02 December 2016

Tide and Wrack

Things have been quiet here on the headland. Panes have rattled little in their frames, mostly. There are those who work hard to convince me that this particular silence is a good thing. I reckon it is. Mostly.

Beyond those very windows the sea acts in its honesty, trying hard to give meat to the bones of this silence. But the evidence lies before me in the mid-spring sun. The sea, with muted voice, is as restless as ever. Waves. Waves. The eternity of their susurrus upon the strand drives my dreams and washes over my heart. 

The sea is made for a life of constant motion. My heart and head know this and savor the delicious incongruity that they both are not. The heart beats and the head thinks but stillness is their natural state. An excess of motion works everything hard. The picture slips from the frame, the body slips from the soul, and edges blur. I do not suffer blurriness gladly. 

Ah, blurriness. The soft error. A misstep of intention and execution. Or statement of fact. I wrote of stillness as a natural state for my heart and head. It should have been written as a "desired" state. The waves question and point out my folly. It has been ages since I have felt true stillness. On the bad days, stillness seems mythic, like Valhalla or Shangri-La.

Thus the sea haunts me, nurtures me. Shades of jade and iron coruscating before my eyes. Can the sea be gentle? Today the answer is yes. Low tide and high wrack, the leavings of recent storms mirroring the debris scattered across my desk. Jetsam of a recent excursion writ in receipts for dinners, a movie ticket stub, credit card slip printed with the names of books purchased on impulse (one for me, one for her, and they made me happy, yes?). The bits of paper strewn about in an effort to lighten the load upon my memory.

The sea can be gentle, but it can never be still. Even in the doldrums you see it: the surface warps and quivers in response to things unheard, things unseen. Waves know this from the ripple to the breaker. I ponder that thought as an image bubbles up from the depths of my childhood.

Summer light streams across my neck and back. My skin prickles with heat and sweat. I lay prone on a concrete culvert pipe, lazily watching brackish water flow north with barely perceptible motion into the marshy terrain leading to the river. The tide is nearly out, soon to turn in obeisance to ancient imperatives. The water here is not deep but it is nearly opaque. Its opacity stokes both curiosity and anxiety. I feed neither beast.

As I lay there, a few inches away the water ceases moving briefly. Curdling, turning, a sheen of oil becomes a miniature pinwheel turning around the spot upon which I focused. The surface moves again, but nothing arises from below, and the viscous mirror returns to its serene repose. This mirror does not reflect its serenity onto me. I am nervous, I am tense, wondering what it could have been that disturbed the water so. Despite the brass lantern of the sun I shiver. I recognize at once a fear that will carry over into adulthood, the full import of which will not hit until years down the road from that summer day at the culvert. The jolt pushes me to my feet. I stare at the water for a few moments, then turn away and begin to run back home. I say nothing to my parents of my fear when they ask me where I had been.

I fear that which I cannot see. I need that which I cannot see. If the sea has taught me anything it is that this peculiar duality is integral to the conduct of my head and heart. 

The papers and receipts have turned gold in the deepening afternoon sunlight. With a start I realize I have been daydreaming for quite some time. The sea has crept up the beach with the turning of the tide.

The memory of that creek side revelation begins to fade and is replaced with another notion, slow to form but recognizable as having to do with love. Life is the sea. Love is the thing in its depths, the whale's fluke that makes the water curl around you yet never presents itself to your eyes. Thrashing about in the turbulence is a natural reaction to the unknown. The head fears it, the heart needs it, but blessed are those who find it.

08 November 2016

For the Greater Good

Field notes, November 7th 2016. Approximately 3:30 PM.

The walls were closing in, so I bestirred myself out of doors. Ambling though a local park, I heard some small voices raised to one another in greeting. Two little girls were shouting hello to each other from yards apart. They ran to one another, kicking up little rooster tails of dried leaves. As much as little girls can be said to bear hug, they embraced each other like there was no tomorrow. Like best friends after a long absence.

It may shock some to know that the scene actually made me smile. Watching those girls take obvious delight in seeing each other created some light in the darkness that has threatened to swallow me up in the latter half of 2016. Some long time readers will know, or have guessed, that depression is not unknown to me. We have, if you will, an understanding.

This year has been rough. Financially, personally, emotionally. The godawful mess that is the election cycle has only worsened over time, compounding the misery we felt earlier in summer when our granddaughter died in her sleep. Shifts in work arrangements, to the detriment of revenue streams for yours truly, added a bitter icing to a leaden cake. The cherry? My big brother's fifty-third birthday is today, but he has been gone for seven years.

Seven years. A dog's age. A lifetime. My heart bears the bruises still.

I know what this gray shadow is looking over my shoulder. I feel the chill of cold hands reaching for my heart. I feel as if I know what Harry Potter felt facing dementors, if fiction can be said to mirror reality. My younger self would have been all over that, identifying with a fictional character as if I were him.

My older self nods knowingly. My older self does not give in all the way, though. I know now through dint of hard experience that real life is stranger than fiction but the myths we indulge in give us the strength to carry on. Hope is found in the oddest of places. 

Maybe not so odd. If we want to be hopeful and not consumed by cynicism, maybe hope shows up where we need it most. This is the lesson I told myself I should take away from the scene before me. That I should cease being so wrapped around the axle of my fears, and nurture the flame of hope in my heart.

So I saw these two little girls, one African-American, one Caucasian, shouting hello and running gleefully through the leaves of an early fall day. They appeared to know nothing of the trash fire that is our election of the next President. They knew nothing of the weight on my heart, my troubles with the universe. And they did not need to to. Watching them say hello and embrace each other, it occurred to me that maybe I don't need to know either. What I need to know is that greeting a friend with a great big hug is the starting point to pushing back those great gray walls, and getting on with the business of living.

08 October 2016

Ant's Fear of Drowning

water was falling-rising
in the humid fecund dark
long before we knew
each others names
years in the underground
before her heart lit the gloom
mine knew it was love
the day she said brightly
the sound of creaking stairs
made a lonely house a home
rain fell faster than evasion
tunnels filling in a liquid rush
i retreated to my chambers
above the torrent and swirl
waiting patiently in a dark
that refused quiescence
trembling hands and feet
skimming the seep below
hoping the heart would survive
such terrible wonderful deluge

02 October 2016

Movie and a Dinner

Quiet out here on the headland tonight. Slow breeze, barely moving the dry grass so no whispers there. The crickets and katydids are up to their usual hijinks, but they sound restrained. Even the sea is subdued. It undulates sluggishly with waves that caress the shore rather than pound it. The seething of the tide laps faintly over me as I sit by the open window, absently rubbing the sore spot on my right calf, a remnant of an agitated dream that gripped me before dawn. I never knew phantom kicks could be so painful.

The light fades from the sky. The clouds hovered most of the day, but it never felt gloomy. Nice for this time of year. Such a welcome relief from a stubborn summer heat so oppressive it felt fascist. the morning felt so good I walked the shore, out to the lighthouse and back. A few shards of sea glass needed up in my pockets, and now adorn the mantel above the hearth. There was the serendipitous find, too, of a wayward lobster trap caught on the jetty. To my surprise it still had a lobster and some crabs stuck in it. There was no buoy attached so no way for me to tell who it belonged to. I lugged it back to the cottage, extracted the lobster and the crabs to a pair of rusty buckets filled with seawater. The trap I left on the porch to dry. Dinner was halfway made.

My leg ached. The dream had knotted it up. The walk could not quite untie it. The same was true for my head. Damn that dream. A familiar theme in an unfamiliar setting. You know a place that you think you have never seen but somehow you know it is there? Yeah, like that. I woke up nearly screaming and kicking at something with my right leg. My eyes were barely open when my calf cramped up. I curled up under the covers and hurriedly beat on my leg to loosen the knot, but not before my foot had bent downward from the tension. The muscle felt like a steel ball under the skin. Hurt like a sonofabitch. My heart was pounding from the dream, and I shook.

Slow march of the waves is hypnotic. Not nearly the battle anthem of heavy surf. I am fidgeting with the lighter on my desk, willing myself not to fire up a smoke. One side effect of the hell-hot summer is that the urge to smoke has nearly died down. Been a week or more since I last had one. All to the good, I think. 

The cottage smells good. It is home tonight. The mixture of salt air and seafood gumbo simmering away is one of the finest scents a man could ever draw into himself. Something about the tang and savor of the two makes me wonder if that is what the kitchens in heaven smell of. Maybe someday I'll find out. But not now. Not tonight. The gumbo is near ready, a sublime mix of found and foraged foodstuffs I discovered while cleaning the fridge and pantry. Lucky is the man who can bring home eats from the sea.

Time to dish up. Sipping a beer while giving the gumbo a few last, slow stirs, I like I had company for the evening. Friends and family, flitting around just outside the edges of my vision. People I treasure, people I miss, a few ghosts. The feeling surges when I sit down at the table with my heavy white bowl filled with goodness. The dream comes back to me, a movie before my mind. I am running, running, somewhere in the labyrinthine tunnels of a building I cannot name. Heavyset men in dark uniforms are chasing me, I'm running towards some sound and light. Voices call out to me, urging me on even as faint cries behind me try to drag me back to a coal-black night. I lash out flailing, kicking, as something brushes my ankle. I wake up or come to, the aroma of the gumbo gently bathing my face.

Grief is a peculiar beast, and tricky. It nearly got me there, in those tunnels far from the sea. But I made it out this night. Silver threads stretching from some humans here on earth and from some who are no longer of this mortal coil made sure that I did. Breathing deep, I wipe my eyes and take up a spoonful of goodness. The warmth on my tongue meets the warmth flowing into my hear while the waves outside the window offer up quiet acclaim. I raise my glass to the spirits at my table, come to join me for dinner.