Saturday, October 10, 2020

Texas notes: Island life


     Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey shifts her gaze to the Caribbean. 

     She was over a decade older than me and infinitely more fit. She invited me to her home and we went swimming in her front yard— the North Atlantic Ocean. I watched her dive in and out of the placid blue—she soared through the shallow water without creating a ripple on the surface. I’d never seen a human move like this.
     Her name, Doon, is that of a river in Scotland and also a tree in Sri Lanka. She wasn’t the kind of person I felt I wanted to question, so I never found out why her parents picked that name. She was spellbinding and elicited a sense of mystery that made me want to be close to her and experience a sliver of life as she lived it. Words, and especially questions, would have ruined it.
     We were on tiny Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas where I was teaching yoga, and she invited me to be her guest for the day. Her multi-level property included a round house and elegantly simple guest quarters. A balcony overlooked turquoise water rolling endlessly towards the horizon. Looking out, I could see how some perceive this line as delineating the end of the earth.
     Doon had built her home with her own two hands and the help of friends many years back when her children were young. Once when I looked at her strong, tan bare feet and silently marveled at the definition and strength of her well defined frog-like toes, she noticed and commented that she’s worn shoes rarely in her life.
     After she glided through the water and I floated and enjoyed the sun, she invited me inside for dinner. Around her home, she had planted so many trees and flowering plants that it was a veritable botanic garden. We ate outside on a veranda overlooking the water— fish that Doon had speared, and heaps of green sautéed seasoned vegetables. As the sun went down I basked in this magical paradise, which was just another day for the much wiser woman sitting across from me.
     How did I end up here? A series of fortunate events. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a yoga retreat on Paradise Island near Nassaua Bahamas a couple of times. Once I camped for weeks on the sand and spent my days snorkeling and practicing meditation. Another time I upgraded to a tiny house of my own and left the real world far behind. It was on that trip, as I sat alone on a dock, when a tall tattooed lady from California sat down and said “I think the surfers on a little island would like you.” Subsequently I was invited to travel to a smaller island where I met my ocean host. I have been lucky enough to call that island home for a couple of months of my life. It seems like such a pipe dream now, even getting on a plane.
     When I’m there life feels 100% worth living, exactly as it is. Everyone goes to sleep at sundown. Internet is patchy at best. We arise when the sun comes up and tells us it’s time. The residents live in geodesic dome and other solar powered houses. The man who lives nearest the ocean— a retired North American who surfs and sun gazes his golden years away— starts phoning others at the break of day to report whether or not the surf is up.
     If it is and the waves are not tsunami-sized, everyone gets to the shore as soon as they can. I’d sit and watch men, women and children on their boards for a while (too timid to try it myself after a near-drowning experience when I was younger). I’d then venture down to the Secret Beach and collect sea glass along the way. We’d get home before dark, and decide if it was a night to eat at a local restaurant or rustle something up in the kitchen. We’d laugh and talk and play backgammon, worn out from a long day at the beach.
     Island life as a guest takes effort. You have to get your feet accustomed to rocky paths leading through low hanging trees and vines.  You have to learn to say hello to the scorpions and reptiles along the way, and you have to be won into the pack of island dogs, many of whom have been adopted by locals. Once you’re in with them they become your friends and protectors. You have to bear the heat and dust and the island brush to get to the ocean, which calls every single day.
     It also takes know-how to secure fresh fish or produce from a local garden. Even if a farmer invites you over to share a ripe papaya the size of a football, it may or may not be edible. Everyone gathers around and watches as the soft orange flesh is cut open. Have the wasps gotten to it yet? If so, they’ve laid their eggs in the stringy flesh and we have to sacrifice our thirst of this juicy fruit to the ecosystem as it is. If not, a feast ensues.
     Island life reminds one to be patient, to share, to accept the climate on its terms. No one sits around complaining that it’s too hot or too cold. Hurricanes are borne together— neighbors gathering in the strongest concrete dome when necessary. Islanders go with the flow and show you that you have no choice but to do the same. It’s such a relief, and a far cry from the highly intellectual intensity I’m used to.
     Recalling my island memories has given me a feeling of excitement and hope. I could have written about the bleak zeitgeist of the moment; instead I wanted to give us a break. There will be life (for many of us, thank goodness) after the height of COVID. There will be life (for many or hopefully most of us) even until then. Better yet, one day I will return to the island and maybe you can too— Doon’s place Casuarina Bay is there for us:


  1. I used to dream of island life. I can imagine spending some time there. Lovely imagery, as always!

  2. You had the right way to do that. Come and go. Kit takes a special person to spend their whole life there.


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