« A Tulip Story | Main | Teaneck and Tadpoles »

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The Best Advice I Ever Had and Followed

By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

For twenty years, I spent one or two weeks of each summer on a hauntingly beautiful, rocky island ten miles out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Star Island, the largest of the windswept Isles of Shoals was my Mecca, my spiritual center, and remains so in my spirit, even though age and its concomitant debility have made it impossible for me to continue to go there in body.

And I almost missed it! The first time I was invited to come out to Star Island and lead a children’s folk music workshop, I was reluctant. I had never heard of the place that was to become the center of my life for so many years.

I was a single mom, then struggling to support a big house, a young son and a life as a free-lance musician – not easy tasks. I was still reeling from a recent disastrous attempt to start my own business – a craft center and folk music venue. I initially thought, “How can I afford to give up a week’s pay to be a volunteer? (I was being offered only the expenses of the conference to teach and sing.) Nobody would pay me for missing a week’s worth of gigs.

It was peaceful there; it was exciting. The enchanting perfume of the salty ocean breeze and of the sun-warmed beach roses, the sound of the foghorns and the sonorous clang of the chapel bells all created a wonderful sense of complete separation from the stressful pace of everyday life.

The daytime hubbub of happy children’s voices, the sounds of bocce balls clunking, tennis balls thunking and baseball bats connecting with balls added to the excitement of the nonstop activities.

Many of the peak moments of my life happened there: the most memorable musical experiences of all my forty-five years as a professional folksinger and worship songleader; “Star-filled” flirtations; intense new friendships; and restorative tears shed for traumas suffered back home on the mainland between times– my sweetheart’s sudden death, my own breast cancer and agony over my child’s dangerous lifestyle – and never properly grieved till I reached Star and “dumped my tears in the ocean.”

It was also a place to celebrate births of grandchildren, the publishing of books and even a mid-life romance. For those too-brief times, it was indeed my Shangri-La.

After several years of “singing for my supper” at one Star Island conference or another, I spent a few years hiring and coordinating the stellar talents that presented workshops and performances in all aspects of the arts – music, dance, drama, visual arts and literature – to the amazing assemblage of artistic people who formed a close community during the yearly Arts Conference.

I honed my own neophyte writing skills with teachers the likes of William Least Heat-Moon, Nancy Willard and Steven Retiner. In fact, I wrote my first poem, one later published in the first of my two anecdotal memoirs, while on that inspirational island.

I became a photographer, learning the craft from such fine teachers and artists as Peter Randall, whose photos of the Isles of Shoals are unsurpassed. Those two pursuits later helped to fill my need for creative outlets, as well as to provide financial support, when age and rheumatoid arthritis eventually took away my ability to earn a living with my music.

How often, through the years, I have blessed the people who urged me to try it: the visionaries who advised me to take that chance. They knew I belonged there and that it would change my life. And it did.

I went without expectations; I found truths that have clarified and shaped my life. And along the way, while hardly noticing, I found the writing and photography that would enrich and illuminate the rest of my life. And yes, from my contacts made there I realized far more income in the long run than that one week’s lost wages.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Had a mini vacation reading your story..the title could encompass volumes of essays..the photograph at the end is perfect...thanks for sharing..mary follett

I'm up in the White Mountains and have never been to the island though I know some of the stories.
Wonderful photo and great story.
Wish I could have been there too.

I once visited Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy and was completely captivated by it's beauty and the peaceful feelings it gave me.

I went to the island to photograph the East Quoddy (Head Harbour)Lighthouse. My pictures were beautiful because my subject was beautiful.

I loved your photograph. The contrast between the blue water and the gray rocks and the colors in the clothing is special.

Great story and just loved the photo! Thanks..

I admire the articulate way you describe what the island meant to you and how you fit it seamlessly into your own life story. The photograph was spectacular. Thank you for all.

A very inspiring story. We never know where the next road may lead. I'm glad yours led to a happy ending.

Lyn - Your beautifully written piece on Star Island brings back a whole bunch of memories. We often stopped there, sailing from Massachusetts to Maine.

Recently we landed there en route to neighboring Appledore Island and the remains of poet Celia Thaxter's famous garden, still maintained by a group from Portsmouth., NH.

Thanks - Sandy

Thanks. Can almost forget it's January.

How lovely! I'm ready to pack my bags for New Hampshire (but maybe not until spring!)

Thanks, everybody. Writing it was a lovely exercise in nostalgia, too. It is indeed not someplace you want to go in the winter! Even in June we often needed coats and mittens.

You inspire me! We share some of the same interests...photography, writing... I'm wondering how to "make a living" at doing these things I love... Love your photo.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment