Marsh

February 12, 2018 § 2 Comments

12-2-16-lMarsh

Click on the link above to view a slideshow of this marsh at different times of the year.

Seventeen months ago, I moved to a small fishing village on the back side of Mount Desert Island and found myself drawn, day after day, to the beauty here at the edge of this marsh.

I have been away from the island a month now, traveling across northern New England where dear friends have warmly welcomed me into their homes to visit and share stories and write. In my writing and in my dreams, I keep returning to the changing light, the changing days at the edge of land and sea.

My travels draw to a close the end of this week. Soon I will be back in Bernard, wandering through the woods off Leffingwell Road, scrambling across the seawall at Back Beach, standing before this marsh on Lopaus Point.

Here on this island where the land has been shaped and marked and protected, here at the edge of this marsh where the sea speaks to me of danger and desire – here, I feel on the threshold of something that is tender and sweet and complicated and uncertain and hopeful.

 

Five Scenes, Mount Desert Island

November 27, 2017 § Leave a comment

Beech Hill FarmFive Scenes

Click on the image above to see five photographs selected from my daily practice of photographing life at the edge of land and sea.

The edge of land and sea

August 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am grateful to Linda Thomas for publishing several of my photographs in the Winter 2017 issue of New England Memories, located at:
http://www.newenglandmemories.com/winter-2017-issue/

Wharf on Bass Harbor

Unsettled Light

June 19, 2017 § Leave a comment

Barn, Route 7, Middlebury, Vermont
9 June 2017

The unsettled light of an approaching storm settles over the land, this barn, edging the way home.

The Dark Regions Beyond

February 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

jackmans

The Baptist Missionary Magazine, October 1904

the-baptist-missionary-magazine

The Dark Regions Beyond

I have become obsessed with the Jackmans, hunting for any clue as to who these people were before the crisis in Sadiya and what became of them after. I imagine they lived a comfortable life in upstate New York, where Mr. Jackman studied the law before his conversion to missionary life in 1904. Just a few years later, based in Sadiya, Assam among the headhunting Abors and Miris, Rev. Jackman reports: The loving Father has most wonderfully kept us. Dangers have come near, but the Master was nearer to ward them off and little harm has come to us (quoted in a section of mission updates at the end of Mary Mead Clark’s memoir A Corner in India). Sometime between 1907 (when little harm had come to them) and 1920 (when Rev. Lyman Ward Beecher Jackman crossed the street to the mission bungalow directly opposite his own and lodged four large bullets in Major H. D. Cloete’s head) something had gone terribly awry.

And why do I care? What difference can this possibly make to me? What do I hope I will learn? And yet I have spent the better part of a day sitting in front of my computer hunting for a photograph of this couple, as if somehow their image will explain to me how a marriage can go so terribly awry.

After hours of searching, I find my way to the October 1904 issue of The Baptist Missionary Magazine and a listing of re-enforcements to missionary fields abroad with accompanying photographs of the husbands and wives. And there they are, Rev. and Mrs. Jackman, an attractive couple. Do I detect a trace of uncertainty in Mrs. Jackman’s eyes, a wistfulness for all that she must soon give up in support of her husband’s dreams? Does she know, already, somehow, the destiny that awaits them in a distant land?

She is a beautiful woman; I can imagine her upswept hair, her delicate neck, her sad eyes enticing others to comfort her. Her husband, on the other hand, seems serious, like my grandfather. I can imagine Rev. Jackman neglecting his wife – not through any willfulness or lack of love but simply because he is driven by a zealousness that blinds him to a different passion he might have chosen.

I look at their photographs and I know they have no idea what is waiting for them in the wilds of Assam, near the border of Tibet, far from family and friends, in the dark regions beyond.

[Note: This is part of an unfinished manuscript I was working on – and which I put aside – when my own marriage unexpectedly fell apart several years ago. I return to this work now in preparation for an upcoming talk on three generations of Witter women in India. My step-greatgrandmother Mary Barss Witter wrote a letter home in 1920 to her four grown children by her first marriage, informing them of Rev. Jackman’s murder of Major Cloete, his friend with whom his wife was having an affair. My greatgrandfather Rev. William E. Witter, a missionary in Assam, had been called up to be the spiritual advisor to Rev. Jackman during his trial for murder.]

A Cautionary Tale

February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

a-cautionary-tale_coc-copy

New York Tribune, March 29, 1920

A Cautionary Tale

So much hinges on the texture of a moment: how one word, one gesture can shift the earth beneath our feet. Suddenly the ground cracks open, swallowing people, houses, animals, rail lines. Whole villages disappear, collapsed into the earth or hauled somewhere else. Whole families vanish, erased from the record.

Think of the Jackmans: how quickly they became a story not to be told. How they arrived in Assam with the flush and speed of their missionary zeal, how later Reverend Jackman discovered that his wife was having an affair, how he fell stunned to the ground, how he ran to their bungalow to get his revolver, how he crossed the road, how he called the Major to his verandah, how he shot him dead, how William Witter was called up to Sadiya to serve as his spiritual advisor, how Mary Barss Witter cautioned her children not to speak of this to the outside world.

Silence: such a strange demand, a betrayal of the most human of instincts – to have at least one person on this strange earth who can say, Yes, this is what I see, this is what I feel.

[Note: This is one section of my essay “Dangerous Archaeology: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother (and Others) – A Memoir in Fragments” published in Hayden’s Ferry Review #50, Spring/Summer 2012]

Later

February 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

martha-donovan_87-copy

Photograph by Autumn E. Monsees

Later

I am holding my grandmother’s diary of 1940, printed by Caxton Press and sold by C. Coomaraswamy Naidu & Sons of 27 Chinnatambi Street, Madras, India. Pages of printed information explain how to treat sunstroke or the bite of a mad dog or when to expect a full moon or how to write a will. But what I most want to know is what my grandmother felt the day my mother boarded the S.S. President Garfield to begin a long and lonely voyage across the world. I turn to Saturday, July 13 and I am stunned to see nothing – not one word. How can this be?

Perhaps my mother and grandmother were worn out from the long journey from the dusty plains of Podili to the bustling wharves of Bombay, too exhausted to talk. And what could they say, what words could they give to each other that could feed the hunger in their hearts?

Three months later a huge cyclone would sweep through the coast of Bombay, uprooting trees, boats, lives.

[Note: This is one section of my essay “Dangerous Archaeology: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother (and Others) – A Memoir in Fragments” published in Hayden’s Ferry Review #50, Spring/Summer 2012]

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