Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Mont’s old red house is the first thing you see as you come onto the island.

    The roof sags and the corners are settling into the thin layer of topsoil that slowly, slowly builds up over the ledges and glacial sands along the western shore above the Pool. A sprawling white rose bush rises up each summer and threatens to engulf the place. There used to be more house but over the years bits have fallen away like the stages of a rocket, so it squats just above the tide’s reach like a capsule dropped from another time.

    Back in the day, he grew a hedge of spruce along the north western side to break the wind, kept a pig and a cow, a horse and a handful of chickens and a few sheep all in a sagging barn near by. The barn is gone years ago as is the shed off the side of the house where he stored and manufactured wood to last the winters. For many years you could still see the slipway he cleared to haul out his boat. A narrow line of poles set in the sand and gravel as a track to skid his 16 foot wooden boat up the bank and out of reach of sea and ice.

    Now, there is a low shed, filled with bits and pieces others have carried down the hill but then couldn’t bear to haul off the island, connected to the main house. Hard to call it a house with its one room in front, a tiny back bedroom on one side and a staircase on the other. The upstairs is dark, rough unfinished boards pocked black where the shingle nails poke through.

    I don’t remember the place when Mont had it. I was only a baby the first year my parents came out to the island and by the time we returned in the mid-60s he had passed away.

    I have seen a picture of Mont. He stares back at the camera all angles and planes. His face is severe and eyes bright and wide the way eyes are in a wind and weather beaten face. Rangy, lean, and tough in a way America has largely forgotten these days.

    There are plenty of stories about him. He didn’t take to some people, had no patience for others. Spoke his mind and didn’t give a fuck what others thought or did. Kept a cat. Hung his guns above the door, loaded. Ran rum back in the day when Prohibition created opportunities for the remote, rugged islands and their people; was a light house keeper; left the island; returned maybe from a broken heart, maybe to ride out the Depression. Stayed on through the early 1960s while America bubbled and burst upon the modern stage. He held out and held on to ways long gone now, ways forgotten and lost.

    He cut his wood with a buck saw and axe, ploughed the stingy, sour island soil and planted potatoes and likely not much else. Built his traps, carved his buoys, tended them from the peapod, (a double ended rowing boat). Rowed standing up the way the old timers did, leaning forward on the oars. Pipe clamped between his teeth, ragged wool sweater, arms strung with muscle and sinew, worn rubber boots rolled up. Some winters alone on the island, some winters with the small group that clung to the empty village. He lived a life apart, connected to land and sea and air.

    When he died the house stood empty for a long while. Over the years, a few hunters claimed family rights and stayed a week or two in November setting it up as a deer camp.

    The complex politics of family and island property dealt me a troublesome, one-eighth share in the lot and the house for a time. I shingled the place, dabbed some paint around, cleaned out the downstairs. Put in a wood stove and dusted off the old picture of Mont with a rifle under one arm to go on a shelf by the chimney. Moved in a new bed downstairs and set up a lobster trap shop in the low ceiling front room where I painted buoys, patched and built my gear. I leaned against the door frame in the silent island days of March and dreamed of summer. I gave it up as too much in the public eye and traded my share to Dottie for a few acres up on the hill. Dottie had been born in the old house back before Mont claimed it and for her finally owning a piece of the old place was coming home.

    Dottie didn’t mind being the center of island activity. She doled out fudge and gave away her extra fish to the passers by. Greeted new comers and set them straight on island lore. Set her bucket of clams outside the door to soak out the sand. Planted her recliner in the lee of the house and watched the islanders come and go. The window box she nailed under the window by the table is still there. Each year it brings forth an annual crop of wind blown weeds. She had Steve craft her a screen door out of driftwood one summer with a hook for her to hang her Gone Fishing sign when she was out. She’s been dead a few years now and the sign is right where she left it, swinging a bit when the wind comes sou’west.

    The old house stands watch above the small float where boats tie up when the tide is high. Some years the swell sweeps in high enough in a southerly blow to kiss the doorstep. The scouring winds pick away at window glazing and paint and strip away a few more roof shingles every year. The chimney leans back as if braced like a tree long harried by prevailing winds. When I row out of the Pool in June when the island is quiet and the wind drops to a sigh I swear hear the rush and gurgle of water along another hull. Faintly, through the salt and seaweed tang of the shore, I smell pipe tobacco, and hear the dip and pull of his oars alongside me.

    When the house is gone newcomers will look over the wide swale of short mown grass and there, in the summer, with nothing but the soft dips and ridges remaining, Mont and his forebears will all be as long gone as the other ancient northern tribes asleep beneath the turf.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.