Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On the Beach in Olcott

Hattie Eva Dutcher, married Smith, 1857-1882
Last year, my father showed me two recent family acquisitions, paintings on wood done by my Great-Great-Grandma Hattie Eva Dutcher, born in 1857. She later lived in Olcott NY, a small hamlet on the shore of Lake Ontario, where my Great-Grandma was born. The small wood board paintings were both of the shoreline at Olcott.
Between 1870 and 1877, two piers, extending out into the water 1800 feet, were built at Olcott, with a small lighthouse going up on the West pier. This village harbor held the deepest point of entry for boats. My 2x Great-Grandma would have watched the small town grow, poised for boom. At this time, before the 1900s, getting to Olcott, a popular vacation retreat, meant taking a horse and buggy.
I’ve learned that Hattie Dutcher’s aunt, Miss Mary Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Dutcher, was a well-known and respected artist, who lived in the 1000 Islands. It’s not surprising that her niece would try her hand at the craft. The paintings I held, in my childhood home, were beautiful, full of color and wonder. I shouldn’t have been surprised- artistic talent, whether singing, painting, or carpentry, has been a through-line in uncovering my family genealogy.
My 2x Great-Grandma Hattie died when she was 25, a month after giving birth to my Great-Grandma, her daughter and namesake. She died of anemia, complications from childbirth.
I wasn’t aware in my childhood, when we spent our summers in Olcott, that my family had so much history there. I wasn’t aware that multiple members of my family, on both sides, had lived and summered there. For me, it was a place to play and swim, to walk out on the broken concrete piers with my hand carefully tucked into my mom or dad’s hand.
There was always plenty of green grass to play in. The air was full of the sound of surf and gulls. My lungs were filled with the smells of sand and seaweed. And oh, the glorious sunsets at dusk!
I sat at the water’s edge on a recent trip, meditating to the sound of the waves, slowing my breath to match their rhythm. I drifted backwards into my bloodstream, feeling the effects of time on the landscape around me. I thought backwards to those who had walked the sands beneath me…
My father and I talking on the porch of his one-room cottage, before sunset.
The photo I have of my Grandpa Mark (in the dark suit on the right) standing in front of his family cottage on the bluff, with his parents Royal Eaton and Hattie Eva Smith.
The photo of my Grandma Ruth (right) and my Great-Grandma Hattie Eva (back to the camera) laughing on the beach with my Great-Aunt Dorothy (far left).
The paintings my Great-Great-Grandma Hattie captured of the lake. I wonder if she ever sat where I sat. I wonder what the beaches looked like at the close of the civil war, when she might have sat with her small wooden boards and her paints and brushes.

It amazed me to hold something that she held, to see the beach through her eyes, through the way her hand skillfully translated the view she beheld. I wonder how old she was when she painted it. I wonder how young.
Where I sat on the beach, I imagined myself sitting with her, her long skirts tucked in around her legs. Did she dig her toes into the sand like I do? Did she collect rocks, too? Did she immerse herself in nature like me?

We gazed at the sunset together, a girl and a ghost, a granddaughter and a grandmother. A daughter and a mother. As the sun set, the water turned white and the clouds turned blue, and the echoes and ripples of our family danced out with the tide.

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