wHEN SOMEONE ASKS ME “How was last year for you?” my reply is usually that—despite the fears, sadness and challenges in my job, and despite cancellations of exhibits and residencies—during the pandemic shutdown my day-to-day routine stayed pretty much the same.
The exception being that my once-every-couple-of-weeks trip to our local dump had increased to two times a week. The dump had become a way to (socially distanced, masked and hand sanitized) see friends. During the time of COVID isolation, the dump had become my social hub.
Town dumps are always a source for inspiration and materials, and at our dump it is not uncommon to see people pawing through the piles of discarded wood and metal. What makes our dump unique is that we live in a fishing community, so much of what’s discarded relates to that culture. Among the usual piles of debris there are mounds of broken lobster traps and rolling hills of discarded pot warp. During the beginning of the pandemic, I spent my social time standing 10 feet away from friends, chatting, surrounded by these broken grids and complicated textures.
ONE AFTERNOON, after two acquaintances and I had finished shouting hellos at each other, I wandered over to stare at the wood pile—always a rewarding experience with its etched edges of broken lumber appearing 2D against a blue sky. I had noticed pieces of broken plaster with layers of wallpaper that looked familiar. Looking closer, I saw a broken staircase with its worn treads, banister and railings, and realized it was what was left of a small house I had visited numerous times, years ago.
Picking up a piece of the wallpaper and looking down at it in my hand, I thought of my first time sitting in that small living room. I clearly remembered the elderly couple, how it was overly warm and a little stuffy, the odd collections of knickknacks crowded onto every surface and everything covered with something crocheted.
The couch and the armchairs all had full-sized, shaped covers with added doilies. The bed had pillowcases and a blanket made of squares. Covers had been made for the appliances in the tiny kitchen, each with a pompom on the top. Even the windows had crocheted curtains—everything in white, pastel pink and green, the colors of those dry restaurant after-dinner mints. I had remarked about all the crochet work and the woman told me she had spent her childhood knitting bait bags for her father’s, and later her husband’s, lobster traps. Back then lobster traps were made of wood, and she tried to explain how she used a needle and a board with short rods to knit the bags, then leaned towards me and said, “I guess I just never stopped.” Her husband, who was sunk down in a green chair covered with pink and green tassels, said, “If I don’t move fast enough she’ll knit a cover over me.” They were delightful.
DURING THAT YEAR OF DISTANCING, the world felt muffled as if under a layer of heavy felt. At night I would light a fire in my outside stove, sit looking at the sky, visualizing the piles of lobster traps with their celestial shapes, matching them to Orion or Cassiopeia, thinking of the miles of untethered pot warp and how it reflected this time of drifting, loss and uncertainty. I will always remember that couple in their little house. The logical part of me knows nothing lasts forever, but the romantic part of me knows it does.
. . .