Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site


Once upon a time, many years ago, I visited an island, a small rise of sand and palm trees, off the east coast of Panama. At high tide the island barely measured two acres. I had not known how small it was before I got there.

It was so contained I could feel its pulse, its aliveness, all the minute reaches of it as it expanded and shrank with the tide. I watched the island's life as the sun rose behind the 11 palms of the next island, as the shadows lengthened westward in the afternoons.

About these ads

The island grew larger every day, a quantity not reckoned by any worldly span , only in the measurement of my mind. New vistas were always there, surprising me, startling a slumber cast by tropic heat, luring me around this smallness of surpassing size.

One day, many years after leaving the island, I put a deposit on a houseboat, not a sudden decision, but one thought about for quite a while, always on the edge of my mind. Still - dreaming is one thing; acting out a fantasy, another. I went home that day searching for a yardstick.

I stood in the middle of the living room of my mini-cottage-with-the-wonderful-view and drew a 10-by-20-foot rectangle on the bare floor. The hull of my new craft was 40 feet long and 13 feet in width; however, the cabin perched atop it, our intended living space, was what I saw before me outlined on the floor. The area looked pitifully small in that 16-by- 30-foot room.

I glanced around at all my furniture, my piano, my accumulated tangible life of nearly fifty years. I gathered my old boxer, my seven cats, myself, within the rectangle. How could we live in such a small space?

I looked out my long windows facing the sea. It was early September. Rough winds were battering the surf near the shore. It was quite chilly, almost cold. Was I really doing this? Would I want to be out there this night? Could my craft last through a Northeastern winter in the water? My about-to-be-home had always spent winters cradled ashore, protected, a plaything under the summer sun. Grandma, as she was called then, had led a rather sheltered life.

Suddenly I saw my cottage as a castle of infinite size. Set high on a hillside, it was a cave of many rooms on descending levels, all windows facing the inlet waters that began across the street.

That night I decided I could part with nothing. I went to sleep.

About these ads

In the clearness of the fall coastal morning, early, before the sun yet later than the night, I scurried down the hillside with my old dog, helping him who once flew across fields and fences, a magnificent brindle blur. Now we slowly walked the low tide sandbar, out to its distant sloping edge, collecting mussels for breakfast. The morning beach was calm, a fresh wind crisp and light leaning against us as we walked.

Later, at home, after mussels, I wrote a letter to a woman who had once said, ''If you ever want to sell that wonderful old upright. . . .''

I opened the back door of my truck and filled the inside with chairs and tables, beds, and cabinets, pictures, pots - the whatevernesses of life. And every day thereafter I held a ''garage sale'' out of the truck, in front of my bookshop.

By late October the house was quite empty. There were a cot, some blankets, one pot, one frying pan, a few utensils, some clothes, some frivolous things, and 40 cartons of books. With these - and Barney and Zoe and Anna and Nicholas and Caro and Chrissy and Sarah and Earthy - I moved aboard my island.