Welcome to The Taj MaHell
I have a home! A humble abode. A dwelling. A resplendent domicile that remains upright only because all the termites, cockroaches, and earwigs have agreed to hold hands and sing Nearer My God To Thee until the whole thing collapses like the one-horse shay.
I had spent a few nights at Cory’s erstwhile bed-and-breakfast, The Larboard, which I found out after a while is short for “The Loading Board.” It seems that ships used to call their two sides “the larboard,” for the side that you’d put up next to the dock and arrange the loading board on (it’s like the gangway, so people can load things onto your ship), and “the starboard,” which was short for “the steering board,” which is the side that the ship’s tiller would stick out toward. We’d call the larboard the left side of the ship and the starboard the right, but why use clear and decisive landlubber terminology when you can employ maritime lingo and be completely incomprehensible? Well, after a few centuries of perfectly natural confusion, in which some poor guy on the bow with only slightly sub-par enunciation would tell his Captain to “watch out for the big rocks off the ’arboard bow!” — which would be followed in short order by the crunching of timbers on granite, which would be followed in short order by the crunching of the bow guy on granite — the people at the Merchant Marine Terminology Association (OK — I made that up) decided to stick with “starboard” but change “larboard” to “port,” which is the terminology we use today. The fact that Cory’s bed-and-breakfast is called The Larboard suggests that it was founded before this sea change in maritime jargon, for which further evidence can be found in the texture and quality of the mattresses on the beds.
As charming as Cory can be — and to date, I have no idea how charming we’re talking about — I began to feel a hankering for a place of my own. After all, a vagabond correspondent can’t live in a bed-and-breakfast for long. We require rootless adventure, footloose travel, freedom to come and go as we please. I came to Grand Seal Island in the foolish belief that I would find a quaint fishing shack on the coast, something made of hand-hewn beams and smelling of old kerosene, and that I could rent it from some dotty old “shoot if you must”-type for maybe fifty bucks a week. But I soon found out that every house in town is occupied by at least seven generations, the youngest of whom look and act a lot like British royalty.
I spent some time wandering inland, hoping to find a Waldenesque cabin near some charming, still lake, ringed with evergreens and dragonflies and deer. Failing at that, I looked around for anything with a “For Rent” sign on it.
Still no luck.
In fact, no one rents anything on GSI. Renting implies intransigence; you might move away in twenty or thirty years, and the true GSIers don’t like that kind of rapid-fire turnover. Why, after only a few decades on the island, you don’t even qualify to serve on the Library Board; you’d probably run off with the island’s wisdom and their women and probably a few dozen of their coverless romances and detective novels, having given nothing back to the community.
So I was stuck.
But there was no way I was going to spend my entire summer at Cory’s. It’s a nice place, but I wouldn’t want to live there. And The Village is great, but I wanted a place where I could think and write — not a shack I shared with random hungry and horny people. So I kept on prowling around, hoping that just the right opportunity would surface soon.
The Right Opportunity apparently fled the island during the Canadian Difficulties, which is what the locals call the War of 1812, but I did manage to find a charming place I call The Stump. I found The Stump when I was out on one of my try-to-find-a-place-to-stay-before-the-black-flies-suck-all-the-blood-out-of-your-arteries perambulations beyond the outskirts of town.
“The Stump” is a tiny cluster of boards that has longed all its life to be called a “tarpaper” shack, but none of its owners have been able to afford the necessary tarpaper. It’s built mainly of planks, nailed with six-inch gaps between them, to serve as the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. The six-inch gaps carry with them the apparent inability to slow down the rain, the mosquitoes, or the rodents very much at all, although I must say in their defense that they do allow the rain, the mosquitoes, and the rodents to depart quickly without feeling trapped or confined in any significant way.
The shack sits at the edge of a body of water, a cruel nod to that part of my naïve fantasy, but the water in question is stained a deep brown by the tannic acid of tree roots gnarling their way through the muck just inches below the surface. The brownness is further enhanced by the fermenting sludge of a billion fallen leaves, soggy pine needles, and twisted tree stumps that rise up out of the water like the hand at the end of Deliverance. That brownness, in turn, is augmented by a complex biological process that begins in the digestive tracts of a honking herd of Canada geese. The geese eat bugs, minnows, and indiscriminate brackish ooze, and they convert all of that into a highly distinctive form of brown-and-grey poop. (OK — “shit.” My editor, Katherine “The Great” Fisher, tells me that the language protocols for The Sun’s blogs are more relaxed than they are in the print version.) The mutant catfish that prowl the bottom of this once-and-future meadow eat the goose shit and convert it into their own, unique form of catfish shit, which consists of one part goose shit and one part value-added enhancement from the fishes’ own digestive processes. Basically, the catfish play two vital roles in the life of this Great Lake: They convert the goose poop into bona fide catfish turds, and they thrash around in the catfish turds enough to make sure anyone dying of thirst and stumbling upon this oasis would choose death by dehydration over actually drinking the stuff.
It is on the shores of this Gitchigumee that The Stump sags in all its glory. Sometimes, home is where you declare it to be.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — Kate “Damn Right I’m Great” Fisher, editor: Blogs published on The Sun’s Web site do indeed enjoy greater freedom than do the pieces published in the paper edition. It will surprise no one that we don’t publish “Island Wars” in our newsprint edition, which can be read by impressionable children and frail grandmothers at the breakfast table.
Comment — George Reynolds: What do you know — you found my shack! It used to be a pretty nice cabin. I’m sure that with some hard work and persistence, it could be a terrific home once again. Van — you’re welcome to use it. I live in Boston now.
Comment — Orson Van Dyke: Actually, Mr. Reynolds, you need to be careful. If Donovan Graham lives in the shack for a certain period of time, he can legally claim ownership under the squatters provisions.
Comment — George Reynolds: I’m not worried. The shack will collapse long before then.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.