Monday, September 7, 2015

Notes from Summer's End

This summer took us back to Star Island, New Hampshire, one of our very favorite places in the entire world. We hadn't been in several years - since our last visit we have moved far enough away to make travel anywhere in the Northeast significantly challenging. But we couldn't resist the call another year, and so we drove through the night and into the wee hours of the next morning to catch the ferry that would shuttle us to our little rock in the sea.

The short journey across the water is just far enough to completely transport you, physically and spiritually. The island has its own rhythms - cool morning fog and coffee on the Victorian porch give way to the day's building heat and a bustle of activity. Then, when you are exhausted from the day and think you can't bear it a moment longer, the relief of cool breezes and lively cocktail hour cameraderie refresh and renew you. At night, the incredible crash of the waves and the constant clang of the buoy either keep you up or lull you to sleep, depending.

The island can be gentle - a spider's web on a dewy morning, a hushed procession of lanterns climbing the hill through the dark to evening chapel. But with no tree cover and cliffs that drop sharply off to the open sea, it is also extreme. This tiny, enduring and exposed rock reminds you how precariously perched we are on the edge of the earth's wilderness and our own.

We could not have been more fortunate than to have had author and National Geographic writer Tim Weed as the week's featured speaker, nor a topic more appropriate for an island full of inquisitive adventurers. His fascinating lecture series on creative engagement with place took us around the world to Spain, Cuba, New Mexico, South America and colonial New England as we learned about Ernest Hemingway, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Darwin, Franciso de Goya, and finally our speaker himself - and how these locations inspired and shaped their life's work.
The wonderful lectures, a hike with the botanist, and the island's outstanding if tiny bookstore left me pursuing an adventure-inspired reading list in the weeks since we've been home:  Phillip Hoare's The Sea Inside is gorgeous and haunting, the perfect read for anyone who loves nature, geography, history, remote places and beautiful writing. The book also led me to investigate the unusual life and ethereal photographs of Julia Margaret Cameron, a contemporary and friend of Charles Darwin, on the Isle of Wight. I enjoyed exploring early New England landscape and native and colonial cultures through the adventures of a spirited teenager in Will Poole's Island, and vicariously lived a literary Parisian cafe life in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. Now, halfway through Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior, I'm reminded of how unique and essential each and every place and habitat is, how remarkably fragile, and yet how profoundly hardy. The earth will thrive and go on in one way or another, for better or worse, with our without us.

Summer for us has been over for nearly a month - the children are long since back in school, daily life is back to a daily hustle, and New Hampshire once again seems impossibly far away. The week, though, has stayed with me. In addition to being exceptionally memorable time with family, and also wonderfully restorative, our time on Star opened up reflective space, space I've felt very short on in the last eighteen months, with creativity and any related efforts (modest though they may be) being the most neglected as a result. But sometimes a fresh point of view and stepping out of your element help you find perspective and put you back in touch with an essential part of yourself - perhaps the best reason of all to go adventuring.

Happy reading - and happy exploring!


  1. Glad you had a good time; it sounds wonderful! And that you got to read a fair amount, good books, too. I have to agree with you, doing something new and hearing other opinions is inspiring and rejuvenating.

    1. Thanks so much, and yes, isn't it? Rejuvenating captures it perfectly.

  2. Omg, double envy! Tim Weed taught my writing class at Grub Street -- it was marvelous! A lecture by him on Star Island on place?! YUM! I've never been to Star Island -- someday hope we and the fam do.

    1. Oh, your family would love it - so close to you, too! *I* am jealous you get to take writing classes at Grub Street - I imagine he would be an exciting and very encouraging teacher.

    2. He was an incredible instructor -- really buoyed me when I was filled with doubt AND taught me how to revise. Sounds silly, but I really struggled with how to rewrite my draft without simply repeating the same sentences. and oh, I am so in love with Grub Street -- such an incredible resource. I tell everyone to check their website if they think they might be in Boston, if even for a day...

      I really really need to get a trip to Star Island in -- my wife is taking classes almost every weekend in September -- perhaps in October if they're still open...

    3. What a wonderful experience that must have been! (and doesn't sound silly at all - is there anyone who isn't filled with doubts? I don't believe them if they say they aren't :D)

      You are close enough you all can even do day trips to Star... I hope you get there this fall or sometime soon! xo


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