Friday, September 23, 2011

"A Place to Nurture Genius"

On a recent trip to Grand Manan Island, NB  I was surprised to learn that Grand Manan won third place in Readers Digest’s “World’s 7 Best small islands.

“Connected to mainland New Brunswick by ferry, the island is home to charming fishing villages, the vertiginous Southeast Head sea cliffs and the idyllic Swallowtail Lighthouse, the second-most photographed lighthouse in all of Atlantic Canada.”

This quote is part of Tim Johnson’s island description for the Reader’s Digest Contest announcement.  What the announcement doesn’t tell you becomes the caveat of my blog.

I was surprised to learn of the contest win, but delighted too, because the island is home to my eldest son, Michael E. Simms. Michael makes his living as a commercial fisherman on the Bay of Fundy.

A few years ago Michael showed us a rustic cottage nestled in the trees near the cliffs at Whale Cove, North Head, one of the six villages on Grand Manan.  Michael had a reason for showing this isolated, charming cottage. I had been pestering him with questions about the island; his answers to be part of the research for an article I was writing.

“This cottage,” Michael said, “is part of the estate of a renowned American author, Willa Cather. Like you, Mom, she was a writer and teacher. She lived here and wrote books in this cottage.” I was flattered by the comparison but assured Michael that my writing was not likely to ever achieve Cather’s fame.

Willa Cather (1873-1947), novelist and short story writer, one time editor of McClure’s magazine, wrote during the first half of the 20th century. My Antonia is often thought to be her most enduring novel, but it was One of Ours, written in 1922 which won a Pulitzer Prize. L.K. Ingersol writes about Willa Cather in Shadows On the Rock.

“Not too much has been written about her connection to this Bay of Fundy island. There is ample reason. During her lifetime she said little about it, probably nothing to the public and hardly more to her close friends. . .The very fact that it was rather out of the way and visited by none of her friends made it all the more desirable. Had it been otherwise, she would have probably dismissed it from her mind. It was then, actually a workshop, a place to nurture genius.”

Her companion and confidant, Edith Lewis, was with her on Grand Manan Island. Ingersol writes that “the two companions found solitude without loneliness at Whale Cove. It was ideal for their work and after three years they built a cottage of their own.

In 1926 they bought several acres of land and the cottage was built for them by local carpenters.

Much later Lewis mentioned the cottage in her book Willa Cather Living, “the cottage was a rather rough little place, with many inconveniences, but it came to have great charm. Above the rooms was a large attic from which one could look out over the cliff and the sea, and this Willa chose for her study.”

I first saw the Willa Cather cottage while visiting our son in 2007. I remember peeking in the windows, marveling at the care obviously given to its upkeep, imagining her sitting at her old Oliver typewriter listening to birdsongs or the sound of the sea. I snapped photos of the cottage and the view, vowing to re-read one of my favorites of hers, Death Comes For the Archbishop.

During an August visit this year we toured down Whistle Road once again. Drawing near the Willa Cather cottage, it was time to enjoy a sumptuous dinner at cliff-side’s  Inn at Whale Cove Cottages –a very special treat from our son!  Browsing through brochure descriptions of the rental cottages on the premises, I experienced a second island surprise!


Built by the American author in the 1920’s this cottage is secluded and has a Cliffside water view.  There are two bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, two fireplaces, activity room and kitchen.  $1000.00 per week Sunday to Sunday

A rental cottage!  Perhaps not a use that will perpetuate Willa’s memory, but if the $’s were available I can think of no better retreat to inspire a writer than this beauty spot at Whale Cove, North Head on Grand Manan Island.

          Enjoy the photos of the cottage, Willa’s sea view and Swallowtail Light. whether you are a reader or a writer, you may want to be inspired as Willa Cather was on that remote island.

Back to this author 's musings, my conscience niggles over a promise I made to my  readers: An excerpt from my new book,  PROMISE KEEPER.  A synopsis and excerpt appears on my Author Page at Red Room's literary web site. If you open the the following URL mypromise will be kept.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thank you, Mary, for sharing this unique experience with us. I am not much of a traveler and have never been to the Bay of Fundy. You've transported me there and I love it! The photos are lovely. It's great that your son lives there and you can visit. Obviously, it provides wonderful inspiration for writers.

Maryannwrites said...

Wonderful story and I loved the pictures. There is something so inspiring about being in places where wonderful writers have lived and worked.

Bonnie Tharp said...

This may be a duplicate comment, if so, I'm sorry. I'm still not comfortable with Blogger.

Mary, thanks for sharing this place with us. It makes me want to visit. I've always dreamed of having a secluded place to write and this is beautiful. Willa Carter obviously thought so, too. She's awesome.

Mary Schoenecker said...

Maryann and BD,
I've been trying to respond to you but I am new at this blog site, so I seem to be making mistakes.I am happy you liked this island setting for writers. It is truly unique and beautiful. Readers Digest readers must have thought so too!

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Mary: Loved your post. Makes me want to pack my suitcase and go there, my own personal retreat. Thanks for the informative post.

Mary Fremont Schoenecker said...

Thanks, Joyce. Would that we all could be in a place which "inspires genius"

Alyssa S said...

After having visited Grand Manan, I am surprise and excited to learn of the Willa Cather cottage! I would love to venture back up there to see it for myself. Thanks for the information!

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