Surviving Your Island of Grace

  The summer is nearly over. I have island fever. I will be leaving this tiny island soon----which slays me. But I will be leaving this island soon, which also thrills me. You know, that love-hate cabin-fever thing?

You may not live on an island without a bridge, or on a fishcamp island without roads, but I know you have felt stuck, trapped. By a place. By your body. By your circumstances. Maybe you're there even now. Maybe these truths I have discovered in my own life on this rock of an island are for you as well?



         The day before I left the island, I woke early. The children were still sleeping. I untwined my legs from Duncan's, careful not to wake him, and went out to the front window to look at the day. It was a low minus tide, the ocean's cloak pulled back farther than I could remember. I put on my boots, walked down near the water's skirt and made my way from rock to rock to a beach seldom accessible. From around the corner I could hear the hum of a boat; two ravens sat on a cliff above me, spatting. I waved them away and could hear now the water licking its lips, and nothing more.  

I thought about our conversation that night in bed. Was I sorry I had chosen Duncan and this place, and the very particular life that went along with it? No. How could anything be other than it was. But when I chose all this back in 1977, I did not know what I was choosing.

I looked off now and saw a glacier to the east, the mountains hovering over the bay, their ridges sawing the air.; I could almost hear distant rivers foaming to the wide grey Straits. It was a wild and clean and vast a place as when I first had come, but I hadn't known how or what to measure then. What if I hadn't come? I try to see who I could have been had I stayed in New Hampshire, but I can't see anything clearly, only the girl who used to be there. She is still not pretty; she is crying---no, she has decided she will no longer cry. Her face is blurred, but I know what she is looking for---wholeness and freedom.


       I came here at twenty certain I had found it in Duncan and in this clean, cold ocean and green mountain island. I know now that what I was looking for is not a something that can be found, not in a place or in a person---it must be made, and it is made out of whatever is around you, whatever is given to you. However much. However little.


I sat quiet for some minutes on the beach, hoping to hold these moments still, to keep my place on this rock. Then, what was that? A click, no, a popping. I leaned into my ears and suddenly, why hadn't I heard it before? It was all around me, a cricking and snapping as if the beach were waking from sleep, pores opening, tongues unsticking. I could see no movement, could not account for it at all. I waited, my ears tracing the pattern to the largest boulder on the beach, about forty feet away. It was blistered in colonies of barnacles and mussels, blue mussels and thatched barnacles with tall volcano-shaped cones that are yellowed, and look like fossilized teeth.


I moved closer. Yes, it was here, the patter now inches from my face, yet I could still see no movement, no life beyond shells sealed tight. I waited. There is was again. This time I saw---a barnacle, the beak of the barnacle, like a telescope in rotation, was rounding the perimeter of its own shell, ticking the edges as it went. Then, scattered within my close range, I caught another tip, the orbit of another maw, and another. Now adjusted to these dimensions, the whole rock came alive with the diminutive circuit of these beaks. They were not feeding---the tide had been out for hours. It appeared to e a preening session, or perhaps an early morning stretch, or the gyrations of digestion after a good breakfast. I didn't know. But I was struck with such vulnerability---no escape from attack. No escape at all. Such obscene limitations! I almost smiled as I understood.

Here halfway between land and water, was the barnacle, a creature that literally grows its own cliffed walls. His own form---given by God himself---entraps him. It is his prison, his island. But I saw: it is also his mountain fortress, the very grace that sustains his life.


I'm still here, 40 years after saying yes, I do, I will, I am.

I ran away a few times, but I always came back. Everything I need is here.

  But maybe you need to go. I don't know. I only know the world is full of abandonment, of escapes, pursuits of happiness and self, leaving wreckage behind. Don't do that. Dig deep. Plant hard. Hold on. A fresh tide is coming in. A new sun is rising.



(Excerpt from my memoir, originally published by St.Martins.The full story, including a boat-sinking, a runaway, lost in a white-out, buried by fish, etc.----more than ever I imagined when I came to this new country. Yes, it's a survival story. And it's most of all, about Grace. )


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