Islands

buckman-160601I treasure islands. I own part of one off the Maine coast, if anyone can possess something as mercurial as a swell of granite amidst restless seas. Fact is, it’s more a matter of islands possessing me. Leigh’s an islander, too, having summered on one from infancy. We were married on Birch Island. We’re under the spell of them.

In the wake of a lifetime of sailing, an island on the horizon is still possessed of a certain excitement, mystery and elevated sentimental dimension. Landing our dinghy on a wild shore is endowed with a drama that stimulates the senses, for the grand designs it suggests, and the chance to know the world in a relatively primal state, which we, being animals of a sort, feel a natural affinity.

Of inhabited islands, there’s often a particular thrum of energy to them, and the in-your-face populism of places apart. There’s a pride to being an islander; that’s not easy to define, but is reflected in community values possessed of a distinct vibrancy – and sometimes a bit more than enough vibrancy – if you get my drift. That said, I know but a few hundred islands, among thousands, and understand that little more than no islands this side of Newfoundland are as beautiful, and of such delicious variety, as those sprinkled about Downeast.

Adventuring along the New England coast in the ’70s – aboard a leaky, 18-foot faux cruiser with Cleve Smith – we were possessed of little in the way of intrepidity. Seeking comfort in the rock-buttressed tarn of Haley Cove, at the Isles of Shoals, eight miles off the coast, we felt a long, lonely way from anywhere.

Little bigger than a tennis court, and shallow as a wading pool, we raised the centerboard and hauled the sloop ashore one of the Isles. Our legs trembled at the sweep of thousands of miles of empty seas stretching away to the Azores. Laying down in the sun, tall grass dancing, clouds raced by and surf thundered on the far shore. We had no idea our native shore was possessed of such drama.

Islands and mountains connect us to the real world in a particular way. As much as they fascinate us, we often feel trifling in their presence, which is a favorable circumstance in which to craft a reasonable view of the world and dispel any notion of us as masters of anything.

We can hardly look at a wild island and not imagine carving out a life on it, if only for a few weeks, like a latter-day Thoreau. The notion of a grappling with elemental challenges, and proving mettle, are noble matters in a life rife with trivial pursuits. There’s hardly an island off Merchant Row that does not show signs of man’s homing ambitions, a generation or two past.

And there’s the indifference of islands. They just are. Lying in the lee of Steele Harbor Island, far Downeast, smother of fog swirling, a snotty southeasterly curled into our berth, setting the Leight to rocking. There was a hard edge to the wind moaning in the rigging. The dark of night was impenetrable, but we looked out anyway. I was glad for Leigh’s company, and she, mine.

Island solitude is rich, and walking among eagles, ospreys, herons – and the past – is a heady occupation. In shadowy island interiors, voluptuous carpets of moss drape extravagantly, a tawny doe forages, and the stillness is breathtaking. The spell of islands, indeed.

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