MYSTIC MOUNTAIN MAMA
I don’t know what that falling galaxy on the horizon was. It stayed with me all night and disappeared at dawn. Perhaps it was never there, perhaps it is always there deep inside my lunar channel.
I arrive to Matuku at sunup. The island is a green Mystic Mountain Mama, and she is young, and forever rising. Imagine rainbows and surfable waves and whales. Inside her ring of reef, a humpback has just given birth to a calf so fresh to this world that the umbilical chord is still attached. A male humpback is flying through the air and shaking his juice just outside the reef. Maybe he is the father. Maybe this is his welcome-to-the-whale-tribe dance.
At Sevusevu the chief warns us that, “Women must wear skirts in the village.” Afterwards the women and I follow a mountain man up a mountain without our skirts. We pass red dragonflies and butterflies and purple morning glories. The mountain smells like earth in the strawberry of spring. And it feels good on my bare feet. And it is steep too, at some moments we are vertical, fists clenching to roots, toes curled. There is a horse in a pine forest. There is an ant biting my big toe. There is the sound of the ocean far below. It takes hours to reach the top, but from up there I can see the beginning and the end of earth. Floods and fires, fires and floods.
On the way down, mountain man climbs a coconut tree and feeds us coconuts. Then he lights a fire in the forest and smiles as the flames flood. He will plant seeds where that forest used to be.
That night I dream that dolphins are circling my boat, all night long, round and round. When I wake up I tell Holly my dream and she says she dreamt the exact same dolphin dream. Somehow I don’t find this odd.
OUT OF THE WOODS
The wind is gusting hard, straight down the green peaks. Weighing anchor is laborious for all of us. It’s as if the Mystic Mountain Mama doesn’t want us to go, but go we must. I must go because I need soap and because every other boat is going and I don’t feel safe here, on this remote island, alone. I’m beginning to wonder if I feel safe anywhere alone.
People are collecting sea creatures along the reef pass as I exit. I wave. They wave. I wonder what they wonder?
It’s noon and I have 100 nautical miles of ocean ahead of me. The swell is bouncing the boat like a basketball. I’m on a broad reach with a double reefed main and a decent amount of head sail. I’m waiting to see what the wind is going to do beyond the shadow of the mountain, before I let Juniper fly with the fish.
There are rainbow-making rain showers, but nothing too intense. I feel different out here today. No longer paralyzed. At peace. Embracing the expanse. Like all I had to do was admit that my fear was there, and tell it to bug off. Now my fear is playing dead in a corner somewhere, waiting for the right moment to rise. I hope my pet geckos devour it for lunch.
Night conjures up a a lot of squalls and stars, but they don’t shake me. They do, however, shake my second reef line off the wench, which changes the shape of everything and breaks my lazy jacks….again. Those things are always breaking.
It’s 9 AM and I’m out of the woods and back on the grid. Passing Beqa Island. There is a thud beneath the boat. It thud thud thud thud thuds and makes one hell of a thud as it hits the stern. I look behind me. I have just run over an entire tree; branches, leaves, roots. At sea, I suppose it’s foolish to believe one is ever out of the woods.
I’m headed towards Pacific Harbor to reprovision. I reach the pass around 11, then decide to keep sailing west towards Natadola. Because that anchorage is more picturesque, and I feel like riding horses, and Diarm has offered to meet me there with food and water and anything else I desire.
Natadola is 50 NM direct downwind and the wind is light, so it’s slow going, and slow I go. I’m out here chasing a dying wind and it’s clocking this way and that like it always does as it’s abandoning the atmosphere.
The sun drops and a cold breeze blows between my bones. I look behind me. A wall of squalls rolls off the mainland and devours Beqa island. Roaring with thunder, like a pack of dogs howling at the ghosts of night, and I’m grateful that I’m not back there getting bitten.
The storm travels east of me and transforms into a symphony of light. Every cloud surrounding me is electric, luminous, dynamic, ominous.
It is the wildest lightning storm I’ve ever done seen. I can’t tell how close or far it is, but it feels like I can touch it and it wants to touch me. And it’s so big that my friends on an island 60 NM away can see it!
Most of the jazz stays up in the sky, but I see seven bolts shoot out of the clouds and straight down to the ocean, electrifying the water around me. I don’t know how many fish got electrocuted… ten, ten thousand?
I’m all iced up. I can’t move. I can’t think. I don’t know what to do. I look around for another boat. There are no other boats. I wish there was another boat so I could radio them, and become their friend, and we could sail in the storm side-by-side, and hold each others hands, and do all the absurd things that people do when they think they are living their last moments on earth.
I call Diarm, “Lightening is striking the sea! Again and again and I’ve never seen it do that before! It’s magnificent and terrifying. What do I do?” He says, “Scary stuff. I’ve sailed through storms like that before. There’s nothing you can do but reduce sail and hope it doesn’t hit you. Even if it does, you won’t die, you’ll just lose all of your electronics. Don’t worry babe, you’ve got the luck of the Irish with you.”
The sun is long gone. Natadola is still 20 NM away. The clouds are charged. I’m charged. I debate entering an unknown harbor at night to seek shelter or sailing onward and trying to outrun the storm. I don’t want to hit reef, so I high tail it.
I turn on the engine in case I get struck and my electronics are shot. I throw my phone and gps tracker in the oven. I slap both reefs in the mainsail. Then I just go down below and pray my guts out, Psalm 107, in case you were wondering. Juniper’s cabin is getting lit up by the glow of bolts. Blue and close and careless. I scream at them, “What a blessing was that stillness as he brought them safely into harbor!”
I make it to Natadola by midnight, lightning chasing me the whole way. The anchorage is empty except for an unlit catamaran that I almost hit. It’s called Moonfish.
By 1:30 AM I fall asleep, fried and frazzled. Thirty minutes later a longboat comes and starts banging on my hull. I go outside in a daze. A fisherman is demanding that I give him a blanket. I don’t understand. I am alone. Freaked out. It’s the crack of night.
I just scream a bunch and think about objects I can grab to scare him away – like the fire extinguisher next to my left knee- he finally leaves.
When I wake up, I row to shore and sneak my way into a hotel buffet. Then I go to see my friend Mere. She lives in the village behind the hotel and runs a massage and hair-braiding tent on the beach. She can get you a coconut or rent you a horse too, if you fancy.
Mere’s mom is there sitting at a table. Arms crossed. She reminds me of a mafia lady boss. She is wearing a bright pink shirt and big square sunglasses and listening to Fijian hip hop tunes. Mere’s mom and I end up having a dance party in front of a bougainvillea bush to a song about cannabis. It was on her playlist.
A whole lot can happen in twelve hours.