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Castaway!

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Illustration by John Burgoyne  

I recently learned that honey excavated from the Egyptian pyramids is still okay to eat.

“But if you feel like it, you could probably eat some of those.” Duke is pointing to what look like a lost shipment of Wehrmacht helmets on the sand—horseshoe crabs, possibly the most vile and demonic-looking creatures I’ve ever had the misfortune of laying eyes on. There are several supine specimens in various states of wildly odoriferous decomposition, but that doesn’t dissuade the gulls from hungrily picking them apart. Duke strides over to a live and particularly massive helmet and deftly flips it over with his foot. The crab’s molasses-colored legs flitter like jazz hands, its underside oozing an oily blue gel.

“They’re edible,” he says. “I’d definitely cook them first, though.”

It takes about 45 minutes to walk around the whole island and arrive back at the dinghy. I unload my meager supplies, accept Duke’s good wishes, and excitedly push him out into the bay. “See you soon, man,” he calls out. “You’ll have a blast!”

My first plan of action is to build a shelter. For guidance in that regard and in all other outdoorsy matters, I’ve brought a copy of Bradford Angier’s How to Stay Alive in the Woods. For inspiration, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. After constructing a home, I plan to gather firewood and throw some lines in the water using the abundant mussels as bait. As I survey the landscape, it starts to rain, and I’m forced to throw something up in a hurry simply to keep dry. The theme song to Gilligan’s Island is stuck in my head and given that I am all alone, there’s nothing to dislodge it. A three-hour tour.

CHAPTER TWO


Our Intrepid Castaway Runs Afoul of Inclement Weather, Falls Into a Watery Pit, and Fears for His Safety.

I map out the island in my mind, naming each area after its most prevalent physical feature. Goose Crap Bay, Stinky Harbor, Nonbiodegradable Heights, etc. A stone’s throw inland, I find what I think is a decent location: a collection of three or four trees rooted in the sandy soil a few yards beyond the high-tide line. One of the trees forks at about waist height. I find a similarly forked branch and sink it into the ground about six feet away, then sit the longest, straightest branch I can find in the two Y-shaped nooks. I then take several branches and set them diagonally from one side of the horizontal branch to the ground. All pretty slapdash, really, but I have to hurry. I throw my tarp over the whole thing and use smaller sticks like tent pegs to anchor it to the ground. Finally, I gather all the leafy limbs I’ve hacked or snapped off the boughs and throw them atop the structure to camouflage my spot from the harbor Five-O who have been circling the bay in a helicopter since we launched. (The legality of my being on this island is unclear, so I plan to keep a low profile and hope for the best.) I scramble inside just before the first crack of thunder and the driving rain it announces. My new dwelling is cozy enough, though too small to do anything other than lie down in. I rather ingeniously fill an old plastic bag with sand as a pillow, then take out my notepad and sketch designs for the more impressive home I will build as soon as the rain lets off. I feel a burning desire to impress Duke with my travails over the next few days and imagine his nodding approval at the structures, traps, and gizmos that I shall fashion from nature.

One hour becomes two, two becomes four, and the rain is truly torrential. Friends had suggested that I postpone my adventure, as the tail end of Tropical Depression Barry was projected to roll through the metro area during my stay. I certainly would have stayed home for a Hurricane Xerxes, but Tropical Depression Barry sounded utterly benign. Duke hadn’t seemed at all concerned about the stormy forecast, and I certainly hadn’t wanted to bring it up. I figure that it is sure to blow itself out sooner or later.

The sound of heavy rain on the tarp is like just-immersed Rice Krispies amplified through a Marshall stack. Rainwater pools on the sections of the tarp that aren’t pulled taut, and I realize that water, the one thing I’d brought in abundance, is the one thing I absolutely do not need. What I should have brought instead is a slicker, some warm socks, and some decent boots. The sound of the rain is comforting at first, but six hours in and with no sign of letting up, Barry loses his charm. The Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge, which connects the Rockaways with Brooklyn, is now completely obscured by the thick, low rain clouds. If it wasn’t for the roar of the descending airliners overhead, I could be fooled into thinking that I am marooned in the middle of the Atlantic. I read Robinson Crusoe, keeping one eye out for a break in the weather that isn’t forthcoming. The rumbling in my belly soon eclipses the rumbling in the clouds, and I decide that although I’ll get soaked through in the process, I will have to find food and search for some dry wood. I gird my loins by imagining a romantic scene, an hour hence, in which I sit with a full belly, reading Defoe, dried and warmed by a simple, cheerful campfire.


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