Our Grand Isle

Kate Chopin describes the past life of Grand Isle, Louisiana, as a fanciful escape from the buzzing city of New Orleans. She writes of pristine, white, sandy beaches, of humid heat that has you running for the rushing waves, and of an amble sort of life that draws your mind to wander just as much as your feet.

In its present life, you'd find Grand Isle to nurture these very same qualities; now only more reverent with the history of time passed. And there in our first experience of "Bookpacking," Grand Isle became the perfect place for our little group to connect to our thoughts, the Bookpacking adventure, and each other.

There we all walked down to the beach to read. With our towels lined up in a straight row, we took in the sun as we opened Kate Chopin's, The Awakening. Our toes in the sand, our eyes on the pages, and the breeze on our faces, we clichéd our way through Chopin's story of Edna Pontellier and her adventures at Grand Isle.


Edna describes the feeling of being somewhat of an outsider to the Creole traditions that she is surrounded by; their spoken and unspoken rules, their innate openness of touch and blunt discussion, and their overall high-culture society. Though a part of the Creole world through her marriage to Léonce Pontellier for some time, in Grand Isle, she finally begins to utilize those elements of Creole culture to discover herself. That summer, Edna encounters relationships that transform her perceptions and develop her mind to cultivate in the awakening of herself.

And as we all loomed over our books, reading Edna's story of self-discovery on Grand Isle, we were all engaged in that dialogue of being an outsider looking in. We knew little of Creole life, of Grand Isle history, and of Louisiana in and of itself. We had only known each other a day or two, a four-hour plane trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and a two-hour car ride to Grand Isle. But there, Alfredo, Bowen, Chris, Ogechi, Stasi, Sarah, Morgan, and I, became friends. We discussed the themes of Chopin's idea of Grand Isle, of Edna's awakening, and where the story would take us. We ran through the water together, making snide and clever jokes straight from the novella, and all discovered we had a flair for random outbursts of song and uncomfortable dancing.

Andrew Chater developed our perceptions of Creole traditions and the world Kate Chopin was writing in and we stayed up at night discussing Chopin's feminist invention and listening to pop songs from the 90's. We explored the island, remembering Edna's fictional experiences in places that still were and places that time had eroded away. We all carried our books everywhere we ventured, stopping to read when it suited us. And we had all so quickly become a part of the Bookpacking family that we had barely even realized it.

Bookpacking really set in, for me, as a group experience. Only a few days in, I couldn't wait to see how we would continue to grow as the days went on. Through the process of collaboration, discussion, and unbearable wit, we all seemed to discover parts of the story, parts of the culture, parts of the landscape, and parts of ourselves that we wouldn't have realized without each other. Edna Pontellier grants as much of her awakening to her relationships as she credits her own ambition for freedom. The recipe for Bookpacking develops this same evolution.

The people walked in little groups toward the beach. They talked and laughed; some of them sang... There were strange, rare odors abroad—a tangle of the sea smell and of weeds and damp, new-plowed earth, mingled with the heavy perfume of a field of white blossoms somewhere near.
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening