Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Swimmer part nine

But the swimmer . . .

The hypocrite swimmer has himself lost all interest in these arguments. He is intently reaching the shore in his little boat paddling carefully among familiar corals, following the narrow channel in toward the beach. He has already forgotten his panic and is merely tired as from a long journey. Cool in the bilges lie half a dozen mackerel: two for supper, two to smoke for tomorrow and two to give away. He looks up as the prow grinds into the sand. There in the palms' ragged shade is his lopsided hut, there the tangle of thorn shrubs concealing a mahogany-colored brackish lagoon, in the distance the spit of mangroves walking on water. He sees it all not through the eyes of an oceanographer, still less of a conservationist. Only in a nomad's or a wanderer's gaze is the sea not lost to him, nor any less wild. So affectionately does the scene bound toward him and leap into his eye that he knows this private way of looking reveals a landscape he must have inherited, or which was somehow fixed for him as a child, before he ever saw it for the first time.

For this is his ocean, and at last he knows he has always seen it thus, toward the end of afternoon: the great white clouds heaping themselves out of nothing against the blue, their tall reflections falling on a glassy sea whose tide lies stilled at low. Reef tops knobble the surface, the kelps and grasses float as rough brown patches among which the white clouds lie in fragments. Children stand a hundred yards out, up to their ankles, legs angular as wading birds', filling coconut shells and tins with winkles. They dabble among the white clouds. Clear voices drift ashore, tatters of a heedless present.

It is the moment of being aghast at the sad miracle of having condensed from nothing, of watching white clouds, of dispersing again. But how beautiful it is; and how pierced by it we always are as it leaps through us, and leaping, vanishes.

Seven-Tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds, James Hamilton-Paterson

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