Then came March 2020 and pandemic struck. We were all forced indoors. We began homeschooling. Working from home. And it turns out that being stuck indoors on a magical island in Maine isn’t that much different than being stuck indoors in a suburb in Delaware: Things get boiled down to the absolute essentials. At first, I wondered if I should have better prepared myself and my family? Should we really have learned those fire starting skills? Order a bow and arrow and learn to hunt the wild turkey and deer on the island? Built a doomsday bunker? Moss as toilet paper? And then I’d get an inter-island email about a community fire circle (masked and distanced, of course) where all islanders were invited to vent or talk about our feelings, or someone would show up with a pie at our front door, and our hearts would once again be lifted up.
And then, at some point in the midst of all of this, we started watching survivalist reality shows. The sun would set (sometimes as early as 3:30 p.m.) and we’d hunker down inside and I’d be reminded that yes, someday I should learn how to forage, and that a shower is a damn luxury. All this was true and blatant, but, you see, there’s more. At some point, I began to see a pattern. In every season of the show, participants dropped out not so much because they were hungry or uncomfortable. In the end, it was the isolation and loneliness that prompted participants to tap out. They couldn’t handle the solitude; eating porcupine intestines was easier than sitting in a tent for the 20th day in a row. That grand prize of half a million didn’t matter; family mattered. Relationships mattered. Altruism. Community. Through the screen, I saw this, but I already knew this. Humans are not meant to be alone. My island community had already shown me this—that community is more important for sustainability and survival than solitude, than selfishness. What I know now that I didn’t know when I first moved here was that self-reliance is valuable, but community involvement is vital. A person can survive with very little, but without others, a person cannot thrive.
For the last several months, there has been a dramatic urban flight from the big cities to the more rural places in New England. I’ve seen lots of out-of-state plates coming to the island, too, and while most of these folks have the means to afford fleeing urban epicenters, I wonder how they are really doing. Are they lonely yet? Has the solitude set in? And do they realize we can see them? That they’ve entered into a living community? In some ways I do feel the need to guard my island and my community, but this is not our land and never was to begin with. So soon, I’ll introduce myself, drop off some homemade soup, tell them that if they need anything, just holler. I’ll tell them that we are here for them, whenever they’re ready.
Mira Ptacin is the author of Poor Your Soul as well as The In-Betweens: The Spiritualists, Mediums, and Legends of Camp Etna.