Behind the door, three dogs are barking and a woman tells them to quiet down. I’m not worried, however, because this is Marilyn William’s home so these dogs are not about to tear my leg off; they’re more apt to love me to pieces.

“Come in, come in,” Marilyn says as she opens the door. “Happy, get down. Austin, stop that barking. Webby, enough already. Oh, you guys,” she adds with a mock growl. All the noise has scared her countless rescued and fostered cats into hiding.
As I slip off my winter boots, the dogs sniff my legs enthusiastically before leading the way through a small galley kitchen into a cozy living room. When I imagine a cottage at the beach near Port Howe, this is what it looks like: Pine plank walls, mini-cathedral ceiling, a fire in the woodstove, and a couch and a chair inviting you to curl up and read a book.
It’s delightful, and reflects Marilyn’s philosophy of cherishing every day and making the simple and ordinary special.
A retired school principal and mother of Amy and Adam, Marilyn lived and worked in Pugwash for twenty years before moving to Springhill. In 2009, she moved into her cottage at the beach and made it her permanent home.
Marilyn wrote about her experience of living at the beach year-round in a thin book entitled “Wintering the Strait” that she self-published in 2010.
“The book is about all the little things that happened and what I learned my first winter,” says Marilyn. “Like the raccoons sitting on the windowsill looking inside while I was watching television. That didn’t happen in Springhill.”
She also remembers – vividly – climbing onto the
roof of her cottage to knock the ice off after the roof started leaking.
“It made sense to me to use the blade of the axe because you want to chop the ice,” she laughs. “What would be the point of using the blunt end? I got on the roof and I went at ’er – and of course, I cut the shingles all to blazes.”
She survived her first winter, and now treasures her cozy home’s isolated location.
“I love coming home,” she says. “Never once have I come down that beach road and not thanked God for this spot. The cottage is full of draughts but I’m not a person who likes it hot anyway. I mean, we’re swimming in the water until October,” she says with a grin.
People worry about her, think the beach is too secluded in the winter time for a single woman in her mid-sixties but Marilyn has several year-round neighbours, including Barbara a few doors down, and her lifelong best friend, Janice, at the other end of the road.
Others comment about the horrors of having to look out at ice all the time but to Marilyn, the beach is beautiful in all seasons, especially winter.
“Sometimes there’s a ribbon of blue where the water hasn’t frozen totally. I’ll look out and see an eagle sitting on the edge of that ribbon. And there are seals. It’s just awesome here.”
Even snowstorms are beautiful and exciting to Marilyn, even though she admits they are the most challenging part of living at the beach where the roads are plowed last.
“During the blizzards of 2015, there were two occasions when Barb and I were snowed in for five days. There was so much snow between us that we could only holler over the snowbank at each other.”
Marilyn doesn’t mind being snowed in. She prepares just like anyone else living on the east coast, filling buckets with water and stocking up the woodpile inside the house.
“I just make sure I have lots of books,” she says. “Bread, milk and tea. That’s all I need. Oh, and these guys,” she says, patting the three dogs lying behind, beside and on her in the big, cozy chair.

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Sara Jewell admits that she related to this story of the quilt blocks in a weird way when she wrote about the topic of her Field Notes column. “If my friends sent me a pile of quilt blocks, I’d have no idea what to do with them!” All joking aside, since she has no skills with needles or textiles, Sara truly appreciates the tradition and the creativity of fibre arts, and was delighted to explore them as works of art.