Author/artist Ashley Bryan turned 94 last month. We’ve been friends for nearly 40 years, and I can honestly say I’ve never known anyone like Ashley. And Oh, if only the world were populated more human beings like him, for you see, Ashley Bryan is pure love.
As a painter he fell in love with the Maine coast around 1946, the year I was born, especially Little Cranberry Island. It immediately felt like home to Ashley, which it has been ever since — first as a part-timer, then as a year-rounder.
It’s a half-hour boat ride from my house in Southwest Harbor to Little Cranberry. Yesterday morning I strolled down my right-of-way to the Cranberry Island dock and Voila! I was on my way.
Last year Ashley was in better health. He read aloud to me from his latest title, “Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, a dynamic, heart-rending, and essential new book that belongs on every child’s — and adult’s — reading table.
Walking near Ashley’s house I came across an “Estate Sale.” A piece of funky local “Aht” caught my eye. I had to have it…”Try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” That’s Ashley.
Ahh…that’s one of the imponderables, Ashley said when I showed him my purchase. His lively spirit and great intellect quickly elicited more imponderables:
“I wake up every morning with imponderables,” he told me. Then he began quoting Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Life is heavier than the heaviness of all things.”
“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us. Every anger is terrible.”
Soon it was time for me to leave, although he wanted me to join him for one of his iconic toasted cheese sandwiches, I didn’t want to tire him out. So many people want to see him.
“I’m getting so much love,” Ashley told me, lamenting that he wasn’t giving as much these days. Before I left he wanted to show me the mock-up of his forthcoming book, “I am Loved,” his illustrations of a poem by Nikki Giovanni.
“You’ve given so much of yourself over the years, ” I replied. “I hope you get some rest this afternoon. I’m going to catch the ferry.”
“If you miss it, come back and rest here,” he offered.
“Love you, Ashley.”
“Love you,” Sheila,” he said, as I closed the door behind me.