Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

August 4, 2011

The Door From Reality to Etheria

By David K. Shipler

Years ago, a simple footpath encircled the island. I believe this without being certain. Perhaps I am remembering what I merely wished had been true, but I would like to think that I used to circumnavigate this island on foot without difficulty. The trail led clearly as it does now from the little beach on the northeast corner clockwise along the eastern length, meandering through spruce woods close enough to the shore to see the sparkle of the water through the trees, then around the southern tip, slightly inland up the western side, and finally to the sweeping flat rocks on the north. Surely I walked that route with ease.

Today, however, the pathway disappears at the southern end, and a search takes you into thick growth and a tangle of blowdowns that have been uprooted and snapped like matchsticks in the raging winter storms that we summer people never see. I cannot get through, and the trail is so thoroughly gone that I wonder if it was ever there. Now if I want to continue all around the island, I am forced onto difficult boulders on the western shore. Or I can turn back to retrace my steps up the eastern side. If I do that, however, if I give up and take the easy path back, then I return through the door to reality.

You see, something quite unusual has happened here. This island is small and uninhabited, a jewel in an archipelago on the coast of Maine. In a gesture to that endangered concept known as the common good, the owners maintain the path to a certain degree, and visitors who come ashore in their own boats treat the island gently—no fires, no trash.

That in itself is not so uncommon in these parts. Many (not all) island owners are generous, and many (not all) people who take to boats love and care for the pristine coast. What is special about this island is that when no one is looking, fairies also come, it seems, and build little houses of bark and sticks on stumps and rocks, sometimes with moss or a sprig of spruce for a roof. These fairy houses come and go, appearing and disappearing throughout the summer. (By the way, children also come and go on their parents’ boats.)

Several years ago, a rather large fairy, evidently, or a whole troop of them (or flock or team or whatever fairy groups are called) made the pathway into a passage. If you land at that northeastern beach, which is just a pocket of sand tucked surprisingly into the rough granite coast, and take the trail southward along the eastern side of the island, you suddenly come to an old wooden door, once painted white on the side you first see. It is standing across the path, held erect by driftwood boards fashioned into a sturdy door frame and nailed to two trees that straddle the trail. There is no wall, of course, just the door. You could walk around it if you wished by just stepping off the path.

But you wouldn’t want to do that. You wouldn’t want to avoid the door, because the fairies—presumably the fairies--have painted on it in big letters, “Etheria.” Grab the knob, swing the door open, step through, and you plunge into dark thick woods as comforting and alluring as your imagination can imagine. Etheria.

Look back, and you see the other side the door, with the word “Reality” in dark letters against a weathered green, and an arrow pointing back the way you came.

So you see why you would not want to retrace your steps when the path disappears. Before it vanishes, the trail will take you through lighter woods, nearer to the shore, and to another small beach whose sand on close inspection turns out to be made of millions of tiny bits of shell. If the tide is out, you may see that mild waves have drawn in the sand concentric arcs the shape of rainbows. Then, where the path ends, if you make the effort to press ahead with the circumnavigation by continuing around the granite shore, you can return to the northern beach where you began without ever having to go back through the door to reality.

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