Written by Hannah Connolly
posted on February 13, 2012 07:27
The Grindstone Island community gathers for the last church service of the season, hand in hand, around the old poplar tree. From the housekeeper in worn sandals to the Princeton Professor in his bass fishing hat, we join together, singing the island hymn, “Shall We Gather at the River.” Our voices flow to the shore of the St. Lawrence River as the leaves begin to fall.
Grindstone Island, the fourth largest island in the Thousand Islands, is located equidistantly between the borders of Canada and Northern New York. This bridgeless island rests upon solid granite bedrock. As the island’s foundation of life is firm, the islanders possess the soundest understanding of life I have ever encountered. It is their granitic foundation that I fall back on when “happiness” becomes defined by Uggs and Ray Bans. A morning at Erma’s with her ever-brewing pot of coffee reminds me that life is about the celebration of family and friends and the appreciation of hard work. With the islanders, I have baked homemade bread on the hoosier for church services, canned vegetables, and chopped wood in preparation for long, isolated winters. This retreat to simplicity is the foundation of my understanding of complexity. It is my rock.
Flowing from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, the St. Lawrence River is renowned for its stability since the Ice Age. This resilience is reflected in my own hardiness. When the North Wind brings violent storms, the river’s waves crash upon the shoreline. As we watch the dock’s wooden planks drift down river, we anxiously await the end of the storm in order to begin rebuilding. In this way, life’s journey parallels the river. Despite its upheavals brought in by the storm, there is a blissful calm that follows which enables self-restoration.
At summer’s end, I head to the “top of the world” on a family hike; this name remains from my youth, but exists as an elevated rock outcropping that reveals a panoramic view of the river. From here, I see two freight ships passing each other on an international avenue of trade. Thus, the river provides a sense of cultural diversity. Life-long inhabitants and summer residents cross paths on their journeys, as do the ships, united by one common source: the river. As I watch each wave break on the shore, I breathe in my diverse heritage.
I dive into the translucent water for the last time of the season. Plunging deeper and deeper, the true depth of the river reveals itself; I sense the distinct levels of currents, temperatures, and aquatic life. The St. Lawrence enables me to look beyond the surface and value its entirety as it restores, unifies, and invigorates. This lesson translates to my appreciation of complexity.
The river resounds the promise of the hymn: “Soon we’ll reach the shining river, soon our pilgrimage will cease; soon our happy hearts will quiver with the melody of peace.” Seasons will pass, but my foundation shall not falter: I am an islander.
By Hannah Connolly
Hannah Connolly is a senior at Immaculate Heart High School in Watertown, NY. She is the daughter of John and Rebecca Connolly and the granddaughter of Robert and Audrey Lashomb, Grindstone Island. Hannah spends her summers on Grindstone Island where her mother's family grew up year round. The traditions of the island have been passed down to her as you will read in this college application essay. This past Christmas Day Hannah read her essay as part of the Grindstone Island Church service.