Thursday, August 6, 2009

Castaways, real and imagined

From the first time I climbed through the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse at Walt Disney World as a child in the 1970s, I wanted to live in a treehouse. Now that I am no longer able-bodied, that wouldn't be possible, but those who are can easily spend a weekend in one, since many bed and breakfasts offer treehouse accommodations. I checked out some of the sites last night, but they weren't rustic enough to match my childhood dream (my treehouse does not have a Jacuzzi). I returned to my research of the Swiss Family Robinson, a fictional family first featured in a rather far-fetched 1812 novel and later in a 1960 Disney film who were shipwrecked on an island in the East Indies. I learned that their name Robinson was not a surname, but a reference to the 1719 classic Robinson Crusoe, which I knew was based on a true story. Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721) was marooned on an uninhabited* island in the South Pacific from 1704 to 1709, surviving mainly on feral goats. What I didn't know - and was thrilled to discover - is that a Japanese explorer and a Scottish academic spent a month on the island (now called Robinson Crusoe Island and home to about 600 Chileans) in 2005 and found evidence of Selkirk's presence. They described their finds, including his campsite, post-holes of his shelters, and parts of a navigational tool, in Post-Medieval Archaeology in 2008. Since then, a rare diary by the British privateer who rescued Selkirk has been found.
*The real Robinson Crusoe had no "Man Friday."

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