Karen Rivers

The Island.

Karen Rivers

I spent almost a month at the island.   The island has never changed.   Maybe it will never change, I don't know.  I hope it doesn't.  The island is nothing more than what it is, a mass of sandstone risen from the sea.   There are trees and paths through the trees and blackberries and beaches.   There are a handful of cabins.   There are old abandoned logging roads.  There are fallen trees.  There are standing trees.  There are cedar trees so old that my whole family can't span them with our arms, hands held, wrapped around their trunks. 

When I'm on the island, everything falls away.   There are no stores, so one can't buy anything even if one wanted to, and the thing is that you don't.   How could you want anything when all this exists?   You eat breakfast and clean up.  Without technology, everything takes longer and feels more purposeful.   The pace is slow.   You go for a walk.   Every day, you take the same photos because every day, you are struck by the same beautiful things:   the way the maple leaves capture all the light before it hits the valley floor.   The fungus growing from the fallen tree.  The tree that came crashing down beside you on the same walk, last year, and didn't kill you.   The shadow of the distant deer as he spots the dogs and runs, the deadfall crackling under his hooves.   

In the afternoon, maybe you go to the sandy beach and swim, but first the act of making lunch with limited supplies.  You make do.   Making do is something you don't do much at home because at home there are grocery stores everywhere and delivery services and so much to spend money on.   At the island, you pick blackberries and eat them off the bush.   You sit in the shade and work while you watch the kids swing on rope swings, first one, then the other, back and forth up and down the trail from one to the next.   There isn't anything else.  There is no TV and no internet and no reason to do anything else than swing from this tree and that tree and there isn't anything else they'd rather do anyway.

Oh, build a fort.  There are no building supply stores, so walk from log-pile to log-pile on the beach and pry free half-rotten driftwood because that is good enough because it is all there is, anyway.  You use a handsaw to cut the wood and rusty nails you found in a bucket under the cabin to hammer it together and it's perfect.  It's a palace.  It's the grandest thing ever built, in spite of the fact that it's still only a floor.   

Your expectations are different, that's all.   The whole family rushes to the hillside to see an eagle, fighting a raven in the sky.   We sit on the hill and wait for whales.   There are a lot of mice this year -- you put your hand under the barbecue to turn off the flame and it lands on a tail, leathery and alive.

There weren't any whales this summer.  I hope it's not a sign.

When I got home, the September issues of fashion magazines that I don't remember subscribing to are crammed into the mailbox, as fat as the old Sears catalogue.  I flip through one in the first bath I've taken for over a month -- no plumbing at the cabin means no showering -- and I see five different versions of $500 pale pink tennis shoes that are not designed for playing tennis and I see that my skirt should be below my knee this year and the boots are the same, but slightly different, and I see that I am doing my brows wrong and the thing one must do to their hair is a $500 colour process and everything is $500 and I want to throw the magazine but then I read my horoscope and it says that international fame is coming my way at the end of September, so maybe I'll hang on to it.

I don't want pale pink sneakers.

I don't want to want pale pink sneakers.

I want to take my shoes off and feel the warm sandstone under my feet, the wind coming at me from the northwest, blowing my unfashionable hair away from my makeup-free face.   I want to look up at the sky and see an eagle gliding home.   I want to hear the sound of the whale before I see it, the loud exhalation that says everything is the same and nothing needs to change because what matters is what is real, and what is real is a sandstone island, risen from the sea, populated by the ancestors of the people who have been there since the beginning, since long before pink sneakers, since the dawn of mankind.