Jul. 23rd, 2014 12:03 am
helbling: (vampire)
[personal profile] helbling
Cape Town, for anyone who hasn't been, is a lot like the UK in terms of weather. The only odd thing is the reversal of the seasons, which meant when I was there in the height of English summer, it was grey, wet and chilly-ish. It was still quite humid, but by no means bikini weather; it meant layers and anoraks.

It also meant storms.

The city is right on the coast, and one of the specialties that can be done down there is cage diving with great white sharks, which we didn't bother with. Why dive to be put in a metal box and hope the creature comes to you? Not my idea of fun.

But, when the weather was bad enough to stir up the sea and reduce visibility to nothing, the boats the divers go out on are sat in port with no one to hire them. They can still sail, but no one hires them to do so, because why would you go under the water in those circumstances?

Turns out, if you bung them some cash, they'll still take you out, even when lightning and thunder are rolling across the sky in waves that mirror the ones the boat is negotiating. Even if 'you' are a family of 6, where all 4 kids are under 21. Even if it's a rather large catamaran, and the children are all grinning like maniacs, as if they know a secret about what's about to happen.

I have ridden a boat through a hurricane. It was involuntarily done, in the Virgin Islands, and admittedly only the tail end of it, but I've done it. Sat up on deck because seasickness isn't so bad in the open air, with contours of salt forming on my cheeks, in my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes. There wasn't really any more majesty to it than that. There was no darkened skies or ominous noises. The seas didn't swell or foam or blacken. Just an increase in wind and watching as the palm trees bent lower and lower, and our captain looked ever more frantic. It was like watching a door slowly open, and as it did so, more and more wind coming through it. The only thing you could do was do your best to be out of the way before it finally cracked wide enough to allow a proper breeze.

Not exactly poetic.

This however, was different. Storms are not hurricanes, or this one wasn't. This was power; raw, unmitigated, magnificent power. It was the sheer force of nature, but to say that by going out in it we fought it would be to suggest that by standing in the middle of the motorway, I might challenge the internal combustion engine. I would be doing no such thing - I would be taking a chance to see something in action up close and personal and hoping I didn't get hit in the meanwhile. We couldn't challenge this. There was no contest. We were less than ants beneath nature's boot, we were so much lesser that we wouldn't even invite notice.

We still went though.

We used to love riding through bad weather after dives on the RIB when we came back from diving. The roughest ride was at the nose, so we'd cluster together, hanging on for dear life and bouncing - literally - off the side and the floor like crazy people, shrieking with laughter the whole time.

This boat looked like this. We'd spent a week on one before, in the Galapagos. We were utterly familiar with how they moved, because we'd spent most of our time hanging off it at precarious angles trying to watch turtles and manta rays. Our favorite place to do this from was the front of the two trampoline type structures at the front of the boat, curled up by the nose.

You see where this is going.

Our parents stayed inside, telling the crew, no, really, we knew what we were doing. Yes, even the 8 year old - Nina was always bad at being told no due to nothing but her age, and this wasn't going to be an exception. She and I on one side, the other two on the other. Sliding out of port like a guilty teenager trying to slide unseen out of the house didn't really work. The storm hit us the second we slipped out from between the markers; it was like being hit in the face with a frying pan.

You don't know power until you've done this. You don't know the meaning of being small, being nothing, until you've done this. You don't know the majesty of existence, the grandness of this world we live in and the magnificence of the systems that govern it, until you've had that moment.

You don't know the strength of your own grip until you've done this.

There are no handholds on the front of a cat; it's not designed for how we used it. There is some rigging attaching the canvas to the boat, so you thrust your hands in and form a first around a likely piece of rope and hang on. Hang on in the literal term. We became airborn, then were slammed back down as the boat crested then dropped over a wave. It would pitch to one side, then the other, our bodies slamming back and forth, bruising down my left side where I came in contact with hard fibreglass. Rope burn around my left hand when that was all I had left to cling on with when Nina lost her grip and I grabbed her.

Driving rain mean we couldn't see; very quickly I took my glasses off and stuffed them down the side of one boot when it became apparent they were a hindrance. It didn't help. Sea water didn't spray over us, so much as waves broke on the side of the boat, leaving us drenched. The wind was howling, literally like a wolf, I've not heard that noise since, and everytime we avoided getting wetter for more than about thirty seconds, it was strong enough we'd start to dry out, salt crystals forming where they could, leaving us sticky and marked with white, until the waves struck again. Lightning flashed across the sky making everything shriek for a second, then thunder boomed and deafened us when we'd though we couldn't hear anything but the wind, ever again.

Couldn't see, or hear, or speak. The world shrinks down to the waves you're riding, the grip you're maintaining, salt everywhere, in your mouth, nose, stinging your eyes, pain in your knees and your arms, hang on, hang on, hang on.

And you do, because somewhere under the raw power is raw joy. Is a meaning you can't put to words, because it touches something so fundamental within you that no human has ever thought to verbalise it because it is what makes us us. It is like peeking inside the answer booklet for the question of life, like looking into a mirror and seeing absolute truth reflected back, not just from within you, but from all things.

It is the sudden knowing of the world, in all its glory, and fathoming that you are but a single tiny creature, being tossed around on a contraption in the middle of an ocean in a storm, but you are still there and nothing, no force in all the universes, will ever negate that one, single, pure, high pitched note of unmitigated truth. And knowing that you've hung on through that means you know you can hang on through anything, through everything, because nothing, ever, in all the world could challenge this.

The crew, when we pulled in and disembarked, told us we were crazy. Mum and Dad looked hesitantly pleased that we were pleased - because we obviously were, we were still grinning like idiots, even soaked to the skin, raw from the sea surf and with hair that looked like we'd been fondling a van de graaf generator - but obviously couldn't quite grasp the appeal. We shrugged and kept grinning.

Sometimes, I wish I could go back, and relive that moment. Sometimes, I think I'm already doing so.

'You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mMine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.'

-Wild Geese, Mary Oliver.

Date: 2014-07-23 10:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow. Love reading your writing, and this especially.


helbling: (Default)

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