I’m up at 2:00 AM making turkey cutlets, and that’s a bit of a pain in the ass. I only bought them because they were on sale, and I don’t even eat turkey, except on Thanksgiving. I’m practically vegetarian. But I see that sale sticker, and I’m like, “OOH scoop that shit up!” And then I end up on the verge of throwing it out because I wonder, how can I eat that? But what’s worse is buying it and NOT eating it. WASTING IT. So. I’m up at 2:00 because I’m on prednisone, and I can’t sleep. And I don’t want to be doing this crap, but I’ve already listened to three albums, and I feel like I’m never going to sleep again. And there you have it.
So, in the midst of sprinkling semi-random spices and “seasonings” (sort of a ridiculous word, no?) I have this sudden flashback to Nashawena. The Old Days. Those magical, summer, golden light, wind swept, never ending, life-is-perfect days.
When I was young we used to sail to the Queen Elizabeth Islands. Our favorite destination was Quickshole, on the eastern end of Nashawena. Nashawena is fascinating. I was fascinated as a child, and I remain on the edge of obsession to this day. We would always approach from the northern part of the island, inevitably traveling from one of the Shelter Island anchorages. Coecles Harbor, or even West Neck- both favorites, we would peer through binoculars at the shipwrecks beneath the bluffs. Quickshole had a special kind of enchantment. It was unspoilt. Perfect dunes spanned the stretch between white sandy beach, and the large tidal pond that was fed by a small inlet, ever shifting its shape, but behaving more or less the same over the years. How I’d love to see it now. As children we would clamber over the dunes, an experience that always reminded me of cresting the peak of the pine orchard behind my grandparents’ house, midway up a geographical pleasure named Bloom Hill. So different, these landscapes, and yet so similar an emotional experience traversing them.
The pond was always teeming with fowl of every kind, live and dead. Visitors were few, and these animals were able to live mostly undisturbed. If you followed the rules, and did not trespass (as some did, but never we) the animal life was able to thrive. Many a time we strapped on our lifejackets, and floated on our backs either inward or outward bound on the inlet, depending on how the tide was running. It was perhaps 18” deep at the most. I marveled at the enormous blue crabs, and other crustaceans and schools of tiny fish that flowed with or struggled against the current. I would reach out to touch, never with the intent of ensnaring, but in the pursuit of satisfying my childlike fascination with these creatures. I identified with them, in a way. At that moment, there was perhaps nothing better than drifting in or out of this beautiful place, and taking in all I could along the way.
But inserted into the idyllic paradise of natural refuge and expression, was the domesticated cow. This island is split in two. Having formerly been used for WWII target practice, so the story goes, it was turned over to private ownership. If you were to search it out on google maps, you would be able to make out the faint trace of a stone wall bisecting the island. The imagination runs wild upon examining the outbuildings, imagining their function. It is clear that there is some sort of working farm on the eastern end of the island.
Many memories were made there, but one particular experience consistently resurfaces more than any other. My father used to borrow his best friend’s boat, for a time, which was a lovely vessel named Surf Song. Many years had previously been spent rafting up with the family that owned this boat- it is still in the family, and I love them all to this day. This boat was, and is, special for many reasons. But the significant fact about Surf Song, for this story, anyway, is that she has a tender. A gorgeous little Dyer Dhow that hangs off the stern on davits, and is just a fantastic little boat to putz around in.
One day in Quickshole, around the age of fourteen, I decided to take the tender for a sail. And wouldn’t you know, I decided to go with the current, and with the wind. I’ve never been known to be particularly good in the judgment department, but this was idiotic. However, there’s something wonderfully thrilling about running with both the wind and the tide, isn’t there?
As I found myself being sucked into Long Island sound by a riptide I should have anticipated, I jibed and headed back towards Surf Song. Close-hauled and tacking for 45 minutes, white knuckled, hiking out to the point I thought my quads and ankles would give, refusing to even consider the possibility of letting go of the sheet, though my hands burned with the effort. And then Salvador Dali’s ghost made an appearance. Cows on the beach. Big brown cows carrying on like you wouldn’t believe. Cows on the beach, braying and mooing at me as I went by. I will never forget the sound of their voices on the wind, as I fought with all my might to make it back to Surf Song. I don’t think they were cheering for me, I don’t think they were vocalizing against me.
I think they were saying: Hello! We live on an island, and we cannot escape. Life is ok, but we have no frame of reference. What is happening out there, and who are you?
These seem like reasonable questions.