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Her World

A Falklands Interlude

February 07, 1988|JUDITH MORGAN | Morgan, of La Jolla, is a magazine and newspaper writer

Her name is Poppy. Well, Samantha, really, but she's called Poppy by her grandparents and the other three residents of West Point Island in the Falklands.

She is 4 years old, the only child on this lonely island near the bottom of the world, one of only 1,800 people in all the Falklands.

I heard her "hallo" from a thick hedge of boxwood long before I saw her round and dimpled face smiling through. She was as still as a small bird in her nest until I came close and knelt beside her.

"I'm Poppy," she said. "Do you want to see my lamb?"

She took my hand and led me along a white picket fence to a shady corner where two ewes and a lamb were resting.

Poppy has wide-set blue eyes and straight brown hair that flies in the wind that swirls around these bleak outer islands.

Her bangs are jaunty, as if she had wiggled while they were being cut in front of the family mirror.

She wore a red-and-white stripe jersey, gray jeans and sneakers. I had on three layers of clothes and a parka, gloves and knee-high boots--since I was starting out for Antarctica.

Shelter From Storm

Poppy took me inside her white- frame house, which is sheltered from the prevailing gales by twisted cypress, and I met her grandparents, Lily and Roddy Napier, both natives of the Falklands and owners of the island that could have been one of the rugged Hebrides off the western coast of Scotland.

Lily brought steaming hot tea in porcelain cups and opened a guest book for me to sign.

Because of the abundant wildlife on this remote knob in the South Atlantic, West Point is a favorite stop for Antarctic-bound ships.

Other callers to this cozy drawing room, with its peat-burning hearth and overstuffed chairs, had come from other islands: Japan and the Philippines, Manhattan and Sark.

Poppy has become an enchanting mascot for this international clique. She introduced me to her cat, her teddy bear and herself as a baby in a framed photo on a bookshelf. She brought out post cards with foreign stamps and snuggled in my chair to talk about them.

Then Poppy whispered: "Now we'll go to Nannie's garden." We walked into the sunshine and ducked through a dark tunnel in the hedge.

Hidden beyond was a lush square of flowers bordered by a stone wall. The white frame house that was her real world had disappeared.

Evocative of England

"This is foxglove," she recited, lightly brushing a petal as she passed. "This is Russell lupine. We have yellow and blue and white and pink. I like pink best." She called out other names that were evocative of England, the wellspring of life in the Falklands.

After a while I said I had better get on with my hike around the island.

"But you must see our vegetables," she begged, tugging me toward another secret passage that opened onto furrowed earth. "Those are lettuces and those are potatoes and those are turnips."

"Thank you, Poppy," I began. But she broke in: "Would you like to see my sheep some more?"

Her mother had married a British soldier, I later learned, and had left the islands for England. She had sent Poppy back to live with her parents.

Poppy called and waved until I was out of sight, beyond a tangled garland of gorse and over the scruffy hill.

On the other side of the island I settled into a glade of tussock grass to watch some unlikely neighbors: black-browed albatrosses and rock-hopper penguins, the masters of flight and the flightless who shared this slope and rookery.

Not Alone

The world was quiet in the natural blind of lime green grass where tussocks formed cushions and footrests. Suddenly I became aware that I was not alone; another shy sort was hunkered within reach of my right arm.

It was a rock-hopper penguin, that comical black and white bird with yellow head feathers that seem ever askew.

She gazed at me with eyes of cinnabar red, with no fear, just the passing black line of a transparent lid that scanned from right to left like a windshield wiper. She did not squawk or budge and neither did I. How pleasant to share space with a companion who also prefers the solitude of back rows and corner tables.

After a couple of hours our peace was torn by the arrival of another rock-hopper who dropped in from above as if landing by parachute. My companion nattered at him in welcome and then stretched up to let her chicks blink at their tousled pop.

The reunion signaled the day's end, so I eased out of the family circle and strode back for a barbecue supper on the pebbly beach below Poppy's house.

It was drizzling steadily now. Poppy was wrapped in a parka. I showed her the daisy she had picked for me; it had been flattened by the ride in my pocket.

"It won't do at all, now will it?" she said somberly. "We had better get another."

But it was almost 8 p.m. The sun was pouring gold upon the water. The driver of the last boat was beckoning me aboard.

And so I waved goodby to this winsome child, the only child on the island, the only child, though I did not yet know it, that I would see for three weeks.

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