On June 23,2013 moosebait.com hosted the Castaway Writing Workshop Adventure. Eight writers were dropped on Ingonish Island where they would spend the day writing, exploring, and exercising their brains with short writing activities.
The following are a few of the pieces which came out of the event.
A single gull stands on the small pebble beach. Facing the sea, he dares the waves to come ashore and kiss his feet.
The water bows before him, daring not to challenge him. “I bring you food and shelter, please let me come ashore.” The lone sentinel does not move and the defeated wave retreats.
To Cut a Tree
To cut a tree or not to cut a tree – that is the question and here is the rest of the story.
Long ago when I was young and able to dream, we bought a partly built house; really a framed-in dream with a water pipe sticking in through an imaginary living room and an out-house for a new bride with a new baby.
No trees, no grass, no plants only gravel, married to a pretend “fisherman” with a gift to spin stories and entertain people. A party man, a dream man for a university student who rarely went to parties, never had a boyfriend or as she thought, much of a life outside of school.
She thought she could plant a garden a square foot at a time, a bucket full of soil carried in or composted one day at a time…. And she did, come see the garden. There is an oak tree, carried here from her brother’s yard in a juice can, now way higher than the house. A maple tree and a pine tree growing beside it carried as babies from the woods.
Birch trees, carefully dug from the land and transported to the front yard, spruce trees carried home in buckets and the constant carrying and composting to provide soil for her growing garden. Every spoonful, every inch precious in her eyes.
And when money was available, a truckload of soil. But money was always scarce. Her “fisherman” husband lost two boats to storms, his health to constant illnesses and parties.
So she had to leave her garden and dreams to go back to school to work harder to make more money to pay the never-ending bills. Slowly, painfully the house got built. Slowly but surely, grass, trees, plants and even a rose garden grew. She even got to bury twelve poplar trees that grew up tall and so fast.
These were the first to be cut-down as soon as her brother saw them; he whipped out his power saw from the back of the van and knocked them down across the road below the house. You can’t plant those! They will grow long roots and stop-up your sewer system. They will be the first to come down in a storm and fall on your house.
The last of the twelve came down when I was still working at school. Too tall, too dangerous, he had hired a man to take it down. Down it came crashing across the power lines, shutting off the power in our community. I was sure this would be yet another unexpected bill. Luckily at this time, I was a widow and some kind-hearted person fixed it so I was not charged.
Many trees around the yard continued to grow but the gardens were struggling for lack of sunlight. My back and hips gave out from too much moving of rocks, lifting of soil and yard work. Hospital visits and painkillers slowed down the yard work. Telling her not to work in the garden was like telling her not to breath. Telling her not to dig or lift was like telling a smoker, smoking may cause lung cancer that can’t stop.
Cutting a tree was like asking me to cut off an arm, finger or leg. Eight beautiful birches that blocked the sunlight from the lawn and smaller gardens became firewood for a neighbour. Spruce trees were trimmed to make a hedge rather than a tree-wall. Trees were limbed to protect phone and power lines.
Yard work became slower and slower and more and more painful… the house and the dream began to fall apart.
All along a neighbour next door worked on his dream garden, always willing to help and encourage or offer advice. He helped to cut trees, first the wild cherry trees full of beach knot, a whole section of trees behind us on his family’s property to let the afternoon sun into her little garden.
He planted the same poplar trees along the back of his yard and a little row of spruce trees on the other side.
Poplar trees were among the first to be cut down in his yard. The ones near the power lines were taken down by the power company. Having more time and energy the roots were dug up and the ground levelled off and seeded in. Her kids always looked down hill and admired and envied his yard.
Mom, why don’t we buy his place? – can’t … won’t. Husband died, kids grew up and left home – yard work slowed to a crawl, the house started to crumble – back and hips, arms and wrists pained, dreams faded and she pleaded with God to let her wake up dead – or send her a carpenter to help fix the house so the walls won’t fall in on her or the windows fall out.
So, God sent a carpenter, a kind, shy, and patient, accepting soul trying to explain to a hopeless grump how the walls and windows should be fixed. I don’t care – don’t know how much longer I’m going to live here. Just fix it as cheaply as you can. Down came the walls full of wood ants and rot. Out came the windows and in went the new ones. I don’t care – just do it.
Then my brother came to take me away for a couple of weeks. He knew I needed help. The weeks rolled into months and then nearly a year.
Finally, a phone call – there is a carpenter working on the cupboards in your kitchen – did you hire him?
Can’t remember – maybe long ago – but don’t stop him. How much does he want? What is he doing? Maybe I’ll come home and see.
No cost, he is refinishing the cupboards he built for us long ago – for something to do. Yes, I can watch, yes I can learn and work with his tools.
Slowly but surely, a dream began to awaken in my dieing heart. Maybe we could fix up this old house – a room at a time. So, we started worked and rested and told stories – stories of our lives and I learned things about this carpenter that I never knew – even though I lived next-door.
We played cards, went on a trip to the Dominican, worked at my house. But in his garden, the deep rich soil in his garden, a dream come-true garden, worked and rested and told stories.
I moved into his house, easier to tell stories into the late hours of the night, to get up to see the sun rise out of the ocean, then go back to bed to rest – Easier to rip out my bathroom and work at it a bit at a time. Closer to the deep rich soil of his garden – easier for me to go out at night with my headlights to hunt earwigs and slugs in the dew of the morning to protect “our” gardens and closer to this man who was filling my mind and heart with new dreams.
This carpenter, who fixes things, began repairing my house for something to do, repairing my mind and my heart for something to do, a carpenter who had lost his wife to cancer when his kids were just babies. A carpenter, who raised these kids on his own, drove the youngest to work with him. A carpenter, who cooked, cleaned, worked and raised three kids, then two grandkids who is now cooking, cleaning, building and looking after me – a dream of fun, fixing and garden work, stories and sharing and learning to look at life again.
Then his heart attack stopped the work. His family moved in to take care of him and I was to move out, take all the things that were mine and go. I only wanted to take the carpenter… and maybe the deep rich soil in his gardens.
No, I did not go to my home. We are still working together in his gardens, slowly, painfully, two old seniors making gardens together. Resting and looking up at the wall of spruce trees next door that his brother planted there. The trees that continued to grow higher and higher and cut out more and more sunlight from his gardens.
If we could get even one of these spruce trees cut down, the tallest and closest to the carpenters tomato plants. Must ask the new owner, please, can we cut down one of your trees?
Found a pair of (boys to me), grown men in reality that will cut down, cut up and take away the tree for only 140.00 if I can only get permission.
How can I convince a neighbour who is not here, doesn’t know us or how much this garden means to us.
Two old people sharing a garden and a dream — can one tree mean more than our dreams?