We’ve all heard of the fabled desert island. That place where you have only three items and you need to decide what they are. That place where you arrive with a small collection of music and they’re the only songs you’ll ever hear again (of course I’m referring to the fabled Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 there).
I’m sure we’ve all imagined ourselves stuck on some little island in the middle of the Pacific like Tom Hanks in Castaway and wondered how we’d fare in such a situation. No doubt you’ve wondered how you would survive or even if you’d survive.
I think a desert island conjures up a lot of different images for us all. For some it represents a trap from which there’s no escape. For others it represents adventure and discovery. For others it represents solitude.
Solitude is a beautiful thing. Honestly; I would say it’s one of the best things in life from a personal perspective. I love being in my own company and always have since a young age. My innermost thoughts and memories are such good company. I actually become really tense if I go too long without some quality time to myself.
My depiction of a desert island is an entirely positive one. I’d give myself a damned good chance of living a fruitful life if I ended up shipwrecked on one regardless of the situation that put me there.
But I won’t talk about what I’d do if I got shipwrecked because that’d be like predicting the lottery numbers for the next twenty draws with absolute accuracy. Firstly, I’d have no idea what the island looked like and what landmarks, flora or fauna existed upon it. Secondly, I don’t know in what state I’d arrive. So I won’t go there.
What I will do is describe my perfect desert island and what I’d have there keeping it as realistic as possible. So no plug sockets in a readymade mansion and a hot tub full of beautiful and lustful Playboy Bunnies. I’ll keep it realistic to within a respectable margin. Here is what will effectively be my first crack at a short story on my blog. I hope you enjoy it.
My Perfect Island (A short story by Paul.E.Bailey)
I arrive mid-morning and watch the vessel that brought me sail away. All I know about this island is that it’s small; no more than half a mile wide and a mile long in a rough kidney shape. I also know that no other feet have touched it (at least not in recorded history). Seven days of fending for myself await me. I admit to feeling a little trepidation.
On the western end of the island is a tall, rocky prominence somewhere between seventy-five and a hundred feet high, but it’s easy to climb. There’s plenty of verdant flora and a bit of fauna; thankfully nothing dangerous (they told me the island has been scanned with thermal image cameras and brought up nothing overtly threatening). There’s also a small freshwater lake that’ll be good for bathing in and drinking from. The weather is balmy and sunny, but there are more than enough trees to provide shade. In fact most of the island is covered in them.
There’s a small selection of fruit and vegetables growing around the place so it’ll negate the need to hunt animals or fish. Just as well because I’d rather starve than kill an animal.
I make camp on the south facing beach; a stunning expanse of clean, unspoiled white sand. That’s where I pitch the tent I had the foresight to bring. I get the fire set up and ready for the evening. Once that’s sorted, I make my way to the main attraction; the aforementioned prominence.
What a view! All around me is nothing but navy blue sea and azure sky with the faintest wisps of snow-white cloud. It’s truly breath-taking knowing that I’m so isolated; so far away from the nearest human being. It makes me smile. I look down the other way to my small haven. A beach lines each side of the kidney shape with all kinds of trees and plants in between and I can just make out the lake on the eastern side. I wonder momentarily how the island even came into existence.
I already love this place. I could sit here and watch the scenery all day, but I feel suddenly inspired to write and so I make my way back down the prominence to my campsite. I retrieve my laptop and begin tapping away at the keys; letting the ideas and inspiration flow until the battery dies. I’ve brought seven with me; one battery a day. I also have a pen and notepad in case I get a little overzealous with the laptop.
Nightfall comes around quite rapidly so I hastily light the campfire and cook up some of the veggies I picked earlier. By the firelight, I begin working on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra; a book I’ve always wanted to read, but haven’t gotten around to. I’ve also brought along a couple of the works of Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. I’m not sure of how much I’ll get to read in a week, but I’ll give it a damned good go.
After reading awhile and eating my vegetable medley, I realise the negative point of placing my camp on the south side because now I can’t see the moon. The trees are obscuring my view. I don’t regret where I’ve placed the camp as it made good sense to keep the sun off me with the shade the trees provide. I’m blonde-haired after all. UV and I don’t mix terribly well. I do want to see the night sky in all its glory though.
Not to worry. I pack up a little kindling in my bag along with one of a few bottles of Colombard I brought along. There are some creature comforts I simply couldn’t bare to leave behind! I use my torch to make the short walk from the south side of the island to the north. I fear almost every noise I hear, but there’s nothing here that can harm me; so I’ve been told. I remind myself of that fact and keep on moving through the trees.
The less impressive north beach appears before me in the darkness. I’m not bothered about the beach though. The moon is stunning and so is the blanket of southern hemisphere stars. I’m not familiar with this sky. I’ve never been south of the equator before so this really is a treat for an astronomy lover like me.
I quickly set up the small campfire and then I just lie there; alone with my thoughts. I drink a couple of glasses of Colombard. The wine is slightly warm, but who cares? The breeze is cool and refreshing. The sound of the waves splashing gently against the shore intermingled with the crackling of the fire is therapeutic. The moon and stars are bright and beautiful. Everything is just so.
After the second glass, I decide I should head back for camp before the wine gets to my head. I make it quickly and safely back to camp before snuffing out the glowing embers of the campfire and retiring to my tent for the night. It’s warm enough that I don’t need a sleeping bag. In fact, I’m going to lie here completely naked. Who’s going to stop me? Who’s going to judge me?
The shade of the trees prevents the bright Pacific sun from waking me early; not that I have any idea what time it is locally. I don’t really want or need to know. It was the best sleep I had in years and I wake up with much gusto. I eat some fruit for breakfast, but realise that I’m running low on water. A trip to the lake it is then today.
I dress myself lightly and make my way east to where I know the lake lies. It doesn’t take long; it never does on an island this small. The lake is no bigger than a standard twenty-five metre swimming pool and the water as calm as a millpond. I fill up a couple of large bottles and am about to walk away, but I’m struck with a sudden urge to swim in a body of water that no other man has before.
Once again, I strip naked before dipping a foot in the clear water. It’s fresh and invigorating. I procrastinate a moment over what creatures might inhabit the lake, but the apprehension soon passes and I plunge in. It feels incredible and immediately cools me down. There are indeed little fish in here, but they’re a lot more afraid of me than I am of them and dart in every direction. A family of wild pigs take interest in my aquatic antics for a minute before disappearing into the trees again. This is amazing! I feel more alive right now than ever.
As I climb out of the lake some time later, I wonder if I’ve spent a little too long in there, but I remind myself that this is my island. I make the rules here. How I choose to survive is my business and nobody can interfere. That kind of power, that kind of freedom is something I’ve never experienced and it’s admittedly intoxicating. I dress myself; caring little that I’ve wet my clothes; and carry the water back to camp.
When I arrive back, I’m greeted by a couple of unexpected visitors. A pair of leatherback sea turtles has come ashore. I have no idea what they’re doing or why, but they don’t seem ruffled by my presence. They don’t even mind when I reach out and touch their shells. It pleases me that they seem to know I’m no harm to them. What beautiful creatures! I feel a little melancholy when they finally decide to leave, but what a moment!
I’m hungry so I decide I’ll cook some veggies over the fire again. The smell obviously attracts my pig friends from earlier and they come over sniffing around. They’re wary of me, but soon venture closer when they realise I’m offering up some of my grub. The piglets are absolutely adorable and seem really intrigued by me; sniffing around and trying to jump on my knee. They’re like puppies. I don’t even mind that they go on to eat all my food meaning I’ll now have to pick some more.
After gathering more vegetables, I prepare them and finally feed myself. I then pick up my Friedrich Nietzsche and head for the rocky prominence. There I sit reading until sunset. I close the book as the sun is on its final approach to the horizon. It’s the most beautiful and dramatic sunset I’ve ever seen; a true deathbed memory. As the orange orb slips beneath the horizon, a stiff breeze picks up and I can see storm clouds approaching from the south. Time to head back to camp.
The previous night was glorious and breath-taking in its own right, but tonight is equally so, albeit in a much more vivacious fashion. I watch from my tent as the rain sheets down, the thunder rumbles louder than I’ve ever heard, the lightning illuminates everything as though it were a brief flash of daylight and the waves crash against the shore violently only feet away from where I sit. It’s exhilarating and fearsome in equal measure. I’ve never felt more organically involved in a storm before.
After an hour that feels more like several, the storm passes and the clouds quickly dissipate to reveal the twinkling stars behind. If I ignore the wet sand on the beach it’s as though the storm never even happened. It occurs to me that I haven’t got any writing done today so I quickly set up the campfire (I remembered to store the firewood before the storm) and work away. Again, the inspiration flows from what has been another unforgettable day on my island.
The following five days pass quickly, but no less perfectly. I cover every square metre of the place and there’s something else to discover in each one, even if only on a small scale. I learn more about myself in those days than at any point in my life before. I feel closer to nature than I ever have. I’ll miss the family of pigs that turned up daily after that second day to eat my veg and play. I wonder if they’ll turn up tomorrow. I hope it doesn’t upset them when they realise I’m not there. How strange; I was the only human inhabitant on this island and yet I still managed to make friends.
I feel I owe this perfect little island something. It’s given me so much; it surely makes sense to offer a little sacrifice in its honour. I ask the captain of the vessel that’s here to collect me to hold on for a while as I make my way up the prominence one last time.
Breathing heavily from the jog up, I retrieve my copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. I scribble a quick note inside the front cover thanking the island for all it’s given me and then lodge it beneath the rock I’ve used as a seat each time I’ve gone up there. This seems a fitting tribute as I’ve taken to calling the prominence Zarathustra Peak. I take one last look around and down at my island. I hate to leave, but my family and friends await my return and they’ll have many questions to ask.
I stand at the stern of the vessel and watch as my island disappears into the distance. Tears protrude from my eyes. They’re tears of sadness because I’m leaving and tears of happiness because I had the experience. The captain asks me what I decided to call the island. I don’t answer straightaway. In all honesty, I haven’t even thought about it until now. I look at him and smile. My response is just one word; “Mine“.
I found my paradise on an earth that I had become convinced was so grotesque. I make my vow then and there to return one day. And I will. I definitely will…
How would your ideal desert island compare to Mine? Does the thought of being stranded fill you with fear or are you the kind of person who would revel in it like I would? I would love to know your thoughts and feelings about it so please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.