I’m just home from Shelter Island and I carry with me the tremendous beauty and magic of the place.
I was entitled to a ‘summer Friday’ at work and so I took full advantage of it in order to have a long weekend at the accommodation made available by this Australian writer and her husband, a well known Australian painter.
I was so ready for this trip. It had been a week of frantic activity and new proposals – and meetings with women executives in finance preparing to go on our LEADers trip to see Women’s World Banking’s work in Ghana as well as work with our Center for Microfinance Leadership. We were also gathering information on adapting our micro health insurance product for new countries so that poor women giving birth could get free access to midwives and hospital care. That same week I’d had a wonderful lunch with Michaela Walsh, the founder of WWB and now in her 80s. She’s quickly become a mentor for me with her phenomenal knowledge and experience and as a true pioneer in the field of microfinance.
I’d also received, by special delivery post, a personal note from the Governor General, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce, who wrote ‘Dear Jane, I’m sorry you weren’t here with us on International Women’s Day so I could tell you how proud I am of you and to wish you all the best in your new role. I know that you will make a very significant contribution to enhancing women’s lives – women who need our support in their efforts to care for their families and to reach their potential. I look forward to keeping in touch. Warmest regards Quentin’.
It says a lot about our Governor General that she can take time from her many responsibilities and innumerable engagements to write a personal note such as the one I received. I felt so proud.
So, with the intensity of the week behind me, Josh and I woke early on Friday morning to catch the first Jitney bus bound for Greenport, two and a half hours from New York, where we would then catch a ferry for a five minute ride to Shelter Island. As we left New York and rode along Long Island, the ride reminded me of the bus ride from Cairns to Mission Beach. By the time we were on the ferry, the ride was akin to being on Sydney Harbour. There was a rule on the bus about not using mobile phones and keeping conversations low. People seemed naturally to keep to themselves as they read their copies of the New York Times and doze – the quietude seemed to set the mood for the entire island experience.
On arrival on the island, Josh and I were met by the writer’s artist husband. Instantly he reminded me so much of my (our — for many of you) dear friend, Charles, who died last year – how extraordinary that there was another person like Charles in the world. Since I’d arrived in New York I’d found myself with tears streaming at various intervals — missing Charles so much, and also my uncle and other good friends who had died in the last year.
And here he was, someone who was a kindred spirit to Charles! He then proceeded to give us the most wondrous tour of Shelter Island, local shenanigans and intrigues woven into the rich history he shared with us both. We skimmed past recommended swimming spots and artist lairs and gained glimpses of lives of famous and not-so-famous residents. It was all glorious.
Then we arrived at what our new friends called ‘The Compound’. A series of wooden barns, architecturally rendered and wonderful on the eye (well, to us at least – to some other locals it was apparently an eyesore). We thrilled at our quarters for the next few days – cavernous space and delicious quiet – and then we were handed the keys to the car to do as we wished. The painter’s own studio abutted ours and we were also given an intimate tour of his work in progress for a new exhibition.
So then we went on our own tour, stopping for a fish and chip lunch overlooking the water and a chilled our conversation with our Irish waitress who’d recently made the move to the island. We called in at the Black Cat bookshop — which appeared out of nowhere — instantly our most favourite bookshop for its collection of rare and hard to find books, as well as etchings. There were so many places to explore and we took our time, savouring every moment. We returned home for a quick nap before a planned swim — I lay down and woke up 14 hours later. Clearly my exhaustion had found a home.
We spent the next two days swimming at a secluded beach, a short walk from our accommodation. In the distance we saw a few sailing boats and to the right was a limestone cottage, washed through and standing just back from the shore in perfect keeping with the stripped back landscape and its muted colours.
Shelter Island exists in stark contrast to the Hamptons, only a five minute ferry ride away. In the Hamptons there is high fashion, high tea, high society, high hairdo’s, high maintenance, high rents and high expectations that you will look your best at all times. Shelter Island is the daggy, shaggy sister where anything casual is fine and where there are no movie theatres or day spas and where the annual barbie fundraiser is the regular kind of highlight to be found.
There was also an artist showcase weekend happening while we were there where you could visit artists in their studios (we did). As you can imagine, Josh and I adored it all and are already planing our next trip back. We also had stretched out conversations with our artist friend while his lovely writer wife finished the last chapter of what sounds like another bestseller book.
We’d just clambered on to the bus on Sunday night when rains came and it seemed apt that the skies were darkening as our bus rushed onward to New York.
We were leaving an island whose shelter was as much inward as outward and we were moving to the less -sheltered electric territory of New York city.
Yet even now I can hold on to that feeling of pure joy – swimming in the sea with Josh, blue water, blue skies as far as the eye could see. We were giggling and laughing as we spun and sung through the water while on the shore a twin boy and girl picked up their spades, crouched low and started shoveling sand for a sandcastle. We could see it would be spectacular.