SMOKE: Cranberry Island

Originally published: 22 April 2004

My ultimate goal in life is to own my own island (I figure I can get a nice size one - and have cash left over for building and extras - for around $3-million, which at the current exchange rate is around R20-million).

Needless to say I'm still working on it. I'm around R20,008,000 from achieving my objective, but am not one to be deterred by small trifles.

My fascination with and love for islands began back in 1984 when I was 12, when my older sister and I went to the United States for a two-month holiday with our closest friends (we'd made friends with the children of two high-ranking US diplomats who were on a three-year tour of duty in South Africa, and when they left to go back home we spent a year working to raise the money to go and visit them).

They lived in Falls Church, Virginia - a city outside the capital Washington - in a big, white, colonial house - exactly the sort of house you would expect to see in a documentary on the Civil War.

We spent most of our holiday there and during that time were taken everywhere, from the Natural History Museum to the Washington Monument on the fourth of July to the National Air and Space Museum in the heart of the capital.

But towards the end of our stay we packed into the car and headed north up the East coast, on a long drive which took us through Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey (where we visited some guy who had pet piranhas), New York State, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and finally to our destination - Portland, Maine.

Maine is the northeastern-most state in north America - tucked conveniently into a pocket of Canada - and to the east lies the cold blue expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

And if you catch a ferry from the harbour in Portland and tack due east, you arrive at Cranberry Island - population 60.

I looked up Cranberry Island on the 'net to see how they were going and it appears as if there are actually two islands - Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry Island. I have no idea which one we went to - and the population seems to have swelled somewhat since 1984 - but back then only 60 people were spread over an area a few miles square, and you couldn't have scripted a better place for a fantasy movie.

The ferry made two trips to the mainland each day, and if you missed it there was no way of getting on or off the island. There was a small dock in an even smaller harbour - basically just a wooden jetty - and dirt roads took you off into the heart of the island: an immense forest of pines which blocked out all light on the island.

The only way to see sunlight was to skirt the edges of the island on the single road that ran right around the circumference, and even though we were there in the middle of summer there was a still coolness to the place, which must turn to bitter cold in the winter.

The people we stayed with had a double-storey log house, right on the fringe of the forest overlooking the Atlantic, and you walked out of the house, took a few steps down the garden, and found yourself on a boulder-strewn beach with a shingle shore.

In the early morning the mist would hang like a spell over the sea, and it would slowly evaporate as the day got hotter, like a veil being lifted from a cobalt-blue pond.

One morning we awoke and looked out to see a full, 20-sail clipper - straight out of a movie - sailing through the mist, and the only thing missing was Peter Pan himself.

In all the time we were there (a week or so, I think) I never saw a single neighbour, and the chief means of transportation was bicycles. It was a completely surreal experience to cycle off into the forest on an ancient bicycle, feeling the soft but satisfying crunch of pine needles and bark under the whitewall tyres as you glided over the spongey carpet.

The sunlight occasionally managed a dapple here or there, and the effect was magical - tall, tall trees, touching the roof of the sky far above you, with fingers of light pointing down from the heavens above, lightly touching the bracken and wild sage that covered the floor of the forest.

On the road to and from the house you came to a short, incredibly steep hill, called Refrigerator Hill. Legend has it (and we're talking island folk and their reminisces here, so the veracity of the claims are only in the hearts of those who know) that a truck was transporting an old refrigerator from the house to be disposed of, and going over a bump the fridge fell off the back of the truck.

Rather than go to the effort of lifting the monster fridge the driver left it in the road, got out his shovel (standard fare on a damp island with dirt roads) and covered it up, packing the earth tightly to make a small hill.

So now you know - somewhere on a tiny island off the coast of the north-east United States seaboard lies an old Coolerator from the 60's in the shape of a hill, and when archaeologists in 2000 years dig that one up I'd love to hear their theories on how it got there. Doubt they'll get it right.

I went with my mate one day to go fishing on the jetty, with crude sticks instead of fishing rods, and all we caught was one fat monster of an ugly-ass fish, with huge spines sticking out of its back. I'm no expert on the finer points of ichthyology, but I can tell you that I know an evil bastard fish when I see one.

We were too terrified to go anywhere near the thing so we stoned it to death instead. Except the swine wouldn't die, as rock after rock smashed his spines and rendered him invertebrate, and he just kept gasping and wheezing and staring at us in hatred through a baleful eye.

It was very Lord Of The Flies. I cannot bear any sort of cruelty to living creatures (other than to obvious hell-spawn like flies, ants, spiders and the neighbour's yappy dog), but it became a battle of the wills - I had to defeat that fat, obscene fish.

Eventually a fisherman pulled up in a rowboat, got out and castigated us through a toothpick jammed firmly in the sizeable gap between his two front teeth, and he slit the fish's throat and threw it back from whence it came.

The image of that fish staring back at me has never left my mind and has always soured somewhat my relationship with seafood.

I don't think there are enough Cranberry Isles in this world, nor enough summer days to spend investigating them in wonderment, but I promise you this - one day I too shall have an island, a paradise, a place for the little children to play, a pl....

"Oi! Who put the bit about the children in there?"


"And you are?"

"The Voice Of Reason."

"Why did you have to mention children in my article?"

"To get your attention."

"You've got it."

"Good - now listen up. I'm obligated to tell you that your childhood is past, you will never be young again, you will never experience fantasy in the way you did as a kid, and R20-million - considering your current rate of income versus your monthly consumption of drugs - will take roughly four hundred and three billion years for you to raise. Get a job, you fucking deadbeat."

Man. I hate the voice of reason. At least I've got the memories.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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