12. Francois to Ramea

Thursday, 17 AUGUST 2017

Tonight, as we get ready for bed in the head, Ava takes out the bobby pins that have been holding back her bangs. Instantly, uncoiling forward and defying any gravity, they form a giant swooping “eyelash” across her entire forehead. She had twisted and pinned them back while they were still wet and now was paying a springy price. Earlier in the day all three of us washed our hair using the sun shower. Our sun shower is a bag that holds about 4 or 5 gallons of water. It has a flexible tube with a small “shower head” attachment and is black vinyl on one side to accelerate the solar heating of the water within, something for which we rarely have the patience and therefore supplement with hot water boiled in a kettle. A sun shower is also a desperate measure. It had been nine days since we had had access to a shower, and while our bodies have received more frequent maintenance, we were starting to, uh, scratch our heads. Using the mainsail halyard, Glenn suspended the shower over the cockpit. Then, with our heads hanging over a bucket, we each took our turn lathering, rinsing, and repeating. The head is so sensitive that this first touch, after a prolonged absence, always surprises me with how good it feels. Though, I am reluctant to linger, as every single drop of water on a boat is precious, I always stay under a tiny bit more than I should. As clean hair is more of an aesthetic consideration anyway, I feel doubly guilty. But I digress.

Ava is now staring at her forehead in the mirror, trying desperately to tame her hair. She places her two hands over top of her bangs, presses them down tightly and, after a couple of seconds, releases. Nope. The bangs spring right back into a tsunami. A giggle starts. Her hands press down. Wait. Release. Spro-oi-oi-ng. Now, she’s laughing… hard. Mom, look at this! Look at this! She does it for me. Twice. Full guffaw. Ava is laughing so hard she starts to hold her stomach. Dad! (pant, pant… try to be calm… breathe…) Watch this! Now she’s doubled over, blown away by her own amusement at her own amusement. Glenn and I are enjoying the spectacle. We are laughing too, but not like she is. She’s beyond return. Being a teenager is such a beautiful phase in life. Kids don’t yet weigh the consequences, they aren’t fully vain; deep down they comprehend the silliness of the structure they are simultaneously craving and rejecting… and it makes them laugh. This phase fades away, of course. It’s not that we don’t get it, it just doesn’t make us laugh anymore. Or at least not that hard. And this is what makes us bad partners for her in this (type of) moment. If Ava’s best friend were here the two of them would be crying tears and rolling around on the floor in hysterics. This scene would be recycled over and over again for twenty or thirty relentless minutes. It would become yet another part of a web of moments they have already shared that bond them. Because this is what teenagers do, teach each other how to bond to others (re. not us). All we can do, as parents, as people of a different generation, as people in a different phase in life, is relate, but not quite join in. It then becomes so painful to watch Ava come to this realization before my eyes. Looking at us, not hysterically laughing, her laughter comes to a soft end, having seen the limits – one of the limits – of what we can do and be for her here.

Is it wrong to take a fourteen year-old out of her “natural” environment for an extended period? Can there be a wrong time for a trip like this? Is this it? What are the losses that she will suffer being here with us, isolated away from her peers? The benefits are easy to enumerate. They are even easy to witness. But the losses are silent. Glenn and I worry frequently if we are selfish or naïve.

Today would have been Ava’s first day of high school back home. It is not an easy day. For a long time in preparation for this trip, Ava thought she was never going to return to school. She was frustrated by the pace and magnitude of her education in middle school. She was looking forward to self-guided study with a freedom of content selection and schedule. But as she moved on to the boat and began her studies alone, she grew frustrated by the tedium of the read-answer-read-answer cycle that textbooks present. We are trying to figure out a better way. In the meantime, Ava has come to the conclusion that she does, in fact, want to return to school. Her day was spent texting with her best friend, getting the low down on the high school scene, and wising she were there.


Friday, 18 AUGUST 2017

The winds are very high today, so it’s a day spent mostly inside. I clean, Glenn studies our next destination, and Ava does geometry. The only time we venture outside is to go to the store and to get our change back from the harbor manager, Evillynn, for our time on the dock. The fees for tying up in McCallum are, regardless of size, $6 CAD per day. For this we get no water, no power, no showers/facilities (you already know that), but we do get to be tied to something big (good in high winds) and we don’t have to inflate Svetlana (good if you’re lazy… and sometimes we are).


Saturday, 19 AUGUST 2017

It’s time to leave McCallum. We need to start thinking about heading west and then south to cross back over to Nova Scotia. The season here isn’t long and the weather windows get smaller in September. If we leave now we won’t be backed into any corners. Meaning, we will be able to choose the kind of weather in which to travel. First stop: Francois.

We motor all the way. Fortunately, we have no engine problems. Glenn had, at my urging, changed the oil and replaced the oil filter, and though I have absolutely no knowledge about engines, this fixed our oil pressure problem. Glenn and Ava are skeptical about my abilities. They claim I cheated and used the internet. True, but only as confirmation, I say. Glenn grumbles that it must have been the sensor or something. My genius is undeniable, I say.

Francois. There are quite a number of folks on hand to help us dock. There are already two boats tied up, the John E. Keys, which belongs to Laurence and Barb (they also have a house in town), and a catamaran from Halifax with a fire chief, an ophthalmologist, and his girlfriend (I didn’t get names L) By the end of the afternoon one more boat joins us, ConverJence from Massachusetts with Bill, Linda, and Jay. So, four boats total. As we get settled, we pass around some beers on the dock and get to know everyone a little, another person joins us, Valentin. As soon as he hears my name, Valentin starts speaking Romanian! Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…

Francois is an outport similar to McCallum, but with a slightly better situation. Currently 72 people reside here, 9 of which are children that attend the school. Francois has a bigger, better stocked store, two docks, one that we are on and one for fishing boats, and it is closer to Burgeo (reachable by ferry) which is a much bigger village of 1500. It is also in a beautiful location. The high walls of granite that form the backdrop of the town make it a particularly striking destination. So much so, that it has become a cruise ship stop recently, which is helping extend its life, but probably won’t save the town in the long run. Sadly.

In the evening after dinner, Glenn, Ava, and I set out in the dark to find Henry’s shed. Both Colin and Henry had stopped by the boat to say hello to us earlier and Henry invited us over to his shed… or to a shed… I’m not sure. So, we walk a bit and we find… a shed. This shed stands on stilts at the edge of the bay among a cluster of similar ones. It has a dark and cozy-looking interior with a few dim lights on and a tiny stream of colored Christmas lights spilling out onto the long inviting handrail that forms one edge of its bridge/walkway. The door is open and it looks so festive that we dare to enter. Inside is magic. The walls are entirely covered with road signs, posters, pictures, and tiny lights. On one wall there is a dart board and refrigerator, opposite there is a sofa and chairs, a small ice maker on a coffee table, and in the rear there is a standing table. It is the grown up version of a treehouse hangout that you (er, I mean, I) have always wanted. Is this a bar? I ask the five people at the table, instantly feeling the tiny cringe that I know I will feel in the morning when I will remember this question. Not exactly, says Greg, the owner of the little shed, but you’re welcome to come in and have a drink. Instantly we are welcomed! We introduce ourselves. As the night goes on many people, mostly local, though a few yachties, come through the little shed. Many folks bring beer and share. We have a bit of whiskey that we share too. Through this tiny little piece of architecture, we meet a quarter of the town. Many of them are related and have lived here all of their lives. All of them are warm and welcoming.

It turns out that tonight is Greg and Loretta’s last night in town. Though they own the shed and a house on Francois, they live mostly in Halifax and this has been just a vacation time for them. They are leaving very early in the morning on the ferry out. It’s too bad. They both stole my heart: Greg, when he taught Ava how to play darts and Loretta when she angelically sang and played ukulele. No, scratch that, Loretta stole my heart when she told me that she wept when she found out that Trump had been elected. (Of course we talked politics!) I told for her that I, too, had wept. From her description, I realize now the two of us were crying at the same exact time, her in her house at breakfast with her daughter, me in my bed trying to will myself to go give a lecture. Each of us from completely different universes, only meeting by chance in this remote place – almost not meeting by a few hours – have this one thin watery common bond. How many others joined us in crying at that exact moment, I wonder? Was there a specific flicker of a moment when it was only the women in their late forties who have teenaged daughters and who love to play the ukulele?


Sunday, 20 AUGUST 2017

To walk off our evening, Glenn and I take a short hike in the hills surrounding Francois. I can’t take him anywhere. We get to the pond where there’s a panoramic view into the fjord. As I’m returning from snapping a few shots in the cemetery, I see Glenn chatting to Bill and Jay, our neighbors on the dock. They are inviting us over for cocktails at 5:30! I see Glenn droop a little, but of course he says yes.

Bill, the skipper, Linda, his wife, and Jay her brother are on an extended summer vacation. (Well, Bill and Linda are. Jay is just on for a week or two.) They have travelled from Massachusetts, their home state, to northern Newfoundland and are now circling around the southern fjords before heading back. They are all really interesting and fun people, a little older than us, with tons of sailing stories (Bill sailed with Ted Turner around the America’s Cup days!!) and tons of boarding school stories (a favorite subject of mine!) They make us laugh all night, they make us cocktails with iceberg ice (it doesn’t melt!), they make us wear Bill’s foul weather gear to check on our boat when a squall hits, and, eventually, they make us dinner (tacos!) too. Too bad they are leaving tomorrow morning or we would have gladly returned the favor!


Monday, 21 AUGUST 2017

Glenn and I convince Ava to come on a hike with us by bribing her. She’s so easy. At the top it’s beautiful, but the cell service we promised her doesn’t materialize and at the store the ice cream doesn’t entice her. She picks a Kinder Surprise Egg instead. The Canadians are kinder surprised to find out that Kinder eggs are illegal in the U.S. due to choking hazards.  We are happy to report that Ava is still alive!


Tuesday, 22 AUGUST 2017

We motor to Ramea Island today. Though the winds are very low, we decide we need to get moving. We leave at 6:30PM and arrive at 1:30PM. Ramea Island has about 700 residents and a well-protected dock. When we arrive there is one spot. We take it and find out that there is no fee. Wahoo! In Francois the fee at the dock was $1/meter, so for us $12 CAD per day + tax. In the evening we eat at the island’s one restaurant, Eastern Outdoors. We wait for our to-go orders in recliner chairs watching the game show “Deal Or No Deal” I honestly cannot understand this show. Why do they lift the person (the contestant’s husband) up on a platform? Why is it bad to get the $1,000,000 suitcases? Why would someone turn down $200,000? The cod dinners arrive before the end, so maybe more would have made sense, but I am happy to remain ignorant. Oh, we also take showers there – $7CAD/shower – I’m not sure it’s worth it, but we are not going to see fresh water for the foreseeable future.




In the evening, after dinner Glenn says something strange. He’s read my blog and disagrees with my memory of the Puerto Rico anchoring incident. You know, he says, that memory you claim happened to you, actually happened to me. I was the one standing on the deck of the boat, I was the one who lowered the anchor, and I was the one who told you that our anchor was gone. According to him, I also had other parts of the memory “wrong.” Pretty soon, I am annoyed. On several occasions in our twenty-six year relationship Glenn has appropriated a memory of mine and retold it as his own. I have never said anything because it was never of any consequence. And I have never done it back to him. Especially, not this time. I can see the anchor chain going down. I can actually see it in my mind. It’s a visual recollection that I would not have if it didn’t happen to me. I say, That’s impossible because I am one hundred percent certain that I was the one handling the anchor. One hundred percent. Glenn scoffs. We go back and forth on it and eventually conclude that we are not going to come to an agreement, so we drop it… like a lost anchor chain.



Wednesday, 23 AUGUST 2017

Last night’s dream…


The room is a medium-sized gallery that doubles as a basketball court (!) I am working on a wall installation. It is a 2-D assemblage comprised of works by other artists, colleagues of mine, who have donated their pieces to me for this purpose. I am moving individual works around, testing their locations and relationships to others’ works. I have an assistant, T. He is a former student who is helping me with the physical work and with advice. We tack stuff up, pull back, look at new positions, and discuss adjustments. It seems to be coming along.


To get a wider view, T and I step to the back of the space. This puts us behind the stack of folded up bleachers in the room, hidden from people that enter in. We feel good about the composition. Abruptly, an artist contributor steps into the gallery. She doesn’t see us. She looks at our progress and is visibly agitated. She is shaking her head no as she looks at the work. Form out of somewhere the artist produces a sharpie with a nib the size of a human fist. She approaches the wall. As high as her body will reach, she violently scrawls the word ASSOLOGY in 3-foot high letters. She crosses over other people’s work as well as her own. She crosses the wall behind and anything that gets in her way. She is without discretion or hesitation. Then, as quickly as she came in, she leaves. I am stunned. And embarrassed. Even in my dream I am trembling with rejection.

Almost without pause, a second female contributing artist comes in. She’s a friend. Oh no, I think to myself gauging from her body language, she’s angry also. She pulls her own work off the wall and tacks it up in another area. Then, like the first woman, writes across her own piece. Again the word is ASSOLOGY.


Though I am shaken, I try to get a hold of myself. Wait, I think, maybe this isn’t so bad. What does ASSOLOGY actually mean? I ask T., who I know to be a very avid reader with a sophisticated vocabulary. He doesn’t know, but he pulls up a crossword puzzle app on his phone that he knows has a dictionary for unusual words. We try in vain to figure out how to obtain a definition. To ease our egos, we eventually concoct our own definition. “Assology” must fall somewhere in the area of the study of human assembly, we decide.




When I wake up I am too curious not to check. I look up the word assology on google. It’s the usual Urban Dictionary fare, with nothing insightful. It takes me hours – hours – before I start to laugh at myself. Did I really have to look up the meaning of the word ASSOLOGY?


Blog readers, let the interpretations flow.



And finally… Today on our walk around the island of Ramea, I pull Ava aside and ask her if she remembers the Puerto Rican anchoring incident. She does, she says. Oh good. Do you remember who was on deck lowering the anchor, me or dad? I ask. Dad, she says.


Pulled out from under me, rug.


McCallum hair salon
from Francois’s dock looking out to channel
Francois with the little shed (yellow door) in foreground
hiking with Ava in Francois
Ava learning how to play darts from Greg
Reflective Glenn playing darts with himself
Cousins: Christine, Loretta, and Liz. Resolution: take more pics of people I meet along this trip.
Ramea windmills_BLOG
Ramea Island
Boardwalk on Ramea


Christo and Jean Claude at Ramea


“My memory is better than yours!”


6 thoughts on “12. Francois to Ramea

  1. I’m a see if I can get the kids to pick up on this hot new slang “so we drop it… like a lost anchor chain.” The thing about me and Sherry is that she remembers nothing, so I am always right. I like how you slyly introduced the beautiful postmodern literary device of the fallible narrator. I will forever now doubt your recounts. Are they even, I wonder, on a boat? Could this not all be faked in the garage with green screen and some careful editing. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this was one of your best blogs yet! It held a lot of insight into the relationship between (or is it among?) the three of you. You guys have such an interesting family dynamic that I’ve never quite known before. I’m so glad to hear that Ava has realized she wants to go back to school after your sojourn. I was worried that she would become too isolated. But I guess she now sees what she would be missing by homeschooling herself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Linda!
      I think living in a 250 sf space will intensify any family dynamic. Plus, I’m writing a lot about it, so you get to see more of it AND how my brain interprets it all. FYI, Ava often says she disagrees with my take… I tell her to write her response, but she’s still a bit shy about it.


  3. Tell Ava that I’d love to hear her side of life in 250 sf with her parents. I’m sure she has lots to say and much to disagree with. She should be writing her own blog or at least a diary of her experiences. Tell her it would be “extra credit” work! Sending love and hugs to all of you. 😻


  4. I had the synchronous Trump moment on that dark morning of November 9, 2016, too.

    Henry was brushing his teeth in the bathroom and I launched into a rather grown-up purge of emotions to share with an 8-year old.

    We discussed all the bad things that happened since he was born in 2008. The jobs I’ve lost, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown and subsequent recession that plagues us still, Hurricane Sandy, global warming, the tsunami in Japan + Fukushima, the shootings at Sandy Hook, the political and economic instability here and abroad, and now Trump.

    I told Henry that no matter what happens in the future, the world is a much better place since he was born.

    Then I hugged him and burst into tears. I hope he remembers that morning when his life is better than what I was fearing at that moment.


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