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  • Our early years as a couple and then as a family were out on the island. We lived in a rough log house surrounded by newly cleared land. For half the year, every house but ours was closed up, dark, cold. In the night only our house glowed. Winter mornings only our house had a trickle of smoke rise out of the chimney. We were alone.

    Not entirely alone. We had a dog and cat. A surly pony, vicious geese, and goats that could not be fenced. There were the chickens and pigs and turkeys that stayed for a time. But as far as human company went we were it.

    In the summer and early fall, the island was full of visitors and drama. But in the winter, the crows and gulls had dominion over the village there on the windswept hill.

    This is where Carly grew up. She had a swing in the apple tree out front, the animals in the barn to feed, a pup dog to trot by her side on walks, a cat to curl up with on the bed by the woodstove.

    Our connection to the rest of the world was fragile and tenuous. The first years of our island time, we walked down the hill with a charged car battery to use a neighbour’s CB radio. Some days you could reach a trucker down in Jersey easier than you could connect with someone in the harbor, two miles across the bay. By the time Carly was born though we had a VHF radio. That was around the time that the Camden Marine operator service started up. We could call in and connect through an operator to a telephone. We could call anywhere. As long as you didn’t mind broadcasting live.

    Camden Marine, Camden Marine. This is Whiskey Sierra Quebec 9080 the Grey Ghost come back.

    Camden Marine to the Grey Ghost. Go ahead Grey Ghost. Over.

    Sometimes other vessels were in the queue and we waited our turn, listening to fishermen at sea talk to their wives ashore.

    Danny, I have to make the car payment. Did you take the cheque book?

    Oh, shit.

    The fishermen and their wives didn’t bother saying over and using proper radio protocol.

    Winter was a long and isolated season. It took all summer and fall to prepare. Stacks of wood. Hay and grain in the barn for the animals. We bought in bulk, canned and dried.

    There were 100 pound sacks of flours, oats and rice. Canning jars in gleaming rows. One year I bought a 20 pound block of Swiss cheese for a change of pace. When I opened it in February it was green through and through, every hole was a mold tunnel. By the time I trimmed it we had a plate of cheese and crackers.

    We stocked up on books the way we stocked up on food. In the late fall we went to the used book stores and hauled out boxes of books. Paperback mysteries, the classics, everything. We started out picking and chooing, carefully reading blurbs and skimming first but after a while we just grabbed stacks and packed them in. Cleaned the shelves. By the time late February rolled around I’d read anything.

    We had one small solar panel bolted onto the roof and a single, deep cycle marine battery. It powered a few tiny lights, the VHF radio, a car radio, and a 4-inch black&white TV. Not all at once and not for too long but enough so we could put away the smoky, temperamental kerosene lamps. It wasn’t much but it kept us connected. We listened to the news and talk radio on days we worked inside. Listened to the Radio Reader while we ate our lunch. Watched the Waltons from 6-7 while we cooked supper.

    All while we lived an island life, a family out of time. Out of step, we thought then. On our own. Never realising until almost 30 years later that we were not alone.

    Across the bay Helen and Scott Nearing tended their Forest Farm out on Cape Rosier.

    Down the road from them Eliot Coleman was busy creating a new science of organic farming.

    Closer still, a short row away, on Placentia Island, Art and Nan Kellam dreamed and read on their island fastness.



    Camden Marine
    Camden Marine
    This is WSQ 9080
    Come back.
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