New snow filled the tracks they left behind.
Every ounce of adrenaline, all fears and anxieties now transformed into an intense focus. Finding his center, existing only in the moment, his gut flipped as he experienced a sense of flight, a momentary separation from the pull of the earth, a feeling of anti-gravity. Leading the wave, looking out over and above the layer of fog that had blanketed him only seconds before, he was struck with overpowering wonderment at the world around him.
Unobstructed, the panoramic view of the coastline, thinned north and south, stretched to the limit, as it trailed off into the distance to follow the endless curvature of the earth, until it met again on the other side.
Above, the sky now sapphire blue extended to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where it paled and gave way to a hint of dusky starlight. Below, the sea churned and roared, a maelstrom of white, green and grey that both fed, and ate itself, as it grew and gained momentum.
Ahead, nestled in amongst the evergreens that crowned the top of the cliffs, dwarfing the beach below, a reflection of orange that could only be Buttercup. Observing the world through the eyes of an eagle, he felt the oneness and connectedness of everything that existed. His journey had taken him here, to a place of appreciation and understanding; and straight into the path of the elephants.
With what felt like the weight of ten elephants landing on his back, Caspar lost his wind and orientation, as he cart-wheeled out of control. Knocked clear of his board, he was driven painfully into the violent turbulence generated by the epic collision of natural forces. Unable to determine up from down, he thrashed, reaching out in all directions, hoping to reach the surface. A fire burned in his chest and belly, needles of white-hot ice assaulted his lungs.
Becoming more and more disoriented, desperately seeking a much-needed breath of air, his thoughts began to numb and grey. Limbs barely able to respond, the signals from his brain dulled by the lack of oxygen, he made a final attempt to get clear of the confusion. Reaching for the stars that lay just beyond his fingertips, he realized a sense of relief and euphoria. He had finally broken through.
Thunder filled the air as the full force of the Alaskan swell passed over the boneyard. Only a handful of places on earth were capable of generating such awe-inspiring theatre. At this moment, the privilege of experiencing that drama belonged solely to Caspar, as the first colossal wave went off.
However slight the difference may be, sound travels quicker over water than land. As the telltale vibrations raced over the cold dark sea the girl’s skin tingled with receipt of the message, her head rung with the suspended roar of wave over reef. Unfolding from her crouch over the smoldering fire, she turned her head in the direction of the hollow boom. Warmth from the glowing embers filled the cramped space, keeping the cool moist air at bay and preventing it from invading the confines of her primitive shelter as she scanned the heavens from the protection of the log frame doorway. Thunder without lightning. Canoes.
He sat alone at the center of a ring of thin lacy moisture, with only the direction of the waves to differentiate north from south, east from west, with only the sound of the waves to acknowledge his existence. Positioned on the outside, Caspar watched as the waves rolled by in sets of two about seven minutes apart. First to appear was a smaller variant of ten to twelve feet in height, followed by a second wave of considerable size, most in excess of sixteen feet.
Since he was eight, he had searched for this place and this moment, explored the design from all possible angles, carefully mapped the final steps: leave early, paddle hard, pick a line, do not deviate, stroke until you are about to free-fall, do not get barreled, do not to get covered up. What his mind’s eye had failed to capture, what he could not have anticipated, was that the next wave, his wave, would be in excess of thirty-six feet.
Floating parallel to the direction of the waves, slowly drifting into position, he let the first wave roll by and then he attacked. Stroking feverishly into the path of the second wave, finding his line, paddling even harder yet, until he was almost upside-down. His face stung from the salty spray carried by the force of the wind racing up the steepening curve of the wave. He sprung to his feet, landing squarely on the deck of the board, perfectly balanced, his back to the wave. Right foot forward, he dropped his left hip, transferring weight back onto his left foot so that he would not be pitched over the nose of the board and be crushed by the pursuit of the falls.
“Si na pesa,” I’m limited to this response. It’s what I’ve been armed with.
“Rafiki.” Persistent. “A few schillings for needle and thread to fix my sail.”
My choice to ignore the young man and move along. My morning walk along the seawall.
“I will be a great captain!” He’s walking at my side now, working to get my attention. Persistent. “Rafiki.”
“Si na pesa,” smiling at the young man I move along knowing that what I say is not true.
It is this interaction that occurred nearly five years ago in December in Lamu on my honeymoon on my morning walk that plays in my head and is the inspiration for this story. Inspiration in that I have wondered what if I had given that young man a few schillings?
Rangi ya bahari, roughly translated from Swahili means “the colour of the sea”.
So set sail with Ativa beginning August 28th, 2017.
In the meantime, get in the mood. Check out this music video of the same name by Gilad: Rangi Ya Bahari.
Scent of starlike jasmine imported from the East.
Showered with pellets of ice from the blackening edge of an advancing squall, he glanced back over his shoulder, seeking comfort in the security and solidity of the shore, wondering just how far he had come, wondering if he should turn back. But there was nothing, nothing to be seen, no beach, no cliff, nothing except a wall of driving rain that seemed to be chasing him further and further out to sea. More determined than ever, and filled with a fresh sense of urgency, he turned back towards the island and paddled with all his might.
Squinting into a rain that now came in sideways, the girl turned her attention to finding some form of shelter. It was her intention to see the day out, wait for the sun to go down, before giving up hope of ever seeing the young man again. Retreating to the tangle of drift logs at the foot of the cliff she stumbled across the clothes that Caspar had so casually flung to the side.
She picked each item up one by one, carefully folded them, and placed them in a pack amongst a handful of other supplies she had brought with her from the van. At the base of the cliff she soon found suitable accommodation in the form of a crude lean-to, a small hut-like structure most likely built by some creative summer vacationers. With her back to the island, the girl lit a smoky fire, added a dried twist of sage, the sweet aroma filling the confines of the make-shift shelter as she prepared to wait out the storm.
Just an outline at first, a shimmer in the fabric of the mist, a thinning of the atmosphere, a hole in the storm allowed the full form of the island to fill the frame before him. Exhausted from the extended effort, Caspar felt an overwhelming sense of relief as he reached the protection offered by the leeward side of the island. Sheltered now from the wind and rain, a surface tension returned to the sea and he found himself gliding across the water with a peaceful ease as if locked into a set of rails.
Shifting his weight back he slowed, taking a position straddling the board, as he closed the distance to the shore. Now just yards from safety, Caspar slid off the board, nudging it along ahead of him, as he slogged the final few feet of knee-deep water on foot. His back to the mainland, Caspar smiled to himself as he stood on the beach and felt more than heard the first explosion.
Square tail, quad fins and heavy-duty glassing, the pale-blue surfboard lay at Caspar’s feet as he began his final preparations. Removing each article from the pack he placed them carefully on the board in the order he would use them. Carelessly discarding the boots, sweatshirt and shorts he stepped into the full body suit pulling it up over his legs, letting the upper body hang at his waist, interest drawn by the complete lack of sound as the tide began its return to source. As the rain began falling in sheets, the wind swirling without design, Caspar took the cool salt air into his lungs, and letting it go doubted his purpose for the first time, wondering if this was after-all a fool’s act.
Finding himself thigh deep in the fifty degree water, Caspar leaned into the storm, faced a battalion of white-tipped soldiers, and launched himself atop the glossy deck of the nine foot gun. His focus trained beyond the nose of the board, Casper steadied himself and began the long paddle to the island, the final obstacle as he crossed over the threshold.
From her vantage point on the beach, the girl watched Caspar greet the summer swell as it arrived from its lengthy Alaskan journey, meeting each wave head on, with confidence, driving down, pushing through and popping out cleanly on the other side. With that observation, the girl let her thoughts wander to an image and the words and rhymes of Jim Morrison, and his fateful “…climb through the tide…”. As she watched, Caspar paddled further and further from shore and seemed to shrink in the shadow of the force that roiled the sea sending wave after wave in an attempt to dissuade the young man from his quest. A black speck on the horizon now, indistinguishable against the shifting backdrop of silvers and greys, Caspar drifted out of sight, to a place where she believed, if the earth were truly flat, he would simply fall off the edge and slip into the void.
Caspar found the going much rougher than expected. And as the bitter chop grew in size from breakers and easy rollers, to waves two and three feet in height, his only option became to duck each wave, escape the blows by going under, rather than taking them on face to face. As he forced his way up and out through the backside he was met by yet another wave, each more determined than the last to knock him loose and flush him back to the mainland.
“Where are you?” Words escaping bursting bubbles of confusion.
Brass trumpets accompanied by the percussion of sheet metal hi-hats and splash, a calliope of rattle-trap crowing and thin-tin bells ringing. Indeed it was time to wake up. Maarit’s alarm clock turning gears and dancing across the smooth currents of wood in her bed-side table. Fatigued from her journey. Having a rough time waking from the cool blanket wrappings of deep blue sea.
“Good morning,” words to herself, reaching an arm out to calm down the new day’s reminder. The blow from the side of her hand nearly toppled the glass there filled with fresh water. Early morning sun just prying open the slats of her blinds. Needing the flick of her desk-lamp switch to brighten the room. Illuminating.
And from the block shelves and shadow boxes a little girls toys frozen in their dance. A toy horse, tail braided balancing on its back legs, kicking at the sky. Books of adventure one laying on its side, pages read over and over again. Picture of her grandmother holding Maarit tight. Several dolls long forgotten, living in the margins of yesterday’s fancy. Sailboat, sail puffed out proud from a child’s manifest. Droplets of water following the line of the keel.
“Good morning Maa…,” this time Maarit’s mother opening the bedroom door to greet her daughter….trying to make sense of the puddle.
“Now Maarit that’s the last…,” tone a warning caught in her throat as she considered the contents of the glass nearly filled to the brim. An odd chill to the room and scent of high adventure. Breaking the surface of the puddle with the flattened palm of her hand. Ice-cold.
“But it wasn’t me…”
“Salt,” as she placed a wet finger-tip to her lips. “Where did you say he is from?”
“I’ve seen it,” were Maarit’s words as she acknowledged her mother.
Buttercup creaked, rocking ever so slightly with the shift in weight, and then regained equilibrium as the girl emerged from the van and dropped to the ground just in time to watch Caspar, board under arm, disappear behind a stand of sword fern waving in time with the breeze.
A serpentine of severe switchbacks, only inches wide in places, carved a treacherous path in the near vertical slope that had long ago been abandoned by the state forestry; their only responsibility now was to post signs warning of sheer cliffs, falling rock and unstable soil. One misstep and the twelve hundred foot flight to the beach would take seconds rather than the estimated seventy minutes by foot. Roots and rocks slick with moss and lichen interrupted the trail on a regular basis adding to the challenge of balance and forward progress. Thirty minutes into the descent Caspar paused for a moment at a widening of the passage to take in the magnificence of the scene laid out before him. And for that moment, the girl did not breathe.
Shadowing Caspar, but at some distance and out of sight, she watched as he inched ever closer to the edge of an earthen shelf that weakened with every step, a cornice of dirt and tangled root supported by nothing but grace. Before Caspar’s eyes the endless sea took on a flat calm and seemed to withdraw, bringing the island ever closer, moving it forward against the horizon belying the true distance to his first destination. A ceiling of cast iron-grey compressed the atmosphere adding a sense of urgency as the ground beneath Caspar’s feet began to fall away. As she was about to call out alerting Caspar to the danger, he took a step back and then another as he turned to continue his descent, never knowing how close he had come.
Caspar emerged from the forest to a light curtain of rain and the briny smell of wet sand. Never breaking stride, he made directly for the waves slapping at the beach, the real estate being reclaimed a handful at a time by the incoming tide. Soon the tide would reverse, soon the time would come for the crossing.