This post is part of a series contributed by DRA Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.
Note from Barnaby: This is a letter I wrote in 1986, 33 years ago, to my friend, Bill Tyne, who spends summers on Merry Island.
I haven’t written in some time, which might give some indication of what sort of winter we’ve been having – it’s been deep. If this is what they mean by “the depths of winter,” I can tell you it takes no small amount of shoveling. I will let that stand as my excuse.
It’s been fairly mild so far, with only a few sub-zero nights, but have we ever had snow, storm after storm. With about three feet on the ground, it’s quite unusual for this maritime climate. It keeps the house plenty warm, but I measured 29 inches on the woodshed roof the other day, and that makes me think I better push some of it off before long. The mailbox isn’t much higher than my knees now. From what I’ve seen alongside the roads, we’re lucky we still have one; snow plows are kind of rough on mailboxes. And speaking of rough, Lije managed to break his wrist in a crash landing on his sled. Undaunted, he now uses his cast to punch out snow caves in the gigantic piles around the driveway.
That’s how it’s been. With February here, my eye hungers for color, any color. It’s amazing how good a little bit of fresh split wood looks lying on the snow. This is the month when folks begin to look a bit wall-eyed with cabin fever, which can take a little imagination to combat. Last year, we watched Halley’s Comet . . . or tried to; that certainly took some imagination. (Halley’s 1986 apparition was the least favorable on record.)
Anyhow, I am spurred to write after having paid a visit to your cottage on the island the other day after the last storm. From a distance, I could see the island was ringed by glazed icing around the shoreline, and as I approached, a good northwest wind blew great clouds of snow out of the trees, sending them out over the river like a glimmering fogbank in the sun. The ospreys wouldn’t have recognized their nest on the spindle. Little do they realize, as they while away the winter fishing in the Yucatan or wherever, that their favorite pile of sticks is now a cupcake on a pole.
I crossed the isthmus and climbed up the shore over huge slabs of ice heaped everywhere, pale blue and dripping, and strapped on my snowshoes. The little shack by the dock saw me pass, the door hanging open as always, its pale blue interior as welcoming with winter’s glow as the broken wicker chair propped outside with a snowy pillow on its seat, and I shuffled on up to the house over the tops of waist-high firs.
A great snow drift encircled the place, piled there by wind off the water as it whistled around the back shed and the screens on the porch. The house itself sat in a bowl only inches deep by the foundation yet four feet high on the rim, and this curling dune swept precisely up to the front door, where it sifted through the mesh on the porch and dusted the wood box and the window sills.
I went around back. Everything looked restful through the window panes as September’s calendar hung on the wall within. Five tattered, leather-bound volumes of the Century Dictionary and Encyclopedia idled on the bookshelf alongside Jack London’s Call of the Wild. Below them, on the bottom shelf, a pile of jigsaw puzzles lay fading in the early afternoon sun, and I wondered how many winters they’d passed that way, paling a little more each season.
By the kitchen sink, the dish rack sat nearly empty except for a cup and a spoon and a dish rag hung over the side. And on the Franklin stove was a scallop shell. Everything looked in order and as you must have seen it, glancing back as you locked the door.
I was satisfied that all was fine, if a little lonely in your absence, and I left as I had come, shuffling over the tops of waist-high firs on my snowshoes.
We all await your return,
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on DRA’s Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.
Photos courtesy of Barnaby Porter.