The Island | Andrew Trovalusci
A green jewel ringed by white sand is set within the sea, itself a glistening mosaic of turquoise and sapphire. This jewel is, of course, an island, and on this island sits a town that faces East so that every morning the sun rises out of the ocean and casts its soft light onto the upturned faces of the town’s inhabitants. This island’s climate is well-suited to the requirements of human life and remains pleasant all-year-round. Each change of season is welcomed by the islanders, who enjoy the change of pace and activity that each change brings. The changes of scenery, too, serve as a warm reminder that all parts of the island are very much alive.
In Spring, steady rainfall waters the island’s crops and ensures a strong harvest later in the year, while wildflowers of every colour spring up like a colourful carpet to cover the island’s forests and meadows. Summer brings with it uninterrupted clear blue skies and a hot sun, but the heat is comfortable – kept in check by a soft ocean breeze that seems to grace one’s face whenever one needs its comforting caress the most. With Autumn the sun begins to set earlier and the air turns cool and crisp. Late evening walks through town and along the quay are particularly pleasant at this time of year. The forests turn from green to brilliant red as the island’s furry creatures retreat into their warm, earthen burrows. Autumn turns to Winter and the trees lose the last of their leaves.
Winter on the island is dramatic – the gentle ocean breeze of the Summer picks up into a strong wind which hurls great foamy waves at the island’s cliffs night and day. Work, except for game-hunting and firewood-collecting, grinds to a halt, and people live comfortably on food that’s been stockpiled throughout the year. Instead of working, families huddle tightly around roaring fires. The elderly sit their grandchildren on their knees and tell them stories, their faces painted orange by the nearby fire, their noses filled with the scent of hot stew and their eyes wide with excitement, or fear, or outrage, depending on the story that’s being told. Meanwhile, father and mother will go hand-in-hand to one of the many social events that occur every night in enormous specially-built halls (if you were to live in the countryside) or in smaller stone taverns (for those that live in town).
On arrival at their establishment of choice, the pair will be greeted by the thunderous yells and cries of their friends. The married couple is immediately prised apart and whisked away to opposite corners of the room, not to meet again until the evening’s revelry is over. The hall is filled with a tremendous din as people sing and drink and sing some more, and the air is thick with the kind of uproarious laughter that can only be found among gatherings of true companions. Winter brings islander men home from their travels and so it’s the season for the reunification of husbands with their wives, sons with their parents, fathers with their children, and long-missed friends with eagerly-waiting company. And then, after months of partying, with the islanders thoroughly exhausted, Spring returns; the world is lit up in terrific colour once more and the sun once again sits high and long in the sky.
The town is labyrinthine and off its stone-paved roads dart narrow alleyways which wind between tall stone columns and duck under heavy stone arches. The dwellings of the townspeople themselves are small, made of sandstone, and tightly packed together. They are packed so tightly together, in fact, that children can run atop their flat roofs from house to house all day long. Their streets are clean, their houses surprisingly spacious (when viewed from the inside) and they have a strong culture of neighbourliness. Each house typically has a small garden that sits in the shade of a palm tree for when one wants to sit outside. The narrow alleyways are kept cool in the summer by the rows of dwellings on each side, which keep the alleyway in the shade. The closer to the centre of town one ventures, the wider the streets become until one finds oneself in the middle of an enormous square. Away from the centre of town lies the harbour, which is always busy with every manner of person from merchants to administrators and from dockworkers to fishermen and sailors. Between the harbour and the town centre sits the marketplace – the busiest area of the whole town. Islanders gather here to sell produce, materials, or goods. A very small number of merchants from the mainland are allowed to trade at the market too, each with the express permission of the king. Their exotic wares attract much attention among children, but by and large, the adults of the island remain unimpressed. After all, the food they grow is more delicious, the goods they craft are of higher quality and the clothes they make are more colourful than anything that can be imported from outside.
The men and women of the island tend to live long and healthy lives thanks to the rich diet afforded to them by the island’s thriving ecosystem. Every day for most of the year children run down to the island’s various sandy bays, which are nestled in coves surrounded by steep stone cliffs. There, they fashion rudimentary fishing lines out of string and spare fishhooks and set about ceaselessly harassing the myriad hapless creatures that inhabit the beaches rock pools, in the way that children do. The blue-and-green sea is rich with fish of all kinds and many an islander makes his living out on the waves. The soil of the island is rich and the Spring rains reliable, so farmers produce a surplus of food every year and further encroachment of agricultural land onto the wilderness is unnecessary. The islanders are loathe to shift the balance of wide meadows, deep forests, and long fields that allow them to enjoy such a rich and varied diet. They understand little about ecology, but they hold a solemn and serious respect for the island that sustains them, and thus they will not take more in terms of land, materials or food, from their island mother than what is necessary.
The vast majority of the island remains completely wild, and yet each islander can navigate with ease the web of paths that criss-cross its surface. Each islander possesses an intimate knowledge of his home that comes from a childhood spent running and playing; completely roaming free. Older kids are told to guide and look out for younger children, no matter how irritating they may be, because the community in which they live is so tight-knit. Older kids lead younger kids and in so doing learn to become responsible adults as well as good parents. As well as this, the stories that children are taught by their grandparents are laced with aphorisms that embed themselves into the children’s minds from a young age, teaching them how to keep safe when playing outside. The stories are so clever, so implicit, that if you were to ask an islander the meaning of one, he or she wouldn’t be able to tell you because the meanings are hidden in plain sight, and thus they bury themselves into their subconsciouses without them even knowing. Just because islanders aren’t consciously aware of the wisdom soaked into the stories they were told as children doesn’t mean they dismiss those stories as useless – it’s quite the opposite. islanders know that their stories are how they hand down the inherited wisdom of their forebears and so each islander sees it as his solemn duty to pass to his children the full repertoire of fables he was told as a child because he knows it’ll keep his kids safe.
Nursery rhymes are one thing, but each islander is also the guardian of a wealth of folkloric tales entrusted to him after overcoming adolescence. These folkloric tales blend the natural with the supernatural, describing some island phenomena in practical terms, while others in mythical terms. The purpose of this knowledge is not to explain why things happen on the island – they are merely to describe where certain things on the island are, similar to how people today use mnemonics to remember information. An adult islander will never get lost no matter where on the island he is because, irrespective of anything, he can consult the intricate web of traditional knowledge that’s stored in poem, story, and riddle form in this mind. Interestingly, though, it’s customary for islanders to reveal this extra cache of knowledge to their children only once they approach adulthood, so that, to their children, every acre of land on the island retains a virginal, frontierish quality, the continual taming of which islanders consider a crucial part of adolescent development. In so doing, their children grow accustomed to, even addicted to, the feeling of adventure.
Crime is virtually nonexistent on the island – the islanders are a tight-knit and virtuous people. Above all, they value the development of their children’s social and moral character because they understand that it’s on this that the continued existence of their island paradise resides. They do not need a state-controlled child-indoctrination (‘education’) system, children learn the family trade or apprentice with another islander if they so wish. It’s through collective effort that their culture is kept alive – and they know this.
This makes them a rather conservative bunch, skeptical of unnecessary innovation, and fiercely opposed to change for change’s sake. After all, why upset the known good in search of some unknown, promised great, when good is so good already? The islanders are humble; keenly aware of their human shortsightedness. Thus, they know the danger of idealism having unforeseeable consequences. Consequences which can result from upsetting a natural equilibrium, invisible to them but reached by their ancestors through centuries of small adjustments. ‘It’s foolish not to be wary of what one is unaware of,’ they say. Each islander is entrusted by a thousand generations of his forebears with a land both beautiful and rich, for him to hold in keeping for the thousand generations that will follow him. No islander is willing to risk spoiling such a high-stakes game of ‘pass the parcel’ and both insulting the memory of his grandparents and spoiling the inheritance of his grandchildren. islanders prefer to keep their Island in stasis – like a fruit preserved at peak ripeness. While the world continues to tear itself apart and remake itself anew, seemingly to no end, the islanders choose to keep things the same in the belief that, well, if it was good enough for their grandparents it’ll be good enough for them.
Islanders rarely encounter their ‘government’ – if it can even be considered as one. They are ruled by a king and their constitution is agreed upon rather than written – another one of their oral traditions. Islanders pay a small amount of tax each year – but this amount is token. There is no police force, no standing army, and no sprawling bureaucracy. When disputes occur, there are many ways for involved parties to settle the dispute honourably themselves. If all else fails, the dispute can be brought to the king and the evidence presented to a jury, who will judge the case with the approval of the monarch. The king himself actually has no legal limits on his power – he can ask whatever he wants of his subjects and, as the islanders hold a deep respect for their spiritually-ordained ruler, they will comply with his every request. Ultimately, however, were the king to begin to behave unreasonably, islanders would be under no legal obligation to obey him, and if enough islanders joined in their refusal to cooperate, the king’s powers would be nullified. Thus, the king is constrained by norms and values rather than legal boundaries, allowing him to act more flexibly in a crisis (not that any ever arrive) but also making him more accountable to the people. The constitution of the island lives in the heart of every islander. Their spirit of liberty, of justice, is handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter, and it’s what keeps them happy and prosperous.
Life on the island is so comfortable and stimulating that many never think of leaving. Some, however, spent their boyhood days with their faces turned West to the setting sun, watching as it cast a net of red rays onto the rolling waves and wondering ‘what if…’ And so, the island harbours a proud tradition of explorers, colonisers, travelling merchants, and fierce conquerors. While the island itself has no standing army and engages in no official imperialism, there is always action and adventure to be found out on the conflict-stricken mainland. Men on the island marry and have children young so that they can sail out across the waves to bring back fame and glory and plunder. They bring back stories for their children of great beasts, sea serpents, and savage tribes with bloodthirsty rituals. They bring home stories of treasure, of violence, of heroism, and of danger. They also bring back news. Returning adventurers are tasked with bringing back sad news from the outside of friends fallen. islanders never travel abroad alone, because to die abroad and leave one’s family without knowledge of one’s fate, to leave them always waiting in vain for one’s return, is seen as an act of outstanding cruelty and selfishness.
When an islander falls, intense funeral rites are performed. In cases where a body cannot be retrieved, these funeral rites proceed anyway, because they pertain to the islander’s soul rather than to their body. The islander is bidden farewell by their community, their family, and their loving spouse, whose final words to the deceased must be kept a holy secret. Islander’s don’t know what awaits them after death, but they don’t care. They see themselves as one link in a long chain of being that extends imperceptibly far out both in front of and behind them. They don’t fear the slow shuffling forward of that chain, one link at a time. They know that wherever they go, many links in the chain have been before, and the links that follow them will join them at their final destination.
Photo Owned by Andrew Trovalusci