Miles From Monday: Moreton Island



"Oh, it was very seductive, this tropical thing. Papaya juice in the morning, a chatter of birds, a warm breeze, the changeless rhythm of blue skies and surf pounding, sunsets, nights sprinkled with moonlight. A man could get lost in all this, he thought. A man would need a strong will to keep from melting away under the sheer pleasant strangeness of it all."

-Mark Childress, Gone for Good

September 24, 2012, Washington, DC: I read Gone for Good sitting in the sand on Moreton Island off the coast of Queensland, Australia in February 2000. At the time, turning those pages in that place and time felt serendipitous, like the words were written just for me. When the words are right, they inspire our own, and so lost in the sheer pleasant strangeness of Moreton Island, I shook the sand off my notebook and began to write:

... I'm as far from home as I'll ever be and all I can think of is the laundry pile back at the house. Nine thousand miles away and here I am envisioning leaning over the banister and dropping an earth-toned laundry pile over the side in a heap. With a swoosh.

It's the dunes and the sea that carry me back across the Pacific and all the way east to this rote household routine. Zoom in on the laundry, blur the lens and zoom out, and there you have the scenery that lies before me on Moreton Island, Queensland, Australia. The pale aqua of the sea, the cream-colored break and foam of waves washing on a tan beach, the dunes that we sled down whizzing past blurs of delicate greens and roses and lavendars and yellows. And above there is sky blue, wispy above it all. Sand blows in the wind, creating a window screen over the scene that makes for a hazy softness people ache for. It is the sand carried on currents of warm air that makes that same swooshing sounds that the laundry does when it hits the floor at the bottom of the stairs.

Moreton Island, located forty kilometers off the coast of Brisbane in western Australia, exudes comfort and ease at every turn. It is a safe and welcoming spot halfway around the world, and yet that's a strange description given the very real dangers that lurk there in every corner. Like many islands dotting the coast of Australia, swimming is prohibited off its ocean side due to shark-infested waters where currents run strong and waves pound turbulently. Out of twenty-nine species of lethal snakes in the world, Moreton, an island a mere 38 kilometers in length, is home to twenty seven.

And yet something about this place is comforting. No laundry, no chores, no resemblance, and yet something about this place is homey.

On my second morning on the island, I am awakened by a friend's voice, soothing and calm like a mother waking her child from a deep sleep. "Guys, wake up, dolphins!" she whispers with excitement. Bundled in a sleeping bag in the sand, I hear her before I open my eyes. Immediately, it registers. This place. This day. Sand in my hair, I hop up like a mummy just in time to see another friend go sprinting towards to the bay and splash into the morning water. Before us, a cluster of dolphins, a mother and her children out for a morning excursion jump and play with peaceful splashes. A voice somewhere in the sand nearby pipes in, emerging from slumber. "Holy mother of...."

There's something familiar and familial about this strange and pleasant place indeed. And the morning breeze goes swoosh like laundry.

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