St. George lost a valued friend this past March 25 with the sudden and unexpected passing of John A. Bly, 73, who for 35 years operated Turkey Cove Auto on land that had been a wood lot on property owned by John’s grandparents at the Turkey Cove end of Ridge Road in Martinsville. Although he had a degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University and for a time worked for a company that made diesel locomotives in southern California—along the way spending many happy free-time hours riding motorcycles—auto repair for John was not so much a vocation as a source of livelihood that enabled him to live the “good life” to which he dedicated himself soon after deciding to make St. George his permanent home in 1972.
Chris, John’s wife of 43 years (they first met while swimming at Atwood’s Quarry in 1974), says John often joked that he “retired” when he made the decision to settle on his grandparent’s land. It seemed a way of acknowledging that he understood himself at that moment to be leaving behind mainstream life. His bible was Helen and Scott Nearing’s influential book, Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World, which described a 19-year “back-to-the-land experiment” in simple living. By the time John had read their book the Nearings had settled in Maine at Harborside on the Cape Rosier peninsula overlooking Penobscot Bay. For a while John made weekly visits to lend a hand to—and learn from—the Nearings’ back-to-the-land enterprise. Like them, he became a committed vegetarian. He also developed a dream of building his own stone house as they had done. The Blys moved into that home in 2001.
While John and Chris spent their early years together raising and selling organic vegetables, harvesting edible seaweed, clamming and other activities, it was John’s self-taught experience repairing cars that eventually became the economic mainstay of the couple’s—and their growing family’s—life. In all, the Blys raised five children—Phoebe, Minda, Noah, Ivan and Laura.
With the help of son Noah, who began working with John when he was 13, Turkey Cove Auto kept hundreds and hundreds of St. George’s—and Monhegan’s—vehicles on the road over the years. But for John and for so many of his clients, just as important as providing a valuable automotive service, was the time spent catching up on new passions (in John’s case this involved such things as long-distance bicycle riding, learning to play the saxaphone, and ballroom dancing) and in thoughtful conversation after the bill was paid and before the freshly repaired car or truck was driven home.
A lifelong spiritual seeker, John was a man of reflection. Most recently, he had been thinking about “wabi-sabi living,” a concept he learned about at a men’s retreat in October at Tanglewood Camp in Lincolnville. “‘Wabi’” a handout from the retreat says, “describes someone who is content with little and who makes the most of whatever is at hand—always moving toward having less.” Sabi is about learning to accept the natural cycle of growth and decay.
It comes as no surprise these concepts resonated with John. They have everything to do with the sort of “good life” family, friends and neighbors know with certainty that John both embraced and achieved.