A Thousand Islands


Among the more leisurely vacations stashed away in my personal travelogue is a week aboard a houseboat meandering among small Ontario lakeside towns, where locals played lawn bowling on grass sloping down to the summer shore.

The bulk of our time involved reading, diving into the water from the boat’s top deck, and playing a now-famous late-night board game (along with a few pranks and occasional encounters with a party boat along the way).

Our box kite of a vessel was a floating island of friends — pals as alike as we are different.

As I write, the Detroit City Council is considering whether to share an odd-couples’ lifeboat with the state. The local ship is navigating roiling waters and headed for financial shoals.

It’s said no man is an island, but all around us are islands of our own creation, mostly as a means to define and reflect our character and perceived worth.

They include the exclusive circles — “blossoms,” as novelist Tom Wolfe described the clusters of fancy guests floating about a New York penthouse — at an A-list cocktail party.

On the broader horizon, human islands take the form of cults, loners’ self-imposed islands for one, and social cliques formed for restricted populations based on age, style, perceived status, and social standing.

The need to shut others out is occasionally understandable. Who doesn’t want a buffer from the seemingly increasing numbers of loud talkers? Are they an invasive species? That might explain why some of us are going to extreme lengths to find a little peace and quiet.

Titanic director James Cameron dived in a vertical torpedo sub to the Pacific’s Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth, where he found nothing. It was, he said, desolate, alien, featureless — not exactly a description suited for a travel brochure. Then again, the new R&R is R, R&Q (rest, relaxation — and quiet).

Quiet has become exotic, so much so that technicians are trekking to remote locations to record the sound of nature before it’s overcome by the manmade intrusion of internal-combustion engines. Planes, cars, helicopters, jet skis, and snowmobiles are the loud talkers of the global environment.

In 1972, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared noise a pollutant. Sound pollution has prompted birds, for example, to change the frequency of their mating calls in order to be heard above the din and reproduce.

Are low-key people also destined to oblivion as they’re drowned out by extroverted big mouths? Or will the sea of self-promoters be so busy posing and “branding” that they fail to see the treacherous rapids ahead and wind up needing a life preserver from those they shunned?

We’re all, as they say, in the same boat. Sometimes, the islands we view as solid land are merely passing clouds in a watery sky.

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