Grindstone Island News - September 4, 1996

 

Well, there are still lots of people here on the island even though school starts Tuesday in most places, and for many, started last week. Those of us who are here have basked in the sun like snakes on a rock, or, as Buck has done, have brought in another load or two or 20, or 40 of hay. Buck says Leon says, "When the summer hay is as good as this year's, you have to expect a long, hard winter." So, says Buck, "I'm tucking it right in." At the usual year-end parties, the warm, clear weather has sweetened and plumped us like tree-ripened peaches.

 

The women on Grindstone have discovered the fun of having lunch together. When I was young we had coffee klatches, usually with four or five children clamoring over our laps, or trying to build the highest tower they'd ever manage with their building blocks, .or quarreling...That's the kind of party that goes on almost without ceasing at Carolyn Bazinet's house. Abby Rand invited a group of women to her high place last week. We went with sandwiches, drinks, bathing suits, and children. It was sort of like the old coffee klatch. We coiled ourselves on the rock cliff, enjoying the sun, the conversation, the leisure, the sparkling river, and the children. Some of us went down to swim, some just talked together, and we came and went as our lives led us. Nice.

 

At Kitty Paxton's, it was different. She decided we all needed a rest from the little ones before the business of the school year begins. We spanned all ages, from 10-year old (?) Emily Rand to venerable Sis Matthews and Anna Couch. We came from all points of the island, and in a few cases, from just off it. I don't usually make social lists, but this group of women make a unique society list, a real Grindstone list: The names aren't in any order but the order in which Norma Frazier collected them at random on the back of a paper plate: Abby Rand, Emily Rand, Doreen Meeks, Yuvon Marra, Carolyn Bazinet, Polly Kolle, Margaret Taylor, Mary Beer, Erma Slate, Nonna Frazier, Anna Couch, Florence (Sis) Matthews, Clara Carnegie, Gwen Taylor, Marjorie Rusho, Phyllis Schwartz, Lesly Harmon (whose return visit to Grindstone with her new baby daughter was the seed for the party), Junie Augsbury, Isabel Wilder, Marie Moore, Elizabeth Kincaid-Ehlers, Kitty Paxton Garnsey (about whose hostessing we'll say more!) Judy Utigerer-Bacci, Elizabeth Kennison Bacci, Mary Lou Rusho, Emmy Sorth, Sissy Danforth, and Frances Rossmassler! Brenda Slate had to work, and I almost forgot my own name, Aminta.

 

With all of those good cooks there, you can imaging how the long two tables didn't groan; they sang like the mythical Sirens calling us to great bowls of fruit, a round of Brie cheese, rice, ham wrapped around cream cheese, crisp snow peas, pastas, salads,...ah! It was all a delight! And at the end, there was not only a cream puff cake, and a beautiful fluffy yellow cake,.there was a confection with our own Grindstone Island, unmistakably green spread across its icing. 1 think just about every topic on our minds was pretty well covered in the conversation, and when Carolyn Bazinet, who provided my transportation for the day, had to leave to get back to work at McRae Point, the talk hadn't even begun to run down. What do women talk about? About Sunday sermons: In the course of that conversation, Mary Lou suggested a book I might like to read Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. It's on the bestseller list, but she says it's worth reading anyway!

 

Carolyn and I talked about how to keep the guards' confidentiality while prisoners are working on the nature trail on the island. One of the prisoners told Bubby, when Bubby came on duty one day this week, "I know where you live now." Since many of the new prisoners don't live far from here, and since they may have problems with drugs, or with angers that no one can heal in this radically quaking era, in this premillenial, superstitious era, (we are all numerologists in the same sense...those thirteens, birthdays, crossings of thousand year marks...) the prison guards want their private lives to remain private. It's a human relations issue I hadn't thought of, and I realized that teaching students, as I have done all my life, is quite a different relationship from working in a prison. To be wise, you certainly have to live a lot of lives! Since I haven't yet lived enough lives, I'm not sure how hiring by institutions for community use should be managed. I do know that there aren't many jobs in the North country, and I do know that the people who have lived here all of their lives are not careless with chain saws, and are not likely to get a truck stuck among cattails. I know, too, that the Cape Vincent prisoners must learn a lot about goodness by coming to the fresh air of the Grindstone woods and working with the people of Clayton and the island.

 

We talked about ideas for Christmas presents, too. Alice Rusho Peron makes wonderful sweatshirts, T-shirts, ballet tote bags, mini-backpacks, and so on and on. The design I like most is the one of autumn trees against a dark green. Alice has seen, really seen, the island's September colors glimmer, since she was a baby girl on Grindstone.

 

As we talked about the organ that Mr. and Mrs. Borman are giving to the church, I borrowed a pencil from Kitty to write some of these bits of news down. She took me to her desk, which was not only neat as my husband's, but every pencil had a sharp point! Kitty's and Salt's house is a good place for a cross-island party. The one big room, warm with knotty pine, and light from the skylight in the high ceiling, gathered us with no crunch.

 

Potter's Beach

Another thing Sis Danforth and I talked about was Potter's Beach. Now there is a thorny branch to touch. TILT needs to raise more money both to pay the remainder of the sale price and to maintain the beach in the minimal way everyone wants to see it done. So Sissy is trying to live some of those lives she needs to, to get prematurely wise. Fleur, my daughter, used to babysit for Bill and Sissy when the Danforth kids were little, and since the mother of a babysitter learns a lot about the parents her daughter works for, I feel I can trust the good of Sissy's intentions. So I pulled off a bit to talk about Potter's Beach.

 

Earlier in the afternoon, Mary Lou Rusho had given me a packet of Potter history, which she thought I might be interested in. The Potters came to New England very early in the history of the United States; Ephraim and Samuel were Revolutionary War veterans, but the first Potter on Grindstone was Dr. William Elison Potter who came to Gananoque at the age of 24 to become the village physician. He practiced there for 31 years; his saddlebags, which became his traveling office and hospital, were handed down through his brother's family to a descendant, Ethel Wright, a professor at Middlebury College. In 1860, he retired to Grindstone where he bought land at the head of the island.

 

The Islands did not become a vacationer's paradise until the late 1870s, so the doctor bought a huge tract, nearly one third of the island. He sold off some portions, but kept about 400 acres for himself. Eventually, he divided much of his remaining land between his sons, Orlando and Albert. Until the Land Trust bought it, a large tract remained in- the hands -of Potter-descendants: Helen Kelly's, James McComber's, Potter Kendall's and Eleanor Kendall Flanders'. The history says, "The very fine sandy beach is the scene of the annual summer "Back Home Day." That day now is known as Old Home Day and the celebration is still an annual tradition.

 

In Gananoque, the house on Stone Street where the doctor lived and had his office is now a bed and breakfast. The large Victorian structure with two towering gables in front is in the Gananoque historic register and can be visited if you call for permission. In early census records, William was listed as a farmer, but since the 1950s and before, the land has not been farmed. The beach became an island playground. When John and I, with our three children, came to live in the Grindstone Island parsonage in 1962, we used the beach as our almost private swimming place, and bathtub!

 

Grindstone Islanders, those who grew up here, have dear ties to the Potter enclave. Buck told me that "Old Man Kendall" himself cut most of the stones for the Kendall plot in the cemetery. Another time, before the sale, when Mark Boss was building his camp on the beach. Buck said, "I think it's nice that some of the Potter family can enjoy their land." Buck also thought it was a good thing that members of the family could profit from cutting some of the timber in their woods before the sale. While it's best for woods if they lie as they are and heal or replenish themselves, forever wild, it is, also, best a lot of the time, for a family with family needs, to cut their timber to supply those needs. All of us thank the Potter family for making Potter's Beach available to the whole community. It would have been too bad to have it fall into the hands of those "real estate vultures" the New York Times described this week, to have Potter's Beach destroyed by slick overbuilding which would have brought in business, it is true, but to high power service-givers and salesmen, not to our own plain speaking, independent islanders.

 

Some I've talked to think that an unlikely scenario given to Island's remoteness, but there are a lot more boats owned by a lot more people now, and, judging by the number of boats at Potter's every weekend, the beach is no longer as remote as it once was. The number of houses that have been built on the north shore of the river in the last 20 years also makes the scenario more believable. Buck and Milton both grin, and their eyes twinkle, then respond to that dread, "It was a lot different before you came. Emmet could sit in his Big House breakfast nook naming every boat that went up the river, and we've gotten used to you. The Indians probably hated to see Manhattan change.

 

Now TILT has taken on an almost impossible agenda. To keep this lively land lovely for, especially, islanders, yet keep it open for all river people, even for those strangers we talked about last week. Some people are sure that, no matter what we plan, tilt's land will, eventually, be broken up and sold as private parcels, parcels with building restrictions, but privately owned by those who like the protection Land Trust gives their domain, and the island they've chosen as their heaven "where bright angel feet have trod" where they bring their betrothed to make sure they pass the "Island test." Some believe, without animosity, only with the realism of their experience, that the chosen parcels are made affordable to the Chosen by tilt's promise of a charitable deduction in taxes, or by an assessment that is, perhaps favorable to a buyer who favors Land Trust's institutional program, maybe to an elite group needing to reduce the value of their land for inheritance taxes, maybe to tennis players. The islanders don't seem to mind. They are just bemused, watching the story to be continued.

 

There are problems, which seem intractable when institutions like government take over for the "common good." Buck won clear title to the one and a quarter acres a real estate broker contested on his land. But, for some reason, it does not now qualify as a farm credit, and his assessment on that piece was raised. Buck is, I think, the only islander trying to make almost all of his living from island land. He chooses not have a mail route, not to join the coast guard, not to work at the prison; he chooses not to work in summer in one of the marinas; he doesn't have a private income that supports his life on the farm, or-allows him to afford big, fast machinery; he chooses not to be a plumber or builder for affluent summer people. He works his land, | preferring small bales of hay that he thinks are drier and healthier for his cows in the winter, storing it in barns he has to keep in repair, he chooses to live in his grandmother's little house down the road from the farmhouse where Erma lives, and it is bright with lovely photographs of his family. This very afternoon, it is fragrant with the odor of Brenda's and Erma's canning bushels of tomatoes and peaches, in an era when "choice" is a freedom much proclaimed, Buck's choice seems reasonable, it is hard to imagine why, in the mind of the town fathers, his acre and a quarter is not eligible for a farm exemption.

 

It is not only small business men, medical doctors, or iconoclasts who find the intricacies of law, even the laws carefully constructed to protect us all from fraud, too exhausting to tangle in TILT, willy nilly becomes a third party to deal with. Appropriateness or the righting of old injustices is too individual or persona] to fit the general rubrics by which law tries to keep things fair. The investor must be protected; TILT has to be funded to do its work. As it is in all investment business, the price TILT buys for must be low; the price it sells for must be high. One family felt criticized for buying land on the old railroad bed that would reconnect one part of their land to the rest of it. That particular narrow tract was taken away from the main farm in the 19th century under eminent domain laws favorable to the railroad magnates, so the farm was cut in two. Probably some of the town discussion about ATVs originated from noise and activity on the abandoned railroad trail.

 

It's all too easy for islanders to feel like a frog being ingested by a snake when they read that TILT now controls 40% of Grindstone. Every one of us has felt like that frog at one time or another. Long ago I saw a movie called Pere Vincent. I remember only one line from it, but I have kept thinking of it as I've been writing..."It is only because of your love that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them," And then, in my mind, I add "It is only because of your love that the rich will forgive you the mistrust you have of them." Computers and the science of nerve impulses, and thermostats serve as models for how energy transmits to getting something done in, usually, the way of the Golden Mean, the middle path, the way of compromise, the way of "Yes" against "No."

 

Everyone who knows how to jumpstart a battery knows that all energy is transmitted by plus-minus, plus-minus. What we have to do is keep the plus minuses connected, active, and protected from surge. Energy is pretty powerful stuff to tamper with, but we manage it every second. Phil Marra says; if there is an overload on one side, drop it. But TILT gives us a way of staying connected without overload or surge if we continue to think of it as our organization, if we continue to make sure our voice is its voice. Sissy is listening, trying to make sure that is the way it is.

 

Some of the ways

I guess taxes can be defined as energy. One thing I have asked several people is how people are induced to give easements on their property? Here are some of the ways:

If inheritance taxes are a problem for your family, (they are not for mine), a land easement on your property reduces the value of that land for inheritance taxes. A complicated formula is used, but it is possible to reduce those taxes in some instances.

 

When TILT buys a tract of land that will be put to use for the pleasure of the whole community, that land is taken off the tax roles. Why should we pay taxes for land, which belongs to the whole community? Potter's Beach, the nature trail, and Rails to Trails are in this category. Only Potter's Beach land was valuable enough to affect the taxes each of us pays. But even Potter's taxes were only $300-$400 each year. Each family's property tax bill went up about one cent.

 

Properties under easement do not come off the tax role. Sometimes the assessment on the property goes up because the price of land abutting it goes up people like the protection from big developers that TILT gives. They like living adjacent to a conservation property. But that easement means, that that particular property cannot ever be developed. (We all know that "ever" is a temporal word, but let's let it stand.) Therefore, the owner may shut himself out of big profit from such development. Bless him or her.

 

If the owner of the "easement property" has a high enough income, the gross adjusted income may be eligible for a charitable deduction on their income taxes only. For instance, if you give an easement over 100 acres, allowing that only five houses may be built on it, an assessment is done before easement and another is done after easement. The owner may then claim a deduction for the difference, about 30% of the adjusted income for that particular 100 acres. e.g. $100, 000 of taxable income may be reduced to $70, 000. Some deductions are as high as 50%. A complex progressive formula is used, as it is in all income taxing. A progressive formula has been worked out in the hope that we can be fairer to people in the low-income brackets. There is a lot of discussion about that now, as we hear in television's political Speeches because the least of us become pretty sophisticated about escaping taxes. But let's give this formula the benefit of our doubts. Certainly the formula was written for the common good.

 

People who give easements on their land and continue to own it, receive no tax breaks in their school, town, or county taxes. In any town, and on Grindstone, a small property owner enjoys the sense of space given by large land owners who leave their land open. Everyone sees the sky, feels the air, enjoys the trees and shrubs, or the wildness. TILT is protecting that openness for us. Potter's Beach is free for us to use any time. Last Saturday, Mary Lou Rusho, Doreen Meeks, Deanna Marra, and Yuvon Marra used the nature trial at the foot of the island to go, on their four-wheelers, to visit Kay Duncan. They'd never been down there before.

 

Both Buck Slate, who farms on the north side of Grindstone, and Milton Rusho, who farms on the south side of Grindstone, cite several anachronisms, point out that the woods on Grindstone have grown up since they were boys, remind me that cow dung is a great source of seed for song birds, and that birds love to feed in a mown field. They tell me, and I know it, that they've been walking the length and breadth and circumference of this island since they were little tykes, without any nature trails. They also say that Potter's Beach isn't any better now than when the islanders were taking care of it, just keeping it nice for them to use.

 

Suggestions

 

Finally, however, they both say, "Oh, they've done some good." Here are a few suggestions Buck made after he'd talked a while:

If people who give easements get reductions in their income taxes, people over 65 shouldn't have to pay any.

If people use the beach, they should clean it up, carry away their trash, and use the toilets on their boats. They shouldn't bring their boats right up to the beach where children, and adults, for that matter, want to swim. They should anchor out. Leave the beach free.

People shouldn't clean their boats there at the beach either. The stuff they use makes swimmers get rashes and sores. They can clean the boats somewhere where people don't swim,

We don't want too many rules. Everyone should take responsibility for making Potter's a good place for everyone to swim.

 

I guess what Karen did is a good thing for all of us to do. When one fellow climbed into his boat to go, leaving a big bag of trash on the beach, she picked it up and put it in his boat, saying, "you brought it, you take it."

 

Everyone of us, TILT member or not, seems to have much the same dream for Potter's Beach. We just have to keep the plus-minus energy open and easy, unbroken and free of overload. One of the things that makes regulating Potter's Beach complicated, establishing a swimming area, for instance, is liability laws. If TILT marks off areas for swimming, TILT becomes liable for any accidents that occur. And TILT can't afford to pay lifeguards, nor do people want them, because then, we'd be subject to restricted hours, and rules and rules and rules. Well, we'll probably never live all those lives that make us wise, but we'll all keep Having one life after another. So things may improve. I'm sure that with every sale and every easement, and every agreement, TILT managers learn what to promise, what to warn of, what to apply for in what instances, how to make the seller profit as much as possible from the land he or she sells encumbered by restrictions, how to make the price of buying land from TILT a price local people can afford, how to avoid the paper tangles, the restrictions, the limits that cause losses, what questions to ask. But it takes a long life of learning...for all of us. Grindstone islanders, have to take tilt's plea seriously, that we think of ourselves as part of the governing body, and make our desires known! Go to TILT meetings. They are held in the Dodge Memorial Hall, and everyone can speak. And everyone is heard.

 

TILT began", Buck says, "with Save the River. We have to remember that there is, so far, no winter navigation on the St. Lawrence. Save the River was successful in making the North Country voice heard in Washington. TILT remains a low-key organization standing at the ready when we need a voice. Everyone likes it that way. It's like the carbon atom that centers every knotted and twisted protein molecule with its plus 4, minus four valence, a not-too-powerful

not-too-weak energy source, not-too-one-way, not-too-other-way direction. Maybe it can keep us alive...if we stay connected.

 

Dance plans

 

I spent a lot of time this week on TILT, and it all started because of a conversation over a women's lunch. I'm not sure what that says about women's lunches! On Saturday night, there was a meeting about next year's dances, a real Grindstone meeting where Bubby Bazinet and Phil Marra, Dodge Memorial Hall officers asked the younger people for help next year in carrying the bands over the river, in cooking the food, in cleaning the hall...and several volunteered. They had even come on time to the meeting. In fact, they, the young people had persuaded three DJs who own their own boat, Kenny Dillon, Jason Hackbarth, and Gerry Marshall, to bring music to the hall that very Saturday night when admission was free. After 20 minutes, people had donated $120 to them. It all just happens. And we danced! And Brandon Slate twirled on the floor with the colored lights.

 

That night the membership of the hall and the Grindstone Island Methodist Church presented John and Aminta Marks with a plaque making them lifetime honorary members of both the church and the hall. John and I are very moved by the generosity of all of our Grindstone friends, and appreciate very much being taken in to their heart. John has never been minister of a church, but he is very happy that Grindstone islanders give him a ministry that he cherishes so much. I, too, am very grateful that they let me speak, in the Grindstone News, for them. Here, I want to thank the Thousand Islands Sun for its generosity in space, in time, in freedom of speech. Writing the column is a task I enjoy very much. Melody Brabant has picked up the articles early every Monday morning and, when she gets to her Grant Dier's office, she faxes the material to the Sun! Imagine! And, thank you. Bubby has sometimes picked it up from the seat in his truck and dropped it into Melody's box on his earlier way to work.

Isn't it all amazing?

 

On Sunday, when she noticed shoes were causing a problem, Kitty Paxton said to her four nieces and nephews, "Just wear your Grindstone shoes to church." And what should be Mary Beer's text,, but "Take off your shoes, for the place whereon you stand is Holy Ground." In fact, Mary suggested that we all take off our shoes so we could feel the ground we came from and belong to. The life of the mind is important, but what we learn here on the island is the importance of the good earth, the importance of the handful of soil we talked about last week that has more organization and more complexity than exists in the surfaces of all the other planets combined. We dug our toes into it when we made a circle around the great tree at the front of the church and, after passing the peace to each other, received a blessing. Carol Marsh's singing will stay in our hearts and in our ears through all the cold winter.

In the afternoon a crowd gathered one last time for the squatters' picnic in the yards of Phil and Yuvon Marra and Ada and Bob Bazinet. Food and conversation and gratitude and affection abounded in a measure that will surely fill our hearts until next June when we all come back. God willing.

 

A correction. Audrey, you don't have to rewrite your whole book. The organ has nothing to do with the Rev. Rose Wright, though I did hear that her grandson Fred Garnsey came to church this summer. When he took Sis Matthews' arm to help her, she asked, "Who are you?" And when he told her, she gave him a great big kiss.

 

The organ, however, was given by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Martin, a Methodist minister from Pennsylvania, spent every summer at the river for many years. He preached at the Half Moon Bay services, and, she feels sure, at the Grindstone church. He once owned both Wyoming and Ramsden Islands, and was a good friend of Hy Russell on Grindstone. Mr. and Mrs. Borman now own Ramsden Island. The organ accompanied the congregation as we sang "Shall we Gather at the River" this Sunday morning. So it is.