There is a surprisingly large number of people who go around dreaming about an island…Tove Jansson, ‘The Island‘ (1961)
Sometimes the island was half in shadow; it appeared to her that the darkness was not entirely benign. It wasn’t a mere absence of light, or a failure of sunshine to get through vegetation; the trees themselves became spooked, creeping, ill-intentioned. The trees that remained in sunlight could not hold back their darker cousins, eventually succumbing to it as they had.
A wind seemed to flow in from somewhere far away, originating in a place that smelled of damp, and carried with it the wisdom accumulated on a journey across the oceans spanning thousands of miles and achings of years.
This was not a wind one could easily ignore. It picked up the leaves on the ground of the island, some of them already browning – autumn comes early here – and swirled them around. Not cruel, but not playful either. Something stirred in that wind, a knowledge that it longed to pass on. But no one was quite sure what it was trying to say.
Only when we have limits can we really concentrate. Only when there is no escape. On an island the limits, the borders, are unquestionable; one feels safe in the defined area.
But perhaps the flip side of this is that “threats” are felt more keenly. When you are holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you live on an island, everything looks like an invasion.
The winds come fast and fickle that day, sweeping not so much across the island – its height, and the many trees, prevent such unfettered movement – but through it. It blasted holes in unsuspecting leaves and rustled below the footsteps of the blackbirds and wagtails that hopped about.
The boat bobbed precariously on the waves that the wind threw.
There are so many islands on her list, she has barely dented it. She remembers writing that list: tearful, hands clasped by someone’s older and wiser, over tea in Richmond, London. Two years have almost passed. She did visit quite a few islands this year, though.
She had always allied herself to love and travel. Time slips by unnoticed here, but the cumulative effect is that she is one less sunset away from leaving, until eventually the sad day arrives. Time is measured by the sun’s position in the sky; that is to say, it is not measured at all, only bathed in.