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Introduction to Island Life 101

One of the joys of living on an island is introducing new people to the River and island life. I’d been coming to the River for 30 years before I finally convinced my parents to come to the island. I was so happy to let them experience island life, first hand.

My father was flabbergasted. He grew up in Illinois. “A river,” he’d scoffed. “Why would anyone want to live on a river?” To my father, a river was muddy water between two high banks, which was notorious for flooding-out nearby residents. But this place, our little island, was nothing like his image of a river. “I had no idea,” he kept saying. I was astounded as his astonishment. I’d shown him pictures over the years, but it didn’t sink in. It wasn’t until he enjoyed his morning cup of coffee in our gazebo looking out at the tranquil water, that he finally understood our attraction for this place.

That was 9 years ago. Mom died in 2008. Dad hasn’t made it back to the island. He turned 96 this past July. Getting in and out of boats is impossible for him now. But I’m glad I insisted and now when I write him about our island paradise, he can think back and remember that week he spent with us.

This year we had the pleasure of introducing a new grandchild to island life. This is the best and my favorite. Seven-month-old granddaughter Brooklyn, came to the island for the first time. She sat in the same high chair her father and grandfather used and spent quality time chillin’ with the family.

Tradition on Rum Rock is to measure the height of each newcomer into the family and chart their progress through the years. Then there is the tradition a picking a seedling to be “their” tree. This white pine, like her sister’s and her older cousin’s trees, is growing up through a crack in the rocks. Doesn’t seem to slow them down much. The trees grow bigger and stronger each year.

Besides, my granddaughter, we had two other newbies to the island this year. Taylor was happy to cross over the watery border and while only in Canadian waters, it was her first trip outside the United States. My cousin’s friend, Linda, also came to the island and tried kayaking for the first time.


The whole island community organized an outing for families of Fort Drum. Five families came over on Miss Clayton. Clayton Island Tours was gracious to donate the transportation for our special day. Our island family had fun showing service families a slice of island life. The kids swam, bounced on a water trampoline, kayaked and enjoyed a picnic at our Grenell Island Community House. Some islanders hosted families at their cottages, while others pitched in by making food.


My contribution was to create a scavenger hunt that helped introduce the Fort Drum Families to island life on Grenell.

I titled it, Introduction to Island Life 101. The families had to find these island features as they walked around Grenell; each picture represented what I feel are Island Life tenets:

Introduction to Island Life 101 – Tenets:

  • Forget About Work
  • Sleep In
  • Wake-up Smiling
  • Relax on the Porch
  • Go Fishing
  • Canoe
  • Feed the Ducks
  • Enjoy the Seasons
  • Sit on the Dock
  • Hang up your Towel


  • Go for a Walk
  • Ride in the Boat
  • Soak-Up the Sun
  • Swing in the Shade
  • Grill-Out
  • Enjoy Wild Life
  • Jump off the Dock
  • Splash and Play
  • Nap in a Hammock
  • Gather around the fire
  • Enjoy Family & Friends
  • Read a Book
  • Feel the Breezes
  • Paddle a Kayak
  • Listen to the Birds
  • Watch the Sunset
  • Wish On the Stars

Our guest from the farthest away, was our Japanese Foreign Exchange student. She stayed an extra month with us, so she could experience Grenell. She couldn’t wait to learn to water-ski. She was a natural. Some guests, like Yuko and my Dad, are one-time visitors only. Some fall in love with the place and plan to come back as often as they can. Can’t wait to get them booked on the calendar. Part of the joy of living on Grenell, is making island memories, one guest at a time.

By Lynn McElfresh, Grenell Island

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life, writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and island life. You can see Lynn’s 70+ articles here – as she helps us move pianos, fix the plumbing and walk with nature…

During summer 2014 Lynn researched a number of new topics that she will share throughout the winter…  As Editor, I have the pleasure of seeing “what’s next,” first!  I certainly join her many friends and fans in thanking her for her wonderful stories.

Posted in: Places
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Rita Phillipson
Comment by: Rita Phillipson
Left at: 12:53 PM Thursday, October 16, 2014
We look forward to getting the TIM everytime it comes out and especially enjoy articles by Lynn and everyone else who contributes. We have a cottage on Guffins Bay and come over to the River quite often - pack a lunch and enjoy watching the traffic on the River from Casino Is. Clayton though is our favorite place to visit. We are so lucky to have the Lake and the River in our lives since 1955. Our kids, grandkids and now great grandkids are sharing our memories.
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh
Left at: 4:31 PM Thursday, October 16, 2014
Rita--sounds like you have had decades of introducing special people to Island Life. Hope you have many more decades to come. Thanks for the kudos.
Alan Ray
Comment by: Alan Ray
Left at: 10:08 PM Thursday, October 16, 2014
Thanks for a great article about island living however, as someone who spent 30 years living on the family island there is one tenet I must take exception with:
Forget about work: Are you kidding? You couldn’t open your eyes without noticing something in need of attention (aka maintenance). Weekly there were 3 acres of lawn that needed to be mowed. There were front and rear sidewalks end to end to edge two or three times a season. There were rock gardens to plant and weed every season. There were boats that needed maintenance, periodic repairs, and some that were long term projects. There was also periodic concrete repair, carpentry, and painting projects. We built the main house ourselves over a period of a couple years (to occupancy then ten plus years to finish details). We kept fit climbing the hills countless times daily and we ate when we were hungry, not on a schedule. Yes, there were stolen moments where we did those fun things you mention but to me, the upkeep and labors invested were labors of love with a fulfilling purpose. I have experienced nothing like it since leaving. It is impossible to relate the island experience to someone who has not experienced it. It is totally surreal. From the island, I could talk to family in Florida daily yet be totally out of touch. All those seasons I spent there, rarely would I leave the island for more than two or three hours and always excited to return.
Darlene Richardson
Comment by: Darlene Richardson
Left at: 8:53 PM Monday, October 20, 2014
I loved seeing your Mom and Dad. And your beautiful granddaughters. I too fell in love with the River and can not get enough of it. I just wish it was a tiny bit closer.
I enjoy reading your articles and was shocked when I saw Linda and I in your story and also our picture kayaking. I had to call Linda. We had such a great time. You and Gary are wonderful hosts.
I am so blessed to have been introduced to the River.
Great article as usual!
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh
Left at: 12:33 PM Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Alan...I laughed when I read your comment. You are right! Cottage life is not for sissies. (Please see article of the same name in the archives.) When I said forget about work...I meant the paycheck kind. Leave all those work-a-day worries on the mainland (besides maintaining an island cottage will provide enough "work" though I prefer of thinking of it as homage. So glad to hear there are other people who once on the island never want to leave for more than two or three hours. Thanks for your comment.
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh
Left at: 12:34 PM Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Next time don't wait so long to come back! You're always welcome on Grenell!
Tom Pullyblank
Comment by: Tom Pullyblank
Left at: 4:38 PM Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I know exactly what you both mean, Lynn and Alan--every time I approach the river I can feel those "work-a-day worries" melt away, even though there's plenty to actually do. I feel that same sort of "labor of love with a fulfilling purpose" doing work on our little farm. Also, John Keats, in his book "Of Time and an Island" makes a great distinction between the paycheck kind of work and the labor of love kind work. It's one of my favorite books for that very reason.