“There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insect’s wings.” Chief Seattle’s Speech – The Earth is Precious
Chief Seattle’s speech hangs on the wall at the pearl farm. I first read it years ago and cried myself into a citrus desert. I can’t read any part of it now, without doing the same. Patrick, who started the pearl farm, says he makes everyone read it and he watches for their reaction. It’s his way of deciphering one’s heart. Patrick is a pioneer, an inventor, and an oyster cult leader. He tells it like it is too, the way that all French people do.
Patrick helps me repair Juniper. After seeing that the reef lines aren’t positioned on the boom aft of the reefing clews, and therefore don’t allow the mainsail to fully flatten, he says, “You made it here on good karma alone.” Then he calls me a “wonderful nutcase” and tells me I have a lot to learn about physics. I cry at this too, because it’s so gosh darn honest and true. He follows with, “But I have a great respect for you sailing upwind here, on this boat. Not many people would do what you did.”
I find a book on Patrick’s shelf, French for Beginners. The first thing it teaches you to say in response to “Ça va ?” (how are you?) is “Pas tres bien” (not very good.) I like the sincerity of the culture. I like too, “la bise,” which is the double-cheek kiss that the French do upon arriving and departing.
I will miss all of this, because it is time I depart and head back into the mouth of madness. My visa is expiring and my inter-island flight just got cancelled. So now I have to push back my flight to the United States, which will leave me a rebel, with 91 days in the country instead of the allotted 90. I call the border police at the airport in Tahiti to explain the situation- that I am stuck on Ahe.
The man who answers says, “It’s ok, when you fly back to the states, just come to the airport early.” I say, “What if they put me in jail?” He laughs, “Then I will bring you oranges.” Me, “Thank you. You sound nice, do you need a concubine? I really like your country.” He laughs, then finds me on Facebook, but doesn’t report the fact that I called and have a legitimate reason for overstaying my visa. The following day, his colleagues swarm the marina where I was docked in Pape’ete – looking for me, but I am still in Ahe!
I spend my last day, as an outlaw, savoring the quiet of Ahe. I swim the reef, searching for a marine hermit crab. It’s hairy and orange with antenna-eyes. I never find it, but I find other things, like neon-lipped giant clams that close up when my moon face gets near; then flower, then close, then flower. They look like kaleidoscopic honeypots.
There is a Tahitian myth of a young king, Rata, who became king because his father and uncle were swallowed by a giant clam on their way to Pitcairn. Rata grew up engulfed by an appetite for revenge, but he needed a boat. One day, he captures forest elves and they build him a canoe from a tree that he admired. The elves were magic, of course, and it only took them one night to construct it. Rata set sail for Pitcairn at sun-up, with an army of elves…perhaps. They found the monster mollusk, which plucked them from the sea and slurped them down like slugs. With his spear, Rata sliced their way out of the clam, then rescued the remains of his father and uncle and sailed home beneath a red sky of victory.
Enchanting, isn’t it? Men and elves stuck inside a giant creature that resembles a cross between a blacklight poster and a woman’s nether regions. If a clam ever catches me, I hope that it will be neon green and purple, with a breakable shell.
After hours, I get out of the water, oversaturated, and hot with fever for this creature I have yet to see. Where are those orange underwater crabs? Maybe they are hiding from the magnetic eruptions of the sun? Maybe the giant clams ate them?
I move on to playing dress-up with hermit crabs, which are far easier to find. Vanity runs rampant among them- have you ever seen one with an ugly shell? No, you haven’t, unique- perhaps, ugly- never. Supposedly, hermit crabs will try on other shells for size, if they are prettier than their own. We run this experiment in a bowl, with hermit crabs and lots of empty shells. The sun sets, but the crabs never get naked- which is all we want- to see them naked, shell-less, undressed.
Yes, this is my life. What has become of me? I don’t know. I’m a felon, collecting sunrise shells, and trying to get crabs naked. I am more a child than ever and there is a freedom in that. A freedom that is tactile. Remember that freedom we had before we become self-conscious and realized the ways in which we split from and contrast, in comparison to others? Before the blushing began, life was savored without thoughts that burn holes into our hearts. Remember when the patterns on the wings of a butterfly mattered more to us than the odd shape of ourselves? Remember catching fireflies in a jar, just to watch them glow, and how their glow meant more to us than our own. And how we’d watch them glow until our eyes drooped and the lemon drops fell? Remember that summer rainstorm and eating peaches and stomping barefoot in the mud?
I had to remember all of this, because I became very distraught over my eye- which is all fine and dandy now- and realized how foolish I was being. I wanted to be less like the vain hermit crabs and again, like a child, who lavishes nature with all their attention. I wanted to start doing things for the taste and not for the hunger. Cause when I am hungry, I can eat and eat and eat and never get full. Know what I mean?
I wonder, as we age, do we become more like ourselves or less like ourselves? I think perhaps we are purest the closer we are to birth and death. My friend, Sam Jayne, died a few weeks ago and sometimes I find myself in wild outbursts over it. He wasn’t close to death, he just got too close to it…. somehow.
I met him in the snow, in Brooklyn. We were young. Love As Laughter. He made music that melted that snow, and when it puddled and froze, we ice skated across it. When the spring rose in colored buds, we banged on drums. Then there was summer and Rockaway and waves. There isn’t one wretched thing I could say about Sam, he always was, and forever will be, the sun. Here is a short, multi-part film, of me and Sam and everyone we knew at the time – we were all artists, just trying to get by, and not one of us can act.
As I write about Sam, I realize that beauty always blooms from the dark. Name me one thing that isn’t born from darkness? That is life before birth, for every living thing. Humans- a dark belly. Plants- a dark earth. Reptiles, birds, fish- a dark egg. I see death as a temporary return to the darkness from which we all came. It’s the beginning and ending of life’s circle. But a circle never really ends or begins, does it? The ending is the beginning and vice versa. Therefore, is birth a death, and death a birth?
You see, this is the type of philosophizing one does after trying to get a hermit crab naked. You really must try it sometime, darling. And as you do, remember that there was a moment within human evolution- millions of years ago- before bipedalism, when we all crawled like crabs- hand over foot. I wonder if our future is made of wings?