RUTH'S REFLECTIONS—Have this column with you if stranded on island
Getting breakfast together the other day, I took the last two oranges out of the net bag they came in.
As is my habit, I paused for a moment, before tossing it in the trash, to consider whether it could be used for anything around the house and yard. Waste not, want not, as the old saying goes. The bag could be cut in strips for tying up tomato plants or used to store home-grown onions in the fall. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a hole in the side, so it went into the garbage bin after all. That did get me thinking, though, about how useful even a small piece of netting would be, if I was stranded on a deserted island.
Ever since Alexander Selkirk (the Scottish sailor whose real-life survival story was the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels) found himself alone on the island of Juan Fernandez in the early 1700s, the world has been fascinated by the whole castaway theme. Selkirk was a resourceful scrounger—a Scottish trait that runs strongly through my own half-Scottish heritage—who lived on the island for more than four years. What’s more, after his rescue (by privateers, no less), he continued his career as a sailor and retired as an officer in the British navy.
Being a castaway is a lot less likely than it would have been a couple hundred years ago, when the only way to travel between continents was by boat. Ships were mostly reliable by then, but there was always the possibility of “ye olde shipwreck” to worry about—leaky holds, storms, mutiny, pirates—I think we’ve all seen enough movies to grasp that concept. Modern survivor stories add plane crashes to the “how they got there” narrative, but the stranded part doesn’t change much. Countless movies and TV shows, from “Gilligan’s Island” to the Tom Hanks film “Castaway” (and everything in between) have offered different takes on the subject. What would it feel like to be in their situation?
The closest I’ve ever come to being stranded was car trouble in Fort Wayne (eight hours with three kids to handle while the car was in the Sears automotive shop during Christmas break) and a Memorial Day truck breakdown in a small Oklahoma town (24-hour delay until the repair shop opened after the holiday) with no reading material to be had. There were plenty of buffalo gnats, though. But, back to the islands.
The whole notion of being able to “plan” for the possibility of being stranded is beyond foolish, of course. If a person could somehow know that disaster was going to happen, naturally I’d have a satellite phone in my purse, a working emergency beacon in my carry-on bag (and manage to save both when the ship or plane went down) and maybe even a seaworthy boat and motor pre-placed on that remote island. Absent those handy items, I’d be reduced to spelling out “H-E-L-P” on the nearest beach, using coconuts, tree branches or stones. And then wait.... But just for the sake of conversation, what would I wish for if ever in that dreadful situation? Hmm...I guess Wi-Fi would be out of the question. To stay alive, basic needs include water, food, shelter, and clothing. If stranded in the tropics, at least keeping warm wouldn’t be an issue.
If the island had plants, there would have to be a source of fresh water. Rain can be caught in shells or shoes or coconut husks—whatever is handy. I’ve heard that dew can be collected on leaves—if it even is present in the tropics—and can be slurped up that way. Some sort of pond or river would make gathering water a lot easier.
Food would be the next order of business. Fruits would likely be safe to eat. Near the ocean, fish and other sea creatures could be caught, speared or trapped...if I could rig up a line, sharpen a stick, throw a rock, weave a net or build a cage. Looks like a pocket knife and a ball of twine would be very useful. Birds or small animals could also be sources of food—if I could catch them. Frogs and turtles could be on the menu, too.
These foods also could be eaten raw, but if I could create a spark, or focus the sun with a glass lens of some sort, cooking with fire would be a big help. Gosh, I hope my glasses wouldn’t have broken in the wreck. Salt could be evaporated from seawater and used for seasoning and preserving food. Seaweed would start to look appetizing by then, too. And maybe insects could be a food source, gross as that sounds—but they say that fried worms taste just like bacon.
What else would be good to have along? Maybe aspirin? Disease would be a big worry, if stranded and alone. Aspirin can be used to treat many health conditions—muscle aches, swollen gums, sore throats, and headaches, not to mention lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Plus it helps cut flowers last longer, not that it would matter for the remote island experience.
Continuing the medicinal train of thought, Vick’s Vapo Rub might be a good idea to have in that bag. This goo is great for relieving the congestion of a bad cold, of course, when rubbed on chest or throat, but it also stops nighttime coughs when slathered on the bottom of feet and covered with socks. Vick’s cures toenail fungus, heals cuts and sores, removes splinters, relieves headaches, repels mosquitoes, and will make an embedded tick let go—it must be that great eucalyptus and camphor smell, I guess.
Obviously, the best policy would be to avoid shipwrecks and plane crashes, especially in uninhabited areas—I’d throw in holiday weekends, too, based on my limited and non-life threatening “stranded” experiences. Imagining a deserted island scenario doesn’t even come close to experiencing it. But it makes for interesting conversation.
Copyright © 2017 Ruth Wasmer
Contact Ruth at firstname.lastname@example.org