Category: Literature


Child of the Sea

County of Michilimackinac, 1st day of October, 1850

Dwelling # 242

Andre Courchane – 48 yrs old. Fisherman born in Canada
Abigail – 24 yrs old, born in Ohio
Lucy – 8 yrs old, born in Mich
Emily – 6 yrs born in Mich
Margaret – 4 yrs. born in Mich

I was looking through some older posts and came across one about our family tree.  Above is the Courchaine family (“Heart of Oak”) and listed are my great, great, great, great, great grandparents and their three daughters.  Andre and Abigail died five years later on St. Helena Island (just west of Mackinac) during the cholera epidemic of 1855 and were buried on Round Island.  Margaret, the youngest, moved with her older sisters back to Mackinac Island where she grew up and later met Captain Alexander Ranville.  Together they began the Homestead Hotel and the rest, as they say, is history.

I was noticing the similarities to our own family.  Even some of the names are the same, the spacing of ages, all daughters and we are still near the Straits.   In her book Child of the Sea, Elizabeth Whitney Williams writes of the Courchaine family from her recollection as a small child leaving St. Helena for Beaver Island:

While more people were coming as more help was needed to finish the ship, all was busy bustle among the neighbors for there was to be a great gathering to watch the launching of the ship.  Soon another family came, old friends of my mother’s, a Mr. and Mrs. Courchane.  The man had come from Montreal, Canada, to Mackinac Island a few years before and there met and married pretty Miss Abbie Williams.  Aunt Abbie we children always called her.  Mother was so happy to have her friend with her.  They had three little girls.  Mr. Courchane was a ship carpenter by trade and came to help finish the vessel.  They were very kind neighbors to us.  Their little girls’ names were Lucy, Emmeline, and Margarette.  They lived just a few steps from our house; we children were all very happy together.  …

I remember it now, so white and clean with mother sitting near in her sewing chair, sewing and joining in the singing.  Then pretty Aunt Abbie coming in; she always looked to me like a picture, with her great dark eyes and black hair braided so smoothly and pretty red cheeks with white teeth just showing between red lips.  She, too, would join in the singing, which was pleasant to remember.  …

I remember our neighbors coming to the beach to see us off.  Aunt Abbie took me in her arms; the tears fell fast on my face.  I thought it was raining and held out my hand, as I had seen father do to catch the drops, but no, it was not raining, it was tears falling from our dear friend’s eyes.  When father called out “all aboard,” I was clasped in another tight pressure of her arms.  …

Mother said afterward I looked everywhere calling “Aunt Abbie,” and cried when I could not find her and Baby Margarette.

It’s something special to read of your ancestors in such detail at a time when there were no photos to capture the image of a person down to the subtleties of their smile.  I consider this text a gift and it is the only description I have of Abigail and her family.  

Without ever knowing the history of our family, I have always felt a special connection to the Straits of Mackinac and specifically to the islands.  It’s hard not to, but my mother always said, “It’s in your blood,” and now I know precisely what she meant.  

 

I was trying to think of a way to earn money the old fashioned way – with hard work, talent and determination.  My distant cousin became famous in New York selling his poetry on the street.  You paid him a quarter and he would recite a poem on the spot.  It got me thinking; How much is the written word worth?  

Would you pay a stranger on the street $5, $10, $500 for a personal poem written on the spot?  I suppose it depends a lot on the stranger and the buyer, but my thought was this:  Charge $5/five-line poem written out and incorporating some personal element from the buyer’s life.  Instead of flowers, significant others could buy a poem for their partners.  

I thought about calling myself the Daytime Literary Prostitute, but when I looked up definitions for prostitute online, it definitely includes some sexual act.  I can, however, whore myself out to the general populous as a writer desperately seeking liberation from rigid corporate structure.  I could avoid offensive language altogether and just have a shirt made up that says, “Writer for hire.”

Thoughts?

We had an offer in on the Poe House, but it was countered and we decided not to counter again.  This was sort of a last ditch effort to find a house in Charlotte.  It’s now time for a break while we collect our thoughts, spend some time back home in Michigan and determine our course.  I wish things were easier right now, but nothing is easy in this economy, so why bother feeling down about it?  I’m going to have to buy another copy of the Grapes of Wrath, since my own copy is buried in some warehouse back home.  We (us, our country) are nowhere near the edge of turmoil experienced by those who survived the Depression or are we?  Is it simply that our poor are better hidden in the shadows cast off corporate buildings?  

I’m researching an ancestor of mine (or piggybacking off the research of my step-father), McDonald Clarke- known by many as “The Mad Poet” and revered for his eccentricities and his innocence.  He often found himself poor and alone, but many, including the best poets of his day, marveled at his uncanny ability to smile in the face of cruelty, to find decency in anyone and to seek out the stars through a large hole in his attic-room roof, rather than suffer the misery of defeat of being poor.  In his poem, Humility, Clarke writes,

“Do you call me poor, you slugger? // Won’t Posterity let me hug her, // And won’t she hug me back again? // Isn’t my pen // The Sceptre of Eternity, to wave //  Over Earth’s grave?”

And we are by no means poor, but we feel the pinch and empathetically are suffering with the worst off for we know these are families not unlike our own.  And because we have had to worry at times in our own lives about from where our next meal might come.  

The beauty in these times is that they are less superficial.  Sincerity seems to flow in all art, music, from the pen.  These are times when we build strong foundations – not of brick and mortar, but of friendships that will lead us through the hard times.  

“By calling me poor, you slugger,

Psho!  Psho!

I’m sure I don’t feel so –

So I should think

From this hurricane of ink.”  -MC

 

For the last few days I’ve noticed my dog has been anxious.  Today, I’ve come to realize why.  She’s been trying to teach me something and I haven’t been a very receptive until now.

Today I learned that life is all about learning to come to terms with the simple fact that we are not at the probable center of the universe; that we are not isolated matter; that we are more than the sole survivor of our own enlightenment.  Today I realized life isn’t about proving yourself to others; it’s about recognizing yourself in them and allowing yourself the freedom to change and grow.  Today I learned anxiousness can be cured.  And today I learned to look past the issues to see the real person – and I forgave myself that I don’t always like what I see.  

Today I learned to listen to those who love me most and to trust my own interpretations of this wild and crazy world.  Thanks Celli, friend.

 


Our week back in Elk Rapids, MI afforded me some time for reflection on all of the recent changes in our lives. We spent the majority of our time near the water; either on East Bay or Lake Michigan, but I made it a point to visit the chain and made a special visit to the old willow whose boughs sweep the currents of Elk River.  We used to climb out onto limbs as thick as barrels over the water to watch fish make their struggles toward the falls.  Treasures found along the shore were tucked safely beneath the tangled roots born bare by sand.  I climbed Johnny Rock and took photos of each of the girls on the early day’s swimmer’s stone; once a goal for swimmers near the newly erected harbor: The goal, uprooted; now a monument. 

Despite a lingering chill in the air, something in the metered pulse of the waves sliding up against sand only to be swept back again brought me into the moment and gave me time to center.  It was clear all at once I have not felt centered for some time in Charlotte.  It’s also clear I’ll need to find some way of “chilling out” now that I’m back in the city.  

It is strange returning home after a long absence, but I haven’t been away very long.  For me, this trip was about saying goodbye and reveling in the emotion unveiled through the process of letting go.  It was about replacing my grief for losing money on our house with gratitude we weren’t one of the dozen new foreclosures in the paper each day.  And about recognizing my ability to travel cross-country in good time with little worry.  This trip also reminded me that no amount of distance can squelch a good friendship.  And no matter how mature we become, we can still wade ankle-deep in Lake Michigan, jump waves tracing lines in the sand, and climb trees.  

On my way home to Charlotte, I occasionally glanced back in the rearview mirror at the thin horizon and worried about when I would return, but mostly my eyes were trained forward on the adventurous mountains ahead, and on the road immediately before me.  When I was a child, it was the road that moved as our car stood still, but yesterday, I accelerated past those reservations I’ve had about moving forward in this new life.  Despite warnings about dangerous cross-winds and steep grades, I was determined to make this trip work- determined not only to reach the destination, but as the saying goes, to enjoy the journey. 

And now for some theme-appropriate Walt Whitman: 

O living always, always dying!

O the burials of me, past and present!

O me, while I stride ahead, material visible, imperious as ever!

O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not – I am content; )

O to disengage myself from those corpses of me which I turn and look at where I cast them!

To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind!

Please click photos to link to flickr photos of our travels.

 

The old farm house on some acreage turned out to be a structural nightmare in the wait right across from a gas station.  Not exactly my dream, but the latest disappointment spurred a discussion between husband, realtor and I about what it is we want from a property in Charlotte.  We concluded we would like to have land and an old house in which to put down roots, but the fact remains, by Charlotte’s standards, we’re not in the financial position to find what we want.  The next best thing involves temporary thinking with long-term goal-setting.  I ran a search of houses priced below $200K near Charlotte, but with some yard.  Some are bank-owned, some are just older and in need of minor updates and a few are new, but small.  All will house a family our size for the next few years and will likely sell for more than what we pay (which will be nice for a change).  In the meantime, we will pad our savings and hopefully in a few years, I’ll have my book published, Erick will have moved up and we’ll be in a financial position to revisit property back home in Michigan.  Or maybe, we’ll do some traveling.  Whichever, we’ll need to fund our dreams with something a bit more concrete than wishful thinking.  

Since living in the city, I’ve chosen my favorite elevators, which makes me think I think too much about things like my favorite elevators.  Our bathroom self-cleans and I no longer need to polish my jewelry – something in the water does it for me.  I don’t need a light-light; I just open the shades a little.

What I really love about the city are the relentless botanical and animal species; plant-life splintering concrete; tree roots curling asphalt along Providence; kamikaze inchworms dive-bombing tourists in the park.  Nature doing what nature does best: Filling a niche; a gap in our ecosystem fueled by arrogance and perpetuated by ignorance.  

Ayn Rand glorified man and his hunger for dominance in this world; his ability to hold fire in his fingertips. We see empty fountains in downtown Charlotte because we’re in the midst of a water shortage and one man says to me, What does it matter if a couple of fountains are turned on?  It matters because we’ve taken for-granted the value of water, the value of our resources.  We spill blood, oil, water; we order too much and leave our plates half-full and pass men on the street half-starved, but worry only that our fountains have been drained. 

Ah, the city ignites within us a sense of invulnerability.  It leads us all to believe the thin membrane of glass separating them from us is thicker than it really is. 

Do Not Dump – Drains into Creek

I think your social security card should read: Do not keep on your person, unless you’re a super fly ninja guy.

Christy and I had a psychic moment the other evening. I called her phone from Erick’s phone at the same time she was calling my phone, so I interrupted her call to me. We’re still surfing the same brain waves.

Ava and I were coloring in her Mermaid coloring book and she asked me to color Ursula, the bad, bad octopus lady. While I was coloring, Ava innocently asked, “What color are you going to make her testicles?”

Similarly, I asked Erick why all the Petoskey creatures chose to live in Petoskey. Seriously, I love that the Petoskey stone necklace I wear around my neck could only come from home.

Have you ever looked at your name?  See anything?  I see sunshine in my name.

And lastly, I finally get the Lord of the Rings, though I still think it should be called the Hobbit and the Very Bad Ring. And between watching the film adaptation of the trilogy and Conchords, I am convinced New Zealand is the coolest place in the world.

Around 4:30 each day crowds of people walk out of the city to their apartments, to meet the train or to find their cars.  The city closes down, except for the better eateries and a high-end market at 7th St. Station.  On the weekend, especially on Sunday, uptown resembles a ghost town.

Yesterday, we walked through the Bank of America Building, the tallest structure in Charlotte and central headquarters for the bank.  We also walked through several of the Wachovia buildings.  My favorite, the Ratcliffe, was built over top a structure originally erected in 1775.  To look at the building, you’d think it was just a brilliant architectural style; blending old and new (and it is, but literally).  The Ratcliffe sits on “The Green,” a beautiful garden complete with statues, fountains and walkways commemorating famous authors.  When I saw Rachel Carson‘s name, my eyes brimmed with tears.  Those who had designed the green had felt so important was Rachel’s work as to include her name along with Melville, Joyce, Cervantes, and Bronte.

Charlotte is full these sorts of discoveries.  At the original town center, you’ll find four larger-than-life bronze statues; two women, two men; representing the original settlers on the hill.  They’re beautiful; standing watch over commerce, over those timid adventurers like ourselves, necks craned at odd angles looking up at buildings stretching seamlessly into clouds.

I’ve had to change course a few times in the last few years. First, with cancer, and recently with Erick’s new position with Cardinal. I started a farm-project for education purposes, but soon I will be living in a hugely biodiverse region with a large peramculture network neatly and conveniently threaded already into the culture. I’ll also be near two- and four-year universities where I might pursue a degree in Horticulture. In the meantime, the experiences are translating into interesting chapters not only for my book, but also in writing the pages of a fulfilling life.

This weekend some friends I hadn’t seen in a while and some friends I’ve made more recently got together. I listened as they talked about stories that we had made together or I had shared and it helped me realize, that even in those times when I was being an absolute f*ck-*p, I was experiencing a part of life I now know with certainty has enormous value. I was on an extended adventure and what I lacked in collegiate education, I made up for in life experience. And now I’m able to appreciate both.

We did some exploring this week at the Old State Hospital and it revived in some of us, that feeling of adventure; in pressing boundaries just a little; in hoping for something magical awaited just around the next corner, behind the next door or within each of us. And we discovered the adventure, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant relative to the rest of our lives, was made special because we were in it together; we were supporting each other and the collective adventurous experience. In essence, we let our inner-children come out to play.

In pursuing a career for myself, I’ve nourished my strengths and realized some of the weaknesses that have held me back. My current goals include returning to schools, feeling good about Imperfectly Yours, finding a way to continue Healing Tree, and discovering a tree under which I can contemplate these and other goals/thoughts in the future. Have you ever noticed the beautiful form a tree holds; arms stretched upward in constant praise of the energy off which it feeds? The tree reminds me to celebrate each day, to stand in peace, with integrity. It also reminds me to move with the wind, but to remain rooted to those principles I hold in higher regard. In doing these things, my life has become a fulfilling experience.