Life is not predetermined, but the beginning casts its hue. It is the origin from which we measure how far we’ve moved or if we’ve circled back around.
The island is populated through connections. My mother moved there with my father, who moved there with his friend.
The public dock is outlined by creosote-soaked pilings covered in planks strong enough to hold three trucks. Small boats unload on the float below, and people carry boxes up the ramp whose squeaky wheels adjust according to the tides.
Uphill, the post office is a stacked-log cabin. The stone chimney is unused. The wooden railings on the porch have been smoothed by generations of children's climbing hands. The piano is silent. The bulletin board announces volleyball and goats for sale.
There were no bears, poisonous snakes, fast cars, or strangers, and I was free to wander anywhere. All the roads were dirt and led to neighbors' houses. All the parents fed me when I hinted I was hungry and didn’t care when I picked their apples or their plums.
I swam without supervision in a cove that emptied when the tide was low, leaving sand flats for digging clams or building castles. Coming in, the water warmed over sun-hot pebbles and rough outcrops with barnacles. The far cliff was always shady and held a trunk of perfectly petrified wood.
The school had eight grades and thirty students then, but today there are fewer. It was painted white, with a red roof and trim. Children liked to pull the knotted rope to hear the bell, which also served as the alarm if you kept ringing and didn't ever stop.
I learned useful things like making paper and books, sewing pillows, quilting, attaching buttons, cooking bread and fudge, and building rafts and forts and fires. I made baskets out of flat maple leaves by bending the five blades in and stitching them together with the stem that made a handle.
I gnawed on licorice root dug from the wet moss on thick maple branches. I chewed new shoots of Oregon grape before they grew spikes, but not the acrid berries.
I munched prickly, crunchy comfrey leaves that tasted like water inside and sorrel so sour my lips were pickled.
I nibbled wild rose petals—five at a time, tender, sweet—but rose hips were too bitter in the fall.
I sucked dark salal berries, mushy, popped off in a row; delicate red thimbleberries; perfect wild strawberries only big enough for Barbie; bland salmonberries; and three varieties of wild blackberries.
Once I lived in a teepee with walls so steep that winter snow slid down the sides. Dark lichen grew on the outside of the thick canvas, and I scraped it off with twigs to make designs.
Inside was a thin wood-plank floor with boxes of fabric, feathers, and beads. I slept on angle-iron bunk beds where a farm cat once delivered kittens. She licked the water-blood smell clean, but one still died.
I read by heavy glass kerosene lamps. I carried them with two hands, holding the shade steady at the bottom where it did not get hot.
My mother's husband's farm had a leech-filled pond with an island in the middle. He had orchards; he knew of grafting trees. On a single root, he grew many apples—yellow, speckled, small, and round, some had red flesh to the core.
He grew dirt-caked carrots, lemon cucumbers, raspberries, and kale. He grew pot between the rows of corn: they're the same color from the sky. They both reach high, and both have scruffy leaves, cutting, raspy on your skin.
He had cats and chickens and goats that gave gamey meat and milk, and for a while a donkey.
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Image: “Three Bathers.” Felix Vallotton. 1894. Woodcut on beige wove paper, 28.8 x 21.9 cm. From: National Gallery of Art. https://www.nga.gov/Collection/art-object-page.110682.html