Disturbing Stump Speech From a Maine Island
The Stump, as I’ve come to call my little nest — thanks, George! — has only one door. I stand 6’1” tall. The frame of the door rises exactly six feet above the floor. It’s precisely that perfect height at which your eyes, your inner ear, and all the neurological mechanisms that keep your brain informed about your body’s relationship to the outside world conspire to convince you, despite repeated historic evidence to the contrary, that you don’t have to duck when you walk in. I’m sure I have a scar on my forehead that would make Harry Potter proud.
(Late at night, especially after a major party at The Village, when I’m lying in bed trying to regain control of my circulatory system, I suspect that if the next guy to live in this shack stands 5’8” tall, the top frame of the door will somehow be just 5’7” off the ground. But of course, I don’t really believe that. That would be paranoid. What do you think, George?)
The Stump is perfectly placed, about halfway between the groin of The Village and the forehead of The Town. No other houses, cabins, shacks, or intermittently occupied caves are anywhere nearby; it’s just me and my swamp. To get to The Stump, you — OK, who are we kidding — I have to walk south from the Town or north from The Village for about an hour. (At least, I walked until I got the Island Car.) If the sun was setting in an especially lovely way, at that perfect time of evening when the air is pure and the world seems at peace, I sometimes took an hour and a half to finish the hike. And when the night was dark and there were all kinds of creepy rustlings in the bushes and I was reasonably convinced that, through sheer damnable luck, there was a heavily scarred axe-wielding maniac lurking behind every third tree — then I could make it home in about thirty minutes. Ah, the life of the solitary adventure writer!
Along one particular nondescript stretch on the dirt road that connects The Town and The Village, there’s a place that is stunning in its unremarkableness. It is the very picture of ordinariness. The model of mundane. At this point, notable for its stunning lack of anything notable, there is a nearly invisible path that cuts through the shrubs and evergreens and disappears about ten yards off the road.
The path is so perfectly hidden, and the stretch of road is so astoundingly devoid of landmarks, that I have been known to hike from The Village to The Town and back again for the better part of a night, trying to find the particular miniscule gap that points the way to my shack. I’ve also been known to spy some inadvertent sliver of space between some bushes and boldly veer off the road, certain that I have found my path. My error usually becomes evident when the bushes crowd around me in the dark and thick, invisible spiderwebs wrap themselves around my legs, my hair, my neck, and my teeth to such an extent that they actually lift me right off the ground. By that point, it’s usually pretty late, so I just spend the rest of the night in the webs.
I discovered The Stump one evening when I was walking down to The Village. I was in a party mood, and I had heard that Eliza and Bo were throwing a spectacular bash that night. (OK — to be honest, I had heard that Eliza and Bo threw a spectacular bash every night, so I figured my odds were good.) I was walking down the dirt road, whistling in that loud sort of way that is intended to sound nonchalant but that is really designed to scare off any stray vampire bats and axe-wielding maniacs, when I came across a shotgun-wielding maniac blasting the living hell out of a rotting stump a ways back in the woods. He probably couldn’t hear my whistling over the explosions from his gun.
Not being one of the Socially Graceful, I never quite know what to say in such circumstances. Here it is, a chilly but pleasant evening on Grand Seal Island, and I’m absolutely alone on a dirt road with a guy who obviously bears some homicidal grudge against a decaying pile of nature. A few options flickered through my mind:
“Perfect day to blast the crap out of something inanimate, isn’t it?”
“That’ll teach that pile of sticks a lesson it’ll never forget, yessireebob!”
In the end, I blurted out something like, “Whatcha shooting?”, which seemed like a decent sort of thing to say as long as the answer wasn’t “strangers who bug me with their stupid questions.” The presence of a shotgun adds a certain spice to conversations.
In fact, the maniac turned out to be Willard Crowe, a guy who surely could have become the town idiot if he had only stayed in school a few more years. He explained that he was shooting up the old Reynolds place. He went on to tell me that George Reynolds left the island about a decade ago and made a fortune in the advertising business. He’s now living in Boston somewhere with his multi-million-dollar mansion and his multi-million-dollar wife. One of Reynolds’s advertising coups was a jingle for Quick-ee Soup:
For coughs and colds and even the croup,
There’s nothing better than Quick-ee Soup!
“Who the hell ever says ‘croup’ anymore?” Willard bellowed. He had to bellow to hold my attention, because my eyes were locked onto the end of his shotgun barrel. “My grandmother doesn’t even say ‘croup,’ for crying out loud!”
Under the circumstances, I decided to agree wholeheartedly with everything Willard was saying, but of course he was right anyway. It’s a stupid jingle.
And it seems that every time Willard hears that jingle on the radio, he grabs his shotgun and trots down the road to put a few rounds into Reynolds’s old cabin. I pointed to the crumbling mound of dank wood. “That’s a cabin?” I asked.
It turned out that it was, and after I asked around a bit, I came to the conclusion that no one on this planet would mind if I moved in. Cory let me borrow a folding bed, and I bought some candles, a card table, and a little sterno stove from the general store in town. In lieu of a bathroom, I keep a carefully maintained patch of poison ivy out back, and I can bum a shower every now and then from Cory or someone in town. (Actually, the longer it’s been since my previous shower, the easier it is to talk people into letting me use theirs.)
So that’s how I came to reside at The Stump. The good news is that I get to stay there for free, living in primitive conditions like a proper adventure writer. The bad news is that the raccoons, centipedes, anacondas, tarantulas, and (undoubtedly) vampire bats all get to stay there for free, too. Still, with a little bit of lumber and paint, and a whole lot of good old-fashioned elbow grease, I might be able to get the old place spiffy enough to be properly condemned.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — GeorgeReynolds: Happy to lend the services of my vacation home. Actually, I found it ages ago and fixed it up a bit. I think it rose Thing-like from the Swamp one day. Anyway, enjoy. And by the way — that little “croup” jingle that you belittle so easily paid for my condo in Boston.
Comment — MapleLeaf249: If the United States would wake up to the fact that Grand Seal Island is part of Canada, the federal government in Ottawa could give you some financial support to bring the shack up to code. But instead of giving its citizens money to improve their homes, the United States prefers to spend money on warships. Go figure, eh?
Comment — FreedomFirst: Those warships are the reason the United States is the greatest nation on earth. I love America, and I’m glad we defend ourselves.
Comment — PolSci206: Different nations choose to allocate their resources in different ways, all with the ultimate goal of obtaining stability and security. The United States pursues that goal with military strength, while Canada pursues it with universal health care and other benefits to its citizens. Each nation has to figure out its own formula.
Comment — FreedomFirst: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.