Peat Rick – Fragments of a work in progress
I know thee, salvation boat. For we have performed upon thee, thou abramnation, who comest ever without being invoked . . .
carried by the swooping tide through a narrow pass into a wide open space. I am in a deep bay, the cold water, black and the mist hanging heavy in the light of the full-moon. My sorry eyes dazzled by blue light on dark water.
As I transit the stony entrance to the pass, I am caught by a whirlpool and swung round, bow to stern and stern to bow. Spinning into vertigo. My middle ear is a morass of algae – a red tide in my head. My ears ring; the pressure inside makes my vision blur and head spin. Vertigo yields to nausea. I gulp back the rising bile and swallow, like a codfish inhaling a hook, my own bitterness.
Finally, a centrifugal swoosh, send me gliding backward. Crunch. My stern impacts the rock leaving a blue gel coat dot, next to a rank of other similar blue dots.
I am tired and cold. My drysuit has long since stopped keeping me dry; the patches and stitches that hold it together give me a Frankenstein appearance, accentuated by the perilous state of my banged up boat. I am a monster.
Now that I am berthed, I set out searching for a place to sleep. I had a tent once, a sleeping bag as well; I miss them no longer. On a full moon and a high tide, on a night like this, it is not so hard to find a bed. Even in this place with no beach, I can make do. After an hour of probing, I find a stony shelf covered with thick mats of kelp. I pull my boat up past the high tide mark and burrow, like a crab, into the decaying wrack. The Iodine smell is a balm to my fatigue; I sink into slumber.
“Here I am!”
I sit up and find not kelp but golden sands. The cold of the northern seas are gone and a gentle sweet scented warmth flows over me. I think of my reddened chapped skin, the scabs, and scars which beset me and am glad. Healing, I think. Looking down, I am astounded; where is my wounded, wrinkled body? Gone. In its place a healthy form, tanned and fit. I stand – naked and happy. Redemption! At long last!! Tears course down my smooth and beardless cheeks. Happiness.
I reach down to the sand. I want to feel its warmth. To feel life again. To let the grains slip, jewel-like, through my fingers. Golden grains, hot as gledes, falling like stars to merge into that vast infinity of golden glowing tropic youth.
I reach for the sand but find it changed – damp and hard. Cold. Like seaweed. I awaken slowly. I am in my wormhole, curled up, knees to chin, in my dank nest. Burrowing out, I see not golden sands, but a misty gray black expanse of basaltic rock, fading indefinitely into a gray sea. The soft slap of waves, the punctuation point of gull cries, the ammonia stench of a multitude of birds.
I have work to do.
I both love and fear the storms. They usually come from the north, but due to the cyclonic patterns that characterize this place, their direction is unpredictable. The clash of the waves colliding sends jets and plumes of water skywards. Salty fountains
This place is thick with life. I scrape off the leathery mats of gooseneck barnacles. They betray one another with each individual’s holdfast culpable for the death of its neighbor. Death for them and life for me. Sucked from their tubes, they are sweet and succulent. I pry off the algae covered chitons clinging armadillo-like to the rock. With a spotted and brown stained knife, I cut loose the crinkled yellow, vaginal interiors. They crunch brittle between my teeth like tongues of sea marinated plastic. Better are the giant black limpets. They surrender to my bite with a soft seabed sigh – sweet, succulent. Sometimes I trap fish, small or large, in tidal pools. I eat them raw, whole, if they are small enough, or filleted if they are too large and bony. The rich orange of sea anemone gonadal parts are sweet and rich as custard. At times, I will fish for something large -lingcod are easy. They are voracious feeders; their greed serves me well. They rise to my jigged bait, impale themselves on the bent wire and sharpened shells I use for hooks. Their flesh is a verdant blue-green.
On such a night I met her. A shadow at first, the moon was low and I a dark projection of my boatI called her that because she seemed so formless and alone, paddling just out of clear sight in the fog that continues even now to keep me from finding my way home. Unfriendly perhaps, or just timid, but she stuck so close to me, like a pilot fish even, that I began to think of her as a companion. When I turned she turned. When I paddled fast, she did as well. But she was shy, and I could not approach her, even as she shadowed my every move. So we wandered together and apart.
I awaken to the stench of the rotting kelp and the tickle prickle of sand flies. The night was oddly warm. I will scavenge for food then set out on my journey.
I grab a handful of the rotting kelp and stuff it into my mouth. The soft ooze is nourishing and oddly soothing. wandering over to the edge of the tide pool, I pull
But the whale. Living as I was on kelp, barnacle, and chiton, I was hungry. Craving meat. Red meat. Meat with blood on the bone and fat under the skin . . . I knew what I must do.
But how? I needed an implement, a killing tool. Something that would pierce the thick skin, that would thrust its head, snake-like through flesh and blubber and cartilage, till it reached the heart and then -release. The whale would die. At my hand! I would clamber atop its body -exultant. I would dance on his carcass. He would join me in a dance, then a feast. Indeed, the spirit would consume itself, with me, Ouroboros. Complete.
Perhaps, even perhaps -something I used to wish for, something that I forgot even existed.
Perhaps when I slit the whale open and crawled inside its warmth, I would find a way home
And then, on a day, paddling, alone, in a wilderness of sea, I saw a black slash in the water. What was it? Paddling forward, I came to it. A hard piece of finished wood. At least as long as my boat, maybe 18 feet long. Afloat, at sea, for how long? I paddled up to it and grasped it. It was slimed, covered by a soft gel – protoplasm maybe? It covered the black stick, yet it was still stiff, sound, and flexible. It had come to me for this purpose -one purpose alone – to be my harpoon.
Every morning, I wake up to low thick fog, clinging like icing to a cake of land. The walls of my tent are wet with condensation and my sleeping bag, rank now with fish, mildew and my own stench is wet and clammy. I look for my companion, I know she must have slept nearby, how I sometimes wish she would join me, but I never see her.
Once at sea, I sometimes lose sight of my bow in the fog. I savor these moments. Floating. The fog is cold. I paddle for the whole day, almost without stopping, my fingers become swollen with the cold – red as salmon eggs and my lips are numb while the mucus runs out of my nose and into my mouth.
Cold and fog. I keep moving. It is difficult to keep to a direction and my compass only works sporadically anyway; sometimes it spins crazily as if I were on a turntable or caught in a whirlpool. Oddly, in the fog, everything looks the same. I can no longer tell a distant object from something near. How many times have I set my site on a far Island, hoping to scrape the mussels, barnacles, chitons, and snails, which are my chief sustenance, from the rocks, or collect bird eggs? It seems that the great island is approaching at breakneck speed till I realize in is no island at all, but merely a rock diminishing as I reach it to insignificance. How many time have I thought the opposite, and paddled towards a “rock” timyhalf the day only to come to a black-faced cliff watched by the abyss eyes of the nesting birds?
My companion is no help and though I speak to him sometimes, he never answers. So we paddle in silence, alone, lost in our thoughts.
So it happened like this. We were paddling parallel to a steep set of cliffs when a big set came in. We turned, Brian and I, anyway, a big set. Boomers. Slow and gray out of the damned mist. We were off a set of small orange black rocky Islands. Streaked with guano and stinking of fish and ammonia. “Outside!”Brian shouted.
I awaken with a start. The voice again.
“Peatrick!” comes the summons
“Here I am!” I reply. Dutifull always.
My feet sink into sand warm as blood, soft as a sigh. Naked. My skin as smooth and golden -free from blemish and clear. Ahh, to feel the warm breath again. I sit down cross-legged in the sand. The beach slopes down steeply to the sea. The water is crystal. I can clearly see how each gentle lap of a wavelet brings a pastel curl of small shells -lavender, lemon, orange, cinnamon, on a curl to the shore. As I reach for them, they flutter ltinymoths and sink back into the warmth of the sand. I stand and look out to the sunny horizon. spouts. Spouting. A line of whales. Blues I think.
Not that I am lost. I am somewhere off the North coast of Vancouver Island. I think. Though for the length of time I have been on the water, that may no longer be true. I may be up in Alaska or even by that commodious vicus of circulation somewhere in the Aleutians . It is hard to say really. It is all because of this damn fog and the currents. And the wind.
Four things I know. If I paddle west, I will go out to sea. If I paddle north, I will find worse conditions. If I paddle south, things will be better. If I paddle east . . . Well, that’s the funny thing. If I paddle east, I should return to the mainland, but it has been a while since I have seen signs of land that is not an Island.