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from A Squandered Life / Bucky
....should I pace about aching until day or another solution dawned?
One of Henry's main claims to fame was his strength as a “networker”. His appetite for blagging stood him in very good stead for this. He was a very entertaining guy and never at a loss for words. In his capacity as “design consultant” for Alcan he networked with all kinds of extraordinary people - artists, film makers, writers, architects, designers - and a veritable parade of them would pass through our home to get the full scale treatment of cocktails, Mari-Ann's elaborate dinners, and Valpolicella.
Perhaps the most luminary of these was Buckminster Fuller who appeared in our midst like a dark suited gnome with huge black rimmed glasses and a bristling white pate. He was introduced to us as Bucky and would lean forward with his enormously magnified eyes and sobrely shake hands each time we met. Unlike many of the others, he would actually remember our names and to hear him speak in his quiet sonorous voice was always a pleasure. His quiet and Henry's profound respect tended to mean that Bucky's visits were less boisterous and bombastic than the norm. Bucky could maintain a monologue for such lengths that we would often doze off only to find, on re-awakening, that he was still talking and that all the adults in the room were still hanging on his every word.
Bucky had an island off the coast of Maine. Bear Island was much bigger than the other island in our lives and full of the wonders of forests and rocky sea shores and even a resident flock of sheep. The ocean was much colder than the serene St Lawrence and therefore much less inviting, but on sunny days it was just as impeccably clear and full of visual evidence of thriving fish communities. On stormy days it was a totally different story. The Atlantic could turn grim and angry and would conspire with the sky to produce heavy rolling clouds to frighten us away from its shores with dark and threatening frowns.
The first leg of the journey to Bucky's would be an interminable car drive from Montreal. This would be followed by what seemed like an equally interminable ride across acres and acres of rollicking waves in the boat of Bucky's “foreman”, Pearl. Pearl was a local fisherman who also lived with his family on the island and was always on hand to sort out practical difficulties from leaking roofs to stranded sheep. He also supplied fresh lobster on demand.
We would pass islands en route in the vain hope that this was, at last, our destination and then, as hope expired, Pearl would pick one and steer towards it and eventually pull into a little bay. Here was a substantial and sturdy wooden pier and we would lash up in the calm protected waters. We would drag our bags off and lug them ashore and up a rocky path for a ten minute walk through small fields and bits of forest towards a large house on the eastern shore. This was a massive three storey wooden affair which creaked almost us much as our house at number 32. It was also usually filled with at least one other visiting family as well as Bucky's own.
Just like on our other island, toilet facilities consisted of a foul smelling outhouse. This one was a four seater, located about a hundred yards from the house, which dropped onto tidal rocks below and so required very little maintenance. We were assigned rooms up in the very top of the house which meant that when I awoke at night with a full bladder, which seemed to be most nights, I was faced with some stark choices. Should I try and make my way through a strange and pitch black house, creaking and squeaking on the wooden floors and stairways past nameless sleeping bodies, and then across the darkened hundred yards of unfamiliar rough ground to the cliff edge outhouse? Or should I pace about aching until day or another solution dawned? Not much of a choice really. On that first night I paced for what seemed like hours of solitary until, at one end of the paces, at the window overlooking the invisible meadow below, I happened to spot a gutter running just below the sill. Delirious with the promise of relief I slowly and surreptitiously lifted the lower window up, aimed, and let rip such a stream in such a state of bliss that I nearly passed out. This became my improvised routine for most of the nights that followed.
Towards the end of our stay I happened, through my childhood fog, to notice that there weren't any taps in the house. I realised that people were carting water around in buckets but I knew they couldn't be getting it from the rocky shoreline in the way we did from our other island in the St Lawrence. Even I knew you couldn't drink sea water. One morning I followed a friendly adult carrying an empty bucket to a well in the form of a large cinder block tank around the side of the house. I watched him dip in and lift a full bucket out. “Can I look in the well?” I asked, and he lifted me up so I could look over the edge of the cinder wall. “But it's not a well,” he said. “Our drinking water is the rain. See the gutters running down from the house?” Horrified, I looked up the lengths of guttering branching out around the house - one branch of which ran all the way up to our bedroom window on the top floor.
On one of our visits we were all called upon to erect a geodesic dome from an experimental flat packed kit being pioneered by the now unreservedly evil Monsanto corporation. Henry and my brother Harry seemed to get into the heart of the project, building a circular wooden platform on thick stilts pounded into the ground. On top of this the pre-fab triangular sandwiched polystyrene panels were assembled with aluminium bolts and washers.
For some obscure reason I was given a hammer and a cold chisel and asked to cut a groove into a slab of granite to the side of the platform. I managed to generate some blisters, a bit of blood, and some bruising, but no identifiable groove. It didn't seem to impact on the overall project though. The magnificent little dome emerged from the collective labours and in due course stood proud like a mini astronomic observatory in it's clearing in the trees. The interior was bright and spacious with slightly resonant acoustic properties. It was also a safe heaven from heavy winds and rain and provided great play space while the adults tried to figure out what it could best be used for.
In the evening of the day of completion, Bucky launched into one of his interminable monologues. As I drifted in and out of it, I heard him refer to “a couple of boys” who'd earned a prize. I woke up on the assumption that Harry and I were to be awarded something but it turned out that Bucky was conferring his personal “dymaxion award” to couple of the men who'd helped out on the development of the flat pack dome. I don't think I was alone in my disappointment. I remember seeing Henry's face and thinking he seemed more put out than me.
A few years later, he earned his own dymaxion award from Bucky and showed us the tiny little silver latticed globe with evident pride and pleasure.
© 2013 Deacon Martin