Strange but true: I spent nearly 30 years and traveled tens of thousands of miles on two continents before I ever set foot on an island. For many years of my life, I knew it only as a word, a term existing in books and in dictionaries. Island: a piece of land that is completely surrounded by water.
During my teen years while I was a high school librarian in China, I stumbled upon a dust-covered copy of Robinson Crusoe among a pile of banned foreign books. Its cover attracted me with a ragged man in a boat on a stormy night, for I always loved adventure stories.
Little did I know that this forbidden book would soon take me on a wild journey of rough seas, shipwreck and survival tales, opening my eyes to an exotic tropical island with colorful characters. Robinson Crusoe offered me a literary oasis, sheltering my mind and imagination from the rough seas of revolution.
The first island I got to know in real life was Long Island, New York where I settled for almost two decades before I moved to the D.C. metro area. Living there was like living anywhere in America, with the benefit of quick trips to bays and beaches. No coconut trees, crystal blue water or exciting adventure stories, however. I have to admit, the only time I even thought about being on an island was while I was waiting in a long line of cars to pay a bridge toll.
Because of Long Island, I got to know and fell in love with a very special place, for just beyond its south shore lies parallel a slender, long sandbar, a barrier island with a bold name: Fire Island. It is said that pirates used to build bonfires there to lure ships toward it, and treasure chests still lie hidden beneath the sand to this day.
Fire Island not only has an exciting past but also is the prettiest island in my eyes. Just imagine: A place full of sunshine, with the sounds of ocean waves and bird tunes filling the air, and every walkway scented with honeysuckle. No cars or motor vehicles are allowed, just people in sandals or barefoot, pulling wagons and riding bikes. At the shoreline, blades of eel grass and large clamshells laze around the edge of the pristine sand, temptresses lulling the ever-eager waves.
This June, my family and I returned to Fire Island for the first time since we left New York five years ago. I found it as enchanting as ever. Rows of wagons greeted us at the dock when we got off the ferry, each decorated to reflect its owner’s personality. One of them made my heart sing, for it said “Fire Island, almost paradise.” I was in heaven.
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