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Island of Dreams

Island of Dreams

    Early August 1947, I spent a night on this island.  Ever since it has been my reference for those cartoons and ads picturing a man marooned on an island with a chimpanzee and a coconut palm.  Only this small disk of sand is situated, not in the South Pacific, at the southern end of Lake Candlewood within swimming distance of the Danbury Town Beach, a site once in antiquity (that is, 1947) was known as Wildman's Landing. The occasion for the unsanctioned overnight on the tiny island was a Boy Scout canoe trip the length of the lake, starting up north at Sherman and ending at Hat Town. 

    I remember awaking with the morning light and noticing tiny waves rippling perilously close to my sleeping bag.  The lake is man-made, a wide spot in the Housatonic River, and its level fluctuates with the opening and closing of dams. There were a dozen of us, treated to the voyage by the administration of Camp Toquam, at the conclusion of a foreshortened summer schedule.  Paul Brown (pictured here) and I led the Foresters that season; and, after we had been caught disciplining twelve year old insomniacs with the onerous and odorous chore of stirring latrines with a long pole after midnight, the camp director, first scolding us for our treatment of our charges, relented and treated us to the canoe trip.

    Sixty-three years later, we returned to the scene of the sleep and near-swamp. I canvassed two fisherman, a nurse, and four moms concerning the Wildman's Landing name.  Nothing, not even a maybe.  Which is strange, since Google identified it, and one would think a name which caught the imagination of a fifteen year old sixty-three years ago would certainly have some staying power. 

    Ah, the vagaries of memory and the passage of time.  Were I, for example, to stand today at the corner of River and Main in Stamford, Connecticut, and ask passersby about First Methodist Church, they would probably tell me to drive north to Long Ridge Road.  Fifty-five years ago this June, Barbara and I walked down the aisle at that corner, inside a towered and red brick building built at the turn of the century (19th to 20th) to the glory of God and for the worship of Methodists.  Soon after our wedding the building was demolished and a tire store erected.  It too was eventually torn down to make room for an office high-rise.  And River Street was renamed Washington Boulevard.  Standing on that corner today I doubt I could find one passerby who could repeat that history.

    Each of us is the repository of unique memories, far more durable than bricks and mortar.

    Which, I suppose, is reassuring.  Isaiah tells us that "all flesh is grass."  But from the vantage point of eight decades I observe that as inconstant and fleeting as we are, it's even worse for the works of our hands.  In these United States buildings are slightly more permanent tents. But they continue to exist in our imaginations. I can, for instance, go back at any moment to Camp Toquam, the lean-to lodging of two summers, the waterfront where King Neptune made me eat Jack-in-the-pulpit root, and the parade ground where we gathered every night before supper.  None of those scenes can be revisited except in memory.  A state forestry preserve claimed that site when I returned fifteen years ago. Can it be long before townhouses are built along those Dog Pond's shores, as they have across the water where Camp Birchwood once operated?  But in my mind's eye I can still see Paul Kuczo, the nature specialist, handling snakes; Corny McGuinness dividing lots to see who would get the extra dessert; and Frenchie Beauregard, in a fit of anger, chasing me around the diamond waving a baseball bat.  Among a thousand memories. 

    A friend of ours, an actuary, lamented the ease with which his firm released senior employees, leaving the company without "corporate memory."  I've harbored similar thoughts about my treatment by the ecclesiastical leadership that sent me packing.  When you don't remember the wayward path down which you have traveled, what will stop you from going that route again?  Little wonder that we suffer bursting financial bubbles every forty years or less. Right, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. 

    On the other hand (and there's always another "on the other hand") the movers and shakers of the moment have reason to ignore, cashier, and retire veteran's: their war stories (meant figuratively) impede progress as often than they prevent errors.  Which is why the Lord God made Israel wait forty years (a generation) in the wilderness before entering the promised land and a new day: to get retirees with long memories out of the way.  Maybe the bishop was right after all.

    Nah! Were it not for one old codger and his memory, two fisherman, a nurse, and four moms would never have known they were standing at Wildman's Landing.


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