For this gregarious introvert (increasing emphasis on introvert, less so on gregarious as I age) the search for solitude, for unpopulated places, quiet, remote places, unknown-to-others places where I can play with my dogs or sit on my arse and read while my dogs entertain themselves, is never-ending. I have a handful of local spots to choose from depending on the season – some places we only go in winter, some are only accessible in summer, some are no good on weekends because all the drunk yahoos in town are there with their various kinds of motorized (loud, smelly) vehicles, be it JetSkis, motorboats, ATVs or dirt bikes and boom boxes blasting classic rock – where I take my pack after work every day. Far and away the best spot, the most remote while still being really close to town, is my secret island.
It’s a wonderful, secret spot that I stumbled upon a few summers ago. I was checking out a stretch of riverbank where I had seen, from my kayak as I floated downriver, some guys fishing. “Where are you guys? What road do you take to get there?” I had asked as I floated by. I waved my thanks when they told me; they raised their beer cans in farewell as I disappeared around a bend.
Fishing spots and boat launches are some of the only places where the riverbank is actually accessible, most of it being either private or choked by impenetrable stands of tamarisk. This particular fishing spot is not really the kind of place a solo, small-in-stature woman wants to be hanging out for any length of time, especially on a weekend evening. A popular park-and-drink, or park-and-smoke-pot, or park-and-sleep-in-the-car-for-the-night spot, it’s down a little-traveled dead-end road and is littered with beer cans and liquor bottles, old fishing line and hooks tangled in the tamarisk and what little bit of willow remains, empty bait containers, cigarette butts, and wadded up pieces of clothing. It always makes you curious when you see someone’s underwear lying on the ground.
… even more so when also nearby is this combination of artifacts (below). Apparently someone was lucid enough to get his underwear off but too drunk to operate a condom.
Taking all of this in the first time I investigated this location, I was quickly, incrementally scratching the location off of my mental list of potential dogs-playing-in-the-river spots. Then I noticed the island, or what looked to be an island – I couldn’t see the entire thing from where I stood — in the middle of the river a little bit downstream. My Chessie apparently noticed it too as he plunged into the river and started swimming out to it. Naturally, I stepped in to follow him, felt around for footing and discovered that the water was only crotch-deep at river’s edge, then a mere thigh-deep for the rest of the way across. What I found when we got to the island is what I like to believe is a previously uncharted, never before trodden by humans, heretofore completely unknown secret island, a belief that it turns out is pretty easy to maintain since in the three summers that I’ve now been going there I have yet to run into another person. Ever. It’s perfect.
It’s also perfect because there’s plenty to occupy the dogs – a little sandy beach where they can dig (and where I can sit with a book), sticks to chew and chase when I am coerced into relinquishing said book to serve as Thrower-of-Sticks, and an eddy at the downriver end of the island where the dogs can swim and frolic safely without being swept downstream. They also can’t take off as the island naturally contains their wanderings and is small enough that I can keep track of their whereabouts without much focus at all, freeing me to relax and read or write while they occupy themselves with important dog matters.
I should explain at this point that my discovery was actually of two secret islands, one smaller and more secret than the other. The bigger island is what I could see from the icky fishing spot; in walking its perimeter I saw the second, smaller island which can’t be seen at all from the fishing spot, and which I liked much more. It has the aforementioned sandy beach, almost no tamarisk, and its being smaller means that while on it, I am completely, closely surrounded by water, a particularly isolated kind of solitude. The proximity of the water on all sides defines my little private world with a wonderful sound barrier, drowning out the noises of the amusement park that lurks just across the river (on the bank opposite from the fishing spot.) On rare occasions, when the wind is right (or wrong, as it were) I can hear bumper cars and screeching children. 99% of the time the wind is not wrong and the noise of the water rushing over rocks on all sides of me is usually loud enough to effectively eliminate the amusement park from my awareness. In a sense, when I am on this island, I could be anywhere and I am nowhere. You can’t get much more secluded than that.