Would You Like To Live On An Island?


If anyone ever asks me if I would like to live on an island, I’ll have to answer a question with a question, “Which one?”

“Why so cautious?” you might ask.

Hey, I’ve lived on an island, so I can tell you there are islands and there are islands. All they have in common is ... water.

To have an island you have to have water.

But beyond that, Johnny, look out.

The place could be paradise or purgatory.

Yes, water. Always water. Sometimes too %$#@! much water!

There’s a story about islands and water I told a while back, but I’ll repeat it because it’s a great story. And true. During WWII a group of German submariners escaped from a POW camp here in Arizona. They had a small boat, and planned to float down the Gila and the Colorado until they reached neutral Mexico. They escaped during a driving rain, struggled to the Gila River, launched their boat, jumped in, and rowed out to an island where, completely exhausted, they rested till dawn.

At sunrise Arizona taught them something about the desert.

To have an island in a river you have to have ... a river.

And you know how it is around here. When the rain quits ...

I once lived on an island that had too much water on one side of it and not enough on the other. Staten Island is part of New York City, but don’t ask me why. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx are all close together, but it takes a seven-mile voyage on the ferry to get to Staten Island from the rest of New York. On the other hand, you can spit across the narrows separating Staten Island from New Jersey, of which it should be part.

Staten Island is not like some tiny little dot stuck out in the middle of an ocean with nothing on it but two coconut trees and a land crab. It’s a valuable piece of real estate, 16 miles wide and 32 miles long.

Back when I was a kid, it was a nice place to live compared to the rest of New York City. It was “country,” a place where Boy Scout troops from the other boroughs went camping. The air was unpolluted, streets wide, rents cheap, schools good, beaches clean — and free — and the people contented.

But New Yorkers think Staten Island is a dump. Ever watch an NYPD episode and heard this? “Hey! You wanna end up pounding a beat on Staten Island?”

That’ll give you an idea of how they feel.

And get this! The EPA was unhappy about New York City dumping 20 barges of garbage a day in the Atlantic, so the rest of the city decided to use Staten Island instead. They took marshland on the New Jersey side of the island and started dumping the barge loads of garbage — 650 tons of it a day! — on Staten Island.

You know how high that trash heap got before the people on Staten Island finally got the landfill closed? Ward Hill on Staten Island, at 410 feet, is the highest elevation on the East Coast south of Maine. If Staten Island had not gone to the New York state legislature with Articles of Secession, and the landfill had been allowed to grow, it might have topped Ward Hill. When closed it was 82 feet higher than the 305-foot-tall Statue of Liberty.

And it started at sea level!

They plan to make a park out of it.

Right! Maybe they can all it Breathless Heights.

Anyway, islands and water ...

When I was in Iceland, the %$#@! water was all frozen. And small flakes of the stuff came floating down out of the sky and covered everything in sight.

Eight feet high. Forget that place!

England had a kind of water the ancient Egyptians called “heavenly water” — as opposed to the water in the Nile. In other words, rain. For the four years we were in England we received an almost daily dose of “heavenly water.”

And no, we did not think it was heavenly.

In the summer of 1971, however, the rain quit. A week went by. Two. Three. My sinuses cleared. The fungal infection in my ears finally responded to treatment. I could hear again. One day Lolly and I drove in to Bicester (aka: Bistah) to buy fresh vegetables.

Lolly was happily choosing fresh produce outside a small shop in the warm afternoon sun as birds chirped under a clear blue sky. As she was eying a ripe red tomato she turned to an Englishwoman, smiled, and said, “My! What do you think of this weather?”

“Yes, isn’t this terrible?” the woman replied, shaking her head. “If this keeps up I shall have to water my roses.”

I suppose that could happen.

In truth, though, we enjoyed our stay in Merry Old England. It didn’t seem like an island. It was more like a part of Europe that happened to be on the other side of a large salty river.

But then there was Okinawa, a place that worried me a lot. I arrived there alone in late 1963, just before the huge earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska.

Armed Forces Radio, reporting that sea water had slopped 400 feet up the hills in Alaska, warned all bases on low-lying Pacific islands that a tidal wave was on its way, and told us to take “emergency measures.” We waited for instructions, but none came. Instead, they just told us a wave of unknown height would reach us by 10 that night and that Okinawa had no place on it 400 feet high. So a bunch of us jumped in a truck with a couple of cases of beer and went down by the shore to see the wave come in. What the hey, Johnny! If you’re going to die you might as well have a good view of the event.

Well, 10 p.m. went by, and so did another two hours, so we went back to the barracks where Armed Forces Radio informed us that the tidal wave had come already by — all two inches of it.

Lolly and I and the kids were there on Okinawa for two and a half years while Mother Nature made up for the tidal wave we had missed. She sent us the same amount of water — in installments.

Eighteen typhoons in 30 months.

Live on an island? Sure, why not? I’m game.

After all, Pine is an island of private land located at 5,448 feet above sea level in the national forest, isn’t it?

Close enough.


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