HAPPENINGS

by Howard Attebery

Howard feeds half-grown hen

Howard feeds half-grown hen

 

 Today I finished moving the fireplace logs from the wood yard to near the house entrance. I do this every year at this time so when the cold and snow come later it is at a near and convenient place to bring it inside. It took me working two hours a day for four days to do this.

Firewood stacked on the west step for the coming winter

Firewood stacked on the west step for the coming winter

I bring the wood into the house as needed with a kindling supply and store it at the entrance as shown and Cynthia does the remainder —that is carrying it to the fireplaces and preparing it for starting.

Stacked in the entry to stay dry -- and convenient

Stacked in the entry to stay dry — and convenient

At the present time we have three B&B guests, well known artist, Doug Kent, also Lt. James Cowhig of the Massachusetts State Police, and his cousin, Tom Russo, the latter two are fishermen in the very big Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby held on the Island every year, internationally known with huge prizes.

Butternut squash from Howard's 8' x 10' garden

Butternut squash from Howard’s 8′ x 10′ garden

Cynthia is making very tasteful pies using butternut squash that we have grown toooo much in abundance.

I believe it is 15 skunks Walter Wlodyka, the skunk and raccoon removal man, has captured at $100 each and I saw two more last night so we will have him return because the skunks are on the same path that the guests use on the way to the alternative outdoor shower. Skunks feed on the black sunflower seeds left over from the bird handouts.

Skunks, guineas, and hens at the kitchen step

Skunks, guineas, and hens at the kitchen step

What do I do with my time? Have done two videos shown on MVTV and have two more to edit. Just downloaded El Capitan on the Mac. Do a daily run to the Post Office, run is not the right word it is drive—-I cannot run—-am thankful I can walk even slowly with as many pauses as it takes. In the morning I open the coops, water and supply feed for the 10 chickens and 9 Guinea fowl that roost in the trees. TIME and THE WEEK need to be looked at and all those   Emails.

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GO SET A WATCHMAN

To All Who Plan to Read or Have Read “Go Set a Watchman”:

Cynthia and Howie comparing copies of

Cynthia and Howie compare “Go Set a Watchman” with “To Kill a Mockingbird”
photo by Lynn Christoffers

“Go Set a Watchman” was Harper Lee’s first book, and first books are usually unpublishable, as was “Watchman.”  While it has brilliant writing in patches, it has inconsistencies, improbable passages, repetitions, unnecessary divergences, too much back story, ramblings, boring passages, too much overwriting, and almost every error a new writer can make.

Tay Hohoff, an editor at Lippincott, saw promise in the work, saying the “spark of the true writer flashed in every line.”  She urged Harper Lee to scrap “Watchman” and start all over, write a new book with an entirely different story.  Hohoff saw Scout’s young voice, one of several back stories in “Watchman,” as the potential for a great book once it was rewritten, and, of course, the new book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is a classic, with good reason.

Harper Lee spent two years writing the new book, a frustrating experience for her.  At one point she tossed the entire manuscript of “Mockingbird” out the window, and Hohoff had to rescue it.

Many readers of “Watchman” are surprised, shocked, and disappointed at the change in Atticus from a lawyer with great tolerance and understanding for the problems of southern blacks, and one who inspired many young people to go into law after reading “Mockingbird,” to a downright bigot in “Watchman.”  They forget that Atticus is a made-up character. The bigoted Atticus in “Watchman” was considered unacceptable to the reading public. Once the book was rewritten, the bigoted Atticus was “killed off” and replaced by the Atticus we admire so much in “Mockingbird.”

All in the editing.

Think of what came out of the 294,000 word manuscript of “Look Homeward Angel” Thomas Wolfe submitted, once it was edited down to its present form by Maxwell Perkins, who cut out some 60,000 words.

Reading “Watchman” and what emerged by skillful editing from the corpse of “Watchman,” namely “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is a good lesson for all aspiring writers.

A good editor is a writer’s best friend.

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Martha’s Vineyard Medal

View from the Martha's Vineyard Museum's new property, the old Marine Hospital photo by Lynn Christoffers

View from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s new property, the old Marine Hospital
photo by Lynn Christoffers

“It would almost have paid  to be sick here,” someone commented.

I could almost agree.  It was a brilliant, clear August afternoon. The view stretched off into the far distance. Far below us was the Lagoon, and beyond it,  Vineyard Haven harbor, the arriving ferry, and boats of every description, including the Shenandoah and Alabama in full sail.

We were standing on the grounds of the old Marine Hospital, now owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and the occasion was the museum’s annual meeting. The building and grounds are high on a terraced hill, a short walk from Chicken Alley and the Thrift Shop.

The occasion was also the awarding of the museum’s Martha’s Vineyard Medal to three of us Islanders — the late Pat Gregory, Pat Morgan of the Beagary Family Trust, and me.

Susanna Sturgis, editor extraordinaire, my webmaster and  friend, hinted rather broadly that I should adorn my blog with my acceptance speech.  So along with photos by Lynn Christoffers and Dan Waters, who introduced me saying he’d been given “a pointless task,” here it is:

Cynthia Riggs’s acceptance speech

Cynthia at the podium giving her acceptance speech photo by Dan Waters

Cynthia at the podium giving her acceptance speech
photo by Dan Waters

Thank you, Dan..

I’m honored to be standing here on the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s new campus. My family has had a long association with the museum when it was known as the Dukes County Historical Society.

My father, Dr. Sidney N. Riggs, was president of the Historical Society during the 1950s and founded “The Intelligencer,” the museum’s periodical. His linoleum block prints were the cover illustrations for many years. My mother, the poet Dionis Coffin Riggs, wrote the book “People to Remember” published by the Society, as well as numerous articles for “The Intelligencer.”

My Vineyard ancestors were seafarers. Like them, I was a boat captain, piloting boats on waters far from the Island. Instead of whaling, I operated tour boats, charter boats, and a ferry on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay for 20 years, taught sailing, and made two trans-Atlantic boat deliveries.

I returned to the Island in 1988 to the Cleaveland House, our family home. The house was built around 1750 by my ancestor, James Athearn, and I believe it may be the oldest home on the Vineyard continuously occupied by the same family since the time it was built, more than two and a half centuries ago.

When I returned to the Vineyard, the house was in a sad state of disrepair. To finance repairs we opened the house as a bed and breakfast catering to poets and writers. Over the years we’ve included artists and actors, sculptors and composers, physicists and diplomats, creative people of every kind.

My mystery writing career didn’t begin until long after I’d returned to the Island. After my mother’s death at almost 99, a B&B guest urged me to go back to school for an MFA in creative writing. I was 68 and had no desire to start a new career. Nor had I thought about writing as a serious occupation. Writing a book seemed a monumental undertaking. And after one book I thought a person would surely run out of ideas. However, Vermont College accepted me into its MFA program, a friend told me to write murder mysteries, and that’s how it all started.

The Vineyard is an ideal setting for a mystery writer. With its six very different towns, its assortment of interesting characters, and the constant reminder of the sea that separates us from the real world, I will never run out of ideas.

I wanted to pay tribute to my mother, a vibrant, strong Vineyard woman, so she appears in the guise of my 92-year-old protagonist, Victoria Trumbull. I paired up this ancient and improbable sleuth with a fictional police chief patterned after West Tisbury’s Chief Beth Toomey.   Victoria Trumbull loses her driver’s license after she backs into the Meals on Wheels van, and my fictional chief, seeing Victoria’s distress, offers to take her wherever she wishes to go. Victoria climbs into the police cruiser and the chief is stuck with a nonagenarian sidekick.

When I started the two year creative writing program, I thought I might be able to write one book . But one page piled up on top of another, and by the time I received my MFA degree, I had written four. Today, fifteen of my books are in print. St. Martin’s Press has published 13 of my Martha’s Vineyard mysteries. Cleaveland House Books has published two: “Victoria Trumbull’s Martha’s Vineyard: A Guidebook,” and “Murder on C-Dock,” the first of a new series set on the Washington, DC waterfront.

Two writers groups meet weekly at the Cleaveland House, on Sundays and Wednesdays, for me, important evenings that keep me writing and keep me humble.

The Cleaveland House seems to nurture creativity. A poetry group that my mother established more than 50 years ago, the Cleaveland House Poets, continues to meet here bi-weekly. According to the director of the group, William Waterway, it is the oldest continuously meeting poetry group in the United States.

The Vineyard is rich in numerous ways. We have a glorious landscape, thanks to our glacial origin. Our already varied culture is constantly enhanced by newcomers and their ideas. We must surely have the most highly educated workforce in the nation, with PhDs who shingle and paint and caretake summer people’s houses, and landscapers, house cleaners, and shipyard workers with advanced degrees. With our heritage of Wampanoags and whalers, artists and deaf-mutes, fishermen and farmers, it’s no wonder the Island has nurtured so many creative people.

Cynthia with Dan Waters, who introduced her photo by Lynn Christoffers

Cynthia with Dan Waters, who introduced her
photo by Lynn Christoffers

And it’s no wonder our Island has been called the Athens of the Atlantic.

My parents would be pleased to know I’ve been awarded the honor of the Martha’s Vineyard Medal, but I’m not sure they’d agree that I’m the one who deserves it.

It belongs to all of the people who’ve made the Island what it is.

Thank you for selecting me as the one to represent them. I accept this medal on their behalf.

*          *          *

Cynthia showing Howie her award photo by Lynn Christoffers

Cynthia showing Howie her award
photo by Lynn Christoffers

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PORTRAIT OF HOWIE: island-to-island mail service

An excerpt of correspondence between Elizabeth Whelan, who lives on one of the Elizabeth islands, and me.  Elizabeth is painting Howie’s portrait.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015 6:56 am

Dear Cynthia,

I have let too much time pass without contacting you, as we have waited for the ice to thaw in the harbor. I have had Howard’s color study ready for weeks now, and not wanting to send a digital version as it’s just not the same as seeing the little painting, every day I’ve been at the window at dawn checking the state of the ice.

Still iced in, with the mainland in the far distance     photo by Elizabeth Whelan

Still iced in, with the mainland in the far distance photo by Elizabeth Whelan

And blessedly, this morning we are finally free. It’s been exciting but grueling to be iced in this past month. Thank goodness for last night’s rain, as we now have a channel out of the harbor to go and get supplies. Like you, we’ve been bound by the ice on the doorstep even while it has been leaving the Bay at large.

It looked as if this would happen last week as the ice was breaking up and moving out (and then back in) with the tides. However all of the ice from Falmouth and the upper Bay then drifted down here, and washed back into our little protected cove. It was starting to get annoying to see other boats go by and still be stuck here. But it was an adventure as well, and justified the enormous amount of stocking up on everything from layer feed and hay to cat food, that we did in December.

But back to your painting. Bill is going to Cuttyhunk later today for mail, and will be taking the color sketch with him. It won’t leave Cuttyhunk until Friday, as the ferry only brings mail twice a week in the winter, so it will take a couple of days to make its way around to West Tisbury.

As our situation dragged on for days and days, the farm became its own little world apart and although connected to the outside by the internet, time took on a different sense and we frequently lost track of the days without the usual markers of ‘mail day’ or ‘supply run’ keeping us grounded. What a winter!

I shall be SO glad to see that package head off to the PO, and to you.

Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 3:01 pm

Dear Cynthia,

I am writing in regards to your color study, which I have just tracked on USPS (thinking that surely it had arrived in WT by now), and found out that it has been travelling around New England.

It has, according to the USPS, been from Cuttyhunk to Brockton, then to Cohasset, then to Nashua, New Hampshire, then to Providence, Rhode Island, then back to Brockton, and as of this morning at 8 am it was back in Cohasset.

I have no idea why. Cohasset is usually where our mail gets sorted and is the destination before arriving on Martha’s Vineyard, so I shall check again later today and see what’s going on. It does now list the delivery date as ‘today’, which I have discovered often means ‘tomorrow’, as if MV is in another time zone.

Anyway I do have that digital image of the comp if you are chomping at the bit.

Thankfully the ice has now cleared around the island, and future deliveries can be made in person.

Elizabeth

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 11:11 am

Dear Elizabeth:

We weren’t worried about the sketch, figuring your harbor had re-iced.  Now that we know it’s in the hands of the US Postal Service, we can start to worry.  The USPS is determined to screw things up.  Just delivering mail to the Vineyard from the mainland is beyond the comprehension of their automated system.  Delivering mail from one island to another, a couple of miles away, well . . . !

In the past and probably for the foreseeable future, whenever we have a package mailed to us using our Edgartown Road address, the USPS insists on changing our zip code from 02575, which is West Tisbury, to 02568, which is Vineyard Haven.  Since there is an Edgartown Road in Vineyard Haven as well as one in West Tisbury, they attempt to deliver packages to 620 Edgartown Road, Vineyard Haven.  However, there is no number 620 on the VH Edgartown Road, so numerous package deliveries end up who knows where.  LL Bean now knows to override the automated system, but not all venders have real people you can talk to in order to explain the situation.

I’ve contacted our State and US legislators about this, and they essentially shrug.  “Take it up with the USPS,” they say. Which is hopeless.

We’d love to see the digital image.  We do understand it’s not the quality of the real thing, but we are pretty good at understanding what you are wishing we could view.

My mother once received a letter addressed to: “Dionis Coffin Riggs, An island off the coast of Massachusetts.” I still have the envelope with its 3-cent stamp.

Cynthia

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 12:21 pm

Dear Cynthia :

H Attebery color study sm (6)

H. Attebery color study

It is often difficult to explain to people in America how our mail works. I remember upon first moving to Martha’s Vineyard, and trying to tell a client that the ‘early a.m. next day’ delivery option via FedEx was a waste of money, as the package would take 2 days to get from his location, regardless.

I just checked the tracking, no update yet.

I’ll send the digital image and a copy of the letter I’d enclosed in the next email. I look forward to your feedback.

Elizabeth

Thursday, March 19, 2015 10:23 am

Dear Cynthia,

The tracking says the package is now in West Tisbury, as of 9:34 this morning.  It DID go to Providence, Rhode Island, one more time…. for your amusement I have copied the tracking info page below.

Elizabeth

March 19, 2015 , 9:34 am Arrived at Post Office WEST TISBURY, MA 02575
March 19, 2015 , 1:25 am Arrived at USPS Origin Facility PROVIDENCE, RI 02904
March 18, 2015 , 3:25 am Departed USPS Origin Facility NASHUA, NH 03063
March 18, 2015 , 2:13 am Arrived at USPS Origin Facility NASHUA, NH 03063
March 17, 2015 , 8:31 am Forwarded COHASSET, MA
March 17, 2015 , 8:30 am Arrived at USPS Facility COHASSET, MA 02025
March 17, 2015 , 8:26 am Arrived at Post Office COHASSET, MA 02025
March 17, 2015 , 12:36 am Departed USPS Origin Facility BROCKTON, MA 02301
March 17, 2015 , 12:10 am Arrived at USPS Origin Facility BROCKTON, MA 02301
March 16, 2015 , 4:31 am Departed USPS Facility PROVIDENCE, RI 02904
March 16, 2015 , 12:08 am Arrived at USPS Origin Facility PROVIDENCE, RI 02904
March 15, 2015 , 3:42 am Departed USPS Facility NASHUA, NH 03063
March 14, 2015 , 11:17 pm Arrived at USPS Origin Facility NASHUA, NH 03063
March 14, 2015 , 8:40 am Forwarded COHASSET, MA
March 14, 2015 , 8:40 am Arrived at USPS Facility COHASSET, MA 02025
March 14, 2015 , 7:56 am Arrived at Post Office COHASSET, MA 02025
March 14, 2015 , 5:33 am Departed USPS Facility BROCKTON, MA 02301

Thursday, March 19th. 11:05 am

Dear Elizabeth:

We LOVE the study, the pose, the background, the colors, everything.   You’ve captured Howie at work and the house setting with its books and lovely light and glimpses off into other magical spaces. Wonderful, perfect, even better than expected, better than hoped for.

We look forward to seeing the finished painting.

. . . just don’t send the portrait by USPS !

Cynthia

Thursday, March 19, 2015 11:38 am

Dear Cynthia,

I think this is going to be a great portrait, and an interesting painting overall.

And I will definitely be hand-delivering the finished painting. I will keep you posted with a delivery timeframe, most likely mid-April.

I included in the color study box the return postage, however another option is that I shall be back on MV next Weds (25th), and could perhaps pick it up then. But I imagine the post option will work out fine as we can only pick our mail up twice a week anyway.

Thanks so much, and now off to paint

Elizabeth

Thursday, March 19, 2015 2:25 pm

Dear Elizabeth:

We’ve just got back from the post office, and you’ll never guess what finally arrived.

I assume you would like to have the study returned to you. Dare we trust the USPS? Or are you able to navigate through all that floating ice? I went off Island last week, and here’s what it looked like in Woods Hole — not something I’d like to maneuver through in a small boat.

Cynthia

From the ferry, Nonamesset, the closest to the mainland of the Elizabeth Islands, is on the left, Woods Hole is on the right

From the ferry, the channel between Woods Hole and the Elizabeth Islands is choked with ice. Nonamesset, the closest to the mainland of the Elizabeth Islands, is on the left, Woods Hole is on the right. Elizabeth and her husband, Bill, live on one of the islands near the end of the island chain.

Saturday, March 21, 2015 9:38 am

Dear Elizabeth:

We have not put the color study in the mail yet. Will you be coming to the Vineyard on the 25th? Since that’s only four days from now, should we wait and hand deliver it to you ? Based on past experience it may take the USPS a full week or more to do its thing.

More snow last night — hurrah! We are doing this snow thing up royally this year. Welcome sweet springtime!

Cynthia

Saturday, March 21, 2015 11:10 am

Dear Cynthia:

It looks as if I will now be coming to MV on Thursday rather than Wednesday, so it might be just as well to put the painting back in the mail in case the weather causes us to be delayed further.  I admit to being interested in finding out what will happen if it goes back in the mail . . . a cross between scientific curiosity and ‘hope springs eternal’, I imagine.

Speaking of snow, it’s at it again over here.  Large fluffy flakes. I don’t suppose Howie will believe that this doesn’t happen all the time.

Hope you both have a lovely, snowy day,

Elizabeth

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ARRIVAL OF THE KEETS

Howie picks up the keets from the West Tisbury Post Office

Howie picks up keets from the West Tisbury Post Office

It was Friday afternoon, March 6th, when Diane at the West Tisbury Post Office called. “Your keets have arrived,” she said, “and they sound  healthy.”

Howie and I piled into his pickup, he shifted into 4-wheel-drive, and we eased our way out of the plowed-but-icy drive and headed for our first foray out of the house since the big snow of January 27th.

Cynthia holds the box of keets while Howie drives

Cynthia holds the box of keets while Howie drives

The 26 keets, or baby guinea fowl, had been mailed by Purely Poultry, a family run farm in Wisconsin, the day before, the same day they’d broken their way out of their tough eggs.  Keets can go for a couple of days without food or water, living on nourishment leftover from their eggs.

We’d prepared a big cardboard box that Howie’s  computer screen had come in by building up the sides to about 10 inches all around. On the bottom of the box we  laid down a piece of old shower curtain cut to size. On top of that we spread about two inches of pine shavings we’d bought at SBS, the grain store, and on top of that a layer of paper towels about two towels thick. The keets need a draft-free place and warmth, 100 degrees to begin with,  so we set the box in what used to be the summer cookroom, now the breakfast room.  We can shut the door that leads from the kitchen to the cookroom to keep out the draft, and also to keep Daphne, the cat, from expressing too much interest in our new family members.  For heat, we hung a brooder heat lamp from one of the overhead beams and lowered it until it was about two feet above the keets’ new home.  We got the brooder lamp from Shirley’s Hardware in Vineyard Haven along with an oil-filled radiator just to make sure we kept the babies warm enough.  We bought chick mash, a finely ground high protein feed, at SBS, and filled a long metal trough designed for easy access by chicks. For their water, we put polished beach stones in a flat old fashioned china soup bowl so the keets could drink without danger of drowning.

The keets snuggle together in their warm new box

The keets snuggle together in their warm box

Howie introduces the keets to water and their new home

Howie introduces keets to their new home

Howie bought a book called “Gardening with Guineas,” and between the directions sent by Purely Poultry and the new book, we started the keets out in their new life.  That meant, according to the book, dipping their beaks into water, so they understood what water was for.  Howie undertook the task.

Two keets cozying up to Howie's hands

Two keets cozying up to Howie’s hands

I should mention here that Howie has huge hands.  I found a place that sells XXXL gloves that fit his hands snugly.  With those huge hands he can do the most delicate work, such as needling a splinter out of my finger.

The 26 keets had arrived snuggled together in a box about ten-by-ten-inches.  He lifted each of the tiny fluff balls out of the box, dipped each tiny bill, still with its hard egg-cracking spot in place, and lowered it into its new home.

It’s been  a week since the keets arrived.  We’d ordered 25, but 26 were mailed.  One was dead on arrival.  This was to be expected, according to the book, as  guinea keets like to pile on top of one another and sometimes the one on the bottom gets smothered.

Nephew David with a sleeping keet

Nephew David with a sleeping keet

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Niece Libby understands birds

My sister Ann holding one of the keets

My sister Ann holding one of the keets

We invited family over for drinks last Monday, my sister Ann and my nephew and niece, David and Libby. Instead of drinks by the parlor fire, it was drinks around the keets’ box in the much-too-warm cookroom. The conversation focused on baby guineas. Not a word of politics, ISIS, or disasters.

My sister Ann was still holding a sleeping keet when it was time to leave.

“One of the best cocktail parties we’ve attended,” said David. “Maybe the best.”

Libby agreed.

♥     ♥     ♥

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WELCOME TO THE CLEAVELAND HOUSE

The Cleaveland House now

The Cleaveland House now

We’re dreaming of the times when we could actually walk out of the house without bundling up in boots, heavy jackets, mittens, and hats, and without worrying about slipping on ice and breaking something.  Summer will come, we hope, although at the moment we’re not sure when.

Howie said it’s about time we provided our bed and breakfast guests with a handout letting them know what they’re getting themselves into by planning to spend time at the Cleaveland House, so he wrote this:

CleavelandHouse back crop

The back of the Cleaveland House expands as each generation adds to it

Welcome to the Cleaveland House, a non-smoking home, except for the four fireplaces. To make your stay more enjoyable please feel free to ask about your uncertainties.  Your suggestions will be understandably received.       

 The entrance door is always open, so come and go as you please. Breakfast will be available from 8 am to 10 am for coffee, tea, cereal, fruit, toast, and perhaps, sometimes, a surprise like Cynthia’s ginger muffins.

Eat in the kitchen, breakfast room or the picnic tables outside.  Place your used dishes in the sink — definitely not in the dishwasher.  

Wi-Fi users — ask us for the code to Cleaveland House 5G. 

Closest available meals would be at the Plane View Restaurant at the Airport for breakfast and lunch, State Road Restaurant for lunch and dinner, snacks at Alley’s, and sandwiches at 7A’s nearby. Cronig’s food market at 469 State Road has a deli for soup and sandwiches and a salad bar. Check directories here for numerous eating places on the Island. 

Health Department regulations do not allow guests to use the refrigerator or stove. We have coolers for those with special needs and can supply ice as available. 

Our territorial cat, Daphne, has made life uncomfortable for visiting pets, their owners, and us. Much as we like animals, pets are not welcome.     

We would like you to sign our guest book.  We have had many notable guests  including diplomats, artists, sculptors, a transplant surgeon, a string theory physicist, a world renowned Alzheimer researcher, a chocolate factory owner, mayors, photographers, and on and on it goes. . .  but we want to know you.  

Cynthia and Howie with one of the Plymouth Rock hens.  Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Cynthia and Howie with Blackie,one of the Plymouth Rock hens. Photo by Lynn Christoffers

If you would like your image and your special message videotaped for possible viewing on our local MVTV channel, let us know. 

Walk around the grounds. We have a small fish pond with benches nearby that you may use. The chickens and guinea fowl are friendly — make sure the chickens are not in your car as you drive away,  as they like to enter through open windows or open trunks. 

Cynthia and Howard

 

 

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SNOWBOUND

041

From the kitchen window looking out at the blizzard

Being snowbound on the Vineyard is a new experience for Howie. He gave up sunny California to make his home with me on what I’d assured him was a gentle island. The temperatures on Martha’s Vineyard seldom go as low as 20 degrees, I remember telling him. We get maybe six snowstorms a year, usually no more than three to six inches, and it’s all gone in three days.  The snowdrops are in bloom by the first week of February, I said.

We are in the third week of February, and the poor snowdrops are buried under three inches of glacial ice and four-foot drifts of crystallizing snow that fell back in January.  Last night, another foot of snow  dumped on us.  The temperatures are hovering between 2 and 19 degrees F.  Town and state workers are out there clearing the main roads as the snow falls.  Last night we went to sleep hearing the distinctive sound of the trio of snowplows rumbling along the Edgartown Road.  Although main roads are clear,  our drive, a matter of  a couple  hundred feet from the house to the Edgartown Road, remains treacherous.

011

Path chipped through  ice toward the birdfeeder

 The worst footing is at the base of the west step, where the snow has melted and refrozen into a pyramid of slick ice that has caused at least four tumbles, including by Howie and me.  Fortunately,  a four-foot snow bank softened the falls. It seems odd to be blocked from freedom by such a short stretch of ice. We ventured out once, and realized it was not a sensible move on our part.  On that expedition, we went to Cronig’s Up Island, where we exchanged snow stories with neighbors, showed off the YakTrax on the bottoms of our boots, and bought  groceries,  kitty litter,  and birdseed — and more birdseed.  Ninety dollars worth.

002

Birds take turns at the window feeder

003

Finding a way to the squirrel-proof bird feeder

Our bird feeders, two hanging by the cookroom window and a large one across the drive have attracted birds desperate for food.  We’ve counted more than fifty at a time.  Seven cardinals, brilliant red against the white snow, show up morning, noon, and mid-day.  The cardinals, goldfinches, and blue jays, add color to the drab gray and white landscape. Two squirrels have joined the hungry mob, and birds and squirrels seem to get along. I make the trek to the empty feeder across the ice slick drive once a day, carrying a tote bag full of seeds that Howie has poured into it.  Each time I feel, on a small scale, as though I’ve conquered the first twenty feet of Half Dome.

An indoor garden staves off cabin fever

An indoor garden staves off cabin fever

Being snowbound has its advantages.  All the chores we’ve put off to a better time are getting done.  This is the better time that  procrastination has led to.  Organizing computer files, writing letters, indoor gardening, cleaning closets, adding those 5,000 words to my next book that my editor wants. . .

019

Lynn Christoffers with snowshoes in hand

hens

Hens feeding on the ice-free kitchen step

The past weeks have made Howie and me,  independent souls that we are,  appreciate our neighbors and friends. Lynn has been taking care of the hens and guineas. She crosses the hazardous ice fields to bring us eggs the hens have been laying dutifully.  One of our hens, Lady Gaga, decided to take shelter under the porch.  Lynn, unable to coax her out, installed a light to keep her warm and brings her food and water.

Lynn trying to coax Lady Gaga out from under the deck

Lynn coaxing Lady Gaga out from under the deck

Chris came by yesterday to ask Howie for advice on some microbiological problem he has, but actually, I suspect it was to make sure we were all right.  He extracted several armloads of wood from the frozen woodpile on the west step and stacked in the entry, where we can get to the firewood without going outside.

Kevin’s snowplow couldn’t deal with the drifts in our drive, so he sent his brother, Joe, with his Bobcat to clear it.  Dan came by with a petition for us to sign and to ask how we were doing. David, our nephew, called a few minutes ago to ask if we needed help.  Mark called, promising to surprise us with a visit. Our lawyer  has come by twice to make sure the revision of my will is what I want.  I do wonder about that.

The entry filled with firewood and birdseed

The entry filled with firewood and birdseed

The diminishing woodpile Howie stacked on the west step

The diminishing woodpile  stacked on the west step

Off season, in difficult times, our Island is a very small community.

♥     ♥     ♥

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THE EPIC BLIZZARD OF ’15

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Preparing for the storm with bottled water

 

The weather forecast for the Cape and Islands was for a winter storm of epic proportions starting the following day,  Monday. A telephone alert informed us that the Tisbury School would be open that night if we needed shelter. Monday was when our visiting daughter Ann and son-in-law Paul were scheduled to leave the Island for their return trip to California. They decided to take an early boat to beat the storm.

“Actually, it might be fun to get snowed in on Martha’s Vineyard,” said Ann.

As we drove them into Vineyard Haven to board the ten-forty-five ferry, the snow started, a light dusting that blew in wisps and swirls across the road in front of us.

Ann hugged Howie and me goodbye. “Looks as though we’re going to miss the fun,” she said. “I kind of envy you. All that snow.”

“We don’t get a lot of it in Santa Barbara,” said Paul.

By early afternoon the snow was several inches deep. The wind picked up and moaned and rattled at the windows.

Howie filled our collection of cranberry juice bottles with water and we lined them up them near the candles and matches we have ready for the times the electricity goes off, which it does nearly every time we have a storm.

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Howie stacked firewood on the west step last fall

This past fall, Howie moved a cord of wood from the woodpile near the compost heaps and stacked it on the west step outside the entry. “We may want it closer in case of bad weather,”   he said. Before Ann and Paul left, Paul brought in several arm loads of firewood from the step to the entry where it would stay dry.

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The woodpile after the storm Lynn Christoffers photo

I made a pot of split pea soup that we could re-heat over an alcohol burner when the electricity went out. By the time the soup was ready, the snow was a foot deep and the wind was whipping it into deep drifts around the house.

Darkness approached, time for Howie to feed the chickens and guineas and close the coop to keep out night predators. Daphne, the cat, stood at the entry door, staring out with an expression that clearly said she needed to go out but was not about to do so.

Howie was shrugging into his coat and hat and face mask to brave the storm, when Lynn Christoffers, who lives in the studio behind the Cleaveland House, appeared. “I’ve shoveled a path to the chickens. Want me to take care of them?”

Yes!

 

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Lynn shoveled a path to the chicken coop

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The triplets, their first snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daphne ready for the storm

“And while you’re at it,” I added, “there’s a litter box and litter in the tool shed for Daphne.”

The three of us had supper in front of the parlor fire with Daphne curled up close to the screen, waiting for her servings of whipped cream.

“If your heat goes off, or if you get lonely,” I told Lynn, “we’ve got a warm couch by the fire and plenty of blankets.”

After supper, Lynn gathered up her flashlight, struggled back into her boots, and left.

A few minutes later, Howie said, “The hot water is off. No heat, either.”

A call to Keith Fullin, our heating man, gave us a message to the effect of, “I’ll get back to you as soon as phone service is restored.”

We put a few more logs on the fire and snuggled together on the couch, a blanket over our shoulders, to play an old seafarers’ game called “Shut the Box” that Howie had ordered from National Geographic. Usually, he wins, but this time I won three out of four games. Wind howled at the windows. This past September, John and Barbara, guests from England, gave us a gift of storm windows that they made especially for us. The storm windows are mounted inside so we can install them without having to go outdoors. A timely gift and what a difference they make. Snow piled in drifts on the outside window sills. Snow plows rumbled past, two at a time, moving en echelon, yellow lights flashing.

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From my study window

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Birds at the feeder

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My car seen from the entry

 

 

 

 

We went to bed early. We’d deal with hot water and heat in the morning.

All night long the snow plows rumbled by.

The electricity remained on, despite hurricane-force gusts and blowing snow, which meant the NStar crews were out all night monitoring the vulnerable overhead wires.

There’s something grand about a big storm that brings forth feelings of adventure. We awoke to more falling and blowing snow and monumental drifts everywhere we looked. Snow has altered the familiar topography, softening the harshness of cars, roofs, and fences. A three-foot drift now blankets the steps leading up to the deck where our swing seat has a foot-deep cushion of snow. The snow-covered bird feeders are attracting swarms of cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, titmice, doves, house finches, and an occasional woodpecker, all of them desperate for seed.

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Chris, on snowshoes, ready to help Lynn Christoffers photo

Chris, who watches over the boat that’s parked in our west pasture, came by, brushing snow off his jacket. “You need any help, any help at all, you have my number.”

Mark, a writer friend, called. “You need any help. . .”

Fullin’s answering service took my call.   “Before you say anything further,” said the woman, “can Keith get to your house?”

“Well,” I said, “there’s an awful lot of snow between the road and our door, and our drive hasn’t been plowed.”

“You’re on the Edgartown Road, aren’t you?” she said. “Can he come in the front door?”

Islanders seldom use front doors. That’s why she asked.

“Lucky the electricity stayed on,” she added. “And you have fireplaces. Just like the old timers.” I could hear her moving papers. “ Keith is out there, and will get to you soon as he can.”

The temperature in the kitchen was forty-seven degrees. We turned on the oven.

We brought in more wood from the entry, where Paul had stacked it , and got the fire going in Howie’s lab. We lighted the fire in our bedroom. We donned sweaters and fleece jackets, hats and gloves. Drank hot tea and spooned up hot pea soup.

To my astonishment, within an hour, Keith Fullin appeared at the kitchen door.   “How did you get here?” I asked.

“Four-wheel drive,”  he said as he stomped snow off his boots. “Pushed my way through the drift to get my truck off the road and walked in.”

“I imagine you’re busy,” I said.

He nodded. “You’re number eight so far. Your heat and hot water are back on.”

“What was the trouble?” asked Howie.

“Snow drifted over the furnace vent,” he said. “I shoveled it off.”

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Keith Fullin dug out the furnace bulkhead

After he left I looked out the window and he had shoveled an area about four feet by six feet wide, drifted three feet high, to expose the bulkhead door leading to the furnace.

Kevin Peters, who plows my sister’s and our drives, apologized for not being here yet. “Too much snow for the plow,” he told my sister. “ I have to use the Bobcat, and that takes longer.”

Lynn just came in, stamping snow off her boots, rosy cheeked from clearing the snow off Howie’s truck, and bearing three  warm newly-laid eggs.   ♥

 

 

 

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BEECH TREES

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Beech trees line the Indian Hill Road, West Tisbury

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Beech trees thrive on Martha’s Vineyard. In fall and winter, they color the woods with bright gold leaves, which they keep until spring, when new leaves push off the old.

Howie, a Buddhist, was still in San Diego when we decided we would plant a beech tree in our back yard to honor our union.   Cat Finch of the Wednesday Writers  agreed to join us in a Buddhist ceremony.  She’d told us how beech trees have a special meaning in Buddhism because of their strength, beauty, and long life.  Ancient societies called them “Mother of the Woods .”

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Howie (driving) and Mark enroute, photo by Mark Attebery

By early March, Howie and his son Mark were on their way East, along with vials of water and soil from the Pacific Coast to add to water from the Atlantic and earth from my garden to nourish our yet-to-be-found tree.  Howie was driving a 1986 Toyota truck with camper body. From my Island, I envisioned my Knight in shining armor and his Squire Mark, overcoming obstacles along I-70 before he could cross the four-mile-wide moat to get to his Lady Love in the Cleaveland House.

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Golden beech leaves of autumn

Groves of majestic beeches grew around ancient sites of power, where the trees provided easily split firewood and edible nuts and leaves. The leaves are said to be as sweet as mild cabbage but with a finer texture.

In mediaeval times, tablets of thinly sliced beechwood were used before paper was introduced. In fact, Old English boc and Norse bok mean both beech and book. Even in modern German, Buch means book, Buche means beech. Westphalian ham is smoked with beechwood fires. Beech chips still are used in the brewing of German smoked beer. Drums made of beechwood are supposed to have a tone between maple- and birch-wood drums. Beechwood was often substituted for walnut for the stocks of rifles.

Since we didn’t have a beech tree anywhere near our house, it became a matter of finding one. Howie and I figured we would be able to dig a small hole and plant a young tree, a foot or so tall, in it.

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Tim Boland, Polly Hill Arboretum Director, Lynn Christoffers photo

I asked Jonathan, a friend and neighbor who had beeches on his property, if we might have one of his trees. He scouted around and didn’t find one he thought would do. He knew we wanted a small, perfectly formed one, and he knew beeches are notoriously difficult to transplant. So he went to the director of the Polly Hill Arboretum, Tim Boland.

“Late March is the ideal time to plant a beech,” said Tim. “I’ll find a tree for them.”

Since Howie planned to arrive in late March, that would work. I dug a hole I thought would accommodate our foot-high tree when Tim brought it.

Tim called. “I found your tree and my son and I are bringing it over.”

Howie was still enroute.

Tim said, “Can we get our pickup up close to the hole?”

Pickup?

“I think between the two of us we can lift it out of the truck, but we won’t be able to carry it far.”

Two men?

The truck arrived, pulled off the Edgartown Road into our yard, and Tim and his six-foot-two son lifted the beech tree off the truck. It was twelve feet tall with a heavy root ball.

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Tim Boland enlarging hole for beech tree on truck to left, Lynn Christoffers photo

Tim scratched his head at the hole I’d dug. This was, after all, the Director of the Arboretum. “Got a shovel?”

He enlarged the hole to fit the tree and he and his son gently nudged it into its new home, packed sweet compost around its roots, and braced it with stakes against the north wind.

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Lynn Christoffers photographing Tim, his son, and the newly planted beech tree

Howie and Mark arrived, after confronting more obstacles than expected. The dragons of yore didn’t compare with cross-country snow and vehicle breakdowns.

March on Martha’s Vineyard can be mild, but that year it was chilly, rainy, and raw. Cat performed our hand binding ceremony in front of the parlor fire. Mark and his family were present. Mark, a musician, had composed a piece he played on his flute. The Wednesday writers attended.

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Cat officiates, Mark and Amy Reece look on

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Mark plays his flute, daughter Sophia listens

After the ceremony, we put on our foul weather gear and trudged out to our tree, poured the salt water from two oceans and soil from two gardens around it, and joined hands.

Water and soil joined from the West and East Coasts, Lynn Christoffers photo

Water and soil joined from the West and East Coasts

Howie and Cynthia and the beech tree, Lynn Christoffers photo

Howie and Cynthia and the beech tree

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Wednesday Writers Cat Finch, Lisa Belcastro, and Amy Reece, with Howie and Cynthia, Lynn Christoffers photos

It’s been almost two years since Tim planted the tree. It has grown from an adolescent twelve-foot-tall sapling to a real tree, almost twenty feet high. From the kitchen window we can watch it change through the seasons, from its bright green spring foliage to rich green summer, and bright gold in fall. In winter, the gold leaves stand out among the gray trunks of oaks and maples. This past summer we watched from our swing as birds circled it, looking over the enticing branches as a possible nest site.

Apparently salt water from two oceans did no harm.

Helen of Troy was supposed to have carved her lover’s name on a beech. Jason used beech, not oak, when he built the Argo.

Beeches have a long life, three hundred years or more. When we pass the huge copper beech in North Tisbury, near Middletown Nursery, we think that’s how our tree will look, some two hundred years from now.

The beech tree we see from the kitchen and all it stands for is the legacy we will be leaving our grand- and great-grand and great-great grandchildren.

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 By Our Door

If we were to be,
Like Baucis and Philemon
changed into trees
Could they be beech?
How lovely our spring
in pale green.
In summer how cool
with comforting shade
and the chirping of birds.
In autumn
a wealth of gold coins,
a rustle of silk
Strong boles and gray boughs would defy
the rough wind, and hold
winter-bronzed leaves to the sky.

—   Dionis Coffin Riggs

♥     ♥     ♥

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FOLLOW UP ON THE PORTRAIT

Elizabeth Whelan, the artist painting Howie’s portrait, planned to come to the Vineyard to talk to Howie on the Monday after I told him he would be getting his portrait painted for a Christmas/birthday/anniversary present.  She lives on Nashawena, one of the chain of Elizabeth Islands that lie between Martha’s Vineyard and the mainland.  She and her husband Bill, a boat builder, are the caretakers of the island, which has an area of about 2.7 square miles, and a population of two. Along with deer, cows, and coyotes, they are its only inhabitants.

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Nashawena, second largest of the Elizabeth Islands, is home to cattle, deer, coyotes, and two people

The only way to get to our island from hers is by boat, of course.  But that day, Monday,  the wind was blowing a fierce nor’easter and even the big ferries that run regularly throughout the day from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard were not sailing.

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Nashawena (star) to Vineyard Haven (O of Oak Bluffs)

Howie was not looking forward to the visit, and I heard him say something about the favorable wind direction.  A wind from the northeast  means we’ll have stormy weather for several days — wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, everything nature can toss our way.

Elizabeth e-mailed to say they wouldn’t be able to make it.  “We’ll  come over on Wednesday.  You can pick me up at the Gannon and Benjamin boatyard. I’ll call you from there.”

“They won’t be able to make it on Wednesday,” said Howie, pointing to the radar image on his iPad.  Even I could see the mess of weather hanging over Cape Cod and the islands.

All day Tuesday,  Howie kept checking weather reports, and I could tell from his pleased expression that the weather would continue to be foul.  The reports promised winds from the northeast for several more days.

Wednesday morning, Elizabeth called.  “We’re here.”

“We’ll be there in fifteen minute.”  I hung up and looked around for Howie.

He’d been listening.  “Not we.  You go.  I’ve got to shower and shave. Put on clean clothes.”   He headed for the bathroom.

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Elizabeth Whelan (MV Times photo)

Fifteen minutes later when I turned in at the boatyard, Elizabeth was waiting for me.   Her long blonde hair whipped around her face. Wind was blowing spray off breaking waves in the normally calm harbor.

“What’s it like out there?” I asked, holding onto the hood of my yellow storm jacket.

Originally from England, Elizabeth still has a British accent.”Not too bad,” she said.  “But it’s quite foggy.  We could barely see the bow of the boat.”

Like Howie, Elizabeth is quiet.  We didn’t talk much on the way home.  When we pulled up in the drive,  Howie was waiting at the door.  Courtly, even when he’s stuck with something he’d rather not be stuck with, he asked Elizabeth about the cruise over, helped her off with her foul weather gear, offered coffee.  He was dressed in his  black trousers and white sweater.  He’d slicked back his hair. Normally, it is flyaway, like Einstein’s.

Elizabeth and he went into his lab and sat on the ancient couch. “I’ll spend about three hours talking to you and taking photos,” I heard her say.

“It’s usually quiet here,” Howie said.  “We won’t be interrupted.”

At that point, the kitchen door opened and Chris Decker, the owner of Tisbury Printer, came in.  “Anyone home?”  he called out.  “I’ve got boxes of your new book.” It was Chris’s suggestion that Elizabeth paint the cover art for the book, and I knew he hadn’t seen her for some months.  Therefore, interruption was necessary.

While Chris and Elizabeth chatted, with Howie looking on, the kitchen door opened and  Evan Fielder, our nephew, entered.  Like most Islanders, Evan has three or four jobs.  Carpentry is one of them.  “I wanted to look at the roof again. Johnny Hoy will be here shortly.”

“Johnny Hoy?” I asked.  Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish is a major musical group on the Cape and Islands. “What’s he doing here?”

Evan looked at me quizzically. “Looking at the flashing around the chimney.”

“Hunh?” I stood there, holding the wet dishtowel I’d been using to mop up the refrigerator’s tears (see my post on appliances).

“You didn’t know? He’s one of the best masons on the Island,” said Evan.

I wrung out the dishtowel and tossed it into the sink, and just then, the kitchen door opened and our niece Dionis, known by all as Dinny,  entered with a basket of greens. “Here’s something for you and Uncle Howie.”

“Evan’s here,” I said. “So is Chris of Tisbury Printer. And Elizabeth Whelan from Nashawena.”

“She came over in this weather?” Dinny put the basket down. “I saw Evan’s truck. ”

Chris was standing at the door of Howie’s lab about to leave.  “Hey, Dinny.  Evan. What’s with the roof?”

“You don’t want to know,” said Evan.

Someone knocked on the kitchen door.  “Come on in,” said Evan.

Johnny Hoy, himself, entered.  He shook my hand and nodded at Chris.  “What’s the best way to get upstairs?”

Chris pointed toward the front of the house.

“Follow me,” said Evan, but before they could head toward the front stairs there was a gentle rap on the kitchen door,  and Lynn Christoffers, the photographer, entered.  “Good morning, Evan.” She turned to Dinny. “I see everyone’s here. She turned to Johnny Hoy.  “I got some good photos of you at the Ag Hall. Let me have your e-mail.”

While Johnny Hoy was noting his address on a scratch pad,  Chris said to Lynn, “Come on into Howie’s lab and meet Elizabeth.”

In her past life off Island, Lynn acquired contemporary art for major corporations in New York City. She and  Elizabeth compared notes, and found a half-dozen colleagues in common.

After several minutes of this, Lynn apologized to Howie.  “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“Not at all,” said Howie.

The UPS truck pulled up. The driver got out carrying a large box. “It’s for Howard,”  she said.  “I’ll bring it inside. It’s pretty heavy.”

During the remainder of the three hours, Howie and Elizabeth were closeted in his lab.  I passed by the door  and could hear them talking. And laughing.  Both of them.  Quiet Howie and  quiet Elizabeth.

Elizabeth joined us for lunch,  corn pudding and sausages.  Howie’s hair was back to normal, softly fluffing around his head.

“How did it go?” I asked, turning from one to the other.

“Lovely,” said Elizabeth.

“Fine,” said Howie.

“There seems to be quite a bit of activity around here,” said Elizabeth.

Howie smiled and glanced at me.

After I returned from delivering Elizabeth to the boat yard,  I asked Howie about their time together.

“She took at least a hundred photos. I raised the shades.”  Usually his lab is dark and gloomy.  “We talked about you.”  He smiled again.

The next step is for Elizabeth to make a small oil sketch showing roughly what the elements in the finished portrait will be.  She showed us one of her  sketches.  The subject, a man, was facing away from the viewer, looking over the Vineyard Haven harbor.  The light behind him seemed to be coming, not from the paint, but from some source outside the painting.

“And this is only a sketch?” I asked. ” It belongs in a gallery.”

She looked pleased. “I’ve learned to manipulate the density of the paint. That’s all it is.”

Sheer magic, that’s all it is.

♥     ♥     ♥

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