Thursday, 31 AUGUST 2017
Today is dominated by a visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum. Bell and his wife, Mabel Hubbard, spent their summers in Baddeck, Nova Scotia. In his time here he built a large house and workshops on a big, beautiful peninsula known as Beinn Bhreagh (“beautiful mountain” in Scottish Gaelic). The site, with its mild summer climate and access to both hillsides and large bodies of water, proved to be fertile grounds for the Bells’ varied interests in avionics and photonics. Today there is a museum nearby their former residence that is packed with the objects of their experiments, full sized and models, as well as photographs, correspondences, and many forms of related miscellanea. It’s a fascinating place that walks us through the major achievements and some failed ideas (spaceframe flying machines!). We learn a bit about Bell’s background and begin to understand the origins of his deep genius. (Both his mother and wife were hearing impaired, which had a deep impact on his inventions dealing with the transmission of sound, for example.) We also, significantly, learn about the many projects in which Mabel was involved, like the flying experiments. I was really happy to see her life be represented. Too many times in institutions like this women’s achievements get credited to their male partners with their identities disappearing from history. My only complaint would be that the name of the museum and national historic grounds could more accurately reflect this by including Mabel’s name…
Friday, 01 SEPTEMBER 2017
While in Baddeck we are staying at a dock that belongs to the now defunct Cape Breton Boatyard. There are places to stay at the public dock, but Henry Fuller has invited us to stay at his place even though he no longer runs his boatyard and marina. It’s a very comfortable place with clean showering and laundry facilities, a well-protected dock, and very good location. The boatyard went out of business a couple of years ago when the Canadian government began imposing very high import duties on foreign boats that stay long-term in Canada. As Henry’s clientele was largely American, they returned stateside with their boats rather than pay. Ultimately, the boatyard could not be sustained on the remaining business and Henry closed it. It is terribly sad because the facility is so nice, but Henry seems resigned to this fate. He is getting older and is maybe feeling like it would only have been a matter of time before he closed things down anyway. For us, it seems a terribly unfair way to end a life’s work…
For a while Henry’s been offering to give us a tour of his boats – he has two – and today we were able to match schedules and go see them. Really, though there are two boats, the first one we go see is a particular gem. It’s called the White Mist. It is a Sparkman and Stephens design originally built in 1946 of a wood yawl, with a shallow draft and retractable centerboard. It is beautiful. And it’s fast. The White Mist has a long and illustrious racing history. Henry purchased it from Melville Grosvenor (Alexander G. Bell’s grandson and Gill Grosvenor’s son) in 1995, but had been storing and caring for the boat since 1976 at his boatyard. (Read the full history written by Henry here.) Presently the White Mist is indoors, de-masted and being updated, but even in this state (which is actually very good) we can fully see her beautiful and intelligent design. It is so exciting to be in such a soulful boat. Most striking is how thoughtful so much of this boat’s existence has been. From its inception and design, to its construction, to its life on the water, people have tended to her. Every aspect is careful, every detail considered. I sometimes get a similar sensation from a piece of architecture too. It’s not about taste or what I like, its more about how something novel can be simultaneously inventive and so apt. Often there is efficiency and always there is elegance involved – technical and aesthetic imperatives – in roughly equal and intertwined parts that makes a particular piece of design speak to me.
The second boat is under cover inside a second much larger building where Henry used to store his many former clients’ boats. I’m sorry to say that I don’t recall the details of this second boat (though Glenn probably does) as I got more wrapped up in the building that surrounded her. Henry told us that the wood trusses had come from a gymnasium in some other part of the cape. There are high polycarbonate windows all around for a striking effect. (How do non-architects design such good buildings?) On the ground there are railroad tie tracks for moving the boats. It’s a pretty robust operation that Henry says used to serve him well. The final building is the place where Henry has workshop space with two floors of tools, a loft, and his office. It feels well used, but it’s all still in very good shape, tidy and organized. He shows us every bit, answers our questions, and lets us roam (and take pictures). It’s a very interesting tour both for seeing the facilities and for seeing the sum of what Henry built throughout his forty years here.
After we leave and some reflective time passes, Glenn and I discuss how heartened we are by this place, and even more so, by Henry himself. Henry is that rare person who lives by his convictions. He spends his time working out of genuine interest and, as a result, shares his knowledge without consideration for his own gain. He also cares about the planet and its inhabitants above crude profit. Though we don’t know him well, his generosity and open-heartedness have impressed us deeply in a very short time. As a younger person I always thought, in the course of a long life, that I’d meet a lot of people like Henry. It’s one of the reasons why I went into academia. There, I believed I would encounter folks more consciously committed to ideas and to our next generations without the reckless profiteering and marginalizing competition that rules so many other ventures in our society. Well, I was wrong. It’s hard these days to find people anywhere driven by genuine curiosity, or dare I even say it, love. It’s hard to find people anywhere willing to pick principle over profit or willing to advance others over self.
Saturday, 02 SEPTEMBER 2017
We change plans and stay put due to weather coming on Monday on the Atlantic coast.
Sunday, 03 SEPTEMBER 2017
We start the day off with a six mile walk along the edge of the lake. We follow the road north and keep to the shoulder, though at times this space is the width of a hiking boot and not made with pedestrians in mind. We are not sightseeing anyway, just trying to get some exercise, but it is a bit harry at times as traffic whizzes by at fast speeds. For the most part we don’t talk, just stay in our own heads but every once in a while a hunk of quartz on the road or a familiar name on a mailbox or a small wooden stair and platform along the water’s edge bring me back to the world and I say something to the others briefly intruding into their meditations.
When we get back we do some chores, including the dreaded cleaning of the hull that we have been avoiding. For this, we jump into the chilly water and, using brushes and scrapers, scrub away at the mossy algae and barnacles that have accumulated throughout the summer. It’s a mucky job that we don’t enjoy, but the boat does look a lot better when we are done. Plus, now we will fly!
Just before dinner we get some new neighbors. Pulling out of tomorrow’s weather is a beautiful, french blue Hinckley called the White Wing II. Aboard are three Americans, Ann (an anesthesiologist), Garet (an architect!), and Dan (doctor??) the skipper. All three are from the northeast Boston/Maine areas and all three are lovely.
Monday, 04 SEPTEMBER 2017
Labour Day. Yep. They have it. The only difference – a “u” and a lot of closed stores. In the U. S. I think the liquor stores stay open longer on Labor Day, right?
On the way into town Glenn and I run into Garet. She is heading back from a café and tells us about a traditional music concert tonight at the Parish Hall at 7:30. If we want to go, she says, we have to go wait in line at 5PM as tickets sell out quickly. We do this and find out that this performance is known as the Baddeck Gathering Ceilidh. A ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is also known as a “kitchen party,” or a get together where everyone is invited to get up and perform and dance. The music is traditional from Cape Breton. At the actual concert, however, there are no outside performers and there’s no dancing either, so the show is more typical, but still lively and great.
Oh, and the wind howled today, as expected. I’m glad we hung out.
Tuesday, 05 SEPTEMBER 2017
We wake up early – 6:30AM – as Glenn wants to head out to beat an opposing wind due to arrive by late morning. We get our clothes on, have our coffee, and poke our heads out to feel the air to get ready to go.
First though, we chat a bit with Dan who is outside drinking his own mug. He’s warm and funny and gives us his contact information. Then, he tells us about the year-long sabbatical trip his parents took to France when he was ten years old. They took four kids, aged eight to fifteen, to Montpelier and had, from the fondness in Dan’s telling, an amazing time. So, Dan is encouraging of our trip. It is quite nice to hear, because even though we feel good about it, confirmation is always uplifting. And – get this – he can still speak French!! I have so many questions… but I don’t think of them until much later.
Then, Garet comes over and we chat some more. Garet has written us a four-page guide to Grenada, the island on which she winters and keeps her boat. She fills in details about where to bring a boat, things to see, places to eat, etc. We are hoping to make it that far down this season, so it is useful to have this information. Beyond that though, it is great to have a contact. No, it’s great to have her as a contact. You know how sometimes you just meet someone with whom you want to be friends? Someone with whom you just think you would hit it off? That’s Garet for me.
Glenn now goes down to commune with the arrows. In a short bit he reappears, “we should go now,” he says to me.
“Okay,” I say.
Back down for another look.
Back up to feel the air. He’s looking in the direction of the wind. Weighing something with his concentrated gaze.
“Actually, let’s stay,” he says now. “I think it’s going to be bad.”
So we stay another day, because Glenn is the wind boss. And because…
Glenn doesn’t push his luck on the boat. I like this about him. In sailing (and all other things) Glenn never feels the need to prove anything to anybody. He is confident in himself in a way that I am simply not. He doesn’t measure his shortcomings, just his abilities. He doesn’t worry about the next guy, just himself. And he doesn’t look back, just ahead. How did he get this way, I wonder. Why am I not this way? I’m always comparing, always worried, obviously not having learned his lessons, even after so much observation.
The two of us go on the water’s edge walk again. Before we are back to town the wind has picked up ferociously. It’s more aggressive than yesterday. It feels good because it is a hot day and we are walk sweaty, but I realize now how glad I am that we didn’t sail. The gusts on the water are abrupt and strong. On our way to the boat, we stop for slice of pizza. We sit on the deck of the restaurant, the wind wrestling our paper plates. Suddenly from in front of me, two twenty dollar bills go flying out of a guy’s pocket and past my head. They flutter quickly by and over the deck’s handrail, looping in the fast air. Because the man and his wife are elderly, I jump up to go chasing after the money. “Noooooooo!” shrieks the woman wildly, coming after me. “I’ll get it!” I stop and turn to look at her. “I’ll get it!” she screams again at me as she is moving toward the cash. Whoa, what the…? I say (not out loud). What kind of a feral human have I become, I wonder? Maybe I should start looking in the mirror again.
Wednesday, 06 SEPTEMBER 2017
Late wake up. I rouse myself into some body coverage and go to say goodbye to Garet and Ann who are leaving today. Even before I am off the boat Garet is over hugging me goodbye. I am really looking forward to meeting her again someday. And I will.
After they leave I buy supplies at the co-op. I make some almond biscotti in honor of the delicious one Ann gave me yesterday. I get the texture almost like hers and will work more on the flavor, but all in all not bad. Thanks for the idea, ladies.
We are now planning on leaving Friday when all of the weather dies down, but as you can see, plans that depend on weather, and people who depend on plans that depend on weather, need to be very flexible…
Small Note: For the foreseeable future, I am going to publish this blog every other week instead of once a week as I have been. I’m trying to get some other writing done and the blog has become my convenient excuse. No worries though, I’ll be back!