I have to laugh at these survivor “reality” shows that depict teams of fit athletes, or sometimes couples, naked and afraid, cast into inhospitable conditions then expected to prove their mettle! Meanwhile, a TV crew and backup are prepared to supply them with any basics necessary should an emergency arise. What a joke!
Do you see anyone arriving on your front doorstep when there’s no money in the bank, the roof is leaking, the latest doctor bill is on you because the insurance company rejected your claim, and the landlord just raised your rent again? Now that’s reality!!!
If you want something closer to a real story based on a true life adventure, I suggest you pick up a book that’s nearly 300 years old. The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, though written as a novel and published April 25, 1719, relates the story of a man who actually requested to be marooned on an island a million miles from civilization.
The real life Robinson Crusoe was Alexander Selkirk who was the sailing master on a buccaneer ship the Cinque Ports in 1703. After several adventures, they hauled up at the San Juan Fernandez islands off the coast of Chile. (Defoe eventually changed the location to an island in the Caribbean perhaps to make it a little more romantic.) After taking on fresh water and supplies, Selkirk noted the deplorable condition of the ship and objected to sailing without making necessary repairs. When his request was ignored, he asked to be marooned on the island, something he quickly regretted. Captain Stradling being a tough buccaneer refused to relent and left him there. Selkirk eventually proved to be right. The ship did go down with few survivors making it to shore.
Selkirk, on the other hand, not only survived but thrived for four years. Initially, life was miserable. Seals kept him awake with their antics, and the loneliness was insufferable. When he relocated to the interior of the island, life improved as did his disposition. A herd of feral goats became a source of food, and feral cats which he eventually tamed became his companions. They also became his protectors when rats attacked him while he slept.
He built two huts during that time, learned to sew goat skins together with a rusty nail, made knives with old barrel hoops, and survived a terrible fall that nearly broke his back. He was eventually rescued by a disbelieving buccaneer, Woodes Rogers, who had sailed with him at one time. Beneath the ragged beard and goatskins was the barely recognizable Selkirk.
Marooned no longer, Selkirk returned to his former ways. On one expedition, wealthy ladies had escaped up a river in present day Ecuador to protect their modesty and their valuables which they hid in their undergarments. No doubt with great reluctance, Selkirk graciously assisted in retrieving them from the women. Oh, what the hell! Let’s face it. Piracy is a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
I’m thinking since Earth Day is so close to Robinson Crusoe Day, maybe we should celebrate the two together. Turn off our cell phones, unhook from the internet, disconnect from cable, put away our gadgets that email, text, face book, and twitter, and go out in nature and observe how good it is to be alive.
When Selkirk first went to that island, he was miserable. Yet somewhere along his journey, like Thoreau who went to Walden Pond for his grand experiment in nature, he found a certain peace and tranquility that’s difficult to find on a pirate ship or in modern culture. The change was so profound that Woodes Rogers commented: “One may see that solitude and retirement from the world is not such an insufferable state of life as most men imagine, especially when people are fairly called or thrown into it unavoidably, as this man was.”
I have a brother-in-law who lives in the Catskills of New York. Like Robinson Crusoe and Thoreau, he lives close to the woods. He most certainly is not a hermit, but he knows contentment and joy in living close to the earth. He doesn’t hunt or fish, but as a modern Robinson Crusoe, he has learned to harness the sun and the wind much like Robinson Crusoe learned to master the forces of his domain.
Maybe we need to learn a valuable lesson from the Robinson Crusoe that lives in all of us. When we touch nature in a certain way, we’ll realize we are part of it and have a little more respect for it.
The Uncommon Mariner