Assateague Island, Virginia(© Medford Taylor, Getty Images)

Assateague isn't only for the birds, but it's wonderful for watching them or enjoying other wildlife, such as wild horses.

Birds start to twitch as we approach the spring equinox. Their brains, catalyzed by the lengthening photoperiod, i.e. more sunlight, tell them to fatten up for spring flights to summer nesting lands. For these migrants, many having flown for countless nighttime hours across gulf, ocean and lake, islands appear at the perfect moment, providing shelter, rest, and most importantly, nourishment. Islands also replenish us. A ferry or causeway carries us away from harried society.

Living on an island takes resolve, but a daylong or weeklong visit provides plenty of island medicine without any of the obligation. For example, one doesn't casually move to Vancouver's Bowen Island, an artist colony where, one former resident recently reflected, "everyone knows what you ate for breakfast." But a visit to Bowen Island on a sun-filled Saturday to tour galleries and sample pastries at The Village Baker café should be nobody's business but your own. Here are eight superb islands that just might tempt you to set your clock to island time.

Assateague Island, Virginia
You can't inhabit Assateague Island unless you have feathers or your height is measured in hands. Home to more than 300 bird species, this 37-mile-long barrier island constantly changes physically, though its unusual political split between claimants Maryland and Virginia remains firmly in place. The state and commonwealth even divide the famed wild (actually feral) horses with a fence that bisects the island. You can only see the "saltwater roundup" on the Virginia side however, when the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, which manages the herd, completes a census and thins the herd via auction on "Pony Penning Day." (More progressive Maryland keeps herd numbers stable with contraception.) Kayaking upon the natural inland channels reveals herons, eagles, pelicans and, yes, even the occasional horse.

Cape Breton(© David Henderson, Getty Images)

Vibrant and varied cultures collide with serenity on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island.

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia
Islands are defined by physical remoteness, but no North American "landmass surrounded entirely by water" dispatches us more dramatically into a different culture than Cape Breton. Highway signs appear in not two but four languages here: Acadian, Gaelic, English and the Algonquian language, Mikmaq. Once independent of Nova Scotia, this community continues to teach Gaelic in the schools. Alexander Graham Bell was so taken with the town of Baddeck on the shores of Bras d'Or Lake that he made his summer home here. The Cabot Trail traverses through the Cape Breton Highlands, among the most majestic headlands this side of Scotland. Visits to Cape Breton are incomplete without attending a Celtic music celebration, or caleigh, often featuring world-renowned fiddlers, or a kitchen party, spontaneous gatherings where even the guests are expected to participate.