Tikehau is a multitude of magic. The water is the tone of turquoise. It is surrounded by coral and palm tree covered lands. Below the surface there is the beautiful and the dangerous and the beautifully dangerous; unicorn fish, sea snakes, white tip reef sharks, manta rays, puffer fish and a whole bunch of other things that I don’t know the names for.
A fishing village sits just behind our anchorage. It’s made of seven sea shanties. I swim to it. I walk through it. I find; barking dogs, a waving hand, fishing buoys suspended from trees, a palm forest, a smile, seashells, a beach of ghost-colored coral, and surfers who just dipped in for the swell.
I want to do everything and see everything and be everything, but I am wiped out. I drag through some days. I try to recover all the energy that I lost inside the sea. The sun hits hard on my shoulders. My eyes are still red and won’t dry.
I push beyond my exhaustion. We make friends at the surf break. The waves curl fast over the reef, so I try to surf, but mostly watch. I like riding small waves that flow long and slow. I like the waves of my life to move like this too, but they don’t always.
The owner of GoPro is at the break every day with his big black multi-level “dinghy.” He talks loud and often. He is a peacock and we all stare at his feathers. He gives the local boys free surfboards and cameras. He says hi to me. I want to blurt out a thousand ideas that I have for collaborating with them, but I don’t, I just wave hello and remain a mystery.
After surfing; we eat, we rest, we snorkel, we repair, we lay in hammocks, we squirt lime into our wounds- it stings, we rest again, we get up, we do georeference photo transects for the National Geographic coral mapping project. The sun waves goodbye.
I am in a dream inside of a dream, that is inside of another dream. Speaking of dreams, last night I wondered, what if every time you put your head on someone else’s pillow you dreamt their dreams? Like you were inside their head, their subconscious, their fantasies, their muckety muck. We would have to take care of our pillows, otherwise sleeping would be a total gamble, a real twilight zone.
All of our new friends come aboard Juniper to share a meal. They like my boat, one says “You have the light of the sun in your house.”
We talk story. We talk about the importance of living close to nature. We talk about how this virus is making everyone get back to their roots. We stare at a star that twinkles with all the colors of the rainbow. We dance. We play ukulele.
Two of the Tikehau surfer boys sing a song about me sailing. They make it up on the spot, they call it Tahitian rap style. Moana, Moana, Moana….Juniper…..Olivia. This is all I understand. Their voices are cosmic.
One of the boys, Teraro, has a fish farm on both sides of the pass. He says the fish corral into it on the new moon. He says his grandpa taught him that.
Teraro takes me to see the farm. We jump off the boat, over a fence, and into it. There are thousands of fish and sharks and bubbles. The currents throw me against the fence fast. I feel how trapped, how helpless, how frightened the fish are, as he spears one after another.
Fishing is easy in a cage, without the ocean and the blue, the spirit of the fish unravels and the fight for survival is weakened. The fish are almost like, “Go ahead, spear me, eat me, I’m too lost now to care.”
Teraro gives me a fish from his cage, I wonder if I will be able to taste it’s lack of freedom.
The roads here are made of water and the cars are all boats. He motors back to the main village without a light. It’s a 30 minute journey. I offer him a headlamp. He tells me, “The light is in my head… the map home is in my head.” He has memorized every piece of coral in this lagoon.
I think about the things I’ve memorized on my routes home. Nothing as poetic. Perhaps a tree or a park or someone’s garden, but mostly concrete, fast food places, and shops.
I wish I could say that I know my way home by the buzzing of a beehive, by the smell of honeysuckle, by the color of the hydrangeas, by the fields of heather, by this one magnolia tree, by the angle of a rising and setting sun.