Sunday, April 7, 2013

In search of Atlantis

The crocuses are in full bloom along Pond Bridge Road in Tiverton, dotting the countryside that leads to the beach.

Leafless trees and New England stone walls are the backdrop to a riot of purple flowers that seem to have magically appeared overnight.

But magic is what Fogland is all about.

Our summer place sits on a peninsula that juts out into the sea, with the Sakonnet River on two sides and the saltmarsh on the third. A small parcel of farmland anchors us to earth on the fourth side.

When I look out toward the Atlantic and the fog is a palpable thing, I imagine that this is an island, which for me is not a stretch.

When you spend your days sitting on a rock and staring at the sea for hours, you daydream and tend to imagine things.

I come from a long line of island dwellers; all of my forebears were inhabitants of the Azores.

In antiquity, Greek philosopher Plato described a large island in the Western Ocean (the ocean west of the known world or the Atlantic) that was home to a utopian commonwealth, which he called Atlantis.

The place is probably fictional, but there is the possibility that he had access to records that no longer exist.

Throughout the centuries the Atlantis tradition of a highly developed civilization has survived with various islands or island groups in the Atlantic identified as possible locations, most notably the Azores.

The idea also has been kept alive by many writers, including Francis Bacon and Voltaire.

Last fall, I took a philosophy class at Wellesley College; and one of the supplemental readings was “The New Atlantis” by Bacon.

I remember reading the small, unfinished work about the highly advanced scientific society, sitting in the Science Building Library on a dark afternoon, while rain splatted the metal roof and plate glass windows.

Published in 1624, Bacon tells the story of a mythical island, where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit” are the qualities of the people who live there.

It is a place where faith and reason coexist seamlessly.

“We have certain hymns and services, which we say daily, of Lord and thanks to God for His marvelous works; and some forms of prayer, imploring His aid and blessing for the illumination of our labors, and the turning of them into good and holy uses,” Bacon wrote.

I share Bacon’s vision of “one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all”—but like the island of Atlantis, it is difficult to find.

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