Anne of Green Gables and L.M. Montgomery

 “…I would like to go away on Sunday morning to the heart of some great solemn wood and sit down among the ferns with only the companionship of the trees and the wood-winds…and I would stay there for hours alone with nature and my own soul.” Lucy Maud Montgomery, journal entry.

If the colour periwinkle can come in a shade that is both subdued and lit from beyond itself with palest gray and shining white, than that is the colour of the sky that blankets this magical place called Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.). Tonight I write to you from Cavendish, the town in which Lucy Maud Montgomery spent almost all of the first 36 years of her life. From age 21 months, when her mother died, until the time she married Lucy lived with her maternal grandparents. Lucy’s mother was a mere 23 when she died from tuberculosis.

Today I saw the little house where Lucy was born and where her mother died. I saw the old site of the house where L.M. Montgomery grew into womanhood, and where she wrote Anne of Green Gables, her first book, published when she was 33 years old. Anne of Green Gables was instantly successful and the first book in 24 that she would write throughout her life. What we have left of her grandparents’ home is now only the stone foundation, surviving pictures and trees that surrounded it. I saw the house that inspired the fictional Green Gables, where more of L.M. Montgomery’s relatives lived. I walked the paths that inspired Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Wood, names given them by Anne, the redheaded girl-child with grey eyes that gazed with wonder from a face inward-lit. I have always loved the character Anne, from L.M. Montgomery’s novels; and after reading many of her journals, I also love L.M. Montgomery herself. What a strong, creative force she was, to have endured so much in one lifetime.

L.M. Montgomery was orphaned, or what amounted to it, cared for her ailing grandmother for about a decade, acquired and education and teaching certificate, wrote novels, short stories, poetry and ceaselessly worked to have them published, then married, leaving her beloved island, to take on the roles of minister’s wife, and mother. She survived the loss of her beloved best friend, to the Spanish Flu in 1918. She survived the loss of one her children, who died shortly after being born. She continued to thrive in a marriage to a severely depressed man; and far from the land she loved. And she continued to create, leaving a legacy that I know reaches far beyond the gratitude I have for her. I wish I could have known her, met her, had tea with her in the afternoon as the sun shone over the rolling hills of the happy place called “Avonlea.”

Today, as I gazed over the rolling farmland, green and gold, that backs the place where L.M. Montgomery grew up, I found myself crying. I had read the following passage, and it brought the tears out of me:

“I am grateful that my childhood was spent in a spot where there were many trees… When I have lived with a tree for many years it seems to me like a beloved human companion.”

I cannot express any gratitude for how or where I grew up; and the void left by that knowledge came to me forcefully today. It seems to me that I love beauty above anything, and that was missing entirely from my childhood. It is that deep love of all things natural and beautiful that creates the base of my deep gratitude and affection for L.M. Montgomery and her character Anne. Nowhere, in all it’s innocent appreciation and joy, is the love of beauty so expressed, artlessly and without shame for its youthful zeal. It is exactly that which I never had as a child, and that for which I cried – for the little girl I was, reading Anne of Green Gables, so happy to finally know I wasn’t alone, and desperately wishing I could be that fictional girl, who found herself in a place that nurtured her creativity, among people who may not have been “kindred spirits” as Anne would say, but at least allowed her to thrive and be healthy. Today, amid all this beauty, I felt keenly my loss. In feeling it, I see again why my soul called me to this journey – to feed it, and nurture it. To give my artist self, the insouciant 13 year old girl-child, full of wonder and fun, some “scope for the imagination.”

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A new belt.

I’d like to thank everyone who has commented on this blog.  Your encouragement gives me resolve in those moments when Fiona is misbehaving and I think to myself that I can’t spend another minute in the midst of this mechanical uncertainty!  I get a comment from one of you, I take a deep breath, and I return to living in each moment as it comes.  So, thanks. 

Today we spent all day with the mechanic in Hillsborough, New Brunswick, Canada, a town just up the road from Hopewell Cape. It was a day of mixed blessings. For example, I fully expected to have to wait for the part, Fiona’s new alternator belt, but they had it in stock. The work got done in about the amount of time I anticipated, knowing as I did that they’d have to remove the other belts to get to where they could put this one on. The manager at CarQuest, Brian, was very helpful and had already gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me out when the “mixed” part of this blessing began. With the new belt in place, and the engine coolant topped off, we backed Fiona out of the garage to be happily on our way, when great gobs of oil began spilling out of her and onto the pavement beneath us. We immediately pulled back into the garage, and opened the “dog cage” as the engine cover is called and saw Fiona’s lovely engine coated in dark grease – the oil that keeps all the moving parts moving smoothly. Lord, but it was a lot of oil!   There was so much of it, in fact, that they couldn’t tell where it started, and so couldn’t fix the leak without first washing the oil off.  After an hour or so of looking and looking, the leak finally showed itself. The part is called a “nipple” (go ahead, laugh, but you can really tell that mechanical professions are male when you get to know the part names), and it’s part of the oil pressure part that shows you what your oil pressure is. This part looks something like a screw (see what I mean) without a pointy end; and it was brass, which is a soft metal and not a good choice for this particular part. It was cracked across and could have bust at any time.

So, now it’s time for the blessing: if this part had bust on the road, I’d be off the road and in a plane on my way back to whence I came, sans a working motorhome. If this part had bust on the road, I would have dumped all the oil by the time I knew what was going on, and the engine would have seized, and needed to be entirely replaced, or rebuilt. Replacing or rebuilding an engine is thousands of dollars worth of work, and way past what I can afford to do. We walked into CarQuest at 10 am and walked out again at 6:30 pm, an hour past their normal closing time. Three men who work there stayed to see the job done; they charged me a reasonable rate; and set me up to have the generator looked at by a good generator mechanic in another part of New Brunswick. I’ve been extremely lucky in the mechanics I’ve met. They’ve been uniformly helpful, kind and competent. Despite my lack of knowledge, they’ve treated me well and given me information I needed to make good decisions. They’ve also been real gentlemen. My thanks to the men who’ve worked on my coach, and been fair with me. It means a lot, and there is surely a special place reserved for you in heaven.  There should be an awards dinner for fair mechanics thrown every year in Daytona Beach.

You would think that after the repairs I’ve needed recently, I’d be down tonight. I’m not. I’m concerned. I can’t keep putting money out on repairs like this. Surely, my dear Fiona, we could go for a few weeks before we need spend more time in a mechanic’s shop? Is this just part of the GMC experience? Will the repair debt continue mounting? Will my travels meet an untimely end? Who knows? I can’t predict any of it. In the meantime, let me tell you a bit more about beauty.  I may know little to nothin’ about a 455 Oldsmobile engine, but I know somethin’ about beauty.

Hillsborough has within it’s small borders much to admire and love. In addition to the fine men who worked on my Fiona, there’s a great little eatery where they make their own bread and serve home-style meals, and put their tea in tea pots. If you drink tea, you know how disappointing it is to order a cup of tea, and get a tea bag, plopped into water that’s been warmed in a coffee pot on the coffee pot warmer, in a mug that wouldn’t satisfy a little kid at a child’s tea party! Really, people. Put it in a pot and make the water hot. All the tea drinkers in the world will cry tears of joy over their pekoe leaves. But, we are in Hillsborough, where there are churches made of wood, with old stained glass windows, and carefully tended grave yards, the markings smoothed over by years of rain, snow, sun and time. There is one Victorian house after another, each more interesting and lovely than the last, each begging for your appreciation. All of this on a coastline that rivals any I have seen in my life, with weather that I could live under happily, because it changes every moment. The graveyard you just saw, backed by a river, is now gloomy, now comforting, now wet and stormy. You would never know, until being here, that brown came in so many shades, each one more resplendent and satisfying than the last and in the form of a river. Or that a sky can go from threatening to awakening in the flash of a camera. All this you see, and accompanying it, are roads that slope and sway, grass that dances, people who by and large seem happy, and then there are the Hopewell Rocks, mere minutes away. And I got all of this by taking the “scenic route,” in a 1977 GMC without an alternator belt.  When did you last take the scenic route, dear reader?

Practical Magic.

At the moment I am sitting outside, having lit a fire, and used an extension cord to have power for my laptop. Wonderful ain’t it! To sit by a fire, by a lake, and type on a laptop.   I’ve written a lot about my internal experience and reactions to the things I’ve seen; and I’ll likely do a lot more of that. This trip encompasses a lot of things for me, one of which is a sort of reparenting of myself. Sound silly? Well, it isn’t for someone whose spent so much of her adult life trying too hard to be “successful,” when success is measured by something other than an internal compass.  In this moment, however, I want to talk to you about earthly things, and repairs.

We are in Hopewell Cape, a place where you encounter a marvel of nature that we humans call the Hopewell Rocks. These ‘rocks’ look like what might be left over after the gods who gave birth to Zeus carved out bits of mountain and tossed them aside.  They defy gravity, plunging deep into cinnamon colored muddy sand, and pouring up and out of that same sand. They twist around themselves, creating curves that look like women’s hips in motion.  Where these rust colored sand mountain pieces meet the sky, trees, brush and grass continue to grow, having foresaken their need for companionship, they reach for the sun itself.

Our campground, Ponderosa Pines, is a mystery of pulpy trees and swaying grasses, set amidst various watery bodies, including a river, a lake, and the Bay of Fundy.  At first glance, it might not look like much, but upon fuller exploration it is so much more than my descriptions can convey.  Our campsite has water and electric, and looks out onto a lake. There is a path around the lake that seems to go on and on, and as I walked Jackson there today I wondered if I had the stamina to follow it to its end. It didn’t matter though, because the scenery was satisfying in its variety and every step I thought, “where is my camera!”  It seemed to be marsh land, with lovely fine boned and barren trees that grew all ashy gray and bone white out of of grass that looked like water for all it moved and swayed. The river that runs through here is called Chocolate River, but I think the color is more like cinnamon, or maybe southwestern hot chocolate that bites your tongue; and where it rushes all over itself to dive into and out of the Bay of Fundy, you imagine great foaming milk sloshing about.

We drove up the coastal scenic route to get here. And, when you travel, remember that “scenic route” means generally the roads are curvy, with steep grades, and often made of gravel or other materials that are not always kind to the undercarriage of your vehicle. Fiona, my coach, did marvelously, considering that the belt on her alternator broke. Have you ever noticed how lessons are learned again and again, presented to you by the universe in uncomfortable ways until you “get it?” Mine is apparently, don’t wait to repair. Repair as soon as you can, or sooner. My mechanic, Jim Bounds, who is swiftly becoming the love of my life, talked me through testing out my battery and alternator, when my “Gen” light came on. One of your warning lights on the coach reads “GEN.” When this comes on it means you either have a battery issue or an alternator issue. It means you need more power. My testing showed that Fiona’s alternator wasn’t putting out the power the engine needs to run. While in St. John, and camping on a little peninsula, I had the alternator replaced. The most expensive thing was the part itself, at $200. The mechanic, also wonderful, did the work quickly and competently. At the time he replaced the alternator he told me that the belt was loose and should be replaced but that he didn’t have the part. I thought, “Oh, well I’ll just have that done in a few days.” Wrong, wrong, wrong! I’m not a bad coach owner, as much as an untutored one, and I’m learning my lessons hard and fast. Is it optimism or avoidance that has me think I should wait to make that repair?

So, today the damn Gen light came on again. Then the belt broke. I found this out after testing again, once again finding the generator had no juice, and then peering into the massive 455 Oldsmobile engine housed right underneath the front seats. The belt was hanging onto one of the other engine parts, like old snake skin. I connected the battery to the generator in the coach, using pint sized jumper cables, to make sure we had power, and we made it safely to our campsite. But remember, when I said a few paragraphs ago that we took the scenic route? Scenic, along the New Brunswick coastline means dramatic winding roads, that pitch and rise at alarming grades, and often are made of some quasi-gravel material. Not the most relaxing ride when you have a generator running, that doesn’t like to keep running on hills, and you wonder every time you begin the ascent of another monster hill if the engine will just poop out on you, and how on earth will you back it down the hill without killing your dog and mother? Some hills are just better taken in a little sports car.

Tomorrow (a weekday), we’ll go to a mechanic in town and see about getting the belt put on. It’s the part that will pose the most challenge I think. Apparently, belts are generally made “bigger” now, according to the St. John mechanic, and Fiona’s belts are from the 70’s, you know – skinny. As always, Jim was there to help me. He emailed me the part number and if (or when) I call him tomorrow, he’ll answer and help. Do I sound like I’m promoting Jim Bounds? I am. He is a prince among men. I have not always been patient with him, and he still answers when I call. He loves what he does, I mean LOVES it, like women love chocolate. He works only on GMCs, like my Fiona, and whether he likes you, the owner, or not (and he’s a pretty easy going guy, so he probably likes you), he LOVES your coach and wants it to be treated right. Jim is a wealth of information, and can talk someone like me, frustrated and with no mechanical background, through testing the electrical output of the battery and alternator so that I can sound like I know what I am talking about when I find a mechanic to do the work for me. Before this happened, I didn’t really know what the alternator was, let alone where to find it, or test it’s output. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to do some of the maintenance myself. I’d feel like a real champ then. In the meantime, I have Jim. And, I have a lesson. I, the grasshopper, promise to “stay ahead of the maintenance curve,” as Jim would say. And failing that, I’ll be leaning on Jim – a man who answers his phone.

Careful what you wish for?

I am in Fundy National Park, in New Brunswick Canada, the nearest town to it is called Alma. At the moment, I am posting this from a wonderful little cafe in Alma, which abuts the Bay of Fundy. These past few days have been trying. Mom and I haven’t been rubbing along easily. I am too critical, and am not sleeping well. Without sleep my irritation levels spike under little provocation. My Mom is who she is, and if I’d just set some boundaries, in a calm way, it would probably be fine. But, boundary setting is not my strength. I suppose it’s time, at 35, I should learn, no?

I walked along Wolf Point today, which juts out into the Bay, and also allows Fundy into it’s granite embrace in a horseshoe shape beach that is thick with red colored mud and rocks and small black snails that cling to granite rocks both big and small. To get to the beach, Mom and I walked along a fresh-looking wooden walkway built into the side of the mountain, bracketed by pines, whose boughs reached toward me, and scented the air all around. The lovely coniferous smell, both invigorating and soothing, sang on the air. I needed the soothing. I’m sad today…the beauty I crave overwhelms me so that I can’t let it in. The quiet I need eludes me, not because of an outside source, but the noise in my head makes my ears hot with sound. But the beauty….it’s so much to be with, it’s like drowning if you let it all in. How do you continue to breathe and drown at the same time?

I want to give you a poem I wrote some months ago, at the time that I conceived of this journey. But first, let me say that in this moment, I think a trite thing – beware what you wish for. A dear friend recently sent me an email saying that I am “cracking the egg.” I feel like I am drowning in beauty with no way out, except abandoning this endeavor, and all of this drowning is dredging up old feelings, old thoughts, old energetic patterns and I haven’t any notion what to do with them. I’m unmoored and without consistent cell phone reception or welcoming ears to listen, so I’m left only one way to communicate it – my writing. I suppose this water is my way to my writing. But oh, how she sweeps in great drenching waves! My poor soul is timid in the face of such power. If you stood where I stood today, you too would know the great fear that overcomes one when faced with such fierce beauty. Nevertheless, today Fundy gave me another poem. This poem needs work and isn’t ready yet for you. I hope it will be a good poem, not a well-behaved poem, mind you, but a good one. A powerful one, and with some original expression in it.

In the meantime, I leave you with this:

I want the Bay of Fundy.                                                                                                                                                                                               I don’t even know where it                                                                                                                                                                                            is exactly                                                                                                                                                                                                                          But I want it.

I want to be rowed out onto it                                                                                                                                                                                  by someone, ideally a beautiful                                                                                                                                                                          man with long fingered                                                                                                                                                                                          hands and a way with words                                                                                                                                                                                      or silence.

I want to sit in that row boat                                                                                                                                                                                      in quiet anticipation                                                                                                                                                                                                   and slosh and sway                                                                                                                                                                                                    and watch and listen                                                                                                                                                                                                      to water                                                                                                                                                                                                                              and watery creatures that                                                                                                                                                                                             I can’t see but can wonder at.

I imagine seeing and not seeing                                                                                                                                                                               the millions of gallons of water                                                                                                                                                                          pouring towards us                                                                                                                                                                                                        as we wait and listen.

I imagine imagining that water                                                                                                                                                                                   stroking every                                                                                                                                                                                                               rounded out empty place                                                                                                                                                                                         beneath the hull of our                                                                                                                                                                                             little boat                                                                                                                                                                                                                         and sandy pleasures swirling                                                                                                                                                                          around in those unseen places.

I want that.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I want to know without seeing                                                                                                                                                                                  to feel without knowing                                                                                                                                                                                                as millions of gallons of water                                                                                                                                                                              pour forth and soak every                                                                                                                                                                               shadowy place beneath me.