As the island of Barbados was unveiled by the pure-light of day, two tanned figures walked away from the transplanted shadows of a few well-placed royal palms, heading towards the shore. The young couple, he with blondish hair and an infant child in his arms and she, fairer but ruddily complected, her left arm stretched around both, crossed the newly smooth sand and the wispy grasses of the upper beach, the front yard of their moravian style cottage. Though neither could be accused of being materialists, this structurally simplistic, eye-pleasing edifice offered an unmistakable air of serenity and strength, the essence of life, which made them feel light, and at ease.
In this way they walked nearly every morning since a need to be closer to family and the desire to make a fresh start brought them to the island, a peaceable harbor in the storm of an American social climate fraught with a backlash of guilt and spiritual turmoil, the unwanted stepchildren of change. This morning ritual was made, not out of a sense of obligation or need, but because their daily pilgrimage was as natural to them as the involuntary beating of one’s heart and as inconsequentially essential as the taking of bread and water for one’s nourishment.
Sometimes they would speculate about or marvel at the sea and what lay beyond; what sights, scents or sounds might be beheld in distant lands such as Cyprus, Indonesia or Sri Lanka. They preferred to consider the warm lands of the world because, like their parents, they were drawn to the comfortable climes, places where life’s necessities could be kept to a minimum.
Their conversation came flowingly, with the ease of a mountain stream and would rise and fall like the ocean swells which appeared consistently on the shallow sand bars beyond the surf fishermen as they strung line and laid their nets in the ever-present sea. The two didn’t readily acknowledge the fishermen but only focused on them between thoughts, using their deliberate and precise movements like a musician makes use of a metronome, to keep time. They gazed intently at these energetic men as one might gaze at a flickering candle flame, in profound meditation.
On this particular day and within one of these particular moments, Olivia leaned forward and spoke deliberately:
“I can almost see the canoes and huts and the beautiful brown girls bathing in the sea. What must it have been like here four hundred years ago?”
As she spoke, the morning sun shot warm and piercing rays of light into the faces of the three, reflecting their light into the world. The shore began to grow humid, sultry and pleasantly heavy as the passive force of the sun encouraged the static air to gravitate skyward, toward a heavy, water-laden cumulus which would soon fall as a gentle summer rain, completing the necessary cycle which offers a watery infusion of life to the mountains, rivers, and the sea in front of them.
Morgan said nothing but instead pictured himself sitting there in the days before the colonists and traders. He saw himself as a young native boy preparing for a day of fishing or hunting. And then, his eyes at once fixed on the fisherman, his gaze rose above their heads and he became entranced by the sea.
It surged without crashing and seemed to breathe, pushing and pulling at the sugary sand just as gentle, knowing hands caress the skin, and this, coupled with the charming industry with which the fishermen went about their day, served to free the stream of conversation for several hours until it seemed, the rest of the world, or perhaps just the island, was waking up to the new day.
They came together this morning to “baptize” their new child in the sea, which was done with little ceremony except for the recitation of a few paraphrased lines from Dylan Thomas, and the addition of a request that the sea spirits take good care of their son Dylan August.
They sat down again, Dylan wiggling then settling in his mother’s arms to nurse.
“Have I told you about my great grandfather?”
“Tell me again.”
“He was a bicycle salesman, not a guy who sold bicycles but the guy who had what people needed like tools and things and he rode around the island on his bike selling stuff. He was born here in 1885…
And time cast forth his mortal creature
To drift or drown upon the seas
Acquainted with the salt adventure
Of tides that never touch the shores
He who is rich will be made the richer
By sipping at the vine of days.
– Dylan Thomas
About the author:
As the publisher of SALT magazine, a regional ocean sports magazine, Philip has gained something of a following in Southern California. He has also been published in Blue Edge magazine (which included an interview with Jack Johnson), The VC Reporter, The Surfer’s Path (UK), the Ojai Visitor’s guide, Fishing Stories magazine in Australia and others. Philip has worked in various fields including everything from carpentry to graphic design. He studied Comparative Literature at UC – Santa Cruz and has traveled extensively. His other writing projects include a sequel to Ticket to Ride that chronicles the life of Dylan Blake, the child of Morgan and Livy, now an adult trying to make sense of his own generation, and finding his own place within it.
“That’s a wonderful piece honey, it reads like poetry,” She put the magazine on the coffee table.
“Thanks… the poet laureate of Conset Bay,” Morgan said smiling.
“Well finish your coffee and we’ll take Dylan down to the water.”
“Shuwa,” said Olivia, feigning a New York accent and smiling like an Armstrong pinup.
Morgan put a copy of the magazine into his filing cabinet and noticed a yellowed note stuck against the inside of the drawer. He went cold.
Olivia moved closer, noticing the change in his disposition.
“What is it honey?”
Morgan handed her the note.
“I think I’ve mentioned Psalm.”
“Yeah he… your old friend from the islands, right?”
She read out loud,
“I’m sorry, I just can’t,
I killed them”
“Aristotle told me… Psalm had gone to some sort of ‘love-in’ with his wife and their daughter. There was a lot of stuff going around, you know, it was like 1970, the height of psychedelia. On the way home he crashed his car, killing his wife and daughter.”
“Oh no Morgan… that’s why…”
“Yeah… and he did a lot of acid after that.”
Images of Vietnam and Woodstock flashed into Morgan’s mind. He then saw his Uncle Norman as his father described him, and finally Uncle Jack in his dress blues.
The phone rang. Morgan walked to the coffee table where the phone was sitting next to a copy of SEA. On it’s cover it read “Melville’s Ghost” by Morgan Blake. He picked up the phone and Olivia picked up the other line.
“Morgan, it’s your father.”
Morgan smiled and breathed.
“Hey dad, it’s been a while.”
“A few years.”
“Well your mom prevailed on me…”
“She’s good and we’re good. I’ll understand if you’re still angry with me and…”
“Angry? I’ve been hoping for this. I’m glad you called. I hope you don’t mind but I wanted to…”
“It was my move,” William interrupted, “Your mom saw your article in that magazine and I called the office.”
“You know dad, it’s ok. We’re ‘baptizing’ our boy today.”
“Another Blake,” William said excitedly.
“Yeah, the name goes on.”
“We’re only a few of hours away. Had to get back to the East.”
“Go ahead Morgan.”
“Thanks for everything you did before I ever knew that you were doing anything for me. I know you did your best.”
“I, Morgan, I…” William’s voice trailed off and Morgan knew he was crying.
“I’m ok with everything dad.”
“Can we get together soon? Your mother would love to see you… and I would too kid.”
“Door’s always open.”
“What’s my grandson’s name?”
“After Dylan Thomas.” William finished, “perfect.”
“We’re in Conset Bay dad, had to get away.”
“I know about getting away.”
“I guess you do.”
“I’m not trying to get away from myself anymore.”
“Well good, your grandson’s going to want to have you around, all of you.”
“When will we see you?”
“Next week is Thanksgiving and Livy’s mother will be here. Why don’t you and mom come then? Just call when you get to the island.”
My search for cover art for this, the premier and winter issue of SEA took me to the East Coast, and more specifically the Old Dartmouth Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where I hoped to secure permission to reproduce “Peche du Cachalot.” I felt it would be perfect for the cover. It has a cold, wintry, blustery feeling indicative of the season and it conveys that same sense of the power and drama of the ocean which we hope to convey within the pages of SEA.
Of course I didn’t need to travel all the way to Massachusetts to obtain the photo-transparency but, having read Moby Dick when I was in college, and, having grown up in New England, I had a strong desire to return to my old stomping grounds and those of Herman Melville.
After stopping by the museum and taking care of the business of the cover art, I decided to head down to the waterfront to have a look around before making my way back to Boston and home.
The sun had set and there was very little light by the time I reached the shore. Wanting to get another look at the transparency (cover art), I quickly opened the envelope, perhaps to put myself in closer touch with the feeling of this place in Melville’s time. I reached in, and at the same time, a grayish cloud streamed out and curled down toward the ground. The cloud then took the shape of a person, a person from another time, a seaman from the nineteenth century. In front of me stood a young Herman Melville as clearly as Christ over the altar and as strange as it was, I wasn’t afraid. I could feel the presence of a warm soul.
Questions shot through my mind. Knowing that it’s the nature of ghosts to come and go as quickly as they please, I had to speak soon. Noticing that I looked slightly stunned, Herman introduced himself in his stately and dignified manner. Still not knowing where to begin, he began for me:
“I know that you’re one of my greatest fans and, being that you have set out to aid in creating the finest in ocean-related publications, I thought perhaps I might be of assistance in your endeavor. By the way, I managed to get a peek at the first issue. Not a bad start. We’re all very impressed up there… Dylan and Pablo send their best… You must have questions for me, fire away lad!”
“Thank you sir and… well… yes Mr. Melville, Herman… what drew you to the sea?”
“That, my son, is quite simple, and please,
‘Call me Ishmael… some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me,” * he paused, then said, I hope I haven’t been too long-winded.”
“No sir, that was perfect, thank you.”
“You’re welcome young man… is there anything else?”
“Actually yes… describe, as you see it, a perfect day at sea.”
“Hmm… as the editor of this fine publication you hold the responsibility of aiding your readers in grasping the overwhelming beauty of the sea so as to ensure a wider understanding of this part of the natural world and hence, to ensure its preservation. As surely as I now stand before you, I will oblige your request. Though apparition or phantom I may now be, I was once, physically, and am now, in the spirit world, a wanderer of the great seas. And though I now wander the seas of heaven, I can assure you that the seas I’ve ventured upon in this afterlife are no more or less fantastic than those I sailed on in my youth. My only wish is that I could be granted just one more earthly life so that I might appreciate better that which I once took for granted. But enough of my digression, you are a busy man, earthly time is short, and the tempers of men even shorter when forced to endure the digression of an old man, especially a dead one.”
“A perfect day at sea… ‘a clear, steel-blue day. The firmaments of air and sea are hardly separable in that all-pervading azure; only the pensive air is transparently pure and soft, with a woman’s look, and the robust and man-like sea heaves with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson’s chest in his sleep.
Hither, and thither, on high, glide the snow-white wings of small, unspeckled birds; these are the gentle thoughts of the feminine air; but to and fro in the deeps, far down in the bottomless blue, rush mighty leviathans, sword-fish, and sharks; and these are the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea.
But though thus contrasting within, the contrast is only in shades and shadows without; these two seemed one; it was only the sex, as it were, that distinguished them,’”* he paused, Good enough?’”
“Yes,” I said looking quickly at my watch. Time to go, I thought. And when I looked up to thank him, he had disappeared.
* passages from Moby Dick by Herman Melville reprinted courtesy of Penguin Books
Livy walked to the desk in the corner and looked over Morgan’s shoulder. Morgan wrote:
Family in the East
“Paradise” to the West.
North is not a choice to consider.
Weight, balance, weighing, balancing, quiet.
Too many doors in a room. Too many doors leading into and out of a room. You can either wait patiently, hoping something will appear in a doorway and follow it, choose one and go, and never come back, or seal off those that are less enticing, or all of them, and be happy with the room you find yourself in.
This room, their living room, could be best described as belonging to the “poetic aesthetic,” or the base camp for a National Geographer; patterns and prints mixed in an eclectic manner, an antique here, a borrowed table there, nothing quite thread-bare but also nothing quite new. But somehow, when arranged as an unlikely set, and with the addition of something colorful on every flat surface and almost every wall, it was like warm clothing against the cold in winter and refreshing and restful in the humid, cornhot days of summer.
Morgan’s answer and source of direction had finally come. From the island he’d left 4 years ago, he was contacted by Miko. His friend planned to begin publishing a magazine devoted to the publication of ocean-related fiction and he wanted Morgan to be its editor or at the very least for Morgan to write the introduction to the premier issue; did he have any ideas about art for the cover?
We’ve played this game of ‘just imagine’ long enough.
– Natalie Merchant
Waiting. This time, hopefully. Waiting for a response to resumes sent to the islands two weeks ago in the hope of obtaining a position with one of the small publications based there. Things were different in the islands now, Morgan thought. They were opening more to the world, becoming more cosmopolitan and might offer an opportunity for a young family to realize their dreams. Life is good. Only better by hearing word from the islands. Sometimes I can feel them, taste them, smell them. Do the islands want me back? Life is good.
Morgan and Olivia had now been together for nearly a year. Their love was like a comfortable raft with one oar. And with only one oar, they had to take turns in maintaining a course. Almost everything had fallen into place.
She was able to wire her work so they could wander. And while wandering Morgan had written, written about her and the things they did, and wrote about what he hoped for.
“You’re the perfect compliment to my life.”
“And you mine.”
“Just after finishing with my therapist, I felt so completely whole. But there was this feeling, a yearning, a knowing that I could be more than whole and… well… you came into mind… and New York… the New Yorker and you’re ‘little bits.’”
Trudy, we’ve been in Barbados for nearly a year now. We felt we had to get away from America for a little while. The Republicans are coming back in and it’s anyone’s guess where the country is headed. Morgan’s been wrestling with something that happened between he and his father some years ago. He’s mentioned a bit of it to me. Father was a vet, Vietnam, and something about an uncle that had done some inappropriate things to him. His father was a real mixed bag when Morgan was growing up, part Ghandi, part Hitler, struggling to make peace with his past while also struggling not to let his past get in the way of raising Morgan. They had a blow out when Morgan was seventeen. Morgan split and went to school, wandered for a bit, got some therapy, then sought me out. He’s been wonderful except for this dad thing. We’ve spent hours talking about it and I think it’s pretty well sorted. I think they just need to talk. His friend Psalm died about the same time, some hippy trippy character. Morgan has a way with letting characters into his life. Takes them in like strays and becomes too attached.
I’ve just finished my most recent piece for the New Yorker. It’s a goodbye to America, at least for now. We just want to be neutral for a while and Barbados feels right. Wish you were here. Somehow I feel that you are and that you always will be. And because of this I believe I can, and need, to give myself fully to the land of the living. I’m signing off now Trudy. I’ll see you when my times comes.
Seychelles by way of Zanzibar. Serenghetti for Morgan on the way back but now Seychelles, sea shells, the Indian Ocean. French settlers, Arab traders came first, 16th century, Shakespeare writing while mariners comb the earth in search of some or other splendor. 1742, taken, possessed. By 1770 the fondling was over and Seychelles was permanently settled. From then, domesticated, and no longer anyone’s wild notion of an outpost, no longer free to be alone with God, islands tamed. And if taming wasn’t enough then came the blemishes; slave trade, convicts, a spice trade as hot as and dirty as drugs.
Brits and Frogs fought over her like schoolboys in heat. And such was a century when Seychelles was a speck of light in the empire of Victoria on which the sun never set. Following with the mother country slavery went by the wayside and the early stirrings of independence mirrored an America of two hundred years ago. With 1976 came the first of the republics. This year a new constitution established the current one-party regime, known otherwise as the second republic. A republic: country with a president, not a monarch. Monarch butterflies, the winds of change, states of flux, this century seems to pivot at this point.
1593km East of Kenya, 2813km South of West India and 925km Northeast of Madagascar. An archipelago like Mexican wedding cookies sprinkled in the blue; an expanse of ocean interrupted by Mahe and dozens of others. Grand Anse greeting the sweep of monsoon soldiers, watery swords of energy, slicing their way south. Playing limbo with the equator the Seychelles ducks the cyclone but welcomes its gifts in good form; open ocean swells in a soft, close air.
Coralline and low slung like a sway back horse, habitation on these parts of the archipelago is best for the native birds who ask little for their sustenance. Their granitic sisters reach 6-1000km’s and flow with streams sufficient for larger settlements of human beings; verdant with white sand beaches.
People. European, Asian and African, the “locals” are the descendants of the first French settlers, African slaves, British sailors and traders. Indian, Chinese and Arabians came later. They speak Creole, a dialectic French, eclectic and mixed with everything aforementioned. Money, one might think it Third World, but in the order of things folks enjoy a relatively high standard. Upper middle income in the center of the sea, paradise without hunger. Healthy, smart, and well-read with 70 years to look forward to, the people of Seychelles are accommodating and peaceful, given to kindness and warm like Grandma’s afghan.
Surfers first began coming here early in this decade.
Bali High turned’em on. Jerry and the crew opened surfers to the idea to pushing beyond home.
“This is good stuff Liv, but before you go on, please don’t glorify surfers as a whole anymore. It’s tiresome and it just adds up to saying something like robbing banks is good if you’re as cool as Jesse James. There’s a lot of good to surfing but to try and raise the whole group to icon status is counterproductive. There’s a whole lot of idiots riding the coattails of men like Duke Kahanamoku and they don’t deserve it, and the Duke deserves a better legacy. People should be judged on a case-by-case basis. I understand you were getting stoked on something new but you’ve got to avoid being blinded by the false romance of it. Your editor will see it soon too. As soon as the adrenaline wears off.”
Rincon. Queen of the coast. Two boards, Morgan and I. There’s a richness here, a spirit to this place, a feeling of greatness, or a feeling that being here is a great thing. I’m just going to stay in the cove. Morgan’ll go up to a place called “Indicators.” The waves begin to break from up there and wrap around like pliable firelight lapping along the edge of a cobblestone point; a spit of land that reaches out to sea and collects the energy from places north and pulls it in.
Wax clacks against cold fibreglass, waxing up. Smells like warm places, coconut. The cold here makes the warmer seem that much better. We’ll go. We’ll go and we’ll come. We’ll come and we’ll go.
Morgan left Livy sitting in the cove. He smiled then walked along a small strip of sand that led to the top of the point and the take off point for the more adept. Livy sat looking at the sea, waiting for the spirit to take her. When the ocean was ready for her she would know. Stretch, she thought, and began to reach toward her toes. Breathe and stretch.
In a few minutes she was ready and walked to water’s edge. The first shock of the water sent tingles.
“A bit chilly,” she said out loud, then pushed the board in front of her and jumped on laying down. She’d timed it right and made it past the point where the waves would begin to break, paddling as fast as she could. She sat up and looked around. How lovely it must be to live here, she thought, a sheltered corner of sea. The sea salt filled her lungs and as she breathed it deeply she looked to the horizon and saw a new set of waves coming in. A surfer paddled then stood up and she could tell by the style with which the surfer made the first turn that it was Morgan. He pulled high on the wave, anticipating the coming section, then dropped low, slowed a bit, and disappeared behind the curtain of rolling water. She counted: One, Two, Three, Four, Five.
“Wow!” she said out loud, pleased with Morgan’s good fortune. That section connected to another and then another until Morgan was right in front of her. He turned up and over the shoulder of the wave and smiled at Livy as he did.
“That was a beauty,” she said.
“Thanks Sweets,” Morgan replied, “catching any?”
“I’ve just paddled out.”
“Well get on it,” he said smiling, “we don’t have much sun.”
“I’m just taking it in. You just get back up there and leave me alone.”
“It is beautiful here isn’t it?”
“Barbados’ll be even better.”
“A bit warmer too.”
“And we can stay a while.”
“Seychelles first though.”
“Yes Seychelles first…
A wave came to Livy now and she turned and paddled. She felt the rush of water beneath her and pushed up from her surfboard and came to her feet. Still awkward but getting there she slipped toward the bottom of the wave and dipped her head beneath the feathery lip as it pitched around her. She heard it sloshing all around her for a moment, slipped into a brief vision of tropical water, then got slapped in the head by the turning wave and rolled over into the shallows, spinning with it, then finding the surface. Her ears stung with the cold. She grabbed her board again and paddled back toward the horizon. In the distance was Ventura, and beyond that, Los Angeles.
“We’re in L.A. mum.”
“Me and Morgan…” Livy paused.
“Well sweetie… are you going to tell me who he is?”
“he’s wonderful mum. I can’t wait for you to meet him.”
“Well there’s another thing mum… I’m pregnant.”
“Oh how wonderful sweetie.”
“Yes, it is wonderful… he’s wonderful… and we’re in love.”
“Are you married?’
“Well no mum but…”
“That’s ok sweetie… as long as he loves you.”
“He does mum and we’re so much in love.”
“I’m so very happy for you. When will I see you?”
“We’re going to be traveling for a while… to Seychelles and maybe the Serenghetti… maybe toward the end of the year. We’re planning on being in Barbados by then and settling for a while… how does Thanksgiving sound?”