Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sixth Summer

Twice a day I walked to the end of the gravel road and back to the camp. Irish Line dead-ended at a private cottage so any traffic from the highway was very local. Waving to passers by was obligatory. The road ran east and west so I walked briskly into the sun in the morning and sauntered back with the light at my back as I looked in the trees and bushes for whatever I could see. The pattern was reversed in the evening.

On the last afternoon, a car drew beside me and stopped. A white-haired man, cigarette in the corner of his mouth and strong American accent asked,

"Didn't I see you up by the soap factory a while ago?"

We chatted for a couple of minutes and he told me he was from Cincinnati, Ohio. He had been coming to The Island each summer for the past 62 years, first as a child, and then as the owner of the family cottage. His daughter and her family would be visiting next week. A retired airline pilot, he was forward and opinionated in an friendly and direct way. I told him of our recent trip to New York City.

"Well I call New York City the armpit of the world," he offered without hesitation.

"And I never tell anyone at home about The Island," he continued.

Somehow I didn't believe that statement.

"Come up and see my garden sometime," he said as he drove off. "I'm number 102 up Cemetery Lane".

Well that was the end of that. Soon it would be time to pack to go home.

About ten minutes later he sped towards me in a golf cart.

"Do you want to see some deer? Get in! I already cleared it with your husband. I figured you were staying in cabin number one."

We drove up the gravel lane and at the top of the hill, three deer stood nervously at the edge of the bush. They went back to grazing as we passed them slowly. It was only a short distance to his cottage so I agreed to see his garden. Hostas and lilies lined the large lot and a well tended perennial garden was between the house and garage. I asked about some of the plantings.

"I don't know the names of all the flowers...this is my wife's garden...she has been gone five years...this is my sixth summer here without her..."

Grief looked out from under the bushy brows and his voice softened with the memory. I noticed a small memorial stone in the garden.

A short turn around the lake front completed the tour of his little park and he drove me back to our cabin with an invitation to drop in any time.

At dusk my husband and I walked back to his cottage to view the sunset from his ideally located dock. The call of the loon echoed across the water.

Peace and comfort can be found here in this lonely place.


  1. oh my heart swelled up with tears, what a beautiful post and a beautiful chance meeting with someone who needed to share beauty with someone like you who would recognize it. You brought comfort and made a new friend (not to mention found a great spot to watch a sunset).

  2. Beth's comment perfectly mirrors my thoughts.
    God wanted you on that path at that moment. I'm glad you were there.

  3. What a wonderful post. Where else would you get into a golf cart with a total stranger? And share his lovely garden and memories? I love the story and the pictures.

  4. Welcome back to the blogging community! Waving to people (many of them we don't know) or saying "hi" as we pass by them on the road or in our walks is definitely a country thing. I got into the habit many years ago when we moved here.
    What a lovely gentleman to meet! Beautiful pictures - it sounds like you had a very restful vacation.

  5. What a poignant vignette, Ruth, and beautifully written. Thanks. It is moments like these in our lives that remind us, I think, that we're all in the same boat, and it's bittersweet.

  6. Ruth,

    Your photos are awesome. I especially enjoyed the one of deer and also the one of the neighbor's garden. How nice that he took you to see the deer.

    Do you go to the Island every year? I've heard it is beautiful, but have never been there.

    What a peaceful place you have here in your little corner of the Net. I always enjoy my visits, as your blog is a place of peace and tranquility.

    Blessings for a great week.

  7. Great story and photos.

  8. Ah, Ruth--grief has deep roots, but this dear soul is reaching out in the ways he knows.
    Sounds like a wonderful place to vacation.
    (I had to giggle at your "pass byers". I think I have always heard it as "passers by". Whatever works.)

  9. Beth- Yes, new friends can turn up most unexpectedly. I found the whole incident very moving as it unfolded too.

    Lynne- I truly believe that too. Unexpected encounters can be like gifts.

    NCMW- Thanks...I never once felt that he was being inappropriate. I must say the whole island felt safe, the way people used to feel when they left doors unlocked and went where ever they wanted.

    April- I always acknowledge people I meet when walking. They may not always reciprocate, but it is such a significant community gesture, no doubt more welcomed in rural areas.

    Ginger- Life is bittersweet and suffering is universal. But having someone to share with makes a big difference.

    Mary- This is my third year at Manitoulin Island. My husband has gone longer as he fishes there when the ice goes off at the end of April. I have no intention of joining the all male spring fishing party, but I do enjoy the summer there. It is very beautiful and peaceful. There is not one fast food place on the entire island.

    AC- Thanks. I saw more deer this year than ever before and had many great photo opportunities.

    KGMom- Dear Editor...thanks! I knew that word was wrong but at 6:30 AM I couldn't figure it out. I do need to sit in one of your courses sometime. This is a great place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors and don't need to shop.

  10. Beautiful and touching story. Thanks for sharing

  11. I'm brushing away some tears from my eyes, too.

    Somehow your post reminds me of "On Golden Pond", which is one of my favorite movies. Places like your island are truly a refuge!

  12. Nice little story-kind of sad but it's nice that you were able to take the tie to visit his garden.He must really miss his wife.

  13. Very poingant...62 summers is a long vacation streak at the same place. How difficult his first summer without his wife must have been.

  14. It is so good to be back in daily touch again. Loved your pictures and the story of your encounter with a lonely safe man.
    Smiles and a greeting are welcomed by many today - from check-out girls to daily walkers.
    Looks like you will have 2 brothers visiting this summer. I envy you

  15. Glad you took the time to be with him.


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