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  • The winter of 1987 was the one that I spent out on the Island.
    That summer I had sublet my apartment to a German carpenter who liked the bottle and believed his native tongue was superior for precise thought.
    It was a sublet for the summer. I packed up my two cats and my boyfriend and left New York City to spend two months channeling Paul Gauguin’s Tahiti on an Island off of the North East coast.
    It was a small island without electricity or cars, and, in our cabin, no running water.
    Letting go of the world was as delicious as taking off my shoes and feeling a breeze between my toes.
    I dreamed I could fly.

    The adventure had no blueprint. It evolved as the events around us changed which is how I lived my life then, when I was young.
    As summer turned to fall we stayed on and when fall turned the corner, the Island emptied of people, we stayed on. There was a small scattering of people who remained.

    We had some work there for the winter. I was carving porch posts for a neighbor, and making art for a show the following spring. My boyfriend was working with my brother on construction at a log house on a neighboring island.
    Our needs were few then, partly because of all the details we neglected to consider.

    That fall there was the largest crop of blackberries I have ever seen. The long canes had grown up through the tangles of storm blown trees. The older forest had grown up when the last wave of settlers left the islands and the trees had died out in clumps and fell down together, and upon eachother. Clusters of trees were wind torn, betrayed by their shallow roots and then piled high, slowly rotting down with the aid of ants and water.
    I climbed through these snags and filled a large bucket with berries. They were plump that year, there had been enough rain while the fruit was forming. Some years the berries were small and hard, more seed than fruit.
    I went back for several days and filled the bucket again, and again.
    Then I cooked down the berries, along with some apples that had ripened by then on the trees that now grew semi-wild. I made quart sized jars of compote. I counted out enough to get through the worst months of the winter.

    I had a fifty-pound sack of oatmeal, twenty-five pounds of lentils, fifty pounds of brown rice. One, thirty-pound tank of propane lasted us through the winter, and the rest of the cooking and heating was done with wood.
    The list goes on, powdered milk, onions, squash. Things that stored well, but even so, over time it is hard to keep enough and items were supplemented with infrequent trips to the mainland.
    I broke the ice in the well with a long oar and hauled up buckets of water, fresh, cold and clear. Ice formed on the rope as I pulled it up.

    That time stands out as a unique experience. It was neither the best nor the worst of times.
    I could not have done it alone, but it was also hard to work out the details of life with a small group. I made mistakes, and took some things for granted.
    I had time to work on creative projects but the isolation was profound. The company of books is a refuge and a fortress.
    The distance between Island and mainland is vast when there is a wind in the bay.
    The distance between people, when there is a misunderstanding, is hard to cross over as well.
    You have to pick the right day, and the right way to get across and bridge the distance.

    I stayed on into the next summer and then returned to New York City.
    I was blinded by electric lights, and shocked by the speed of cars. I had to re-enter the word and it was moving fast.
    I look back on the beginning of that time with some fondness, but the reality of the difficulties impressed on me how far we have come - in our civilization - and why, most of the time that is a good thing.
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