Islands & Volcanoes

Dhow, Lamu I dream I'm on the island again. I dream we never left. There's Swahili coffee and still heat in the morning; wind and dust and the stickiness of salt in your hair in the afternoon. Over and over again. It was months ago that we left this place but it has wormed its way into my deepest consciousness. It's not a love for the place, or a haunting, or a yearning--just that something about the clarity or perhaps the foreignness of the air on an island stays with you for a long time, maybe forever.

I grew up in a country that has very little sense of what it's like to be on an island. The width of an entire continent is our playground, and the places we visit on holiday--Catalina, maybe, Martha's Vineyard--are places detached from the mainland only in geographical terms.

So in my mind there's a sort of lore about islands. Prospero is there always, throwing spells, glowering, remembering, conjuring. When I went to Greece I had been recently captivated by John Fowles, which maybe is why I was so ready to believe in a kind of magic. We hopped from one sunny, rocky, enchanted isle to another. The sky and the sea were so clear it was as if you could see right through the whole earth, the entire universe. The daytime heat and the incessant buzz of the cicadas at noon made the nights balmy, gentle by comparison (the beer helped too, I'm sure). Love became, like everything else, something transient--you could fall madly in love with anything or anybody without regard for consequence or reason, and the next morning the feelings might be erased. The only constant was a heady sort of beauty, which might, I suspect, be dangerous for any length of time--like being exposed to a poison--but we were only tourists, so we were fine. We went back to California. The madness faded, though the magic stayed under my skin for some time.

But now there is the volcano. I live on an island, but I had forgotten this until now. And suddenly, after one morning, I remember. We are floating in an ocean, isolated, confined. Everyone is conscious again of what technology had allowed us to ignore: our geography. The vastness of the earth is perceptible again.