Island Living

Daily Prompt: Beyond the Pale
When was the last time you did something completely new and out of your element? How was it? Will you do it again?

Pharmacist's House in the Sun

Pharmacist’s House in the Sun

In a nook of a turn-up-your-nose-at-the-commoners town, there is a ferry boat that will take you across Racoon Straits to Angel Island.  I don’t fancy country living and have never fantasized about living on the farm or in an isolated cabin surrounded by endless trees and wildlife.  But living on an island has always had a kind of fairy book appeal. Being a life-long urbanite, the chances of lving on an island are pretty slim unless of course money is just a pile of green notes at your disposal. Well I don’t have an endless supply of green notes, but I can say that I have lived on an island.

In its most recent incarnation, Angel Island is a destination for tourists and weekend sojourners. It attracts those who like moderate hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, picnicking, or just hanging out. For years I visited the island as a sojourner. It was an annual field trip my son’s school took the first week in June to celebrate the end of the school year. It also has appeal for those interested in historical tourism. But later about that.

Life on an Island

Life on an island is no walk in the park. Missing the boat is one of those figurative sayings people like to throw around, but when your life revolves around the ferry schedule, a missed boat had real consequences. Depending on the time of day, it could mean being late to school/work/meeting because the next ferry was at 9 or noon or not until 5. Or it could, ironically, mean being stranded on the mainland.

Angel Island is not self-contained. There are no grocery markets or department stores. There are no cars allowed on island. So you have to plan very carefully what groceries you need and be so ever aware of the time so that you aren’t late to leave or late to arrive. I lived on the island because my husband was a ranger for state parks. My husband learned to drive a boat as a way of carving out some degree of flexibility and self-reliance in an otherwise inflexible way of life.

Pharmacist's House in the Fog

Pharmacist’s House in the Fog

History of the Island

If one could assign a disposition, a personality, I would say it tends toward fog than sunniness. My husband and I had a running joke that stemmed from my thinking that Angel Island was always hot. It was, everytime I visited. But once I lived there year round, I realized that Angel Island is almost always chilly.

The house we lived in was The Pharmacist’s House. In the not too distant past, the pharmacist was one of the official people on the island who provided medication to the Asian immigrants, mostly men, who were detained due to immigration exclusionary laws. Angel Island was the Ellis a Island of the west. The men were packed into close quarters and interrogated before being granted or denied the right to stay. Some men spent years on the island. And while there, a few wrote poetry on the walls to pass the time away and to express their homesickness, loneliness, anger or despair. For them, the island was not a home.

Today, the island is a pretty benign place. Who could guess just from looking at it that at one time in history there was an interplay of power and powerlessness that was beyond the pale.