Written by Lynn E. McElfresh
posted on January 13, 2016 12:55
I heard a splash and looked out. A woman* had jumped off her boat in our little cove. With the bowline of her 23-ft boat in hand, she started “walking” her boat out of the cove. It was a low water year and there is a ridge of silt in the middle of our cove that if you’re not careful, you can get beached.
I called out to the woman and offered to get our whaler and tow her to deeper water. “Oh no,” she cheerfully called back. “I’m fine.” The water was almost chest high on the woman’s short frame as she trudged past our dock. I was recounting the story, several years later as I introduced the spritely woman to one of my cottage guests. The woman laughed and said that just last year, her small whaler had conked out on her and she tied the bowline around her waist, dove in the water and swam back to her island towing the small boat behind her.
When she left, I told my guest that she was in her 80s. Yup! In her 80s and thought nothing of jumping in the water and pulling her boat off a silt bar or swimming her boat home after the motor had conked out. She’s not the first octogenarian or nanogenarian islanders that I’ve observed that aren’t just active…but are vibrant.
I’m beginning to think that the waters of the St. Lawrence have some sort of restorative powers. There is an islander who also speaks of the restorative healing powers of the River. She calls the St. Lawrence, Dr. River, and is fond of describing how her guests arrive stressed-out from a jangled world of cell phones and non-stop appointments and how they seem a few days on the island. When her guests sit in the rockers on her porch that first day, she can almost see a wave of relaxation wash over them. She feels it’s a three-day process. That whatever ails you will be better after three days of sitting on the porch relaxing and gazing out at the river.
But that’s for stress and mental fatigue. I think there might be other restorative powers within the river, but to receive them you actually have to get into the river.
My friend Billy Jo on Murray Isle told me about her grandmother, who was born on Murray Isle in 1915. Her family lived on Murray year around and in mid-November when it was clear the baby was coming, Billy Jo’s great-grandfather walked to the head of Murray and called across to someone on Picton Island that it was time for the midwife. That person walked across Picton, and called across to Grindstone Island. The midwife who lived on Grindstone was rowed across to Picton. She walked across the island and was rowed across to Murray in time to deliver the baby. You can’t be any more of a River Rat than that!
Eventually, the girl grew up and moved from Murray Isle, but she visited often well into her 90s. One time when she visited, Billy Jo and her husband took her for a cruise around the islands. Before they returned to their cottage, her grandmother asked them to stop the boat. She wanted to go for a swim. Billy Jo remembers her ninety-year-old grandmother gracefully diving from the back of the boat. Not jumping or slowly lowering herself in, but diving head first into the River. She swam for a while before Billy Jo and her husband easily lifted her light-frame from the water and back into the boat. Who’s ever seen an aging mermaid?
Perhaps the St. Lawrence is the fountain of youth. For those of you who know me, you know I don’t like cold water. While 80 year-olds and teenagers are jumping in the water around me, I’m prudently waiting for the water temperature to get above 70 before I jump in and then it’s just a quick swim and out again to warm in the sun on the boat deck or dock.
But I’m thinking next season I’ll embrace my inner mermaid and take the plunge early and often.
*The name of the woman has purposely been withheld because as she walked past our dock she smiled and said, “I better not read about this in ‘Thousand Islands Life.’”
By Lynn E. McElfresh, Grenell Island
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to “TI Life,” writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. You can see Lynn’s 80+ articles here (Yes we celebrated her number 80 in July, 2015.) Lynn helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing, and often finds books and people to review… this time she captures, what for many of us is a no brainer, exactly why the St. Lawrence River gives us life.