Stranded Knitting on a Desserted Island

Some islands are deserted, meaning nothing much is there; I had the great good fortune of being stranded knitting with Lucy Neatby on the desserted (plenty of chocolate in the cupboard) Tancook Island, off the Nova Scotian coast near Halifax, where Lucy has a cottage on a hill above the sea. My heart has now put down roots on Tancook and nothing, not even the gale force winds that stranded us there overnight, can ever extract my heart from that mesmerizing three-mile-by-one mile forested rock.

It all started last week when I flew to Toronto to join Stephanie Pearl-McPhee for the flight to St. John, New Brunswick. She and I became jolly and perhaps a bit too insouciant, unaware that we were both botching the knitting projects—Fiona Ellis’ Gwendolyn (Steph) and Sivia Harding’s Confluence Shawlette (me) —that we were attempting to follow using the tried-and-untrue method of glancing at only some of the directions and charts, assuming we “got it.” It got us.


Somewhere at 40,000 feet we each discovered we had overlooked key elements and thus had to unravel hours of work. One knitter gone wrong is sad, but two gone wrong is merry, so when the nice Air Canada flight attendant came along with customs cards, Stephanie happily tucked her passport, pen, and card in her seat pocket and promptly forgot it. You can read all about the result of our merriment here. When I flew out of Halifax early this morning I took the time to tell the Air Canada agent that her company had done something so magnificent for my friend that I probably ought to kiss her feet (Stephanie, on the other hand, you will learn when you read her post, was so monumentally relieved that she nearly kissed her saviour on the other end).


In the tiny St John, NB airport, Veronik Avery and our driver awaited us and we zipped off through beautiful countryside to the charming Algonquin Hotel which spreads like a twisted stitch design atop a promontory in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea for the Knit East Fibrefest, where Jane Thornley and Lucy were also teaching. In the market, Stephanie, still unaware of her lost passport and thus full of mischief, cast a spell on me which caused me to buy hundreds of dollars of Fleece Artist yarn (and an Ilga Leja pattern, which will turn out best if I actually read all the directions) while she spent considerably less. I tried my best to get her to compete with me, but she refused.

Veronik, Stephanie and I traipsed down to the sea to see the unusually high tide (which had been so high an hour earlier—around 26 feet­—that the whale-watch office, on stilts, had been ready to evacuate because of waves lapping at the floor), and discovered Cottage Crafts, which enthralled us all and which I shall let Stephanie tell you about here.


My classes, Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, and Magical Moebius Knitting, were full of hardy, capable, adventurous, good-hearted knitters with whom I would be glad to spend my life if I could only be two of me, one a US citizen and the other Canadian. If Cricket Cove ever hosts a second Knit East, I recommend you try to attend.


Meals were great fun because they gave rise to the Drama of the Elusive Cheese Sandwich (DECH). One evening the tall, dark, and handsome server said to Stephanie, when she hypothetically asked if he would bring her a cheese sandwich (with cheese) if she asked for one, “I will bring you anything you ask for,” and she replied, “You will? Why?” and he answered, “Because I’m afraid of you (in a good way).” Alas, the DECH still had a day to go at that point or the denouement might have been different. Spies write with invisible ink, and some chefs ply their trade with invisible cheese.

After the Sunday’s class, Lucy and I made a fast getaway in her Mini in an attempt to outrun the storm that was headed our way. With Lucy masterfully piloting her now amphibious Mini, six hours and two cups of chicken noodle soup later, we made it to Dartmouth, NS. Monday morning we awoke and drove to idyllic Chester, the Tancook equivalent of Anacortes (the ferry terminal I use to reach my home in Friday Harbor, on San Juan Island, just south of British Columbia).

The Tancook Island Ferry can take one car (in Friday Harbor our ferries mostly take over a hundred), and only if the tide is cooperating so that the ferry, dock, and ramp can meet at the necessary levels and angles. There is a huge metal box which is hoisted by crane on and off the boat at each stop, where riders can store anything from a new bed to a bag of groceries for no extra charge.

Here you see the single vehicle, several metal storage boxes, and the red crane as we sail away from Chester. A rider pays $2.05 per round trip (from Anacortes to Friday Harbor it’s nearly $10.00). Inside, there are about 50 comfy blue seats, and you have to stand up to see out the windows because you are low and they are high.

Lucy often teaches a bit of knitting to ferry passengers. The technique du jour was double-knitting. Nearby, four  islanders retrieved an old real estate sign from somewhere, propped it on 4 sets of knees, and began a lively game of cards.

When the weather permits (as it did on our trip out) you can go above, and stand at the prow watching the flag flying as you manuever through miscellaneous islands (anything above the high tide mark counts) to Tancook.

Dolphins cavorted starboard for several minutes, and Scott, the ferry guy, when we asked him to take a picture of us, spontaneously laid down on his back on the damp deck to get an interesting angle. What a guy. (Note the shoes I am wearing: 1 blue and 1 green; this will become significant soon).

We stayed above knitting until Little Tancook hove into sight; fifteen minutes or so later we pulled around a windbreak into Big Tancook’s dock where Scott hefted a long pole with a big hook on the end, reached for the dock rope and secured it to the deck.

The gangplank was lowered, the crane (once again operated by Scott) began to lower the huge metal box onto the dock, we descended, retrieved our supplies from the box, and there I was, on Tancook Island at last.

Lucy asked one of the other passengers if we could hitch a ride in the back of their truck. “Of course,” they replied, and as I was climbing in, the wife saw my shoes (Lucy and I have shared a pair of Keens since the first Sock Summit in 2010; we each have 1 green and 1 blue shoe) and she reached out for me like I was long-lost family: “Oh! You’re the one with the shoes!” she cried. And just like that I was part of Tancook Island. We bounced and bumped along the road, me sitting on Lucy’s new zebra carpets and Lucy perched on her duffle, all the way to her cottage, a most refreshing and scenic ride past happy chickens and vegetable gardens.

After a cup of tea, we set off for a hike and I found myself in the midst of a photographic epiphany. The “rule of thirds” activated in my brain and body so that composition became not a thought so much as a rightness, and I now have hundreds of photos that are so much better than anything else I have ever shot. That a latent ability would burst forth like a newborn filly, already walking and running in this feral bit of land in the sea, makes complete sense to me.

That evening we knit on the deck in the misty light that came and went through the fog that kept wanting to drift in and out of Lucy’s yard.

My chair held me up just fine at first.

And then it didn’t. But I kept knitting.

Tuesday morning we boarded the ferry back to meet about 50 Craft Cruise knitters due to arrive at Lucy’s house in two shifts, where they would stream into her basement “shop” (open by appointment only) and scoop up armfuls of beautiful yarns, DVDs (Lucy’s DVDs contain enough crystal-clear instruction, all presented with Lucy’s wit and charm, to keep you deliriously happy for at least a week; I cannot recommend them highly enough, try one and you will see what I mean), books and patterns. I saw some old friends from previous workshops (Hello Vivian and Gretchen!) and met many lovely knitters, all of whom spoke in glowing terms of the cruise. Then we dashed back to the Tancook ferry. We knew a serious storm was brewing but figured if we could make it to Tancook we could make it home the next afternoon after the storm blew itself out. Two of Lucy’s friends were planning to join us, and one backed out because of the storm. When Scott the ferry man came down below to punch our tickets after we were underway, he mentioned that the first ferry of the morning might not run the next day if the wind didn’t let up. How quaint, we thought, and how lucky that we are planning on an afternoon boat (I had a workshop on Thursday, and Lucy had a new sink arriving).

Little did we know that by morning, the combination of fierce wind and very high tides would flood some island roads and all Wednesday ferry runs would be cancelled, something that had not happened in over 27 years.

The most blurry part of the photo is salt spray on my lens, and the whole photo is a bit blurred because the wind was so fierce that I could not hold the camera or myself steady. That’s the ferry tied up there, precariously high alongside the dock because of the high tide and wind surge. The weather report predicted gale force winds continuing through Thursday midnight, which meant I’d miss my workshop scheduled for that day. Lucy decided I could teach via Skype (high speed internet had just been installed in part of the island and we would be able to borrow it). Fortunately, I am still trying to imagine that.


She made some inquiries and the ferry captain phoned us back to say we ought to show up for the 6 am ferry in case it would run. I scavenged enough wild island apples to make a pot of applesauce for dessert and we intarsia’ed together what was left in the refrigerator for supper. Stephanie had been given more fine bottles of beer in St. Andrew than she could take home on the plane and had donated the remainder to us, so we were able to toast our strandedness with a beer called “Dark and Stormy Night.”

Friday morning, 3 hours before I was due to start my workshop an hour and a half across Nova Scotia from Chester, the ferry did indeed set sail with us aboard.

We met Diane, my lovely chauffeur, at Lucy’s friend Jennifer’s Hawthorne B&B in Chester, where the lovely Jennifer and her husband greeted us with freshly ground milk-frothed coffee, coddled eggs, and cinnamon buns. Lucy went home to direct the installation of her kitchen sink (she has been renovating, and her kitchen was in the condition of “everything but the kitchen sink”) while Diane drove me through glorious countryside to Gaspereau Valley Fibres where I alternately taught another fine group of Maritime knitters and wandered through the spacious shop feasting my eyes and hands on everything, petting the cat, cooing at the Cotswold sheep in the adjacent pasture, and enjoying the company of my students

For lunch yarn shop owner Brenda had arranged for a Sweet Tomato Soup made with fresh tomatoes from the valley farms, in honor of the class I was teaching (Cat’s Sweet Tomato Heel Socks). The day went way too fast; I would have loved to keep my students for many more hours.

Then Diane whisked me back to Lucy’s just in time to join a birthday celebration for Lucy’s just-arrived-from-England sister and brother-in-law.  I felt unspeakably glad to be for that night part of her family of exceptionally bright and spirited individuals, so different than one another yet so kindred and living in lively harmony.

How did I ever get to be so lucky as to live this life I am living? Thank you, thank you, thank you.