I met Hillary Dionne briefly the very first day I visited Big Tancook Island. That day changed my life, I fell utterly in love with the island and was captivated by the people I met there. It’s so much more than a pretty place: it’s also a different environment. The people and community of the island live by slightly different rules.
As many of you know, I spend every spare moment I can on the island now and although I’m only a part-timer I strive to be a positive part of the community. It’s a challenging place to live and work: on-island paid employment is hard to come by. Tancook is not like Mackinac Island (that gets 10,000 visitors a day in summer), as it gets only a handful of tourists on a good day in the summer. There are no hotels or shops.
On my very first night in my dank chilly cottage, as the water streamed through the ceiling, and the toilet leaked all over my feet; I truly was wondering what on earth I had done: Hillary and her husband David came to my rescue.
We’d met only once before, but when I returned from emptying brimming bowls of flood-water, I found my kitchen warm and fragrant with a side of salmon baking in the oven, the table laid for dinner and a case of beer on the counter. It turned into a wonderful evening with friends!
Since then Hillary has almost single-handedly (and on a gossamer budget) turned the derelict island store building into her photo gallery, where she sells her wildlife photos and beach glass jewelry to both locals and tourists. (Not a huge market.) She has gradually expanded her space to include a community library, museum and social space. Hillary now takes care of all my photography needs, snapping wonderful shots on the beach, fields, and rocks of the island and is my island coordinator for my forthcoming Tancook Island Knit Camp.
So I am thrilled to be able to offer her latest creation on our website, it’s a magical digital story book about the life of Gallery Mouse. Hillary is not only patient with thieving seagulls and crusty lobsters, but has charmed her resident mice. This book has NOTHING to do with knitting, but would make a lovely story to share with the children in your life, or simply to marvel at: how did she persuade a mouse to ride a motorcycle? All proceeds (apart from taxes and a minimal cost of wrangling the paperwork) will go to Hillary, and I don’t doubt she’ll reinvest it in the community. (She’s saving for a woodstove so that the library can remain open and habitable in the winter.)
I include the full story in Hillary’s words:
It all started with a whimsical story that my cousin and her mom dreamt up about a mouse …
… In a big, old house in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, there is a cozy little tavern where Tavern Mouse and his family reside.
It sounded like fun, so I joined in …
… Approximately 1,270 kilometres away, in a photo gallery on Big Tancook Island, Nova Scotia, lives Tavern Mouse’s cousin … Gallery Mouse.
The reality is that for several years these two imaginary mice have sent messages and gifts to each other, via their humans. My aunt and uncle post letters and send presents from Tavern Mouse and I reply likewise with news and trinkets from Gallery Mouse. This back and forth between the ‘mice’ has become a fun and often hilarious exchange that depicts the daily activities and occasional moments of excitement and adventure that only mice could have.
In the midst of this correspondence, my creative mind went to work and a book evolved.
When you use your imagination, anything is possible.
When you respect nature and pay attention to the behaviours of wild animals, magical things can happen.
My name is Hillary Dionne and I am a nature photographer and animal lover. I live on beautiful Big Tancook Island, surrounded by all the wonders of the natural world. I have special connections with many of the little creatures that I see here and one of my dearest animal friends is, actually, a little mouse who lives in my photo gallery.
My gallery is open seasonally in an old building that used to be a general store. There are many unlevel floors, crooked walls and little gaps between both where mice will, once in a while, take up residence for a short time during their travels. One summer I noticed that a particularly handsome mouse had moved into my gallery and had no reservations about being seen by me. He didn’t seem to be doing any harm, so I allowed him to stay and looked forward to seeing him on and off throughout the summer. He became known as “Gallery Mouse” and before long we had developed a special relationship with each other.
One afternoon Gallery Mouse and I were looking at each other across the room and I was imagining all the interesting things that a mouse could do in the run of a day. This inspired me to attempt to work with mice to put together a colourful book about Gallery Mouse’s life in and around the gallery.
Using a large pail with a spoonful of peanut butter at the bottom and a piece of rope for a ‘ladder’, I caught and worked with several mice. With a head full of ideas, my project was in full swing and my furry little friends were very cooperative and fun to work with.
The photos in the book are all real and haven’t been manipulated or enhanced in any way. The mice in the photos are also real, wild animals that were not harmed in any way or forced into any situations they weren’t comfortable with. Their outdoor antics were all natural and their indoor poses were encouraged by me offering them an occasional dollop of peanut butter … placed strategically in whatever setting I wished to capture a picture.
Before too long we had finished our first book.
In the end, I released several chubbier mice back into the wild and hopefully produced a fun and endearing book that can be enjoyed by all. I’m sure Gallery Mouse and all his friends enjoyed their photo sessions and I look forward to seeing some of them again as they travel through my gallery on their way to wherever it is they go as the seasons change.