Oct 2, 2009 | Sisters, OR
Oct 2, 2009

This shell necklace has been hanging around my neck for 8 years. I picked up the shell on an abandoned island called Pelorus, about 8 miles off the east coast of Australia. Back in 2001 I met a giant Austrian ex-pat fisherman named Andre in a small Ingham bar in the mid-afternoon, and he told me about the island. Andre seemed like a stand-up guy, so I asked if he would drop me off there in his fishing boat and then pick me up a few days later. He agreed, so I bought some groceries, borrowed Andre's tent and snorkeling gear, and we boarded his boat. I spent three days on Pelorus island all by myself, including a memorable day that was short on words but long on fish, manta rays, and one big old sea turtle that kept swimming by. I'd bought some fishing line to tie up my food into a tree, but hadn't realized the enormous elasticity of fishing line, so even my best attempts ended with my bag of food plomped squarely onto the dusty ground. So I took the food bag into my tent and used it as a pillow, which worked just fine until I woke up in the middle of the first night to find 3 large water rats nibbling their way into my tent and into my pillow, gorging themselves on my food. I put the food outside the tent and let them feast away, trading sleep and safety for food. I wear the shell to remind me of how it felt to be out there, to remember the feeling of clarity and simplicity — traits that can be hard to come by in our frantic world today (though reading Walden makes me realize that people have always found their contemporary worlds to be frantic and out of control, no matter how calm and quaint those worlds might appear to us now). Over the years, the leather string that makes the necklace has snapped 5 times — once on a walk, once on a run, once on a subway, once in bed, and once playing frisbee in a field. Each time, kind of amazingly, the shell has fallen into my hands, not quite wanting to disappear. Last night I had a dream that some people drugged me and took me to India (I've never been to India), and that I was checking into a strange industrial hotel in a northern city — in Sikkim, I think — and that I suddenly saw my shell necklace in a filthy garbage can, surrounded by factory waste and thick mud. I remember feeling happy to see it there, so I could finally discard part of my past. But then I reached into the dirty bin and fished out the necklace, and put it back around my neck, not quite ready to give it up. We're quite co-dependent, my necklace and me.