
revealing lives lived. We are old enough to know those things that have
finely ground us down over time: sometimes to dust, sometimes to flour.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"A Tip" Flash Essay

A Tip
 I earned an extra quarter tip once as a carhop at the Whataburger in Tampa, Florida, because I wasn’t wearing a bra. It was 1969, and a quarter was about what you would expect to get from a lone guy in a pickup, so this would be doubling my money.   
I was getting ready to drop out of college, which would mean the end of parental support, and this job was part of my long-range plan, which didn’t go too far past the actual dropping out. Anyway, the Revolution was coming when we wouldn’t need too much money or college degrees, and I imagined myself living simply in a big house in the piney woods along the Hillsborough River with other groovy friends after I got out of the dorm. 

The guy was a fairly average Gulf Coast redneck customer, a working man, I could tell by the putty on his hands. His truck was neither noticeably bad nor nice. We had all types of folks at the Whataburger—rednecks, stoned-out hippies with the munchies, tourists, families with dirty kids and families with clean ones. In my three weeks at the drive-in, I had already learned that the best tippers were those from up north and that the hippies tended to forget.
This guy looked kind of older, like thirty, but he didn’t try to chat me up so I’d linger at his window. I had also learned that chatting up was part of the tipping scene—as long as there was no hot food waiting to be picked up, which made the old people who owned the place and did the cooking ring the pick-up bell like mad.
I could feel the guy staring at me morosely as I went back and forth in front of his car, taking orders, delivering food, hooking the scratched aluminum trays onto partly rolled-up windows. I sensed the subtle creep vibes coming from his truck, something you can’t quite put your finger on but that a young woman learns to pick up. Just the same, I had been a cheerleader so I knew how to move in front of an audience.
The rule was that you paid for your food as soon as it was delivered, so I would only have to go back once more to get his tray. As I reached for it, I saw the quarter on the green rubber-net mat and a second one he was holding up between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ll give you an extra quarter,” he said, watching my face, “if you tell me you’re not wearing a bra.”
Of course I wasn’t. I was a hippie with my mass of frizzy hair pulled back into a ponytail and held by a rubber band, and, frankly, even though I was nineteen, I barely needed one. I was a liberated chick out on her own in the world – free, heedless, naïve. I wore cut-off blue jeans, the fraying edges high on my thighs. I can’t remember what I was wearing for a shirt, but he must have been trying to figure it out as he watched me. Or maybe he knew and wanted to let me know he did.
“Well, are you?” he repeated, not letting go of my eyes. “Are you going to tell me?”
“I’m not,” I said.
He didn’t pick up on the nuance of the reply and tossed the coin onto the tray as I pulled it away. The quarter, solid silver as some still were in those days, made a little bounce on the mat and hit the aluminum edge, not with a nice clean clink but with a hollow, flat clang. As the hot-food bell rang aggressively and I hurried to answer it, the taste of metal sat on my tongue.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A quote for writers (and other people with a passion) from Annie Dillard

I ran into this quote from Annie Dillard while reading a review of her new book, Abundance. Narrative essays old and new from Canongate Press.  It seems like it could apply to many things in this life. 

In her 1989 book, The Writing Life, Dillard wrote: "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time . . . . give it, give it all, give it now. . . . You can't take it with you."

Writer's desk at Obras, Allentjo, Portugal . . .

 . . .  and its view of 14th Century Evoramonte Castle on the hill 

If you want to see more about Obras Foundation's residency program for artists and writers, check out

And now for some shameless self promotion: 

Writing Place: Landscape, People & the Natural World

Linda Buckmaster, Instructor

August 17-20
Registration by May 1

Sponsored by Whitehead Light Station. A three-night program held on Whitehead Light Island off  Spruce Head, Maine. Accommodations in the lightkeeper's house with wonderful meals.
Open to writers of all levels writing poetry or prose
Linda Buckmaster’s poetry and prose have appeared in over 30 journals. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and has been teaching for four decades.
For more information and to register, contact Linda at  or


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

After Last Danger of Frost is Past -- for my brother

My brother, Ric Buckmaster, died this time last year. Here is a poem I wrote for him a few months before his death. He was a surfer and saw many sunrises off the Florida beaches. He did not have an easy life.

“After last danger of frost is past”
                                    From planting directions on a seed packet   
For my brother

After last danger of frost is past,

after the final skim of ice leaves the surface of the pond,

after the mirrors of dew disappear in the clear light and
the stilled grasses lie down for your pallet,

after the fox and the sparrow and the deer gather around you,

after the winds cease and the seas calm and the struggles of this world
slip away into the woods at the edge of the field,

you will rest   at last

                        at last


you will rest   at last

                           at last    rest

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"The Mosquito Truck"

I'm going back to a Florida summer in the Sixties here. (Parts of it are unchanged even now as in this photo.) Enjoy.

The Mosquito Truck
Thick-headed fog roams street to street, engulfing us kids, white stuff fuming from the back of the big truck. Down First, over Sea Gull, up Second, around all the numbered streets and past our house on Albatross Drive. Mosquitoes are the foe, DDT spewing from the back of a truck our big science. We believe in big science. That’s how our daddies’ rockets are going to beat the Russians’.
The cloud billows and blooms dense and white. The boys on their bikes hoop and holler from inside the soft tunnel, following as the truck makes its rounds. The only thing visible is a wheel spoke here, a foot on a pedal there, a wild face squinting. Ghost boys appear and disappear in a noisy ghost machine, following the call.
We girls hang back a bit on our bikes where the fumes are thinner. We squeal. Our eyes burn. We’re repulsed by the stench. But we, too, love the mystery of the fog; we want the magic of invisibility, the coy visibility. We want to be lost in a way you can’t ever be lost under the blasting Florida sun.
The boys will eventually grow to soldiers and disappear into the fog of jungle, or slide away into narcotic mists, or stalk the miasma of manhood. We girls hang back a bit. We still want to believe in magic. We want to believe we will fall in love and turn into princesses.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Light, land, water, wind in New Mexico

 Light, land, water, wind in New Mexico

"[The flow of life] Po-wa-ha (water, wind, breath) is the essence of life. . . . It is the breath which flows without distinction through the entirety of animate and inanimate existences."
--Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo

 Rio Grande Gorge outside Taos

I have been traveling three weeks so far in New Mexico and have spent most of my time looking, listening, and absorbing. I can't begin to write about it yet, so I am calling on the words of others to speak for me. All of the quotes in this post are from Telling New Mexico. A New History edited by Marta Weigle and published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in conjunction with its permanent exhibit in Santa Fe, "Telling New Mexico." It is an anthology of essays written by mostly contemporary New Mexicans to fill out the usual story of the area's peoples and history. I am going to write today about the natural environment, which, of course, shapes the human culture.

From Jake Page in "Natural New Mexico: Light."

 "The most important area in New Mexico exists wherever one goes in the state. It is the sky overhead. . . The sky and its sun are . . . the soul catchers.

"Everything stands out with a clarity that is existential. In such a light, the importance of a single rock, and individual flower, the existence of life itself can strike suddenly -- fresh and poignant."

From William deBuys in "The Sangre de Cristo Mountains."

"The Rocky Mountains, spine of the continent, give birth to the Rio Grande in southern Colorado and fork to either side. In the west they become the San Juan range, . . . which diminishes to a long tangle of ridges in New Mexico. East of the river the mountains form a rugged sierra walling the grassy sea of the Great Plains . . . The Sangre [de Cristo] stretch farther south than any other spur of the Rockies  . . . and soar to altitudes of over thirteen thousand feet.

"[The mountains] were always an actor as well as a stage, for their influence reached to the heart of every [human] enterprise. . . .the Chuskas, the Jemez, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, the Mogollon, Pinos Altos, Black Mountains, Guadalupes . . . San Mateo, Sawtooth, Magdalena, San Andreas . . . Cookes Range, the Good Sight Mountains, the Sierra de las Uvas, the last of which suggests (falsely) the sweetness and moisture of grapes amid the arid monotony of rock and sand.

"The roll call of New Mexico mountains is long; it becomes a kind of chant, a song of place, a litany evocative of the wildness of the American West, the panoramas of its land, and the heritage of Native and Spanish and Mexican North America."

From Sylvia Rodriguez in "Waterways: Acequias."

"In New Mexico, the Arabic derivation acequia refers to both a canal structure and a social insituttion whereby river water is diverted and distributed via gravity flow among a community of irrigators or water right user-owners called parciantes.  . . . For roughly 350 years, they formed a core component of the technological infrastructure of New Mexico's agropastoral economy. 

"Today's acequia associations are political subdivisions of the state. . . . At the start of the 21st century, approximately one thousand acequia associations still existed in New Mexico. The humble earthen ditches crisscrossing the fields and arable valleys along the Rio Grande and its tributaries are arguably the oldest living, non-indigenous public works system in North America.

"One must not lose the water or let it get away. . . . Each act of irrigation is particular to a piece of land."

From Roland F. Dicey in "Windscapes: Chronicles of a Neglected Time."

"The Wind personified seems always to be lurking somewhere in my [childhood] memories of eastern New Mexico. Channeled in the mountainless corridor that divides the continent from Canada to Mexico, the wind certainly was 'the Force' in our lives, and we learned to stay tuned to its presence or absence. 

"'There's nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed-wire fence,' the saying goes, and wind on the the high plains carries salvation and disaster, 'chill factor' and moisture, desiccation and dust."

Monday, February 27, 2017

The "High Road" to Taos

Note: My flash essay, "A Tip" was just published on The Burrows Review website  It's a totally different place and sentiment than what follows.

The High Road to Taos

“. . . the arrow went deep into the neck.”

In “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” N. Scott Momaday tells the story of his grandfather, Mammedaty, and a red horse. The book, originally published in 1976 by the University of New Mexico Press, is an interweaving of old story in the oral tradition of the Kiowa people, historical commentary, and Momaday’s personal remembrance. Nowadays, we would call it “mixed genre,” and each of the three voices has its own narrative within each chapter.  Maybe some of you remember it from back in the day, a time when the voices of Native Americans were beginning to be recognized in their own writing.

As Momaday tells it, “Little Red” was for many years in that corner of the Plains the fastest horse around; he never lost a race. “It was a small bay, nothing much to look at . . . White men and Indians alike came from far and near to match their best animals against it . . .” One day, when Mammedaty was trying to herd his horses, Little Red was acting up and wouldn’t go through the gate. He lost his patience and shot an arrow at the horse in anger and frustration. Instead, he missed him and the arrow went into the neck of the wrong horse: “. . . the arrow went deep into the neck.”

Years later, Momaday found Little Red’s bones in a box in Grandfather’s barn. Momaday comments: “I have often thought about that red horse. There have been times when I thought I understood how it was that a man might be moved to preserve the bones of a horse . . .” 

I’m traveling in New Mexico for a month and drove the “high road” through the mountains from Santa Fe to Taos in the northern part of the state where the Kiowa once roamed. I had been in Santa Fe for a three-day retreat at Upaya Zen Center for a program of “The Way of Haiku” with teachers Roshi Joan Halifax, Sensai Kaz Tanahashi, Charles Trumball, and Susan O’Leary. We read, talked, meditated in zazen, and wrote.

In Taos, I bought Momaday’s book at the op.cit bookstore, which has a wonderful selection of New Mexico-based books and local authors. When I read about the red horse, I thought of times I have shot the “wrong horse.” And then there are those times when I have preserved the bones of some memory and hid them in the back of the barn. Given my experiences of the past week, I wrote this in the tradition of the English-language haiku.

. . . "the arrow went deep
into the neck."    I have often
thought — that red horse, bones . . .

Sunday, February 19, 2017

After Richard Blanco's "El Florida Room"

After Richard Blanco’s “El Florida Room”

“Not a study or a den, but El Florida
as my mother called it, a pretty name
for the room with the prettiest view
of the lipstick-red hibiscus puckered up . . .”

Richard Blanco’s poem “El Florida Room” published in Looking for The Gulf Motel by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2012 reminds me that I, too, had a Florida Room growing up, although two decades earlier. In my day, Florida Rooms were that special feature of the cement block “ranch” houses springing up in developments across the state, a marketing advantage for attracting folks from up north. Long and low and walled by windows on three sides (“jalousies,” when I was young), it represented tropical living in an era before central air conditioning, catching those soft moist breezes. 

As Blanco says, the Florida Room was not a study or a den, though it would have been a den in other climes with fewer windows and heavy dark furniture, a crocheted throw over the back of Father’s chair and real paintings on the wall. I would have liked to have had a den like those I read about (much cozier), but what I really wanted was the kind of family who had a house with a study, sophisticated tall bookshelves lining the walls, a late afternoon sun shining through an equally tall window with many small panes. 
“Not a sunroom, but where the sun/ both rose and set,” Blanco says. Since our Florida Room was on the west side, it was particularly oppressive in the afternoon. We had a terrazzo floor, though, cool and smooth, and a matching rattan furniture set – couch, side chair, end tables, and coffee table although no one in my house drank coffee after breakfast. It was more likely to be Jim Beam on the rocks or Coca Cola in a pop-top can sweating on the surfaces.

Although the Florida room was “not a TV room” or a “family room,” it was still where the family gathered and watched together the black and white picture in the corner. I have an old photograph in my mind of my father during an “on the wagon” night at home lying on his side on the couch, my little brother in his cowboy outfit perched on my father’s hip, and me sitting at the end at his feet in a seersucker sunsuit. We were all looking in the same direction toward what was probably a Western on TV, just as in Blanco’s family.

In his El Florida, Blanco’s mother taught herself to dance and it was where her son learned to salsa. For a brief period, I used ours to give ballet/tap/jazz classes for a quarter to the little girls on the street whose parents couldn’t afford dance classes three times a week like mine could. And there on Albatross Drive in Satellite Beach, we also had a view from the Florida Room of lipstick-red hibiscus just as Blanco did in Miami. So you can see, Richard Blanco and I have a lot in common even though I am a white, post-middle-age heterosexual woman and he is none of those.

But really, we do share a lot. We both lived sticky, sweaty childhoods under that incomparable, constantly changing Florida sky, accompanied by the swish-swashing of palms. We each sat alone for hours in our Florida Rooms doing many of the same kinds of playtime activities. I didn’t do much coloring, and I never thought to ask for glitter, but imagination played contently with solitude. It seems that the salty humidity provided something of a blanket for certain kinds of children who sat twenty years apart, not in a living room, but “in the light/ of El Florida, as quiet and necessary/ as any star shining above it.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

UPCOMING CLASSES: Writing Nature and a Sense of Place

I will be offering this popular class in various locations over the next year. Each workshop will be different based on the location. These are what are scheduled so far.  (Register via the organization sponsoring the workshop. If you want more info about the class, email me at )

Writing Place: Landscape, People and the Natural World

Writing about place involves working with the elements that make a specific place unique. This may include the layers of history, natural history, human culture, and the built environment across time to bring us to the present moment. Writers might be advocates, critics, or lovers of a place but any way, a sense of place helps us ground our writing on any topic.

By developing the craft of writing about place, participants will discover more about their subjects, allowing them to better understand and present their world and experiences. The workshop is open to writers of all levels and suitable for writers of both poetry and prose.

·       Through writing exercises and prompts, participants will work to develop skills from the “writer’s toolkit” of image, voice, language, structure, and more.
·       We will look at the work of other authors for inspiration and modeling.
·       As weather allows, participants will write outside for some of the exercises.
·       The workshop will maintain a safe, supportive environment that recognizes there is no such thing as a mistake in writing, just the next draft.

Saturday, March 25, 10:30 - 2:30, Bangor Public Library:
Sponsored by Maine Writers and Publishers AllianceBring a bag lunch.

 August 17 - 20, 2017: Whitehead Island Maine
Sponsored by Whitehead Light Station. This three-night program will be held on an island off the coast of Spruce Head with accommodations in the lightkeeper's house and all wonderful meals included. Definitely a special experience.

October TDA: Midcoast Conservancy, Wiscasset,  Maine

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Wise Women

“The island floating ahead of me like a moon, tugging me
forward. Whatever it has in store.
 . . .  there it was, pulling and me already going its way.”
Those are the words of Canadian poet John Steffler in his book, “The Grey Islands” re-issued by Brick Books in 2015. The narrator in this montage of story, poetry, and character monologues is a man undergoing something of a mid-life crisis. He leaves Ontario for Newfoundland, and  after a year or so, he leaves that part of the Province for an abandoned island offshore. He was already going its way.
The man is planning a year alone in one of the left-behind houses, and he is very alone except for the occasional stop of the mail boat with supplies or fishermen from other outports who sometimes come into the cove following fish or shooting ducks. They tell him stories of those who used to live on his island, the ghosts that haunt its landscapes, the predictable craziness of the weather. It’s these stories and his own regrets that keep him company when the winter ice moves in and isolates him completely.
I was fortunate this past summer to spend three weeks on Newfoundland. It was my fourth trip there, and the pull of the island for me is like, well, like the tide. Here’s a short essay of mine from that time.

II. Wise Women
            Northern Peninsula, Newfoundland

We couldn’t find the path, the trail through the barrens around the headland, the “official” trail. We followed narrow ones instead thinking, perhaps this will be it. But each only led to another made by the unseen—deer, berry-pickers, other wildlife we hoped to see, maybe even ghosts.
            We had been promised an official trail, though, and after twisting and turning and twisting, we were frustrated and grumpy. We cast about for explanation: How could experienced hikers like us go so wrong? Why didn’t they make it more clear? Where was the signage?
We eventually stopped as if to turn back—a waste of a trip. The rocks stood silent. The wind off the Labrador Sea blew into our collars. The cloud blanket held onto rain. The lichen never moved.
            Then the spirit of the place grabbed us and we said, Let’s keep on. We’re in it now. We’ll cross-country to the trail. We can’t get lost. We were reassured by the long view across the barrens showing a thin line of official trail along the bay in the distance.
            But we forgot about the many secrets of barrens and the melding of space and time among rocks that move imperceptibly over eons -- and sometimes over late summer afternoons. We should have know how the “next rise” isn’t necessarily the next rise at all, how there could be hidden bogs to go around and deep tangles of sharp spruce scrub taking you into another direction. We didn’t remember how climbing a stand-out rock for a better view forward can deliver the “wrong” view, the one you didn’t imagine, the uncertainty of your own certainty.
We didn’t care. We laughed. It was fun. It was freeing. The blueberries were ripe. We imagined others who had gone before, pack baskets against their bent backs. We embraced the day.
Until we realized how far away everything really was. The official trail wasn’t getting any larger (when we could glimpse it). We could see how high we had climbed and how down down down we would have to go, and could we even again find the way back from which we came? We remembered our sixth-decade bodies.
We came to an edge, a cliff. Not a terrible cliff.  Only a tiny stream trickled on one side, otherwise good-looking dirt. We could do this, we said. We would get there. We started down, picking our way. Rolling pebbles and gravel accompanied us. Roots offered handholds. The streambed sucked at our shoes. A wide meadow waited at the bottom and beyond that the bay. We were wise women that day, abroad in the country, knowing, after all these years the certainty of this life’s uncertainty.
I’ll come back to Newfoundland in upcoming segments. For now, I’ll close with John Steffler:
“not man’s time here.
sun’s time.
rock’s time.
I begin to feel it.”