Alix Kates Shulman

Drinking the rain (a memoir)

North Point Press

New York, 2004
bibliothèque insulaire
N.E. of America
îles désertes

parutions 2004

Drinking the rain (a memoir) / Alix Kates Shulman. - New York : North Point Press, 2004. - 256 p. ; 21 cm.
ISBN 0-86547-697-7
« In this single day I've taken a journey encompassing subway, bus, jet, taxi, ferryboat, van, and finally shopping cart and my own two feet to wind up on a windswept beach at the tip of an island fifty minutes out to sea. »

: At fifty, Alix Kates Shulman left a city life dense with political activism, family, and literary community, and went to stay alone in a small cabin on an island off the Maine coast. Living without plumbing, electricity, or a telephone, she discovered in herself a new independence and a growing sense of oneness with the world that redefined her notions of waste, time, necessity, and pleasure. With wit, lyricism, and fearless honesty, Shulman describes a quest that speaks to us all : to build a new life of creativity and spirituality, self-reliance and self-fulfillment.

JOAN TAPPER : Take the idea of Robinson Crusoe. It's virtually an island cliché : a person alone on a desert isle, solitary and self-sustaining. Though many of us might fantasize about living like that, few of us would actually do it. Alix Kates Shulman, however, embraced that solitude.

Summer after summer for the last ten years, she has lived alone in an unheated, unplumbed, unelectrified cabin on a rocky spit of land on Maine's Long Island. Drinking the Rain is a thoughtful, even inspiring, chronicle of her experience there.

The cabin had been the scene of 15 years of family vacations with children and friends. But on May day in the early 1980s, Shulman arrived alone, wheeling a shopping cart of provisions and gear across « the nubble » that separates the property from the rest of the island.


Shulman depended on a cistern of rain-water for drinking and washing, a cast-iron stove for cooking, an unpredictable gas-powered refrigerator for cold storage. There was an outhouse (albeit with a magnificent view of the ocean). There were apples and berries for the picking. For other needs, she made a weekly trip to town, buying food, telephoning home. The rest of the time she kept to herself.

She settled into this hermit's life, poring through the school texts and odd novels ont the cabin bookshelves, learning to think the « long thoughts », as the called them, musing on age, environment, existence. But gradually, even in this stripped-down setting, all extras were sloughed off, as the writer turned to the foods nature offered : mussels from the rocky pools along the ocean, crabs and fish, as well as sorrel, dandelion, and mustard leaves, angelica, sea rocket, and on and on.

All that is described with a deliberate grace and a delight in the process of insight that time has not dampened. Shulman is neither an ideologue — she never proselytizes — nor an ascetic. In fact, she loves food and revels in the exotic recipes she puts together.

Periodically Drinking the Rain follows the author out of the island, as Shulman tries to integrate her Maine lifestyle with her life on the island of Manhattan. Ultimately, she simply gives each place its due, letting the social ties of the Manhattan winter enhance and balance the aloneness of the Maine summer. It's an attitude — an acceptance — that she comes to apply as a general philosophy, since the world cannot help but intrude into even a recluse's life. She worries about the effects of pollution on the wholesome, unprocessed foods she depends on, and rumors of development threaten quiet Long Island.

Over the decade of her story, Shulman grapples with the realities of time's passage : turning 50, the disintegration of a marriage, new companionships, and new enthusiasms that range from hiking to New Age ideas. But the description of the nubble and of the joys of solitude remain the most memorable passages, infusing the book with a sense of peace and contentment.

Drinking the Rain
is about conquering fear — of deprivation, of old age, of being alone. In these pages Shulman has bestowed a gift on readers who may never be able, or willing, to nibble a dandelion leaf or gather mussels from a cove, a testament to the idea that less is more.

And ironically, by sharing her island with others, she may have made it more thoroughly her own.

Islands, Vol. 15, 4, July-August 1995
  • « Drinking the rain (a memoir) », New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995

mise-à-jour : 15 février 2017