You come to an edge of your world, or the end of your rope. Something you imagine to be Providence leads you to water. But instead of drinking, you consult the ferry schedule. And then wait. There are gusty winds. Or there is engine trouble. Or there are ten-foot waves. Or the ferry captain, on docking, has nudged the ferry into a yacht and there is a two-and-a-half hour delay and then an hour more wait for the Coast Guard to arrive from the Soo and conduct an investigation.
But eventually, four hours later than you expected, the ferry sounds its horn, the heavy loops of rope are lifted from the rusted iron pillars, and the ferry pulls away from the dock. The two Coast Guard officers wave at you from under the drawbridge as you head out onto the Great Lake.
This is all a good introduction to island time. It does not matter how late you stayed up
finishing work, doing laundry, packing. It does not matter how early you rose to load the car, enter the ferry ticket office address into your GPS navigational device. It does not matter how many rest areas you stopped at to check the bike’s position on the carrier in under two minutes flat because, after the summer road construction you encountered, you are running late for check-in time, and a ferry waits for no one. It does not matter how much you yearn to be on your way, to set foot on the freedom of an island. Island time applies now.
You only gain freedom by giving up control and riding the wave of what happens next. The groups of musicians, who, after the delay, are probably going to miss their performance times at the island music festival, grin and stake out territory. Open their instrument cases and pull out instruments. Scattered around the ferry deck, they suck at harmonicas, saw on fiddles, strum guitars, while other passengers join in with stomping feet, clapping their hands in time. Musicians may well understand the time signature of islands better than many of us.
Whether you understand it yet or not, you will have two waterborne hours to get over the delayed departure. Meanwhile, you will doze to the thrum of the engines, get into the book you’ve been wanting to read, perhaps drink a beer, have that talk with a friend or lover, meet a new acquaintance. The first European explorers might have called these great lakes the “Sweet Seas”–“Les Mers Douces”–for reasons other than their lack of salinity.
You are on your way and the island awaits you. Regardless of what you may have forgotten to bring. You may find you have fewer choices in food, hardware, plans. A
welcome paring down. You may have brought your bike, a map, a camera, a notebook and pen. You forget about the camera, the notebook, and the pen, and watch the sun set over the water. You are here. Now. On island time.
It is windy or rainy, cold or hot, the ferry is rolling on the waves or heat shimmers above the glass of the lake’s surface. Your bones adjust because adjusting is the only choice you are given. You packed your intentions and arrived clad in control, and you gave it all up when you bought your ferry ticket. You have given over to island time.
You have to cross the water, you need to pay more attention to the weather, and your choices are, at once, both more limited and richer, like tea steeped one cup at a time.
The basics mean more: sleeping in a breeze—even when the mainland is hitting record three-digit temperatures with humidity, cooking meals on a campfire or a cottage stove or going out to a place where the island locals go to eat fresh fish just caught off shore and drink wine made from island grapes.
As the engines cycle down and the ferry turns into the harbor, you find yourself anticipating the island you now will explore, note by note, while composing your own tune, in island time.
GREAT LAKES ISLAND QUESTION:
When and where have you experienced “island time”?
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