Autumn Island

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God willing, and if I get my work done this week, I leave for the Island on Friday. It will be such a busy week that I will be packing today.

These escapes are not technically vacations, since I usually work twelve to fourteen hours a day. It’s all writing and walking. But this time reconnects the pieces for me so that I can keep going. It’s a renewal.

We’re having an odd fall here in Wisconsin. October 2nd and the trees are still green, and I am a bit disappointed that the full autumn glory will be missing on the Island–that golden light that suffuses and saturates.  But we have to go now, before bow season, since I don’t want big dogs crashing through the underbrush with hunters about.

We will bring the essentials ( in no particular order): the computer; the brown paper bag plot map that hangs on my office wall; the particular black spiral notebooks I cannot live without; colored sharpies for plot lines; The World’s Best Thesaurus; several books of poetry; several pairs of glasses; food for the first few days so I don’t have to interrupt my solitude; coffee; wine; dog food; dog equipment; Essential Dog 1 (Pete); Essential Dog 2 (Moses).

We’ll also bring all the accoutrements for long all-weather walking.

I have a few friends on the Island, now, and toward the end of the week, I will hope to see them.   But for the first half, it will just be the Island, me, the words, and the essential dogs.

We’re heading north of the tension line.

Joy.

 

 

 

Delayed Gratification

 

Pete and Baby Moses

We are expecting a new puppy: a companion for Moses, and a respite–and new pupil–for Pete. My husband has misgivings about a third dog, and–although I generally keep it to myself–so do I. But, sadly, we won’t have three forever, and I want Pete, the elder statesman, to help train the puppy.

The puppy will be a special one, like Moses, carefully bred to be healthy, smart, even-tempered, gentle, and sweet. Also long-lived. These German Shepherds often live to be 13 or 14 years old, which is long for a big dog. Every day I check the breeder’s website, to see the current puppies, and look for news of the coming event. But today I found out it won’t be late fall, but early spring.

I am a little disappointed, but it gives me time to continue my ruminations on names. Leading contenders for now are Marcus Aurelius (guess why); St. Augustine (remember Augie Doggie?); Herodotus (I know); and George.

Official dog names are usually kind of pompous, with the kennel name in the possessive first, followed by the particular dog’s name.  Still, it’s always possible to have fun with the form. With Peter and Moses we have New Testament and Old Testament represented. But the truth is that Moses’ name, although he is officially Moses, Prince of Egypt, was actually the result of my watching The Ten Commandments too frequently in my youth. I wanted to be able to shake my head sorrowfully and say, “Moses, Moses, Moses.”

I’m kind of leaning toward George. But I am open to suggestions. Drop me a line if you have a perfect name for a big, beautiful, new German Shepherd puppy. Did I mention that he’s expected to be 150 pounds? He’ll need something he can grow into.

If I pick your suggestion, I’ll send you a copy of my latest book.

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Moses, left, and Pete on Washington Island.

 

Between Despair and Pride

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I am reading some essays by Wendell Berry in which he captures–with great simplicity and concision–the necessity of loneliness. I think that is one of the reasons I love Washington Island so much: when I say that I feel more myself there than anywhere else, I think it is because I am alone there, and lonely there.

Loneliness is frightening. And that is part of what is necessary. I mitigate my loneliness with my dogs. They are soulful and joyous companions, and I need them, because the intensity of emotion is sometimes threatening.

And I would never walk in the woods in the dark without them, even though Moses likes to pretend he is a wolf: running off to return and stalk me silently along the far edges of the path. This is his great game, and he makes me feel that I am in a Russian fairy tale.

But in this loneliness there is also a settling in to the essence of self. It’s not an exercise in ego, but an escape from it. It feels, as the non-essential is pulled away, that the course of life is running along its proper path. I am simply myself. Again and for the first time. Theodore Roethke wrote “What falls away is always, and is near.” I think this experience is what he was referring to.

All this is to say that it has been a long time since I have been to the Island for any length of time, and I need to go there. My trip was almost cancelled this week by other kinds of necessity, and the thought of not being able to go created a rising panic that started deep. I need to go there to let the world fall away. I need myself back.

Berry talks of the right place in life as being between despair and pride. They are his opposites. I am ready to know whether they are mine.

Points of Interest

One of my readers, Laura Holmes, made a trip to the Island recently, and made a point of searching out the locations in the books. She was kind enough to send me some of the photos.

She had ice cream at the Albatross;

Laura at the Albatross

She lay on the rocks at School House Beach;

School house beach

and she sought out my friend, Captain Bill, who was one of my best resources for information while I was researching.

Laura and Captain Bill

Captain Bill is mentioned in both books, but would only be noticed by those of you who read authors’ notes and acknowledgments. (Confession: I generally do not.) I missed him at my recent book signing. He was working that day, and apparently got to the book shop just after I had left.

He’s one of my favorite people.

 

From This Time Forward Forever More

John Adams Letter

Because we are working people who have to get up early, we will celebrate the Fourth of July at our lake cottage tonight. That’s ok, because the Declaration of Independence wasn’t actually ratified on the 4th anyway, but on the 2nd.

It was my favorite founding father, John Adams, whose idea it was that we should celebrate with fireworks. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, he wrote:

But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.…

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

We will all take turns reading the Declaration of Independence while our neighbors arrange for a spectacular private fireworks display.

It’s a day to celebrate.

Lake sunset before the fourth

The Calm of the Lake before Fireworks Armageddon

 

What Writers Do When They Should Be Writing. A List

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  1. Decide to take dogs for walk.
  2. Look for sunglasses in purse.
  3. Go outside to see if sunglasses are on porch.
  4. Talk to neighbors for two hours over fence.
  5. Look for sunglasses on bedside table.
  6. Pick up t-shirt on bedroom floor.
  7. Notice box of new beach towels in guest room.
  8. Put away  new beach towels.
  9. Look for sunglasses in car.
  10. Make grocery list.
  11. Recharge computer.
  12. Check e-mail. Nothing from anyone.
  13. Look for sunglasses in tote bag.
  14. Wonder if sunglasses are still at bookstore from last night.
  15. Call bookstore.
  16. Wonder if sunglasses are at restaurant from last night.
  17. Call restaurant.
  18. Look for sunglasses in car again, focusing under seats.
  19. Talk to friend on phone.
  20. Look at plot map. Notice holes in plot.
  21. Ponder death.
  22. Empty purse on floor looking for sunglasses. Find emptied bottle of zinc tablets in bottom.
  23. Clean out purse. Pick off lint from zinc tablets. Return to bottle.
  24. Accidentally call book store from last week. Chat with proprietor.
  25. Decide to write blog post.
  26. Look for sunglasses in car again, focusing on trunk.
  27. Stare at blog screen.
  28. Send irritable e-mail to online company who keep sending surveys that flash at you when you’re trying to think.
  29. Look for sunglasses in tote bag again.
  30. Find two day old NY Times in tote bag.
  31. Do crossword puzzle in NY Times.
  32. Walk path from car to door, hoping to find sunglasses in grass.
  33. Rub tummy of Dog One.
  34. Stare at blog screen.
  35. Rub tummy of Dog Two.
  36. Look for sunglasses in different tote bag. Find sunglasses.
  37. Resolve to carry fewer tote bags.
  38. Don’t write a single thing all morning.
  39. Decide it’s too hot to take dogs for walk. Swimming would be better.
  40. Look for sunglasses.