Construction blogging is like high school dating. You flirt, you kiss for the first time, and then all of a sudden you have nothing to say to each other. Yes, hard to imagine but I have run out of clever things to say about wood framing, Marvin windows and drywall.
In truth, quite a bit of drama unfurled at the Woods Hole Inn as we hurdled towards 2012. But I can’t really go into it in any detail without hurting feelings or pissing people off. There was the fight over an 8 foot hole in the roof (abated), the struggles with NStar (we gave up), the drama of the chimney flues (unnecessary) and the saga of crumbling masonry (ongoing). There were highs and lows, and suffice it to say that so far, the highs have it. Could I really ask for more than that?
The sub trades came and went. I met with the contractor and architect weekly. The bills came monthly and I kept a difibrulator in the office in case of heart attack. (Wow, stuff is expensive on Cape Cod! ) The bank visited to be sure we are actually spending the money they lend us for the building. There are cautionary tales told, about borrowers who bough Ferrari’s instead (hmmm) and people over 90 days in default (oooh, that sounds uncomfortable).
But we plowed onward. The wind blew yesterday, too hard for the roofers which was a disappointment as it was otherwise fortuitous : clear, dry and not too cold. We are gunning for the “rough framing, plumbing and electric inspection,” the first big step toward completion. After we pass that, then we can insulate, sprinkler and drywall. It’s all downhill from there with finish carpentry, painting and decorating. Sounds easy, huh. And here is what you came for, the photos of progress and action as of late December 2012:
We struggled with Marvin Windows as their lead time is much longer than other companies, and they are pricey. But they look really nice once installed. If they last a nice long time in the salt spray, I will be happy. Call me in fifteen years.
And the views through those windows. Wow…
Thanks for following along and see you all this summer…
Becoming an innkeeper is a curious transition that starts with worrying about all the little details (do we have enough toilet paper? Is the boiler working?) and eventually transforms to a place where the small interactions with one’s guests can make or break a year. On that front, 2011 is a very good year.
Thus begins the tale of the red chair. We moved to Woods Hole last year and made numerous trips to the swap shop (a wonderful institution at the town dump where you can drop off or pick up gently used stuff) and one day we found these two painted red wooden chairs. Pretty solid, I said to my husband. Yes, perfect for our new porch, he mused. So into the trunk they went, paint peeling a bit, dirt crusted in the corners but a nice solid color, definitely worth cleaning up.
Six months later, in January, the small pond behind our house froze. We decided to go skating one afternoon. I grabbed one of the red chairs to help the kids get their skates on. It was glowery and cold, with the light threatening to turn to actual darkness. The pond was grey, silent, ringed with houses many of them dark in winter. I stamped my feet to keep warm, listening to the skates whisk across the ice. Cold and too dark now, I hustled the kids inside for dinner. As we cleared the gear, I looked back and noticed we had forgotten the red chair. There is sat, alone on the pond. I snapped it’s portrait with my handy iPhone.
Later that evening, I posted the picture on Facebook as part of my photo project (“365” – I attempt a new picture every day). The image of the red chair ignited my FB friends and fans — I have never received as many comments. People wanted copies of the photo, poster size. I explained that this picture was taken on my iPhone in low light — unlikely to look very good blown up beyond 5×7.
One day in March, I received an email from a prospective guest from Santa Barbara. She was coming to Boston to see her boyfriend and they were looking for a good place to stay. She had seen my photos of Woods Hole on Facebook and wanted to come to the Woods Hole Inn because Woods Hole looked so beautiful (which it is, BTW). Wow, I thought, all the way from the west coast…it really is a small online world. She booked the room. As we got close to the date, she emailed again. She was a photographer, she said, and she loved my picture with the red chair. Could she borrow it over the weekend for a photo shoot?
Well, I have to admit my first reaction was, huh? Now that is an unusual request! That’s MY chair. Then I remembered the swap shop. This is not my chair at all, it is a chair passing through my life and I need to share it, I reasoned. It is meant to be shared. I loaded the chair up in my Prius, drove it over and parked it on the front porch of the Inn.
We had a family obligation that weekend and I left the Inn in the hands of my very competent staff. When I came back, on Monday, the chair was still on the porch and I asked — did our guest use the chair? Oh, I told her where it was and I think she did. Well, did she say anything about it? Nope, said she had a good time, that was it. Hmmm, not very satisfying after hauling the chair across town but I brought it home and forgot about it.
About a month later, the red chair guest emailed asking for our address. She had taken a picture with the chair and wanted to send me a copy. She said the red chair had opened a whole new place in her work and she wanted to thank me. I emailed back that she could just send me a digital file or post it on Facebook but she said no, she had something to send me.
Turns out our red chair guest is a professional nature photographer. And a really good one at that.
About two weeks later a huge package arrived — what is this, I thought, what have I ordered now? I opened the package, and there was the most incredible shot of Nobska Beach in winter, with the red chair out on the beach before the crashing waves. I was literally breathless looking at this image, tears welled. It was such a simple composition, both the chair and the beach so familiar to me and yet a totally fresh and new juxtaposition. The winter waves crashing toward the grey sand. The snow fence perfectly framing it, inviting me in. Breathtaking.
I carried it around the inn like a teenage girl with a Justin Bieber autograph. Look at this! This came from our guest! Can you believe it #@*?!! It’s the red chair! I put it right up in a prominent place by our guest water cooler. I put a little sign next to it with the photographer’s website. I emailed her a love note of appreciation.
So now, whenever I pass this picture, I think about the dialogue we have with our guests. Sometimes it’s as simple as can I have another towel, or where is the best place for dinner tonight? Or repetitious, yes the Martha’s Vineyard ferry is right across the street. Or even disappointing, as when someone is tired or grumpy.
But this dialogue always involves the give and take between real people who come to the inn with the rich back stories of whole and interesting lives. It reminds me that we mostly scratch the surface when there are oceans of personality, talent, life experience floating underneath the rote interactions (here is your room key, breakfast is served between 8 and 10, the parking lot is right behind the building). I wonder if we added questions like, what is your favorite color, what does the ocean mean to you and have you ever read Sartre? — would we learn more or just scare people? Probably the latter.
For me, the metaphor of the red chair is the invitation to come explore yourself in a quiet and beautiful place. It is an open seat at the table of relaxation. It is the beckoning hand of civilization, marking the edge of the wildness of nature where you can lose and find yourself at the same time. It is the dialogue between artists and innkeepers, dreamers and shop-girls, lost travelers and those that welcome them into warm beds. We are all – on some level — lovers of destination, landscape, color.
What does the red chair mean to you?
To read an update on this story, check out this post.
I took a walk in Spohr Gardens the other day. It was so quiet in the woods, with these cool old millstones lining the path that leads down to the pond. Along the pond there is a spot to launch a canoe or kayak, and a collection of huge old metal objets like anchors and enormous chains. I sat by the water for a few minutes, ripples of the dominant southwesterly breeze fluttering over the protected pond. How rare the opportunity for quiet contemplation in our busy world!
This amazing resource was given to the public by Martha and Charles Spohr whose main stipulation was that their six-acre property on Oyster Pond be open daily. Volunteers keep it well-planted and beautifully maintained. I’m told the daffodil display in spring is particularly impressive, but they were not up yet for my meditation.
Cape Cod needs more Spohrs, generous souls willing to give away a valuable piece of property despite it’s potential for residential development. Pockets of open land like this one are a prized part of the fabric of life in Falmouth. What an incredible resource, both for visitors like me but also for all the frogs, geese, swans, osprey — the flora and fauna of the Cape perpetually squeezed into smaller open spaces.
If you come to Woods Hole, don’t leave without a jaunt into the Spohr Gardens. This temple of nature will refresh and revitalize you — not just with it’s beauty, but also with the spirit of it’s inspired donors. Thank you, Charles and Martha, for my own mindful meditation on your land the other day. Your gift inspires me. And I’m quite sure I am not alone.
Memento Vivere…Remember to Live.
“Memento Vivere” was tattooed on the arm of a friend who died unexpectedly last month. Like he was trying to send a posthumous message to the rest of us… And so it was I embraced the carpe diem of it all and wandered off the beaten path this week in Woods Hole.
Ahh, the fall weather on Cape Cod is so unbelievably sweet. I walked in the full moonlight around on Harbor Hill Road and back into town at School Street. It was about 10 pm on a quiet Monday night and once I was on Harbor Hill I did not see a person or a car until a got back into town. The crickets were singing to me, moonlight filtered through the leaves and a soft warm breeze followed. Magical, zen, very in the moment.
Jon Kabat-Zinn lives in Woods Hole, with his family, and if you have read any of his books (“Full Catastrophe Living” or “Wherever You Go, There You Are”) you will recognize the splendor in a moment like that one.
So I share a few fall photos of Woods Hole. This is from the Great Harbor where the ferries pass daily to the Vineyard, looking back across the water at our little town. Windy day, but not cold yet.
The Woods Hole Passage, they call it, and it is one of the most treacherous crossings on the eastern seaboard — currents of 4-5 knots pull industrial sized buoys sideways at peak tides and the narrow channel is peppered with rocks the size of small islands. A boat a day goes on the rocks here in the summer and there is a Coast Guard station around the corner to service all the rescues needed. Through these waters pass huge yachts, old wooden racing boats called “Twelve Footers” and “Knockabouts,” Hinckley picnic boats daytripping to Quicks Hole and fishing boats of all shapes and sizes following the striped bass and bluefish.
And this is Hadley Harbor in the off season. A short boat ride from Woods Hole, through the Woods Hole Passage, any local charter fisherman can take you there. Empty and undeveloped, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.