When other people think about getting stranded on a deserted island I assume they're contemplating whether they would end up falling into one of the following familiar categories:
- Tom Hanks in Castaway
- Robinson Crusoe
- The Swiss Family Robinson
- Lord of the Flies
- The Admirable Crichton
I bounce back and forth between the 'I would love to be stranded on a deserted island rather than in this meeting/yes this traffic jam is annoying but you would ascribe less importance to it after being stranded without modern conveniences' curse/blessing thought model; and the 'no but how would you really?' theoretical mindset.
Even if I start with the curse/blessing thought pattern it quickly slips into the theoretical because that's more interesting.
You start with the usual suspects:
- I'm going to need fresh water (Are there pools or springs on the island? Is it a tropical island that has coconuts I can drink from?)
- I'm going to need shelter (Are there materials I can easily build with? Are there caves? Are the caves safe or filled with creepy bugs/snakes/bat guano? Is the weather warm enough that I don't need to go crazy with the construction?)
- I'm going to need food (Are there animals on the island? Would I actually be able to hunt them? If not, how difficult/dangerous would fishing be? Can I safely identify any edible plant life?)
But after that I start getting down into the details, either those that people might not think about or those that people might not think about that much:
- Would I be eaten alive by friggin' insects?
- What is the likelihood of heat exhaustion/super sunburn?
- If there are animals on the island, how many are there? If there are and I'm capable of hunting them, how often should I be eating meat to a) keep myself healthy and b) make sure I don't chomp my way through the population at a non-sustainable rate?
- Would it be better to avoid land animals and the possibility of worms other contaminants/infestations they might contain and stick to seafood?
- Are there dangers with the fish (outside of blowfish = bad) that I don't know about?
- Are any of the plants or fish etc that I'm depending on seasonal?
- Are the plants I'm eating abundant and/or self-seeders or am I likely to nom my way through the entire lot and then find myself nomless?
- Is the likelihood of passing vessels dictated by the seasons? (eg, lots of tourists in late spring/summer/early autumn and then nooooooothing through late autumn/winter/early spring)
- Am I looking at the possibility of tropical storms?
- Assuming I've washed ashore only with the clothes/accessories I'm wearing am I likely to be able to fashion basic tools or even start a fire?
- Will I be able to fish with a line (that I'm assuming I make myself) or is my fishing success going to depend on being able to stab fish out of the water?
- Am I going to get myself investigated and/or sampled by a local shark/predator if I try to swim out to more fish-rich waters?
- What if - just to flip shit around - I'm stranded on an island in the Northern Hemisphere? We're used to thinking of desert islands as tropical paradises where food grows, the weather ain't too bad, and you have materials to work with. If you're stuck on one of the windswept islands off of Scotland all you will have to work with is grass and maybe shellfish that cling to the rocks. There aren't likely to be trees or animals, probably no fresh water, probably no shelter, swimming to fish would be freezing and you wouldn't be able to see anything in the darker waters... Yeah you'd probably die of exposure, curled up on the grass...
- If you're on an island where are you aren't going to be immediately starved/frozen/poisoned/chomped to death, will you be able to stay mentally strong and healthy? Or will you be OK until you've got yourself set up and then give into despair once you realise that maybe you won't be discovered/rescued?
I think the desert island was the original 'how would you survive the end of the world?' scenario for kids who grew up before the apocalypse became such a central theme in our entertainment industry.
Whereas kids born after 2000 will be assessing their ability to survive based on the zombie apocalypse, the rise of the machines, contagion-based wipe out of a large portion of the world's population, or alien invasion, the seeds of survival planning were planted in my brain by the idea of being stranded on an island or in the wilderness.
It was then built upon by books like:
- The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline MacDonald
- The Cay by Theodore Taylor
- a bit of googling suggests Wolf of Shadows by Whitley Strieber might be one of the other books I remember
- Monkey Station by Ardath Mayhar
Even as a kid you understand that the desert island was about self-sufficiency as there is no society to depend upon, that it would also test your ingenuity and mental resilience.
Are you going to sit on the beach sobbing in the foetal position? Or are you going to at least try to get shit done?
Trying doesn't guarantee survival of course but are you the kind of person who will keep fighting for life or the kind who just waits for someone else to save you?
Anything that prompts you to ask yourself 'how much of this could I do myself?' or 'is there knowledge that I've never bothered to acquire because we can pay for goods and services and have them provided for us?' tends to prove fascinating because at least for me it tends to lead to an assessment of the structure of society and the role that plays in dictating the tools and materials available and lifestyles these things are able to support.
I suppose I could just imagine myself swaying back and forth in a hammock, enjoying a primitive fruit cocktail mixed in a coconut shell but even imaginary relaxed-me would only be able to relax if she knew that she had adequate shelter, water and food.
And would that involve having to store food for the non-fruiting times/winter?
And would that mean trying to form pottery and working out how to pickle food in a way that kept it viable and didn't make it poisonous?
And could you harvest sea-salt in a manner that allowed you to salt fish in a way that preserved it without rendering it nigh on useless?
And... and... and...?
Yeah, I can't really do the 'imagine a kind of non-optional holiday' daydreaming.
But I can consider logistics like a motherhugger.
*When we were kids we had the Johnny Castaway screen saver on our family computer and we spent more time watching the little screen saver man's adventures than we did using the computer. We were easily entertained and always convinced that one day we'd see him do something he'd never done before. Even now if one of us hums in a certain way the other two will know exactly what we're imitating.
Oh look, he's on Youtube! Yep, reeeally easily entertained :-D
In our defence it looks like there are 40 minutes worth of scenes so there would eventually be unseen ones popping up, prompting a flurry of excitement.
PS. Johnny Castaway would have died of dehydration and/or heatstroke and/or scurvy! Look at that island!