Every day, I visit the same place: the furthest most point of a little island in the river near my house, where the two halves of the river converge again and rush on into the mountains. Every day, sometimes twice a day, I walk here from my house along the same path—over the bridge, along the northern shore, past the playground and the empty ball field—and I end up at this point. Sometimes there is a beach here that I walk down to and see what people have drawn and written in the sand. Once I saw a praying mantis, perched on a log that had washed up in a big storm. Today, the beach is gone because the river is high, though I can see it under the surface, waiting for the waters to recede.
I've watched the river make and unmake this island many times over.
I think of it as my island, in the sense that you'd call someone my friend, my sister, my partner. It is a pronoun of kinship: a bond we've made together over many seasons and many walks. It is the place I come back to—when I'm excited about a new idea; when I'm angry about something in the news; when I don't know what else to do and I need to do something. I come here, to my island.
Every day, it is different. The water in the river is high or low, calm or roiling, silver-blue or murky brown. In the summer, ducks and geese stand in the shallow rapids and quack and honk and splash, sometimes floating in the soft current to visit each other. This time of year, one single Great Blue Heron has claimed this stretch of river, standing sentinel in the early morning fog.
I find beautiful things on the island: stands of bowing goldenrods, passionflower vines wrapping around a garden fence, a tall bare branch of a towering oak where crows and hawks come to perch. And I find strange things, left by humans or by the shifting tides: stones from an old foundation, a scattering of silk rose petals, one single drawer with two crushed cigarettes inside. Sometimes I pick up trash, and sometimes I just notice it. Sometimes I pick flowers and sometimes I just notice them.
The more I come here—the more I walk this path—the more I find myself paying attention to my own inner landscape, wandering the hills and valleys of my imagination, feeling my emotions as weather and my thoughts as waves on the shore. I come back to these places again and again: the one outside me where I can hear the frogs and the crickets and my own feet crunching the gravel path, and the one inside me where the flowers of my imagination bloom and wilt and go to seed only to bloom again, drawing water from a well so deep I cannot see its source.
In the studio, my imagination can feel like a thing—made real only when it comes out as a brushstroke or a color or a word. Here on the island, my imagination is a place, as wild and ever-changing as these rocky slopes and dry-rustling reeds.
Everyday, we are different, my island and I. Everyday the tides around us carry things away. Everyday, we wonder what will wash up on our shores. Everyday the sun rises and sets and we keep going, holding down the place in the world we were given, and letting the waters roll by as they have for a thousand years.
From my island to yours,