Editor’s Note: In October 2009 we received a question from a New Jersey tour guide. He brings bus tours to the Thousand Islands each summer and he wanted to find the answer for a question always asked: “Just what is it like to live on an island?” Lynn McElfresh give us a glimpse…
It’s that time of year when Grenellians are heading to the island to open up for the season. Those who live close opened months ago. Some seasonal residents have been on the island since early April. There are Grenellians who winter in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts and even as far away as California.
Emails have been shooting back and forth the past month:
When is your arrival date?
Did you hear how low the water is this year?
It snowed on the island last week!
There is an osprey nest on the island this year.
I heard beavers took down a few trees.
The McElfresh “Goes to the River Pile,” started about five minutes after we arrived home in Florida last October. We added to it throughout the fall, winter and spring. The week before we left for the island was a little tense for me. I’m always so afraid I’m going to forget something. I try to calm myself by saying that nothing is that important. (Except for my wedding ring, which I forgot one year.) And if I forget something, I can just go to Watertown to replace it. (Except my passport, which I forgot another year.)
I try to travel light, but every year it seems there is a huge pile of stuff that somehow must be shoehorned into our tiny Alero. Thankfully, I married a “Master Packer.” He says he has a great sense of spatial reasoning. I think he must have a magic wand.
Non-island friends are always curious about how we get things to the island. There’s only one answer…by boat. Or for those really big deliveries…by barge. Many of those friends find it hard to grasp the concept of no roads and no cars. Anything that is packed in the car needs to be unpacked and repacked into the boat….and then unpacked again at the dock and transported by foot to the cottage. So, whatever IS packed in the car, we’d better NEED it for all the handling that it takes to get it to the island.
Four generations have been bringing things up to our island place. Getting things to the island is one thing…once it’s here it seems harder to get rid of it. Our two cottages contain an eclectic mix of castoffs from each generation. My husband, Gary, can look around and see furniture that used to be in his grandparent’s home, his parent’s home and now things we brought up here when we downsized. We have to assume, any other piece of furniture belonged to Uncle Otis and Aunt Alice from the 1880’s.
When I first started spending the season up here, the kitchen in our cottage still had a meat grinder and pressure cooker, but no microwave. So out with the old and in with the new. But how do you get rid of things when you live on an island? It’s not like you can have a yard sale or drag it to the curb.
In days gone by, burning and dumping things in the river were popular options. Decades ago, someone dumped an old concrete septic tank between the foot of Grenell and nearby Pullman, which becomes a nautical hazard during low water. I think everyone in our cove has dinged a prop on it at least once. I would hope that most people have enough environmental awareness to not dump things in the River. However, only a few years ago on our way back from an overnight at Cedar Point, I spotted a refrigerator floating in the channel heading down river toward Ogdensburg.
On Grenell, we’ve come up with ingenious ways of dealing with the stuff we don’t want anymore. We have a swap board in the Community House where residents can post items they would like to sell or give away. One man’s trash is another’s treasure.
Our Island Social Chair, Robin, came up with the idea of having an auction at our Grenell Island Annual Picnic. Each family is asked to bring a “treasure” they can part with. The bidding is as fun as the anticipation of what might come out the door next. So many treasures have been acquired at the Grenell Annual Auction: canoes, rafts, lamps, chairs, and even a bicycle.
So we start another season, with another load of things to unpack and put away. With the arrival of more stuff, maybe something will end up at the annual auction! You never know.
By Lynn McElfresh
Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. Lynn is the author of Can You Feel the Thunder? published in 1999 in New York by Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing Division. It is suggested for youth ages 10-14. She is also the ghost writer for several other children’s books. We thank her for providing one answer to “what it is like to live on an island”.