No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
entire of itself . . .
     John Donne (1572 -1631)

I've never minded spending time alone, which has been both a blessing and curse.  I wasn't exactly a nerdy child, but I admit to spending long hours alone in my room sorting through envelopes of foreign stamps, researching the value of old coins, composing poetic ditties, and short stories.  As an adult, my ability to spend long periods of time happily in my own company has been a godsend, considering the fact that my husband has traveled routinely throughout our thirty-one year marriage.

When we had horses at home, I never minded the hours spent mucking stalls, cleaning tack, or polishing riding boots. In fact, we used to joke that my daughters had the shiniest boots on the dressage show circuit.

Yesterday, I was tasked with scrubbing century old moss from stone cut from the old mill foundation. The stones will be used to face the hearth and fireplace in our new home.  I was alone for hours behind the garage - above the rushing creek - on my hands and knees - just the stones, a wire brush and I. Lost in my thoughts, I enjoyed the alone time.

It's been a particularly busy summer for Rick and I. Overseeing the construction of our home, has been a full-time project. Living on an open construction site was quite an adjustment, but we grew accustomed to waking to a symphony of bulldozers, power saws, and nail drivers.  After our morning coffee, we'd take our daily marching orders from the contractor, and set off across the countryside to fill them, returning each afternoon with research to share, or boxes to unload.

Through it all, Rick had a business to run, making several trips back and forth to California via Pittsburgh. From our little cottage on Mill Creek, we endeavored to plant business roots in our new community, holding strategy meetings on our summer porch.

In May, we welcomed a new member to our little farm family. Trooper, our little red lab puppy, now more closely resembles Clifford, the Big Red Dog. After three summers of TLC, my flower garden was a sight to behold, and my carefully researched feeding station managed to attract a wide variety of butterflies and songbirds. My little vegetable garden produced its first cucumbers in late June, zucchini in August, and tomatoes in abundance.

From locally grown organic produce, I've processed enough veggies, jams, pickles, soup, salsas and relish, to stock our new pantry for at least a year.  At one point, protesting the time and space my food science projects were demanding, Rick banished my cookbooks and canning supplies to the storage pod (they've since freed themselves, and have returned to the cottage).

Our happiest days, were those spent with our children and grandchildren.  They came, and we went - to country fairs and tractor shows - to the diary hut for homemade ice cream. We watched them splash and play in the cool water of Mill Creek by day, and roast marshmallows around the bonfire by starlight.  What a pleasure it's been watching them grow to enjoy the magic of this place.

There was sadness too in this summer - loss and frustration - the sort that one either survives, or doesn't.  I survived.

At one point yesterday, as I crouched over the foundation stones, focused, busily scraping away the layers of lichen and moss, the mason appeared before me, dripping in sweat and covered in stone dust.  He admonished me saying that if I scrubbed too hard, I'd alter the very character of the stone that I admired so much.

The mason was right.  I stood up, turned on the hose, and washed away the layers of dirt and moss that I'd loosened.  The old foundation stones came alive with color.  There were divots and cracks, tool marks left by the original masons that quarried and cut the stone by hand, and bits of the original mortar that had adhered to, and become part of the stone.  I stood back and proudly admired my work, and added my name to the invisible list of those that had handled the massive chunks of sandstone across two centuries.

Sometimes its alright to be content with yourself, blissfully ignorant of the world around you, and sometimes its okay to retreat and grieve. But there always comes a time, when one must stand up, step back, and look at the bigger picture to gain perspective. Sometimes we need others to remind us to do so, and the wisdom to listen to them.

The construction on our house, is coming to a long anticipated end, and our busy summer is drawing to a close.  In a matter of weeks, autumn will die away into winter, and with the inevitable snowfall, there will be long periods of quiet and solitude here.  I'll enjoy the alone time.  But I have faith that winter will give way to spring, and spring into summer, and with it, the hustle and bustle, the laughter, and children . . .

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, 
a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, 
Europe is the less, 
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.
                John Donne


  1. Wonderfully written. You said "it" so well. It is a loss and no more no less. So thrilled to have you back blogging again.

  2. Great blog Karen! Nice to have you back :)

  3. Hmmm... I seem to be doing the same sort of thing, but different. I've always, always enjoyed some alone time. savoring it and many times, crying out for it! I've become pretty good at getting it, too. It's all about knowing what we need and when we need it, right? I think so.

    I'm kinda stuck on this line "He admonished me saying that if I scrubbed too hard, I'd alter the very character of the stone that I admired so much."- there's quite a bit of depth in that line.

    Can't wait to see the finished product- the fireplace and the whole package! I'm sure you're busy getting ready, too, for the upcoming festival!