Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
August 2008 - Volume 08, No. 8
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Alone on an Island

Alone, yes. But in a place like this, one is never alone.

In mid-July I took advantage of an opportunity afforded to few, and desired by many more. I spent a week on an island in Lake Michigan.

This is a small island (about 5,000 acres, and five miles at its greatest length) which I have known for fifteen years. I’ve spent at least a week there, almost every year there, but usually in the company of from a half dozen to a dozen and a half persons. And this year it was not my plan to be there alone - except circumstance had nobody else available to join me. And so I accepted the opportunity to be there on my own.

Some basic information: This is a wooded island - mostly cedar, maple and beech, uninhabited regularly since the mid 1940's. There is a cabin, many decades old. Drinking water is taken from the lake and filtered. Food is sent over each week on the boat that’s chartered to make the connecting trip every Saturday, and basic foodstuffs are stored in camp.

I lived in the cabin - giving me a somewhat comfortable place to sleep, and screening to prevent the millions of mosquitoes that enjoyed life thanks to recent rains. Outside their number was infinite, but within it was finite - or finite plus one. This means that outside it is of no use to try to kill them, but inside it’s worth a try, since there are “only so many” - and again always “one more.” Inside there’s also a wood stove which I used for cooking and keeping the mustiness down.

But these are incidental details, the scaffolding around which the essential inner experience takes place.

When thinking ahead to the week, and looking back on it, there’s the question of safety .What would happen if...? Cell phones don’t work there, and the marine radio doesn’t have enough range except perhaps to hail a passing vessel.

But once I was there, any such fears dissolved into an intimately cooperative relationship with the place. I knew the island would take care of me. This wasn’t a guarantee but the felt knowledge of a mutually caring relationship. I was there to live in balance with the island, and it would be faithful to my well-being as well. The spirit world of that place knows me, and I know it.

Again, the mosquitoes. This was the worst I’d experienced there - though the rains that brought them, also meant an end of its perennial dry condition fire danger. Most of my time outside the cabin was spent looking out from a mosquito head net, and wearing leather gloves. (In other years it has been black flies - worse than mosquitoes.) But I felt no enmity. They were a definite nuisance, but coexistence is coexistence. I’m certain, however, that much of the floor dirt I swept out of the cabin at the end of the week was made up of dried mosquito carcasses, from my ‘kills.’ Inside was my territory!

By the way, toilet facilities consist of a shovel and roll of toilet paper. The mosquito horde, even worse so close to the ground, made this even more of an ordeal. You can imagine.

From past visits, I know it takes me about three days to fully unwind from the other world. And so it was by the third evening, I was “really there.” When it didn’t rain in the evening, I would enjoy time at the shore - just a few minutes down the path from camp. A visit at sunset as well at around midnight, was magic (and the mosquitos generally fewer). On the far horizon can be seen the shoreline lights of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Otherwise, it seems as if “man has never been here.” And on that third night, as the water was in a talking mood, so was I talking and singing and dancing there on the beach - as only an older man can do who’s connected . I was “fully and unashamedly there ” - in a completely full, rich, and self-defining world.

For the rest of the week, as I hiked the island, kept camp, fed myself, spent time reading in the cabin, and took my rest - it was with the comfort of knowing all things were right, and in balance.

On the first nights, I was aware some little creature was in the cabin with me. At first it was a shadow movement in the corner of my eye. Then something brushed across my lower pant legs. Finally on the third night a small mouse showed up on the desk, apparently looking for scraps from my dining. He kept me company for the rest of the week, but the apple I set outside the door kept him from any intense indoor foraging. He just came to say hello.

While lying in bed that last morning, knowing the boat would arrive to pick me up midday, I suddenly realized I’d given no thought for the entire week to any events in the other world. At that moment I realized how completely I’d been at one with the world of this place.

As I get older, I become more aware of the vulnerability of my physical age. But yes, if I had the opportunity, I’d do it again.

Somehow since returning to my everyday world of my home, I’ve had that subtle sense like having a new toy. All I can attribute it to is that the island gave me something, a gift. And that something continues to work itself through my inner being - as I continually endeavor to

pay attention!


The month of August has involved working with my son Michael (look him up at to completely revamp my website. Therefore our apologies for the "August" newsletter being a bit late. The "New" website itself should show up soon in place of the old one. Be sure to take a look.

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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