Island of my Heart
It was a strange and magical place, the island. Pine Island—such a deceptively simple, unassuming name. I often wondered later in life if it was named that by my Uncle Charles to deliberately discourage outsiders from exploring its well-shaded interior, or perhaps its name merely reflected my Aunt Frances' complete lack of worldly pretension. I only knew that for as long as I could remember, the island had been the sacred spring from which my understanding of the universe flowed.
If ever a keyhole existed through which to peek into God's private living quarters, it was Pine Island. The door, which the adults around me presumed to be locked tight and bolted, stood quietly beckoning, waiting to be gently nudged open by a child. By luck of birth I happened upon this island's bouldered shores, scrambled up onto Paradise, and discovered to my utter delight that I was alone in the realization. What fortune!
According to Mr. Brown, whose family ran the nearest marina, some of the oldest and tallest trees in the entire region protected our island. Legend had it that several generations before they set up their business there, his family had befriended and later intermingled with the Native American tribe that used to inhabit the area. He told me that the Indians considered all the lake's islands sacred, each revered for its unique contribution to the lake's spirit life. Mr. Brown said a lot of the islands weren't given proper English names until after the war, when wealthy, city-weary people from Boston and Lowell started building summer homes there. My aunt and uncle were among the first. Prior to that, only fishermen and trappers ventured out to the islands looking for beaver, muskrat, otter and the like. Lake Winnipesaukee, in which our island rested, I realized later, resembled a fine wine: deep, dark, with complexities I could only begin to guess at. It was full-bodied, too, being one of the largest lakes in New England. Carved out by advancing glaciers many millions of years ago, its quartz bottom attested to the crystalline energy within. It was the perfect place for a game of spiritual hide and seek, and I simply could not get enough.
There were three buildings on our island—the Big House, the Guest House and the cottage. Though the Big House impressed with its sweeping, panoramic view of the lake, my favorite was the cottage, a weather-worn, carefree place where my family stayed during our summers there. I made it my business to name every chipmunk, turtle and fledgling I found on the property and each morning I made the rounds of burrows and bushes, ensuring all babies were secure and accounted for. Later, on hot afternoons, I caught sunfish with baited hooks from the edge of the dock and then gleefully released each before their pink-gilled panic could get the better of them. Twisting, wriggling rainbows—what glorious trophies, even if only to be raised overhead for an instant! And each year, without fail, a new freshman class of Canadian goslings grew into their smooth, silver grey uniforms just before earning their wings at the squadron flight school. Then at the end of the season, after a few faltering touch and goes, they sounded a loud, triumphant, "Goodbye! See you next year!" and away they flew, circling once with their wings dipped low in salute to the island they, too, called home.
Late at night in my bed the trees would whisper to me, telling tales of magnificent dawns and mystic creation, telegraphing messages from the farthest reaches of the lake. The water nymphs with their shimmering laughter invited me out to join them while I, red-faced with indignation, bemoaned once again a far too early bedtime. The nymphs, a regal bunch of pixie cousins, entertained in grand style in the cove below my window promising morning autographs and congratulating me for keeping their presence such a well-guarded secret. Oh, and the rocks! In the morning my beloved friends, the boulders, challenged me to climb where only Indians once dared, all of us linked together through time in honor and steadfastness. Those rocks were companions to the ages: immovable, immortal, powerful beyond measure. They supported my ascents with such loyalty, never once betraying me. If only our own, fragile race could emulate them more completely!
The lake itself had a deeply tranquil nature and only once did I see it bestirred. A storm front moved in from the north and colluded wickedly with the western wind. The wind, long jealous of the lake's inner calm and the admiration it engendered, challenged the lake to a race. The wind was a bounder, a cad: it knew it could blow without limit in any direction it chose. The lake foolishly accepted the challenge only to hurl itself against its inherent constraints, raging inconsolably, trying to keep up. When the self-serving wind became bored with the game it departed, leaving the lake spent, bereft. The lake forgave itself its momentary madness and was chastened, returned to its former peacefulness, never to be provoked like that again.
As the loons called across the water during what was to be my last summer on the island, I reveled in my first love's kiss. With that embarking embrace, another voyage to distant shores commenced. Childhood's innocence conceded gently, lovingly called to its waiting ship by womanhood's first heralding. Childhood yielded unoffended and unhurried, and though missed at times, its gracious departure was never a cause for mourning.
One day, a couple of years later, I learned of my widowed aunt's sudden sale of the island. Away at college when the decision was made, I was deemed too young to be considered in the matter. Was the island really sold, to be broken into pieces? I felt deeply saddened, perplexed. It seemed a cruel prank played on both the island and me. Asked later by well-meaning relatives if I wished to return to visit one last time, I replied I had no interest. I realized what was of real and lasting value to me I'd already taken away, years before. They were now bittersweet keepsakes—Indian arrowheads, speckled stones, pinfeather memories. Souvenirs from two universes, joined within and without. My keepsakes didn't amount to much by most standards, but I needed to hold onto them, nevertheless. It seems there's much more in the needing, than in the object itself....
Later, alone, I sent a silent, prayerful petition to the trees, nymphs and boulders asking them to continue their journey joyfully without me and to always remember how our souls intermingled and informed one another. I also bequeathed to any child lucky enough to happen upon those shores, my full inheritance: fortune enough to have their spirit thoroughly awakened, just as mine had been all those years before. Though my time there had come to an end, that sense of sacredness remains with me still, a true and lasting gift from the heart of my beloved Pine Island.
Epilogue: After writing this story, at the suggestion of a friend, I decided to research the Native American word "Winnipesaukee". It means "Smile of the Great Spirit".