This little rock that we live on has an official population of 600, but there are only 31 students in the schools (one elementary school with doubled grades: 1st & 2nd, 3rd & 4th) and a combined middle/high school), and there are usually only about 300-350 people actually living here year round. In January, that number goes down to about 100. In August, the number is probably closer to 600 or more, but if you add the tourists, it reaches the inconceivably greater number of 15,000 people.
What is it like to live on an island with 100 people, in the coldest, windiest, rainiest month of the year? The island doesn’t get snow or ice, and the temperature never drops below 45 F, but it gets battered by unrelenting winds and a suffocating humidity that makes mold grow on your shoes and destroys half of what’s in your pantry. There’s not much sunlight, since the days are short in winter. But the weather is only a sort of backdrop to everyday life.
With only 100 people, 31 of whom are schoolkids and 18 of whom are teachers (the balance is made up of the kids parents and grandparents, plus a few necessary services, like the island doctor, the island police officer, the island pharmacist, the island electricity company rep, and the island port authority man), the community pulls tightly around itself and everywhere you go, you’re greeted warmly. Restaurants are mostly closed, but if you want to eat out, you can call them up and request what you’d like them to cook for you and your friends.
Pot-luck became a way of life for us. It seemed like every night we were cooking for each other and eating together, enjoying the warm intellectual community that comes from having fully 1/5 of the population made up of educators.
There’s only one ATM (and no bank) on the island, and when it ran out of money or malfunctioned, we bought our groceries on credit. We watched weather reports with real interest, because if the winds were high, the twice-weekly ferries could easily be cancelled, with no replacement, meaning that we were even more cut off than usual. This happened frequently.
We went for long, long walks on beautiful hiking (donkey) trails to remote beaches, although it was too cold to swim.
The island is at its greenest in the winter, because in the summer the lack of rain and the unrelenting sunlight turns all this beautiful green to straw-yellow and brown. All those thousands and thousands of tourists who come here in the summer see the island at its least beautiful, which makes it feel like a secret paradise for those of us who know it year-round.
I will admit, there is a fair amount of TV watching and internet surfing here as well. Sometimes it’s just too windy and wet to do much of anything outdoors. Doing laundry is a nightmare: we have a washing machine but, like most Greek families, no clothes dryer. We rely on good weather to dry our clothes. In the summer, clothes drying on a line in Greece will be done in 10 minutes, but in the winter on the island, it can take days and days.
With almost nothing open, there is nowhere to spend money. The only non-food/toiletry/pharmacy purchases we made on the island over the entire period from November to April were a set of three nesting bowls, two mugs, and … no, that’s it.
Although we started swimming in March (well, my husband did – I started in May), and now in June everything is open, my favorite time on the island is December, January, and February, because of the natural beauty, the quiet and solitude, and the sense of community. I don’t even want to see the island in July and August, when the tourists come.