National Geographic : 1938 Aug
WE LIVE ALONE, AND LIKE IT-ON AN ISLAND BY R. M. LOCKLEY With Illustrationsfrom Photographs by the Author and H. Morrey Salmon THE fascination of an island defies adequate description. Whether it be a tiny islet only a few acres in ex tent or a large one with lakes and streams does not matter; so long as it is isolated and, preferably, uninhabited, it has an ir resistible charm. Yet the island of our dreams is so seldom realized. And, even now, I have to recall the train of events that preceded the realization of my own de sire before I can convince myself that I am the lucky citizen of an island. At an early age my mind was filled with the ambition to possess one for myself. Greedily I read all the books I could find on islands. Although I knew that when I left school I should have to work for a liv ing, this fact-so hopeful is youth-did not appear inconsistent with earning it on a remote island. I felt that, like Thoreau, I would be able to satisfy my simple wants from the produce of my garden, from my skill as hunter and fisherman, and from the milk of my goats. More than that, I believed, no man with my love of the outdoors could desire. In deed, it seemed to me that most men live an artificial life in their early years so that at the end they may retire into the country and live naturally, but have by then lost the capacity for doing so. Agriculture offered more hope to me at 19 years than any other open-air trade. I left school then to found a home on ten acres of land outside Cardiff, Wales. But not for a day in the five years that I worked at my holding did I forget my dream of an island. At the end of each long summer's day I would take my wheelbarrow, shovel, and pick and continue the self-imposed task of making a pond in one of my fields. The pond had an island, upon which grew a giant oak at least a hundred years old. Around this, at the water's edge, I in tended to plant wild flowers and weeds be loved by birds, such as thistle and teazle for their seeds, and thorn and elder for food and covert. This was but a faint reflection of my real ambition, a real island. I hunted for this during holidays spent on the coast of Wales, where I visited many small islands during those five years. At last, after find ing most of them already occupied, cul tivated, and sophisticated, there remained but one, the lonely, almost inaccessible Skokholm. This small island of 250 acres is situated two miles out in the open Atlantic off the Pembrokeshire coast of Wales, between St. Bride's Bay and Mil ford Haven.* Fishermen told me that the farm and its fields on this isle were derelict, overrun with heather, bracken, and rabbits. No one had lived there for forty years. This in formation set me on fire, and I was in stantly impatient to cross to the aban doned isle. But the fishermen were in no hurry to take me and a friendly adviser there. Their mood was dictated by considerations of tide and weather, and there had to be a nice ad justment of these before one might venture on an expedition to Skokholm. We counseled patience, and were re warded by a beautiful windless day for the first crossing. Yet the sea was not calm. Strong currents swept us along in a bewil dering way, the green-blue water heaving and breaking like a river in flood. It seemed to us landlubbers something of a miracle that the fishermen pulled their lit tle boat to a safe landing. A BABEL OF BIRD SONGS We arrived at last at an entrancing nat ural harbor in the bright-red sandstone cliffs. Nor had one of my dreams antici pated that glorious June day. The gleam ing inshore water was alive with sea birds. The broken-up cliffs were strewn with beautiful flowers opened wide to the strong sunlight: sea campion, scurvy grass, prim roses, vernal squill, lady's-fingers, mallow, and cowslips. Higher up, as we landed and moved across the undulating top of the island, there were vivid acres sheeted with thick stemmed, deep-tinted bluebells and roseate thrift. As for the birds, the sea had been full of puffins, razor-billed auks, murres, * See "A Modern Pilgrim's Map of the British Isles," issued as a supplement to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, June, 1937.