The Point

Thursday August 23rd, 2000


Grand Manan isn’t what it used to be, but then again it isn’t what it’s going to be either. There’s a truck pulling up to the ranch house next door in what used to be an open field of wild flowers, the side of the truck advertises “Country Charm”. Not long ago trucks couldn’t fit on the ferry and the island didn’t have to import any of its country charm.


Sitting in Robert Ingalls’ living room this afternoon Robert asleep on his bed covered with a thin blanket, sporting Nikes, his wheelchair standing ready at bedside. He is a little sick today, but not to long ago Robert rarely sat down and was never seen without his boots; the stroke changed all that. I have come to bring Audrey and Mary pictures and news. Audrey, Roberts wife and high school science teacher trained in English has broken her right leg three times in the last two years but became much more outgoing since the stoke left her husband unable to utter any intelligible words other than “coffee” which, on request, he will pronounce as clear as if he had just had one of the fresh cups he used to brew for the fishermen on Ingalls Head who stopped by his boat building shed on mornings where it wasn’t fit to go out. In his day, Robert was the most stubbornly independent fisherman on Ingalls Head. He always fished alone and never bought anything he could make for himself. In fact, he made my beloved 12-foot skiff (the Fog seeker) in that shed and before that he made the shed itself. One spring 20 or 30 years ago, my family arrived at our house. Built by an ancestor of Roberts, Frank Ingall’s in about 1840, to find Robert’s huge new shed all built, a fair accompli, right in the center of our view of Grand Harbour and on land we thought we owned ourselves. And 20 or 30 years before that I was in love with Mary; we were both 6. Now Mary has four grown children and is a grandmother several times over. Unfortunately, her husband Burtis, a fierce and fine fisherman, left her last year, sold his boat and this winter tried to slit his wrists. Years ago Mary might have brought meals to Audrey and Robert and seen them through their emergencies just because they were neighbors but the government insurance program covers payment for a fulltime in-house care for disabled elderly so Mary along with Brenda her sister-in-law and the islands piano teacher is being paid to care for Robert and Audrey.


I’ve done a book this year, which is now being shopped around by an agent. I’ve assembled 30 seasonal nature photographs from the island and my friend Dennis Davidson, a prize winning Haiku poet, has written spare verse for each one. It is this I drop off wondering how it will be received. I brought Robert some large prints of personal/memory pictures last week and he cried. Robert understands everything that goes on around him. The other fishermen find it very difficult to visit him so mostly they don’t.  The fears of the healthy ones serving to reinforce the isolation of the prison his body has put him in. I’m curious because it seems the fishermen and their Baptist wives don’t respond very well to the Haiku. The people up the island in the North Head, Kenny and Elaine, owners of a Cadillac, a salmon farm and an indoor pool; they responded very strongly to the Haiku as did Michael Zimmer, New Yorker and creator of the “Sardine Museum” in Seal Cove and his sophisticated guests from Maine. A well educated bourgeois, pot smoking, wine-sipping crowd. Two friends who I sat down with today are virtual hermits. Melvin Ingalls (my next door neighbor and last of the headliners) and Jimmy Greene  (Painter of houses and canvases who quotes Mark Twain and curses the Baptists although he used to be married to one) They Barely made it past three of the pages. The director of the Grand Manan Museum is asking me to do a show next year and I will get her reaction next week, but I am mostly curious about whether they bring tears to Roberts eyes.


But besides the pictures I am bringing news of fresh romance on The Point. Two items in one day, extraordinary! Adam and Jennifer are ordering a wedding dress; Miranda and Danny B are “going together”. Miranda is my 13 year old neighbor to the South; I played baseball with her and Danny yesterday and it seemed they weren’t going together” so I wonder what happened overnight. I hope it was just a kiss of two. But when I stopped in the middle of the Brownsville road to talk to them today and Miranda announced this fact they giggled a bit as if there were secrets yearning to be revealed. Miranda also announced that she now had a basketball, her ambition is to play on the school team. I think by that she means that now everything that Danny owned she now considers hers. Danny lives in Seal Cove with his stepfather and just returned to the island after 2 years in reform school.


I watched Lester Tate (grandpa Cane to some but Uncle Lester to me) take such delight in the birth of his great grandson Adam. I have Black and white pictures of Adam standing in great grandfather Lester’s lap; as a young child Adam would stomp around grandfather Myhrons kitchen in his rubber fishing boots and it was obvious that he would become a great fisherman as was Lester or a great ship captain as was Lester’s father and Lester’s fathers father; both schooner captains plying trade along the coast from Maine to the Carolinas. Two of Lester’s uncles shipwrecked outside Cape Hatter as in the early 19th century and never came back. They became farmers in North Carolina and the story is that the Wright brothers borrowed their field to make the first flight of the Kitty Hawk. When I photographed the New York Liberty basketball team the spring one of the players was a black woman named Diana Tate whose family was from North Carolina. We joked that she was a relative of my second family in Canada but it later occurred to me that the connection mighty be real.


Adam was shirtless when he told me. There aren’t many shirtless days in Grand Manan, but according to my father there are more now then there were in the mid-thirties when he met Lester who was then the keeper of Kent island where dad, a 16 year old boy was headed to collect samples of fog. He has taken daily weather records since since that time and still collects fog samples so he should know. The old timers tell stories of how you used to be able to drive a team of oxen across frozen Grand Manan harbor to cut winter wood on Ross Island most every winter. Frank Ingalls who built this house froze to death in the middle of the harbor tending his boat not 400 yards from his front door, which is now our front porch. Dad a conservative and careful scientist is still not ready to declare this a case of global warming, but still holds out the possibility of “solar variability and normal cyclical phenomena”. Adam and his uncle, Bobby Tate, are rebuilding Lester and Myhrons wharf down on the shore next to Robert Ingalls boat building shed. Myhron is Lester’s son and Bobby’s father; he is also Miranda’s Great grandfather twice, but that’s another story. I, along with my brother, have been helping out by chaining together two huge 30’ stakes to be towed by truck to the low tide flats where they are hoisted by an incredible strong but gentle Japanese backhoe run byEverette Clyde Daiken. Everett is digging 6’ deep post holes and lifting the logs into place where 25 year old Adam is pounding in spikes which will hold them in place until the cross pieces are nailed in and the bottom is filled with tons of rocks. Bobby says Everett, 62, is from the old school in which you didn’t take breaks when you were working on someone else’s money. You delivered hard work and walked away. Myhron, 86 this week, hobbled down to observe the work and said what had taken two tides with the help of Everett’s machine would have taken him three weeks in the old days. Unfortunately, I also know Everett as one of the great environmental criminals of modern times. As an owner and operator of large machines, Everett must satisfy the undeniable demand of expensive equipment to not remain idle. There’s a limited amount of change that can be affected by a single man with a shovel, but a man with a modern earth moving machine and a loan to pay on that machine can make enormous changes. This is particularly true when there are no zoning or political restraints and a complete absence of any personal aesthetic or environmental judgment on the part of the operator, and a fear of said operator on the part of the local people who “never know when they will need a load of gravel”.


Once the ferry to Grand Manan became large enough for the Island to import these monstrosities, the geography of the island became malleable. Everett’s crime is that he dug up paradise and put in a gravel pit. On the other less settled side of Ingalls head lays Ox Head. Home to the old Henderson place, originally a land grant to a soldier who had helped the English defeat Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. I have photographs of the original farmhouse before it fell and I have magazines and school notebooks I saved from its attic. I have memories of perhaps 7 layers of wallpaper that peeled from its newly exposed interior walls. I remember Inez Henderson who must have been born as an old lady-I can’t imagine it otherwise.  When I was a child Inez had the corner store where we would go top get chocolate ice scooped into wafer cones by Inez who sometimes took 5 minutes to limp her way to the store from her room in the back. I have golden memories of those ice cream moments, but Mary only remembers the flies that Inez had to shoo away when she pulled the scoop from its dirty cup of water. That store is gone now as is the fisherman’s coop store: everyone has cars and the roads are well paved so none of the five villages has its own store now, everyone shops at the Save-Easy on Rt. 776. Yes, last year when they were giving each house on the island a number that had to be displayed prominently. They also assigned the main road down the island (which never had a name of any kind) a New Brunswick provincial route number to match the one that ends at the ferry dock in Black’s Harbor nearly two hours across the Bay of Fundy. So, although Inez seemed older than my imagination could travel, Audrey mentioned a story today, told to her by Inez’s mother XXX Henderson about being invited to dinner with the Indians who used to canoe the 10 miles of rough unpredictable water from the mainland and make their camp on the sand beach side of Ox Head. They came to cut sweet grass for the baskets they made and sold on the island. The dinner they served her was clams and gull stew.


From the old Henderson house you saw water on three sides. To the West the sand beach and the coastline leading down to Seal Cove, to the East the entrance to Grand Harbour and the white quartz headlands of White Head, and out the front door to the South, the open waters of the Bay of Fundy and the North Atlantic.


Everett dug up paradise, but Dale is paving it and literally putting up a parking lot. Sheena, 27, Adams older sister, works at the aforementioned Save-Easy. She taught herself the art of butchery on the job and has taken over the lucrative meat department. Fishermen love to eat meat and macaroni from cardboard boxes. Sheena has come indoors to earn the best money she’s ever taken in and is paying off the debts she accumulated in years on the low tide flat wrinkling (picking periwinkles) and clamming. She spills red blood on an already red apron and is proud of her fresh display of meats: they said to her face that a woman could never do this job. The Save-Easy (originally IGA) was the first chin food store on the island and put out of business the local food shops in Seal Cove, North Head and Grand Harbour. But just this year the other chain store on the island, Home Hardware in Grand Harbour has decided to start selling a full line of meats, so Dale has decided to retaliate by building a strip mall in a beautiful forest on the main road opposite the tiny catholic church. The site was cleared and blasted with dynamite this month and Sheena tells me it will be paved and stores erected before next summer. Joni Mitchell kept pumping through my mind as I took the “before” pictures today.


Sheena walks down the lane with her dog Elvis (a female) and says that since she has no children the dog will have to substitute. Elvis is Willie’s dog. Willie is her former boyfriend; he is a clammer who tied his boat up this week at our mooring when he returned from an overnight dig in “the Passage” on the other side of Ross Island. The way the tides were serving, he could dig low water at sunset, sleep a bit under the stars and dig the next low water at dawn. He returned with 2 ½ bushels which weighed about 86 pounds, less heavy than Ingalls Head clams so less price for Willie. Willie is a very nice guy, but unfortunately he hits women.


Note from the next day:

Miranda calls and asks to be picked up at Danny’s house. Danny tells me to drive toward Seal Cove, and turn left at the deer farm just after the long guardrail. Indeed there are about 30 fenced deer to greet me when I drive down Danny’s long dirt lane to a lone house surrounded by randomly scattered lobster traps and children. Miranda runs toward the care breathless and Danny turns away covered in a blanket they apparently have been tussling over. Miranda calls out “and don’t drink anymore” Danny mumbles over his shoulder, “I don’t drink” and disappears into the house without saying hello or thanks. 

peter cunningham