Friday, September 4, 2009

Between Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, and Apatake, Tuamotus, there are 525 miles of open ocean

"So you were dreaming about guzzling strawberry-flavored cod liver oil while getting shot out of a cannon?" "Yeah, and when I landed, somebody handed me a greasy pork sandwich."

There is a narrow channel through the coral--on the fourth day the wind changes, and we miss it by a mile—means two more days zigzagging along the northern coast.

We're being tested, I say, and if we're found wanting, we will be punished again.

So I've learned. I stay calm. I realize I even feel happy out here. The atoll looks beautiful, those bursts of aquamarine before the breakers hit the coast, the yellow and green palms against the gray sky. We tack, the coast shrinks again.

Tallulah has stopped saying "Ready go" but every picture in her books is a picture of meat. We don't have any more meat. Or eggs. We have beans. This type of family togetherness begins to strike me as unnatural.

Adam has been at the tiller since three in the morning. Late that afternoon, I hear an onrush of water against the hull and feel the boat straining against the wind. We're less than two miles from the channel into the lagoon. Adam adjusts the sails under the gray sky, I’m steering, thinking up recipes using eggs. The wind seems to grow tired, then it renews itself. Suddenly we're at the entrance. And we're shooting through that narrow channel. The cobalt current rushes against us, the water is rippling, corrugated. Wind holds steady then falters. We can see in there. The water is turquoise. We can feel the ancient summons of the tide. Dusk is falling. I'm struggling to hold the tiller straight, Tallulah piggyback, lighthearted in this ecstatic rush of elements. She wants to know what dad is doing up there, lifting a palm to the wind. Talking to Yemaya, I suggest. She sings a wordless tune, and the wind suddenly blows. We burst into the open waters of the lagoon, lavender clouds against the illuminated gray of the sky. The anchorage is deserted except for a huge Australian boat, the crew staring at us as we race past. In the sheltered shallow waters drop anchor as light is extinguished like the falling of a curtain. Is this paradise?

There are many devils in the army fallen from heaven, who chose Lucifer and await his command in the struggle against God. And so this paradise of blues and greens has its fallen angel, alcoholic and alone, his eyes obscured by cheap sunglasses, a bag of black pearls at his side. He drinks Ricard. Tying off his large open boat to ours he boards, bringing misshapen pearls, toys for the baby. He sits and drinks, as if awaiting some communication that’s slow to come. The bottle is empty. Adieu, he says, without meaning it of course, and settles himself again. We pour him Cuban rum, to placate, assuage, and sit in the silence. At last, the invisible sign, and with a cry, he descends again to his brilliant corner of hell.

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