Dark Islands

Posted on September 22, 2011


The sky is a deep slate grey.  A momentous sky. Storm clouds scud across the slate palette, threatening more rain as night draws in.  The world is already drenched and darkening.  I need to get up-stream to the island.  Now. Urgently. Before the night comes.

The only way is to swim.  I get into the tannin-stained water.  It is black and swirling, the current swollen by the rain and I must get up-stream.  I know I am a weak swimmer, but somehow, I manage the strokes necessary to reach the far, swampy bank.  The effort is monumental but I make it – just. It is a secret place this island.  Not because it cannot be seen, but because it is un-visited, except by me.  Underneath its dark foliage the island is a tangle of roots, thin trunks, dropped branches and pools of water.  I do not stay here long.  I know what I want and I seek it out, not metres from the shore.  I find a long, thin, straight piece of dead wood – perhaps once a trunk, or even a limb.  It must be three or even four metres long.

It is the key to the next stage of my journey.  I use the pole to punt my way downstream. To the City.  Before I reach its edges, I come to the heliport. The pole, once again, is my passport and soon I am strapped into the machine and we lift off.

We course over the cityscape, less than a few hundred metres above the skyscrapers.  It is the patterns that are important now. Buildings in groups of four with hexagonal structures, square buildings, oblong buildings, light and dark concrete, glass.  This is what I have come to see and understand: the patterns of the city.

The journey is one of transformation from one medium to another and yet another.  All is drenched and dark and yet not dank or stale but alive with the power of the water, of rain, of cloud and of current.

The helicopter’s power to transcend the pull of the Earth and defy the impending storm provides a bird’s-eye view.  One which cannot be seen from the ground.  One which allows the City to be seen all at once, as if it were made of children’s blocks.  One which allows the order – the pattern – to be seen, when on the ground it is the monolithic strength of the single building that overwhelms.

I think about this transformation as I stand shakily to make my way out into the world after a week of being bed-bound with a chest infection.  My own swirling, dark internal current has demanded a herculean effort to extract from it a single strand of strength.  A bridge to cross over from the nether-world of fever and sickness to the formalised outside world.

The under-world of my secret island is against the current.  Out of reach of ordinary effort.  Separated completely from the City, yet without it, I could not see nor appreciate the City for its structured beauty.  How much effort do we need to access these spaces day-to-day?  Are they even available to us outside of the realms of illness? What special magic do each of us draw from these under-worlds to enter the structured, formalised world?  How do we not break apart in the current?  Or stand afraid and frozen in the face of the impending storm.

How do we manage to cross these different morphologies?  Could we really have one without the other?  Do they need to be completely separate, or do we perhaps need to let others into our ‘dark islands’?