Yearning for Islands
I’ve long had a fascination with the sea. Odd, since for the first six years of my life I lived far in land. The only “sea” I knew was a vast sea of corn fields that surrounded three sides of our house on the outskirts of a small village in southwestern Ontario. In spring, the wide open fields would be studded with green shoots that over the course of the summer would grow taller and taller, until their golden crown of tassels soared over my head.
I had been warned never to enter the fields when the corn was high. Within a few steps, I would be lost in a maze of identical rows, unable to see the house or find my way out — or be found. It would be akin to drowning.
I remember standing at the edge of our backyard, gazing across the stalks that rippled and bent with the wind like waves on an ocean. There was a small grove of trees far off in the middle of one of the fields, like an island of dark green in a sea of light green and gold. It fascinated me. Was it a small forest that was cool and shaded, unlike the heat of my treeless backyard?
One afternoon, as my mother was inside washing another load of laundry, I decided that I would defy the warning to never enter the corn fields and would walk to the island of trees. I had calculated that if I followed a single row I could walk straight to the island. I set off. Within a few steps, the drone of the cars on the road in front of my house faded away. Instead, the gentle rustling of the cornstalk’s long flat leaves filled my ears, along with the occasional buzzing of insects. I kept walking and within a few minutes all I could see were the stalks of corn rising over my head all around me, a vast forest. I paused. I couldn’t see the island of trees anymore. I turned around and realized I couldn’t see my house either. The air was still and hot. I discovered I was thirsty.
Suddenly, the journey to the island seemed much farther than I thought it had been when I standing in my backyard. I was surrounded by rows of stalks that mirrored each other. I found it hard to breathe. I wanted to go home. I shouted for my mother, but even though the back door was open, I knew she couldn’t hear me over the rumble of the washing machine. I turned around and noticed my own faint footsteps in the dry brown earth. I raced back down the row, leaves whacking my arms and face as I rushed back to the safety of my backyard. I burst onto the lawn, suddenly so happy to see its familiar, if shadeless, comfort. There was the swing set in the corner and my Mom’s blue and white lawn chair planted in the shade cast by our house.
The island of trees would remain unreachable and unknowable for me. That fall, I came home from school one day to watch a huge harvester, like a noisy red monster, gathering the corn and leaving a wake of crushed stalks in its path. A massive mechanical storm had tamed the sea. Within a few weeks, the empty stalks collapsed into the ground, turning brown like the soil. The island of trees remained, but now surrounded by a vast, lumpy field — at least until next spring when the new harvest would be planted. I wouldn’t see that next harvest. Just as the snow began to dust the fields with white, my family moved to Nova Scotia where I would see the real sea for the first time, and yearn for new islands.