A Conversation with Nature

The letter came in early March. In part it read: “Congratulations, we have selected your proposal.” I was officially a 2019 Boston Harbor Islands Artist in Residence!

I recall my first day aboard the service boat heading to the islands for my residency. The familiar World War II era chapel came into view as we approached the dock. Memories of my childhood on the island and Sunday service came to mind. Wheeling my cargo along the uneven pavement, flanked by the remnants of Fort Andrews, I knew this would be no ordinary summer on Peddocks Island.

Peddocks Island Chapel

Peddocks Island Chapel

During my residency I focused on holding art gatherings where island visitors participated by making squares for a communal quilt project. There were colorful drawings of the ocean, trees, forts, seashells, views of the city skyline, imaginative adventures, and more. While hand stitching their contributions together in my yurt, their visuals became a metaphor for life: A quilt in time—a gathering of people and place. Some are on island for the first time and live afar, others will return to continue creating new memories. I feel the joy in our sharing stories through art. 

Stitching quilt in my yurt—back of squares show participants name and the islands they visited

Quilting the Islands Together. Completed quilt: 56″ x 72″, August, 2019  (click to enlarge)

The slower pace of island life meant general tasks were met with some ingenuity. Fetching water was a seventeen minute round trip walk to the visitor center to pump, fill, and haul containers back to my yurt. Some was reserved for my dirty dishes and for washing clothes. I made a clothesline of bungee cords and hung an outdoor solar bag for showering. There are no cars, stores, or refrigeration on Peddocks; tuna packets, fruit, nuts, crackers, dry cereal, and gifts of sandwiches and treats sustained me. I was mindful of trash: what you bring, you take home. I had spotty cell reception, a fan, and one luxury item—my little coffee maker. Black only.

My residency yurt. Peddocks Island, August, 2019

Compared to my childhood days in a primitive cottage on this same island, the yurt was not so different. Daily consumption was learning how much we can live without. The sights and sounds of island deer and monarch butterflies greeted my days, and the chorus of crickets and other small wildlife sometimes left me sleeping with one eye open. The dark of night is so pure here—every living being is free. Morning shadows cast from the upper shoreline of trees growing along the beach are warrior-like protectors. With climate change, these beach trees cling root bare, succumbing to exposure to sun and rising tides. My photographs tell the story of their plight over time.

Later day respite in the form of green canopied paths, woven into the island’s interior, cools and shelters me. I ponder how I too have grown with the island trees. This once almost barren landscape, now heavily forested, reflects my own life. At night my little solar lamp is by my side. A line from my journal reads: “Find your place in nature and live simply by it.”

Our former family cottage, now blue, belongs to others. The outhouse is gone but the bordering shrubs remain, as does my mom’s willow tree planted on the island during the 60s. It’s one of the tallest trees. My eyes bear witness to a range of emotions. Finding comfort over familiar paths, I’ve come to understand the fortitude of being an islander. It runs deep. Decades of imprints in the land, their footsteps now mine.

Me on the left,  cousin Monica, and sister Kathy, next to our outhouse back in the day

This essay appeared in: “From Our Notebooks: Volume Five, Essays, Stories, Reflections”, a publication of the Women’s Writing Workshop, coached by Elena Harap Dodd. 2020

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