There is a small lake not too far from where I used to live. I often went to this lake, sat upon a bench beside the waterline and watched the afternoons float by. I would read from the collected works of Thoreau or observe the landscape, which was filled with birds, dogs, joggers, cyclists, strollers and lovers. My sitting became a kind of meditation, where I was able to distance myself from the bothersome thoughts that chronically invaded my mind through out the day. Over time, I became an ornament upon that bench. I spent every afternoon there. My present life was stuck in a quagmire, my future life uncertain and the only thing that made any sense to me was sitting on that bench and watching the world unfold.
One afternoon, for some unknown reason, I began to pay more attention to an island that sat in the middle of the lake. It was almost as if, on that particular day, the island had suddenly decided to float right before my eyes. I had never noticed the island before and still swear that it was not there before that afternoon. However, I have always been a man who is open to the miraculous possibilities in life, so I immediately started to observe the trees and tall grasses that grew all along the island shore. I watched the ducks and geese happily congregate on the summit of a small dirt hill. The island was the size of a tennis court or a lap pool and it was covered in blooming lilies and flowering wisteria trees that I assumed someone had planted there. Why I suddenly became preoccupied with this island I will never know and where the idea came from that it was upon that island that I needed to be– I do not pretend to understand.
After much examination I concluded that it would not be difficult to make it over to the island shore. The only life swimming around in the small lake was a family of brown ducks and a dozen or so geese that stuck together like a tightly knit team. From what I could see, there were no large fish or predatorial creatures living deep within. The water appeared to be knee deep and maintained a continuous dynamic spirality in the way that is flowed. The only risk was communicated to me through rusting signs (that I had never noticed before) that read “SWIMMING IN THE LAKE IS FORBIDDEN TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC AND PUNISHABLE BY FINE.” For the past few months I had been spending so much time alone and isolated from the world that I no longer felt like the title “GENERAL PUBLIC” applied to me. I was different and estranged. I existed in some sort of foggy limbo in between “GENERAL” and “PUBLIC” that was hard to define. With an unquenchable desire to make it to those solitary island shores, one sunny September afternoon I put on my bathing suit, ignored the warnings and decided to wade my way across the lake.
The ducks did not mind my presence in the water. Neither did the wind, the sky, the muddy lake floor, the algae or the afternoon sun. I felt like a long lost member of the natural world who was gracefully being allowed to pass on through. At a certain point the water became so deep that I had to breaststroke my way across. Once I made it to land I suddenly felt like a man who had just been set free. There was an impulse in me to shout out loud- but I controlled my celebratory whim. I had finally left behind the mechanical, political, business, Disney world that I felt so detached from. I was now on another shore, where steel and concrete did not exist and the industrial revolution was yet to hit. The few geese that were perched up on the dirt hill quickly flew away as soon as they saw a human being. I smiled into the afternoon sky and thought about how I was now free to indulge in the primordial grandeur of the universe that was all around me.
I found a soft spot on top of the dirt hill upon which to sit. Nestled in between tall grasses, weeds and blooming lilies- I sat stoically composed in the lotus position. In that same spot I passed magical afternoon, upon magical afternoon in nothing but a bathing suit. I left the island only after the sun had set and the water had begun to grow cold. My wife was curious about what I was doing all day. My skin had become tanned and my hair bleached by the sun, but I kept my adventures all to myself and told her I was out looking for a job. Upon my boat made out of earth that was drifting through time- I watched the birds fly, the ducks quack, the flowers unfurl, the trees shimmer, the turbulent structure of clouds, and the sun slowly set. I felt the joy of a man who was living in the moment- navigating his way through distant seas far away from the declining human world. Day upon day I experienced feelings that gave my life a meaning and purpose that previously was not there. I was no longer looking at nature. Now I was finally living with her. The song of crickets, the fissures around the tree bark, the fossilized rocks, the inherent patterns in the plants all became apart of me.
Summer came to an end and it was time for me to expend more energy in my search for a job. My savings was not immune to the ravages of time and I had worldly responsibilities that needed to be attended to- but I still found the time to sneak away to the lake. When no one was looking I would strip down into my bathing suit and breaststroke my way through the frigid water. Once on the island I would perch my shivering body upon the small hill of dirt that seemed to me to be frozen in time. I watched the last wrinkles of summer unfurl, break apart and get ironed out into the slumber of fall. I watched as the fall turned into ice-cold raindrops that left imprints in the sand. Everything on the island was influenced by the wind, rain and cold and as I sat there, still and silent upon my hump- I studied the ducks wading in the water and the many formations and patterns that were composed as the seasons changed. It was as if each event in the natural world was a poem, a painting, a drama and a celebration that was helping me to see something that was buried very deep down in my soul.
In the depths of winter my island of sanity grew a bit confused. I was no longer experiencing the same peace and purpose that I had felt for so many months before. I noticed that as I interacted with the natural world I was growing impatient with what I saw. My frustration turned into accusations and before I knew it I was yelling at the ducks, messing up the natural patterns that I observed in the dirt and making fun of the annoying geese that seemed to me to be suffering from indecision. When I would be sitting in my office searching for a job I felt resistance when it was time to return to the island. Like a man who is putting off going for a run- I would often skip days. When I pushed myself to make it to the island I would be perched upon the dirt hill as restless as someone who had been contained for too long. I felt like a castaway miles from the shore. My attention would not remain focused on the things I saw or the sounds and smells that at one time were such a delight for me. Instead, I was upset by this nagging feeling that there was some place else that I was supposed to be, that there was this big world out there that I was not getting to see. Little did I know then that I was suffering from what psychologists often refer to as island fever. As the seasonal cycle ran its full course and summer returned, I realized that I was no longer comfortable hiding out, far away, on another shore.
It is ironic to me that on the day I decided would be my final day on the island- I was discovered by a park ranger. He was walking by as I was taking one final walk around the island shore. I was saying goodbye and trying to inscribe various patterns and plants that I had come to love into my memory bank. Upon hearing his yell I bent over and tried to hide behind a bush- but it was too late. “Hey you! What the hell are you doing over there?” I looked up and said “who me?” as if he was talking to someone else that could have been hanging out on that uninhabited island. Since I had already planned upon leaving for good that day I felt no need to put up a fight when he demanded “you are in violation of the law and need to get over here now!” I knew that it was my time, time to return for good to the human world of rules, recessions, battles, mechanization, injustice, toxicity and regulations- for good. However, now I was returning to the world with the knowledge that it was time for me to take responsibility for not only my life but also the life of everything else around me- even the park ranger. I knew that somehow I was a part of the whole and not just an isolated part. I knew then that I would end up radically changing my life as a result of the impressions and realizations that island life had given me- but at that moment in time how I was going to do so was a mystery. With this deep insight in the front of my mind- I smiled, waved at the park ranger, put my foot into the lukewarm water and began swimming back to shore.
6 thoughts on “Island Fever”
The writing about the natural world, its patterns and processes is gorgeous, Randall. “the trubulent structure of clouds”, such a beautiful taoist meditation on that isalnd of self.
Thank you Paul. Always nice to see you around here.
This is excellent. My favorite piece of work from you.
Thank you for saying so sir. When you come to Davis we can go visit the island.
amazing as usual man, thanks for letting us view into the inner workings of ur mind. keep up the good work. on a lighter note, long time no see all of us guys from ur old class miss you man lol
Thanks for dropping me this note. Means a lot- always good to hear from you. Miss you guys as well. We had good times that I shall never forget.