An important concept in several forms of Modern Druidry is that of “Earth, Water, and Sky” or “Land, Water, and Sky”. Those are the three realms, which correspond to the three elements in Modern Druidry. I wanted to incorporate that into the title of one of my Druidry blogs. I’ve read many excellent blogs whose titles play on the concept, and it’s a good way for me to peg blogs as being about Druidry (unless I find out otherwise) because a lot of Druidry blogs don’t have “Druid” anywhere in the title. And I think it’s a beautiful concept, even though my cosmology is more in line with that of witchcraft, with four or five elements, depending on how you look at it.
I spent most of my life (16 years) so far, living on an island. Of the 12 years so far that I didn’t live on an island, I spent most of them making day trips to an island or at least to a shore town almost every day of the year with some of my family. I would get out of school and we’d literally get in the car and go — driving an hour to two and a half hours each way, depending on the traffic. We’d stay all afternoon and evening and we usually wouldn’t leave until night-time, often late at night. Then we’d drive back to our homes in an adjacent landlocked state, eat a very late dinner, and go to sleep. We’d get up and do it the next day. Sometimes we’d go other places instead, in our own state or sometimes others. But mostly we went “down the shore”. Cape May and Wildwood were two frequent destinations. But we also made trips to Atlantic City and other places. But mostly, we went to Ocean City. Weekends were the same, except we had even more time to spend there. Looking back on it now, it seems ridiculously unreal. Maybe surreal is a better word. But it’s the truth, and there it is.
Years later I was lucky enough to move back to New Jersey (the first two years of my life we lived in New Jersey too). I didn’t think I was very lucky at the time, but I really, really was. In that respect, anyway. Some other aspects of my life weren’t very lucky, and I think that’s part of why I felt so antagonistic towards moving, but that’s neither here nor there.
Even now that I no longer live on an island again, I’m blessed and lucky enough to live half a block from the bay, with the view of another island across the water.
The delineation between earth, sky, and water is even more stark on an island. You are constantly surrounded by water and constantly aware that your only ways on and off are by bridge or boat. Or sometimes, plane or train, I suppose, depending on where you live and/or how wealthy you are. And of course, there are a few people who have swum the distance between the mainland and an island — but that’s usually for an athletic feat.
The sky seems bigger to me on islands (well, not Manhattan, but you get the point). And the sky seems bluer, when it is blue. But it’s also different colors there more frequently than elsewhere. Gray, purple, black. Sometimes before storms, it’s even been rather alarming shades of green or sickly yellow. The sunsets are incredible. And of course, here on the east coast of the US, the sunrises are absolutely breathtaking.
And on an island, you are very, very aware of the small little slip of land that you’re standing on. You see close up all the building and dredging done just to keep it in place. You watch the crazy prices of real estate for tiny lots that get covered with mammoth buildings. You literally watch the ground beneath your feet get pulled away a fraction at a time most days and by leaps and bounds in storms. And sometimes, you watch it get put back.
But in someways, the difference between earth, water, and sky are more tractable, blurrier even, on islands. Islands are liminal places by their nature. And to live on an island is to see, vividly, and every day, how the sand literally falls away into the sea, The earth blends into the water.
Some days, the sky looks distinct from ocean. But even then, it gets a little fuzzy, because, unlike most places, you can actually see the horizon. But on other days, it’s even more melded. On those days, the color of the ocean and the color of the sky reflect each other so perfectly that it’s all but impossible to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. The water blends into the sky.
You can smell low tide, even at the center of the island, if it’s a small enough land form. The sun refracts everywhere. The wind is constant. It is persistant. No, it is insistant. Late on the beach, away from houses, stores, and boardwalks, when you lie on the sand, you are swimming in utter blackness. The sound of the waves surrounds you and all you can see are a million points of light — more starts than you thought the Heavens cold possibly hold. When it rains, it usually pours. Hurricanes are a force to be respected and yet lived side by side with. Even a little rain usually floods all of the streets. A lot of rain makes the ocean run under the boardwalk and the bay splash over the bulkheads. A tropical storm washes away piers and topples trees. A hurricane strips away beach and houses, depositing them wherever it sees fit. The ocean and the bay meet, and for a while, there is no low anymore, only wild water, whipping wind. The sky and the water, they both blend into the land.
Even though I bath in tap water and drink bottled water (our tap water is undrinkable) and I swim and play in and admire fresh water, the ocean and the bay will always be “water” to me. And even though I live on the mainland, have traveled to cities, deserts, mountains, canyons, and forests, sand will always be “land” to me.
The beauty of it, and both the separation and combination of the three have always been more noticeable to me on islands. In fact, it’s because of islands that I was finally able to intuitively grasp the Druid cosmology, when other Pagan ones are more familiar to me, and sometimes more comfortable to me as well. So there you have the name of this blog: Island, Ocean, Sky.