Island living requires sinew, ingenuity, perseverance, independence and, if you’re lucky, a PAW — a power-assisted wheelbarrow that totes all that heavy luggage guests bring (plus several bottles of wine), and zips it up from the boat dock to the front door.
Mr. Wonderful and I just spent three sunny days at the River, as the locals reverently call this little bit of Paradise, visiting Bob’s Colby College pals, Skip and Joan Tolette. We toured seven-mile-long Grindstone by boat, riding on their power Bobcat, and on foot. We sipped adult beverages on their spacious deck while watching the sun set over Canada just across the water. Our gracious hostess even served Thousand Island salad dressing over her home-grown lettuce for dinner one night.
A few Grindstone Island facts: 40% of the island is currently owned by the Thousand Islands Land Trust (TILT). Birdwatching is amazing! There are no marinas, hotels, inns or restaurants, and only one shop which was closed (“How did we get so lucky?” Bob asked) when we stopped by.
But there are miles of winding hiking paths, a winery with a tasting room, a sandy stretch called Potters Beach, and daily mail service, which included that day’s “Wall Street Journal.” There are waterfront campgrounds, plus an historic school which, when it closed in 1986, was the last one-room schoolhouse in New York State. Ten intrepid residents live on the island year round and they’re tough as a boiled owl, as a Mainer would say. The population swells to 700 during the summer months.
One of the best ways to tour the Thousand Islands is by boat, whether it’s in a kayak, canoe or motor craft. We settled into the Tolette’s 24-foot Grady White which hauled us past Little Huckleberry, Wellesley, Wolfe, Deer and Jolley Islands. Some of the smaller islands had no lawns, just two-story houses perched on humongous granite rocks.
Residents waved to us from their balconies or Adirondack chairs. You couldn’t help but sense the isolation they all treasure. Need a lime for a gin & tonic? Shop well on the mainland, or hop on the power Mule and zip over to the neighbor’s an acre away, or jump in the boat and skip over to the Tatlocks who live on Gig Island.
This was not my first visit to the Thousand Islands. I’d come years before as a guest of Ridgewood, New Jersey friends, Bill and Sissy Danforth. My pal Sissy died way too young in 2006, but her spirit lives on in the thousands of acres she put under preservation as Executive Director of TILT.
At Canoe-Picnic Point, a rocky promontory overlooking the River, a magnificent gazebo stands in memory of dear Sis, dedicated to her vision and commitment to “the preservation of the unique historic and recreational character of the St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands region.” It’s signed by George F. Pataki, then governor of New York State. For me, it was also a three-hankie special.
All too soon we were loading the PAW with our suitcases, then hopping in the boat for the trip back to Clayton and hugging our hosts goodbye. We took with us the memory of the wail of a lone loon swooping over the River at sunset, spotting Little Buck Bay sparkling in the distance as we toured in the Bobcat, and seeing the sweet simple church that stands near the center of the island.
Now we are off to our next adventure — the Jersey Shore. Mr. Wonderful thinks he might spot Snookie, but it’s doubtful she spends much time in Bay Head. Stay tuned.
The Thousand Islands are both American and Canadian — but there was no doubt we were on American soil. This cedar flag pole in front of the Tolette’s cottage was hand-hewn by its owners.