To the right beyond the mattress were the two extra water jugs and my clothes. The jugs remained untouched; the stack of clothes nearly so. Within a matter of hours I discovered loose-fitting under-shorts to be the best all-purpose trousers, equally suitable for hiking, swimming and sleeping. They washed easily and were brief enough to dry in service, so to speak. Two worn denim shirts completed the uniform. The unused variety of clothes I had with me would have sufficed for a week at Kennebunkport.
In the far left corner I made an orderly pile of my camera and binoculars, a quantity of extra film, my writing paper, a clipboard and a ragged copy of Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds, which is as indispensable to me in traveling as a credit card. I purposely brought no "reading books," since I was determined that no author should intrude between Wreck and me. For better or worse, we two were going it alone.
Glare from the sand and sea filled my little green room. A breeze washed through the cloth screens of the three windows and door. It seemed too comfortable to be true.
Outside I raised my big yellow umbrella against the sun, set the beach chair in its patch of shade and stepped back to wonder at this ordered little outpost of human peculiarity amidst so much uncompromising space. But I was by no means alone. With an innocence I would come to regret, I had chosen a site at the edge of a rookery of shore birds. Terns and black skimmers nested together on the flat that reached from my beachline to the rim of the marsh. Their nests came to within 20 or 30 feet of my tent. Both species were recklessly intrusive. They seemed to regard my presence as equally so. I could not leave the tent without setting off an uproar. This trying situation continued throughout the entire week.
I was convinced by Monday night that the colony of terns had selected a particular bird to take care of me—either that, or this bird had a demonic initiative. The whole lot of them, a hundred or more, would take to the air at sight of me, wheeling high overhead with a whizzing sort of chatter that might have been ten thousand electronic chickens. Suddenly a tern would dive at me like a rock, continuing the maneuver until I was beyond his province of concern. Invariably he came at me from the back, swooping so close that my head was brushed by the air his wings deflected. The exploit was accompanied by a piercing scream. I named this bird Frank, after a plumber who had done some work for me recently.
Each time he dived I instinctively looked up in anger for the little beast, and Frank, climbing fast, would twist his head to peer back at me with contemptuous curiosity—a strangely unbirdlike act from which a man alone on the shore could take little solace.
The black skimmers, on the other hand, had nothing comparable to Frank to send into the air. Their maneuvers against me were undertaken en masse, as wave upon wave of the spectacular birds would come in toward me low and from the front, honking like rush-hour taxi drivers.
I began each day soon after 5 while dawn was still fresh in the air. The ocean glittered in the early light like a cold, fluid sapphire. The sun came up fast. Its light flooded the island. By 7 there was scarcely a shadow anywhere.
Since my stove was no match for the incessant wind, despite a variety of shelters I built around it, I came to learn that cold instant coffee is by no means as distasteful as the idea of it. I would drink several cups, waiting for the kinks to untangle in my back. The air mattress did not take well to my 200 pounds.
Then, still dressed in my nightclothes (undershorts and denim shirt), I would strike off up the sand, spirits flying. With the first screaming assault from Frank I knew the day had begun in earnest. Sometimes I took my camera, sometimes the binoculars. To hike the full stretch to the far end of the northern head, or hook, and return was a trip of seven miles at which I spent about three hours, allowing for those pokings and pauses that are irresistible on a beach.