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  • When I lived on the island year round, money was tight. My pig pen was a lattice of spruce poles. I wove the tough branches together for a fence to keep the hens in. I straightened old nails from scavenged wood.

    I grew up on the stories from the old timers who lived out the Depression on the island. As a boy I tagged along on projects and watched as they went through their sheds and out-buildings for spare parts. In the shafts of dust filled light they rooted through boxes of odd plumbing fittings, jars of nails. Along the walls shone the linseed oil glow of tool handles, the glint of bubbly window glass. Stacks of vintage cans of paint vied with cigar boxes stuffed with engine parts and sheaves of sandpaper for space on the sagging shelves. Ranks of planes and chisels and knives. Stacks of rags, coils of twine, wicks and mantles for kerosene lamps. From them I learned the value of a well stocked shed and using what you had on hand.

    May to November we lived in a tipi set on a platform in a small meadow with gardens all around. Winters we shut off all but two rooms in my parents’ house and hunkered down.

    In the long dark days of winter I got a brilliant idea. There was the old log cabin we built as kids. Just your average one room cabin, a place to hang out and smoke weed. Just sitting there in the woods waiting to be reused. Cooking in a tipi on a two burner gas camp stove had some significant culinary limitations. I had a gas stove and oven but it wouldn’t fit in the tipi. The old smoke shack would be just the ticket.

    The next day I headed down through the frozen woods with a hammer and pry bar. I was no demolition man. I had a plan. I carefully labeled every log. Coded them for easy assembly in the new site.

    I carried the cabin stick by stick up to the little meadow and stacked them next to the granite slabs of the old foundation. I had a regular trail tramped through the crusty snow through the woods from site to site.

    Right after I finished hauling the roof boards we had a major nor’easter and my lumber pile was buried in the drifts. It was early spring by the time the snow and ice melted that year and my materials were exposed.

    I carried my hammer and nails and looked through the pile for the starting point.

    It was then I realized that crayon on wood is not a permanent marking system.


    I spent longer cursing life and feeling sorry for myself than I actually care to admit. In the end there was still the pile and the silent woods and me and nothing to do but pick a point and begin again.

    That year when I hauled traps around the islands I had a little song I sang to myself.

    I had me some
    great expectations
    everything was goin’ my way
    yeah that was the year
    I became a fisherman
    I got me some hipboots and a debt
    Now somehow
    I’m at the bottom
    I got to start all over again


    It sounded just fine sung into the wind with the outboard as accompaniment. It is a song that has come to mind many times across the years. It is a song that I hum a little every time I catch myself tripping over my expectations, a song I hear when I'm told tales of plans and projections.
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