Friday, February 1, 2013

Who and What WOULD You Want With You?

How does that question go?

Oh yes, I remember...

"If you were stranded on a desert island..."

And then it is followed up by something like this:

...what book would you want with you?

(Yes, I know, the right answer is "Practical Boat Building").


Who would you want with you?

It makes for an interesting dinner conversation if you are tired about gossiping about the neighbors--or talking about the weather and everyone's health like Eliza Dolittle and Professor Higgins.

I bring it up because on this day in 1709 (Watch it!  I can see you wondering if I was there!) Alexander Selkirk no longer had to wish and wonder about the answer to that hypothetical for us but real for him question, "If you were stranded on a desert island..."  Because on that date, he was rescued from being stranded for four years on a desert island.  Truly he was.  In point of fact, Alexander Selkirk's real life story inspired a man named Daniel Defoe to write a novel base on Selkirk's adventures and call the hero "Robinson Crusoe".

Alexander Selkirk, as his name might suggest to you, was a Scot who was born in 1676 (a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence) and who asked to be set down on one of the Juan Fernandez islands off the coast of Chile, since he thought that the ship he was serving on was not seaworthy.  The captain, perhaps wanting to teach Selkirk some kind of a lesson, agreed and deposited Alexander on the uninhabited island's sands with his seaman's trunk and the clothes he stood in and off the ship sailed only to sink, with only the captain and 12 others surviving, and they, ending up as prisoners of Spain.  I guess the professor and Mary Anne missed that tour.

Meanwhile, back on the island, shellfish was often on the menu.  His noisy neighbors were so loud they drove him inland (sea lions who packed the beach like Saturday at Coney Island).  Inland, things took a turn for the better with feral goats for milk and meat, wild turnips and cabbage.  Wild rats bothered him until he domesticated some feral cats--clever man that he was!

He also read from...the Bible.  Frequently.  It brought him comfort and encouragement.  As it would any person who gave it the proper time and attention.

Selkirk was rescued on this day in 1709, but did not get home till 1711 and continued to live a life at sea after his own account of his adventure were published.  He in fact died at sea, succumbing to yellow fever off the coast of Africa.

Selkirk lived out his four years on the island with a measure of grace. In fact, his story reminds me of the Selkirk Grace, written, not by Alexander Selkirk, but by his countryman, Robert Burns:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.


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