Here are some brief excerpts from Complicated Simplicity…

Chapter 1 – The Draw of Islands

Just as islands are remarkably varied, so are the reasons why we seek them out. Motivations are complex and intertwined but seem to divide roughly into two sorts of impulses. On one hand, many people turn to islands out of a desire to escape from a mainland lifestyle, often with only a simplistic understanding of the realities of island life. On the other, many are motivated by a desire to go to meaningful island places.

Chapter 2 – The Perfect Island

Lovely beaches are important on a perfect island. But the most valuable feature at the intersection of water and land is a protected and accessible bay. Ideally it will be navigable at all tides, with room for a secure dock to accommodate one or more sizable commuter vessels. This bay could also offer good holding ground and room to swing at anchor or on a buoy in multiple points of wind. A pleasing beach for swimming and relaxation is nice but probably not necessary. Without secure moorage, life on an island is, at best, tenuous. 

Chapter 3 – Sea Room

In many ways, the island experience starts at the mainland dock, where the physical and mental transition begins. Loading the boat—or plane—is a reminder that islands are separate, away. What is missing? Have you planned properly? Casting off is a liberating moment that leaves the mainland behind, entering the space “between” that sets the island apart. It also signals a change of pace, a disconnection from mainland living, and a step toward a slower island sense of time. Islanders everywhere comment on the pleasure of marine passages. 

Chapter 4 – Settling In

When you cruise through the many Pacific Northwest islands not served by ferries, you glimpse hundreds of intriguing houses. They are perched on bluffs, tucked into surrounding forests, and settled among arbutus above the high-tide line. Some are modest, others grand. Most fit, some don’t. All could tell stories about how owners moved from fantasy to reality in selecting the site, choosing the design, and building in a place that lacks easy access to materials, power, water, and tradespeople. Their stories are also likely to include uncertainty, frustration, problem solving, and physical aches and injuries, as well as immense pleasure and satisfaction in creating a home. 

Chapter 5 – On Island Time

The dream of complete detachment from the tyranny of clocks is achieved by only a handful of remote islanders. Most find themselves balancing ongoing mainland connections with a remarkable range of tasks distinctive to being on island. There is a persistent tension between structure and autonomy and between linear and cyclical concepts of time. Can you put off the dentist appointment because the water tank has sprung a leak? Does this require a trip to the nearest hardware store, four hours away? When will the tide be low enough to adjust the anchors on the dock? Interweaving new cycles and tasks with ongoing commitments and coping with the unanticipated create the fabric of island living. 

Chapter 6 – Connections

If there is a unifying thread in islanders’ thoughts about social connections, it’s the complementary nature of solitude and socializing. In many ways the existence of one enhances the value of the other, as long as they stay in balance. Islanders negotiate a personal equilibrium between being on and off island, between connection and disconnection, and between self-sufficiency and reliance on off-island services and entertainments. Balance is, in part, determined by the location and nature of the island: Is it remote or close in? Easy to access or precarious? Networked or isolated? But context doesn’t always determine the degree of connection: extroverts may live on remote islands and introverts on islands close to more populated areas.

Chapter 7 – Not Quite Paradise

I expected to hear lots of stories about problems and disasters when I spent time with islanders, but only a few were offered. And those generally related to accidents or ill health. Nevertheless, when problems crop up in these glorious places, they take on whole new dimensions, particularly if emergency attention is required. Again and again I heard about the importance of caution—in planning, in action, in follow-up. For all their spirit of adventure, islanders are very aware that they place themselves in harm’s way with some regularity. They take precautions. And when things go wrong, impressive coping skills kick in.

Chapter 8 – The Perfect Islander

…it seems safe to say that the perfect islander will be, among other things, resilient, confident, enthusiastic, tenacious, quick-witted, optimistic, proactive, fit, self-reliant, independent, adaptable, self-disciplined, flexible, and handy. He or she will also bring creativity, ingenuity, a strong environmental ethic, and a get-up-and-go attitude to the island relationship. Good organizational skills, a ready sense of humour, and engaging social skills are also desirable. And some observers rank inventiveness and resourcefulness as most important of all. Not surprisingly, these qualities effectively describe the people that I had such a good time talking with.