“in the ash, a skiff”

Season III | Theme

1 | in the ash, a skiff

This was a day. A sight, cast in its brevity by a burgeoning youth to a day before the future, before the snowy fog, and the rile of windmills tilting, to a day before forever when, waxen and wholehearted, arise the migrant stirrings of one’s memory. This was time. A famous naturalist once observed the breadth of time, and the depth of space, engraved on the “wings of a butterfly,” like an Old Master’s painting, it is a grand work of art, a notepad for kaleidoscope scribbles, the progress of nature, perhaps, or that is “evolution.” It could be imagined this way, with a browser, in a rocking chair in New York, in Coney Island, recovering from acute heart failure. Without any aspersion, one would expect, in her scheme of somehows, if one spoke to her for hours, if it was possible, she scarcely, and not all converses, – the wisp of a glimpse is most probably a delusion, or a more priceless quest, a crusade, however fanciful, and today, and only today, because tomorrow has a new paradise; that is, to actually live one life as a butterfly, and certainly a monarch, and she would clamor in a great, and lofty display of the geometries of the art.

She always regaled in devotion to the monarch, and how the butterfly traversed the great continents of the Earth. She may guess the time of their migration, when, free of the earth-bound, mundane life of caterpillars, a monarch can begin the journey without any protest or complaint, occasionally pause to see national parks, the forests, or somebody’s yard, explore the curious aegis of obscure flower beds, hives of bees, and in a year, with a score of butterflies, a crowd, or swarm, become officially a “kaleidoscope,” and return, as is the habit, to the very same origin of the adventure. A swarm is a kaleidoscope, which Dictionary.com also defines as a “changing pattern of colors, and shapes”; with a single tilt in concert of the laws of physics, light and reflection mirror alternate images of design, and tries a prism like stained glass. We can spend a decent amount of energy on these “stuff,” but in passing, it seems, we ought to wonder if these messages from Nature upon the chrysalides are meant for us to know.

The odyssey of butterfly migration has been the subject of research. A husband and wife team of Canadian scientists, known as the Urguhars, provided details in the last century about the annual ventures of monarchs to a village in Mexico. They gather for All Souls Day. The Urguhars discovered their veritable afghan, a mass of monarch butterflies, grounded within these Mexican hills, and all about the trees of the Michoacan. A festival to honor of these monarchs, it is called Día de Muertos, is commenced every year now, the “Day of the Dead.” The monarch butterflies arrive in manifest gala, and by the thousands, the very same ones who migrated from the field in Mexico twelve months ago. This was the Urguhar’s point. Día de Muertos celebrates how the “souls of the young, and departed monarchs rise to greet the living.

Strangely, she never forbid the possibility about how the floury wings of a butterfly, if touched, rub into a white powder, and the insect may die. She says it is myth, which one didn’t know, and it was untrue; the masterful work of Nature that is recorded upon their wings can never be expunged, and we could be the better of it. She would be among them, in the Michoacan village, every year, ah, a “painted lady,” a cardui; and if their wings were whited, as in Hebrews, as it was said, and if it was fatal, they may be angels.

1 pixThere is a city in Florida, near Hobe Sound, on the Indian River in Martin County, situating a House of Refuge. The denizens of Stuart’s beach side have for many years surveyed the Atlantic to liberate survivors from shipwrecks, and, later, in sure, and good faith, and also courage, host the jolted sailors, the good, and the bad, at Gilbert Bar. One can be mindful of it, mindful of a similarity, because the Gilbert Bar House was nearby, and it was rather like it, the diversity, that is, and not just Ardi. There was the abrupt advent of two lazy moons, one jet-dark, and navy, like a marble, slungshot into the daytime sky, because it never seemed to rest; and the other, withal the color of a fruitcake, twice in its size; one could have complained, or fretted about the ungainly ken of the second moon, but probably wouldn’t, as this was a serious place, and the sea constantly rued in, and out of the amber shade. Ardi would shrug, noticing the sea change sometimes, and also sometimes not. He lived on the shoreline, in a house, and to him this was Icarus, the place where we gathered; Ernie said it wasn’t Icarus, and Ardi gestured in agreement, for some reason, only assuring us it was a strange, and temporary place. Ardi was a gracile, “bonobos chimpanzee,” and Ernie said he was often wrong. It inspired the feeling this would be a short visit, and without too great a dismay; there was, in the ash, Ardi’s wooden skiff; it was larger than a canoe, like the ones used for dijection, and smaller than a real boat, and it was his pastime, Ardi’s regular entertainment. The skiff was completely unnecessary for travel: one may spread his arms and commence to anywhere. Ardi guarded the skiff like a Porsche. It was moored on the beach, his beach, Icarus.

It was a considerable stretch of beach, several miles, with pearly, white sands like the Caribbean, and it was populated by more than a few. It suggested the various journeys with SUM, and with Aji, days when, prodded along by the seethe of the sirens, and their aural welcome viscerally gracing the shores of orbs, the sound seemed to bounce from the rows of fronds, and palm; most astounding were the elastic moments of the situation, the workaday discerns unbound by conventions of time, and space, and space, and time. The legend of the sirens, – some would hear them, and some would not, – were well-known in the ancient row between Greece, and Rome; unsettling, the sound never abated a deeper fear, the voice of the invisible women singing in harmony to purposefully woo foreign ships to their demise upon the jagged Grecian rocks. But this was a breathless corollary, as if one had become Greek, and a native of Greece, and been guided to land on the beach, and the sirens returned to their hobbies.

The landing at Icarus, if it was Icarus, was more like the refuge at Hobe Sound, which was mentioned during coverage of the tragic Hurricane Dorian, a name likely to be retired by the national weather service. Dorian was a Category 5 hurricane, in August, 2019. It poised above the Bahamas for days. Hurricane Dorian virtually reclaimed the Abacos for the ocean floor, and the Sea of Abaco for the sea, as if a to renovate the soffit of underwater caves; it is a second nature, how Nature minds to its agenda, keeps to its business; nearby in Florida, Miami’s residents stared blankly at the Dorian storm from the calm, and sultry South Beach. The storm chose abruptly a northern path, north to Halifax, and to Canada; oh, why not. In the while, one could stand in the gust of hurricane force winds near antique oaks, flailing whichway like windshield wipers, and feel the strength in Nature’s great, great arm, its bona fides, its “good faith.” Nature in quick moments confides how it loves every place, every place there is; and it may have the occasion to bring one along; it is only a muse, of course, there is perhaps no moment of greater danger; but Nature nods with a mighty joy, it is too busy for vigils, and it all belongs to Her, and wiser fears, in any sake, are useless.

One may like to describe the rest of Icarus, or any of it, – the darkness, the dull lights of stars, — but there were no other senses; the mind could avail only the temporary answers, or suppose imaginary planks over a problematic brooks; we all knew this wasn’t Icarus but, suffice, it was Icarus, for the sake of argument. The nights were more pleasant, he told her, if one was still adventurous; how it was astounding, stretching about, and around, there was penultimate space, – dark, darker, and darker, every grasp more, and before one could grasp again.

The wonder, the final wonder of it all, was too broad and too wide, too grand to absorb, with a single blink. Ernie said this was an illusion. Ardi fetched the skiff, and tended to other matters; if he disappeared from sight, Ernie would emerge from the house, as if a general supervisor was necessary, and sidestepping and sidewards, trudge to the frontage of dunes, and onto the beach. “Here he is,” it was heard; and people were relieved. Ernie explained in the late morning how the Lenape, the Indians from Manhattan, whom he knew as the “Len-AH-pay,” were camped further west on the beach, and required attention. He may have assumed the needy Indians were Lenape, substituted their name for some other tribe, for Cherokees or Seminoles, or Plains Indians, or even Mayans. It didn’t matter to Ernie. It was Ardi’s beach, and Ernie, a conductor of trains, was a guest, and they were never seen together. Ernie rued several times, “I have a train to catch,” and there was a joke somewhere, therein, but he’d roll his eyes, and add, “Some-day.”

We would make our way in the sky of Icarus in Ardi’s skiff, the two of us, and one of them Ardi, an unlikely pairing with an elderly chimp, but it was a ride, and the landscape was entirely unknown; there was nothing but time; no longer any hurry to act. A century, – two, three? – passed in footsteps. Ardi’s brow rose, and fell, as if to allow it. Time was detached from space, Ernie said; one could make these treks alone. Ernie wasn’t especially exact; for instance, he was pressed by the gathering for a scientific illustration, and fond of humoring those who asked, “if it wasn’t packed, it can’t be unpacked.” He expected people to be miffed, and to strafe for more information, or a better description of their state; was this a “pathway,” he asked, Aji once described, but Ernie sighed; it would all become more plain. Ardi was more serious, a chimp, who could not speak, but understood language somehow, and often gestured. He seem to impute – by his manner of rowing the skiff, rowing it strenuously, if not comically, sticking the single paddle into the weightless, black air beneath them – there remained a degree of gravity ahead of them. Ardi liked the skiff, the familiar comfort of it, and it dated perhaps from his earlier days; watching it depart, a train conductor, Ernie was sure each time was the last; space, or time, would surely claim it, but it still mired improbably, and in the ash, a skiff.

The lost souls were arrayed like shells, or stars on the beach, in the air, as one may assume of All Souls Day; large, small, in any size, at the refuge beach, they were set, and gathered in recessed rows, like ornamental lights. He didn’t know Ernie, never met him, but Ernie was amused to quote him, strangely, wistfully, before he left with Ardi in the skiff, walking towards the Lenape. “Eternity is a very, very long time,” Ernie chuckled. Ardi had murmured nonsensically, while searching scrupulously for rocks under the boat, a chore of his seamanship.

There was the sound of a pencil, set against the wood of a kitchen table.

Well, it wasn’t Coney Island, or New York. It was beautiful, white sand, like Mexico, or the Caribbean. You waved your arm out for the turquoise sea. Not there, The Greek vacation? Maybe it was that.”

There was no reply. He brushed the sand with his foot like a first baseman. “Of course, there were the Lenape.”

You said they may have been Cherokee.”

No matter.”

Not Mohawk.”

Lenape, then.”

“You say, it is hundreds of years later?” he asked Ernie, walking.

Ernie said, “It seems like a minute, or so. Dozens of years pass on Earth with every step. Once you go, that is.” He turned beach sand with the side of his foot, trying to empathize. “You know, everyone is gone now. They are long, long gone. It’s over. It’s done. The new days are far from the old days. They stretch far away from you. They stretch forever. But not yet.”

He didn’t answer. Ernie added, “There are still a few instants of recognition, and memory, – chances, where it’s possible. Right now there’s still a way back, a way there. There’s quite a sense of well-being, that it’s done, the thrill of all of one’s life. I actually, I didn’t know it, but I used to daydream about these days, the days at the lake. I dreamed of living at the lake.”

That’s where you live?”

Ernie guffawed, “Oh yes! At the mesa,” and then, dolefully, “I live at the mesa.”

He recalled, more pensively, “It was like the more I dreamed about being at the lake, the more my desire, and my energy was given to it. You might tell people, when I retire, I want to live at a lake. Okay. You envision coffee in a tin cup, Adirondack chairs, the lake shore, a barbecue, a roaring camp fire, and breezes, the screen of the front porch. I went to the lake gradually in these years. It was a home in my mind, where I was supposed to be. Everything else became untrue.”

Moments passed, grave moments, and Ernie ventured, “If you like, Ardi can take you, take you where it is. But that’s it. You’ll have to decide.”

He gazed at the beach looking for Ardi, and studied the tide ebbing below the planks of the skiff. Ernie raised his chin, and asked, “Are you going?” ◊

theme notes


Theme: “East of Ginger Trees,” Seals & Crofts | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 45-Et Al,” a myopic vaile (No. 45)

Seals & Crofts

Season III, Theme | above: “As Times Goes By,” Blackmill | playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 51-Et Al,” a myopic vaile (No. 44)


..… from “^; or, CARET,” III of III,

The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories, by Soda Tom 

[Complete Works, No. 01]

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