Home, Shaw Island Essay

Map of Shaw

It’s always hard to explain where I am from. Not a town
exactly, no the opposite of city. Perhaps a unique landform.
Island. Whisper the word. It sticks, salty to your tongue.
Disembark from the ferry dock and you don’t have to blink
once before you’re out of town. The Store, yours truly,
if you can’t get what you want your don’t need it. The
one room post office is an important factor as well. Teens
bug Bill for their mail every moment after school. He sorts
the mail-boat deliveries slowly, with creased corners. Long
hair pulled back, a hand always raised in greeting. The last
major attraction is the kiosk. A small sky lit building
where messages, notices and announcements are tacked and

The beauties of the island are completely non-human. I
almost cannot write the scenery for fear it will loose
complexity with my modest words. Islands tumble in and out
of sight. Bird-dyed cliffs. Rocks broken every shape and
size. Ocean. Islands. Sky. Natural wonders lost in the
moment. I will gloss over oil spills, tires lost in sand,
fishing lures tossed adrift white caps. Pop cans float
gently. Over populated deer turn white with inbreeding, die
of starvation. Raccoon’s black mask peaks behind ferns.
Eagles don’t seem endangered, build nests for crying
young. Earthworms, songbirds, beetles, a bobcat. Trees.
Emerald forests of snapping pine needles. Triangles in the
shape of evergreens coat every surface. Water; a weak
reflection of sky makes itself one color in motion. Sails
are filled and hulls held closely cozy, basking in rolled

Servants and masters

There are those among us who somehow think slavery ended
with the civil war. I could write several essays about
slavery today, perhaps books if I had enough knowledge and
words. But I will remain focused and only discuss the kind
of slavery induced by large corporations; California, Boeing
and Microsoft being the culprits. The Gates have a large
track of the island. Both of them junior (the computer guy)
and senior the lucky father and mother. The slavery I am
speaking of is economic. When if you will excuse the term
“rich people” moved on the island, I was not told but
guess that this polarized the community. Benefits raised in
price and became contests for who could spend the largest
amount of money in the shortest period of time. In my short
time on island I’ve watched the New Years party evolve
from a five-dollar bingo night to gourmet dinner and auction
with items going for thousands.

The demography doesn’t help, wealthy people being
generally elderly and the workers generally young or middle
aged. But to get back to the metaphor I am trying
desperately to establish. The working people are families
trying to scratch a living off the rock. They build houses,
clean them when build, garden excessively, weed-wack and
cater to their employer’s hand and almost foot. Our island
which is trying so hard to be a functional community suffers
from this class separation. The working kids, for we all
carry jobs, band together to scorn the money on which we

I hesitate to use the word master because of all the
negative condensations, bigotry and chains the word brings
to mind. But each of these elite are masters in their own
way. Tops of classes, universities, private schools. The
typical litany of doctor, lawyer, airplane builder. They are
graceful, sensible and self sufficient in a life of grander
but have waxy smiles. We pass shoulders, almost touching.

“Gossip is the most destructive force in the Universe”

Yeah right I thought. What about nuclear bombs? Hunger,
erosion, weapons of destruction. “I’ve never looked for
Utopia on a map.” But some residences think they have
found it
on Shaw. It could be called the middle of nowhere, but there
are other places and states of mind that are more deserted.
Shaw is not visited by blizzards, hurricanes, tsunamis,
twisters. It snows two feet every ten years or so and
northeasters blow about that often, turning everything to
ice. Our most destructive universe is gossip. We are an
island of misfits. Each with our own reasons for chosen
seclusion. Of course this comradely doesn’t stop us from
talking about other folks problems. ‘Have your heard’ is
the most commonly used phrase in Shaw Island language along
with ‘it’s a nice day’ which is secret code for ‘wow
it’s actually ‘sunny.’

You rarely hear your own rumors. Only when passing in the
Store and conversations halt with embarrassment. That girls
parents are very controlling. That one was raped at fifteen.
They moved here to get over heroin. He got a new puppy.
Haying is starting early this year. The weather is nice,
isn’t it? Having other people know everything about you,
especially when you are trying to figure out your
capabilities is difficult and exasperating. They seem to
expect more of you, and you have to have to jump to reach
some unspecified standard. The good people of Shaw are
generally concerned about all the victims. Then mean well.
But our lives tragedies scorch under the furious scrutiny.

Drink: to imbibe alcoholic drinks.

The Store has half and aisle of wine, two coolers of beer.
This amount grows in proportion with the information that
there are only six aisles. We are the proud winners of the
state award for the small store that sells most alcohol. Two
cases (24 bottles) per islander (one hundred and fifty) sold
in the past year.

They all seem to be young men. Gathered on corners with
paper bagged bottles. Maybe they don’t understand the
principle of seizing the moment, or the day. Stand slack
handed, un-showered. Banging cars or motorcycles. Not that
you can’t live a full life without moving. When you know
the rhythm of a place and make it visibly yours there is a
great deal to be said for persistence.

I worry about the youthful (immature) twenty-somethings who
stay behind as their classes leave for college or a job away
from everything familiar. They need a jump start to get away
from pot and drink or at the lest, see the world though
unveiled eyes. I see my friends turning to these molds. Kids
who, at sixteen, talk about joining the army for “Heath
benefits.” Think they will fail at growing up so they
might as well not try the experience. It is easy to believe
the whole reaching for the stars prompt is bullshit. When
you can see millions of constellations and know the
competition is much to costly.

Island Poem

“Once you have slept on an island
you will never be quite the same
you may look as you looked the day before
and go by the same old name…”

Perhaps this is true. Island living is a different kind of
restraint, not land locked but locked to land. Waves crash
your sleep. Sometimes the islands effect people so
profoundly; they put down stakes and never leave. A seagull
breaks shells on the roof outside my window most mornings. A
species of birdsong. Living on town-less islands makes you
more aware of what you buy. No last minuet runs to the
office supply store but stacked up necessities you hope will
make it to next month’s trip to the mainland. Ferries can
be said to control your life but in a way we control
ourselves, after all we choose this semi-dependant form of

The fares have started going up on the trimester. We talk
about carpooling to avoid the extra expense of car and
driver. You do start thinking on a schedule. Hmm, the next
sailing is a 1:55 I just have enough time for a bit more
homework. Minutes become important. Overload is the worst,
when people flock to summer paradise and we are left
standing at the dock, with ‘you’re so lucky’ and
‘what the hell do you do on this godforsaken rock’
replayed for hours. Boats become necessary for watch-less
freedom. We zip between the relatively small landmasses. A
trip to Friday Harbor for the new Star Wars movie. Orcas for
things they don’t carry at the Store. I don’t think I
can ever return to the mainland living after being
acclimated to the cloistered liberty of island life. Wakes
crash rocks, bend beaches. We construct our hearts out of
driftwood, they are taken at high tide.

Open Windows

The exact color of chocolate lilies. The way sun surrounds
branches. I hope to forget some on the music I’ve heard
but hold onto the key phrases. Clothes have become much more
important. How to hold a tree in climbing fades daily.
Conversations pass with the weather but I might remember
smiles. The stilted walk of deer is important now. My fellow
islands think of them as pests but the normal grace with
which they live amazes me. The truth of water will hopefully
remain intact as boats falter through troughs and storms. I
loose the language of port, starboard and aft but continue
forward to remember.

Author’s Note: I wrote this a a young writers workshop when I was 17. It makes me miss home.


One thought on “Home, Shaw Island Essay

  1. It seems like such a long time ago now. The glimpses I saw of Shaw were maybe not so complicated, but they felt richer from reading your writing long before ever setting foot in the place. I do remember braiding my hair on the front porch of your parents’ house, those narrow stairs to the attic, a lamp in your sailboat. Being there for a day or two was like entering another world. It’s funny to think back on the workshop, the summer and fall and years after – like it was another lifetime.

    Beautifully written.

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