In Praise of Island Time

Time is a very special experience on small islands. On Little Cranberry Island, in Maine, we’d say that if you saw someone running, but not for exercise, then they were obviously trying to catch a boat (the ferry) to the mainland. Here on Roosevelt Island, I see the same thing, people running to make the Tram or the ferry.

But there are also similarities between the islands when not being in a hurry. Just like on Little Cranberry, a five-minute walk here can take a half an hour. Why? You bump into friends that you want to talk to. On a warm fall Sunday, I was walking home from DuaneReade, and one of my new friends stopped me as I was walking by the Meditation Steps. She introduced me to her partner and we chatted away under flying seagulls about the things we love about being on the Island. After fifteen or twenty minutes of blissful chat, I said my good-byes and continued on my way. Just as I was getting to the other end of the steps, there was another new friend of mine sitting with her son. She smiled and said, “Hey there!” And I immediately sat down (barely asking if she minded) and another happy and spirited discussion ensued. That may have gone on for half an hour, I’m not really sure; you see, I lost track of time. Finally we collectively decided we all had to go. So what should have been a ten-minute walk home took closer to an hour, but it wasn’t time lost, it was time (and fellowship) gained.

This ebb and flow of time is something on Little Cranberry we refer to as “island time.” There is never quite enough of it, and yet at the same time, there isn’t a shortage of it either. This contradiction is explained by a piece of island magic: if for some reason there isn’t enough time today to finish that thing you were working on, there is always tomorrow. That experience of time as somehow fluid and part of some mystical continuum was easy to capture on Little Cranberry, and virtually impossible to capture in Manhattan.

Yet here on Roosevelt Island, island time exists. I have felt it.

This meandering experience of time is also somehow connected to a sense of community. With it, you share more, possess less, and one of the gifts you receive back is the stretching of time that helps you feel like you belong. It also helps you feel like you have all the time in the world.

I’m reminded of a story told to me by my poet friend Rick on Little Cranberry. He was on the beach one day playing with his kids. He was close to a house down the way from his, when the person renting that house came out and told him, essentially, to go away and stop bothering him. Rick’s kids didn’t understand, but Rick, not wanting to get into a dispute about public access to public beaches, moved himself and his kids farther down.

The next day, he found himself on the ferry sitting next to the same man from the day before. The man, slightly embarrassed, tried to hem and haw some half-hearted apology saying, “You know… we all want the same thing, right? Privacy.” Rick looked him in the eyes and gently said, “No… Community.” Rick understood all of this: time and community. The man, sadly, did not. He was stuck in his “Manhattan.”

Part of why my husband and I moved out here was to cultivate community. To meet people. To strike up conversations. To experience nature. To have evocative moments. To be kinder. So I offer this thought: Try taking a ten-minute walk, and allow it to take an hour. Who knows, maybe we will have a chat under flying seagulls at the steps.

I leave you with one of Rick’s favorite poems by Emily Dickinson.

To Make a Prairie it takes

One Clover and a Bee,

A Clover and one Bee,

and reverie.

The reverie

Alone will do

if Bees are few.

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