Island Siren Song


islands1.jpgThe Landscape: Stony Adriatic islands scattered along the length of Croatia’s coast. Coarse green shrubs and olive trees whose thin leaves flash silver undersides to the breeze. Translucent blue: a breath would cloud that water of glass.

Light has a clarity there that is like no place else, and it provokes a clarity of thought. Priorities and needs slip so easily into place. You realize the hollowness of the rat race, of consumerism, of chasing anything at all. Life is distilled down, and you understand contentment:  a bottle, a gentle breeze, a pretty girl to cuddle. What need for anything else?

Self-contained with car, tent and food, you hop from island to paradise island. Travel by ferry — the shush and ebb/swell of the waves and the salt smelling air — standing on deck gripping a freshly painted rail, watching the islands recede as the coastal mountains near.

islands2.jpgEach new island brings a small village or two with winding streets and stone houses, maybe a fortress or an ancient Venetian trading house from the days when that city-state ruled the waves. In each new town or village you pause for bitter coffee softened by a mound of cream, and all-absorbing conversation over a round café table in a sleepy plaza.

Inevitably, you thread your way down rough gravel roads to your own deserted stretch of shore, where you peel off sweaty clothes to slip naked into the silken waters. You dive deep, past the thermocline, into the grip of the cold. Then, surfacing, float on your back with eyes closed, gently rocked by Amphitrite’s currents. The rest of the world sinks down through your back to melt away, lost in the briny deep.

On the stony shore the sun dries salt to a thin powdery crust on browned skin. Under the olive trees you eat a rustic lunch of bread, hard cheese, and coarse local wine drunk straight from the bottle. Your backdrop is the bleached bony spine of the mainland that towers over the islands and the sea, and in the distance the slow clonk of sheep bells.

The poet Derek Walcott wrote that islands can only exist if we have loved in them.

islands3.jpgIslands symbolize isolation, remoteness, and sometimes even shipwreck — the forlorn seclusion of the castaway. We sit and gaze out at the sea that surrounds us, but it is ourselves that we are looking into.

How remote the past seems. Island life is insular, detached, inward looking. It’s closed off, like the blinders of first love, when nothing exists except the two of you within the little round space of that café table. The outside world is helpless to intrude. Perhaps that’s why islands symbolize romance better than anyplace else.

Large islands embody the permissiveness and sensuality of islands in general, but they lack the feeling of isolation. Small islands are better. You feel it most acutely at night. Sitting on a tiny sandspit surrounded by the inky void of ocean and sky, you’re like Vishnu on a lotus flower, dreaming entire worlds, creating realities because nothing else exists, and nothing can.


About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • hello,
    coach murdock, you always seem to capture the essence of what a place is really about, rather than just the impression people have of that place. have often found the two to be different things.
    hmmmm. might have to take a vacation soon…

  • Absolutely gorgeous words dripping with emotion and sensation. I felt I was there…a journey, even for a few moments, away from this time and this day. I will surely read this one over at least a few times. Thank you for the little escape Ryan.

    • Thanks Natalie, glad you enjoyed it. This is one of my all time favourite blogs. It takes me back to the very first time I saw the Mediterranean, and felt the Spirit of Place whispering in my ear that I should stay.


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