Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Miracle of Genuine Pyrex

As I typed away at my desk at Seasons, I could hear the grown-ups talking about Scott O’Dell and Island of the Blue Dolphins. This naturally caught my ears since I wrote my last column of the year about this very book.

Apparently, the Los Angeles Times’ outdoor section, which rocks, did a feature on the woman the story was allegedly based on. Karana is a fraud. She didn’t exist. Not really. At least not in the way she’s portrayed in the book. The real woman lived there for nearly twenty years, alone, scavenging seal carcasses and communicating with the island’s resident wild dogs like some kind of nature witch. Those living on the mainland knew she was there, but never bothered to help her for a long time. When some traders finally retrieved her, this wild bushwoman jabbered incoherently, the victim of two decades of isolation on a fog-shrouded rock just beyond swimming distance from the mainland. On the boat ride back to civilization, she clapped and danced unabashedly. Self-perception, the writer wisely noted, fades without human contact.

Two weeks later, she died of dysentery — of diseases spawned by the civilization that was supposed to save her.

The real kicker is that the island named in the book’s title doesn’t exist, really. The real island is San Nicholas — the Channel Island that lent its name to my freshman year dorm. It’s an island I’ve seen on rare clear days off the coast of my college campus.

I guess Island of the Blue Dolphins was even closer than I thought.

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