The Circle of Life Brings Comfort

Grief is a horrible thing to experience, and it washes over all of us sooner or later. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

Personally, I take great solace from the evidence all around us of rebirth and renewal. I will pass away one day, but someone or something will step in to take my place. It will grow through me or out of me or in spite of me or because of me. Nature will out. That’s why Spring is such a glorious, vitalizing time, after the death of Winter.

Recently, this photograph showed up on my cell phone wallpaper, and it really caught my imagination. I mean, here’s a ship, half sunken, abandoned, rusting and rotting away, and enough sand and soil has gathered within it’s broken hull to provide a place for trees to sprout. A ship becomes an island. That intrigues me.

I learned that this hulk started its life in 1863 as the SS City of Adelaide, a steam ship. It was built in Scotland, and had a regular route between Melbourne, Sydney, Honolulu and San Francisco. In 1890 its boilers and engines were removed and 4 masts were added.

By 1902, this vessel was only fit to be a hulk for coal storage, It caught fire in 1912, and it took days to put the fire out. In 1915, the hull was stripped, and what was left was sent off to Magnetic Island to become a breakwater on the coast, but it never quite made it. It ran aground in Cockle Bay, and has been there ever since, slowly turning into an island. During WWII, the hulk was used for bombing practice, but one of the planes accidentally hit a mast, and 4 military men were killed.

I like this story. Created by man and a slave to man’s whims, then attacked by its creators and then tragic retaliation. This thing has now become part of nature. Talk about the circle of life.

While researching this post, I came across many other vessels that are now sporting trees, including this abandoned ship outside of Anacortes, Washington, and also the SS Ayrfield in Sydney.

Mother Nature reclaims everything, if only we leave her alone to do her thing. When I die, I’d like to become compost and nurture a tree in an abandoned ship. I think that would be very satisfying.


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Another Non-Existent Island

I’ve written about an island that never actually existed. I also recently wrote about an entire mountain range that was a figment of someone’s imagination. Since then, a friend told me about another fictitious island. I seem to be on a cartographical roll, here.

The island in question is Cali Fornia. According to Wikipedia, this place was supposed to be some sort of paradise, which one man said was inhabited only by black women who lived like Amazons. Some maps even show it as stretching the entire length of the western coast of what is now the United States, from Mexico to the Puget Sound. Imagine the waterfront property opportunities that would exist if that were true.

The first time anyone heard about this island was in a 1510 romance novel. That’s where the Amazon-like women are described. It seems that one explorer, who was in the neighborhood of Baja California, and didn’t quite make it to the northern end of what’s now called the Gulf of California, assumed it was instead a strait, and that therefore Baja must be the island mentioned in the book. Quite the leap.

After that, many explorers disproved this concept, but others perpetuated it by mistaking it for, of all places, the island of Vancouver. Cali Fornia still showed up on many maps as late as the 18th century. Some map makers continued to perpetuate this inaccuracy simply because maps used to be printed from copper plates, and making the change would be too expensive.

Finally, an explorer named Juan Bautista de Anza traveled from Sonora to the California coast in 1776 without having to cross any strait, and maps were never the same again.

It’s kind of funny to think that our founding fathers lived in a world where Cali Fornia still existed, at least on paper. All I can say is, Thank God for Google Earth.


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Exploring Washington State: Vashon Island

Just a 15 minute ferry ride from West Seattle across beautiful Puget Sound takes you to a different world. Vashon Island is rural, lushly wooded, hilly and remote, and yet it’s nearby. It’s quite the dichotomy.

It’s also got a lot of delightful little cabins, which is a nice change from the bulk of King County, which is rapidly being covered in urban sprawl and unaffordable housing. The island itself is 37 square miles, stretching basically from Seattle to Tacoma, and the population, according to the 2010 census, is 10,624. On Vashon, the pace is slower, and you can really breathe.

The views are spectacular, too, as these pictures attest. You can even see Mount Rainier during your ferry crossing. It looks as though it floats above everything. It took my breath away.

On Vashon, there are a few enclaves with delightful little shops and restaurants. Make sure your car is gassed up on the mainland before you go exploring, though, because gas on the island is about a dollar more per gallon! But what I liked the most was getting out into the wilderness and the quiet. We even came upon a deer, who seemed quite surprised to see us.

So, if you need a getaway, but don’t want to get that far away, I’d recommend Vashon Island. I look forward to going back again and again.


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What’s a Potcake?

I’m so glad you asked. I only just found out myself. A potcake is a mutt that can be found on several Caribbean islands around the Turks and Caicos, usually a combination of German Shepherd, Labrador, and various types of terrier. They are around 50-60 pounds, full grown, and come in all sorts of colors. Potcakes got their names because people used to feed them potcake, which is basically the scrapings of leftover peas and rice at the bottom of a cook pot. As a general rule, potcakes are very intelligent and good-natured dogs.

Dog lover that I am, I just found out about the best vacation ever. On the island of Providenciales, in the Turks and Caicos, there is an organization called Potcake Place K-9 Rescue. They let you help socialize their adoptable puppies by taking them out on the beach. I can’t think of anything more delightful than romping with a puppy on the white sands of the Caribbean.

And if, as I’m sure I would, you fall in love with your pup, you can adopt him or her. They already have the system worked out so that you have all the necessary paperwork and health certificates to fly them home with you. What a wonderful way to end a vacation!

Even if you choose not to adopt, you can help socialize the dogs. You can also act as a courier for someone who is adopting a dog but can’t fly out to pick him up. And, of course, you can donate money or dog-related items to the organization.

I love the idea of an island where dogs play on the beach and find forever homes. I hope I get to go there some day.

Three little potcakes, no doubt gossiping about the tourists.

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Okinawa Dreaming

This week I applied for a job on Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. I qualify for it, and what the heck? Nothing is holding me here. I could use an adventure! Since then I’ve been reading about that beautiful island, and my imagination has taken off. I can already visualize my life there.

As a civilian, I would be living off base, probably surrounded by very polite and gracious people who find it nearly impossible to communicate with me. I would bring next to nothing with me, as I’ve always longed to live a simple, uncluttered life, and this would be the perfect excuse. Just me, my dogs, my laptop, some clothes… the basics I can always pick up at garage sales. I’m sure a lot of the military personnel who leave the island also leave a lot of stuff behind.

I wouldn’t need a big house. A tiny little thing would do, as long as it had a bit of yard for the dogs to run in. But I’d want it to have western amenities. I’m not one to squat to do my business.

I’d buy a car there, some little off brand that looks like a motorized roller skate with the steering wheel on the right hand side. Rush hour traffic will take some getting used to. I hear it’s a nightmare. But on my off days I would explore the island.

I would have to get used to the slower island pace, but I don’t think I’d have a problem with that. I’m a slow paced kind of a girl. And people talk about boredom and loneliness, but I’m a bit of a homebody anyway, so it’s not like I do much even here.

Actually, it might do me some good to get out of my shell and meet people. Join some clubs, learn the language, do something other than bury my nose in this laptop. I do suspect that the ratio of American males to American females is quite substantial, and that wouldn’t hurt my feelings one little bit. However, I’m sure there are fewer single ones in my age range. And even fewer still who are politically liberal. That could be a problem.

I’d spend a lot of time trying to experience the culture. The food, the festivals, the limited tourist attractions. The aquarium sounds phenomenal. I’d go to the beach, feel the sand between my toes. Occasionally take trips to other parts of Asia that I could never afford to see otherwise. It could be really good.

I lie in bed, imagining my Okinawa life. I sometimes have to turn on the light and write something down so my mind doesn’t grind on it and keep me from sleeping. Like, can civilians shop on base? Can we get our mail on base and bank there? Will they help me find a place to live, or is that service only for military personnel? Will I be able to get my prescriptions? Can I really live without pizza delivery?

All these questions will have to be answered. IF I get the job. That’s a big if. And that’s the problem with my overactive imagination. I’ve fleshed out my Okinawa fantasy so fully that it sort of feels as if part of me is already living it. Which means that if I don’t get the job, I’ll be mourning a life that I was supposed to live, that I imagined I did live, even though I’ve never been farther west than Los Angeles in my entire life.

Okinawa dreaming has its pros and cons.


The Plight of Haitian-Dominicans

It’s a small island. You’d think Haitians and Dominicans would have learned to get along by now. Not so much.

In May, the Dominican Republic ruled that if you were born of Haitian parents any time after 1929 (which means, basically, all of them) you would be stripped of your Dominican citizenship and deported. Never mind that these people have lived there all their lives, and have never even been to Haiti.

But to make matters even worse, the government is refusing to provide them with any proof of their existence. Haitian-Dominicans cannot get their birth certificates or any form of identification. That means even if they do get deported, no one will take them. And if they stay, they can’t go to university or get any kind of white collar job, and have to live in constant fear of being stopped on the street by police and asked for papers that they can’t produce. People with bright futures, who have been offered full ride scholarships, are forced to become construction workers. These people have no options. They are basically without citizenship and without hope, simply because of who their parents were.

What did they do to deserve this? Maybe it’s because it’s a small island. You’ve got two groups of culturally distinct people competing for limited resources, and Haiti is one of the poorest countries on the planet, so that has got to count for some border tension.

Here’s what’s wrong with the small island theory: North America is a big continent, and America shares a border with a much poorer Mexico, and we’ve been treating Mexican-Americans like crap for as long as there have been Mexicans and Americans. So size apparently doesn’t matter in this instance.

I think it has more to do with economics, fear and prejudice than anything else.

When the economy is bad and there are few jobs to go around, people get scared and they want to blame someone. In this case, the Haitian-Dominican minority makes an excellent scapegoat. The same thing happened in Nazi Germany. The economy tanked, so the people blamed the Jews.

And then there’s prejudice. I could go on for pages offering up examples of groups of people who have been abused and marginalized simply because of their race or creed. Apparently Dominicans tend to reject their African heritage, whereas Haitians embrace it, and, well, we can’t have that, now, can we?

Suffice it to say it’s not a good time to be Haitian-Dominican. And while all this is going on the world apparently feels content to look the other way. Why should we get involved, after all? It’s not like they have oil or anything. It’s not like this tiny island has any significance to our daily lives, right?

I leave you with this poem written in 1946 by Martin Niemöller, a German theologian and Lutheran pastor.

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”


[Image credit: The Record at Fordham Law]

Fantasy Island

I just got through reading an article on the NPR website entitled, “Pacific Island, Bigger Than Manhattan, Vanishes.” I assumed it was going to be about global warming, and that maybe it had sunk below the rising sea level, but no. Based upon studies of the sea floor, this island never existed in the first place. Apparently this “island” has been on maps and charts since around 1772. And now they’re looking at other questionable islands in other parts of the world in order to update maps.

fantasy_island_by_tessig-d4w7qz5 (Credit:

Can we just take a second to absorb this? In this day and age, with all our global whosawhatsis, how does this happen? It makes you realize how vast the world is, and how much we want to believe what we’re told. But I still find it vaguely unsettling. If we can’t count on our geography, what can we count on?

Here’s the thing. When my mother died when I was 26, I felt as though there was no longer any solid foundation beneath my feet, as though everything that I counted on had suddenly vanished and I was adrift. It took me a long time to get over that. A very long time. I will never forget that feeling.

Without getting into a debate about quantum physics, we count on things to be solid, to have substance. And we expect islands the size of Manhattan to stick around. This is why I could never live in an earthquake zone. To have something solid suddenly start rippling like water? I’d have a nervous breakdown.

There has to be some fundamental…thing that you can hang your hat on, and build from there. Without that, how do you know what’s real? It reminds me of a quote from the Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which translates as, “Life is a dream, and even the dreams are dreams.”