11 April 2008

Letter 1.7

…The Island Hermitage is 65 miles south of Colombo (a 4.5 hour train ride) and is situated on two jungle islands (connected by an earthen embankment) in the middle of a lagoon, about a mile from shore. There are paths encircling both islands, close enough to shore to catch glimpses through the stands of coconut and bamboo, beyond the vines and bushes alive with sounds of birds, small animals, and insects - out into the waters, where bright tropical fish swim past. Along the shore of the 'mainland' lies only jungle growth broken by an occasional thatched-roof house.

On the island are a few German and Sinhalese monks - usually, I'm told, about 10, but 7 at the moment. 3 of them live on this island - the smaller of the two, about half mile around - and the rest on the other island (which is, I think, a bit over a mile around). So there is enough room here so that each monk's kuti or hut can be placed as to be out of sight of all the others, and afford a greater measure of that solitude for which the Hermitage was created. Also living on the island (aside from wildlife) are 3 or 4 dogs, an indeterminate number of cats, and 2 mongooses, neither of whom seems very friendly, (The mongooses, whose job is to control the snake population are tame, but so far they have only hurried past me, seemingly bent upon pursuing their duties, and have paused only long enough to sniff my toes. Just making certain, I suppose, that I'm not a snake in disguise, They are indistinguishable, but it doesn't really matter since both of them have the same name. Meals, by the way, are brought from the mainland for there is no possibility of collecting alms…

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