Somewhere among the notebooks of Gideon I once found a list of diseases as yet unclassified by medical science, and among these there occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit. There are people, as Gideon used to say, by way of explanation, who find islands somehow irresistible. The mere knowledge that they are on an island, a little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with an indescribable intoxication….But like all Gideon’s theories it was an ingenious one. I recall how it was debated by candlelight in the Villa Cleobolus until the moon went down on the debate, and Gideon’s contentions were muffed in his yawns; until Hoyle began to tap his spectacles upon his thumbnail of his left hand, which was his way of starting to say goodnight….Yet the word stuck; and though Hoyle refused its application to any but Aegean islands….we all of us, by tacit admission, knew ourselves to be ‘islomanes.’ (Lawrence Durrell,
Reflections on a Marine Venus)
Six years ago today, after a whirlwind search for houses in the San Juan Islands, a short courtship with a restaurant in Friday Harbor (and the acquisition of a dear friend), various excuses to obligations in Seattle, and lots of packing, I piloted north onto the ferry and took possession of my house on Rocky Bay, at the northeastern end of San Juan Island. I’ve recounted that story before, many times, so I’ll spare everyone the details tonight.
In past retrospectives, which I re-read tonight over a glass of Bandol rose while coals heated and the oven baked away, I’ve recounted the travails of “becoming” an islander, and my various joys and misgivings along the way. This year, I have less to say, because while I no longer come home and jump and cackle in glee at where I find myself living (as happened so often in the earliest days), I also don’t take for granted my island home. It takes less than two days in Seattle before I get frustrated with traffic and crowds and lines, and wish I was home where we have no traffic lights, only a handful of stop signs, and where crowds are a feature of a few short weeks in deep summer.
My social connections on the island continue to both winnow and deepen, as one expects. In early days I went to parties, often facilitated by my good friend Madden, and hosted parties where I often didn’t know three quarters of the people who came to my house. Today, I am more comfortable, and more selective about how I spend my time, since I know how fleeting the good weather is, how fleeting the evenings alone on the deck reading can be, and who I really connect with. That is proper, and a sign of settling in to a community, although in the last year or two I interpreted it (wrongly, as it turned out) as a sign of possible pulling away or disaffection. It is, instead, a sign that I understand what my community has to offer and what I value the most.
Whether I return to the island by car, feeling the steel gangplank of the ferry under my wheels, or by plane, feeling the Kenmore Cessnas twist and then settle onto the runway after wheeling and looping over my island home, I still feel a surge of excitement and energy knowing that I’ve returned to someplace that definitely feels like home. For all its challenges, travails, and frustrations, my days here are still wonderful and precious and there have been precious few days in the last six years when I’ve wondered whether this was the right decision.
I am, and remain, an “islomane,” and a member of the subspecies which finds our coldish, moss-and-fog infested, whale-visited islands in the middle of the Salish Sea, continually enchanting and alluring. I raise my glass to the next six years.