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“Shall We Gather at the River” by Hannah Connolly

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. 

Posted in: Places, Nature
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John Krake
Comment by: John Krake ( )
Left at: 12:00 AM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Hannah, thanks for giving this non-islander a feel for what it's like to be an islander through your unique perspective. And I truly can appreciate your feelings of diving below the surface of the river. Excellent article, hopefully more to follow!
Comment by: Mike
Left at: 9:05 AM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
I love reading about Grindstone Island. When my father had a boat at Calumet Island in the 1960's, we spent every summer weekend for a decade fishing off of Grindstone's shoreline, and as I grew older, began to wonder what the Island was all about as we gently rocked in the waves fishing for bass. Does anyone recall (what I believe was) the mail-boat that went from Clayton to Grindstone? I remember a capable boat called the Debbie Lynn (I think it was a Lyman) that made a regular run to Grindstone Island. Those were the days, but I bet it's as beautiful today at the Islands as it was then!
Comment by: Lisa ( )
Left at: 12:16 PM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Mike, I just checked with Zeke & Jeremy (who were both born & raised on Grindstone) they remember the boat to be a wooden Chris Craft. Francis Garnsey ran the school boat & delivered the mail. He eventually bought an old fiberglass Navy hull & built a larger boat which he ran until his son Francis (Salt) Garnsey took over. Currently the mail is delivered by Brian Parker who is a year round resident of Grindstone.
Lisa Parsons
Comment by: Lisa Parsons ( )
Left at: 7:53 PM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
You have beautifully absorbed the natural essence of Grindstone and the St Lawrence River and you have personified them to parallel your own character; your inner being! Knowing you and watching you interact with others daily, I have observed your value for simplicity and complexity, and watched you balance these opposing qualities while your life continues to “flow” onward and upward.
Just as Grindstone has imprinted such fond memories on you and your family, you will leave IHC having made your mark and improved the school and the people you interact with. Thank you for sharing your time and talent at IHC and with the
Mrs. Parsons
Mike McCullough
Comment by: Mike McCullough ( )
Left at: 6:53 PM Thursday, February 16, 2012
I feel fortunate to have been visiting the river for almost 30 years now. Your article captures the essence of the place better than almost anything I have ever read. Imagine my surprise to find out you are so young!
I am an avid reader and student of literature and writing. You should be proud that you have gift of the language. Keep honing your craft .... your potential is great. Thank you very much for your elegant article.
Mike McCullough
beverly kinkade
Comment by: beverly kinkade ( )
Left at: 5:54 PM Monday, February 20, 2012
Hannah..a lovely tribut...I, too, remember the mailboat as my childhood included summers in the Lake mother would go down to the boathouse dock and reach over with a smile as the mailman glided by and handed her packages, letters, etc....alas, the boathouse, and my mother are gone, but I'm glad to hear that there is still a run! The memory of those halcyon days was brought back by your essay.....thank you, Hannah!
Laura Ramsey
Comment by: Laura Ramsey ( )
Left at: 5:49 PM Sunday, March 4, 2012
What a beautiful essay! Any college would be lucky to have you.
Tammy (Meeks) Hammond
Comment by: Tammy (Meeks) Hammond ( )
Left at: 10:57 AM Sunday, March 11, 2012
Hannah, how beautifully you have captured and entangled the saltiness and character of the lives of the Islanders with that of the (life of the) River. Having been best friends with your mother growing up, I am so very proud to see how you have carried on her heritage and yours through your words, and how your strong character and love of life has shown through.
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 2:12 PM Monday, August 6, 2012
Gary Hein
Comment by: Gary Hein ( )
Left at: 11:51 PM Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Truly loved your article. Back in the mid 1990's I spent a number of vacations in Clayton. Once I went over to the " sland " to see meet my wife's relatives and by the time 1 hr had past I did not want to come back to my place of residence. The whole area up thre is more than beautiful, it is Gods country. Thanks again, everytime I get the Thousand Islands Life I relive very good memories. Thanks
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 9:35 AM Monday, September 3, 2012