Island Sojourn

At the beginning of the new year I took myself away to Dauphin Island. To friends and family I called what I was doing a retreat, and I guess it was that – in broad terms. To me it was a getaway, an escape from the aftermath of the holidays and from all things familiar and demanding. Not that Dauphin Island isn’t familiar in many ways. Day trips to the Alabama paradise were sprinkled through my childhood, and twice before I have rented a cottage for this same purpose. The two hour drive is negligable, and the dramatic approach to the island is always one of the best parts of going there. One suffers the long-seeming two lane highway 193 for the gradual appearance of water on either side – the water expanding with marshy mini-islands breaking up its expanse. The sky grows bigger, sharing its luminosity with the water’s surface, and the air seems charged – penetrating the car to wake the senses.

It was almost two o’clock by the time we reached the high bridge and the dogs sat up and looked around. Their noses twitched and flared with interest, and little Star planted her feet on the front seat divider to peer forward like an eager child. She grew more excited as I spoke aloud of familiar landmarks – understood when I told her we were almost there. On discovering that our cottage was not on the beach I felt some disappointment, but it was quiet on our side of the island, which was good, and not a long walk to the glorious afternoon beach.

The dogs were crazy with excitement. The sights, sounds, smells overwhelmed the slightest desire to control their behaviour. My commands were swallowed up by the sounds of the waves. Add to this the presence of friendly workmen, bulldozers, and occasional mountains of plowed up sand. The whole island was “under construction” – still recovering from hurricane Katrina and bracing for future storms. This was hampering at first, but by the second day, I had to view the machines and the men as part of the whole experience – a reality of the present that I could live with.

On the second day I discovered the public beach with its tidal pools and its eye-catching stretched out exanses of beach, sky and water. The public aspect made little difference in January. Winter kept most visitors away, so the dogs and I made our solitary way over the sands. Music and His Shadow on Dauphin Island

This beach came to be a place of comfort and refuge;for some strange reason I felt more at ease meandering among the tidal pools or following the pull of my happy little dogs into the infinity before us. Back in the cottage, my limits descended. Unless I was totally exhausted by our explorations, I was faced with an inner demand to understand who I was, why I was, and where I was going. So… Where was my butterfly mind? Perhaps I could find it in the Bird sanctuary. Bird or butterfly… Winged examples of my dance. 

Entering the sun-dappled beauty of the sanctuary is like entering a secret place within yourself – a place where all is quiet and still. Even the wind that murmers through the pines sounds like a messenger of peace. One does hear evidence of bird-life, and I know that most who come there are in search of birds. With their binoculars held at the ready, they are attuned to seeing, naming, and collecting numbers. Brief encounters with these serious sorts mean a tighter grasp upon the leashes of my furry companions who inspire some disapproving looks. I keep my poop bags visible to reassure them. No matter… Each to his own… And for the most part we enjoy a solitary sojourn.

Surrounding the small house on stilts where we lived for almost a week, were stickers called rockachaws. Small, with sharp thorns on all sides, they lodged in the tender places between the dogs’ pads and extracting them was traumatic for all concerned. Not surprisingly, Music and Star prefered the beach for doggy business, so we rose and were out on the beach in time for the sunrise.

These early morning jaunts took courage, even for the dogs on the coldest, windiest days, but invariably, it was worth it to see the world all new, with everything bathed in a pinky glow. Often we had the pleasure of seeing a lone heron, standing in the shallows – an icon of contemplation. Apparently, the bird was less interested in the dog’s antics then in maintaining his focus. A good example for the focus required for daily writing.

I admit I came to the island with hopes of beginning a new writing project, but honestly, my greatest pleasure while in the little house, was sitting on my bed, a quilt tucked around my legs, dogs close and sleeping while I wrote in my journal. I recorded vivid dreams, thoughts, feelings and my impressions of the place. My attempts with the laptop did not get far. I wrote a possible introduction to a memoir about my mother and then the laptop began to balk at every attempt. Clearly, my time on the island was about being on the island, not about obvious accomplishment. Rest and renewal was purpose enough.

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2 Responses to “Island Sojourn”

  1. Kendall Says:

    Leif, these words and images dance together exquisitely. I love the curve of the shore, the luminous light, the reflections, the heron silhouette, the dogs and their shadows, the intersections and partings…it’s all just as you say. You find all the right words and put them in the right places. Thank you for letting us ride your shoulders into this place. The alley way through the sanctuary is indeed like a secret place within ourselves. Your time there was about being, not doing, and we get to be with you for a bit of the stillness, the quilt around our feet, the sun shining on silver waters.

  2. leiflife Says:

    Dearest Kendall, now I bask in the poetry of your response. In some way you make it all real for me again. Words and images give back the truth – the value of my sojourn. Yes… The island is still with me, as you are. Thank you…

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