At first there were rumblings and tremors lasting a period of days. The tremors grew stronger into convulsions. In one almighty cataclastic eruption of steam, smoke and fire the Earth’s ocean bed split open. For months and years, eventually running into centuries, the Earth vomited forth its contents; its molten core. The gash in its mantle took aeons to fully heal. The liquid rock solidified in giant heaps, growing steadily higher with every eructation despite the Earth’s counteractive forces of gravity and erosion determined to level the emerging land. At last the spasms grew weaker and less frequent until they finally ceased.
The island had been born.
All was quiet, but for the wind, water dripping on, rushing over or collecting in the new island’s rocks, and the sea pummelling at its cliffs.
Those powers of deconstruction now held sway for millennia after millennia. The ocean’s waves nibbled away at the edges while the wind and rain, the rivers and streams and the ice, wore down the top and sides. However, those very forces of degradation provided a perfect platform for living organisms. Not that the island wasn’t used to life. Sea creatures and those of the air would visit and sometimes stay for a rest or to breed before leaving. But now the island had its own life-forms. Life that needed it and not just use it. Something blown in by the breeze, dropped by a bird or stranded on the beach or rocks by a storm would find a little crevice or a patch of sand or gravel to its liking and establish a home for itself.
And so it was that vegetation came to the island to be followed by little creatures, arriving in the same way, floating in the air or on the water, and finding the island’s greenery attractive. Birds came to realise they could stay all year round as did those aquatic beings that happily adapted to the island’s clean fresh waters. Seeds of larger and more varied plants came until the island supported a wide range of grasses, flowers, shrubs and, where wind and soil permitted, trees.
And all the while the powers of erosion were grinding down the rocks into stones and dust which mixed with decaying vegetable matter to form rich soils for more and more species of plant and bird. Insects had now joined the throng and added to the island’s food chain. Here was a veritable Garden of Eden where the forces of creation and de-creation ebbed and flowed according to the Laws of Nature.
A happy balance.
Nobody knows now whether it was accident or design that brought the first humans, the first mammals, to the island’s shore. Whatever the reason for their arrival, they stayed. They later brought others like them and bred.
Such a huge weight on Nature’s scales upset the equilibrium.
These humans brought their own animals and their own seeds and plants. They caught and ate the sea creatures, the birds and their eggs. They dug up the vegetation to make way for their own crops. But they spared the trees. Perhaps they marvelled at their ability to grow and flourish in such an inhospitable environment. Perhaps they thought the trees had some magical power to protect them from the elements and so they became objects of reverence; places inhabited by deities. That could be true, but more likely it wasn’t worth the effort to cut down what scrawny trees there were on the island. They were worthless for kindling or construction. The island provided plentiful supplies of turf for fires and stone for building and for tools.
Yet, these humans instinctively knew and respected Nature’s laws. They understood the need for balance. True, human intervention had destroyed the existing harmony but they and Nature, herself, ensured that a new equilibrium was sought. The humans knew not to take too much from the island, just enough for their own needs, while Nature did her part to limit the human impact through disease, food shortages, infant mortality and the like.
Many generations lived on this windswept and frequently wet island. It was never easy for them, sometimes it was desperate, but they survived. It was the only life they came to know, they were self-sufficient and they were content.
Hundreds of miles from anywhere we would now call ‘civilisation’, they existed for centuries, even thousands of years, ignorant of or uninterested in anything beyond their island home. Occasionally, like the migrating terns, a ship would pass by or briefly drop anchor before going on its way again.
But then those humans from the ‘civilised’ world learned how to make bigger and better ships that could more easily cope with the gales and huge swell that guarded the island. These ships began to call more regularly and the islanders learned trade. They learned that by giving things like woollen cloth or clothing, stone or bone carvings or birds’ eggs they could obtain items that made their lives easier.
The existence of the island, its inhabitants, its wildlife and its battered beauty all too soon became widely known on what the islanders came to call “The Mainland”. The ships stopped bringing goods to trade but instead brought visitors, tourists, who would buy the islanders’ produce with money. With that money the islanders bought what they needed, or wanted.
The balance was once again upset; but this time it was irreparable. The little island was a feather on Nature’s scales against the dead weight of “The Mainland”.
Financially, the islanders prospered but they also turned their backs on what the island provided them with. They no longer needed to toil and labour so much anymore. They retained the sheep for their wool and ensured a ready supply of lichens, mosses and plants for dyes; but their main crop was tourists.
There was a dark side to this, though. Every silver lining has its cloud and these tourists, the islanders’ life-blood, also brought disease. Illnesses common on “The Mainland” ravaged the island. Also, among those visitors were the educators, the missionaries, those, who in their hearts meant well, wanted to save the islanders’ souls and teach them about the wealth and opportunities waiting for them on “The Mainland”.
So, in just a few decades, the equilibrium that had been maintained for thousands, or millions, of years had been totally lost. Through disease, disillusion and desertion the island’s population dwindled until the few remaining humans abandoned their island home, with the promise of a “better life”.
This is, by no means, the end of the island’s story; merely the end, or nearly the end, of the human era. The island is still there, of course, but that’s all there is now.
The islanders left but other humans moved in. They had been eyeing the island for some time and wanted it for themselves. They discovered that the demoralised islanders didn’t need much inducement to leave. No sooner had the island been vacated than an army of men, all dressed alike, landed and started to erect metal towers, concrete buildings and huts and high security metal fences. The military had taken over. They had no time nor interest in the island, its environment and history. The old houses fell into ruin; why live there when you can have a fully heated, plumbed, wind and rain proofed hut to live in? The islanders’ gardens and vegetable patches ran wild as did the sheep left behind in the exodus.
But the military soon grew tired of the place. They had newer and better toys to play with and also didn’t need to be so far away from ‘civilisation’. So they gave it to men fully covered from head to toe in white who brought with them chemicals and sprays and microscopic organisms which they let loose on the island.
In no time at all, it seemed, as suddenly as they appeared, they went away. Between the spraying and the organisms, the white suits had completely stripped the island’s vegetation. All gone; from the windswept stunted trees to the last scrap of lichen. The sheep had perished as had the mice and voles, the worms, beetles and spiders. What birds that survived had disappeared as there was now nothing here for them. Their nesting grounds were poisoned; even the sea where they hunted had been polluted and cleared of any living creature or plant life.
All is quiet now, but for the wind, water dripping on, rushing over or collecting in the old island’s rocks and the sea pummelling at its cliffs; Nature working her way back to equilibrium.