Thunder Island is the most beautiful of the coastals. It’s still beautiful, in spite of now being filled with condos, motels, gigantic mansions and tourists ... it’s classy and scenic and just fabulous. You are a lucky motherfucker if you can afford to live there. The foliage is still thick and rich, with red cedar, oaks, loblolly and longleaf pines everywhere. The businessmen that turned the beauty of the island into money were careful, at least, and much of the natural beauty of the place has been preserved. But ... if you were ever there before ... before even one person lived on it ... then you have a whole other idea of what beauty means. And it doesn’t involve condos, 7-11’s or theme parks.
We lived on the mainland, near Hopper Bay. It was the summer of ‘77. I had just graduated from high school and been roughly pushed out of the nest by my father, a domineering and materialistic businessman. He shook my hand and told me goodbye, letting me know that in twenty years or so he expected to once again shake my hand as an equal, but until then, don’t bother him. I was ready to leave the house anyway and make my way in the world, although I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as he demanded his sons to be.
I lived in a small three-bedroom garage apartment with two other guys. We shared the rent, refrigerator, shampoo and shaving cream, pretty much everything except toothbrushes. And ... oh yeah ... and girlfriends. Girls were pretty rare in our little circle, and they were rarer than ever for me. I was the proverbial ugly duckling (that’s saying a lot for a guy) and it seemed like I’d been doused with girl repellant at a young age. Bad luck? I didn’t have no luck at all. Bad luck would have been a step up.
Anyway, the roots of what happened to me were in the dominant member of our threesome, who let us other two know that he was having a girl over Friday night, and he expected us to be nowhere in sight. I nodded, I’d been thinking of a big hunting/fishing expedition anyway. That would work out just fine, I’d spend a weekend in solitude, fishing with my big pole while he got his little pole waxed. Par for the course, for me.
I zoomed home from work Friday afternoon and gathered up all my gear and dumped it in my faithful steed, a ancient pickup named Guinevere. My roommates helped me wrestle my skiff into the bed, and I was set. I raided the kitchen and hit the road.
It wasn’t even two miles to the coast. I took my truck down to the beach, slid my boat out into the water, transferred everything, and parked my truck. Within minutes I was rowing out into the placid waters of Dog Leg Sound. I knew several islands North of here, and the first one to strike my fancy would be my home for the weekend. I knew this whole area was usually deserted both on-season and off, and I fully expected not to have to see another human for the next two and a half days.
I passed Pistol Point, and went on. Deaver’s Island didn’t appeal to me, I’d been there many times with my dad, carrying his guns and supplies as he hobnobbed and hunted with his business buddies. I wanted a place that wasn’t tainted with his self-proclaimed greatness. I rowed until my arms hurt, now, for some reason anxious to see new territory. I wanted this to be an epic voyage, a trip to remember. Something deep inside me knew that moments like this would happen less and less as I grew older. Like I said, I wanted something to remember.
I found it. I wasn’t sure what it was, until I pulled my map out and looked. Thunder Island, I said out loud. I looked up, half-way expecting a sky-full of dark boiling clouds, but it was a clear day. The island was small, maybe two or three square miles, and long and skinny, as coastal islands tend to be. There we go, I thought. I’d never set foot on the place, but sounded like a good place to spend a few days. A lot of the appeal to me was just that, that I’d never set foot on it.
I pulled in a little inlet, and beached my skiff. I jumped out and dragged it way past the tide line, I didn’t want to be stranded here. I loaded my pistol and put it on my hip, just because I felt like a bad-ass wearing a gun. I loaded my shotgun, also, and hung it by its sling on my back. I chose what I wanted to carry, hid the rest in the undergrowth, and walked into paradise.
You haven’t seen heaven on earth until you’ve been to one of these untouched virgin islands. Of course, I knew I wasn’t the first person here, people had lived on this coast for hundreds of years. But most of these islands were pretty much deserted until recently, until the sixties, I would guess, when people started having leisure time and money to burn. But this place ... it was beautiful, it was just breathtaking. I walked into it maybe a half mile, until I could see water and beach from the ocean side through the trees. I had passed through lush primaeval forest, green meadows and occasional underbrush so thick I had to go around. I came out of the treeline, and walked down to the waters of the Atlantic. I saw a rock spur a few hundred feet down, and went to it, just so I’d have a landmark.
I laid out my prize possession, an insanely long surf rod. I had a shorter one also, and I checked them carefully. I didn’t plan on fishing tonight, I’d do that in the morning. I just wanted to explore the island tonight. I set up my little tent, ate some dry post toasties, and picked up my shotgun. Time to get the lay of the land.
The place was just fabulous. I said primeval up there somewhere ... to this day that’s what I remember about the place ... it was like I’d gone back in time a few million years. It was easy to believe, after spending just a few hours here, it was easy to believe I was the only human in the world. The thought occurred to me that I could move here, build a log cabin, and never be bothered by stupid humans including my dad again. It was a tempting thought.
I found the boat by accident, in spite of how well it was hidden. It was on the landward side of the island, in another little bay north of mine. I was walking the shoreline because the underbrush was so thick, and noticed a straight line in some brush that extended down the beach. I looked closer, and saw a light skiff, two feet shorter than mine, pulled up on the beach. I checked it, it was clean inside, and I knew it wasn’t just salvage. Well, that was interesting. That probably meant I wasn’t alone on the island. That disappointed me, but didn’t really worry me ... the island was big enough for the two of us ... and this was the 70’s ... simple strangers didn’t pucker you up like they do nowdays.
I continued on my exploration. I made it all the way around the top of the island, sometimes traveling by beach and sometimes going inland. I saw deer, wild horses, geese, ducks out the wazoo ... even a glimpse of what I thought was a bear. It was incredible, and the animals were so unused to humans they didn’t even act afraid of me. I was too embarrassed to shoot anything, I felt like an intruder, a feeling I’d often gotten on my dad’s hunting expeditions.
At last, with the sun low in the sky, I came down the seaward side of the island to where I knew my tent was. Not even a mile above my campsite, I found her.
She had done what I’d done, parked her boat on the landward side of the island, and walked across to the ocean side. There, in the dunes, was a tiny green military-looking pup tent, and a campfire burning merrily in the gathering evening wind. A figure sat beside the fire, looking small and withdrawn. At this point I didn’t realize it was a female, I just thought it was a kid or a small person.
I stopped some distance away, and thought. I wasn’t sure I wanted my paradise spoiled by another human, but ... it had happened. It would be only sociable to say hi as I passed, and at least let them know I was there. I didn’t anticipate trouble ... but I had a .45 caliber pistol on my hip if trouble reared its ugly head. I wasn’t too worried.
I continued on down the beach. I saw the moment the person noticed me, I saw them sit up, and turn a pale face towards me. Is that a woman? I asked myself, as realization slowly came. A few hundred feet closer, and I was sure ... yes ... yes it was. Well, that kind of changed the whole situation, and then I wished I’d gone inland and passed her without letting her know I existed. At least for tonight, it might reassure her to think she was alone, I figured she’d find my campsite at some point. It was too late for that. I kept walking, meaning to pass close by her but not intrude, and continue on my way. At a reasonably close range I raised a hand in greeting, and kept on walking. When I was about even with her, she spoke. She wasn’t that loud, and was still a good distance away, but I understood her.
“Hi!” she said. “How are you this evening?”
That was all I needed, that was basically an invitation to stop and talk. And now ... now I was close enough to tell that she wasn’t some weather-beaten old beachcomber crone, she looked ... she looked positively beautiful. I altered my course, trying not to charge directly at her, trying to seem nonthreatening.
“I’m fine,” I managed to stammer, “how are you?”
“Just fine,” she said. “Beautiful evening, huh?”
.... There is more of this story ...