Island Songs

Last Fall, the first time I went to Galiano Island for a weekend, I sat in the ferry terminal feeling a bit fresh and fragile about my whole new life here. I took out my journal, titled a page “Island Songs,” and began to write lines. One was about an otter. The others were about light.

I went back to Galiano this weekend for the fourth time, this time as kitchen help for the weekend course I took last year. The place exerts more and more of a pull on me, and I can’t tell whether that’s because of its particularities, or just because I’ve been thinking about islands a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how John Donne says no man is one in his famous meditation, but how sometimes I think that he is wrong. Some days I think that from first consciousness we are all islands, and we must call out to one another over and over, listen for one another’s songs and hints, rustlings and splashes, so that we can find our way back together, grasp hands in the waters of grace, re-form some lumpy, joyful Pangaea. Doing so takes concentration, time, prayer.

But this weekend on Galiano, I easily found these small gift-clues which draw us together and hold us: the way the garden squash which Rachel and I spent so much time cleaning and scooping left a strange blistering film on our hands for hours after no matter how we scrubbed, the smell of roasting coffee beans in a cast iron skillet over a camp stove on the front porch, the constant breeze outside just the temperature of new pine needles, and the way the sun laid a stripe of white on the far edge of the tossing water as a finishing touch, like bright icing sugar.

Not every place and time lends itself to the softness of these details, I know. But always, wherever and however, there are people—gentle, tough, distant, close—there are our fellows, the other islands, always waiting at our elbow, restless to be seen. And sometimes I come across something in another person that makes me ache and go silent. I forget to breathe, because I know that I have glimpsed the dust, the errant grains of salt, the things which gather in our corners which we avoid even noticing ourselves, which we industriously try to sweep out but which are ever tracked back in by constantly treading days and hours. Yet these common, sandy things are what will adhere us back together, teach us how to rejoin as “part of the main.”

However I have not only been thinking of what Donne says about islands, but, as I often have lately, what Lewis says about them in Perelandra—how we are called to stay on the ones that float, on which God continually drifts us to new waters, how he forbids us from scrounging up our own security for ourselves by clinging to the bits of earth that stay put, which we feel we understand. I am not at all making an argument against rootedness and living your whole life in one place (Wendell Berry would take me out and have me shot), but instead against the human walls we build up and foundations we dig down to try to protect ourselves from betrayal, failure, loss.

This academic year is frankly, for me, a little busier than I’m comfortable with, and in the midst of it I’m much more of a public face than I ever conceived of being. I’m being stretched—I’ve left the fixed land far behind, and not entirely on purpose. I’m well out in the sea, island-hopping. Each new endeavor, commitment, face which appears in my vision, can be frightening, looming as another opportunity for my weakness to gash itself open and ooze all over the floor. More than that, some days, everything and everyone seems to be spinning at me so fast that I feel like I have lost the thread. I wonder when all will again be still. And yet all these things and souls which come my way, floating islands steered by a Force far beyond my understanding, are gifts, every one, and though some days recently I’ve barely had the time for such impractical feelings, I am burdened by a delicious weight of gratitude for this season’s embarrassment of riches.

As I dance from island to island, my feet growing lighter with each step, I will stop to look out over the water of all that lies between, in life’s liquid cracks. I never want to stop watching. I liked the girl who had the time to see.

So whenever I board a ferry the little collection of lines in my journal will continue to grow.

One thought on “Island Songs

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