One of my favorite cousins, Deborah, just visited. She was only with me for 2 days, but I put a lot of effort into preparing, and my whole attention was riveted on her while she was here. She came with her honey (see comment by the Duchess on my last post), Charley. Although they have been together for about 7 years, this is the first time I had a chance to meet him.
Deborah is 10 years younger than I. I spent most of my childhood in my aunt’s house, and I was 8 years old when my aunt’s first daughter, Bridget was born. Deborah was next, 2 years later, followed in another 2 years by Hilary. Bina, the youngest, was born when I was 18. We were happy children, though Bridget had a troubled life later. She struggled with anorexia and died at 45. The rest of us have gone on to live in very different worlds.
Deborah’s world is Paris, where she has a tiny but well located flat, and Tuscany, (Cortona) where she has an ancient house in the country surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, and New Jersey, where Charley has a house. Deborah’s son, Arthur, is a folk-rock artist with a band called Moriarty. All its songs are in English even though it is based in Paris. Her friends are people who are interested in the arts and are mostly multi-lingual. Deborah speaks fluent French and Italian and some Spanish. The Spanish is because of her early adventures as an actress in an Italian company which toured mostly in South America.
Deborah is a person who devours new bits of life with enthusiasm. I wanted to show her my world here on the island.
The island world starts with the ferry. It’s a small one, holding, max, 24 cars, and if there’s a cement truck or two a lot fewer. It takes 5 minutes to cross Hale’s Passage from Gooseberry Point. Deborah commented on the way the ferry crew moves like clock-work with a minimum of hand gestures, signaling cars to load and unload. Turn around time is 20 minutes.
Almost as soon as Deborah and Charley got off the ferry I had a small wine and nibbles party so they could meet people who live here.
Charley is a physicist, so I invited Felix, a retired physics teacher, whose yard is sprinkled with windmills. He generates part of his electricity with wind. Sharron, a successful artist (by that I mean she sells her pictures for $5 to $20 thousand), came. She takes art students to Cortona where Deborah’s house is. Sharon and her husband have an organic farm here on the island and they sell vegetables, lavender and Christmas trees.
Holly came. She teaches communication at the university in town. Hans, island handyman who does plumbing, electric repairs, construction, gardening, car repair and so on, came. He and Brian came a bit late because of the all important all island ping-pong game that happens on Sunday afternoons. Brian is Holly’s husband, and he is an inventor. If any of my readers are potters they will know of the Giffin Grip, which he invented.
Pat and Rich came. They have a small wine tasting gallery here. It’s a hobby business, and it makes for a lovely Saturday afternoon interlude of good wine, good chocolate, good cheese and island art (some good, some so-so). I will have a small show there of my paintings with an opening next week.
The men collected in a knot in the kitchen where they discussed physics. The topics included string theory and the Large Hadron Collider. That’s a huge tunnel like thing buried 100 meters underground and about 20 miles long in a circle on the Swiss border. It will make subatomic particles collide at very high energy, creating conditions like those existing instantly after the big bang. Jerry says they look at pictures of the tracks of debris from the collisions. You can see from this that I am no expert on physics.
The women stayed in the living room and talked about organic farming – Deborah grows olives and makes her own olive oil which tastes marvelous, and she grows grapes and makes her own wine, which she says is undrinkable. Sharon grows lavender and vegetables.
Then Holly explained that Communication, which she teaches, is a discipline that bridges psychology and sociology and is the basis of both.
After a while the groups merged and conversation wandered from the physical to the metaphysical. Hans mentioned that he would be substitute UPS man next week. The regular UPS man, Bill, is presently occupied with day-trading. Hans says Bill has 12 computer screens set up for this purpose.
Bill is known on the island for his weekly seminar group called Weird Wednesday (it meets on Thursday) and is devoted to para-normal phenomena of all kinds, as well as to any current conspiracy theory. They are also keen on reports of aliens from outer space. I first learned of Weird Wednesday when Bill was delivering a package to me. He had time to chat (he frequently did until he started day trading) and he explained how he had become interested in the para-normal. It seems that he had a cat who could tell which ferry he was taking from the mainland. The cat knew, before he himself knew, what ferry run he would be on, and the ferry crew always knew when he would get there because the cat got there first. He figured it must have been ESP.
After the party Jerry and I took Deborah and Charley to The Willows Inn for dinner. That is an island bed and breakfast that includes the island’s high end restaurant. We were the only people there. There has not been enough business to keep a chef employed, so Judy, the owner, is doing the cooking. The meal was good, and the setting is perfect. The building is a handsome old house with a westward view of Puget Sound extending, when the weather is good, to Vancouver Island. We watched the sun set.
The next day began with a snow storm, unusual in March. We had planned to hike up Lummi Mountain – really just a big hill in the context of the mountainous west. There is a new trail up the mountain, established by the Heritage Trust, an active island organization which buys land to conserve it. At the top of the trail there are stunning views of the islands and the sound.
Instead of climbing the mountain we drank tea and talked as we watched the snow fall and the woods become etched in white. Conversation rummaged through the past: old friends, teachers, aunts and uncles, cousins, funerals, birthdays. Quite suddenly it stopped snowing and the sun came out. It was dazzling and cold.
We had lunch at the Beach Store Café, the island’s low end restaurant. Deborah and I had steamed clams. Then we took a driving tour around the island.
First I showed Deborah the north end of the island. The houses there are mostly expensive, especially when they have water views. One I pointed out is built on a hill in front of the radar tower. I’m sure the architect designed it to complement the tower, and it wouldn’t appeal to all tastes. The house consists of an assemblage of well proportioned rectangular units with corrugated metal siding. I met the owner one Saturday at the wine tasting gallery. I told her how much I like her house. She thanked me and said, “You have no idea how many people think it’s okay to tell me how awful my house is.” Deborah agreed with me that the house is well designed.
Next we passed the “rat palace” and Deborah was enthusiastic. The rat palace is an old grey weathered ornate Victorian house which has been empty and crumbling for years. I was astonished to see that it is now occupied. I thought it had been condemned.
The south end of the island is mostly mountain, but there is a populated area just north of the gravel and rock quarry. That part is called “Scenic Estates.” It hugs the east side of the mountain, and many of the houses have magnificent views of Bellingham Bay and Mt. Baker. The houses constitute an odd collection because in the ‘70’s the land was subdivided into tiny lots, intended for people to park their travel trailers in the summer. Many of these lots still have left-over aged hippies living in derelict trailers. Other lots have been combined and support houses from minimal cottages to million dollar castles.
We took Deborah and Charley to look at Scenic Estates, but soon the car began to slide on the steep snowy roads and we had to retreat.
The sky was clearing gradually, but big Cascades to the east, Mt. Baker and the Sisters, were still hidden behind cloud. I really wanted them to see the mountains. Late in the afternoon we walked down our road to look for them. It was bitterly cold and windy, but we were rewarded. The mountains were there, glorious and gleaming, all pink in the evening sun.
It was a good visit.