On steering away from shore

Chart_MatinicusThe end of summer is approaching. Technically we have until September 22nd before the Autumnal Equinox. Practically speaking, on the coast of Maine summer ends in the middle of Labor Day weekend.

The town is quiet. Eighty percent of the summer jerks [Ed. note: aka “people” but I let it go. – Debbie] are gone. By Sunday another ten percent will depart. By Monday five more percent will depart and only the extended summer folk will be left. I am trying to become one of them.

Stonington’s Main Street has been packed for the last six weeks. Parking on both sides of the road has narrowed it to a single lane in many places. Tourists, treating it like a pedestrian mall, have further snarled traffic. The restaurants have been crowded for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now there is room to spare and traffic flows smoothly.

The weather is cooler. The days are shorter. Autumn is in the air.

Trying out loneliness

I feel lonely. I want to try loneliness.

I have had the six summer weeks of my dreams including weeks of perfect weather, boating, sailing, island hopping, golf, birding and planning. Never before have I had so much of Maine. The previous pattern was one week here, two weeks there and fighting weekend plane traffic. It has been no more spectacular than before, and some memories have already been lost as the days blend together, but the absence of travel hassle has been wonderful.

Now we get serious, however, as we look into the future of beautiful autumn weeks with far fewer people to share them. This was part of the Gap Year plan; to test a quiet time; to step into another void.

Matinicus Island: 22 miles offshore

Matinicus-Island-600x314This week we cruised to Matinicus Island. It is described as a “godforsaken rock” by many. Indeed, it is a small community of lobstermen, their families and minimal support services, twenty-two miles off the mainland.

It was the first time that I personally steered my boat away from shore and to an invisible point out in the ocean. I was alone with Debbie. We looked toward the horizon. Nothing was there. [Were we looking at empty ocean all the way across the Atlantic? – Debbie] We had every advantage of modern nautical instruments that allowed us to “see” over the horizon so we knew, intellectually, the island was there.

Pointing to the unknown

Debbie and I have traveled beyond the horizon many times with others at the helm. But emotionally and metaphorically, this was a special moment. We were steering our own little boat into the unknown. The next morning, making our way back through pea soup fog it took no extra strength to sail home on instruments alone. We had already taken the big step of sailing away.

Of course, hundreds of thousands of people set sail over the horizon everyday, mostly for work, sometimes for pleasure. I will do so again, someday. It may seem like just another day to them. I suspect they remember their first turn off shore.

The total engagement of coastwise piloting

All of my personal boating has been coastwise piloting. This is the term for making one’s way from place to place around the shoreline. In Maine the coast is particularly unforgiving with granite ledges, spirited seas, tidal changes and ephemeral, often violent, weather. It takes the use of every sense (and supplementary technology: radar, plotter, depth sounder, radio) to do it safely.

It can totally engage, and in my case, satisfy the intellect. I had a random thought while returning by boat from dinner on another island last week. Monitoring the horizon, the compass, the radar and the seas I was completely “connected” in a way that social networking can’t replicate.

Today I toured the Sunbeam. She is a 75- foot vessel operated by the Maine Sea Coast Mission that supplies medical, spiritual, economic and youth development programs to the Maine island communities, including Matinicus. The captain and crewmembers were a pleasure to meet. I am jealous of the never-ending wonder of the ever-changing coast that they get to enjoy.

Looking for new safe harbors

As I poke my nose into health care issues both large and small around the Coast of Maine I am looking for a place to resume my life’s work. As I turn away from my former routine, indeed, as I turn from former shores and safe harbors, I am looking for new challenges and new safe havens.

I have just learned that I will never sail solo around the world. [When we were scanning the horizon for Matinicus, I believe I said I didn’t think we were destined to sail around the world together. – Debbie]

The challenge of coastwise piloting in a boat, or in life, suits me fine.


Do WFMCs (World Famous Medical Centers) offer the best care?

md_anderson_logo_detailI recently learned that a cousin has been diagnosed with brain cancer. He is a few years younger than I am. It was a stunning revelation. My response to all things medical is generally muted. I have given bad news to hundreds of patients and been the first physician to recommend hospice care to dozens. Still, when cancer strikes within the family it reverberates.

I found myself telling family members, “Well, he will be cared for at the World Famous Medical Center (insert the WFMC of your choice: Dana Farber, Sloan-Kettering, MD Anderson) and that is the best we can hope for.”

And then I ask myself, how does one know? How does one know they have the right doctor or facility?

The simple answer is that one doesn’t know, but one can hope. It starts with trust in your primary care physician. It moves on from there.

WFMC and other acronyms

WFMC is an acronym used in the admission notes of interns and residents where, understandably, abbreviations abound. “This is the first WFMCA for this 75yo W LOL in NAD” is the initial line in scores of hand-written notes at tertiary medical centers across the country. Translated it says, “This is the first admission to this hospital for this 75-year-old white Little Old Lady in No Acute Distress.”

It means, with a  tone that is at once self-mocking and disparaging, that this woman has mild symptoms, probably evaluated elsewhere on several occasions and now she has been referred to the “Mecca” (a WFMC) for final assessment.

As an aside, I wonder how these abbreviations fare in the world of Electronic Medical Records. Although free texting exists in EMRs there are also a lot of check boxes, pre-populated phrases, and cut/paste opportunities. I digress.

The point is there is an appropriate suggestion of cynicism in the use of WFMC as well as a little pride.

Keep in mind that WFMCs are giant institutions with giant PR machines that promise hope and brag about their US News & World Report rankings.

What you can expect from a WFMC

I have had plenty of experience with WFMCs. In my opinion the physicians are generally not exceptional and the care is less than extraordinary. The physicians tend to be very intellectually engaged and offer wild diagnostic possibilities. But their diagnoses are no more accurate, nor does their treatment offer better results.

My opinion has been formed over decades, however, and currently the national movements to monitor patient satisfaction, quality and outcomes as mandated by the Joint Commission and the CMS, are making these institutions perform as well as their PR machines have claimed in the past.

I have frequently used WFMCs to supply a third opinion about a patient who has a symptom that is not diagnosable. When a group of MDs at the Mecca fails to find a cause for the complaint, it reinforces to the patient that their care has been adequate to date. Sometimes I have sent the patient with a cynical agenda on my part because I believe he or she is malingering, and sometimes because I am truly worried that I could not find the answer to a real problem.

Even in the hallowed halls of a WFMC you should remain alert and skeptical. There are many stories to tell but here is one that is most informative.

When a WFMC surgeon was wrong

Years ago, one of my favorite elderly relatives called with an intermittent and severe GI symptom. Her primary care physician started standard treatment for diagnosis X. After our phone interview it was clear that simple X was not the diagnosis and Y was quite likely. If the tests I outlined were conclusive and Y was confirmed then surgery would be the treatment.

Y was confirmed and after consulting with several surgeons my relative sought the opinion of the chief of surgery at a WFMC a few hours from home. The surgeon outlined the surgical options and described the risks and benefits of doing it laparoscopically versus by open surgery. He opined that the procedure MUST be done open and that ONLY he could get the promised results.

My relative called to report. It became clear that the surgeon was self-important, older, uncomfortable with the new laparoscopic technology and unable to admit it. His advice was unconscionable and at a minimum he should have brought a laparoscopical surgeon into the room to present their results.

I advised my relative never to see him again. Another surgeon performed the procedure laparoscopically and the results were immediately effective. Long term I have heard no complaints.

Questions to ask a WFMC

This experience highlights some issues with WFMCs. They are institutions with the associated inertia. Here is an older, past-his-prime, physician. He is “revered” by some and his reputation masks his current failings. The other surgeons know that his laparoscopic skills are inadequate and that his recommendations are old-fashioned but they are unable to unseat him.

Inertia can be good or bad. Do not put yourself on the “bleeding” edge of new technology without deep thought. Equally important, do not ignore advances in technology. Finally, examine the ego of the physician and the collective self-importance of the institution. If the physician says, “Only I can do this well,” then you are probably in the wrong office. If the institution’s PR machine makes promises that sound too good, they probably are.

So what about my cousin, his brain cancer, and the WFMC? Most of what I have written pertains but hard-to-treat cancer is a special case. A team of physicians will be involved here so no single ego is likely to pull them off course. The early phases of brain cancer therapy are fairly well regimented across large institutions so “pie in the sky” promises will not be made. Yet, because of the WFMC research, clinical trials will be available to consider at some point in the future.

For my cousin the WFMC is the place to start. My hopes are with him.

[Ed. note: when I chose the MD Anderson logo to illustrate this post, Sam pointed out that “eradicating” cancer is what the WFMCs and their PR machines promise – and it is a promise they cannot keep. That makes him angry. – Debbie]

Poetry, place and a quiet summer evening

OHA_boatsREAD THIS POST on our new blog.

If you asked me how many poetry readings I’ve attended in Washington DC over the past three decades, I would be hard pressed to come up with a handful. Surely, you say, DC has so much going on there must be poetry readings and live performances every night of the week. But that is precisely the point.

When you live in a big city there is too much going on. It is overwhelming. Our response (and I’m ashamed to admit this) has been to ignore much of DC’s cultural activity except for the occasional play or concert. It was easier to stay home rather than fight the traffic in the evenings.

In Stonington, Maine, it is different. Life is slower. Some things are closer, while many conveniences are much further away. We step out of our cottage and walk about seven minutes down the quiet main street to the Opera House, the locus of cultural activity on Deer Isle. Despite its name, the century-old Opera House (first built in 1893) is a multi-purpose venue, hosting live theatre, dance, music, movies and, at one point, roller skating. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Opera House board.)

Last night was an evening of poetry. Two Maine poets read their own work and then a handful of local residents read a selection of poems, prefacing each one with brief commentary on “Why I chose this poem.” The theme was “home” and “place.”

Stonington_Aug2013It was a lovely and intensely meaningful evening. Sam and I have been coming to Deer Isle and to our family island for 40 years. And for the past seven summers we’ve come to our house in Stonington. So in some ways, this is “home” in the deep sense of the word, as much as, or more so, than Washington DC.

Let me offer you a few snippets of the poems and tell you a bit about the readers. Poet and author Deborah Cummins was curator of the event. On stage, she began the evening by quoting Irish poet Eavan Boland:

“There is the place that happens,
and the place that happens to you.”
– Eavan Boland

You may have to think about that for a minute. I did. The “happens to you” part makes perfect sense if you’ve been captivated by the starkness and beauty of the Maine seascape, as we have.

Then came Maine poet Dawn Potter. I was not familiar with her work. She was mesmerizing. Her poems are muscular and sturdy, rhythmic and clear and so very evocative of small town life. She lives in Harmony, ME where, of course, things are not always harmonious.

She read First Game, about attending a basketball game at her son’s elementary school. The players are awful she explained in advance. They are too short, clumsy and overmatched. The games are painful to watch. Of course, the devoted parents go anyway.

The poem evokes the moment when, the team losing badly, the crowd shifts in their seats.


“… and in that instant an alarm, a buffalo instinct, ripples among the parents: an obstinate, unspoken urge to circle their hapless calves.– Dawn Potter.

You can find First Game and other recent poems by Dawn Potter in her anthology, How the Crimes Happened.

Local means heightened intimacy

What was most notable about last night’s poetry reading was the intimacy of the event. As Sam pointed out, reading to a group of people you know, that you’ll run into at the grocery store and on the street, “ups the ante of the emotional exposure” (his words).

Ben_BarrowsThat was particularly true for Ben Barrows, son of the well-known publisher of the local Penobscot Bay newspapers. After a decade working on economic development and crisis response in far flung places (from Antarctica to Azerbaijan), he returned to Stonington recently to take up the position of general manager of his family’s business.

He told us how hard the decision was to return home to live in the place he grew up. Then, after describing a month spent inside a U.N. installation in Afghanistan, his fear of drowning and of being so far from the ocean, he read Inland by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maine’s Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.


“… Far from the sea-board, far from the sound
Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?
– Edna St. Vincent Millay

Other readers included the town manager; the lead reporter for the local paper, a seventh-generation islander (retired businesswoman and politician), and a former math professor who now volunteers at the high school. All year-rounders (as opposed to summer people)they were surprisingly funny and eloquent. And a reminder that everyone in a small community wears multiple hats.

My favorite poems, both by Maine poets, weren’t dense or difficult. But they captured perfectly daily life in a remote place on the coast of Maine:

Why I Have a Crush on You, UPS Man by Alice N. Persons


” …you bring me all the things I order
are never in a bad mood
always have a jaunty wave as you drive away
look good in your brown shorts
we have an ideal uncomplicated relationship
you’re like a cute boyfriend with great legs
who always brings the perfect present… “
Alice N. Persons

I admit I do have a bit of a crush on our UPS man. He brings dog biscuits for our daughter’s dog, either because he’s nice or because he’s afraid of dogs.

And finally, Starting the Subaru at Five Below by Stuart Kestenbaum, poet and director of the nearby and famous Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.


” …Finger tips numb, nose
hair frozen, I pump the accelerator
and turn the key. The battery cranks,
the engine gives 2 or 3 low groans and
starts. My God it starts… “
Stuart Kestenbaum

If we make it year-round in Stonington (not a foregone conclusion at this point), I expect we may have trouble starting our car in the middle of the winter. And maybe Sam or I will be asked to be a reader at next year’s poetry event.

PHOTO CREDITS: top, Opera House Arts; middle, Debbie Weil via iPhone; bottom, Opera House Arts

Explore a new way of working (one of our Gap Year goals)

100-Startup-Cover-Chris-GuillebeauYou may be wondering why I’m taking a Gap Year when I haven’t given up my work as a publisher and book coach for business authors (cf Voxie Media). Aside from moving to the coast of Maine with Sam for the summer and fall, I haven’t radically changed what I’m doing professionally – at least thus far.

Let’s talk about that for a minute. What does “work” mean in today’s location-independent, 24X7 world where, ostensibly, anyone can work from anywhere, doing anything, as long as there is a market for it?

Some interesting minds have written about this. One of my favorites is Chris Guillebeau, the author and entrepreneur behind the World Domination Summit which Sam and I attended in July.

Chris tells us in his new bestseller, The $100 Startup, that you can “reinvent” the way you make a living if you can find that perfect congruence between what you are passionate about, what your purpose in life is and what people want to buy. I call this being a creative entrepreneur.

This is a way of working that occurs largely outside the corporate sphere. It requires building your own tribe of fans, followers and, ultimately, customers. It requires being intentional about your purpose and your goals (they go beyond making money, right?), it requires a certain transparency and it requires authenticity. It can be very successful.

A few examples are Seth Godin, Jonathan Fields and Pamela Slim. This is essentially the model that I am building. And yes, it is dependent on skillful use of the Internet to spread your work and your ideas and to connect with like-minded people. It doesn’t mean you never interact with clients in person or do live speaking events. But it does mean that you rely on creating useful content on a daily or weekly basis and distributing it via a blog or email newsletter or short video or LinkedIn or Google+ or Twitter or Facebook.

(If you are interested in the new world of self and indie publishing and in writing a short book yourself, you can check out my regular e-newsletter. Subscribe here. It’s free.)

A more basic concept of “the new work” is to be a virtual entrepreneur, meaning you no longer sit in a cubicle. Instead you rely on the cloud to enable you to work for a big company on a contract basis. This is one of the ideas that mega bestselling author Tim Ferriss put forth in The 4-Hour Work Week. It’s interesting to note the subtitle of his bestseller: Escape 9 − 5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Whereas the subtitle of Chris Guillebeau’s new, more recent book goes a step further: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.

There is lots more to be said on this topic. But I wanted to dip my toe into this idea of a new way of working to tell you that I am fine-tuning my own model this year so that I can work less, work more purposefully and have more fun. And to point out that one of the things Sam is doing during his/our Gap Year is to look for his own version of a new kind of work. He pretty much nailed the “make the world a better place” thing by saving patients’ lives for 31 years. Now he’s looking for a “what’s next” that is aligned with his values.

Bombast, swagger and lobster boats

lobster_boats_racingIt’s 0530h. West Penobscot Bay is throbbing with the sound of diesel motors, thousands of horsepower under the decks of hundreds of lobster boats. The sun has been up for twenty minutes. By now, many of the lobstermen have been hauling traps for two hours.

I have an appointment to take the gasman to the island to fix the stove’s thermostat. [Ed note: it is wildly out of whack, resulting in charred brownies and other disasters. – Debbie] He better bring the right fittings; it’s a long way back to his truck on the mainland. He is taciturn and a man of few words even when pushed into conversation.

Self-absorbed bombastic bloviators

Occasionally I will meet a self-absorbed, bombastic bloviater (SABB) here in Maine. You know the kind of person. It’s usually a guy, very confident and always very opinionated. They control every conversation and always have the last word. If you meet such a person in Maine, they are usually from “away.” Because they are from away they are usually on vacation and if they can afford to be here on vacation they are usually “successful.”

Such behavior is more common in the big cities which, in my experience, means New York or DC. How it leads to success is what I do not understand. Bombast leads to lack of communication and poor communication leads to failure. Yet, SABBs survive.

Defining the SABB syndrome

Let me further define this SABB syndrome. I do not mean an ignoramus. I do not mean someone who is simply verbose and pompous. I mean a person who dominates a conversation, finds themselves on the wrong side of the facts and then is unable to accept that. Finally, by the end of the exchange, they are still trying to convince me they are right; i.e. that black is white. Or, they may use a technicality to change their position while never acknowledging that they were wrong.

They not only survive, they thrive in the world of business and politics. There is an old expression, “Close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.” But it must be good enough in a lot of business dealings to make money. “Close” does not count in medicine. In medicine you have to get it right.

SABBs in the operating room

Of course bombastic bluffers do exist in medical practice. They are frequently marginalized, but not always. If I was asked to see a patient by a newly-acquainted physician and I found the doctor overbearing, I would finish my consult and treatment plan and that would be the last elective consult I accepted from them.

More importantly, the SABB personality is frequently associated with or confused with the surgical personality. “Frequently wrong but never in doubt” is an old saw applied to surgeons. In fact, surgeons may never be in doubt but a good surgeon is well trained and rarely wrong. They have to make hundreds of intraoperative decisions that both the patient and the physician must live with forever.

When the SABB-like personality appears in the operating room or on the wards it plays out as a physician dressing down a subordinate physician or a nurse. This used to be considered a part of the natural order of things in a hospital. “The doctor is always right.” Things have to be done their way. But as patient safety studies gained traction in the ‘80s and ‘90s it became apparent that these abusive physicians were, in fact, responsible for treatment errors and because of their poor communication skills were associated with a disproportionate percentage of the malpractice cases.

The euphemism applied to this  kind of behavior is “disruptive physician” and it is equally represented among male and female physicians. Medical staff leaders monitor such behavior at the peer review level and correct it or rescind privileges. The less obvious cases are hard to define and lead to lots of friction among the medical staff. Because of the important association of this disruptive behavior with medical mistakes, it must be eliminated.

Why is SABB behavior tolerated?

Does this happen in the corporate boardroom? I do not know personally but I am confident that it does. The threshold for culling someone from the organization, however, would be quite different. If they produce, if they make money, if they are “successful.” I suspect more SABB behavior is tolerated.

I wonder if health care systems should not require personality profiles before hiring physicians. It is easier to withhold a position than to withdraw it. Most of these disruptive physicians can be identified in advance. Some malpractice insurance companies have started this practice and do not offer policies to the SABB physician.

I am no longer in practice. My peer review responsibilities are shrinking. I have never been corporate. Now I only experience SABB behavior at social events where it is irritating but inconsequential. Maybe that is why I let it get under my skin.

Or maybe I wish I had a little more chutzpa myself, more self-confidence untempered by decades of behavior moderated for a professional medical setting. I admit that achieving a bit more self-expression is a Gap Year goal. Leaving the World Domination Summit I did affect a bit of a swagger.

Or maybe I wish I were out on a lobster boat where the organizational chart consists of one captain and one crewmember.

*Image credit: Guy Biechele / Flickr

Gap Year metrics: how to fit it all in

DEM_RAM_Aug2013Andy*, this one is for you, but you have to read to the end to get the rant.

It has been about two weeks since I returned to Maine from visiting my father in Milwaukee. This is peak summer vacation time and, indeed, that is what I have used it for.

A Gap Year principle that I am passing along is: do not over schedule; you will fail. That’s especially important when your body clock says “Maine! Vacation!”

As I have said before, if I could practice medicine, run the business of a private practice, serve on non-compensating boards and committees, maintain a family life as well as a Washington social life AND… write a book, reform health care and plan exotic trips, then I would not need a Gap Year.

But I cannot do all those things and so I need a break in August.

Reminder: why a Gap Year

Now that I have the time to enjoy an extended family visit in my favorite place on the planet, I still do not have the mental energy or strength to pay my day-to-day bills, play golf, sail, repair motor boats, babysit for two toddlers, prepare fresh seafood for island guests and in-laws AND research health care reform, research French lessons, research exotic travel (safe, yet outside the “tourist bubble”) and think about job opportunities for next year.

Something has got to go.

I have to remind myself that when I first began this year I knew that June would be a month of transition, July would be a combination of events and projects (finish the guest house, go to the World Domination Summit, visit my father) and August would be spent trying to have an extended summer vacation without the time pressure of past visits.

Measuring the perfect eight-hour day

The lesson I have learned is that while I had hoped to plan and research my Gap Year projects simultaneously, that is not going to happen.

My dream of a structured eight-hour day of research reading, personal growth reading, exercise, writing (touchy-feely blog posts, health care rants, personal notes), French exercises, etc. has not worked. I am unsettled over the fact that I cannot do it all and cannot decide what to do first.

Therefore, I am letting my grand plans wait a few more days until my grandbaby toddlers decamp and I can dial down in-law visits. Then, I promise I will get my schedule set and Debbie and I will start and end each day with briefings, progress reports and a review of Gap Year “metrics.” [Ed note: looking forward to this. – Debbie]

And now… a rant about healthcare metrics

Ok, let me rant about metrics for a minute. Does your business have metrics? Is it ruled by metrics? Do they work?

I suppose metrics have a role in terms of dollars and cents, time sensitive production issues and quality control of widgets. They may even have some role in the management of hospital systems and medical care.

I will grant that keeping the “post sternotomy blood sugar below 200 mg/dl” is associated with better outcomes and fewer wound infections (I’ll bet most of you don’t know what that means and never thought it would be measured) and is a laudable goal.

But is it a metric we should pursue? Everything can be turned into a metric. Should we do so?

Our rankings have slipped; what metric shall we improve?

I remember well a quality committee meeting at a WFMC (World Famous Medical Center, to the uninitiated) where the business people outnumbered the health care providers.

Three issues come up over the course of an hour. These were how many patients were dying of septic shock per month; how many patients dying of septic shock should be or were palliative care patients; and how much time elapsed between the first symptoms of septic shock, its diagnosis and the initiation of treatment.

Because of the high mortality of septic shock patients at this WFMC, its standings in the U.S. News and World Report rankings had slipped and the bean counters wanted to improve these metrics.

Conflating improved patient care with improved metrics

Suddenly these issues were conflated into a single management tool. It was proposed that a Septic Shock Rapid Response team could be created and the time from notification to treatment could be monitored.

Recognizing that much of the delay in treatment (and therefore the success of treatment) could be attributed to family discussions about appropriate care in a palliative care situation, it was proposed that diagnosis and treatment be instituted before a definitive family decision.

Well, if you have not seen the initiation of a septic shock work up you do not want to see one now. And, if you have you would not wish it on a family member in or near a palliative care status. It is brutal.

Fortunately, reason prevailed, at least briefly, and the metric managers looked elsewhere for something to monitor.

Patients are not widgets

People are not widgets. ER throughput of patients (another metric) should not be about filling beds to make more money but should be about getting the patient to the appropriate care level in the appropriate time period (a judgment, not a metric).

I am going to play golf, but I am so angry thinking about metrics that I am not going to keep score.

[Ed note: thanks to cousin Andy for being a loyal reader of this blog. As for golf, Sam reported back that he was six over par after six holes. Then he quit. – Debbie]

Life on an island: water, rocks, high tide, repeat

Grog_2_Aug2013READ THIS POST on our new blog.

One of the surprising things so far about our Gap Year is what I’m learning about Sam, my husband of 40 years. The most surprising thing, of course, is that there are surprises.

I knew he was a good writer, for example. But I didn’t realize how good until I started editing his posts. He writes with a lovely cadence (short sentences mixed with long), provocative phrases, precise descriptions.

What he says about my family’s island is so spot on that I can’t improve upon it. I’ll repeat so you can enjoy:

An island evokes a kaleidoscope of feelings that is so reproducible from year to year that it acts on the brain like a hard reset on the computer. There are feelings of isolation, power, exceptional independence, safety, danger, vulnerability, and (curiously) a primitive eroticism. >> More.

But I do want to add a few words. I won’t name the island because the privacy and isolation are what my siblings and I cherish the most. My father, with amazing foresight, bought the property in the late 1960s when he and my mother were cruising Maine’s Penobscot Bay. Family lore has it that he moored his sailboat in Stonington’s protected harbor on a foggy day. Then he rowed into the town dock and walked around the, then, largely undiscovered fishing village.

There wasn’t much going on in those days other than fishing (meaning lobstering). But there were several real estate offices along the main street. He wandered into one, sat down and inquired as to whether any of the dozens of small islands in the Deer Island Thorofare were for sale.

There was one, quite small and conveniently located a ten-minute boat ride from town. The price was low. So he bought it. Then he rowed back out to their boat and told my mother. Ha!

July and August are the golden months on the island

Of course there is a lot more to it than that. I must check the details with my dad. It seems there was some dispute over title to the island and it took several years to clear up. Not until the early 70s was ownership firmly established. It was then that my parents built the cabins. They are simple but “modern” in design with sloping roofs and lots of windows. Forty years later they are still in remarkably good repair.

About a decade ago, my dad gave the island to his four children so we could manage repairs and maintenance, pay taxes, etc. I won’t get into the family drama of how we decide who will use the island when during the summer. Suffice it to say that July and August are the golden months and we squabble – despite having a clearly organized rotation of who gets to pick which week first.

Grog_rainbow_Aug2013I was #1 this year. So I called primetime, a stretch that included the first weekend in August. Some old friends joined us.

As is usual on the island, we had every kind of weather from rain and fog to blue skies and hot sun. A double rainbow one evening was stunning but not without precedent.

On the island you don’t think, you feel

As for my reflection on our island, it comes down to this: my scurrying, worrying brain goes into hibernation. I don’t think. I feel. At high tide I drink in the sight of the perfect clear water lapping on the rocks.

We live by the 10-foot tides. High and low are separated by six hours. They occur four times every 24 hours. Low tide is good for collecting mussels. One year (a long time ago) we were awash in starfish. They clung to the rocks so you could only reach them at low tide. My mother paid each grandchild a quarter per starfish. I can still see them, pink and prickly, piled up on the granite blocks.

Mostly, we wait for high tide

Grog_E_RA_Aug2013Mostly, on hot sunny days, we wait for high tide to fill the little cove so that it’s perfect – despite the frigid temperature of the water – for swimming and sunning on the flat rocks. The pure, physical beauty of the island with its pink and gray granite rocks, evergreen trees and mossy paths is a tonic and, as Sam puts it, a reboot.

I can never get enough of it.