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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

ISLANDS IN THE SUN

"What seas what shores what gray rocks and what
islands
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and the woodthrush singing
through the fog.
What images return
O my daughter."
Thomas Stearns Eliot "Marina" 1930

Last night, after writing my "Finding Safe Havens" blog, I had a pleasant dream.
I was with my daughter on the island where my family used to have a summer home.
My daughter was about 10 and I was showing her the island. Our friends were there, my hiking buddy Doreen (who died several years ago) and her daughter Paula. We used to be an extended family in those days, as her family had a home there as well. In the dream my daughter and I were hiking through the forest on the trail to Sandy Beach, a place where we had spent many happy hours in the past. We were walking along with a view of the shore, dunes and waves coming in.
It was a peaceful dream, a return to a safe haven of the past. I woke with those long-ago memories in my mind.

I should have always been an Island girl. When we spent all those years on Keats, one of the many beautiful Gulf Islands off the Coast, it was my haven and it was with deep regret that my father sold it. My parents had planned to retire there but sadly, my Mom died. My children spent their childhoods there, their little hand and foot-prints imbedded in cement on the cottage patio. Once I wrote a booklet about the Island which was self-published and distributed in the Island store (as well there is a copy in the Provincial archives.) "The Admiral's Island" was the history of the island and the first British naval officer, Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, who came there to survey when the British were trying to locate the Northwest Passage. (Capt. Bligh was also sailing in those waters.)

I love the Gulf Islands. And twice every year my writer's group goes on a retreat to one of the them, Mayne Island. We've got our reservations made for the end of April and the theme will be romantic poetry and "The Flowers That Bloom In the Spring." (trala!)

These days, while I'm not writing, I am keeping my mind occupied with thoughts of returning to the Greek Islands. I have visited many of them, written about them, and found much of my inspiration while wandering the beaches and sailing too and fro in the beautiful Aegean Sea.

When I lived in Greece during the '80's I was fortunate to be given the use of a small shepherd's cottage on the mountain behind Karystos, Evvia. Lala was my Garden of Eden, a quiet retreat from the bustling life of Athens. The little stone cottage I lived in had been originally built in Byzantine times. It was a magic cottage, the rafters hung with herbs.
I went there to write and became part of the village life. I'll write more about those days when I begin my Greek stories.

My first published travel article was about a trip I made to LEROS Island in 1982. "You go there to find yourself" a man told me on the eve of my departure. And it was true. As I wandered alone on the beach and up the country lanes, I heard the sound of the earth music.
"Listen to the Earth Music" was the story that launched my career as a travel journalist.


Since then I've written many stories about the Islands of Greece.
SAMOTHRAKI: " I place my hands on the magnetic lodestone of Samothraki, which represents the Great Mother..."
RHODOS: The Island of Roses in Winter
KEFALONIA: "The air is redolent with the fragrance of sage, thyme, by leafe and oregano..."
PATMOS: "This is the island where 2,000 years ago the disciple John, known as St. John the Evangelist, was exiled by the Romans for preaching Christianity in Asia Minor." This is where he wrote the Book of the Apocalypse, known as Revelations.

I've also visited worldly MYKONOS a stepping-stone to the sacred isles of TINOS and DELOS.
"Swimming with the Rich and Famous" is a story about my visits to the Ionian Islands of Kefalonia, Ithaka and LEFKADA where I took a cruise and went swimming on Aristotle Onassis' private Island, SKORPIOS.
And a most memorable visit was to ITHAKA, Odysseus' island kingdom, which is just as described by Homer. "The ferry rounds Ithaka's rocky headland into a secret cove..."
You can find links to some of these published stories on my website: www.dreamwater.org/ruthaki

"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung." George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron 1788-1824

Ah yes, lovely LESBOS where the lyric poet Sappho lived. I'm working on a two-act play about her, inspired by my trip to Lefkada when I took the boat to Egremeni Beach and lay on the white sand below the high cliff where Sappho lept to her death. Later, I went to Lesbos (Myteline) where she had her villa and school for young girls. My play The House of the Muses is about her tragic life. There isn't much of the poet in Myteline, although I tried to conjur her spirit. But there's a beautiful statue of her in Myteline by the harbour.

I've left the play half-finished while I work on my novel. But this summer I'm going back to Lefkada where she died, and perhaps her Spirit will speak to me there.

Oh there's so many islands. I've only mentioned a few of those I've visited. So many I haven't written about yet. My favourite is beautiful THASSOS in Macedonia. Why haven't I written about it? I've been there several times and will surely go again. Odysseus visited there too, I believe. You can see the grooves in the marble under the water at the old harbour near Aliki where they'd drag the ships up to shore. They say the "Sirens" he heard who lured him to shore may have been the temple maidens singing. And it's true, once you land on Thassos' pine-forested shores you'll never want to leave!

I've found inspiration just writing this piece about the islands. I can astral-project myself to any one of them, and escape from the hassles of my 'real' world. They are my safe havens.
And like Odysseus, I'm drawn back to them by the Siren's hypnotic call.

"In the life of each of us...there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness." Sarah Orne Jewett 1849-1909


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