Living On Island Time

Summer on Galveston Island

Lake houses, beach houses, family cottages, long-loved resorts — even a congenially-staffed hotel: all provide ways for enjoying — or coping with — summer.

Connecticut Poet Laureate Dick Allen (1936-2017) remembers the experience, and implies a parallel or two, in a poem titled, “If You Get There Before I Do.”

Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store. You passed it coming in,
but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter…
What I’d like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it’s like to risk
last minute failure…
I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . .Don’t forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers.
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to salaam into joy…
I expect you’ll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmuds, or Qur’ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it’s invisible—what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West…
Take it easy, take it slow. When you think I’m on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni,
place the checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all—the skeptics, the bigots, blind neighbors,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses—
that I’m allowed,
and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

45 thoughts on “Living On Island Time

    1. Things are pretty quiet right now — it’s too hot for the beach, and the surf’s flat. Even the paddleboarders have disappeared, and the fishermen I know are doing things like staying home and arranging their tackleboxes. I did notice the reference in Myra’s blog to the Bryan Museum. I’d never heard of it, and neither had any of my friends, but we all agree that it’s a good destination for hot summer days.

      Speaking of surfing, I thought of you the other day when I was introduced to the skills of a 19-year-old German woman who’s a drummer. She was born in Marburg, and is quite something. Here she is with her dad, doing a cover of an old surfing classic that belongs in any summer rotation. Enjoy! (Here’s a bio)

  1. Ah, the perfect post to start the week – and wise advice as summer melts us into fallings and falls (watery ones preferable to the hard landing ones)
    There were clouds this morning! And a breeze. Hope springs eternal….

    1. And there still are clouds — although I didn’t notice they offered any particular help by the time the afternoon rolled around. We need our southeasterlies, and an end to this land breeze. Even the pigeons don’t seem inclined to run off the sparrows from the birdbaths. They’re acting like it’s just too much trouble.

  2. I am just off to bed with that lovely photo in my mind and these words which made me smile; that state where people are folded into the mountains
    like berries in batter…”

    1. Isn’t that delightful imagery? I like the way it picks up on more common references to folds in hills or mountains: and of course being folded into batter is a much gentler process than being stirred. I’m glad it brought you a smile. If I could spend afternoons reading on that pretty deck, I’d smile a good bit, too.

    1. I suspect most people have their routines when they return to these special places, but taking it easy and taking it slow’s at the heart of it. After all, there are questions to be answered: did the wrens build a nest in the bucket again? did the mountain laurel finally start growing? did the rain wash out the dam, or tip the cherry tree? It’s all about being comfortable, and comforted, which in its own way is what that verse from John’s about.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. It’s an interesting form, and he’s skilled at making it sing.

  3. The waves seem awfully close to the wooden porch in your photograph, given Galveston’s history….

    Speaking, as you did elsewhere, of realizations, did you know that the name Esso arose as a sounding-out of the initials S.O., for Standard Oil?

    1. They seem close because they are close. The porch isn’t part of a home, tucked behind the dunes. It was added when the historic Murdoch’s Bath House — now a souvenir place — was rebuilt for the umpteenth time after Hurricane Ike. Built in the 1800s before the seawall was constructed, it originally provided a place for beachgoers to change clothes and shower. Now, shoppers can browse for just the right Galveston-branded knick-knack, while the rest of their crew hangs out on the porch and watches the waves.

      I think I did know at one time that Esso stood for Standard Oil, but I’d forgotten. What I didn’t know until I just looked up Esso is that it was one of the precursors of today’s Exxon.

  4. I’ve kind of been on my own little island this past week, sleeping through the hot afternoons, stirring at night when it’s cool enough to be able to think straight or follow a knitting pattern without messing up disastrously. I love the sense of that poem, of disconnecting from the world, and letting time flow, waking with the sun, going to bed when you start to nod, no alarm clocks allowed. Getting in your minimum daily requirement of porch sitting and rocking chair rocking. I wouldn’t mind sitting on that porch in a rocking chair, a glass of lemonade on the floor at my right, a bowl of yarn at my left, and that shawl I’ve become obsessed with . . . cool ocean breezes. . .

    1. That’s a mighty tempting image you’ve come up with. Porch sitting’s mostly out of favor these days, but more of it might be one step down the path toward curing what ails us as a society. And after years of living as you describe — up with the sun, to bed when tired, and no alarm clocks, please — I can confirm that it’s a good way to live. I got used to it in Liberia, lived that way at the cabin in the hill country, and still live that way on a daily basis. Working as I do from “kin to cain’t,” what the clock says is mostly irrelevant.

      I checked your weather, and envy that lower humidity. I did see rain in the forecast — wouldn’t that be a treat? In the meantime, keep that lemonade at hand. I know you’ll have the yarn!

  5. Reminds me of the island I grew up on – to this day it has barely changed (and most changes were due to Hurricane Sandy). I enjoyed every line, Linda!! Set out another glass of lemonade, I’ll be coming.

    1. Did you have screen doors, too? Whenever I think of beach cottages, cabins, and homes on islands, I always think of screen doors. There aren’t many left, but I know where there are a couple, and they belong to hotels that still have front porches and rocking chairs. Whether they have lemonade, I don’t know, but if I find they do, I’ll save you a glass.

  6. Delightful beginning to my day. It brings memories of opening the Russian River house, or better yet, the Hood Canal cabin either in summer or winter with its dark clouds and rain and wild waves tossing the water over the rocks. I loved this poem.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Kayti. Rivers, lakes, oceans, bays — there’s something wonderful about spending time with water, in every season. Although I’ve been to the Russian River, I know the Hood Canal only through your descriptions, but I suspect I’d love it, too.

  7. What a gorgeous view! If hurricanes had never been invented, I’m certain I’d never grow tired of looking at all that water.

    What an interesting poem, too. Reminds me of going to Gulfport and seeing — after quite a time away — the house there. Of smelling the pervasive salt-air scent, of checking the calendars to see just how long it really was since our last visit. (You can’t tell I need to get away, can you?!)

    1. The good news is that there’s more water-watching time than there are hurricanes. They’re unpleasant-to-horrendous when they show up, but when they’re still out in the Atlantic, just wandering around and annoying the fish — no problem!

      I’m fascinated by waves, and also by fire. Both are constantly changing, and yet always the same. And both have their distinctive scents. The tang of salt’s like nothing else, and the faintest whiff of smoke in fall can transport me right back to midwestern leaf-burning.

      I remember Gulfport as beautiful, although there was that time just after Katrina when things weren’t so good. Still, I happened to be reading about Bay St. Louis recently, and it seems the recovery’s gone well there. I hope it has for Gulfport, too. Any chance you’ll be visiting in the nearish future?

      1. I certainly hope so, Linda — it’s been far too long since I was down there! My mom isn’t as mobile as she used to be, so it’s going to be a major production, getting her south. Perhaps I can enlist help from my sister!

  8. Love Dick Allen’s words and the photo makes me feel rested without going anywhere. But Allen had a good point – do one thing at a time and take the risk.

    1. Taking it easy and slow, and focusing on one thing at a time are words to live by — as you so well know, Vicki. I confess I always laugh when I get to the words “take it easy” in this poem; I can’t help hearing the Eagles’ song playing in the background.

      It is a restful poem — as restful as porch sitting, or enjoying familiar routines.

  9. Just realised I have been living on an island for many decades now. Most inhabitants of Australia seem to be drawn to the coast. I remember back in Holland when my parents took me to the sea for the first time ever. As we clambered over the last of the sand dunes I was greeted by that salty air and then the endless vision of all that water came about. The sea…I never will forget the magic of that moment.

    1. I had the same sort of experience the first time I saw the Gulf of Mexico. I was an adult by that time, but my sense of astonishment and delight was much like a child’s. It must have been wonderful growing up by the sea — and now you have another kind of ocean surrounding you. If I were to visit Australia, I’d certainly want to visit the interior. But for day to day living, the coast would be my choice. That dynamic’s been at work here for decades, too. People do love living at the shore, despite the challenges it can offer.

    1. I found so many places where my experiences were similar to the poet’s — not identical, necessarily, but the connection was recognizable. I wonder if you don’t experience the opening of the trails in spring much the same way — it seems to me that re-entering the mountains could be much like re-entering a familiar and beloved cabin.

    1. Of course I thought of you when I was reading the poem. It sounds remarkably like the first couple of posts you wrote after you got to the lake and began the opening-up process. At least for me, the first question at the cabin always was, “Has anyone moved in and set up housekeeping?” Once assured that the answer was, “No,” everything else was easy.

    1. I’m a connoisseur of porches, and this is one of the best. It is beautiful, and on certain days the white furniture and framing sets off the water beautifully (or vice-versa). It can be dramatic on days when storm clouds build, too — but of course those days often aren’t the best for just sitting around.

      Galveston’s different now, having rebuilt yet again from another hurricane, but the feeling of the town is quite nice, and to my taste, even better.

    1. You’re welcome — there’s nothing like a little pause in a beautiful place to refresh the spirit. It’s even better when someone like Dick Allen can capture so much common experience in so few words.

  10. Galveston must be beautiful, and the poem is so anecdotal. Do you live close to the beach, or more inland? Anyway, have a great summer and it sure looks like it’s going great!

    1. Galveston is lovely. There’s a rich history there, beautiful, historic homes, and of course the beach. Strangely, the loss of the island’s trees due to Hurricane Ike had one good effect. The light is much different and brighter now, and care was taken to replant with trees and flowers that were more island-friendly.

      I live almost exactly halfway between Galveston and Houston. We don’t have beach, but we have water: Clear Lake, and Clear Creek, which feeds into Galveston Bay. My place is at the edge of one of our large marinas — the lighthouse I photograph from time to time is at the entrance into Clear Lake.

      1. It sounds like a beautiful place because you have the best of both worlds. It’s also probably related to your work with the boats I suppose. I lived right in front of the ocean for practically all my life.

        1. Yes, I live in this area because of my work. There are marinas all around the lake, and a huge concentration of boats. Most are fiberglass and stainless, and don’t need my services, but there are enough boats with wooden trim (and interiors) that I can stay busy.

          I’ve always enjoyed the ocean. For years I took my pleasure in sailing it, but I can be just as happy at a beach cottage, or spending an afternoon walking the shoreline.

    1. Well, that Gulf water is flowing beneath the building, but I confess: it’s not a beach house. The beach houses on Galveston Island are built well back from the water: behind the dune line. This place actually is a historic bathhouse turned souvenir shop — Murdoch’s — that sits over the water, on the outside of the seawall.

      It dates from the 1800s, and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The newest incarnation, shown in the photo, is a beauty. Here’s a photo of the place in 1912. A lot of people feel a great deal of affection for Murdoch’s — and I’ve spent a couple of hours in one of those chairs myself.

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