Friday, August 13, 2010


Every summer, Other and I vacation on a little island in Maine called Bustins where there is no running water, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no landline phone service (though these days people use cell phones), no cars, no stores. There's nothing to do except figure out workarounds for all the stuff you don't have. I don't know why, but for some reason it's fun.

The interesting thing about living on an island, even for just a week or two, is that everything is finite. In ordinary life, if you run out of something, you go out and buy some more. If you have too much of something, you throw it away. But on a little island like Bustins, what you have is what you've got. And throwing things away is not an option.

If someone comes to dinner, you'll have less food to serve each person. If you don't consume your food according to plan, at the end of the week you'll have to figure out what to make with a tomato, three onions, a lemon, a can of liver paste, half a jar of peanut butter, six quarts of Parmalat milk and a past-its-prime banana—and you can't plug the ingredients into a recipe program on your computer because there's no Internet on the island.

If someone offers to bring something when she comes to dinner, you accept. If someone asks to borrow a cup of sugar, you think about it before you hand it over. And if you've got one clean towel, and a visitor decides to go for a dip and needs to dry off ... well, how squeamish are you about other people's bodies?

If you were in the mood for a retreat when you made your plans and decided not to invite any friends but then you begin to yearn for company, you'll be lonely.

If you guessed it would be hot and brought mostly wifebeaters and shorts and it turns out to be cold, you'll be wearing your one sweatshirt every day until it's stained and stinky. If, on the other hand, you planned for cold weather and got hot instead, you'll be tempted to whip out your scissors—if you thought to bring them—and hack off your sleeves and pantlegs.

If you forgot to bring something idiosyncratic or truly personal that you can't borrow, like a toothbrush or a neti pot, you're out of luck.

Everything you transport onto the island, you have to transport off the island, with few exceptions. Sometimes it seems as though you're spending all your time sorting trash—into burnables (including toilet paper), which can be incinerated in the woodstove; compost (but only uncooked food); recyclables (which you can carry back with you to the mainland recycling bin); and returnables (which you can carry back and redeem).

It's an interesting experience and not everyone's idea of a great vacation. But for me and Other and our fellow "rusticators," it's a chance to notice how much stuff we need, use and discard—and scale back as we kick back.

No comments: