Life on an island: an annual hard reset

Grog_4_Aug2013There is nothing like your own island.

It’s a private island but we’re not talking Richard Branson’s Necker. We have spent the last week on a single-family eight-acre island off the coast of Maine. In other words, it’s a piece of property that happens to have water around it.

We timeshare it with other family members. There are five rudimentary cabins. There is no electricity. There are gas lamps and gas refrigeration. There are three flush toilets and three buckets. There is running water in two of the five cabins.

We have spent several of the nights alone and several with friends.

An island is a hard reset for your brain

I say again, there is nothing like your own island. An island evokes a kaleidoscope of feelings that is so reproducible from year to year that it acts on the brain like a hard reset on the computer. There are feelings of isolation, power, exceptional independence, safety, danger, vulnerability, and (curiously) a primitive eroticism.

As I look at the sunrise across the water I feel the protective moat that surrounds me and buffers me from the world of high society and health systems. I feel the wonder of disconnection. I am the master of my domain. It is a geographic domain, not a social or business domain, and that geography feeds a primeval sense of self.

An island’s physical and emotional challenges

Grog_Aug2013An island is a physical challenge. It requires loading and unloading – like cruising on a boat but raised to an exponential power. Everything to be used on an island (and I mean everything, including firewood, drinking water, food, propane gas, clothes, laundry, construction materials, repair equipment, replacement parts) has to be carried from the mainland onto the boat and then off the boat for distribution to the various cabins or project sites on the island.

Later, the process has to be reversed. Everything has to be collected, carried down the dock, transferred to the boat, transported to the mainland, transferred to the town dock, up the ramp and distributed to the waiting automobiles, homes, trash dumps and other destinations.

This is physically strenuous work. Because the cabins are sited on hills and along root strewn pathways significant climbing is involved. The main cabin is sited thirty feet above high tide. That means the ramp is a stiff climb up if it’s low tide. [Ed note: one of the pleasures of Maine are the 10-foot tides.]

An island is an emotional challenge. Although the mind can be occupied for a good deal of the day with the details of coordinating meals, repairs, and everyday logistics it is always possible to lean back and let feelings of peacefulness, aloneness, power of domain, isolation, and vulnerability sweep over you. Although the power of one’s personal domain is inspiring, to look across the bay and see a storm line build is a reality check of unequaled dimensions.

I prefer life on a small scale

I have always preferred to live life on a small scale.

I wanted to practice community medicine and never had designs on leadership positions or an academic career. I never wanted to be on the “bleeding edge” of new technology.

I enjoyed caring for Washington celebrities, socialites, ambassadors and cabinet secretaries but I did not seek them out. I preferred a few friends to a complicated social life.

I enjoyed the public golf course and preferred a pub with a “heavy pour” to a country club or social club.

Maine, a low-density state, is small scale and this island is the smallest scale possible. I am not a hermit and I do not want to stay here forever, but now is my chance to learn how long I can enjoy it.

The puzzle of turning vacation days into “real life”

When we started my Gap Year we planned to spend the first few months doing for weeks what we used to do for days. [Ed note: hat tip to my favorite Uncle Bobby’s naughty variation on this phrase.  – Debbie] We planned on turning our vacation days into our “real life.”

At first, that plan seemed to lack imagination, both when describing it to others and while living it ourselves. But now it feels right.

At first I was disappointed that the extra time did not lead to an explosive personality change and the inspiration to take on giant new challenges. Now it is ok.

Embracing my old, small world feels right. Enjoying it now without time and schedule constraints is right. Our plan is a good one. By finding our old selves we will learn to find our new selves and expand our horizons.

There is nothing like your own island to help you see your horizon.

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