Blueberry Island

21 Mar

Summertime was when I’d play at Blueberry Island. And it was mine. I’ll never forget one afternoon traipsing down to the island and seeing a rusty boat tied to a tree, pulled up on shore. I was indignant. How dare they, on my island? I untied the rope and pushed the boat into the water. It glided away with the wind. Later, my mom and dad gave me, and my brother, who was in cahoots with me, a talking to about this. They were horrified we did this. Mom said that wasn’t the way to make good neighbors, pushing people’s boats out into the lake. But she didn’t understand, did she? It had been too long since she was my age. Secret, magical places are all but forgotten by grown-ups. They don’t understand their magic, their inherent ownership, the fact that they’re the one place where imagination, not rules, govern time.

Blueberry island is not, in fact, an island at all. It’s a small peninsula. But islands are far more exciting than peninsulas, and so ever since we discovered wild blueberry bushes covering large patches of the land, it became blueberry island forever.

It’s where it still stays in my memory…

To enter Blueberry Island, which, if you promise to keep a secret, is really the Land of ID (My brother came up with the name, before he knew about psychology and all that) first you must pass over a fallen log and through two gnarled trees reaching so high into the sky you cannot see their tips. They’re about five feet apart, making a natural gateway. But if you must know, between these trees is an invisible shield made of jelly. To pass through, you must place your hands flat in front of you, and step through the jelly shield first with your feet and then the rest of your body. Ok, now you’re in.

The left side of the Land of Id is all commerce, mainly fishing and blueberry exports. This land is ruled by Princess Lily, me. It shames me that I do not remember the name of the left side, my own land. But this is what happens when you grow old, as I have, you forget the most important things. And what I tell you now are only the faintest sketches. I fear there is much I no longer remember. The right side of the island is much more wild, more forested, all deep and dark, and it’s ruled by King Ouga Wouga (pronounce U-g-a W-u-g-a). He is actually my older brother. You must swear never to reveal his identity. If you see him, you’ll recognize him by the thick, carved wooden staff he carries with him wherever he goes. If you see Princess Lily, you might just see her flowing dark hair, which is very long.

The landscape of the land is so well known to us, it feels part of our own bodies. If there was a new tree, or one that’d fallen, we’d know. There are landmarks, like King George’s Gorge, a dip in the land; Savana, the best climbing tree; and the cluster of Indian teepees built of sticks. A small bit of land to an adult is unsurpasssed mystery to children. On my side, there is a thick, gnarled tree dredged from antiquity itself. It juts out slightly from the land, so that it’s submerged in water. Dark, thick wet roots spread out all around it. Between the land and tree there’s a little patch of soft grass, like a web over the roots, just enough to stand upon. This patch is where I fish, for many hours. It’s an ideal spot. The fish like to hide in the shadowy roots from the tree.

But of course there are no fishing poles on Id, so I make my own, which proves infinitely more fun anyways. Note: to make your own fishing pole you need a good, sturdy branch. Usually one can be found just lying somewhere on the forest ground. Can you believe that? Such useful things just waiting to be used. Using the little Swiss Army knife your dad bought you, flip open the blade and carve a circular groove around the tip of the stick. Into this groove goes the fishing line. Another note: you’ll probably need to leave Id for this item, and also for the rubber worms and hook. Unless you’re adventurous enough to catch your own, which I never was. Wrap the fishing line around the stick, and then tie on the hook. Onto this hook, slide on the rubber worm. Here is the most perfect fishing pole. Many times they’d break, or only last a few days. So I’d make another one, with as much purpose and concentration as the first time, feeling just as satisfied and glad as the first time. This was, after all, a project of my own ingenuity.

With stick in hand, I’d stand upon the patch of grass, leaning up against the gnarled tree, all bumps and grooves of bark, and drop the line down imbetween the shadowy roots, in the water. One time, standing idly in this place, watching for fish, a dark shape the size of a boulder began emerging from the caves underneath the shoreline, right by the tree.

The stick dropped immediately into the water, gone forever, and I ran, heart racing, to tell anyone who would listen to what I saw. It was decided after much deliberation the creature must be a turtle, a very, very large turtle. It must! But I had my own theories. My eyes witnessed that day a legend: Old Mossback, a fierce fish who roamed the waters of Faun Lake, eclipsing even the most skilled fisherman. Or perhaps it was something else, a monster of another kind, something born of Id. From then on I step onto the tree with shivering trepidation, but with something else too: an awed respect. For the creature appeared by the tree. And forever in my mind it would be tied to the tree. I never saw it again. But I continued fishing there and would often catch little slippery things, all rainbows and glitter in the sunlight.

I couldn’t take them off the hook. With the pole jutting out in front of me and the fish dangling out in the front, I’d run with skinned, dirty knees out of Id and to the cabin, where dad took the fish off the hook and dropped it into a bucket. I’d squat down and stare at it as it swam in disoriented circles. I might take the bucket back down to Id with me. Or I might leave it at the cabin and free the fish later, another day. One time my brothers friends threw the fish live onto the fire, when I was away. Fat tears rolled down my face when I fount out.

Besides, fishing, there’s plenty more to do on the island. Follow the matted down pathways made by small feet to the tree, Savana. If there was a central point on the island, a meeting place, it’s this tree, located in the deepest part of the island, on King Ouga Wouga’s side. A natural ladder of sturdy branches slips up the tree so that climbing is made exceptionally easy and pleasant. We’d often climb the tree and just sit up there, talking. One day I flipped open my useful Swiss Army knife and chipped out something on the bark of the tree: “Naomi + Savana forever,” inside a heart. Yes, I was, at the tender age of eight, very much in love with a tree. A few weeks later I came back to the tree, which was the first place on the island I’d run to, to discover markings from other people. Horrified, I stared at these names from other children- on my tree! They had no respect. I flipped my knife open again and chipped away at their names so they were no longer recognizable. This continued, this erasing of any evidence other people invaded my secret place. Sometimes, when I’d come back to the island after a few weeks, we’d notice the paths were more matted down than before. But nothing could be done about this.

The blueberries were one of the best things about the island. We never brought buckets at that age. We were children of the moment and preferred picking the fat, sun-ripened, berries ourselves in our little hands, sometimes stuffing them in our pockets but mostly in our mouths, until our hands were stained crimson and our mouths, too. The blueberries just never ended. Thick bushes full of them lined the far side of the island so that you could actually walk around the sandy shore and pick them and eat and eat them and pick.

I cannot remember at what age we no longer played Id. I cannot remember what summer it was that the land we inhabited for so long became invisible to us. I think it was somewhere in middle school, as we ebbed toward adolescence. It never ceased to exist, of course. It’s still there, a part of the island’s bark, trees, water and blueberries. Once something from the imagination is born, it does not go away. It breathes something of life itself. My brother and I are too old now, and we couldn’t find it if we tried. But I think, perhaps, it’s still there waiting, for some wonderful child to discover it again.

 

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