This afternoon I decided to go for a walk to clear my mind. It’s the same route—a nearly three-mile loop starting in Deer Isle village—that I took during the early days of the pandemic. Just starting out on the road I have a visceral memory of those early spring days when the world was eerily quiet, and it felt that danger was imminent. Even if danger is still near—and when isn’t it?—today feels different. More cars, more people walking. A few hundred feet from my home, I notice that the Parish house has scaffolding wrapped around the front and side; its three-story tall bell tower is being repaired. The Parish house is one of three older public buildings side by side on Route 15—along with the former high school and a Masonic hall. In old photos there are maple trees lining the road and a wooden sidewalk.

The white clapboard Victorian structure was built around 1905 for the nearby Congregational Church and has since been used as, among other things, a preschool, an antique shop, and a church. It’s now a private studio. A friend remembers in the 1950s lining up in front of it with all the other elementary school kids to get vaccinated. I remember dancing at a birthday party a few years ago when we could feel the floor flexing beneath us. I’m sure those island carpenters who built it weren’t thinking that nearly 120 years later someone else would be restoring their work. Yet it’s a story as old as human communities—that what we have made gets passed from generation to generation—and is changed by the hands that touch it.

I’m invited to walk up the staging and see where the posts have rotted. Near the damaged section I see the architectural detail of herringboned sheathing and arched windows. Looking at the careful work of the hand, I remember that the writer Ellen Dissanayake described the process of creating art as “making special.” Right now, the tower—which looks like it was intended to house a bell but never did—is fragile enough that you can move it with your hand.

The restoration work is being done by my friend Renee Sewall, who owns Tomboy Construction. She grew up on the island and learned how to build and fix things from her dad, a lobsterman who also built wooden boats. I am in awe of her ingenuity. After she built her own house, she realized she knew enough about construction to start her own company. That was fifteen years ago, and she has been busy ever since.

l also play in a band with her. There are six of us: a contractor, a poet, two artists, a lobsterman, and a security officer. Our music is an eclectic mix of rock, blues, and country. Some of us are professional; I’m an enthusiastic amateur. We play other people’s songs, from Patsy Cline to Lou Reed to Elle King.

There are transcendent moments when the sound we make becomes more than the individual players or instruments; it’s music and we’re enveloped in it. It’s us and greater than us at the same time. Just last month, we were playing on a flatbed trailer in the Fourth of July parade that goes through Deer Isle village, right past the Parish house. Neighbors and summer people along the parade route were moving in time to the music. In our small town, the parade is more than antique cars and handmade floats; it carries the history of past parades and connects us, however briefly, with one another and with our community.

Isn’t that a basic human impulse—to connect with one another and create a way to comprehend our place in the world? Traveling hand in hand with that yearning is our impulse to make art, where we try to give voice to the ineffable in whatever media we have at our disposal. Here on this two-lane road on an island in Maine, two art forms—architecture and music—come together. Both are lessons in impermanence.

From below the tower, I can hear the hammering as new posts reinforce the past, so that the structure will stand for years more. The music we played in July is long gone—sound waves that grew fainter and fainter. Our own time is somewhere in between—we won’t last as long as a building, but we’re here for more than a song.


Image at top:  photo by Stuart Kestenbaum.