Observations of a newbie: the currency of Bowen

Michael Nankin reflects on 15 months of observing island interactions

I was talking to a friend at a New Year’s party and he asked me what I thought of living on Bowen since moving here 15 months ago. We agreed there’s something rare and compelling about this place but neither of us could find the words to describe it.

I have been holding the question close for the past few days and offer these thoughts: 

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Bowen has its own currency. Certainly dollars are exchanged for goods and services here but there is another, more vital, currency we exchange with one another. It is a currency of time, attention, neighborliness, assistance and affection. This currency has more value when it is given before it is received. It raises the quality of life here in a way that more conventional currency can’t. It is a different way of creating value and it is the glue of the community. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and it makes us all rich.

While looking at a map of the island, I realize that Bowen is shaped like a human heart. It beats steadily with the coming and going of the ferry––filling up, emptying out––the cars and trucks working like red blood cells, taking nourishment through the vascular system of roads. This gives the island a pulse and a rhythm. It gives and receives. I find this predictability reassuring and part of the calm security of the island. Thinking of the island as a beating heart helps me understand it as both fragile and vibrant. 

In order to live here, you have to be a little more alive than any place I’ve ever lived. It’s hard to live here. Life here demands physical activity, self-sufficiency and the ability to fix things you never thought you’d have to know how to fix. It is a much more hands-on life than in the city. The beauty of the land wants attention and excites the senses. The physicality primes the heart and nature fills it. To start the day in an Emersonian thrall of the landscape makes me feel anything is possible.

I hope that in 20 years when––just maybe––I’ll no longer be considered a newbie, I can still feel this way, still excited about the fresh new day and the Bowen currency burning a hole in my pocket.

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