Island Walk Reveals the Warmth of Stone
After the seemingly endless Coffin dinner the other night, Meg and I slipped out the “front” door of her house — the door facing the sea, only used by family — right after dessert, and we walked along the beach.
I’ve been to the movies. I’ve seen the scenes. The guy and the girl walk along the beach, the sun dancing in low and seductive colors off the rippling waves. The budding couple leave intertwining footprints in the sand, and they toss light jokes and significant looks to each other while the music in the background plays something upbeat yet mournful.
This wasn’t the movies. For one thing, the beaches on Grand Seal Island are sandless; they are Twilight Zones of barren, jagged rocks that have been stripped of everything soft and comfy by the relentless indifference of the tides. To the right, the cold glare of bare porch bulbs and the habitual menace of growling dogs indicate the presence of Down East civilization. To the left, the black heaves of the tireless sea, swelling and thrusting onto the granite in immolations of salty spray. Ahead and behind, a ribbon of bare stone, shaggy here and there with flybait kelp and smelling of feet and ferment.
The only thing around that carried any kind of warmth, any kind of hope, was Meg. Remember: This is not the movies. We didn’t rush toward each other in slow motion — on the loose stones, it was too hard to keep my footing as it was. But we did talk.
We talked about movies. I mentioned several, but she hasn’t been to a theater in years. She just loved Doctor Doolittle, though. The original, with Rex Harrison. Meg has never seen an Eddie Murphy flick.
We talked about school. I’m a couple of months out from my sentence at Eastern Maine University — B.A., 3.96 GPA, major in journalism with a double minor in anthropology and beer pong — and Meg recently wrapped up an English major at Eastport Community College. She commuted on the ferry, which meant that she couldn’t take any course that met later than four o’clock. That pretty much ruled out history and education as majors, so she ended up studying literature.
We talked about books. I said I liked Jon Krakauer, Tracy Kidder, and John Steinbeck — people who were drawn to do interesting things in interesting places. Krakauer climbed Everest and followed the trail of a free-spirited young man who wandered up to Alaska. Tracy Kidder spent a long time in Haiti, writing about a dedicated doctor there, and he wrote about his experiences in Viet Nam. John Steinbeck traveled around the U.S. in a little camper truck with a dog named Charley, just meeting people and writing down what he saw and felt. Those guys, I told Meg, inspired me not just with their words but also with their actions — with their lives. I want to be like them, I said.
Meg said she liked Hawthorne and Thoreau and Longfellow, because they could settle into a place and get a real, deep sense of it. That depth appealed to her, she said, because she likes to think deep thoughts a lot herself. There’s a special place near town where she goes sometimes to think, and the things she thinks about are reflected in the works of those rich, textured authors.
It was a nice talk. But we did not — repeat, not — attempt to become Hallmark’s Sappy Couple of the Year. Meg is sweet and stable and fun, but she’s far too rooted for me. I’m interested in travel and adventure, not settling down when I’m young and spending the rest of my life settling even more. We just walked on the beach. That’s all.
We also talked about injury. Meg had read my raving blog about the town of GSI. To her credit, she said she could understand my anger for people who fall into ruts and stay there. But she insisted that the people of GSI weren’t like that. She also said she saw how much the blog took the wind out of her father’s lungs, and for that she felt some pain of her own. She loves her father, and it hurt her to see me hurt him.
I started to explain, to apologize, to mitigate, to argue, to cajole, to change the subject. But none of those time-honored strategies came out of my mouth. We just walked some more. Sometimes, silence is the best thing you can say.
Later on, just for fun, I decided to toss out a literature challenge: favorite short story by, say, Hawthorne. Meg didn’t hesitate. “The Artist of the Beautiful,” she said.
It’s apparently about this guy who’s madly in love with a woman, but she wants (or thinks she wants) a stable life with a reliable husband, and the guy in question is an inventor and a dreamer and a bit of a kook. So she marries a blacksmith, who is tall and strong and good looking and basically decent, damn his soul. They settle down and have a baby. But the main guy, the Artist of the Beautiful, sets out to show the woman how much he loves her anyway.
He spends enormous chunks of his life working on this perfect gesture, a mechanical butterfly so pure and majestic that it rivals life itself for grace and radiance. He fumbles at times, when the world breaks in unwelcome through the shield he has built around himself. But at last it is ready, and he visits the budding family with his gift.
It is remarkable, magical, super-real. The butterfly flits around the room, glowing with the shimmering radiance of positive energy.
And the baby, delighted and fascinated, grabs it — crushing it in his tiny palm. Shrieks and apologies, but the Artist doesn’t mind. It was the creation, not the permanence, that mattered.
Not a bad story; it reminded me of a Dave Fletcher song:
Well, the plan was pure and simple,
And we both agreed to do it.
Just try to keep some track of time
And make sure to be there.
We’d meet on Bailey Island,
The day my stint was over,
Together, ever always,
Without a single care.
They shipped me back to Dover,
And I hustled up to Bailey,
A dozen wilting roses
As I sat beside the sea.
But I waited there all weekend,
And Rachel never showed up.
Did she forget to watch the days —
Or did she forget me?
Oh, Rachel teaches fourth grade up in Orono.
She’s married to a man who wears a tie.
And her life is stable, safe, and not too crazy,
And she watches all her days go drifting by.
Oh, she watches all her days go drifting by.
I’m never going to watch my life go by. I’m going to be too busy living it.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Gemstone: That song does a perfect job of catching the spirit of a life well led. Rachel, in the song, chose stability over passion, and she pays a little bit of the price every single day. But I hope you don’t think Meg is like that. If you do, there’s not much reason to walk along the beach with her.
Comment — WomynFire982: why is it when a man takes a steady job, he’s a hero for sacrificing to support his family — but when a woman does it, she’s selling her passion for a cheap dose of security? watch the double standard, van.
Comment — FreedomFirst: I thought this blog was going to be about the U.S. kicking some Canadian butt. Whatever happened to the warships?
Comment — MapleLeaf249: Kicking our butt is the only thing you’ll be able to do — ’cause we’ll be way out ahead of you.
Comment — WomynFire982: oh, boys? warship envy is seriously unbecoming.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.